4.5

Royal Caribbean International

Review Summary

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Pros

  • The biggest cruise ship in the world lives up to the hype
  • Free activities include Ultimate Abyss, FlowRider, ice skating, and zip-lining
  • Excellent live performances are featured like Broadway-caliber “Grease”
  • Distinctive restaurant Wonderland with a great Boardwalk view
  • “Escape the Rubicon” puzzle room that rivals shoreside experiences
  • Cabin cluster stateroom configurations are great for large groups
  • Virtual Balconies bring a large digital view to inside staterooms
  • Loft suites onboard are some of the grandest at sea
  • Popular Johnny Rockets diner serving comfort food 
  • Bionic Bar offering an entertaining watering hole for tech lovers
  • AquaTheater astounds with diving, fountains, acrobatics and dancing
  • DreamWorks Experience makes for a great family atmosphere

Cons

  • May feel too big and sprawling to some
  • Ship lacks many sea-oriented venues, isolating it from the ocean
  • Missing a public observation lounge for ocean viewing
  • Crowds can occasionally form in high traffic areas
  • “Escape the Rubicon” is no longer a free activity onboard

Bottom Line

Constantly pushing the boundaries of what a cruise can be, the upper-middle-range Royal Caribbean International’s Harmony of the Seas is the line’s latest biggest cruise ship in the world. It is a moderately priced ship ideally suited for the traveler looking for an abundance of things to see and do onboard, with a massive variety of cabins and dining to match. By virtue of its size alone, it offers more in the way of activities than any other competitor, and it can easily be described as a destination unto itself. Despite that, it does sail to outside destinations, though one could stay on, never get off, and still not experience all it has to offer within a week’s time.

What's Included (and What's Not)

Passage aboard the Harmony of the Seas includes private accommodations, main dining, some drinks, and most entertainment. What is not included are specialty restaurants; alcoholic beverages; non-alcoholic beverages outside of free water, lemonade, and iced tea; the casino and video arcade; shopping; spa services; laundry services; Wi-Fi; shore excursions; and gratuities.

Restaurants that incur a surcharge are Johnny Rockets, 150 Central Park, Jamie’s Italian, Wonderland, Chops Grille, Cafe Promenade, Vitality Cafe, Solarium Bistro, Izumi Hibachi & Sushi, and Sabor Taqueria & Tequila Bar.

For drinks, the basic beverages of tap water, lemonade, and iced tea are all free, but other sodas, juices, specialty coffee drinks, and alcoholic drinks costs extra. Drink packages can be purchased to alleviate the per-drink prices (see the Drinks section below for more details).

Internet packages can be purchased for up to four devices with two packages: either Surf for simple web surfing, email access, and social media or Surf + Stream for music and movie streaming using the likes of Spotify, Netflix, or Skype.

At the time of this writing, gratuity amounts are set at $13.50 per guest per day in standard staterooms and $16.50 per guest per day in suite accommodations, which can be prepaid or are automatically applied to guest accounts onboard. Gratuities go to dining services, stateroom or suite attendants and other hotel services. The amount can be modified as desired at the guest services desk for those being charged daily or through the cruise line or travel agent after the cruise for those who have prepaid.

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Oyster Ship Review

Scene

4.0

The largest cruise ship in the world offers up an abundance of choice to get delightfully lost in

This massive ship, one of the largest in the world, maintains a lively atmosphere in expansive spaces like the Royal Promenade

Make no mistake, this ship is huge, measuring in at 1,188 feet long, with a capacity of 6,780 total guests. The ship is mostly contemporary in decor, but it does offer a handful of traditionally themed venues including the line’s signature Schooner Bar. Given its size and range of features, the Harmony of the Seas draws a sweeping range of passengers. It’s a ship perfect for boomers and millennials alike, whether they be groups of friends, multi-generational families, couples, or solo travelers, and there is plenty to keep children entertained as well. The dress code is also mostly casual with only a few formal evenings.

The ship’s dramatic scale is truly its biggest lure, drawing people on board with so much to pass the time, but as expansive, busy, and sometimes noisy as some areas like Central Park and the Boardwalk get, there are still plenty of intimate spaces to escape to smaller individual bars and clubs along the Royal Promenade. With that being said, those seeking out a destination-centric ship should look elsewhere as very few venues look to the outside. (It is notable that the Suite Lounge displaces a public observation lounge.)

It can occasionally be easy to get lost on such a massive ship, but lots of signage helps set passenger bearings. It does take a long while to get from point A to point B, however. Meanwhile, crowds can form occasionally, but they’re generally well dispersed with long lines kept at a minimum.

No other cruise ship offers nearly so much to do onboard, and the Harmony of the Seas will be familiar to anyone who has sailed aboard her preceding sister-ships: the Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas. This time around though, additions like the Ultimate Abyss slide make it unique. It may cost more than smaller competing ships, but as always, you get what you pay for.

Cabins

4.0

The Harmony presents some of the nicest standard ship accommodations in the industry 

The Central Park View Cabin provides comfort and modern style

Harmony of the Seas staterooms and suites feature modern decor with a perfect balance between flashy colors and patterns in comfortable layouts. Handsome decor displays light and dark woods, neutral walls and floors, stylish artwork and other vibrant accents. All categories include basics like flat-screen TVs, telephones, hairdryers, and soap and shampoo toiletries.

Bathrooms vary, but the standard configuration for each holds a single sink basin, toilet, and narrow shower stall that is easy to navigate with a rounded translucent enclosure and door. A shaving bar is also included inside to prop your leg on. As accommodations get larger in size, so too do the bathrooms with some adding tubs and larger walk-in showers.

We personally enjoyed a Superior Ocean View Stateroom with Balcony. The bedroom and living area highlights a staggered partition between adjacent rooms with offset alternating bed and couch positions to efficiently maximize space. Instead of a singular closet, two floor-to-ceiling cabinets flank either the bed or the sofa providing plenty of storage in addition to the desk and drawers across the way. On our voyage, we found the cabins to be clean and quiet.

Royal Caribbean cabins are broken down into four categories: interior, outside view, balcony, and suites. The smallest interior cabin is the 96-square-foot Studio Interior Stateroom with Virtual Balcony specific to solo travelers, and the largest is the 1,524-square-foot Royal Loft Balcony Suite accommodating up to six. Particularly appealing for groups and families are Harmony’s adjoining cluster cabins wherein three different adjacent categories can be booked for a distinct configuration. Plus, there are family specific and accessible staterooms and suites across all categories to better accommodate more people and those with mobility impairment, respectively.

Upgrading to the Royal Suite Class provides guests with three tiers of exclusive amenities: Sea Class, Sky Class, and Star Class. The premium Star level gets guests a Royal Genie (a fancier butler), free internet access, free specialty dining, an ultimate beverage package, included gratuities, and preferred venue seating. All suite guests also have exclusive access to the Suite Sun Deck and Bar, and guests in Grand Suites and above have private access to the Suite Lounge and Coastal Kitchen restaurant.

If anything there are perhaps too many categories with some subtle differences difficult to discern and harder to understand on Royal Caribbean’s fleet-focused website.

Food

4.0

Included cuisine is middle-of-the-road, but specialty dining raises the bar substantially 

 Wonderland serves experimental cuisine from a distinctive space

There are a total of 17 restaurants and diners onboard Harmony of the Seas, six of which are free and 11 of which are available at an extra cost. Cuisine ranges from contemporary American and classic comfort food to premium Asian, French, Italian, and Mexican fare.

The WindJammer Marketplace is the ship’s buffet that features a wide range of international dishes such as Shanghai Noodles and Salmon with Malaysian Curry Sauce. Similar fare even extends to the quick-service Mini Bites out on deck. Elevated cuisine is mostly reserved for the full-service restaurants with quality here being more on par with fast-food including pork pies and pizza.

Royal Caribbean’s signature Chops Grille continues to impress as the line’s premium steakhouse, but you can’t go wrong with a juicy diner hamburger from Johnny Rockets either. Fanciful experimental cuisine is the mainstay of Wonderland, but the most pleasant surprise may be the Sabor Taqueria & Tequila Bar with its authentic and creative Latin flavors. Also Jamie’s Italian from celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is a delicious restaurant with fresh charcuterie, and the rolls and tempura at Izumi Hibachi & Sushi are tasty highlights as well.

Meanwhile, Starbucks Coffee is onboard for a caffeine pick-me-up, and soft serve ice cream can be had for free out on deck. Also of note is the free Park Cafe and its salad bar, as well as free Boardwalk Dog House and Sorrento’s pizzeria for eateries away from the primary buffet. Couples may love the intimacy of 150 Central Park’s formal atmosphere, while fun Johnny Rockets is perfect for family-friendly dining.

Dining reservations can be made in advance, particularly ideal for specialty restaurants, and can be secured prior to sailing or onboard via the Royal iQ app. Main dining can be arranged according to traditional early and late seatings or chosen periods according to Caribbean’s My Time Dining. The aforementioned dress code applies to the restaurants with the WindJammer Marketplace always casual. For dining available 24 hours a day, the Cafe Promenade is available as is generally free room service, which only charges very late in the evening. Also for those interested in activities behind the scenes, there are kitchen galley tours offered.

Drinks

4.5

There’s no shortage of beverage selections available including those served robotically 

Guests can consume drinks made by robotic arms at the Bionic Bar

There are a dozen or so watering holes on the Harmony of the Seas from several pool bars to cocktail bars, one of the most fascinating of which was Bionic Bar. There, two robotic arms make all the drinks for guests as ordered off of tablet computers. Bottles hanging upside down from the ceiling supply most of the fixings with soft drinks coming from a fountain behind. When they aren't mixing cocktails, the robots periodically entertain with a dance mode as well. A favorite cocktail of ours here was the Clone Me (Coca-Cola, Southern Comfort, and peach schnapps over ice).

Another appealing spot for drinks was the Rising Tide Bar, a venue on an elevator platform that slowly goes up and down three decks from the Royal Promenade to Central Park above.

Tap water, lemonade, and iced tea are free onboard and available at bars and several self-service stations. Other beverages incur an extra fee, and besides buying beverages a la carte, separate drink packages can be purchased for bottled water (starting at $39), unlimited soda ($8.50 per day), or a Deluxe Beverage package ($55 per day) that covers premium coffees and teas, fresh-squeezed juices, non-alcoholic mocktails and sodas, cocktails, beer, and wine. Several Coca-Cola Freestyle machines allow guests to mix soda flavors.

Unfortunately, guests are not allowed to bring outside drinks for consumption onboard save for on boarding day when two bottles of wine or Champagne per stateroom are permitted. Beyond these, any alcohol brought on in ports-of-call will be confiscated and returned to the guest at the end of the cruise.

Setting an industry benchmark for cruise entertainment excellence 

Onboard entertainment is some of the best in the industry, including productions at the Royal Theater

Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas entertainment is some of the best in the entire industry, raising the bar with stellar performances like the Broadway productions in the Royal Theater, ice shows in Studio B, and AquaTheater water fountain, dancing, aerial acrobatics, and diving performances. This trio of venues makes for a trifecta of excellent free entertainment that extends to a live jazz club, karaoke bar, comedy club, and more. Special events, parties, and parades are hosted along the Royal Promenade.

We especially enjoyed an ace performance of “Grease” that featured a fantastic cast of singers and dancers; “1887” a romantic ice show; and “The Fine Line” a ballet of divers, synchronized swimmers, and a kinetic fountain array. Entertainment is usually featured at night with some other activities scheduled during the day, and free tickets must occasionally be secured on a first-come, first-served basis for ice shows.

Elsewhere, there is the Casino Royale onboard which is considerably more tucked away than on most other cruise ships but is still quite large and comparable in size to the adjacent Studio B ice rink. The casino atmosphere is convivial, and its location better helps isolate the cigarette smoke from drifting into other venues. Upstairs, shopping ranges from retail brands like Kate Spade along the mall-like Royal Promenade to premium outlets situated in Central Park such as Bulgari, Cartier, Hublot, and Omega.

From tranquil relaxation to high-octane thrills, this ship has it all

Pool areas include a main pool and an extension collection of traditional waterslides, known as the Perfect Storm

For activities onboard, the Ultimate Abyss is truly the highlight. Surprisingly, this is not a waterslide but rather a pair of 10-story, fast-descending spiral dry slides that make up the tallest slide at sea. Riders tuck into a sort of short sleeping bag-like sack before jutting out over the back of the ship where on average they race down in just 13.14 seconds. It’s truly a rush. (One word of warning: while the sack is intended to avoid rug burn along the slides’ inner surface, be sure to keep your knees tucked in to protect them as well.)

Of course, there are also more traditional waterslides onboard high above the pool deck. The Perfect Storm is a collection of three slides. Two are side-by-side body tube racers, one with a translucent section overlooking Central Park below, and the third is a body-tube slide with its own transparent stretch that ends with a Champagne bowl finish. While not quite as thrilling as the Ultimate Abyss, this trio is another fun activity to enjoy before lounging out by the pool.

There are three primary pools – the Main Pool, Beach Pool and Sports Pool – as well as Splashaway Bay and cantilevered whirlpools extending out over the side of the ship from the Solarium. There are generally plenty of pools and loungers to go around for everyone with only the whirlpools consistently reaching capacity. The Sports Pool is geared toward water activities with a net to catch any high-flying balls, and the Beach Pool features a neat skirt of shallow water to wade in that gradually ramps up to dry decking.

Meanwhile, Splashaway Bay is a fun, kid-friendly water park with a small waterslide, drench bucket, and various pop jets and geysers. Continuing the water fun is also free use of two FlowRider surf simulators riding above the Ultimate Abyss, and nearby are the drier activities of the Zip-Line over the Boardwalk, Harmony Dunes mini-golf course, and ping-pong tables. Lower in the ship, Studio B also offers guests the opportunity to ice skate onboard for free as well.

Treatments and exertions aplenty, all nestled somewhat out of the way

Extensive workout facilities include a Sport Court on deck

The Vitality at Sea Spa & Fitness Center is a double-decker facility complete with its own health-conscious cafe. Like the rest of the ship, the decor here is modern with an added soothing element thanks to relaxation areas and a pampering salon. The spa is operated by Steiner Leisure and showcases individual and couples’ treatments for an additional fee. These include massages, wraps, facials, and acupuncture. There is also a thermal suite with heated tile loungers, saunas, and steam rooms for an extra cost as well. 

The fitness center and its equipment is available for use free of charge and includes treadmills, ellipticals, and free weights, and additional classes can be paid for. Up on deck, the Sport Court is another great place for a workout in the fresh air.

Spa facilities are located downstairs, and the fitness center is upstairs, in front of the theater within the bow, in a location that feels somewhat cut off from the rest of the ship.

Family

4.5

One of the most family-friendly ships afloat with activities for all ages

The Fuel Teen Disco is one of several unique spaces catering to kids and teens of all ages

All ages of children 6 months or older are welcome to sail on the Harmony of the Seas, and Kids’ Avenue and The Living Room are particularly geared toward young passengers. The former includes the Royal Babies & Tots Nursery for those aged 6 to 36 months, as well as Adventure Ocean for 3- to 5-year-old Aquanauts, 6- to 8-year-old Explorers, and 9- to 11-year-old Voyagers. The Living Room is dedicated to teens aged 12 to 17. Each group has their own special space onboard plus a theater and venues for art and science. Teens even have their own extra Fuel disco. All facilities are supervised, and there is a fee for babysitting.

Also ideal for kids and kids at heart is The Puzzle Break escape room with an “Escape the Rubicon” theme that challenges up to 12 people at a time to solve their way out of a doomed spaceship within an hour. We tried it when it used to be free, and it was extremely fun with a great production value, narrative and cerebral challenges that we managed to all solve in time. Also popular are two timeless video arcades and a classic carousel at the Boardwalk, where young guests will also find a Lucky Climber play structure.

Several of the activities mentioned above -- the Zip-Line, Splashaway Bay, Perfect Storm, and Ultimate Abyss -- are also fun family activities as is the DreamWorks Experience. DreamWorks programming includes meet-and-greets with the crew from “Shrek,” “Madagascar,” and “Kung Fu Panda”; a character breakfast; and 3D film screenings. Also helpful to families are Royal Bedtime Stories pajama readings, My Family Time Dining for expedited 45-minute kids meals with parents, and Adventure Ocean Dining for children to eat with their new friends and youth staff.

Besides the availability of family-specific cabin categories, Royal Caribbean also offers its Babies 2 Go program for ordering baby food, diapers, wipes, and creams to the stateroom for fewer items to pack, as well as its Toy Lending Program for borrowing and exchanging playful gear throughout the cruise. Plus, highchairs, and play yards are available upon request, and there are welcome gifts that can be pre-purchased for babies and kids.

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