A great inaugural cruise on Harmony of the seas proved that big can also be amongst the best.
With over 5,500 passengers to board, the potential for long queues was a slight concern but this was the quickest, smoothest, least hassle boarding process that I have ever experienced. Pre-registration completed, I arrived at 12.00, my selected boarding time and I was met outside the terminal by a lady with iPad, quick swipe of passports and a stamp on my copy of the electronic boarding pass and I was into the terminal. Only one couple ahead of me at security and I was on my way to boarding the ship less than 10 minutes since the taxi dropped me off. The entrance to the ship is wide with multiple scanners and an escalator to take you up to deck 3. Other cruise lines could learn a lot from this boarding process.
After all the bad news stories about the two pre inaugural cruises, that claimed the ship was not finished and was swarming with contractors, I was wondering what I was going to find. The answer was an amazing ship with one or two very minor issues and no sign of hordes of contractors. However, the quality of workmanship and finish was nowhere near that of Anthem of the Seas when she was new. Such a shame, but you cannot beat the German engineers.
I have not been on Oasis or Allure so Harmony is my first experience of the mega ships. There is only one word to describe what I found, Wow! Harmony is a very big step up in size to Anthem of the Seas, the largest ship I had sailed on before and much of this comes from the?? Increase in the width of the ship.
The layout of the ship is easy to follow and the way that bars, restaurants, pools and entertainment venues are located around the ship disbursed passengers so you seldom get the feel of the 5,000 or so passengers. Yes, the pool decks are busy on sea days but the beautiful three deck solarium at the front of the ship always had space and a much more relaxed atmosphere.
The Windjammer self service restaurant is much too small so it gets very crowded, but there are a number of other no charge places to eat at different meal times. One deck of the main dining room is open for all three meals on sea days and Breakfast and Dinner every day. The Solarium Bistro is a little haven that also opens for all three meals. Park Café in the Central Park provides light bites, Sorrento make, on the Royal Promenade, makes great pizzas. Mini Bites behind the main pool deck and the Dog House on The Boardwalk also provide no cost options for much of the day. Sabor Mexican and Johnny Rockets, both on the Boardwalk offer low-cost options.
The zones of the ship
Royal Promenade is the main inside thoroughfare on deck five, it has The Royal Theatre at the forward end and runs right back to the Silk restaurant at the aft end. There are a range of shops, bars and eateries as well as Guest services and Future Cruise sales. This is also one of the main entertainment spots.
The Boardwalk is an open area at the aft of deck six which houses the carousel, the aqua theatre, the Starbucks franchise (extra cost and not included in any packages) and Sabor and Johnny Rockets, both of which have nice outdoor eating areas. The Boardwalk leads to the aqua theatre where they perform the amazing aqua shows.
Central Park is, for me, one of the Highlights of Harmony. This is an open air area that runs between the two lift Wells on deck eight. This is home to a number of shops, Vintages wine bar, Jamie’s Italian, The Park Café, 150 Central Park, Chops Grill and the Rising Tide bar. There are so many real plants and trees and some lovely quiet spots to while away the time. There are also a number of glass domes that let light into the Royal Promenade and also provide sheltered seating, but the glass does need a bit more cleaning. There are spectacular views up to the water slides, eight decks above.
The Pool Zone contains the swimming pools and the children’s water park in the mid ship area with the Flow Riders towards the aft of the ship. The forward part of the ship is taken up by the three-deck high Solarium which became our favourite spot. Whilst the main pool decks became very busy, it was always possible to find a nice place to relax in the Solarium. The partial roof and the glass screens made this a very pleasant area even when at sea. The Solarium bar provided liquid refreshment, the Solarium Bistro provided sustenance and the hot tubs provided aquatic relaxation.
The Entertainment zone is on deck four at the forward end of the ship and it links The Royal Theatre with Studio B, the ice rink and includes The Attic music venue and a woefully small and dull Diamond Lounge.
Accommodation – Junior Suite
I had booked a junior suite on deck 11, as it was a special anniversary. The suite is spacious and well equipped with a walk-in wardrobe and a lot of draws, but there are no draws beside the bed, just a small table each side.
There is a dressing table with back lite mirror and there are 3 US, 1 European and 2 USB sockets. There is a kettle and coffee maker, a small fridge with water and soft drinks (charged), and a small safe. Lighting was good with 5 ceiling lights and three table / bedside lights that work well.
The bathroom is spacious and there is a shallow bath with a shower over it and a glass shower screen. I must say that I would prefer a walk-in shower as it would be easier to access. There are open shelves on both sides of the mirror and under the wash basin, but my preference is for small cupboards that hide everything away. There is L’Occitane shampoo, conditioner, soap and body lotion provided but there is no shower gel, shower cap, tissues or cotton wool / buds. Not a big deal if you remember to take them with you as the on-board shop is not well stocked in this department.
Main dining – American Icons – Grande – Silk make up three decks of the main dining room at the aft end of decks 3, 4 and 5 respectively. American Icons is for set time and the other two for my time dining. American Icons is open every day for breakfast and on sea days for lunch. All three are open every day for dinner. Thankfully the dynamic dinning which was a disaster on Anthem was not present on Harmony.
The menu is the same in all three and is a combination of the daily menu plus a set of always available options called classics. Overall the food is OK rather than good but there were some outstanding dishes. There was too much use of frozen vegetables for my liking.
Sabor Mexican. Located on the Boardwalk, Sabor provides an interesting menu, good quality food and a great atmosphere. Some seating on the Boardwalk makes this an attractive spot to people watch. A La carte pricing $2.50 for appetisers, $5.00 or light Bites and $10.00 for entrees.
150 Central Park. This is billed as the premium restaurant and it has a beautiful décor but I found the menu a bit limited as I do not eat fish and my chicken dish lacked vegetables. Chicken and mashed potatoes with a couple of dabs of sauce was rather bland and not good value at $48 for the three-course menu.
Chops Grill. An old RCI favourite lived up to expectations. A nicely balance menu, great steaks and friendly service provided an enjoyable evening.my slight disappointment was that the wine list here and across the ship is very typically American with few good wines from other New World wineries. Some very average Californian wines were anything but average prices and few are available on even The Ultimate Drinks package without paying a supplement. $39 cover charge.
Wonderland is a beautiful restaurant overlooking the Boardwalk on decks 11 and 12 and it offers a very unusual dining experience. I tried Wonderland on Anthem but did not have enough time to do so on Harmony. ($49 cover charge)
Windjammer self service. The usual Windjammer choice of menu but totally inadequate in seating capacity for a ship of this size so it is not easy to find a seat and it is a bun fight when very busy.
Solarium Bistro. This is a very pleasant small self service restaurant with some seating in the solarium as well as in door seating. It seems to provide a selection of the dishes from The Windjammer and it is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It can get busy at peak times but otherwise it is a little oasis from the mayhem of the Windjammer. No extra charge.
Mini Bites. This small self service area to the aft of the pool deck provides a small selection of finger food throughout the day with some very tasty little snacks.
Central Park Café, located on the Royal Promenade, provides a selection of sandwiches and quick bites as well as coffee and pastries at the appropriate time of the day.
The Dog House, located on the Boardwalk, is a hot dog take away service with seating around the carousel. There are a range of burgers but I found them quite uninspiring.
Sorrento, the pizza self-service is located on the Royal Promenade and, as well as the set piece pizzas that are on offer, there is the option to have your own one person pizza made with your own choice of toppings. These are great when fresh out of the oven.
Johnny Rockets. After being very disappointed with the self service JR on Anthem, it was nice to see that waiter service is back on Harmony. The menu is good and the service enthusiastic and casual. There is both indoor and outdoor seating, the outdoor is along the Boardwalk which provides an ideal spot for people watching, especially those who have just been stupid enough to go down the Abyss slides.
There are a large range of bars with all the RCI favourites available such as the Schooner bar, there are also a few more unusual ones that are only found on some of the ships. For me, the Bionic bar is one of the highlights that we got to enjoy on Anthem. It is worth sitting for a while when the bar is quiet to see the robots do their “dance”. The Rising Tide bar is also very different as it rises and falls between the Royal Promenade and Central Park. This is a small bar and seats were at a premium so look out for the timetable and get there in good time. The Wine Bar was also a pleasant spot for a cool refreshing glass of wine, but it is a shame that there are only a few seats out on Central Park as that was a great spot for people watching.
Disembarkation in Barcelona was also very efficiently handled. With the ship berthed between two terminals, queues were minimised as half the passengers in every group went to each of the terminals so queues for luggage, taxis etc. were half what they could have been. A very well executed process that got us in our taxi less than