Anthony is our very own "Mr Travel" having left school at 16 and working within the industry ever since. Co-owner of Golden Ticket Travel he often appears as the travel expert on BBC Radio Devon and fills numerous guest speaker slots for local organisations and charities. Specialising in luxury holidays he is always on hand to share stories and tips gained from his extensive travels.
World's largest cruise ship enters service
I am sure that most of you will have witnessed some of the publicity surrounding the much heralded arrival of the “Harmony of the Seas” as it sailed into Southampton recently and officially became the world’s largest cruise ship.
I was one of the lucky passengers who had booked (and paid) to travel on the maiden voyage of this impressive new addition to the Royal Caribbean fleet a few days after its arrival. My wife and I like to sample a different mini-cruise each year with friends who are not keen on flying; we find them incredible value for money with a great selection of itineraries for short-breaks.
This particular mini-cruise included 3 days at sea with a call in Rotterdam, ideal for those wishing for an excursion to Amsterdam. Due to the sheer size and different design of this ship we opted for a balcony cabin on the inner part of the ship overlooking the boulevard rather than the sea. This cabin type was better value than the balcony with a sea view and still gave us that much needed outside space.
We were somewhat apprehensive about the check-in procedure at Southampton for this cruise as we suspected the process of boarding 6,000 passengers could be a bit of a logistical nightmare. To our surprise however, everything was very straight forward; we were greeted in the entrance foyer of the cruise terminal by a team of Royal Caribbean staff armed with ipads, which were used to confirm our booking and arrival. We then handed over our tickets, bags and verified our I.D. before being waved through the security channel in a matter of minutes.
Our cabin was spacious and exceptionally well equipped with a fabulous interactive TV to supply you with details of all the on board news, entertainment and activities. For passengers who take technology a stage further than myself, there is also a ship app called “Royal iQ”, which can be downloaded to portable devices giving you everything you need to know about your cruise whilst on the move.
After our first lunch on board, we decided to explore the ship as there is so much to see and do - our first visit was to the “Bionic Bar”; a cocktail bar where all the drinks are prepared exclusively by robots. Once seated, you are handed a personal ipad, which you use to swipe your ship pass card and log in to your account. You can then order from a selection of cocktails or choose to compose one of your own. You are provided with a time slot on screen indicating when your cocktail will be ready and you can even watch it being prepared. It is a fascinating concept and definitely worth a visit but be careful …. each cocktail is $12 and they don’t skimp of the alcoholic ingredients!
For dinner on our first evening, we chose to dine at the “Jamie Oliver Restaurant”, one of the many specialist restaurants on board that are available for an extra charge. The meal was very nice but I would question whether it was worth paying a supplement to eat here as the meals in the main restaurants were equally as good and are included in the basic cost of the cruise.
The on board entertainment was truly spectacular and after our first evening dinner, we were treated to a cabaret show featuring Bobby Davro; the 1,300 seat Theatre was often at full capacity so pre-booking the shows is highly recommended. The following day, we had also pre-booked to see a matinee performance of “Grease”. The standard of cruise ship entertainment that I have witnessed on various cruise lines over the years has differed greatly but I would honestly say that this particular performance of Grease outclassed a production that I saw in London’s West End a few years ago.
Amenities onboard include an ice skating rink, rock climbing, crazy golf, a zip wire, a basketball/football court, the “Flowrider” surfing experience and various water slides including the “Ultimate Abyss”. This particular dual slide is situated at the back of the ship and plunges 10 decks in height, making it the tallest water slide at sea. I’m not sure why all my work colleagues were so insistent that I went down this slide, but I duly took the plunge and lived to tell the tale.
Our only stop Rotterdam is a fascinating port where our immense ship docked almost in the town centre greeted by thousands of spectators scrambling for photo’s of its first arrival. We opted for the Amsterdam visit which we thoroughly enjoyed although many passengers remained on board to enjoy all the wonderful facilities.
With so many different bars, restaurants and activities on board The Harmony, it is difficult to say what we enjoyed most. I think the “Rising Tide” bar became our favourite place for a drink and a chat. This bar is unique in the sense that it moves up and down between the main “Royal Promenade” deck and the “Central Park” area three floors above, using a hydraulic lift. The bar was only small but was run by some fantastic individuals who gave exceptional service.
Our 4-night mini-cruising experience on board this awesome new ship was over before we knew it and on the morning of arrival in Southampton, we prepared for the usual chaos of disembarkation. However, once again, to our surprise, the whole procedure was exceptionally well planned and executed allowing us to get off the ship within an impressive 10 minutes.
There are of course both pros and cons to cruising on such a large vessel. I would say the main draw is that you are literally spoilt for choice when it comes to things to do, while the compromise is that you have to share those facilities with 6,000 other passengers!
I would certainly recommend this ship for families and larger groups but, for me, “small is beautiful” and I think my preference will always be to cruise on a smaller ship where I feel personal service and quality will usually outweigh quantity.
The Harmony of the Seas is available to book now cruising the Western Mediterranean this summer then the Caribbean for the winter season.
Errors and omissions excepted.
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