Disclosure: I paid for our entire family cruise on my own dime. I did receive a small onboard credit from Royal Caribbean as a thank you for offering to write a review of our experience. All opinions are my own.
We love a good Christmas cruise!
It was that time of the year again, time to pick our annual winter vacation cruise. I was looking to book the perfect family vacation. There was no doubt that we would have to sail on the newest, biggest, baddest ship sailing in the ocean. Not only the newest, but the most technologically advanced in the world, the Royal Caribbean Harmony of the Seas. I had a hunch this would be a great ship for a multi-generational family vacation. We were our family of 4, plus grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.
Driving east, off Florida’s I-95, what seems to be a skyscraper ahead, was actually that special ship, the Harmony of the Seas. A 227,000 gross ton ship carrying 5479 passenger with 2300 crew. It was waiting to sail on a 7 night eastern Caribbean cruise to St. Maarten, San Juan and Royal Caribbean’s private island in Haiti, Labadee.
Check in was a breeze!
Given our Diamond status, we were from car to ship in a matter of 10 minutes. Whoops almost forgot the obligatory boarding photo and the wonderful lemonade they serve in the terminal. Crossing over the gangway, one must look to the left and then to the right, just to behold the absolute girth of the floating first class resort. The kids jump up and down with the thoughts of the mystery of what this behemoth has in store for them for the next 7 nights.
The Harmony of the Seas, like its sisters Oasis and Allure, is sectioned off in seven different “neighborhoods”, which include Central Park, Pool and Sports Zone, Boardwalk, Royal Promenade, Entertainment Place, Youth Zone and Vitality at Seas Spa & Fitness Center. This helps organize the passengers flow of the ship, and it helps to make this huge vessel seem a lot less overwhelming. They have done such a great job of this that the crowds almost seem non-existent.
When you first enter the ship, you enter upon a two story area called the Royal Promenade. The Royal Promenade is the central hub containing guest relations, many bars, stores, Sorentos pizzas, Cafe Promenade, the Rising Tide bar (a bar that literally elevates 3 decks, every 15 minutes and, it is also home to the Bionic Bar, which is a bar, manned by two robots named, Mix and Mingle, which magically concoct non alcoholic and alcoholic drinks.
Our kids were fascinated by using the WOW band (basically a key card attached to their wrist which opens your cabin door, allows charging privileges, and identifies passengers without having to reach for your Seapass card) to mix up a fantastical drink. The Royal Promenade also acts as a stage to many parades by the featured Dreamworks characters and many evening parties, such as the 90’s dance party and the obligatory visit by Santa Claus on our Christmas sailing. Our family’s favorite part of the Royal Promenade is always the unlimited sweet snacks at Cafe Promenade and the fresh from the oven pizza are Sorrento’s, not to mention the unlimited softdrinks (with soft drink package) from the Coke Freestyle machines.
After boarding, we ventured to Central Park for the wonderful Kummelweck sandwich at the Park Cafe. My 11 year old counts down the minutes before every cruise to experience her Kummelweck. Who knew that a savory roast beef sandwich with gravy, mustard and horseradish on a salted roll, would be so exciting to a little girl?
Central Park is an open air area in the center of the ships, surrounded by balconied staterooms, for those who want the ocean air without a water view but of the the beauty of Central Park.. It has live vegetation, strolling walkways, speciality restaurants, Chops Grille, Park 150, Jamie’s Italian, a variety of bars and a group of High end stores, including an Omega watches store. It is a wonderful refuge from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the ship, and seriously one of my favorites spaces on the ship.
Royal Caribbean Harmony of the Seas is so much fun for Kids!
At the top of the ship is the Pool and Sports Zone. This is the place where a kid can be a kid and an adult can be a kid. This area has 4 pools, one of which is a kids play area with small waterslides, at the rear of the ship is 2 surf simulators called the “Flowrider”, a zip line which launches an individual over the Boardwalk, the “Ultimate Abyss” which is a dryslide which drops the rider down 10 stories to the Boardwalk, at mid-ship there are three waterslides including one with a ‘Champagne bowl” at the end of it, and at the front of the ship is the adults only solaraium, with an area called “King of the World” which allows the a passenger to be out over the side of the ship on a glass floored platform. This entire deck caters to everyone’s whims and is the heartbeat of a wonderful day at sea.
The Youth Zone is a 28000 square foot area which caters to 3 year olds to 17 year olds, called Adventure Ocean. Each age group is separated into age groups, “Aquanauts” 3-5, “Explorers” 6-8, “Voyagers” 9-11, “Teens” 12-14 and 15-17.
Royal Caribbean’s entertainment mascot is Dreamworks, so the kids have often interactions with the likes of Shrek and Fiona. Not only are their character meet and greets, the characters sometime participate in the programs. Dreamworks movies, and first releases are often shown aboard. The Harmony of the Seas also has an area for tots, and an infant nursery. The kids programs includes games, art projects, sporting competitions, dining events, and even allows kids to perform in a talent show.
The facilities include kids only theater, teens only area and nightclub, and even a jewelry making art center. The Harmony has so many different areas for kids, there is never a chance of boredom. Kids can even participate in a parade. The areas are secure with parent check in and check out, and the older kids can check themselves in and out. The ship even has multiple arcades for the kiddos to get their technology game on.
The Boardwalk is an interesting area. Recreating an area of the Atlantic City Boardwalk or Santa Monica Promenade, there are shops, an arcade, a Johnny Rockets, specialty restaurant Sabor (mexican), a hot dog stand, and a Starbucks, in an open air setting with an oceanview to the rear. It is surrounded by balconied cabins, allowing guests the vibe of the Boardwalk, and view of the ocean. The Boardwalk is also home to a merry-go-round, the entrance of the two rock climbing walls, and the Aqua Theater, where outdoor watershows and aerial shows are performed, along with big movie screens for al fresco movie viewing.
The Entertainment Place, is located on Deck 4. Here is where you enter the showroom where you can watch Grease or many other of the wonderful stage productions, that only Royal Caribbean can do with such precision. Here you will also find the ice skating rink (for skating and ice shows, the Vegas caliber casino, a comedy club and a jazz club. By night this is full of laughing, happy adults. It takes on a very New York vibe.
The last area is called the Vitality at Seas Spa & Fitness Center is the healthy area. A full luxury spa with treatment rooms and services. A full service exercise facility with state of the art equipment and spin/aerobic rooms are also part of this facility. Many like to eat and get sporty drinks at the cafe’ which is part of the area.
On our sailaway, we visited the Aqua Theater, for a sailaway show hosted by the Dreamwork Characters. The kids sat up as close to the stage and danced with Gloria the Elephant and Alex the Lion from Madagascar. It was a phenomenal way to begin the week. Dinner that night was in the main dining room with anytime dining. Anytime dining allows the passenger to eat at anytime they choose.
The shows on the ship were all phenomenal!
We began our journey with the production of Grease. This was a live, stage production of the wildly popular show, which included all the songs, and our kids sang along, word for word, and they even brought on stage, full fledged convertible car, just like in the move. You could’ve sworn you were watching Olivia Newton John and John Travolta.
Another very cute show for the kids was Columbus, the Musical!. This was fiction show based on the nephew of Christopher Columbus and his journey to the Caribbean. It was a hilarious show with some great tunes and even a replica of one of a boat which sailed to this hemisphere. In the Studio B, the highlight show is 1887: A Journey in Time was an ice show about two characters Juliet and Tempus who traveled through time. The lighting and special features made even the ice look like the skaters were on water. The kids sat with their mouths open in awe, with wonder on how these folks not only were skating on a ship, but also in amazement on how talented the skaters were.
The other show in Studio B was iSkate. This was just a rocking time of skating to different music, which were known to both parents and kids. The Aqua Theater’s highlight was called the Fine Line. After many cancellations, due to high winds, we finally got to experience something that is so incredible, it’s hard to put into word. Diving from 8 stories up into the pool, acrobats flying over the audience, and balancing acts on the water, left us all so taken back, that I have to say this was our favorite show. The kids went multiple time, they loved it so much. Entertainment abound us everywhere, from parades in the Royal Promenade to 3-D movies in the Royal Theater, this ship has something for everyone, and all are child friendly.
The food is everywhere.
We were able to sample some of the wonderful speciality restaurants, the main dining room, and many of the quicker dining venues. I booked My Time Dining, which allowed us to eat when we want. We chose to make reservations on the nights we ate in the main dining room, with the same wait staff and same table. Our servers memorized our drinks, and special requests and knew our names after the first night. We only ate in the main dining room 4 out of 7 nights, but they still greeted us as if we were family. The food was great, and really seemed to be made to order. We even had lamb chops and lobster.
The other nights we ate in Chops, Wonderland and Solarium Bistro. Chop serves up steaks and seafood worthy of a Chicago steakhouse. Being from Chicago, we know good steaks. My daughter and I had bone-in veal chops, my wife a filet mignon, and my son, well chicken fingers (as he eats every night). The beef was tender, cooked to order and plain old yummy. This is always my daughter’s favorite meal on any Royal Caribbean ship, next to the Kummelweck sandwich. The meal starts with a barrage of appetizers, with most noteworthy are the french onion soup and the colossal shrimp cocktail.
Wonderland is a new concept on Royal Caribbean, which is their twist on Alice in Wonderland. You enter this venue through a fictitious door, and then descend into the dining room overlooking the Boardwalk. The staff are dressed in outfits right out of the storybook. The food is whimsical and served with a theme of Sun, Ice, Fire, Sea, Earth, and Dreams. The wait staff try to bring a little of everything for the table. The food kept coming, and most, as different as the plates were, were very welcomed by the kids, including my chicken finger obsessed son, Grant.
Just for some examples, Sun was represented by baby vegetables in the garden, which were small vegetables set upon crumble pumpernickel (soil) It looked like my summer garden. Fire was represented by Buffalo Chicken Eggs (Deviled eggs) set under glass that emitted smoke when the glass was removed. Earth was represented by Terroir Beef with “River” stone potatoes which actually looked and felt like stones, until you bit into it for a surprise of a potato. One representative of Dreams was The World. A chocolate sphere which when the sauces is poured over, it melts and we were all wowed when the wonderful ice cream sundae appeared..
Solarium Bistro is a complementary specialty restaurant in the Adults Only area, but opens up for the kids at night. Fresh fish and some meat dishes are served here. An appetizer buffet and dessert bar are a feature in this venue.
Samantha and I dined in Izumi for lunch. We sat next to a huge window and dined on fresh, made to order sushi. Sushi is my daughter’s favorite food, and this was a special treat for her just past birthday. It also was a special daddy daughter lunch which we do on every cruise and vacation we take. It was met with a special showing of mommy who had to take her obligatory daddy/daughter lunch pic. Izumi also serves up food by Hibachi, which we did not partake this trip.
One day the kids dined at Johnny Rockets, while all the adults had lunch at Jamie’s Italian. Jamie’s Italian is world renowned chef Jamie Oliver restaurant at sea. The ship also offers up two other specialty restaurants called Park 150, an elegant fine dining experience and Sabor, a fun Mexican restaurant on the Boardwalk. Other dining features, just to name a few are Park Cafe, Sorrento’s Pizza, Cafe Promenade and Boardwalk Dog House. Suite passengers can also eat at Coastal Kitchen.
Not to be forgotten is the Windjammer, the buffet, which entertains the pallet with food selections from around the world. This quality buffet give your party a taste for everyone, and is a quick variety and break from the pool. Omelettes are made to order for breakfast. Don’t forget, room service is always an option.
Activities, Activities, Activities!!
Zip Lining, yep! Surfing, yep! Ice Skating, yep! Water Sliding, yep! Dry Sliding, yep! Merry-go-rounding, yep! Swimming, yep! Golfing, yep! This is Royal Caribbean and it is the world’s largest cruise ship, so of course you can do all this and more.
The Zip Line takes you across the Boardwalk. My niece, Eva, who overcame all her fears, and then did the Zip Line, over and over again. Surfing on a boogie board was so intense, and nephew Alex got up on his knees with no hands. The miniature Golf Course allowed Grant to make more than 1 hole in one. He wanted to take a full swing, but not allowed!
The waterslides were fast and slick. My favorite was the one which ended with the “Champagne Bowl” Samantha likes racing me on the racing slides, and guess who always won? Now the Ultimate Abyss is the dry slide at the rear of the ship. Going almost straight down 10 stories is the dark may sound pretty daring but after one try, everyone wants to keep doing it again and again. This ship has anything and everything one can imagine. It is an activity center, which by the end of a busy day, allows you to be gently rocked to sleep, although the rocking is not necessary, due to the fact with all the activity during the day, one doesn’t need any help falling asleep.
The Harmony of the Seas is comfortable for families traveling with kids.
The cabins range from standard inside cabins (some can be had with a Virtual Video Balcony) to many different types of balcony cabins ( which can face the sea, face the boardwalk, or the central park). The suites can be had with just a bit more luxurious space all the way to two story lofted space with a huge deck. Whatever cabin one may choose, the space is sufficient and larger than most other cruises. Royal redid the cabins from the other Oasis class ships. The cabins feel larger and the new Greytone color scheme is spectacular.
I had the opportunity to meet with cruise director, Abe Hughes. He was very entertaining, and stressed that the most important party of his job is to make sure that everyone is happy on this ship. Well, let me tell you with Abe leading this special ship, if it is not the ship that will make the passenger happy, Abe’s leadership and personality will do it. He did a spectacular job, and in over 40 cruises, Abe was one of the most energetic and involved cruise directors I have ever experienced.
Royal Caribbean also treated us to a galley tour and a bridge tour. On the Galley tour we learned that the Harmony of the Seas serves up more food on one ship than all of the Disney ships combined. At the bridge tour we saw how the ship actually is operated and got an opportunity to meet the Captain. FYI, the ship is so big, that the captain has his own Segway, which looks like a motor scooter.
The Harmony of the Seas is a wonder. I really have to say, the best cruise yet and a perfect family vacation! Loved it and can’t wait to sail on her or another Oasis class ship soon.
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Most photos are my own but some photos are courtesy of Royal Caribbean