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Cruise Review Template Background information: We are veteran cruisers with many years of cruising in different parts of the world on different cruise lines (includes Oceania, Disney, RCI, Celebrity, Princess, Holland America, Cunard). This was our 31st cruise, our third on an Oasis-class ship, our seventh on RCI (four of those were over 30 years ago), and our first on Symphony of the Seas. I have done several other cruise reviews on Cruise Critic. This cruise on Symphony was a seven-day New Year’s cruise to the Western Caribbean. We booked the cruise primarily to see the ship, after enjoying cruises on Oasis of the Seas and Harmony of the Seas. Symphony of the Seas is currently the world’s largest cruise ship and the Oasis-class ships are like cities at sea. We flew from our home city to Miami a few days prior to the cruise to explore the Florida Keys (the downside was major traffic and overpriced hotels in the Keys, not to mention we received damage to our rental car at some point during our exploration of Key West). Our hotel in Miami the night before the cruise was the Hampton Inn Downtown/Brickell area; we recommend this hotel and the hotel rate was quite reasonable for the time of the year and it included a very nice pool and bar area on the sixth floor and several decent restaurants within walking distance. Transfers and Embarkation: We booked a van transfer at the hotel to the ship terminal, which was quite inexpensive. The van was not in good mechanical condition, however, and the driver did not understand us when we told him we were going to Terminal A, so he dropped off all the other passengers at the Carnival terminal first (Terminal A should be first). We finally reached Terminal A and were somewhat dismayed to find that the embarkation process in this brand-new terminal was not nearly as efficient as the RCI terminal at Port Everglades. There was confusion about where the lines were for the check-in agents and for security. We finally got on-board more than 30 minutes later and found out our cabin (9182) was ready, so we brought the carry-on bags there and had lunch at Sorrento’s in the Promenade. Our checked bags arrived before departure from Miami. Cabin: For this cruise, we selected a 4D category outside balcony cabin 9182, located on deck 9 forward (a few cabins aft of the forward lobby) on the port side. This cabin was very roomy, with a queen-sized bed, a large couch, a nice desk, plenty of storage room, a decent bathroom with a large glassed-in shower, and a larger veranda than many other ships we have experienced. Unfortunately, we had lots of creaks and groans of bulkheads in the cabin (we had mild seas), wind noise, and a squeaky bathroom door, which was surprising in a new ship. We could also hear noises from adjoining cabins. The bed was not very comfortable (rather on the hard side). The artwork in the cabin was nice. Public areas: The Oasis-class ships have some of the most remarkable public areas due to their size. Our favorite space is Central Park, an outdoor deck area on Deck 8 mid-ships; this haven has thousands of live plants, low-key entertainment in the evenings, a great breakfast and lunch cafe that is included in the ship fare (Park Cafe), upscale retailers (Hublot, Bulgari, Cartier) and several of the specialty restaurants, including Chops Grill, 150 Central Park, Jamie’s Italian and Vintages (tapas and wine). The Boardwalk, on Deck 6 aft, is a busy and noisy place hosting the Aqua Theater, Johnny Rocket’s (snacks and low-price food options), the Hot Dog Stand, the carousel, an arcade, Playmakers Sports Bar, plus the base of the climbing wall. The Promenade on Deck 5 (and parts on Deck 6) is an indoor mall and has several shops, bars, the photo gallery and casual dining that is included in the basic fare (Promenade Cafe, Sorrento’s pizza). This area is the focal point for major activities like the New Year’s celebration. Deck 4 hosts the Entertainment Zone, with the casino, nightclubs, and another specialty restaurant (Izumi Hibachi and Sushi). The Royal Theater, home to major productions, is a two-story Broadway-style theater located forward on Decks 4 and 5. Deck 15 is the very popular pool and sports deck areas. There are several pools, many spas, casual dining options, basketball courts, flow riders, mini-golf and other activities. The pool area and sports deck are noisy, crowded and the decks near the pools are slippery and difficult to maneuver around due to the congestion. Deck 15 forward is the Solarium, an adults-only area with many loungers and small pools, plus the Solarium Bistro (included in the basic fare, but reservations are required at night). The Solarium on Symphony was redesigned to eliminate the very nice Deck 16 shaded bar area in exchange for another fee restaurant. This was not a good change, in my opinion, and we only visited this area once. There are other little public spaces tucked away in several areas of the ship; a seven-day cruise is not enough time to find them all. In most public areas, there are very comfortable chairs and seating options. Dining: There are numerous dining options on Symphony, including 7 included dining venues and 12 specialty restaurants. We have never eaten in the main dining room on any Oasis ship, nor have we ever visited the serve-yourself buffet options (Windjammers, El Loco Fresh). Serve-yourself buffets are often the focal points of Norovirus outbreaks. Our breakfast preference was the Park Cafe, where food is prepared for you (no grubby fingers on tongs) and there are pre-packaged options. Lunch is also good at the Park Cafe. On this cruise, we booked five specialty restaurants for dinner in advance and ate at two menu priced venues (Playmakers, Vintages). The specialty restaurants are quite good and we really enjoyed our dining experiences in Wonderland, Jamie’s Italian (twice), Chops Grill and Izumi Hibachi. The specialty dining is not cheap and there are cute little tricks to increase your costs even more at these restaurants, including premiums for certain entrees. The “nickel and dime” approach to cruising is not one of our favorite features of Royal Caribbean. We could probably be content with the included dining options, but after cruising on Oceania several times and experiencing the good food at the specialty restaurants on Oasis and Harmony, I guess you pay even more to have a more upscale experience on a mega ship. Bar offerings, wine selection, and service: We bought the “deluxe” beverage package before the cruise. This package includes most standard mixed drinks, wines by the glass (up to $13 in value) and most beers. You can also get a bottle of wine for 40% off. The standard wines and beers were acceptable. Another trick that they use on-board to garner more bucks is to price most wines by the glass in the top specialty restaurants at more than $13 a glass (this was our experience in Wonderland, Chops Grill and Vintages) so you pay the difference. The bar staff service was decidedly mixed: We had downright rude and surly service in several places, including the Trellis Bar, Playmakers and Vintages, plus we had an unpleasant experience with a bartender at the Solarium bar who chastised us like children for bringing a small plate of food from the Solarium Bistro over to the bar (apparently, there is some unwritten rule that no food is allowed at that bar, although two other passengers ate food there without any complaint). The pool deck bar staff is overworked - we were sitting near the Sports deck and the rum drink my spouse went and procured had no rum in it. The staff in the Copper and Kettle Pub on the Promenade deck was very good, as were the bartenders on the Rising Tide Bar. However, the Rising Tide Bar on this ship has very few seats compared to Harmony and Oasis and only had one or two champagne options that “fit” into the deluxe package limits. Activities and Entertainment: We are not much on activities and entertainment and this cruise was no exception. We did enjoy the jazz guitarist in Central Park and some of the roving entertainment. We did not attend any shows (“Hairspray” is the current major production on Symphony and once was enough for that show). We did not use the casino. Evening options are often quite late (after 10:00 pm). The New Year’s Eve entertainment was widespread and, as might be anticipated with 6600 passengers on board, jam-packed. We inquired about reserved seating in Schooner’s Bar or the Rising Tide for New Years and were aghast to find out they were charging $350 a person for seats at the bar in Schooner’s (not even at a table) and this included only one glass of mediocre champagne. After paying a premium for a holiday sailing, this seemed crass to us to charge even more if you wanted to be close to the action. We did buy a bottle of champagne and had a quiet New Year’s countdown in our cabin. There were seats in the Promenade and in Dazzles that were free, but you had to be there by 7:00 pm to get a decent one (not fun to sit there for 5 hours). Service: Our room steward provided excellent service and we gave him an extra gratuity. Service in the specialty restaurants was mostly good, with friendly and informative staff. I noted some issues with the bar staff in that section. We felt in many circumstances that the ship was understaffed, for example, tables at the Park Cafe would often not be cleared of dirty dishes for a considerable length of time. Ship cleanliness overall was quite good, considering the number of passengers. Internet: We purchased VOOM internet (standard package) before the cruise for both of us. It was excellent, with no drop-outs, quick downloads and easy log on and log off options. Ports and excursions: This cruise was a pretty typical Western Caribbean itinerary, with one exception: It included a stop at Roatan, Honduras. We did a fairly nice excursion there with only eight people on a mini-van that visited a monkey sanctuary (highlight: Holding a baby sloth) and an iguana and fish farm. This was our first visit to Honduras. We did not leave the ship in Costa Maya, Cozumel and Nassau (we have been to these places several times). A fun excursion we did purchase in Nassau to several brewpubs was canceled due to “operational constraints” before our cruise. Passenger Complement: This cruise had passengers from all over the world, with large family groups, first-time cruisers, and veteran cruisers like us. It was truly amazing to see how many folks enjoy cruising and we had lots of great conversations. Disembarkation: After the somewhat slow and confused embarkation, we wondered about our disembarkation. This turned out to be a legitimate concern. We had a late departure (9:30) due to a mid-afternoon flight but we didn’t even get off the ship until after 10:00 am because the customs area was swamped. After getting our bags, it took us nearly an hour to get a cab (long, long queue). We don’t recall these types of problems on the Oasis and Harmony cruises. Summary: Although we enjoyed our cruise and had lots of good relaxation time and beautiful weather, our curiosity about sailing on the “biggest ships” has now been satisfied, as there are only minor differences between Oasis, Harmony and Symphony. The cost of add-ons if you wanted a better dining experience, a better glass of wine, or even a more premium entree (e.g., Porterhouse steak) and the shock of the cost of a reserved seat for the Promenade New Year’s festivities was a bit off-putting after cruising on ships that are mostly or all inclusive of such options. Our next cruises are on Disney Wonder, Celebrity Edge, Avalon (river cruise in Europe) and Viking Ocean (Sun), so look for more reviews.

Mega ship experience is not quite so magical on Symphony of the Seas

Symphony of the Seas Cruise Review by rubysue

14 people found this helpful
Trip Details
  • Sail Date: December 2018
  • Destination: Western Caribbean
  • Cabin Type: Ocean View Balcony
Cruise Review Template

Background information: We are veteran cruisers with many years of cruising in different parts of the world on different cruise lines (includes Oceania, Disney, RCI, Celebrity, Princess, Holland America, Cunard). This was our 31st cruise, our third on an Oasis-class ship, our seventh on RCI (four of those were over 30 years ago), and our first on Symphony of the Seas. I have done several other cruise reviews on Cruise Critic.

This cruise on Symphony was a seven-day New Year’s cruise to the Western Caribbean. We booked the cruise primarily to see the ship, after enjoying cruises on Oasis of the Seas and Harmony of the Seas. Symphony of the Seas is currently the world’s largest cruise ship and the Oasis-class ships are like cities at sea.

We flew from our home city to Miami a few days prior to the cruise to explore the Florida Keys (the downside was major traffic and overpriced hotels in the Keys, not to mention we received damage to our rental car at some point during our exploration of Key West). Our hotel in Miami the night before the cruise was the Hampton Inn Downtown/Brickell area; we recommend this hotel and the hotel rate was quite reasonable for the time of the year and it included a very nice pool and bar area on the sixth floor and several decent restaurants within walking distance.

Transfers and Embarkation: We booked a van transfer at the hotel to the ship terminal, which was quite inexpensive. The van was not in good mechanical condition, however, and the driver did not understand us when we told him we were going to Terminal A, so he dropped off all the other passengers at the Carnival terminal first (Terminal A should be first). We finally reached Terminal A and were somewhat dismayed to find that the embarkation process in this brand-new terminal was not nearly as efficient as the RCI terminal at Port Everglades. There was confusion about where the lines were for the check-in agents and for security. We finally got on-board more than 30 minutes later and found out our cabin (9182) was ready, so we brought the carry-on bags there and had lunch at Sorrento’s in the Promenade. Our checked bags arrived before departure from Miami.

Cabin: For this cruise, we selected a 4D category outside balcony cabin 9182, located on deck 9 forward (a few cabins aft of the forward lobby) on the port side. This cabin was very roomy, with a queen-sized bed, a large couch, a nice desk, plenty of storage room, a decent bathroom with a large glassed-in shower, and a larger veranda than many other ships we have experienced. Unfortunately, we had lots of creaks and groans of bulkheads in the cabin (we had mild seas), wind noise, and a squeaky bathroom door, which was surprising in a new ship. We could also hear noises from adjoining cabins. The bed was not very comfortable (rather on the hard side). The artwork in the cabin was nice.

Public areas: The Oasis-class ships have some of the most remarkable public areas due to their size. Our favorite space is Central Park, an outdoor deck area on Deck 8 mid-ships; this haven has thousands of live plants, low-key entertainment in the evenings, a great breakfast and lunch cafe that is included in the ship fare (Park Cafe), upscale retailers (Hublot, Bulgari, Cartier) and several of the specialty restaurants, including Chops Grill, 150 Central Park, Jamie’s Italian and Vintages (tapas and wine). The Boardwalk, on Deck 6 aft, is a busy and noisy place hosting the Aqua Theater, Johnny Rocket’s (snacks and low-price food options), the Hot Dog Stand, the carousel, an arcade, Playmakers Sports Bar, plus the base of the climbing wall. The Promenade on Deck 5 (and parts on Deck 6) is an indoor mall and has several shops, bars, the photo gallery and casual dining that is included in the basic fare (Promenade Cafe, Sorrento’s pizza). This area is the focal point for major activities like the New Year’s celebration. Deck 4 hosts the Entertainment Zone, with the casino, nightclubs, and another specialty restaurant (Izumi Hibachi and Sushi). The Royal Theater, home to major productions, is a two-story Broadway-style theater located forward on Decks 4 and 5. Deck 15 is the very popular pool and sports deck areas. There are several pools, many spas, casual dining options, basketball courts, flow riders, mini-golf and other activities. The pool area and sports deck are noisy, crowded and the decks near the pools are slippery and difficult to maneuver around due to the congestion. Deck 15 forward is the Solarium, an adults-only area with many loungers and small pools, plus the Solarium Bistro (included in the basic fare, but reservations are required at night). The Solarium on Symphony was redesigned to eliminate the very nice Deck 16 shaded bar area in exchange for another fee restaurant. This was not a good change, in my opinion, and we only visited this area once. There are other little public spaces tucked away in several areas of the ship; a seven-day cruise is not enough time to find them all. In most public areas, there are very comfortable chairs and seating options.

Dining: There are numerous dining options on Symphony, including 7 included dining venues and 12 specialty restaurants. We have never eaten in the main dining room on any Oasis ship, nor have we ever visited the serve-yourself buffet options (Windjammers, El Loco Fresh). Serve-yourself buffets are often the focal points of Norovirus outbreaks. Our breakfast preference was the Park Cafe, where food is prepared for you (no grubby fingers on tongs) and there are pre-packaged options. Lunch is also good at the Park Cafe. On this cruise, we booked five specialty restaurants for dinner in advance and ate at two menu priced venues (Playmakers, Vintages). The specialty restaurants are quite good and we really enjoyed our dining experiences in Wonderland, Jamie’s Italian (twice), Chops Grill and Izumi Hibachi. The specialty dining is not cheap and there are cute little tricks to increase your costs even more at these restaurants, including premiums for certain entrees. The “nickel and dime” approach to cruising is not one of our favorite features of Royal Caribbean. We could probably be content with the included dining options, but after cruising on Oceania several times and experiencing the good food at the specialty restaurants on Oasis and Harmony, I guess you pay even more to have a more upscale experience on a mega ship.

Bar offerings, wine selection, and service: We bought the “deluxe” beverage package before the cruise. This package includes most standard mixed drinks, wines by the glass (up to $13 in value) and most beers. You can also get a bottle of wine for 40% off. The standard wines and beers were acceptable. Another trick that they use on-board to garner more bucks is to price most wines by the glass in the top specialty restaurants at more than $13 a glass (this was our experience in Wonderland, Chops Grill and Vintages) so you pay the difference. The bar staff service was decidedly mixed: We had downright rude and surly service in several places, including the Trellis Bar, Playmakers and Vintages, plus we had an unpleasant experience with a bartender at the Solarium bar who chastised us like children for bringing a small plate of food from the Solarium Bistro over to the bar (apparently, there is some unwritten rule that no food is allowed at that bar, although two other passengers ate food there without any complaint). The pool deck bar staff is overworked - we were sitting near the Sports deck and the rum drink my spouse went and procured had no rum in it. The staff in the Copper and Kettle Pub on the Promenade deck was very good, as were the bartenders on the Rising Tide Bar. However, the Rising Tide Bar on this ship has very few seats compared to Harmony and Oasis and only had one or two champagne options that “fit” into the deluxe package limits.

Activities and Entertainment: We are not much on activities and entertainment and this cruise was no exception. We did enjoy the jazz guitarist in Central Park and some of the roving entertainment. We did not attend any shows (“Hairspray” is the current major production on Symphony and once was enough for that show). We did not use the casino. Evening options are often quite late (after 10:00 pm). The New Year’s Eve entertainment was widespread and, as might be anticipated with 6600 passengers on board, jam-packed. We inquired about reserved seating in Schooner’s Bar or the Rising Tide for New Years and were aghast to find out they were charging $350 a person for seats at the bar in Schooner’s (not even at a table) and this included only one glass of mediocre champagne. After paying a premium for a holiday sailing, this seemed crass to us to charge even more if you wanted to be close to the action. We did buy a bottle of champagne and had a quiet New Year’s countdown in our cabin. There were seats in the Promenade and in Dazzles that were free, but you had to be there by 7:00 pm to get a decent one (not fun to sit there for 5 hours).

Service: Our room steward provided excellent service and we gave him an extra gratuity. Service in the specialty restaurants was mostly good, with friendly and informative staff. I noted some issues with the bar staff in that section. We felt in many circumstances that the ship was understaffed, for example, tables at the Park Cafe would often not be cleared of dirty dishes for a considerable length of time. Ship cleanliness overall was quite good, considering the number of passengers.

Internet: We purchased VOOM internet (standard package) before the cruise for both of us. It was excellent, with no drop-outs, quick downloads and easy log on and log off options.

Ports and excursions: This cruise was a pretty typical Western Caribbean itinerary, with one exception: It included a stop at Roatan, Honduras. We did a fairly nice excursion there with only eight people on a mini-van that visited a monkey sanctuary (highlight: Holding a baby sloth) and an iguana and fish farm. This was our first visit to Honduras. We did not leave the ship in Costa Maya, Cozumel and Nassau (we have been to these places several times). A fun excursion we did purchase in Nassau to several brewpubs was canceled due to “operational constraints” before our cruise.

Passenger Complement: This cruise had passengers from all over the world, with large family groups, first-time cruisers, and veteran cruisers like us. It was truly amazing to see how many folks enjoy cruising and we had lots of great conversations.

Disembarkation: After the somewhat slow and confused embarkation, we wondered about our disembarkation. This turned out to be a legitimate concern. We had a late departure (9:30) due to a mid-afternoon flight but we didn’t even get off the ship until after 10:00 am because the customs area was swamped. After getting our bags, it took us nearly an hour to get a cab (long, long queue). We don’t recall these types of problems on the Oasis and Harmony cruises.

Summary: Although we enjoyed our cruise and had lots of good relaxation time and beautiful weather, our curiosity about sailing on the “biggest ships” has now been satisfied, as there are only minor differences between Oasis, Harmony and Symphony. The cost of add-ons if you wanted a better dining experience, a better glass of wine, or even a more premium entree (e.g., Porterhouse steak) and the shock of the cost of a reserved seat for the Promenade New Year’s festivities was a bit off-putting after cruising on ships that are mostly or all inclusive of such options. Our next cruises are on Disney Wonder, Celebrity Edge, Avalon (river cruise in Europe) and Viking Ocean (Sun), so look for more reviews.
rubysue’s Full Rating Summary
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Cabin Review

Ocean View Balcony
Cabin 4D 9182
Large room with big couch, larger veranda, nice bathroom. Lots of storage space. Nice art work. Bed was uncomfortable and the room had lots of bulkhead creaks and noises, wind noise, and we could hear noises in adjoining cabins. Conveniently located close to the forward lobby area and elevators.
Deck 9 Inside Cabins, Outside Cabins, Balcony Cabins, Suite Cabins

Port & Shore Excursion Reviews