by Annabel Fenwick Elliott, The Telegraph, March 28, 2018
It took three years to build but the wait for the world’s largest cruise ship is finally over. Royal Caribbean took delivery of its mammoth vessel, Symphony of the Seas, at France’s Saint-Nazaire shipyard last Friday, where she was welcomed at a traditional flag-changing ceremony.
With her maiden voyage just around the corner, Symphony usurps Harmony of the Seas as the largest cruise liner ever built: with room for 5,518 passengers (versus 5,479 on Harmony of the Seas) in 2,759 stateroom cabins (12 more than its predecessor), with a total volume of 228,081 GT (a shade bigger than Harmony's 226,963).
Here’s everything you need to know about the behemoth...
When does she set sail?
Symphony of the Seas will welcome her first guests this Saturday, March 31, for a one-off, five-night cruise, sailing from Barcelona and calling at Naples and Rome.
The ship’s official maiden voyage, a seven-night Mediterranean jaunt, departs on April 7 from Barcelona, manned by a 2,200-strong crew that represents 77 nationalities. Symphony will be based in Barcelona all summer, visiting Palma de Mallorca in Spain, Provence in France; and Florence, Pisa, Rome and Naples in Italy.
As of November 10, however, a new 170,000 sq-ft state-of-the-art cruise terminal in Florida - nicknamed the “Crown of Miami”, for its striking crown-shaped design when viewed from the water - will become her year-round home.
From there, the ship’s seven-night Caribbean cruises will call at ports including Philipsburg (St. Maarten) and Charlotte Amalie in the US Virgin Islands in the Eastern regions; and on the Western Caribbean itinerary, Roatan (Honduras), Costa Maya and Cozumel (Mexico), and Nassau in the Bahamas.
In 2019, there will be new stops added at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas - currently undergoing a £142 million renovation .
Is she really the world’s largest?
Yes, in terms of her passenger and crew capacity, and her gross tonnage.
She’s the same width and length as Harmony, however: at 1,188 feet long - only 65-ft shorter than the Empire State Building is tall - and 215 feet wide.
Symphony also plays host to the tallest slide at sea, 10 storeys high with a 100-ft drop, dubbed the “Ultimate Abyss”.
How much did it cost to build?
A not-so-modest £959m ($1.35bn). Upon delivery, Royal Caribbean boss Richard Fain quipped, referring to the ship's pricetag: "We said thank you in a fairly tangible way. We actually said it a billion times and each one was one euro."
What else does she have to boast about?
A family suite with a slide, so children can whizz from their bedroom to the living room, and a mobile check-in service that uses facial recognition technology are among the cutting-edge features to be offered on Royal Caribbean’s newest vessel, the 25th in its fleet.
The ship’s new 1,346 sq-ft family suite, built with two bedrooms and sleeping up to eight people, will feature a host of other facilities including a 3D cinema room (complete with a popcorn machine and a library of video games), a whirlpool on its 212 sq-ft wrap-around balcony, a floor-to-ceiling LEGO climbing wall, and an air hockey table.
In a bid to eliminate queueing at terminal-side check-in desks, passengers will be able to register using a new mobile app, which will allow them to upload a “security selfie” to their account prior to their arrival and head directly to their cabins after a screening.
In total, Symphony will welcome 5,518 guests at double occupancy in 2,759 staterooms, including 28 additional balcony rooms that overlook the ocean or the ship’s signature “Boardwalk” neighbourhood - one of seven themed areas.
The Boardwalk will feature a new sweet shop (with more than 100 varieties on offer), Sugar Beach, while a new sports bar and arcade will have 30 large-screen televisions. Another neighbourhood, “Central Park”, is lined with shops and cafes, and trimmed with more than 12,000 tropical plants.
Symphony will share some features in common with Harmony of the Seas, including its VOOM technology – touted as the fastest internet at sea - and a Bionic Bar, where drinks are served by a robotic arm.
For children, there are two new play areas: “Battle for Planet Z”, Royal Caribbean’s first glow-in-the-dark laser tag game; and “Escape the Rubicon”, a sophisticated, custom-built “submarine” room, with a collection of puzzles to solve.
In terms of entertainment, highlights include performances of the Broadway musical Hairspray, as well as a new acrobatic aqua show, Hiro, in the ship's open-air AquaTheatre and, elsewhere on board, an ice-skating show.
And guests certainly won’t be going hungry. More than 20 restaurants will serve a wide variety of food, at venues including Jamie’s Italian, and an open-air restaurant in the Sports Zone that seats 100.
How much is a cabin?
Symphony's prices currently start at £667 per person (based on two sharing) for a four-night cruise of the Western Caribbean, departing in November.
Its pricest option, according to the website, is a 12-night voyage from Barcelona to Florida leaving in October, costing £7,468 per person.
Feeling impatient? The soonest you can hop aboard is April 14, for a seven-night Western Mediterranean cruise that costs from £1,330 per person, again based on two sharing.