I've spent years booking flights, train tickets and rental cars to explore new-to-me destinations, but one thing I had never booked was a cruise. All that changed when the world's largest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas, announced its preview sail to celebrate its North American launch. Known for its family-friendly reputation, I had to check out the new ship and see what the fuss was all about. As a newbie to cruising, I had no idea what to expect, but what I encountered on that two-day sail from Miami to Nassau left my jaw permanently dropped.
Let's start with the sheer magnitude of the ship itself. At 1,188 feet long, it spans the length of more than three football fields. The ship's 18 decks can carry a whopping 6,680 guests and 2,200 crew. When I arrived at the port, I could barely crane my neck enough to take in the height.
The ship was impressive from the outside, but then I toured the Ultimate Family Suite. The only such suite at sea, this loft packs in endless fun. Royal Caribbean's President and CEO Michael Bayley describes the Ultimate Family Suite as "engineered for families" — and I'd have to agree. Every detail was perfectly executed with input from families and kids. It has a bunk room for the kids and a master suite for the parents. But it was really the two-story slide, the air hockey table, the gaming room and the 3D vertical maze climb on the balcony that left me completely speechless. Due to its immense popularity (it's already booked solid for the next six months!), Royal Caribbean expects to roll out many of the this suite's amenities — think colorful walls, reading nooks and funky furniture — into other stateroom categories down the line.
Next up was trying out all the family-friendly fun onboard. For a day at sea, families have no shortage of thrills onboard Symphony of the Seas. The various pools offer splashy fun for kids of every age, and the Ultimate Abyss plunge slide is 10 stories of scream-inducing excitement. Older kids (and parents!) will get a kick out of the two Flowriders, 40-foot-long surf simulators. There's even a zipline that soars ten decks over the Boardwalk. The Boardwalk neighborhood, inspired by the seaside piers of yesteryear, has an arcade, carousel and the first food truck at sea. Beyond that, the entertainment on Symphony of the Seas is worth staying up past bedtime. The ship offers one box office-busting hit after the other, spanning across four mediums: stage, water, air and ice. Catch a feel-good Hairspray production on stage or hit the Aquatheater for the water acrobatics performance of HiRO. Meanwhile, Flight takes you on a journey chronicling aviation milestones, and you won't want to miss the time-traveling ice skating show, 1977.
Beyond the incredible adventures that span from bow to stern, I ate like a queen. As someone who often centers travel plans around meals, the phenomenal dining options on the ship were an unexpected delight. I took a culinary tour of the ship and heard from an executive chef to see how they manage to feed thousands of people several times a day. My biggest takeaway: Quality control and inventory management keep things in ship-shape. The ship's staff are perfectionists when it comes to food and service. They run like a well-oiled machine and dish out food at the 22 restaurants on the ship. My favorite? Hooked serves up a mean Messy Fish Sandwich (that comes with a plastic bib) and whimsical Wonderland has the most decadent, chocolatey ice cream dessert simply called The World (perhaps because it's the best in The World). A unique highlight of dining onboard Symphony of the Seas is that every menu can be customized for kids. The staff go out of their way to make sure all preferences and requests are met.
After two days onboard, suffice it to say: I was not ready to disembark. The Royal Caribbean cruising experience is crafted for the purpose of creating family bonding opportunities, and it wholly delivered. It might've been my first time on a cruise, but it certainly won't be my last. I must admit, however: Symphony of the Seas set the bar high.
By Bridgette Langdon
Set sail on the world’s biggest and boldest ship out of Miami. Symphony of the Seas sails to Caribbean destinations, including their private island, CocoCay, debuting May 2019.