Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas gives passengers a multi-holiday experience
Royal Caribbean's newest and biggest cruise ship Symphony of the Seas has set sail on its first cruises of its long life of sailing the Mediterranean and Caribbean. First time cruise traveller Joanne Sweeney got a taste of a ship that's designed for fun and lasting memories
WHEN you think about a cruise ship, does the image of an overly tanned elderly American couple meandering around on deck come to mind?
Or does the ordeal of having to dress up in evening wear for dinner just in case you are at the captain's table weigh heavily on your mind? What about the thought of listening to the likes of former Loose Woman and cruise ship singer Jane McDonald warbling every night?
Cruising seems to be like Marmite to some holidaymakers – either you love it or you don't.
Yet all of these stereotypical misconceptions of mine were thankfully laid to rest when I got the offer to sail on the biggest and newest cruise ship in the world. It would have been just plain rude to say no.
So I didn't, which is how I ended up for two glorious days on Royal Caribbean's new ship, Symphony of the Sea, for its pre-inaugural sailing just after Easter.
With a slightly dodgy tan applied the night before so I didn't give my fellow international cruisers potential snow-blindness with my fair Irish skin, I boarded a 6.15am Ryanair flight from Dublin to Barcelona airport. After a short coach ride to the city's docks, I viewed what was the most majestic sight I've seen for a long time.
Symphony, as she's known to the initiated, stood proud in the impressive docks and just looked glorious, impossibly new and shiny. And she's mega big – American big. Weighing over 228,000 tons and at 1,188 feet long, Symphony has 2,759 state rooms, 188 suites which can accommodate up to 6,680 guests, served by a crew of 2,200 over 16 guest decks.
Members of the international print and broadcast press, bloggers, vloggers and travel agents descended on the boat like ants, devouring the welcome drinks and tasty canapes offered throughout the ship's speciality restaurants and bars.
Thoughts of the Titanic setting off on its historic transatlantic crossing to New York sprang to mind as Symphony grandly pulled out of the port – partly because I live in Belfast and we built what was the biggest and most luxurious ship in the world at that time, but also because the leaving felt really momentous.
There wasn't a worry of an iceberg on my mind, however, as Euro pop hits such as the catchy Despacito blared out on the sparkling top deck. As the teatime sunshine warmed everyone up, it felt like Ibizan sunset-party time, albeit minus the bikinis. Everyone was in a great mood as gorgeous young crew members encouraged us to dance along, with glass in hand.
And why not? There were more than 3,000 of us aboard being waited on hand and foot for the next two days by a crew from 120 countries, who were eager to show off their new 'home' for the next eight months.
Every cruise ship apparently has its own personality and vibe, best suited to a particular type of passenger. If Symphony was looking to be matched to a particular passenger, it would be thrill-seeking families or else grown-ups who are still in touch with their inner child: this is a ship designed to give memorable experiences.
She is absolutely stunning and boasts so many activities and attractions on board that passengers may not have the time to try them all out over the standard seven-day cruise.
Royal Caribbean's massive-scale construction was not deliberate in the planning of Symphony from the outset but more to accommodate every attraction and facility that they wanted to give passengers. And boy, did they deliver.
Designed to give the best all-round 'experience' holiday for all passengers, but particularly families, Symphony really is a floating city and provides more than four different holidays in one.
There's the Las Vegas-style holiday with casino and gaming machines in lux surroundings, a jumping nightclub and fantastic night-time shows with first-class entertainment; there's the sun and sea holiday where you can tan either poolside or looking directly out at an ocean in one of the ship's many solariums or decks complete with boardwalk, a replicated seaside promenade.
Then there's the city break holiday as you can enjoy a new port every day; the theme park holiday for families where you can try out the huge Perfect Storm water slides, the Ultimate Abyss slide, Flowrider surfing, ziplining, and Glow in the Dark Laser Tag. You can also spa like a pro in the Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness centre, or spend all day drinking in one of the many bars for all tastes. There's even the Bionic Bar where two robots mix cocktails chosen on an app by you.
Then there's the gourmet holiday with fine food and wines where you can dine either in the superb main dining room or one of 16 speciality restaurants covering all international cuisines.
For instance, Wonderland is a unforgettable, camp-as-Christmas dining experience with an Alice in Wonderful theme. Think Heston Blumenthal's molecular gastronomy along with taste sensations designed to cheat the eye and the palate, waiters who entertain as much as serve, with dishes prepared under the experimental themes of Earth, Wind, Sea, Ice, Fire and Dreams. The presentation on stunning plates and dishes is superb, to match the food. For foodies, this is one restaurant experience not to be missed.
For those who love shows and night-time entertainment, Symphony has it all – Hairspray the Musical in a beautiful theatre is as good as the original Broadway show, if not better; the ice show spectacular 1977; Aqua Nation, a thrilling open-air diving show, comedy, magic shows, quizzes, karaoke and every type of bar offering live music for everyone from salsa dancers to waltzers.
Then there's the Ultimate Family Suite, for the ultimate family holiday, a two-storey suite offering a family luxury accommodation, with their own personal slide, air hockey table and table tennis, etc.
As they say here, it's just the last word, as are the other VIP suites which come with private Jacuzzi, stunning wall art and Champagne on tap.
:: Symphony of the Seas departs from either Barcelona or Florida. Barcelona flights ex Belfast are with Ryanair, Jet 2.com and Thomas Cook and ex Dublin with Aer Lingus, Ryanair and Vueling Airlines
:: There are special discount offers available for bookings this year; for example, a family of two adults and two children sailing June 17 on the seven night Western Mediterranean cruise would cost £4,144 (without drinks package), interior cabin and $500 to spend on board. To view go to https://www.royalcaribbean.co.uk/itinerary-details/?itin=07M394&ship=SY&sail=20180617&room=Interior
:: For the same family sailing on September 16 on the same cruise it would be £3,954 (without drinks package), interior cabin and $500 to spend on board. To view go to https://www.royalcaribbean.co.uk/itinerary-details/?itin=07M393&ship=SY&sail=20180916&room=Interior
:: Bookings can be made direct with royalcaribbean.co.uk or via travel agents.