Symphony of the Seas
Symphony of the Seas: Go big on the world's largest cruise ship
If you like to go big, you can’t get any bigger than Symphony of the Seas from Royal Caribbean. The world’s largest cruise ship set sail in April 2018 and now home-ports in Miami. The ship is so massive, it has seven distinct neighborhoods, including the tranquil Central Park, the family-fun Boardwalk and the luxury shop-filled Royal Promenade. As you would expect, there are several specialty and complimentary dining venues, multiple entertainment options and lounges, and also quite a few other passengers to deal with: 6,680 at full capacity, 5,518 at double occupancy.
As the fourth ship in Royal’s Oasis class, Symphony of the Seas offers many of the same venues and amenities of its three older sisters, with a few new additions. Like Harmony of the Seas, Symphony features a 10-story Ultimate Abyss water-free slide, a trio of fun (wet) waterslides and the Splashaway Bay kids waterpark. In addition, a second pool has been added to the Solarium on deck 15, meaning even more space for adults to relax.
Who will like sailing on Symphony of the Seas
We were on the first seven-night Caribbean sailing on the ship, which also happened to occur over the Thanksgiving holiday. There was an eclectic mix of cruisers on our trip with plenty of families, couples and groups on board. This shouldn’t be a surprise as the ship offers plenty of entertainment, amenities and experiences to appeal to all types of travelers. We enjoy this class of ship because of its diverse offerings; however, this class of ship could feel overwhelming to some, especially those who don't like crowds. If you are looking for a less structured vacation, this ship probably isn’t for you. With a ship of this size, you will need to do a little planning and make reservations for shows in advance to experience everything that Symphony of the Seas has to offer.
Here's a short video of Symphony of the Seas' arrival in Miami from cruiser Jim Zimmerlin.
Where Symphony of the Seas sails
Top dining options on board
Symphony of the Seas features a number of complimentary dining venues. The Windjammer Café is open most of the day, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Other casual alternatives include the Park Café for light breakfast and lunch and the new El Loco Fresh, the Tex-Mex-inspired eatery with a custom salsa bar. Late-night bites are available at Sorrento’s Pizza parlor and the 24-hour Café Promenade.
For dinner, the main dining room offers a three-course meal that changes each night of the cruise. Passengers can choose from My Time Dining or a set dinner time with the same table assignment and wait staff each night of the cruise. The Solarium Bistro, one of the ship's best-kept secrets, is open for a buffet breakfast and lunch and features a Greek-inspired dinner menu. For health-conscious cruisers, the Vitality Café offers light snacks for no charge as well as freshly squeezed juices, smoothies and specialty coffee available at an extra charge.
Specialty dining and upcharge venues
Symphony also offers a variety of specialty dining venues, including:
- Chops Grille offers steakhouse staples such as filet mignon and New York strip steak as well as dishes such as seafood, shrimp and roasted chicken. Dinner only, $49 per person.
- Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver helped design the menu at Jamie's Italian, a straight-ahead infusion of dishes from the Italian countryside. $25 lunch, $35 dinner.
- The whimsical Wonderland features selections that are as delicious as they are eye-catching. It spans two decks and we were taken in by the decor, inspired by "Alice in Wonderland." Dinner only; $49 per person.
- 150 Central Park features eight new, inventive eclectic entrees and seven appetizers with a mix of veal, venison, lamb, duck, lobster, salad, scallops, ribs and a cauliflower steak. Dinner only; $49 per person.
- The Asian restaurant Izumi Hibachi and Sushi serves sushi, sashimi, noodle bowls, soups and salads. Try the spicy miso ramen or spicy crispy shrimp roll. Open for lunch and dinner. Cost: a la carte or $45-$49 per person.
- New to the ship is the line’s first seafood restaurant, Hooked. A New England style casual seafood restaurant, this establishment offers selections such as clam chowder, fried calamari and the Fisherman’s Platter with lobster tail, shrimp and your choice of fresh catch. Dinner only; $39 per person.
Where I went & what I loved
Wait, the ship stopped at ports? When you cruise on a mega-ship with so much to offer, the ship itself is the main draw. Still, this typical Western Caribbean itinerary stopped at popular ports including Costa Maya, Cozumel, Roatan and Nassau, the Bahamas.
While we did stay on the ship for the entire stop in the Bahamas and a good portion of the day in Costa Maya, we did find some time to get off the ship to enjoy some Caribbean life. In Cozumel, we spent a relaxing beach day at the well-known, all-inclusive Nachi Cocom resort, which limits itself to only 130 guests and includes an a la carte menu and well stocked bar.
In Roatan, we booked an excursion with a local company that included an island tour of both the east and west side, a stop at a monkey and sloth sanctuary and some free time at a private beach resort at West Bay. How can you say no to a hug from a sloth?
Activities on board
There's never a dull moment on Symphony of the Seas. While there are more than 6,000 passengers on board, the various options really send the crowds in all directions. The sports deck is great for thrill seekers, including a zipline, Flowrider surf simulator and the Ultimate Abyss no-water slide. The Boardwalk features carnival-style fun complete with a carousel. You'll also find four pools, waterslides, an ice-skating rink and glow-in-the-dark laser tag, as well as more traditional cruise ship entertainment.
When it comes to nightlife, the ship has it all. For a sophisticated evening, the Trellis Bar or Vintages in Central Park offers smooth classical music and lush green backdrops that almost make you forget that you're on a ship. Sports fans will love the new Playmakers Sports Bar, which houses plenty of LCD screens, a full bar and some great pub food (food is an upcharge). There are other classic venues as well like the Latin-themed Boleros and the Schooner Bar with live piano music. You can even get a drink made by a robot at the Bionic Bar.
We could not get enough of the entertainment on Symphony of the Seas. On our seven-night cruise, the main theater featured a headliner act (Mo5aic), a comedy night, the musical Hairspray (reservations required), and the original production Flight (reservations required).
In the Aqua Theater, there was the diving and stunt show, Hiro (reservations required), playing several nights of the cruise, as well as a few showings of Aqua Nation (reservations not required). Studio B also had two shows, including the 1977 (reservations required) and the rock-infused spectacle iSkate 2.0 which was first come, first serve.
Families have a choice of plenty of activities on Symphony of the Seas. Some of the more popular attractions are the waterslides and the Battle for Planet Z laser tag. Make sure to arrive early as this complimentary game tends to have quite a wait.
Kids will also enjoy the carousel, the Lucky Climber and regular face-painting sessions on the Boardwalk, as well as mini-golf and the Splashaway Bay water park.
The Adventure Ocean kids club also offers programming for most of the day, complete with its own theater. For older children, there are teen-only areas, including the Fuel club.
We booked a mid-ship balcony stateroom on deck 11 and it offered plenty of space and storage. When compared to some of the competing lines’ mega-ships, we welcomed the extra room. The separate closets and variety of shelving allowed for his and her storage areas. Adding USB outlets near the desk and a power outlet near the bed was also a nice touch. While we didn't spend much time on the balcony, it was an adequate size to get some fresh air.
With so much to do, pre-booking your shows and specialty dining is a must on a ship of this size. The online Cruise Planner will have the entertainment reservations open about 90 days prior to your sailing, so mark that on your calendar. This can vary so checking your cruise planner on a regular basis is not a bad idea. Royal Caribbean also runs several deals and promotions with discounts of up to 50 percent off on shore excursions, Internet, beverage packages and other items.
For the most part, the dress on the ship is casual. While the main dining room has “suggested dress” posted each evening, those guidelines were not enforced and routinely ignored by many of the passengers. We always dress according to the recommendations, including two formal nights. We were actually surprised as to how many people were also dressed to impress on these evenings. In general, we always suggest you pack business casual clothes for the evenings. Feel free to lounge around in shorts or swimwear during the day.
Tips & gratuities
As on most major cruise lines, there is a daily gratuity. Depending on your cabin category, these range from $14 to $18 per person per day — tips go to the crew members. All beverages and specialty dining purchases have an additional 18 percent service charge. If you opt for a beverage package or dining package, you'll be charged the service fee on top of the daily rate. As usual, we left additional tips to our servers at the specialty restaurants as well as our stateroom attendant, who did an excellent job making sure our room was always tidy.
While there were certainly a number of families on our cruise, with 1,200 children on board, there were also several multi-generational groups on this sailing. For this maiden voyage, there were more than 2,500 Crown and Anchor Society members (previous Royal Caribbean cruisers). Our sailing seemed to have more seasoned cruisers than your typical Caribbean cruise. Given Symphony of the Seas’ size and many offerings, it might be a bit much for travelers who have never cruised before to hop on the largest ship in the world.
When compared to our previous experiences on the Oasis-class ships, we remarked on several occasions that the passenger flow and crowds seemed more manageable. Embarkation and disembarkation were a breeze. Getting an elevator was not as difficult as on other ships, and getting seats at the bars and lounges was usually not a problem. But keep in mind, there are 6,000 people on board, and the ship gets busy at peak times such as during dinner and shows. Still, with a little planning and visiting venues at off-peak times, you can usually manage to avoid the crowds.
Interested in a cruise on this ship?
Top highlights on this ship
- Spectacular original productions of "Flight" and the Broadway hit "Hairspray," coupled with shows in the Aqua Theater and the Studio B ice rink
- If you have the funds, the Suite Collection includes several private venues, including a restaurant, private sun deck, lounge and priority seating at all shows and events
- The Ultimate Family Suite comes complete with a personal cinema, a wrap-around balcony, an in-cabin slide and even a personal whirlpool