Thursday 29 September 2016

Harmony of the Seas: Living large on the world's biggest cruise ship

Harmony of the Seas

Anne Marie Scanlon

Published 06/06/2016 | 00:30

Royal Carribean International's Harmony of the Seas, is the world's largest and newest cruise ship.
Royal Carribean International's Harmony of the Seas, is the world's largest and newest cruise ship.
Skaters perform on the Ice Show.
Central Park, a tranquil oasis.
The Ultimate Abyss

Anne Marie Scanlon and her son test-drive the world's largest and newest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean's Harmony of the Seas.

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You get used to the screaming after a while. 

Sitting in the sunshine outside Johnny Rockets diner, overlooked by balconies and across the boardwalk from Starbucks, my nine-year-old son and I enjoyed burgers and chocolate shakes. We could have been in any number of holiday locations - apart from the screaming. 

But, while we were on a boardwalk, we weren't on dry land.

Instead we were on the largest cruise liner in the world - Harmony of the Seas. My son and I were lucky enough to get a pre-inaugural stay on the ship and our lunch venue was right beside the exit for the Ultimate Abyss, a ten-storey slide, or rather two ten-storey slides. The screams varied from excited and delighted to blood-curdling and terrified.

After my son enjoyed a round of crazy golf on the top deck it was our turn to take on the Ultimate Abyss. As we queued up, my normally gung-ho child started expressing doubts.

Harmony of the Seas on its launch.
Harmony of the Seas on its launch.

He wasn't the only one - we watched as more than one person changed their minds about hurtling down ten stories. When we got to the top of the queue I could see why. The entrance to the slides is all glass so you feel like you are suspended in mid-air, which is enough to make anyone feel a bit giddy.

I wasn't feeling all that nervous as I've been on plenty of scary rides - usually you've just started screaming when it's all over. Not the Ultimate Abyss, I was flung around corner after corner, with no end in sight. I had a good long scream. A pause. Another good long scream. Another pause. I was still in there.

At this point I did get a bit panicky thinking I had died, gone to hell and I was going to be stuck in this tunnel for the rest of eternity. And then I landed.

I was so shaken up that I didn't give a second thought to my child who was 'racing' me down and who didn't appear for a few more seconds. We agreed that it was easily the scariest ride we'd ever been on. It's definitely worth doing but not if you suffer from vertigo, a nervous stomach or are wearing white pants.

I had every intention of joining my son in the Flow Rider (a wave simulator where you can surf or boogie board) but before I had a chance he was thrown into a summersault and hurt his arm. Having stupidly forgotten to pack Calpol or similar, we headed down to the Medical Centre to get painkillers.

I really don't want to put ideas in anyone's head, but if you are going to get sick or have an accident then this ship is the place to do it.

The staff were lovely and gave my boy quite a thorough MOT stopping short of an X-Ray. (The following day they called to see how he was, which is more than your own doctor will do!) There's also a Medi-Spa aboard where you can have teeth whitening done in a short time for a reasonable price.

Harmony of the Seas is a new breed of cruise liner (to us on this side of the Atlantic, anyway). In the past the point of a cruise was usually the various destinations, but this boat is a destination in itself.

Cruising tends to have a stuffy elderly image but Harmony has been designed with all age groups in mind. There are countless bars and restaurants, four pools, ten hot tubs, an ice rink, two water parks, a Casino and an Aqua Theatre. (Smokers be warned, there are only two smoking areas on board, and you cannot purchase cigarettes, matches or lighters.)

When we got out of the Medical Centre there was only one thing for it - go for cocktails. We hit the Bionic Bar, and despite his 'injury' my son was well able to type into the tablet the sort of non-alcoholic cocktails we wanted. The drinks are then prepared by two 'Robot Arms'. (The Robots have a strange work ethic, they downed tools to dance in the middle of preparing a long list of cocktails!)

The venue was mobbed - everyone from tiny tots to grey-haired old ladies on walking frames, with everyone transfixed and amused by the antics of the robotic limbs. The drinks were quite lovely too.

The following morning, I dropped my son off at the Youth Zone, one of the seven different 'neighbourhoods' on board. I promised the boy I'd be back in an hour and set off to explore some of the other neighbourhoods, including the aforementioned Boardwalk and Central Park, complete with 12,000 plants and trees. When I arrived back an hour later he was having such a good time he told me to leave him for another hour.

The Spa was my next destination, where I had my hair blow-dried by Megan from Dublin. It wasn't cheap - especially when compared to the price of the tooth whitening! But you can't go to see a show like Grease with bad hair.

The Ultimate Abyss
The Ultimate Abyss

I was genuinely shocked when I walked into 1,400-seater, two-storey Royal Theatre and saw how large it was. I've been in 'real' theatres in the West End of London that were smaller. It was the first time I was truly overwhelmed by the craft. Between the layout and the original art that is everywhere, the overall feeling is actually quite intimate.

We were there to see the preview of Grease which was flawless and as good, if not better, than some musical productions I've sat through on the 'legitimate' stage. Again, like the Bionic Bar, the audience was made up of people of all ages; there wasn't an empty seat in the house and they gave the cast a fully justified standing ovation at the end.

If you are a parent, the really lovely thing about being on a cruise ship is when your child comes out with that inevitable whinge, "I'm hungry," there are no end of places doling out food. We tried several of the restaurants but never grew tired of Windjammer Marketplace, a huge buffet open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Even my son, who takes pickiness to unprecedented levels, declared their burgers "very good, although not as good as Johnny Rockets."

On deck 15, home of the pools, water parks and the entrance to the Ultimate Abyss, there are also ice-cream machines where the kids can help themselves - so you don't even have to get off your deckchair.

Getting there

Harmony of the Seas is operating seven-night sailings around the Western Mediterranean from Barcelona from June to October. Booked directly with Royal Caribbean (royalcaribbean.ie), prices start at €1,269pp (based on two sharing an interior, ocean-view stateroom), including flights.

Elsewhere, Clickandgo.com has a seven-night Western Mediterranean cruise from €1,219pps full-board, including flights, departing September 25.

Harmony of the Seas itinerary: Barcelona, Spain; Palma, Mallorca; Marseille, France; La Spezia (Florence/Pisa), Italy; Rome, Italy; Naples (Capri), Italy; Barcelona, Spain.

Includes: return flights from Dublin/Barcelona, carry-on bag, seven nights full board, entertainment & $50 OBC (on-board credit) per person.

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