Ship ahoy! Gina Baksa climbs aboard Harmony of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship for a pre-inaugural sail from Southampton
Titanic is arguably not the right adjective to describe the Harmony of the Seas, Royal Caribbean’s latest £800-million addition to its Oasis class, but this behemoth of a super cruiser certainly defies superlatives.
Invited by Royal Caribbean to come aboard for Harmony’s pre-inaugural trip, as a cruise virgin, I was incredibly excited. Likewise my 82-year-old mother, who’d only had two hours sleep the night before and was now running on pure adrenaline.
I’d seen news reports of the 227,000-tonne Harmony of the Sea’s arrival at Southampton, marvelled at the statistics (60ft greater in length than the Statue of Liberty, weighs more than 17,000 African elephants, 2,747 staterooms, 20 restaurants, 7 neighbourhoods, more paintings than the Louvre, 6,780 guests and 2,100 international crew) but nothing could prepare me for my first sight of The Real Thing.
A floating city, skyscraper tall; we were dwarfed at the quayside in Southampton. Our iPad check-in was swift and efficient, and we easily found our way to the elevators and our stateroom on deck 9. It wasn’t the claustrophobic little cabin I’d imagined. Instead, the light and spacious room boasted wall-to-ceiling French doors and a good-sized balcony and loungers. The king-size bed was very comfortable and the compact bathroom had an excellent power shower. Fittings were all of good quality and there was plenty of storage space and good lighting, plus a widescreen TV on the wall at the end of the bed.
With a top cruising speed of 22 knots (25mph), this 215.5ft wide, 1,188foot long mamma took just 32 months to build at the shipyard at St Nazaire. I met one of her French builders in the lift who told me that Harmony had been delivered to Southampton ahead of time – hence the many snagging items still to be fixed and the presence of contractors.
As we discovered, Harmony of the Seas is strategically divided into 7 zones: Pool and Sports, the Boardwalk (with the amazing AquaTheater), Central Park (home to a tropical garden as well as some of the ship’s speciality restaurants), the Royal Promenade, the Entertainment Parade, the Youth Zone and the Vitality Spa areas.
The upper decks beckoned in the midday sun and cocktails in hand, we relaxed in one of the hundreds of (then) empty sun loungers, simply taking it all in and dealing with sensory overload. As you’d imagine there is a plentiful supply of alcohol available at the many indoor and outdoor bars. The Rising Tide Bar levitates over three decks, while the Bionic Bar robots will take your order via iPad and get cracking with the ceiling-mounted optics. It makes around two cocktails a minute.
A snifter of Dutch courage was all I needed to descend into the Ultimate Abyss – the tallest slide on the high seas, which drops 100ft from the Pool Zone on deck 16 to the Boardwalk on deck 6. Suffice to say I will not be doing it again, but the 12-second descent was incredibly fun – and scary! Screaming helps.
Adrenaline seekers will also love the two FlowRider surf simulators – located at the aft of the ship – where you can stand up or boogie board. Flanking the AquaTheater are two impressive rock-climbing walls, and I couldn’t help but notice the scary Zip Line experience – taking guests across an 82ft gap suspended nine decks above the Boardwalk. Not for the faint of heart!
Neither the Perfect Storm nor Splashaway Bay water pool areas appeared open during our visit but they looked ideal for families. The Perfect Storm is a spiralling waterslide, five decks above Central Park where three waterslides come together. Kids can race each other to the finish down three decks, while younger children and toddlers will love the Splashaway – a waterscape with slides, a massive drench bucket and multiplatform jungle gym. Take to your skates on the rink in Studio B and have a climb of the massive walls reaching up from the AquaTheater – both located on Deck 4.
Large visual deck plans on each floor by the elevators (there are 24 lifts in total) will give you your bearings, so despite my initial reservations, it’s easy to find your way around this monster of a ship. Most importantly, Voom Internet is accessible throughout Harmony of the Seas (apparently the ‘fastest Internet at sea’) according to Royal Caribbean. So if elderly parents wander for a coffee (or G&T) you can always track them down. My mother did get lost a couple of times and told me she’d always been rescued by ‘friendly and helpful staff’ who guided her back to her cabin.
Of course, it’s the staff on board that can make or break a cruise holiday. From Alex our happy and helpful cabin guy to the lady at the Windjammer restaurant at lunch and the superb service at dinner, we were met with courtesy and a genuine desire to please. Many of the 2,100 crew members have left their families in Nicaragua, Jamaica and other countries for six months or more.