A Gigantic Mistake? I Cruise One Of World’s Biggest “Resorts At Sea” Ships: Symphony Of The Seas
My Gigantic Mistake? I Cruise One Of World’s Biggest “Resorts At Sea” Ships
I like cruising on small and medium-sized ships that aren’t busy, and a bit laid back. But I also love going to Vegas, with its big brash shows, buzz, and excitement. So, I decided, to see if a big resort ship would work out for people like me. I nervously booked myself on Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas, which at the time was the second-biggest ship in the world, holding up to 6,680 passengers.
Now that I’ve experienced the best and worst of a mega ship resort cruising, I now know who should or shouldn’t be booking themselves on one of these. And why!
When I stepped onto the ship in Barcelona, I was hit by a wall of noise, music, chatter, and crowds. It was almost overwhelming.
Resorts At Sea – Not Aimed At Me?
Although, that freaked me out a bit, and I will come back to it, before coming my biggest concern was more fundamental: would the activities and events be for and catering for me. I’m older, and wasn’t travelling with kids, teens, or 20- 30-somethings.
Here’s what I found.
First, the entertainment was mind-blowing. I got to see “Hairspray”, the Broadway show, a production show called “Flight Dare to Dream” with an airplane “flying” around the auditorium at the end, an ice-skating show, which I’d never seen at sea before, called 1977, and best of all, Hiro an aqua show which was just phenomenal.
These appealed to me as much as they did to all ages.
The ship had the biggest program of activities I’ve ever seen on any cruise. There was so much to do. I took a video of me flicking through the App of everything that was on in just one day, and it was just a blur.
Although to be honest there was not as much targeted at me as I hoped, I did appreciate the detail and scale with everything they did offer.
So, What Was Going On?
Let me give you some examples. They had an Embarkation Balloon Drop Party with a staggering 3,000 balloons and live band playing. They did a parade through the Royal Promenade which had dozens of crew members, intricate costumes, choreography, and floats. The themed evening parties were embraced across the ship. So, on Caribbean night, even the waiters and barmen in every venue were dressed up in Caribbean garb. They ran a family fair on the Boardwalk one day, with free cupcakes, popcorn stands, face painting, games, band, and entertainment.
Every event was done with detail, clearly money being spent on them and done very well.
Though many of these events weren’t for me. I went just to see the slickness. The parade was kids and family focused. The parties were late at night for a younger party crowd. The balloon drop was at midnight, which for me is kind of way past my bedtime, sorry to say! But I was in the minority because the events and parties were packed.
Some of the more regular events weren’t really for me either. They had a belly flop competition, which is not really my taste, and I missed not having enrichment. There were no port immersion talks. They did have maybe one enrichment talk, which was where the production team answered questions, but that was sparsely attended. Showing, again, that the people on the ship weren’t really looking for things that I was looking for.
As I mentioned, the noise and crowds were a concern before going and as I boarded, how did that play out in the end?
Resorts At Sea – The Crowds
One thing I really liked about the ship that helped deal with the crowds was that it had seven distinct zones or areas, and even though I was on this massive ship, as I went to each of them, I felt like I was going into almost different ships and experiences.
It was clever as they used them by having activities during the day in each zone at the same time to spread the crowds around the ship.
Let me explain them more.
The loudest and busiest zone was the Royal Promenade. It had the shops, several busy bars, Guest Services, Photo Centre, Excursions Desk, Starbucks, Sorrento’s pizza, and Café Promenade. This was where the parties were held. It was always boisterous here. This was the zone I cared for less as it was too loud and frantic, but was loved by most as it was the happening place.
Central Park was a place that I did like. They have thousands of real plants, and it was kind of a quieter space. It was a bit buzzier in the evenings, as most of the specialty dining restaurants were here, and they would have a guitarist or some live music here. It did offer slightly more peace and quiet.
The other zone, which was fun, but not really targeted at me was the Boardwalk. It was more a family or teens place. It had a carousel, dining places like Johnny Rockets Diner and Boardwalk Doghouse, rock climbing and the Aqua show theatre. They held some parties here, like the Silent Disco.
Where Did I Spend Most Of My Time?
The zone I spent most time in the evenings was in what they called the Entertainment Place and had most of what I was looking for. It had the main and ice-skating theatres, Comedy Club, and the casino (which is massive and I’m sure there are more slot machines in there than in some of the casinos in Vegas!).
The Pool and Sports zone is another hugely busy one. It was a massive part of the ship. Always loud and busy during the day. It included four pools (with one dedicated for kids) on deck 15 with live music or DJ playing, three water slides (which I did go on and enjoy even though lining up with mostly kids!).
The Rest Of The “Resorts At Sea” Ship
Then towards the rear of Deck 15 was the famous Royal Caribbean FlowRider, used mostly by teens and young men and women, The Abyss, which is a slide which goes down to the Boardwalk, crazy golf (very popular with families), the Zip Line, Sports Court with constant basketball, pickleball, and soccer, and the Video Arcade.
It was a bit rowdy and party atmospheric for me, so I did like that there was an adult area on this deck too, called the Solarium for 16-years and over. This was though pretty much the only place on the ship that was adults only. There was some 18+ comedy shows, and a few events like live big band music in Dazzles bar that appealed more to adults. But unlike, say, a line like Disney, there was no extensive dedicated adult areas.
In the Sports Zone was a huge spa and then big fitness area which I used most days.
There was a youth zone, which of course for me was not of any use, as that’s where all the kids’ clubs and things were.
Much To Explore
All these zones and facilities and the huge daily program of activities gave me so much to explore I did something I have never done on a cruise with ports before, and that is stay on board for all seven days. I only got off in one port to see if I could take good pictures of the ship. And I know I still did not see and do everything. I wasn’t the only one, every day there were many people also staying on board even though places like Rome, Florence and Pisa were on the route.
More on that to come, but before that I want to tell you how two other big concerns I had before going played out.
Resorts At Sea – The Service
I assumed that with so many passengers, events, and venues, I would find service weaker than on the medium-sized premium lines like Princess, Holland America, and Celebrity.
I was so impressed by the crew and service. They came across as happy crew, and everyone I spoke to agreed the service was great. Obviously, it wasn’t as personal as on smaller ships, though my waiters got to know me and my likes, as did the Starbucks crew as I went there frequently!
So, although they didn’t get to know and personalise things, they were very friendly, upbeat, efficient, and seemed well trained.
I came to realise that they are clearly incentivised as from the middle of the cruise onwards, many crew started asking me how I rated them and if I would mention them in the post-cruise survey at the end. So, the crew are clearly being encouraged to make sure that they get good scores, and it does seem to work!
That was one unexpected positive, but what about one of the make-or-break things on a cruise that I was also sure on a big resort ship would be below those premium medium-sized lines I am more used to?
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Resorts At Sea – The Food
I expected the food on this mega resort ship would be average at best.
I’d decided on this cruise I was going to stick with the included dining options only, and not spend money on specialty dining. One reason being I had booked a suite and so had already pushed the budget out, the other is I wanted to see if the included food was poor to encourage splashing out on speciality.
So, I did dine mostly in Coastal Kitchen, versus the main dining room, and although the menus were not as large as I am used to, the food was rather good.
I used Windjammer Buffet quite often, especially for lunch and I really liked the range. The themed stations and salad bar options were as good as any of the premium lines like Holland America, Princess, and Celebrity.
I tried the pizzas in Sorrento’s (excellent), Boardwalk Doghouse (tasty), included ice cream (good), El Loco Fresh Mexican (very tasty), and Café Promenade in Central Park for sandwiches which were also good. I liked the wide range of included dining options (of which there are apparently 9, so clearly, I missed some!) and found them good.
The other thing that I did like about going on Royal Caribbean, was because I’ve been on Celebrity often and it’s part of the same group, my points meant that I had Diamond status, which unlocked perks. This included the Diamond Lounge, with continental breakfast and evening canapés, and four drinks a day up to $14 which meant avoiding buying a drinks package.
I came away from this trip with these big realisations. First, the resort Symphony of the Seas ship (and her sister ships) is not tacky as I probably had serotyped it, it was vast yes but designed well and with thought.
Second, care and money has been spent on making this packed with entertainment, shows and facilities that are well executed and hard to find on land in one place.
Third, this is absolutely made for families, multi-generational, young couples and groups of friends that want to be busy and on the go in vacation all the time. It’s loud, noisy, and bustling everywhere. Tellingly I was absolutely amongst the oldest on the ship. And it is not really for me. It’s not supposed to be. I loved trying it out, but I think I’m looking for something smaller, with more enrichment, less reason to stay on the ship and more to see the ports. Though I will really miss those shows!
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