215.5 feet wide and 1,188 feet long The Harmony of the Seas is the crown jewel of the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s fleet of mega cruise ships. She is the biggest and newest of the RCCL’s Oasis Class ships, her maiden voyage was on May 29, 2016.
The Harmony of the Seas boasts 7 “Neighborhoods” spread out over 16 guest decks, (there are a total of 18 decks), has 2,747 staterooms ranging from inside cabins to lavish suites, and can accommodate up to 6,780 guests plus 2100 crew. Wow!
My husband and I were aboard the Harmony of the Seas for her October 2, 2016 sailing. It was a 7 day round trip cruise from Barcelona with ports of call in Palma de Mallorca, Marseilles, La Spezia, Civittavechia, and Naples, cities in Spain, France, and Italy. Needless to say it was a very busy cruise, we were at port 5 of the 7 days and had only 1 day at sea when we could fully explore and enjoy the ship. (The day you get on counts as your first day)
I’ll get to the ports on future posts, but for now let’s talk ship. If I had to pick just one word to describe my on board experience it would have to be “exhausting”! I have to admit the Harmony of the Seas exhausted me. Just walking around looking for some place to sit or eat was exhausting. The long lines to the buffet and the super packed elevators were exhausting. I know it sounds like I’m complaining, but I’m really not, well, okay maybe just a bit. But at the end of the day we had a reasonably good time.
So let’s start with the neighborhood thing. What you may ask is a neighborhood. To my mind they were created to keep all the venues organized so guests can easily find them. The neighborhoods are: Central Park (yes it’s filled with live trees and plants), The Boardwalk (no trees here, just a full size carousel), Royal Promenade, Pool and Sports Zone, Vitality Spa and Fitness, Entertainment Place, and Youth Zone. Each neighborhood is home to a combination of restaurants, bars, shops, or activities geared to the area’s theme.
Located on Deck 8 is Central Park.
Here you’ll find upscale dining venues such as Jamie’s Italian featuring a menu by British chef Jamie Oliver and 150 Central Park which features a menu by award winning chef Michael Schwartz. Both restaurants charge a cover fee. There’s also the Park Café which has a bagel bar in the morning and a salad/sandwich bar in the afternoon. Also located in this neighborhood is Cartier and Hublot shops for cruisers who have a yen to purchase a very pricey timepiece. All these venues are tucked around the park which is filled with live trees, shrubs, and plants. There’s a few comfortable seating arrangements in the middle of the park.
Deck 6 aft (back of the ship) is where you’ll find the Boardwalk.
As the name suggests it’s modeled after seaside amusement centers, like Coney Island in New York or Kemah in Texas. The main features in this neighborhood are the carousel and the Aqua Theater where you’ll be amazed by the Cirque du Soleil style show that combines high flying acrobatics with diving and dancing in and out of the pool. It’s also where the Abyss, the tallest slide on the seas drops off brave cruisers. Here you’ll find Starbucks, Sabor Taqueira & Tequila Bar, and Johnny Rockets, cover fee applies at the burger joint, coffee is sold by the cup, and the tacos and tequila are priced a la carte. For a free snack you’ll find the Boardwalk Dog House offering hot dogs and sausages with whatever topping you desire. There’s also a shop that sells beach wear.
The Royal Promenade takes up most of deck 5.
This neighborhood is home to the 24 hour Promenade Café, several bars including the Rising Tide Bar that goes up and down between this level and Central Park on a regular basis, and the Robotic Bar where you can watch robotic arms mix your drinks. Most of the shops, and Sorrento’s Pizza are also located in this area. The pizza, café snacks and hot beverages are complementary.
The Pool and Sports Zone is located on the upper decks of the ship.
Other than the pools you’ll find activities for thrill seekers including a rock climbing wall, water slides, the 10 story slide called the Abyss, FlowRiders, and the zipline. Of course there are bars here, as well as a scuba shop and a snack bar that offers complimentary burgers, hot dogs, and nachos.
For younger kids there’s the splash zone where there are smaller slides and other fun water stuff to do.
Vitality Spa and Fitness is where you’ll want to go if you need to work off all that food you ate at the buffet or if you want to indulge yourself with a massage or body treatment.
Entertainment Place is between the 4th. And 6th. Floors. Here you’ll find all sorts of entertainment including the ice skating rink, Broadway like productions in the Royal Theater, nightclubs, and the ever popular casino.
Finally there’s the Youth Zone where kids and teens can hang out. Children are grouped by age and activities are planned to keep them entertained.
As I said earlier the neighborhoods keep things organized and are designed to keep guests entertained depending on their interests. In my opinion they also keep the guests dispersed throughout the ship so that they all don’t gather in one place. I’m not sure if this really works because all the complementary eateries were packed during meal times and the popular activities had long lines on the one and only day at sea we had.
One of the most important things to cruisers are the dining options. There’s definitely no lack of eateries on the Harmony of the Seas. Whatever you have a yen for you’ll probably be able to satisfy it at one of the restaurants.
There are several eateries that are “complimentary”, meaning you don’t have to pay extra for eating there. This includes the Windjammer Buffet, Park Café, Promenade Café, Mini Bites, Sorrento’s, Solarium Bistro, the Boardwalk Dog House, and the Main Dining Rooms (American Icon and Silk). All other eateries are considered specialty dining and have either a cover or a la carte charge.
I think that pretty much covers the activities and eateries on the Harmony of the Seas, so on to my review. First off I need to say that we did not pay a penny for this cruise. It was a reward from one of my husband’s vendors. They paid the air fare, cruise, transfers, premium drink card, and gratuities. So really this cruise was partly business for my husband and mostly pleasure for me. We had to attend 2 business functions and my husband had to attend a business meeting; the rest of the time we were free to do as we pleased. We were part of a group of 400 that included car audio dealers such as us, company reps, and corporate executives. Most of us had Balcony staterooms (the opportunity to upgrade to a suite was offered but we would have had to pay the difference) and we all had fixed late seating in the main dining room.
The check-in process was amazingly smooth, most of the paperwork was done online and printed out before we set out for the ship. All we had to do was show our passports and collect our cruise card. So we dropped off luggage and checked in at the Barcelona cruise terminal and boarded the ship. Staterooms weren’t ready until 1:00 p.m., but guests are allowed to use the facilities while waiting for the rooms. Due to a delay at the airport we didn’t check in until a little past 1:00 so we were able to head straight to our room for a short nap.
Our room was good sized. It was furnished with a king size bed and a coach as well as plenty of closet space. I loved the wardrobes with bottom drawers that were placed on either side of the bed. There were also drawers on one side of the desk and a safe hidden inside a cabinet. Yes indeed, lots of storage space! Another stateroom feature we loved was the generous circular shower stall, however I wasn’t pleased by the shampoo/conditioner in the dispenser mounted on the shower wall. The room was comfortable and the cabin steward very attentive.
The public spaces throughout the ship were very well maintained, which we expected given that this is the ship’s maiden year. But my pet peeve was the lack of comfy seats in quiet places. Yes there was plenty of seating, at the bars, restaurants, and by the pools; but I couldn’t find any place to just sit quietly and read a book!
Every snack bar and restaurant had limited seating designed for you to grab a bite then move on. You had to move on because as you ate there was always someone circling around you searching for a place to sit down and eat! There were lounges and chairs around the pools, they weren’t the most comfortable nor was it a quiet or relaxing space. There was always something going on and lots of kids running around. To be fair the Solarium with its indoor pool and Jacuzzis was a quiet spot, this area is for adults only. I’m told there was a library on board but I never had the energy to find it.
As for entertainment there sure were plenty of choices. Thrill seekers could go down one of the slides, ride the zipline, surf the FlowRider, and climb the rock wall. For something more sedate there’s ice skating, shopping, gaming, and shows.
The shows on board are fantastic! We watched the Fine Line show at the Aqua Theater, it was awesome! We also saw the Broadway type version of Grease, it was incredible! The magic show was also quite good as was the ice skating show. But if you really want to watch one of these shows you should make reservations, in my opinion a bit of a downer when you’re on vacation. You can make reservations online before you cruise, thru the interactive TV in the stateroom, on an App you can install on your phone, or on one of the ipads located on deck 5.
That brings me to another cool feature of the Harmony of the Seas, its technology! From your stateroom you can order room service, buy shore excursion tickets, make show and dining reservations, and check your account balances from the interactive TV mounted on the wall! Technology designed to help guests is everywhere. There are large touch screen pads mounted by the elevators that help guest navigate the ship. Interactive screens by the main dining rooms show menus for all the major restaurants, very helpful when planning meals. And of course there’s the robotic arms that will make your cocktail.
And there’s the wi-fi. They claim to have the fastest wi-fi on seas, and I believe they do, for a price. You can connect one or all of your devices to their Vroom wi-fi 24/7 as long as you’re willing to pay. They offer a package that will cover the length of your cruise for about $200-$300 per device, or $29.95 plus tax a day per device. A free day of wi-fi was one of the perks of my loyalty level so I got to try it out. I was a bit peeved when I discovered my “free” day of wi-fi was only worth $24.95 and the cost was actually $29.95 so I ended up paying the difference of $9.95. (There was an extra $5 tax, what’s up with that? I’ve never paid tax on a cruise ship!)
Another thing I liked was the ease of using loyalty perks. Gone are the coupons I always forget to bring with me. The perks for each loyalty tier are loaded to your cruise card and automatically applied to the purchase. For instance, Diamond level and above receive 3 free drinks at most bars daily between 6:00 and 8:30; so you go to a bar, order your drink, present your card and it will be free, no need for coupons! You do get a letter at the beginning of the cruise to let you know what perks if any you are entitled to. You can also check it out on your stateroom’s interactive TV!
You noticed I saved the food for last. Unfortunately, we found the food lacking.
The buffet was very disappointing! The buffet called the Windjammer isn’t very big and the choices are limited. In fact, breakfast was the same thing every day. The buffet had one carving station that carved either a roast for lunch or dinner, or ham during breakfast. There were 2 action stations, in the very back on either side of the buffet. They both made cook to order eggs (fried or scrambled, if you want a fresh omelet you’ll have to go to a different restaurant) for breakfast, then turned into a stir fry or pasta station during lunch and dinner. Seating was also very limited so finding a place to sit and enjoy a meal can be challenging.
We had dinner at the buffet on the first day, it was so bad we never went back for lunch or dinner. We did have breakfast there a few times, mainly because it was more convenient. For the first 2 days I had 2 fried eggs and garlic rice or hash browns, they were the only items I liked. The rest of the time we had oatmeal and a slice of melon for breakfast. The sausages, both pork and turkey, were awful, and the corned beef hash was mushy, soupy, and undercooked. Toast, waffles, and pancakes were always lukewarm if not stone cold. The pastries were stale and dry.
As for the lunch or dinner buffet I’m told it was changed daily. One of our friends stumbled on all you can eat Lobster night and indulged himself on lobster; he claims to have eaten 20 small lobster tail halves. The next day for lunch he stumbled on all you can eat mussels, he was happy.
What I found amazing about this buffet was that it served only 3 meals and closed in between. The daily newsletter will state the times for each meal, there are no snack or tea times at this buffet. It closes around 10:00 pm and re-opens for breakfast the next day. However you can run up for cofffee, tea, and juice 24/7.
One good thing I like about the buffet was the ship’s strict attention to hygiene. From my understanding buffets are a great place to catch a food borne illness so good food handling and guest hygiene is the best way to combat an out break of some very nasty ailments. On the Harmony of the Seas guest hygiene when entering the buffet is stressed, so much so that you are required to wash your hands before you are allowed in the buffet. They make this easy there are hand sinks at the buffet entrance!
Most of our dinners were at the main dining room. We were assigned to the American Icon’s second seating at 8:45. The food was uninspired and the service fairly slow. Some of the dining room crew were friendly and enthusiastic, others not so much. There were actually 3 menu sections: the daily offerings, the classic choices including French Onion soup and Escargot, and the Premium offerings. Premium choices which involves an up charge includes Maine Lobster ($29.99), Filet Mignon, and a couple of other entrees.
Other places we tried:
Sorrento’s – The pizza was pretty good, assuming you got a slice that was fresh out of the oven. Otherwise it was cold and dry.
Boardwalk Dog House – The beef hot dogs were awful! The buns were dry and stale, and the dogs had a funny taste. I can’t put my finger on it, but they sort of tasted like chicken viennas. Yuck!
Johnny Rockets – Cover charge is $6.95 per person plus tax. The cover includes your choice of sandwich (you can have as many as you can eat), sides, soda, and dessert (sundae or apple pie a la mode). Milkshakes and floats are extra and charged per item.
Promenade Café – They have pastries all day and add a few sandwiches in the afternoon. Coffee and tea are always available. The pastries and donuts were not good. The sandwiches were okay. I enjoyed the shrimp salad roll. This is the only place open 24 hours.
Park Café – This was a good choice for lunch. You could get a nice salad and have a deli style sandwich. They made to order grilled sandwiches and had pre-made tuna and egg salad sandwiches in the refrigerated shelf just like 7Eleven! They also had fruit cups and bags of potato chips. This place closes at 6:00 p.m., so it’s a good choice for a light dinner if you don’t mind having it early.
Solarium Bistro – This is a good alternative for dinner, but you must make reservations. It’s a combination restaurant where you helped yourself to a salad and antipasti buffet, ordered a main course from the menu, then help yourself to the dessert bar. We enjoyed the salad and antipasti bar as well as the grilled shrimp, the chicken kebobs were a bit bland and dry. This venue also serves a small breakfast buffet every morning.
Places we wanted to try and why we didn’t:
Sabor Taqueria & Tequila Bar – This is a specialty restaurant that sells everything a la carte. I wanted to try it until I heard several fellow cruisers say it was awful. That combined with the fact that when we passed by it was always empty. We chose to skip it.
Chops Grill – This is their specialty steakhouse with a cover charge. I’m not really sure what the cover is. We decided to skip this place because my husband’s favorite cut, ribeye steak, wasn’t on the menu.
Jamie’s Italian – The menu looked appetizing, but we ran out of time.
Yes there were definitely lots of dining choices on the Harmony of the Seas. Unfortunately a 7 day cruise just isn’t enough time to allow you to enjoy all of them.
The last feature I liked about this ship, actually the cruise line in general, is their Diamond Lounge. Cruisers with a loyalty level of Diamond and above have exclusive access to this lounge all day. (You’ll need to swipe your cruise card to get in and the host or hostess will check your tier level.)
This lounge is a haven! You can enjoy a continental breakfast, a latte or cappuccino in a quite lounge with very comfy seating. In the evening you can unwind with free cocktails and canapés. And of course you can pop in all day long for tea or coffee. I just loved being able to finally find a quite comfortable place to sit down away from the crowds!
Over all we had an enjoyable time aboard the Harmony of the Seas. It is a beautiful ship full of lots of fun venues. I know if the grandkids had been with us they would have had a blast. It’s a great ship for families with children of any age, and of course thrill seekers young and old.
But if your idea of a vacation is to do nothing but relax in the lap of luxury you might consider sailing on a different ship or with a different cruise line altogether. Don’t get me wrong, the Harmony of the Seas has the Vitality Spa if you want to indulge in a relaxing spa treatment or massage, and the solarium pool has nice loungers and pools, but as far as luxury it falls a bit short for my tastes.
Here are some photos from our cruise on the Harmony of the Seas! Check back soon for my review of the Celebrity Reflection, the ship we sailed on the day after we disembarked!