Symphony of the Seas Cruise Review by Stockport cruiser
- Sail Date: February 2019
- Destination: Western Caribbean
- Cabin Type: Ocean View Balcony
We’ve been to most Caribbean islands, so these days when we choose a cruise, where we are going is less important to us than which ship we are sailing on, and in particular we look for ships with a reputation for good food and good entertainment.
We’ve found that “back to back" two week cruises are great apart from one thing: on most ships the entertainment and the food on the second week is virtually the same as the first week. (Note: Marella are honourable exceptions to this).
So when I spotted the opportunity to take back to back one-week cruises on separate ships and, even better, firstly on the world’s biggest cruise-liner, followed by one of the newest ships in the world, I was interested. When I found out this would not cost me much more than a two week trip on the same ship, then I could not resist.
We flew to Miami and first boarded the Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas, the biggest ship in the world, with over 6000 cruisers. Then on our return to Miami we moved one terminal down the road onto the Norwegian Bliss, which carries 3800.
Here are my observations about the two ships.
If you are only interested in my comments on the Norwegian Bliss, please move on to the second half of this review.
Symphony of the Seas
The ship is very wide, with big open spaces right across the centre. This has enabled them to have a huge Royal Promenade in the middle, and a beautiful Central Park area which is outdoors yet totally enclosed from the external world. A large solarium at the front and an aqua theatre at the rear are other noticeable features. It's very very similar to the Allure of the Seas, with zip wires, a carousel, "Flowrider" surfing, mini golf etc, but with a very long Helter-Skelter slide thrown in as an extra. There's a great promenade deck going all the way round the ship, which was very popular for keep-fitters.
We went for the cheapest available balcony room. It was more spacious than most, the shower was particularly large, and there was plentiful drawer and storage space. I found the pillows a bit too firm, but they managed to find me a softer one. The large screen TV had many channels, including BBC News and Sky Sports News.
People had come from all over the world to sail on the biggest ship. There were many Asian and Hispanic faces and languages, so much so that even the Americans were outnumbered. This created a lovely multicultural feel to the cruise. I didn't hear any British accents apart from my wife's!
The food was fairly good, but not outstanding. In the main dining room the main courses were good (salmon in horseradish crust was my favourite) but the starters nothing special, and some of the desserts particularly lacklustre, eg their "pavlova" was just a meringue nest, and their Creme Brûlée was powdery.
The food in the Windjammer self service area was more interesting, but it got very busy in there in the morning, and you sometimes had to queue. My advice is to make use of the excellent Park Cafe for lunch and to go to the third floor main dining room for breakfast, where you could either be served or you could serve yourself without having to queue.
The free (but watery) ice cream consisted of vanilla, strawberry or chocolate, but other flavours were available at a price.
With a ship this size there was lots of space for a variety of entertainment acts, and there were plenty of good quality live musicians.
The main theatre is huge, though I personally wasn't over impressed by the shows. Okay, the special effects were great (eg an aeroplane flew over the audience in "Flight"), but too much of the singing consisted of the modern warble and screech variety. After 20 minutes my ears refused to put up with any more of "Hairspray", though other people seemed to like it.
The "Hiro" show in the Aqua theatre was very impressive, and every evening there was always lots of dancing and music in the Royal Promenade area, which made for a continuously festive atmosphere. I loved it in there. Make sure you are there on the 80s night, there's a real buzz about the place.
However, for me the best shows took place in the ice rink. I'm not one who would dream of watching "Dancing on Ice" on TV, and I wasn't particularly looking forward to the "1977" ice show. In fact it was brilliant, and the second ice show called "iskate 2" was even better. What a wonderful team of skaters. Don't miss them!
One aspect we did find frustrating was that many of the game shows such as "the marriage game" didn't start until 10.45pm. With the jet lag still affecting us we couldn't stay up so late.
On such a huge ship you obviously have plenty of walking to do, but we never felt overcrowded. Okay, on the at-sea days free sun beds were hard to find, but we managed ok. We booked tickets for the shows as soon as we boarded, so we didn't miss out. There are twelve lifts in two areas of the ship, so getting up and down wasn't too bad, though the big hole in the middle of the ship means you need to remember to get in the lifts at the correct side for your room, because you can't just walk to the other side of the ship.
The children's facilities were brilliant, all the kids looked in ecstasy. There were great water slides, teen venues, family karaoke, amusement arcades, roundabouts, popcorn, and all the shows were suitable (apart from the adult comedy).
I couldn't fault any of the staff, they all looked very happy to be working on a great ship. Service was very good and the restaurant service was probably the fastest we've experienced.
In conclusion, Symphony of the Seas is a superb ship with lots to do for all age groups. You have to be quite fit to get around, but you rarely feel crowded. The food is pretty average, but I'd sail on it again any time (but only for one week!).
Within 30 minutes of leaving the Symphony we’d walked 300 yards down the road and were alongside the Bliss. From the outside it looked stunning. We've been on the Norwegian Epic and the Jade, and loved them both. We anticipated another great cruise……
I think the inside of the ship must have been designed by a committee, with the sole objective to maximise space for money raising activities. Areas that needed to be large were too small, and vice versa. The ceilings seemed very low as if they had tried to pack in extra floors whilst keeping the ship to a safe height. This, combined with the fact that the decor was mainly dark browns and beiges, and the lighting was very subdued, gave the whole ship quite an oppressive feel. If you are claustrophobic this is probably not the ship for you.
There are two promenade decks, but neither go all the way round the ship. There is a jogging track on the top deck, but in the daytime it was always covered by deck chairs. So it was hard to take a walk to burn up any calories.
The atrium is large but in addition to housing the guest service desk, the future cruise desk, the Internet café, a branch of Starbucks, and the excursions desk, it is also one of the main entertainment venues with live bands playing for half the time. It was so noisy there that it was very difficult to hear what the receptionists were saying.
There are only two small swimming pools because a large chunk of the upper deck has been allocated for the Haven guests’ private area and for “Margaritaville”, a pay-for eatery that always seemed quiet. I've never experienced a pool area so crowded and so noisy, and never been so pleased to have a balcony room where we could escape.
I could not describe this ship as beautiful. The only area that looked really nice was the Observation Lounge, which had wonderful views, gorgeous chaise-longues to relax on, and a good buffet selection. Sadly, few people went in there, apart from people taking a nap, so realistically it's a waste of space, especially in the evenings.
The theatre is very plain and the change in height between tiers of seats is small, so I had to strain to see above the head of the person in front.
Trying to be more positive, my wife was impressed by the number of toilets around the ship....
Our stateroom was probably standard size, but after our room on the Symphony, it seemed small. There were no drawers, and the wardrobe was hard to access because the sofa blocked one of the doors. I'm glad I took my slippers for walking around in the dark, I would have broken several toes!
The TV was small, with BBC but no Sky Sports.
The bathroom was nice though....
I would guess that 90% of guests were American. The noise level was much higher than on the Symphony, and only partly because of the low ceilings; there was certainly plenty of whooping and hollering going on!
The food in the (free) Manhattan main dining room was very good, in fact as good as we've had on any ship. The menus were imaginative, the portions good, beautifully cooked, and there were some superb flavours.
Food in the buffet was also pretty good, though you have to walk a long way to find what you fancy. However, I could never find a warm plate. We ate there one evening and my food was cold by the time I got it back to the table.
We ate in a couple of speciality restaurants. Le Bistro (the French place) was good, without being memorable. Unfortunately my meal in the Italian La Cucina was the worst meal I had in two weeks.
From my experience my advice would be to try eating in the Manhattan on day 1 and only pay extra if you feel you must.
We’d enjoyed our previous cruises with Norwegian primarily because of the wide variety of quality entertainment. We’d got used to seeing magicians, circus acts, guest singers, flamenco dancers, and piano whizz kids. We loved going to 40 minute theatre shows followed by mid-evening game shows, and we were hoping to get more of the same on the Bliss. Not so, I'm sad to say.
It looks like NCL are trying to emulate Royal Caribbean by putting on full West End/Broadway productions. You had to book to see the shows. If you hadn't booked on line before boarding you could do so upon boarding the ship, but all the shows booked up so fast that some were already full before half the passengers had come aboard.
In fact there were only two theatrical productions to see, Jersey Boys (good singing but a cliched story, too loud and too long) and Havana (colourful, but forgettable songs with some good singers but some rather iffy).
On the other nights we had to make do with either comedy shows (fair but I've seen better) or game shows. To see the comedians you had to sit on plastic fold-up seats. Some of the bands were okay but nothing special. Some thought they could sing but....
The game shows, which were put on by the cruise director and his enthusiastic team, were held in the atrium, a very noisy environment with insufficient seats. I couldn't see or hear half of what was going on.
If you are going on the Bliss do try to get into the (too small) "Cavern" (with more plastic seats) to see four American guys play the Beatles. They were great, probably the best part of the cruise for me.
Getting around the Bliss was actually quite difficult. The lifts are inadequate for the number of passengers. Far too often they were completely full, and because they were very dark inside it made moving around the ship pretty unpleasant. Between three floors in the atrium area were a couple of sets of glass stairs which were particularly treacherous. We only used them once.
Facilities for children were good. I suppose the USP of this ship is go kart track (which involves a fee). Though it is officially for adults as well as children, it seemed to be more attractive to kids. It looked quite good fun, but the track is barely wide enough for karts to overtake. When all the karts were full the races were more like processions. If the driver of the front kart was nervous and drove slowly, nobody could pass them.
There are a couple of long water slides, one of which seemed to come to a halt quite frequently. I think there's a design fault where people above or below a critical weight get stuck, so an engineer has to be on hand to extract them from the tube!
The 7th deck casino is huge, and it has a large hole in the centre which meant that gamblers' smoke drifted down to the deck below: a nice touch! It seems to have been positioned so that people have to walk through the smoke to get to the Manhattan restaurant at the rear of the 7th deck or to the theatre at the front.
We had no problems at all with the crew or the service we received. Many of the crew seem to be wannabe stars who prefer to sing rather than speak. The crew talent show was good fun.
In conclusion, I did not like this ship as much as Symphony and not as much as the Epic or Jade. The food’s good but the ship’s not designed to give me the sort of cruise I enjoy.
If I were to read that they’ve decided to replace half the Observation Lounge with the Casino and used the space saved on the 7th floor for some better entertainment venues then, who knows, we might give the Bliss another try.
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