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The ship with something for everyone, and I mean everyone

June 6, 2016

Harmony of the Seas might be the biggest cruise ship in the world, but she is not unique. Two sister ships are already in Royal Caribbean’s fleet, and another is coming along in two years.
All are remarkable vessels, if only for their size, moving more than 6000 passengers in great comfort while being lavished with lashings of restaurants, bars and other accoutrements of good living.
Having said that, the sheer size originally put some people off, including myself, as my cruise writing focus steered me towards small, luxury ships with as few as 112 passengers. Harmony of the Seas is a humungous 227,000 tons with 18 decks, five times the size of the Titanic.
I did not sail on the first ship in this class, Oasis of the Seas. When the second, Allure of the Seas, came along, I thought I would risk a few hours on a day visit, for I had noticed a trend with big ships creating exclusive, luxury sections rather like first class and steerage in ocean liners of old.
Allure did not have a separate, gated community, but it did have some amazing suites which were increasingly popular with multi-generational travel, and there was something else – curry. I got a whiff of it heading into a meeting with tourism and port authority people. When the droning started I slipped out and followed my nose to a restaurant doing a lunch buffet.
And there it was, the best curry I have ever had afloat. I was a changed man, and when I received an invitation to sail on the third ship I set course for the waterfront.
Getting aboard Harmony of the Seas was a breeze, handled well by a legion of staff who knew their jobs and smiled as well. Getting to my cabin was another matter, for this is a long ship, and corridors that seem to go on forever. Go easy on your hand luggage and never forget your sunglasses.
Then we were off, Harmony of the Seas floating on a sea of bubbles, technically an air lubrication system, that are injected under the hull creating an effect like a board on marbles. As a result it is the fastest ship in the fleet. It is also incredibly smooth.
All of which makes an ideal platform for deck after deck of entertainment, such as Royal Promenade, where you can go shopping, pop into a pub and buy a slice of pizza. Three decks higher is Central Park, a leafy seaburb with swish restaurants and wine bars as well as Cartier and Bulgari boutiques, all overlooked by towering cabins .
The top deck has the usual pools and deck chairs, but also lots of stuff for the young at heart such as surf lessons on a wave pool, a rock face for climbing, a zip line and the hottest water slide yet – the Ultimate Abyss, in which brave souls ride an enclosed tube down 10 decks. Thoughtfully located near the start is the Wipe Out bar.
Elsewhere, in fact almost everywhere, there is a place for a pint or a mojito, and for a bit of fun there’s the Bionic Bar with robotic barmen. Mind you the chitty includes a tip. In cruising some things never change. I liked the wine bar in Central Park where the servers had that small, simple quality – they smiled.
The maitre d’ and staff at the 150 Central Park restaurant were equally charming, and the black cod was outstanding. This one of the restaurants where you pay extra, but the elegant 150 is well worth it, as was Jamie’s, where the bruschetta, prawn linguini and desserts are first class.
Note that while there are 20 places to eat, the popular ones get booked up, so reservations, maybe online before you board, are essential. You even have to book for the theatre, although there are two shows each evening.
It all adds up to a busy, buzzing ship where there is always something going on. It’s great for kids – who wear wristbands with a GPS connection so they don’t get lost – and the young at heart. The theatre shows Grease, there’s comedy and a nice little jazz venue, plus a superb indoor skating rink with ice shows.
What Harmony of the Seas does not have is a library, just an indoor card room with two bookshelves of paperbacks. But spectacular views, and quiet, can be found in the Solarium adults-only area.
Downloading a book, a newspaper or a film is also possible because Royal Caribbean ships have what they claim to be fastest internet afloat. Certainly it was good enough to bring the FA Cup final to a big screen.
Royal Caribbean built this ship on the basis that this is what their customers want. Bar a few trifles, no complaints were heard. Certainly not from me when I went to the Windjammer for lunch and found not one, but three curries.
I could also mention the fresh blueberries for breakfast, and the clever shower door in the bathroom of my balcony suite. None of the dreaded clingy curtains.
The ship will be home-ported in Barcelona for a summer of Mediterranean cruises.

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