Harmony of the Seas, the latest ship in the Royal Caribbean fleet, is the largest cruise ship in the world. At over 225,000-tons, she has the total capacity for up to 6,410 people. Taking the best parts from both the Quantum Class and the Oasis class, she represents something new for the industry, together with presenting a number of other firsts on board.
I was recently on one of the first voyages from Southampton to Rotterdam and was able to experience her new facilities. There has been a lot of media attention on the back of this trip, where work was still ongoing to finish off the ship, which has lead to quite a lot of mixed press for the ship. I have structured this review around the hits and misses on board the ship, followed by the issues on board the Rotterdam sailing. So here’s my point-to-point low down on the ship and what she has to offer.
- Technology – Like her Quantum fleet mates, Harmony takes full advantage of new technology in both the operational side of the ship, together with the guest experience. Harmony is the fastest and most efficient ship in the Royal fleet, made possible by redesigning the hull, the addition of other new technologies such as air lubrication, more efficient engines and energy recirculation, as well of course environmental outputs through the addition of exhaust scrubbers. On the guest side Harmony continues to introduce the smart check-in system, which now works so efficiently. Even with so many guests embarking there was no wait and we were on board within 15 minutes. Furthermore, the ship also benefits from the Royal IQ system, enabling guests to pre-book and customise their holiday through booking entertainment, shore excursions, food and other experiences. As with the rest of the fleet, the ship also has super-fast VOOM wi-Fi (although I did not have the opportunity to utilise this).
- Enhanced spaces – Harmony, whilst familiar on the face of it, is actually quite different from Allure and Oasis. The design overall has been simplified and is much more reminiscent of the contemporary design introduced by Quantum of the Seas. This is true across the board, so spaces such as the Windjammer have been redesigned and enlarged with new food offerings, a coffee shop, wash stations as you enter and overall a higher level of management of the space. Equally other spaces such as the Rising Tide Bar have been given a modern face-lift, boasting a much more modern chic styling (although arguably less seating).
- Neighbourhoods – Having been on all three Oasis class vessels, you can tell there’s been thought in how to activate areas more, so areas such as Boardwalk which at times I’ve felt have been quite quiet previously are now bustling all times of day. Some existing venues remain true to the class, such as Boleros where you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between the ships, whilst others such as the On Air Club have been given a moderate makeover. My favourite area of the ship is still Central Park. Even though this is the third ship, the novelty of having an open air park where you can relax, have a bite to eat or have a drink is just as great. For the most part the Park is the same as the other ships. Only minor things have been tweaked such as the Trellis Bar, which is arguably quite small on the other Oasis sisters, and has been redesigned and enlarged to make it feel like a more inviting space.
- Entertainment – Royal leads the industry in developing new and exciting entertainment options and Harmony will not fail to disappoint. The ship boasts Grease the Musical in the main Royal Theatre, which is a fun-filled 90 minutes suitable for all the family. A new ice Show, 1887: A Journey in Time, debuts in Studio B and does not fail to disappoint. Further shows will be added in due course, including The Fine Line, the new show in the Aquatheatre (which wasn’t ready on our sailing), as well as other shows such as Columbus the Musical. A new promenade show has been created specifically for Harmony, The Totally Awesome 90’s Party, taking you back to all the hits of the 1990s and brought the whole of the promenade to life.
- Cabins – Harmony is larger than her siblings and the benefits of this additional width can be found within the cabins on board. Taking its queue from the Quantum Class design of cabins, but with I felt an added French flare, the cabins, including the bathrooms, feel genuinely spacious and contemporary. This theme is carried through to the suites and loft suites, which now benefit from the new Royal Suite Class, including the Royal Genies.
- Speciality dining – Building on the successful array of speciality dining already found on the Oasis class, Harmony has a range of mouth-watering choices to suit all appetites. This includes (but not limited to!): 150 Central Park, Chops Grille, Sabor Modern Mexican, Jamie’s Italian, Johnny Rockets; and of course Wonderland. I’ve loved Wonderland on each ship I’ve tried it on, but I think this was the best experience I’ve had to date. Royal have not only devoted more space to the concept, enabling it to grow across two decks (and now including a new bar), but the overall offering has improved, with an enhanced menu, whilst not compromising on the unique service the venue offers.
- Slides – The addition of slides to the Royal fleet has divided opinion, but the concept genuinely works on board Harmony. The Ultimate Abyss, a ten-storey helter skelter from the sports deck down to the Boardwalk is a genuinely fun experience and must be tried. Have a look at my video below on the ride. Whilst they weren’t operational on my cruise, Harmony also boasts three new water slides, the Perfect Storm, which also look to be a lot of fun. I look forward to trying them out one day!
The not so good
- Weather – Whilst arguably not a ship problem, it quickly becomes one. During the trip to Rotterdam the weather could have been better. As a result the fine balancing act between the various neighbourhoods on board was off kilter, and people took refuge principally around the Royal Promenade and Entertainment Court. This had a significant impact on the various venues in the vicinity including the Schooner Bar, Boleros and the Boot and Bonnet Pub. Whilst I know it is not (yet) in Royal’s power to control the weather, it did highlight that this ship is designed and excels in the climate of the Mediterranean or Caribbean.
- Bionic bar – I’ve been a long-time favourite of Bionic Bar. It’s a quirky fun experience for people and has come a long way since I first saw it on Quantum. Now you ask, why is this not a win? If anything, on Harmony Bionic Bar is perhaps too successful for its own good. Located in a prime spot on the Royal Promenade on certain days the demand was such that wait time for a drink was 20 minutes, with crowds of people spilling out onto the Promenade. It begs the question whether given the space it takes up; would it have been better to have had a larger bar with more seating to accommodate the demand.
- Solarium – The Solarium is another part of the ship I love to hang out in, and I love the fact that Royal have enlarged it on Harmony. However, overall I felt the solarium wasn’t as good as I’ve seen on either the Oasis and Quantum Class. The large pseudo-thalassotherapy pool has been replaced by a sitting area with cooling water jets and there are only a few smaller Jacuzzis; the quaint ponds that differentiate the Solarium Bistro with the main area are gone; and overall the experience in the area I felt had been diminished.
- Oasis lost – One thing I noticed on board Harmony, and this will no doubt be a side effect of the new contemporary design, is that a lot of the little curios I loved about the Class are no longer there. The little small pieces of art across the entire ship have been replaced by grander pieces (which is no criticism as the art is amazing on board) but I felt it previously brought various neighbourhoods together. Other small things such as the absence of fountains for the Rising Tide Bar is a shame given the amazing spot the Rising Tide occupies.
Overall I enjoyed my time on board Harmony of the Seas and I stand by the fact that she is a great addition to the Royal fleet, or rather will be when all the bugs have been worked out. I think put very simply, the ship wasn’t ready for passengers to board on the Rotterdam sailing, with workmen still beavering away trying to finish-off areas, particularly on the pool deck, sports zone and solarium. I think the issues can be grouped into two broad areas:
1 – As with any new product, there were teething issues with facilities on board, and I think to an extent this isn’t unreasonable at all. I personally expected there to be some issues on board. I think the question is when does teething become a significant problem? For instance, lack of hot (or any) water on a number of nights on board, including formal night, for significant number of people.
2 – Genuinely unfinished areas and facilities such as the Perfect Storm, despite social media indicating otherwise; the Aquatheatre and associated entertainment; the Solarium; as well as other venues. Certainly most areas on the top deck were having some form of work done to them one day or another on the cruise.
Unfortunately, you can’t help but feel as though she was rushed into service, and that some of finishing touches could have been completed before she had guests on board. I think this would have been fine if communication had been sent out prior to the cruise explaining that finishing touches were being applied. Despite all this, the crew could not have been more accommodating and helpful throughout the cruise, and took a lot of the brunt of people’s disgruntlement for things which really were out of their control.
On the 3 June 2016 Royal Caribbean emailed guests on the effected sailings acknowledging that “there were simply too many projects still being completed during the voyage”. Guests aboard the four-night ‘preview’ cruise have thus been offered a future cruise certificate to the value of 50% of the cruise fare.
Personally, I can’t wait to cruise on Harmony again and to experience the wow to its fullest.
Images and videos copyright © Marcus Adams and Royal Caribbean 2016
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