The biggest cruise ship in the world is here, and it’s a place where you’ll be hard-pressed to get bored. Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas, which set sail from Barcelona last month, is a 1,188-foot behemoth with a laser-tag arena, merry-go-round, original production of Hairspray, water park and a bar with robot bartenders.
And that’s not even the exciting stuff.
In its endless quest to be the Dubai of cruising, Royal Caribbean put attractions on this ship that elevate it to a new level of floating resort. The most striking feature is the 10-storey, 45-metre Ultimate Abyss slide, where passengers climb to the ship’s top deck only to scream down a purple tube through flashing lights at a face-peeling nine feet a second. The slide looks like a giant angler fish, giving riders the momentary sensation of getting swallowed by a massive sea monster.
Symphony also has three high-speed waterslides (dubbed the Perfect Storm), a Flow Rider surf simulator, and a kid’s water park on the pool deck.
In non-gravity-related thrills, you’ll find the largest glow-in-the-dark laser-tag arena in the world. The course – set on the same surface used for the nightly ice-skating show, minus the ice – is lit only by black lights and allows you to shoot at opposing teams with pretty much complete anonymity. So no worries about an awkward encounter at the buffet queue later with that guy you kept shooting over and over for no reason.
The ship itself is divided into different “neighbourhoods,” giving each area of the Symphony a distinct feel. Central Park sits in the centre of the upper decks, a cleaner, nicer version of the New York original complete with an Italian restaurant, a wine bar, an outdoor bar and plenty of plants to freshen up the air.
Moving down a few decks, you’ll find the Boardwalk, a tribute to the soft-serve ice cream and ski-ball memories of summer, complete with a midway, merry-go-round and an ice-cream shop at Sugar Beach. It’s also home to the Playmakers sports bar, with 30 flat-screen TVs, so if you are concerned with missing a minute of the hockey playoffs during your holiday, don’t be.
Other neighbourhoods include Entertainment Place, where offerings include a Broadway-quality production of Hairspray and an ice-dancing show starring former Olympians. It’s also home to the Royal Promenade and a shopping district highlighted by the Bionic Bar. Here, robot arms pour liquor from hanging bottles, mix the drinks and push them to you, all to a Miami-esque EDM soundtrack. No tipping required.
But why have one gimmicky bar when you can have two? Further down the promenade you’ll find the Rising Tide Bar, which every 15 minutes shuts the doors and elevates itself three decks to Central Park. It’s not exactly a thrill ride, but it does offer a nice view and takes you from indoors to out.
We all know the big draw on cruises though – trivia night! Just kidding, it’s the food. Yes, you can eat at the Windjammer buffet with its panoramic views of the ocean until you explode. Or you can dine in the main dining room and order the pasta and the chicken curry, because cruise ships are a judgment-free zone. But the real culinary fun is found in the specialty restaurants.
British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has an Italian spot in Central Park, just down the path from Chops Grille steakhouse. Other edible enticements include a hibachi restaurant with fresh sushi, and El Loco Fresh, a fast-casual Mexican joint on the top deck. The best newcomer is Hooked, a seafood restaurant on Deck 17 featuring fresh-caught seafood and a lobster roll that might be the greatest you’ve ever eaten.
The ultimate dining experience is Wonderland. Inspired by Alice in Wonderland, diners here enter through a long, white “rabbit hole” before walking downstairs into the main dining room, which is done up with rabbit-ear chairs and ornate furniture. The menus are written in invisible ink; diners apply water using a paintbrush to a menu of creative dishes such as deviled eggs served under a smoking glass bowl, and a deconstructed tomato filled with Bloody Mary. The menu is long on gel spheres and other advanced food concepts, and cocktails are poured over dissolving cotton candy. This is a restaurant designed to induce Instagram envy.
For all its crazy slides, carefully planned neighbourhoods and inventive food, Symphony of the Seas is still an impressive value. Though summer cruises through the Mediterranean from Barcelona are pricey at about $2,000, fall Caribbean voyages out of Miami begin in November and start at about $950 for inside cabins (both prices based on seven-day sailings). Prebookings for the Symphony outpaced any ship in Royal Caribbean’s history – perhaps this is finally the vessel to impress even those who’ve sworn never to set foot on a cruise ship. Sometimes it just takes a 10-storey slide.