By David G. Molyneaux and Fran Golden
There comes a time when the current leader of “Who’s Got the Biggest Cruise Ship” does not mean much. A few yards of steel here, an extra deck plopped on top there, has little impact on the review of a new ship, as long as the added steel is well utilized.
You will hear a lot during the next few months about the size of Royal Caribbean’s new Harmony of the Seas. Harmony is, at the moment, the largest cruise ship in the world at 226,963 gross registered tons, carrying 5,497-plus passengers.
So what? It’s not that much bigger than the last queen of size, Harmony’s sister, Allure of the Seas (2010) that measures at 225,282 gross registered tons and carries 5,400-plus passengers.
Instead, the real questions are about experiences aboard:
Q: Is this a ship on which I want to lay down my hard-earned money to take a vacation cruise?
A: Yes, as long as you are looking for excitement, thrills, commotion, and top entertainment such as the ship’s showcase musical, “Grease,” which well deserves the standing ovations it is receiving in the 1,400-seat theatre, and a terrific show on ice called “1887.” The ice skating show, an original, is a love story through time and space set in Paris and inspired by the pioneer French sci-fi writer Jules Verne.
Q: Will I be wowed by life onboard?
A: Yes, not much doubt about that. Wows abound.
Harmony's biggest smash hit, which produces constant screams of pleasurable terror, is Royal Caribbean’s most daring thriller slide yet, the Ultimate Abyss.
This is a 10-story dry ride, as passengers slip into a friction-reducing pouch on the Deck 16 and plummet through a mostly dark tube of twists and turns to reach Deck 6 in 11-14 seconds, depending on who is counting.
Harmony is a good name for this ship.
Royal Caribbean has created its newest vessel by adding exciting accoutrements to a mixture of the best features of its other Oasis-class ships -- Oasis and Allure – and of its Quantum-class ships -- Anthem, sailing out of the New York City area, and two ships, Quantum and Ovation, based in China and cruising to ports in Asia and Australia.
Harmony will seem familiar
to Royal Caribbean cruisers
You will find a zipline high above Central Park, rock climbing walls, two FlowRiders, an ice skating rink, robotic bartenders, the vertically moving Rising Tides bar, Johnny Rockets with cheeseburgers and onion rings, an expanded AquaTheater for activities and outdoor shows, and seven of the so-called neighborhoods that Oasis introduced in 2008.
(My favorite: Central Park, an outdoor green space on Deck 8 with benches for sitting, metal sculptures for looking, and a group of fine restaurants, including several for dining al fresco.)
On Harmony, Royal Caribbean introduced new restaurants; new family suites; the scream chute called Ultimate Abyss; a trio of water slides, two of which are for racing; and a host of modern art, including such whimsical sculptures as a pair of pink sunglasses in Central Park and a revolving head in the Royal Promenade.
Wonderland, the popular extra-fee-based Lewis Carroll-inspired restaurant ($45), is bigger on Harmony, with an entrance through a rabbit hole, leading into a two-level dining room of psychedelic artwork, velvet booths, and a view over the Boardwalk. The tasting menu includes the "forbidden apple" molecular dessert.
Only the suite passengers get to eat at cool Coastal Kitchen, which offers great views on Harmony from a perch where the Viking Crown Lounge is placed on other Royal Caribbean ships.
This ship, like the other behemoths from Royal Caribbean, feels less about vacationing on the sea and more about roaming around a fascinating floating resort – while being entertained, finding more activities and diversions than your days will allow, and eating at a host of restaurant choices, some of which are very good (the for-a-fee 150 Central Park, with menus by Miami’s James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schwartz is exceptional).
You also will have plenty of opportunities to meet and hear from your fellow passengers, as Harmony does, at times, not only feel busy and crowded, but also is noisy – especially when there’s a parade or other entertaining event on the Royal Promenade, which is the ship’s main street.
Book your ship activities and restaurants in advance
One issue for cruisers on Harmony of the Seas is the need to prepare for your voyage, which means making reservations for everything you want to do, most of them before you leave home.
“Royal Caribbean says passengers like planning their vacation experiences in advance. On a big ship like Harmony, it’s a must,” writes journalist Anne Kalosh in the cruise industry insider newsletter Cruise Week.
That means choosing restaurants and getting tickets to shows, including “Grease” and “1887.” Before leaving home, passengers can use Royal Caribbean’s online Cruise Planner or, once on board, the Royal iQ app on their mobile devices (download it before sailing).
When Royal Caribbean touts Harmony as offering a bigger and more extraordinary holiday, this is not false advertising. Superlatives abound. The Abyss is the scariest ride at sea. The trio of water slides are called the “Perfect Storm” for a reason. Harmony carries 24 elevators, the most at sea. And remember that the advertised passenger count of 5,497 is just the starting point, before children in upper berths, before crew. In all, beds for passengers and crew will sleep 8,880 people, the size of a small town.
For cruisers wanting the latest, hottest, most exciting moments at sea, Harmony will be high on your list.
If your goal, however, is to head to sea for quiet and calm, to get away from commotion and frenetic activity in your daily life, you probably should choose a different ship.
Harmony will sail in the Mediterranean until October, when it relocates to Fort Lauderdale. Seven night cruises to the Caribbean begin Nov. 12.
This blog appeared as a column in the Miami Herald.
David Molyneaux writes regularly about cruising news, tips and trends at TravelMavenBlog.com. His cruise trends column is published in U.S. newspapers, including the Miami Herald, Dallas Morning News, and on Internet sites, including AllThingsCruise. He is editor of TheTravelMavens.com . Fran Golden is a freelance cruise writer for newspapers, magazines and websites, including TheTravelMavens.com.