(11:30 a.m. EDT) — A third- in-class ship rarely, if ever, creates a huge stir, unless the line has drastically restructured the ship or added a significant number of new features.
Harmony of the Seas is Royal Caribbean’s third Oasis-class ship, and — in case you haven’t been watching the news — it’s also taken the title of The Largest Cruise Ship in the World (albeit by just a few inches) from sister Allure of the Seas.
Yes, there are a number of new features — including a 10-story "dry slide" called the Ultimate Abyss, three water slides and an overhauled adults-only Solarium. But fundamentally, Harmony shares the exact same DNA as Allure and older sister Oasis of the Seas. It has all the bells and whistles that revolutionized the cruise industry: the first inside cabins with views, the water theater at sea; and the first interior areas that open to the sky, one of which — Central Park — contains 52 trees and more than 10,000 plants.
So how come Harmony is creating such a fuss? We were onboard the pre-inaugural sailing from Southampton this weekend to find out. Here are our first impressions of Harmony of the Seas.
With 18 decks, seemingly endless entertainment options and bewildering number of dining and drinking venues, Harmony could be overwhelming for the first timer. The ship has retained most of what made its sisters so popular, the key thing being the seven distinct neighborhoods that carve the ship up into bite-size chunks and keep passenger flow steady.
Ultimate Abyss (Deck 17)
Step inside inside the fang-toothed fish and get prepared with a safety briefing. At the top, you’ll find a glass floor that looks straight down, 10 stories. Add in the constant screams of people ahead of you as they slide down, and you’re terrified before you start. The ride itself, on mats specialized designed for the slide, takes just 12 seconds. But it’s one that twists round and round, with lights and sound bombarding you as you go. If fancy a thrill ride, then this one’s for you.
Tip: Go early to avoid a long wait. Lines of up to an hour formed during our time onboard.
Go Grease Lightning! (Deck 4)
Royal fought long and hard to bag this classic, securing both the original rights to the play and to the movie. And the performance you’ll see onboard is part Newton-John/Travolta movie, part original play, blending the best of both — and then adding the Royal touch.
The set Royal has constructed is a combination of digital and real; both were used in precisely the right scenes. The whole performance from start to finish was a genuine treat (and bear in mind, we saw the first performance). The two leads playing Sandy and Danny are outstanding, easily holding their own both in terms of voice and performance, but what stuck us was the quality of the supporting cast, a number of whom — Vince Fontaine, Rizzo, Rump and Mrs. Murdock — absolutely owned their scenes. A triumph.
Izumi (Deck 4)
Izumi made its debut on Oasis two years ago and proved so popular, it was retro-fitted on Allure. Situated by the main dining room on Deck 4, the restaurant has two parts: a sushi bar and restaurant and a Hibachi room.
In the sushi part, rolls are made fresh and you can also order pork dumplings, tempura and sashimi, followed by noodles and a selection of sushi (the spicy shrimp rolls and Surf ‘n’ Turf are both outstanding).The Hibachi room is, by contrast, more of a theater where you sit round a cooking station and are entertained (and fed), by a chef who juggles eggs, slices up great mounds of rice and delights dinners throughout the evening. The food is sublime.
Tip: If you want to just eat sushi and sashimi, no reservation is necessary. You’ll want to reserve a spot for the hibachi.
Harmony of the Seas has an extensive art collection worth several millions of dollars, which has been created by the ship’s own Art Committee (each Royal Caribbean ship has its own).
The art reflects the ship’s personality: quirky, bright and bold pieces creating talking points. The theme of the collection is: The Wonder of Our World, The World We Live In, and more than 3,000 pieces make up the collection. You’ll find art all over the ship, with the majority on staircases and landings, and in the main dining rooms.
The stand out piece forms the centerpiece of the Royal Promenade: "Head" by Czech artist David Cerny, a huge revolving chrome head which is sliced into horizontal blocks and changes shape throughout the day.
Still wondering if this is the ship for you? Perhaps the best way to describe Harmony of the Seas is Las Vegas at sea: Big, bold and brash, you have to take it for what it is and embrace the madness, rather than fight against it. If you embrace the ship’s fun personality, you’ll love every second of what Harmony has to offer.
Look out for our expert full Harmony of the Seas Review coming soon. In the meantime see how Carnival Vista compares to Harmony of the Seas in the battle for the best 2016 mega-ship.