Symphony of the Seas at 228,000 is the world’s largest cruise ship launched earlier this year. She was built in France and spent her first six months cruising the Med arriving in Miami earlier this month and now sails alternating 7-day itineraries to the Eastern and Western Caribbean. While there are over 2,700 guest rooms and suites and more than 5,500 passengers plus 2,200 crew, at nearly four football fields long she doesn’t necessarily feel crowded.
Symphony of the Seas is part of Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class of ships that include a myriad of features you might not expect at sea. In fact, she has seven neighborhoods, including Central Park (on Deck 8), enclosed on four sides by about seven decks of inwardly facing cabins, open at the top, and home to 20,000 plants in additions to bars, restaurants and boutiques from Cartier, Hublot and Bulgari. There’s a similar enclosed atrium area (Royal Promenade on Deck 5) with bars, restaurants and shops, including a Starbucks and a pizzeria. Then there is a third large outdoor area (Boardwalk on Deck 6) towards the rear of the ship with a full carousel, sports bar, Johnny Rockets and area that combines video and carnival games, two rock climbing walls and a open air aqua theatre where there are various diving and synchronized swimming shows. On the higher decks are an assortment of pools, including water slides, a surf ride, a zip line, miniature golf and a full basketball court that gets a good amount of use. There’s also an ice skating rink.
It’s been written Symphony cost more than $1.3 billion. It’s also worth noting you will depart and arrive at the company’s new $250 million Terminal A in Miami which really is gorgeous, but more importantly is designed to get your from “car to bar” in 10 minutes, although Royal Suite Class guests (more below) get VIP arrival and departures.
Symphony of the Seas probably isn’t going to replace your week in Tahiti at The Brando or that trip to Paris staying at The Plaza Athenee. However, if you need to find a great venue that will appeal to everyone in your group from toddlers and tweens to teens and older generations, there is so much diversity it would be pretty hard to find a better venue that makes things easy for you the host, and your guests. Royal Caribbean also has a healthy business hosting meetings and incentives aboard its ships, so it’s well equipped to do product launches, dealer conferences as well as internal meetings.
The only real negatives is that when you just get aboard, you have the security drill – no issue with that – but what could have been done in less than 10 minutes is stretched into a James Bond-like film and the session goes on for the better part of an hour. Maybe I was just cranky, but my read was most people would have preferred shorter. There were some minor hitches getting my Apple devices hooked to Wifi as others did, but the crew quickly helped, and the speed was acceptable I could use it for work and streaming video. If you’re worried about cruise ship food, don’t. There are lots of options which I would classify as big city restaurant quality. Symphony of the Seas gets a 5.0 (out of 5) from the editors at Cruise Critic and a 4.5 from its readers. Most of the negative reviews complain about getting a seat the pool and long lines, however, if you book into the Royal Suite Class accommodations reviewed below, you get priority access as well as a private sun deck. I was aboard a two-night cruise with a number of travel agents, many who focus on selling cruises and have been on a multitude of ships. Most travel advisors are small businesses and without big marketing budgets they rely on repeat business and referrals. The agents were unanimous in their praise.
Out of over 2,700 cabins aboard Symphony of the Seas, there are only 60 that have at least 500 square feet of interior space, all falling into either Star or Sky Class. Below is a guide to each suite type by category (Star and Sky) and a rundown of the amenities each provide:
Your Johnny-on-the-spot is your own Royal Genie to take care of arranging whatever you want, onshore, for dining, getting you the best seats for onboard entertainment, and priority access to various onboard activities. You get complimentary dining at 12 specialty restaurants onboard (details below). The suites comes with complimentary a Deluxe Beverage Package, complimentary Internet access, expedited boarding and departure at beginning and end of cruise, and also for ports plus access to the Suite Lounge and Suite Sun Deck. In your suite, you’ll find L’Occitane’s natural bath products, Duxiana beds and Frette linens.
Royal Loft Suite (1 in category)
At 1,744 sq. ft of interior space and 843 sq. ft. of balcony the two-bedroom Royal Loft Suite on Decks 17 and 18 is the largest on the world’s largest ship, so a double, double if you will. There is one bathroom on the main level and the Master bathroom has tub, shower and two sinks and bidet located on the upper level. Your balcony has a hot tub, and in addition to the living and dining area, there is a bar area. You have 180 degrees views with full views aft and Starboard. You can sleep up to six guests.
Ultimate Family Suite (1)
Also on Deck 17 at 1,134 sq. ft. with a 212 sq. ft. balcony (larger than standard cabins), the Ultimate Family Suite is a duplex that sleeps up to eight and includes three full bathrooms, including two with bathtub. The signature suite aboard the Symphony, it is mostly sold out. Travel + Leisure says, “Kids will be delighted by the suite’s Lego wall, 3-D cinema room and popcorn machine.” There’s also a slide from the upper level down to the main floor, ping-pong and air hockey tables and a hot tub on the balcony with panoramic views.
Villa Suite (1)
Located midship Starboard (right) Deck 12 the four-bedroom, 1,142 sq. ft. Villa Suite includes 476 sq. ft. of balcony space and features four bathrooms, including two master baths and can sleep up to 14 – yes – that’s 14. However, if you can afford the Villa Suite, you are probably better off sorting most of your gang into nearby staterooms. There are about a dozen Central View Balcony cabins directly across the hall so if you want your group nearby, you can then use your Villa Suite with its spacious living, dining and deck areas as a gathering point.
Star Loft Suite (2)
Back up on Deck 17 is the two one-bedroom 722 sq. ft. Star Loft Suites with a 410 sq. ft. balcony. Both sleep up to four guests and include two bathrooms with bathtubs. Suite 1722 has views to the Port side while 1724 faces aft looking out over the aqua theater.
Spacious AquaTheater Suite with Large Balcony (2)
With 180 degree views, located on Deck 8 facing aft the 2-bedroom 823 sq. ft. Spacious AquaTheater Suite with Large Balcony offers the second largest outdoor space of any suite at 772 sq. ft and can sleep up to eight people. You can watch the action down on the Boardwalk, rock climbing walls and the aqua theatre or gaze out on to the ocean or which ever port you happen to be in. Located at the end of the hallway, there are plentiful adjacent Boardwalk and Ocean View cabins if you want to create your own mini-compound at sea.
AquaTheater Suite with Large Balcony (4)
Located on Decks 10 and 9, the 2-bedroom AquaTheater Suite with Large Balcony is 739 sq. ft. inside with a 610 sq. ft. and sleeps up to eight. Each are located so you have 270 degree views out to the ocean and The Boardwalk. Each are located at the end of the hallway, so again, you can create a mini-area for your group by locating them on nearby Ocean and Boardwalk view balcony cabins.
Sky Class offers dedicated concierge service and priority access to your favorite activities, priority dining reservations and prime seats in select entertainment venues. There is complimentary dining at Coastal Kitchen, serving a fusion of Mediterranean influences and California cuisine, complimentary access to onboard internet and access to a private lounge and sun deck for Sky Class guests. Your Concierge can set you up with eearly access FlowRider, Ripcordby iFLY and the rock climbing wall.
Spacious AquaTheater Suite (4)
Located on Deck 11 and 12, the one-bedroom Spacious AquaTheater Suites have a similar location and view as their larger cousins, but still are each 562 sq. ft. inside and 589 sq. ft. of balcony and sleep up to four guests. Also at the end of the hall, the give you the ability to take nearby cabins and then use your suite as a gathering point.
AquaTheatre Suite (2)
Located on Deck 14 the one-bedroom AquaTheater Suites each offer 562 sq. ft. of interior space with a 631 sq. ft. balcony. They also provide panoramic views and their end of the hall position provides privacy and the ability to book adjacent cabins for your group.
Crown Loft Suite (27)
The duplex 545 sq. ft. Crown Loft Suite includes a 114. sq. ft. balcony and all 27 are located on Deck 17 with living area on the main floor and bedroom upstairs. Suites 1702 and 1764 are next to the Suite Lounge and Coastal Kitchen, so there could be some noise issues.
Owner’s Suite (12)
Located on Deck 10, 11, 12 and 14, the 556 sq. ft. one-bedroom Owner’s Suites with 243 sq. ft. balcony sleep up to five guests and are on the port and starboard sides. There are balcony cabins facing Central Park opposite so again, it’s easy to have other members of your gang near you. A large living and dining area make these suites a good gathering point.
Grand Suite (4)
The 2-bedroom Grand Suite is 580 sq. ft. and 238 sq. ft. balcony, which can sleep up to eight guests and is located on Decks 10 and 9. Located midships, there is a nice living room area to entertain and balcony cabins facing Central Park if you want to have members of your party nearby.
There are 23 restaurants and bars that serve food, including the three-story Main Dining Room with atrium. Even if you don’t eat there, the wide, thickly carpeted entry and multi-level design are worth a look, and in fact, throughout the ship there is plenty of impressive installment art that provides a surprisingly sophisticated vibe. While Star Class suites have complimentary dining at the 11 signature restaurants that carry a surcharge, both the Main Dining Room and Windjammer Marketplace with an extensive buffet are both very good. In the latter you will find something for every taste from healthy salads and fresh cut fruit to pizzas, cooking and carving stations and cuisine from around the world.
The premium restaurants include Hooked Seafood (try the Oyster shots), Izumi Hibachi & Sushi (get your Genie to get you a table for your group and enjoy the show from the talented tepan chefs), Chops Grille (dry aged steaks and seafood), Coastal Kitchen (exclusive for Royal Suite Class guests), Jamie’s Italian (from celebrity chef Jamie Oliver), Wonderland (pictured above – a must if you have kids for its Alice in Wonderland molecular gastronomy), 150 Central Park (pictured above – large comfortable chairs with well spaced tables serving modern dishes such as Mahogany Black Cod and Pan Roasted Scallops), Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade (lots of big screen TVs), Sugar Beach (stock up on candy and confections) and Johnny Rockets (burgers, shakes, cheese fries). There’s food available 24 hours via room service and a café. In one week you’re not going to be able to sample everything, and perhaps that’s the point. If you don’t cruise because you think you will get bored with the food, on Symphony of the Seas you won’t. If there are members of your group who are finicky about what they eat or have dietary restrictions, they will find something to suit their tastes.
Maybe you’re perception of cruise ship entertainment is lounge singers and show tunes. Being somebody who usually gets in at least one full cruise a year and not being a show person, the quality has been good. On Symphony there is a remake of Hairspray, and ice show in Studio B (above), Flight, taking you through the history and future of flight from the Wright Brothers (below) to a future commercial journey to Mars, and the high-flying HIRO at the AquaTheater.
There’s no cover at bars, lounges, and nightclubs, with comedy and poolside DJs, with live Caribbean music, classic guitar, Latin, jazz, piano, including karaoke. There’s also the Bionic Bar, an automated bartender, and of course the casino.
There are two 40-foot-long surf simulators called FlowRiders, two Rock Climbing Walls, The Ultimate Abyss, the largest waterslide that will plummet you 10 decks down, The Perfect Storm, a trio of waterslides, the Zip Line, suspended 10 decks in the air, an ice-skating rink, Escape the Rubicon, a game where you collaborate with friends using hidden clues needed to solve a collection of puzzles, laser tag, a hand-carved carousel, basketball court, and 9-hole mini-golf course. There are four pools and 10 whirlpools, including Splashaway Bay aqua park for kids, plus two cantilevered whirlpools suspended 135 feet above the ocean. There is a multitude of shops ranging from typical souvenirs to boutiques from jewelers Cartier and Bulgari and watchmaker Hublot.
Fitness and Spa
Vitality at Sea Fitness Center includes hair styling, manicures and pedicures, facials and an array of spa treatments. The gym has an impressive assortment cardio machines, Technogym weight machines and free weights as well as free weights. There is a dedicated four lane covered jogging track so you don’t have to can get your run in. There’s also an array of fitness classes, including yoga and stretching. If you are a gym rat, you’ll find everything you need on Symphony of the Seas.
Youth and Teen Programs
There is a wide variety of age specific programs for kids of all ages: Aquanauts (3 – 5 years): Finger Painting * Camp Aquanaut * Building Blocks * Music Activities * Space Night * Games – animal, color and shape BINGOExplorers (6 – 8 years): Pirate Night * Nutty Nicknames * Pajama Night * Carnival games * Talent ShowVoyagers (9 – 11 years): Karaoke * Sports Tournaments * GaGa Ball * List-o-Rama * Boys vs Girls * Scavenger Hunts * Crazy Tag Teens (12 – 14 years): Sports Tournaments * Pool Parties * Scavenger Hunts * Karaoke * Themed Dance Parties * Video Games * Nintendo© Wii *Teens (15 – 17 years): Pool Parties * DJ Training * Battle of the Sexes * Karaoke * Casino Night * Themed Dance Parties * Nintendo Wii-Guitar Hero * MoviesIsland Activities: Beach Parties * Beach Volleyball * Hermit Crab Hunt * Sand Castle Building * Sea Shell Collecting * Rocket Launch * Water Balloon Toss
Meetings and Incentives
There is seated meeting space that can accommodate groups up to 1,411 in the Royal Theater while Studio B (the ice skating rink) can seat 769 and the outdoor AquaTheater has auditorium seating for 600 and can also be a venue for big screen movies. There are four conference rooms that can accommodate 60 to 369 people. You can also takeover the entire Boardwalk or Central Park for special events as well as different pool areas where you can have a single function for up to 1,900. There are also various packages covering internet and drinks, and the fact that there is an array of complimentary options means you can minimize non-budgeted expenses.
There’s a dedicated team for groups that can be reached at +1.305.539.6918 or RoyalCaribbeanIncentives.com. I also recommend using a good travel advisor who knows Symphony of the Seas, the cabin types and locations and can help you with custom experiences at ports and help organize activities of aboard in advance.