Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean International. All other photos by Jason Leppert.
Harmony of the Seas
Royal Caribbean International
At a Glance
By the Numbers
Take a Bow (What to Like)
Pain in the Aft (What to Dislike)
Royal Caribbean International's Harmony of the Seas, the third Oasis-class vessel, is currently the largest cruise ship in the world, and yet architecturally she still appears sleek, albeit much wider than most. Inside she is comprised of several chic "neighborhoods" dividing the massive public spaces into more manageable districts. The effect is a ship that feels much like a shoreside hotel or shopping mall, appealing to potentially hesitant land lubbers.
Overall, the ship has enough intimately-sized venues to keep the behemoth in check, but there are times when its grand scale is unmistakable. Thankfully, the ship does a fine job of spreading its high guest capacity evenly around as crowds are few and far between. The Royal Promenade horizontal atrium is particularly dramatic stretching the primary length of the ship, and the Central Park with living landscaping is an impressive al fresco feat open to the sky above. But both lack any direct view to the sea, causing a certain sense of isolation from the destination.
The Boardwalk at the stern is better at showcasing the ocean as the airy horseshoe-shaped aft courtyard looks upon the wake behind, with the thrilling Ultimate Abyss slide, zip-line and pair of FlowRiders perched high above. One of the biggest fringe benefits to Harmony's size is its stability. The ship is so wide in the water that it holds its own against listing admirably well, another selling point to anyone leery of seasickness.
As on most new cruise ships, there is quite a variety of private accommodations to select, ranging from inside cabins to loft suites. Entry-level stateroom shower enclosures are decent in size and easy enough to turn around in thanks to their rounded perimeters. Plus, interior cabins are available with unique vistas of the various promenades and courtyards within the greater ship or virtual balconies displaying the outside view on a screen.
On the other end of the spectrum, of course, are the loft suites featuring expansive double-decker floor-to-ceiling views and verandas to match. Some single-level suite balconies even look back upon the AquaTheater, effectively creating private box seats for the shows as well as wake views. Decor for all accommodations is modern and bright without being cold or stuffy. Colors are vibrant, finishes are refined and storage is equally plentiful. USB charging ports are nice to have, but even more would go a long way as would the inclusion of tissues beyond just toilet paper.
The Harmony is truly the closest a cruise ship has come to offering something for everyone. All one needs to do is look to the Boardwalk to see everything from a tame carousel to the thrilling Ultimate Abyss. In fact, the vibrant magenta slide lives up to the hype. Put your feet in a sort of sleeping bag and off you swiftly go, descending the dry slide over ten decks in no time at all. The carousel is surprisingly amusing as well to ride at sea.
A unique offering onboard is Escape the Rubicon (pictured below), a fun escape room experience where groups of up to a dozen participants must solve interactive puzzles to break free of a sci-fi spaceship. A traditional interior observation lounge would always be nice, but the outdoor terraced solarium above the bow is a close alternative for sun worshipers. It's also great to see Royal Caribbean finally get on the water slide bandwagon with the Perfect Storm trio of slides as well.
The effects of Dynamic Dining remain somewhat in place aboard the Harmony of the Seas as the three-story main dining room is divided into three separate themes that work better as entirely divided restaurants on the Quantum-class ships. Complimentary food is very good, and specialty dining is excellent. Newcomer Jamie's Italian serves premium traditional and eclectic dishes from fresh charcuterie to an inspired burger, and favorites like Chops Grille remain culinary highlights for fine steaks. Still, even Johnny Rockets is a tried-and-true offering that is hard to pass up.
There are so many other options that enjoying them all within a week's time is surely impossible, short of gorging. Wonderland (pictured at the bottom of the design section above) is especially alluring as a larger iteration of the fanciful restaurant found on the Quantum-class ships with a much broader view this time around, taking advantage of the ship's impressive width. Another tasty surprise is the Mexican cuisine of Sabor that thankfully does not dumb down the spice quotient.
Entertainment on the Harmony of the Seas astounds, and three distinct main venues come to life in incredible ways onboard, particularly the AquaTheater. Even though "The Fine Line" was still being workshopped to completion on our preview sailing, the show is already a stunner, combining splash dancing, synchronized swimming, high diving and aerial acrobatics in a captivating tapestry of kinetic visuals and bombastic sounds. Still a favorite is Studio B for its ice shows, and the period specific "1887" is a kaleidoscope of movement that also sucks audiences in.
"Grease" in the traditional theater is absolutely flawless. Continuing its transition from standard revues to narrative Broadway productions, Royal Caribbean presents an expert company of singers and dancers in a series of fun showstoppers. The stage itself is cleverly configured with a lowerable lighting gantry that also serves as a bridge for performers to walk out on, the overall effect of which is one expertly choreographed show. And none of this is even to mention the many small cabaret and live music venues rounding out the offerings elsewhere onboard.
As on most ships these days, crew are generally friendly and attentive, but on such a large vessel, there are variations therein. For instance, the servers at Johnny Rockets were expectedly perky, but our room steward was short, once coming in to vacuum without asking to, short of simply knocking on the door and giving a head nod. Again, it's a big ship and it's new, so surely a number of servicing kinks need to be ironed out, but all in all, the Harmony of the Seas is a humdinger (I think the shipboard midcentury nostalgia must be rubbing off on me).