So I’ve just returned from my first ever cruise and what do I think? This was a mini pre-cruise for the media and the travel industry, so not necessarily typical, but ‘amazing’, ‘surprising’ and ‘stunning’ are some of the adjectives I would use to describe Harmony of the Seas, not least because of the sheer size of the ship, the wide range of facilities on board and the number of attentive staff needed to make it all function.
Cruises and big ships have their detractors, but there’s no denying that many people adore cruising, and the market is growing. Royal Caribbean has gone out of its way to make its ships, and this one in particular, attractive to families, and the facilities for children, teenagers and parents are indeed brilliant. Teens have their own games arcade, a (non-alcoholic) bar area where they can chill out, plus DJ mixing desks, table tennis, football and basketball courts plus all the facilities open to everyone, such as a free ice-cream machine, Flowrider surfing areas, Perfect Storm waterslides, Ultimate Abyss 10-storey slide, swimming pools, whirlpools, ice-skating rink and the rest.
There are very well-equipped, dedicated play and educational areas for each age group of young children, where they can be left in safety and entertained when parents want some free time. These areas also include facilities where families can spend some time together, such as a cinema and theatre where children can put on shows. The Boardwalk zone is also decorated in bright primary colours and has a carousel, adult and children’s climbing walls, an arcade and the types of cafes and restaurants that often appeal to children.
Royal Caribbean prides itself on quality, innovation, service and choice, and although it’s a well-worn cliché, in this case there really is something for everyone on board ship. So if you wanted to buy works of art, laze around reading on a balcony, spend your time in bars and pubs, listen to jazz and blues, dance the night away in a nightclub, watch comedians in a comedy club, gamble in the biggest casino at sea, work out in the gym, relax in a spa, have your hair or nails done, go shopping, chill out in an adults-only solarium, play games and puzzles, listen to a reggae band, get a massage or age-defying treatment, eat in a top-class restaurant, ride on a zip line, play mini-golf, sample global cuisines, watch your cocktails being mixed by a robot, walk among the trees in the open-air Central Park or escape from the crowds in an exclusive lounge – it’s all there. All these facilities are excellent, providing the kind of holiday and atmosphere that will appeal to all tastes and preferences as well as a huge range of choice and plenty of diversion. Some of these activities and facilities are extras, but many are complementary and available to all.
As for the surprises, I confess to an outdated view, dating back to a family trip to a well-known holiday camp several eons ago in my youth, that organised entertainment is cringe worthy and crass. That may possibly still be true on some ships and on some holidays, but it is not true of Harmony of the Seas, where the quality of the entertainment was outstanding. The ice-skating show was stunning, with highly skilled performers, brilliant music and special effects, breath-taking costumes and excellent choreography and production. Royal Caribbean has worked hard to bring popular shows such as ‘Grease’ to its ships, and this production too was excellent, with rousing music, brilliant lighting and sets and highly professional and talented performers. Even if you’re not normally a fan of West End shows you’ll soon find yourself singing along to familiar songs with the rest of them.
A ship this big and this impressive takes not just huge investment, but organisation of mind-blowing proportions. The level of service on board was brilliant throughout, with friendly and well-trained staff and conscientious contractors all working extremely hard behind the scenes to make everything run smoothly and everyone’s trip special. Ken the enthusiastic cruise director provided welcome continuity with his regular announcements and updates and popped up so universally at the start of shows and other events that we decided he’d been cloned. Either that or he was capable of Star-Trek-like teleportation on the colossal ship that is Harmony of the Seas.