As the pandemic has come to an end for most people (there are still, however, outbreaks around the world), vacations are coming back to people’s lives. As you may recall from 2019, this publication was a strong defender of the cruise industry during the early days of the pandemic. If you remove the mishandling of the Diamond Princess and Ruby Princess in the Asian seas, you will find that cruise companies had some of the best records for safety – mainly because they already had anti-disease protocols in place.
For my first vacation in a long time, I elected to go on the Harmony of the Seas, one of the mega ships run by Royal Caribbean. Now as you will see, I have moved away from my normal 50 point scale to a 100 point scale to deal with a much more massive project. Therefore, for any cruise reviews I will be talking about the ship, the staff, boarding/debarkation, food, entertainment, bars, locations (ports), sports/athletics, customers, and of course a catch-all category. As such these articles will be a little longer than an average review.
To start out, as a little background, you may remember that NRN had planned the “First Annual NRN Cruise” (which we intend to bring back in 2024). Several readers had booked for this massive event. However, when the government shut down the cruise lines because of bad science, we had our trip cancelled. As a result, those of us who had already booked were given a cruise credit. This cruise, for me anyway, was three years in the making.
When we were looking at cruises, I wanted to go on one of the big ships. I have been on over half a dozen cruises in the past and wanted to try something new. The Harmony of the Seas 8 night Eastern Caribbean cruise seemed like a perfect match of new places and a newer boat (commissioned right before the industry was shut down). Upon arriving, the first thing I noticed was that the ship was very clean. While many cruises are clean, this ship was very clean. From the entrance to the room, everything was well kept.
As noted above, the ship was massive. One of the largest cruise ships in the world (I think it is currently the third biggest), the Harmony of the Seas dwarfed the other ships that were in harbor when we arrived. The balcony room that we had was just slightly smaller than a normal hotel room, which gave us ample space. We elected for the interior balcony, since this was my traveling companion’s first cruise. Our room had an amazing view of the “central park” area of the ship – a mix of botanical gardens and restaurants on the ship.
Talking to dozens of customers, some first-time cruisers and some well-established, most people I talked to were happy with their rooms. Those near the elevators complained of too much noise; the same with the people who had interior balconies on floor 9/10 close to the events. For our balcony on room 11, there was only one evening where the noise was too loud, and that wound down at about 11PM. Some people on floor 3 said that the clubs above them were a little loud.
The layout of this ship is easy to follow. If you look at the map, it is broken into 6 sections on each floor (fore starboard, midships starboard, aft starboard, fore port, midships port, aft port) on 17 floors. Each floor has maps near the elevators/stairs, which adds to the ease of finding things. Overall, the ship is amazing 9 of 10.
I am going to start here with 10 of 10. Our team that took care of us on this ship was amazing. Our dining room staff (Ruth, Joaquin, and Ercan) made every dinner seem like we were dining at a 5-star restaurant. Our room steward, Charitable, kept our room spotless. With the exception of one instance where a crew member told us that towels should be procured on the island (they could not be), every crew member we dealt with was cheerful and very helpful.
As a special note, even though they are not RCI employees, the Park West team on this ship was excellent as well. I have been on several cruises where the art dealers were pushy. In this case, Takeel, Elaine and Naish were excellent, knowledgeable and allowed us the freedom to buy what we wanted without being pushy. 9 of 10
Boarding and debarkation of the ship are two of the factors that can really determine whether or not your trip went well. When we arrived at the Harmony of the Seas, we were greeted by a baggage handler who was quite helpful (I did not catch his name). Entering the facility, we were about 20 minutes early for our boarding time, but they still allowed us to board, which was nice. The boarding process took about 15 minutes, from start to finish, and only required our passports two times. Also, as a nice note, there was only one “photo op” where a RCI employee asked to take your picture – so that was not holding the line up like in the past.
When it came to be time to leave, the debarkation process was miles ahead of where it used to be. Our luggage was separated by numbers, so no waiting. There was no customs line, they just used photo-recognition, and the debarkation lounge was open early and you had time to have one last meal before leaving the boat. All in all, it was a pleasant experience. The only knock I have is that the taxi/ride share pickup area was crowded to say the least. While we (being only two of us) had no problem catching a ride, several people I talked to who debarked before us had been waiting for half an hour for a family of four. 8 of 10.
It has taken me a week to lose the weight that I put on during the cruise, which I think is pretty good. Hopefully this is not a testament to my laziness, but a testament to the quality of the food. We tried each of the included venues on this trip, hopefully in a future cruise we will take the time to do the “paid” venues.
Main Dining Room: If you go on a cruise, you cannot go wrong going to the MDR on the first night (and most nights). This 4-5 star dining experience was flawless during our trip. Our staff, as mentioned, made this a memorable moment each night. The one issue that I had, which has nothing to do with the ship, is that the corporate office reduced the menu right before our trip. While there were still ample options, this hung as a cloud over each dinner. 10 of 10
Windjammer: When you think of cruises, most people think of the buffet. On the Harmony of the Seas, the Windjammer is the buffet. At the middle of the ship, this buffet is well placed, well staffed, and well stocked. While the food is not the same 4-5 star food as at the main dining room, it was excellent for buffet food. One of the highlights was the daily “stations” which changed from pasta, to Mongolian, to other items. This gave a rotating experience of fresh food each day. 9 of 10
Sorrano’s Pizza: When you are hungry and everything is closed, Sorrano’s is the place to go for a slice of pizza. On some of Royal’s smaller ships, it used to be pizza and sandwiches that you could pick up at any time; the options were reduced to just pizza. To make up for it, the pizza was much better than I remember from my previous cruises. 7 of 10
Hot Dog Hut: OK, what can you say about hotdogs on the board walk, other than that they were extremely good. I am not going to “over sell” this as gourmet dining, they were not, but as far as hot dogs and sausages go. they were very good. 6 of 10
Solarium Bistro: The Solarium Bistro was in the Solarium, the adults-only section of the ship, so there were not kids running around in this area. To be fair, there were not that many kids on this ship and the ones who were seemed to be well-behaved. The food at the bistro was similar to the food at the Windjammer, just less options. While the tables and crowds were nicer, it did act as a “Windjammer light.” 6 of 10
Park Cafe: This was my least favorite restaurant, not because it was bad, but because it did not stand out. It seemed more like a campus cafeteria than a cruise diner. Any time I was there, it was crowded, which, oddly, was the only crowded place other than the Windjammer. The food was not bad, in fact the beef broth was excellent. It just did not appeal to me, but seemed to appeal to others. 4 of 10
Vitality Cafe: This is the cafe in the spa. It is listed as free but smoothies do cost you. The menu is very limited, but a great place to get water when you are done with a workout (the gym is attached to the spa). 3 of 10
Cafe Promenade: This is a coffee shop. Nothing lets you see how many people are addicted to caffeine as seeing the line form at the coffee shop when every restaurant has free coffee that had no lines (the same coffee, too). It’s a coffee shop of 10.
Overall, the food on this ship had its good with the bad, but there was much more good. So it gets a 7 of 10 for food. I have rated each restaurant for those who wanted to know the good from the bad.
The entertainment on the Harmony of the Seas was very good. Compared to the other cruises I was on, the shows were better, the night club talent was higher, and the comedy was more thought out. Starting with the comedy, we caught the show two times. While the majority of material was the same both night (and it was very good) both Anthony Acosta and Lewis Johnson integrated material into the show that was unique to the day. The both gave stellar performances, though I need to give Lewis the edge as one night when my date and I only had one chair (she sat on my lap), he actually found us another chair before going on for his set.
The shows were very good. The only one that we missed was the cabaret. Grease, the main show, was one of the best versions of Grease I have seen. The woman playing Rizzo delivered an amazing performance. Columbus the Musical was fun – it was a custom production, but the cast did quite well. The aqua theater show and the ice show demonstrated excellent levels of talent, but honestly, I have no idea what the story was. The aqua theater show seemed to be power rangers that were mad at the water and the ice show (being a journey through time) was cool, but not sure what the plot was. Reminder, the skill level was amazing, just could not follow the story. 8 of 10 (5 of 10 without Grease).
I am not a barfly, but I did make a point to go to as many of the bars as I could. The Rising Tide Bar is an elevator bar, which is very cool. The robot bar also was quite interesting. These two are “must try” bars. With 5,000 passengers on the Harmony of the Seas, The Schooner Bar and Borellos (the Latin Bar) were always crowded. These were usually quiet bars on other cruises. The On Air ’50s-style bar was interesting for trivia and was one of the quieter bars on this cruise. Dazzels rounds out the bars I visited, this swing-era style bar really has some amazing views (6 of 10).
Note: one “can’t miss” event is the Hush Party. It is a headphones only night club (it only happened once on our trip). Definitely try it out, it is surreal.
Ports of Call
Our itinerary had two sea days and five ports of call. Because of the weather, we did not get to go to the Dominican Republic, so we had an extra sea day. Unfortunately, this was one of the reasons that I selected this cruise, as it was the Harmony’s first trip to DR. It was a safety issue, but still disappointing.
Labadi, Haiti, is RCIs private island in Haiti. This was the first stop on the trip and was very nice. We elected to enjoy the beach, as this was our first vacation since Covid started. The beaches were well kept, though the shallows had a very rocky bottom. There was ample food and bars, and the views were reminiscent of Coco Cay before they turned it into an amusement park. There were a plethora of activities, from roller coasters to ziplines and tours. All in all, this was a fun stop.
In San Juan, we went do to the shopping. Getting off the ship there were two pharmacies with very long lines for the people (including me) who got sun burn at Haiti. The fort, just to the left of the cruise port, was very interesting and the shopping was reasonably priced for souvenirs. This location also had a variety of tours available, but we spent most of the day wandering on our own. The architecture was beautiful.
St. Thomas was our next stop, another location known for its shopping. While we did shop for about two hours, we also took the time to take a tour on the Island. Our tour guide, Kay, did an amazing job taking us around most of the island. The mountaintop look out and the tent market were some of the highlights here. As with all locations, RCI had several excursions you could purchase.
Our final port was old reliable Nassau. I have been to Nassau several times, but it has changed. The docks are massive now, and the customs area is streamlined with the ships. As always, I recommend going to the Pirate Museum; it is one of my favorite places on the island. We also walked to the Queen’s Staircase. While there are tours that drive you there, it is less than a mile to the staircase walking, so you can save some money there. The whole main street is lined with stores and the straw market in the Bahamas is one of the best I have been to around the world. 8 of 10.
When you are eating several extra meals a day, you need a little help with keeping up on the fitness front. Harmony of the Seas is one of the most welcoming ships I have seen for fitness. To start off, the walking track has impressive views of the ocean from the rear of the ship. This can encourage you to take the time out of your day to do a little walking, just to keep some semblance of working out. Likewise, as with most cruise ships, there is the option to take the stairs, something that I did less than I should have.
The fitness center is well-equipped with dozens of machines and trainers to meet your needs. The fitness center also had classes, some free some not free, where you could learn more about your fitness goals. Be warned, most of the free classes were an effort to get people to come in for paid events later. However, the people are ready to accept someone saying no, so it is not too much pressure. There are also a lot of free activities on the sports deck, just remember to bring your sneakers.
The adventure activities on the boat are fun for everyone, whether you are participating or just watching. The big events are the rock climbing wall, the Flow Rider, and the zipline. The Flow Rider was the only event I got to try, not for lack of want. For those who do not know, some RCI ships have surf. Because of its size, the Harmony of the Seas (along with all Oasis class ships) has two Flow Riders. At any time we were there, one was used for stand up surfing and the other was used for boogie boarding. The staff was very good at getting everyone up to a basic level of proficiency (as long as you followed instructions).
So why didn’t I do the zipline and the rock climbing? Well, there is a different reason for each. First, the zipline is rate up to 275 pounds. When I arrived for the cruise this was my base weight. By the time I made it to the zip line, I was over that (this weight includes your clothes and shoes). Therefore, it was not safe for me to ride. The staff was quite polite in telling me and I was not offended. Since I could not go, I talked to several people who did go. They said that soaring 5 stories above the central park was fun, but it was quite a short ride. Once again, you need closed toe (non-water shoes) to ride, but they do have shoes to borrow for those who did not bring any.
As for the rock climbing wall, the Harmony of the Seas has one of the highest walls at sea. When we went up to discuss doing the rock wall (I love climbing), they told me I had to wear the shoes they provide. Unfortunately, my size 19 feet will not fit in their size 12 shoes. I did have shoes with me for this, but the attendant (as with the zip line very professional) told me this would not work. I have used my own climbing shoes on other RCI and Carnival trips, but they said no this time. The people I talked to who did the rock climbing stated that the staff was very professional and gave them the guidance they needed (even if they froze).
Overall, the sports experience was very good, considering that you are at sea. I give the experience an 8 of 10.
RCI cannot be held accountable for the people who were on the ship, so this is a freebie for the line. However, on the trip we were on, I think that the line may want to claim the guests. With a few exceptions, everyone was polite, happy, and ready to have a good time on the cruise, which made for a pleasant experience.
Everything was managed well on the ship, so there was not that much congestion while we were sailing. Everyone seemed to be happy. Of note, the children on the trip were all quite well-behaved. I did not see a kid throw a fit or have an outburst. Likewise, we only saw a few people who were over-the-top drunk, and even then they were not as annoying as I have seen on some ships.
The buffet was always packed and people were “determined” in this area. People had a tendency not to look where they were going. Also, you did see a lot of people keeping tables for long periods of time (if you are going to hang out, don’t do it in the restaurants, go to the clubs). The pools were always crowded and people reserve seats; I only saw a few people “reserve a seat for their bag” which is a major no-no on the cruise – just set it on the deck. At the shows, the ones where you could reserve seats, you did see people complain that people who had booked the show had better seats than the “standby” people, but most of those who were complaining had had a little too much to drink. This was a rarity, not the norm.
There were people wearing offensive shirts. Not the funny island offensive shirts, but shirts worn specifically to make people feel uncomfortable. I only saw this twice, and both times it was the same couple. Both times they had on anti-Christian shirts, both times the crew said something to them, and they had to remove the offensive material. I did not see any other people wearing intentionally offensive apparel, but this could just be a testament to the crew dealing with it quickly. 9 of 10 for the crowd that was on this boat.
Every cruise you go on has a “feel.” RCI’s Harmony of the Seas has a very good feel to it. The staff, the vendors, and the passengers made for a very good trip. Some of the highlights of the trip were:
The main dining room staff – Ruth, Joaquin, and Ercan made the MDR seem like the best fine dining out there.
The Park West staff – Takeel, Elain, and Naish were excellent and well-informed about the collection.
Grease – possibly the best ensemble performance I have seen at sea.
Overall, the ship pulls in a 7 out of 10 for the misc catagory.
Would I do the Harmony of the Seas again? Yes. This was one of the better cruises I have been on and I highly recommend this ship and this itinerary to anyone, new or experienced cruiser. With an overall score of 79 (so basically an 8 of 10 for the total cruise), this cruise was well worth the wait and the price. For a balcony room, there are very few hotels that you will find for less than $300 a night; add in the meals and entertainment and you have a massive windfall to the customer. No one from our group got seasick, but it was calm seas (plus the new cruisers were pounding Dramamine).
As an added note, you may want to keep an eye on our friends at Veteran Nation; word is they may have something nautical coming up. Also, If you are interested in a cruise, you can contact NRN and they will direct you to a preferred travel agent who will walk you through the process.
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