Finally a cruise that didn’t get cancelled. Things aren’t quite back to normal in a covid world, but ships are sailing again. Cruising isn’t quite the same, but there are ships on the sea. I took a week-long Caribbean cruise with my sisters on Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas. Pre-boarding has expanded from the regular registration that was always required to include proof of vaccination (for some cruises) and a pre-boarding covid test. Things onboard aren’t quite back to normal either. Some of it is good, like being on a ship that holds over 6000 passengers, but had less than 3000. And that there were no covid cases onboard during our October sailing.
While that still means a lot of people on board, it’s a big ship and nothing ever felt crowded and hardly anything had much of a line. Masks were required in all indoor spaces. Which is good to prevent spreading disease, but when you’re often going from inside to outside and back it’s pretty easy to forget to put the mask on or take it off. The ship had individually packaged masks available for anybody who needed one – or who forgot to take one with them when they left their room.
Going with the theme, even though it’s standard to take masks off for photos, we had quite a few with them on. Being as there were 3 of us wandering about the ship in masks the 3 mask-ateers seemed like a good nickname for the group. Since none of us are all that photogenic and the mask hides a photo-ruining expression they were helpful in getting photos where we all look OK. Like the times when you start out with a genuine smile, but by the time they get around to clicking the camera it’s gone to a forced expression and the mask hides that. All the photographers used the same 4 poses and it wasn’t until the very last one we finally found someone who would allow other poses besides facing forward, group hug, hands on hips or facing toward or away from each other. We got really tired of those same poses over and over again. Sometimes we traded places. Here I’m in the middle, which as the middle sister I often was. The dining room photos were a bit different being seated, but they always came by while we were having salad and then took them pretty quickly, often while somebody was still running their tongue around their teeth inside their mouth trying to make sure there wasn’t any lettuce hanging out between teeth, which really makes for a really bad photo so most of those didn’t turn out well.
Currently the largest cruise ship in the world, Symphony of the Seas is 1188 feet long and 255.5 feet wide with a passenger capacity of 6680 guests in 2759 staterooms, and 2200 crew. It has 18 decks, 16 of which are open to passengers. This ship is so large the cruise line has the public areas divided up into 7 neighborhoods – Central Park, Boardwalk, Royal Promenade, Pool and Sports Zone, Vitality Spa and Fitness Center, Entertainment Place, and Youth Zone. It has 9 complimentary eateries and 10 premium restaurants or food shops that have an extra cost.
Rooms come with more options than other ships can even imagine. There’s quite a variety of suites, some of which have balconies that wrap around from outside to inside the ship with great views of the water show and boardwalk area on the inside and the ocean on the outside. There’s a 2-story high family suite with a slide from the upper level to the lower, and some other 2-level loft suites as well. Balcony and window rooms have greater than normal variety too since some come with views of Central Park, the Royal Promenade, or the Boardwalk from what would otherwise be inside cabins as well as the standard ocean view staterooms with windows or balconies facing the sea. There are some interior cabins without windows or balconies, but even some of those come with virtual ocean views.
Like many cruise ships, it has a theater and a comedy club, but those aren’t the only places to find shows. The ice area and water stage also put on some fantastic performances. You can find the normal things to do like exercise classes, trivia and other contests from the entertainment staff, casino, pools and hot tubs, arcades, and games like shuffleboard or ping pong.
Additionally this ship has so much more. It has 10-deck dry slides, 3 waterslides, a zip line, mini golf, rock climbing walls, flow riders, laser tag, a carousel, and for the little ones a splash zone with kid-sized waterslide. For adults there’s the solarium, a covered area with hot tubs, deck chairs, a bar, and no kids.
It also has the best outside promenade deck ever. Not only does it go all the way around the ship, but it is actually set up to be a walking and running track. There’s some deck chairs at the back where people can sit and watch the wake go by, and a couple duck-outs with games. One had shuffleboard and cornhole, the other a ping-pong table. The surface of the promenade deck has two lanes like a track, one for walkers and the other for runners. If you start at the marked starting line it has markings along the way that tell you how far you’ve gone, and signs that give distances for amounts of laps. There are also encouraging signs hanging above and some other signs along the way, some for information and others for entertainment.
The gift shop had the one thing I always look for – a ship model Christmas tree ornament. They weren’t in boxes or blister packs like they usually are. These were loose and a bit hard to find as they were in a bin blending in with key chains that had the exact same little ship, but with a key chain attached to one end instead of a little gold string on the top. It’s bigger than the average ship model ornament and as a key chain would take up a lot of purse or pocket space. For a Christmas tree ornament the size is fine. Rather fitting that it is the biggest of my ship model ornaments since it is the biggest ship, though the size of the models compared to one another doesn’t come anywhere close to reflecting the true size differences between the actual ships.
Of course there are bars, 23 of them actually, though some are not accessible to everyone being located in a pay-extra restaurant or special lounge for suite guests or those with high loyalty status. Most of them are for everyone though, and not all are ordinary bars. The Rising Tide Bar is part elevator, sometimes sitting in the Royal Promenade, and other times rising several decks higher into Central Park. The Bionic Bar has 2 robot bar tenders who can make drinks from their menu or people can customize.
Central Park has pathways through gardens with actual live plants. It has tables and benches among the gardens and shops, eateries, and a bar at the edges. It’s open to the sky many decks up. Staterooms with balconies occupy the walls rising from both sides of the garden, resembling apartments in a city.
The Royal Promenade somewhat resembles a street passing through a city with shops, bars, and eateries along the sides, and residences in the form of staterooms with windows above the shops.
Enter the Boardwalk to a real working carousel, available for rides at no extra cost during the hours it is open. The boardwalk area is open to the sky with balcony staterooms rising many decks above. The water show theater sits at the back, which also has movie screens. Rock climbing walls are located on either side rising up the walls just forward of the aqua theater. Bars, eateries, shops, and an arcade sit along either side. The ultimate abyss slide exits near the aqua theater, the entrance is 10 decks up.
Some of the fun things on the ship aren’t on the map – you just have to find them, like the piano stairs. They’re near the elevators by the buffet between decks 15 & 16. Although each stair is not actually a piano key, they are made to look as such. They have motion sensors that play a tune when anybody walks on them. If you are the only person on the stairway you can make the song play faster or slower by going faster or slower yourself, but if there is more than one person on the stairs it just plays at normal speed.
The ship had artwork on the stairways. Some quite nice, but a lot of it very odd. The most interesting was the one above the piano stairs, which had 3 frames with little chef guys that would draw different things and then erase them and start over. The rest of the art wasn’t active like that bit, just hanging there like normal art. The oddest one looked like a painting of a decorated egg behind a statue of legs with their clothing down like they were sitting on a toilet. It reminded me of naked toilet man, a painting in an elevator on Carnival Splendor. Kind of makes me wonder who chooses cruise ship art and what they were thinking when they chose it.
The crew is very attentive and the food on our cruise was quite good. They can cater to special diets, but for dining room meals they require pre-ordering for breakfast and lunch as well as dinner. Gluten free food can be found at the buffet, some for the asking and some ready to go.
We saw 3 of the shows on this ship, the water show, main ice show, and one theater show and all were very good. We really enjoyed our time on the Symphony of the Seas. There’s so much to do on the ship it’s hard to fit it all in.