The largest cruise ship in the world is here and, as Sam Ballard discovers, is packed with family-friendly innovations to entice new-to-cruise customers.
From climbing walls and ten-floor slides to laser tag and genies – if there is one thing that Royal Caribbean does well, it is innovation. The line, which prides itself on its fresh thinking, is responsible for bringing all manner of firsts to market: from ice rinks to a London Eye-style pod towering high above top deck. This is family cruising on an extreme scale.
The greatest example of Royal flexing its innovation muscles is on its mammoth Oasis-class fleet. The largest cruise ships in the world have given the company a vast canvas to let their imaginations run wild and the newest addition – Symphony of the Seas – is the most daring yet.
The numbers alone are spectacular: the ship can handle 5,518 guests at double occupancy (although there is room for 6,680), all looked after by 2,200 members of crew. The ship has seven different neighbourhoods, over 20 different places to eat (seven complimentary) – including the new Hooked Seafood restaurant and the Sugar Beach sweet shop.
There’s new entertainment, too. Hairspray is the all-singing, all-dancing Broadway-style musical; 1977 sees the ship’s team of skaters take to the ice in a show that also features a swarm of drones; HiRo sees Symphony’s acrobats complete a routine in the AquaTheatre at the aft of the ship. And that’s as well as all the arcades, carousels, waterparks and ziplines that make up day-to-day life on a Royal Caribbean cruise.
Studio B, the ship’s state-of-the-art entertainment venue, serves as a place to see some of the shows on board, but also doubles up as the venue for the Battle for Planet Z – a laser tag game. The lights are dimmed and the whole area is coated in an eerie mist. The inflatable, maze-like course gives plenty of room for members of each team to hide as they fire off at the enemy. It’s free, too.
“I think it’s hard for a family to have a better, more fun holiday than on an Oasis-class ship in the Caribbean,” explains Ben Bouldin, the company’s UK boss. “It’s a personal choice, but my family loves those big ships. My kids walk around in total awe of everything. There’s so much for them to do, they’re never unoccupied.”
Others in the business concur.
“I describe Royal as being reasonably frantic,” says Gavin Smith, senior vice president of International at Royal Caribbean. “It’s not a brand where you find a quiet place on board – you have to engage with us. We’re a family brand. I also think that there are some established brands in the market who are not as relevant to the new-to-cruise category as we are. We have a younger profile.”
One of the most talked about introductions on Symphony of the Seas, which directly targets that younger profile, is the accommodation – an area which rarely grabs the headlines for Royal Caribbean. Or, to be more specific, it is one cabin out of the 2,759 on board: the Ultimate Family Suite.
The suite, which can sleep up to eight people, is a fusion of all of Royal’s over-the-top brilliance coupled with its new found penchant for offering a luxury experience. The room includes everything from a cinema to air hockey and a Lego wall. There’s a slide to get from the upper floor of the duplex and a hot tub on the balcony. All of this doesn’t come cheap, though. The Ultimate Family Suite was booked out for Christmas
at a price of $85,000.
Royal bosses plan to monitor how well-heeled guests interact with the Ultimate Family Suite on board Symphony and bring elements of it into future family accommodation – be it the Lego Wall or the slide – albeit at a lower price-point.
Royal Caribbean’s frenetic energy means it is positioned perfectly for picking up that lucrative new-to-cruise market.
“We believe that the quality of the brand and the quality of the product is what drives demand,” says Michael Bayley, president & CEO of Royal Caribbean. “If you can offer someone who is stretched for time, a genuinely great vacation – more and more people will want to try the product.”
The Oasis-class vessels have become emblematic of resort style cruising. This is a market where the bigger and brasher a cruise experience is, the better. And it doesn’t get bigger or brasher than Symphony of the Seas.
THREE FAMILY CRUISES
Seven nights in the Med
Royal Caribbean – Symphony of the Seas
Rome (round-trip), August 2
Brits will get the chance to cruise on the world’s biggest ship this summer as Symphony of the Seas completes a season in the Mediterranean before heading off to the Caribbean.
Seven days in Alaska
Norwegian Cruise Line – Norwegian Bliss
Seattle (round-trip), September 1
This cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line’s brand new ship (see p27) has the best of both worlds: the beauty of Alaska with the fun of a resort style ship. Especially the go-karts.
Seven nights in the Caribbean
MSC –MSC Seaside
Miami (round-trip), December 22
With calls at the Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, St Maarten and the Bahamas, this Christmas holiday cruise is the perfect chance take advantage of MSC Seaside’s unique use of outdoor space.