Harmony of the Seas: First thoughts

Harmony of the Seas: First thoughts

Has a modern cruise ship ever been written and talked as much as Harmony of the Seas? The position of Royal Caribbean International’s latest edition as the largest ship in the world has generated unprecedented column inches. But there’s something else about this vessel that has caught the public and press imagination – indeed, other Oasis-class ships didn’t receive coverage quite like this.

Its arrival in Southampton and pre-inaugural cruise from the south coast city (which Cruise Adviser joined) was a huge event – of course, aided by the number of journalists and bloggers Royal Caribbean invited on board. By the end of the week, seemingly everyone in the country – even those who have previously paid no mind to cruise – had an opinion about Harmony of the Seas. These varied from it being an “architectural marvel” and the “future of holidaying” to a “monstrosity”.

Grease in the Royal Theatre

It would be hard not appreciate the achievement, in itself, of designing and building the 17-deck, 226,963 gross tonne Harmony of the Seas, even if you can’t appreciate the ship. But what some of the more po-faced analyses of the ship failed to notice is that this is a vessel built for fun – and on that measure, it totally succeeds.

From its high-energy, high-cost production of Grease the Musical, to its 10-deck Ultimate Abyss slide, Bionic Bar (recreated from its Quantum-class ships) and FlowRider surf simulators, there is an enormous amount of fun to be had. I spent most of the short trip – a two-night sailing through the English Channel – imagining how much I would have loved this as a teenager.

Harmony of the Seas in Southampton

The adult me decided to indulge rather than relive my youth, which meant sampling as many restaurants as possible (there are 20, so the tasters that were handed out helped), as well as a few of the bars. By night, the Royal Promenade was buzzing: a band played to a packed crowd spilling out of Sorrento’s pizza place, the Boot & Bonnet pub, Boleros cocktail lounge and the On Air karaoke club, the ambience falling somewhere between superclub and festival.

The sheer size of Harmony means space is abundant: the gym, casino, spa area and two-deck Royal Theatre don’t feel like facilities on a ship, the feel like standalone venues. Grease was most impressive because it felt like a proper West End production. In fact, there were times when I forgot I was at sea at all. From Jamie’s, where we ate on the first night, there is absolutely no view of the water.

A ship this large will always pitched as “not for everyone” – and that of course is true; there are many benefits to small-ship cruises. Ship fanatics may find Harmony of the Seas not ship-like enough. Yet, there is also the argument that Harmony has a little something for everyone. Consisting of seven neighbourhoods – Central Park, Royal Promenade, Boardwalk, Pools, Spa & Fitness, Entertainment Place and Youth Zone – each part of the ship has its own unique feel. Central Park – with its Jamie’s, 150 Central restaurant and Vintages wine bar – and the solarium feel totally luxurious. While the pool area, with the Perfect Storm, and rows of sun loungers is exactly what you’d expect from a family cruise line, only on a bigger scale.

Central Park

In a sense, Harmony of the Seas isn’t one ship but several. Not everyone will want to share a holiday with (potentially) 6,000 other people, but you can go on board and enjoy a totally different experience to your neighbours or even the rest of your family. No wonder Royal Caribbean so often talks about multi-generational cruise holidays.

There is no denying there is a snobbery about this type of cruise, both from in and outside of the industry. What that fails to recognise is that Royal Caribbean knows its providing a totally over-the-top experience: it doesn’t take itself too seriously. As Stuart Leven, the managing director for the UK and Ireland, put it to me while on board, “If traditional cruise is Prince William – we’re Prince Harry.”

The Boardwalk


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