This was a seven day cruise from Miami calling at St. Thomas USVI, St. Maarten, and Nassau. In sum, Symphony offers a family-focused, resort-style cruise experience that is unique to this class of ship but perhaps not as well as her sisters.
Symphony of the Seas is the sister ship to Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas and Harmony of the Seas. Although other lines are building larger and larger cruise ships, the Oasis class remains significantly larger in terms of gross tonnage, which is the traditional measure of cruise ship size.
The competition is coming close to rivaling the Oasis class in terms of the number of passengers the ship can carry. However, since these competitors are physically smaller than the Oasis class ships (keep in mind that gross tons is a measure of volume not, weight) (see separate article), this means that there is more space per passenger on an Oasis class ship than on these new competitors. Traditionally, it is more desirable to be on the ship with the higher space per passenger.
In any event, the Oasis class ships are not just bigger than other cruise ships, they are significantly different in design. They are very broad as well as long, which makes for a lot of space. Furthermore, the superstructure is split so that these ships have large open-air courtyards running along the centerline.
All of this space and the way it is arranged allows Royal Caribbean to pack an impressive array of experiences into an Oasis class ship. Guests have numerous options with regard to dining, entertainment, sports faculties and accommodations. Furthermore, the layout of the public areas is so varied that passengers feel that they really are in a city at sea.
The Oasis class ships are surprisingly good from a nautical perspective. Because they are so broad, they are very stable. They can maneuver very well. To see anything so big turn 180 degrees in the close confines of the harbor in Falmouth, Jamaica is an amazing sight. Furthermore, Harmony of the Seas was clocked at near 25 knots during her sea trials, which is better than most cruise ships can do.
This does not mean that the Oasis class are perfect ships. For example, the design tends to look inward, away from the sea. With the exception of the top decks, there is little opportunity to see the sea from the public areas. Moreover, because many of the cabins face into the courtyards, a large number of the cabins do not have a view of the sea. Thus, if one of your reasons for going on a cruise is to see the sea, these ships may not be the best choice.
Nonetheless, we have always found cruising on the previous Oasis ships exciting. When Oasis entered service in 2009, there was the excitement of being on a ship that was so unlike any other cruise ship. When Allure followed a year later, there was the excitement created by Captain Zini's successful efforts to energize the crew, convincing them that not only was Allure the biggest cruise ship (albeit by an inch or so) but it was the world's best cruise ship. When Harmony appeared after a long hiatus in building Oasis class ships, there was the excitement of being on an Oasis class ship that incorporated numerous advances in marine technology.
Like her sisters, Symphony is an impressive piece of hardware. But at least on the cruise that we were on she did not seem to have the same spirit as her sisters. This manifested itself in two ways. First, there was not the feeling that something new is happening here. The atmosphere was more corporate than creative. Second, we encountered more crew-related issues on Symphony than on the previous Oasis class ships.
The best dining experience that we had on Symphony was a new seafood specialty restaurant called Hooked. It offered a good variety of seafood dishes including lobster for a reasonable price. The service was pleasant and attentive. The restaurant is located high on Deck 16 forward which is away from the other specialty restaurants and the entertainment venues. This could account for why it was relatively uncrowded the night we were there. However, it is a good concept.
We also had a good dining experience at Chops Grille. As Royal Caribbean's flagship specialty restaurant, this steakhouse can be relied on for a good meal and good service. In addition, located in the Central Park area, this Chops has a patio from which diners can hear the guitarist who plays each evening in the Park. The subdued lighting and warm breezes, make for an enchanting experience.
Along the same lines, Jamie's Italian, which features the Italian-inspired recipes of British chef Jamie Oliver, has an outdoor section from which you can hear the guitarist in the Park. Again, a pleasant experience and a good meal but we prefer the Jamie's on Anthem of the Seas as far as flavor goes.
We were disappointed that Symphony did not have a Sabor specialty restaurant. Sabor is a Mexican-cuisine concept, which we have very much enjoyed on several Royal Caribbean ships. It is interesting that Royal decided not to include one on Symphony while at the same time Norwegian Cruise Line was adding a Mexican-inspired specialty restaurant to its latest ship Norwegian Bliss.
The Solarium Bistro is in part a specialty restaurant and in part a complimentary alternative. It has a menu with some items for which there is an additional charge and a complimentary buffet with a variety of different offerings. Since Symphony encourages guests to make reservations for dinner at this venue, we did so using the Royal Caribbean Ap. However, when we arrived at the appointed time, the man at the door said that he could not find our reservation. He spent several minutes looking for the reservation on his computer giving the impression that without a reservation we would be denied entry. However, he eventually decided to seat us. When we entered we were surprised to find that only a handful of tables in this relatively large room were occupied. Even though this scene at the door was completely unnecessary, it turned out to be a good meal.
There were much more serious problems with the main dining room. For breakfast and lunch (sea days only) the bottom level of this three level venue was open on an open seating basis. Each time that we went, there was a long wait for a table and the staff seemed overwhelmed by the number of guests.
The situation in the dining room did not improve at dinner. On Symphony, Royal offers traditional two-seating dining on two levels of the dining room and a flexible dining system on the other in which guests can come to dinner when they choose. As we usually do on Royal ships, we selected the flexible option.
Despite having made reservations, there was a wait each evening for a table. Normally, Royal attempts to seat guests in the same section of the dining room that they were seated in the night before so that they heave the same waiters and thus continuity. On Symphony, we were seated in different sections each evening. As at breakfast and lunch, the rather indifferent staff was overwhelmed by the number of passengers and there were long waits. When the food arrived, it was not up to Royal Caribbean's standard. We complained about this to one of the managers who was able to get us a better meal.
As an alternative to the main dining room, we went to the Park Cafe for breakfast and lunch. From the counter, we were able to get a light breakfast and very good salads at lunchtime.
The Oasis class ships have three main entertainment venues: the traditional theater; the ice rink; and the aqua-theater. Each operates more or less simultaneously. As a result, all of the guests are not in the same place trying to see the same show at the same time. This improves passenger flow and makes the ship seem less crowded.
As on all the Oasis class ships, the primary show in the theater is an adaptation of a Broadway show. On Symphony, Royal decided to bring back Hairspray, which was the show on Oasis for several years before it was replaced by Cats. Although well-staged and well-performed on Oasis, we did not care for this show and were not among those pleased to have it return.
In addition to Hairspray, the theater is the venue for “Flight – Dare to Dream”, a more interesting production developed in-house by Royal Caribbean. It begins in the future with a flight to Mars and then goes backward through time recounting a number of aerospace firsts including a recreation of the Wright Brothers' first flight.
We also liked Hiro, which was performed in the Aqua-theater. The plot is rather vague, apparently having something to do with a Japanese fisherman's encounters with various supernatural beings. However, what makes the show impressive is the diving, swimming and acrobatics being done with theatrical lighting and music. It is the type of entertainment where it is best to forget about the plot and just be awed by what is taking place in front of (and often above) you.
In addition to the main entertainment venues, Symphony also has lounges with live music, a stand-up comedy club, and various one time events such as street parties, the Quest game show, and a “Red Carpet Movie Night” in the theater.
Daytime programming centered around events such as the belly-flop competition and lectures given by the concessionaires. Symphony offered no enrichment programming such as talks by outside lecturers. The programming on our previous Oasis class cruises did not seem so limited in scope.
On this cruise, there was an international mix although the majority of the passengers were from North America.
Even though school was in session in North America during this cruise, there were many school-age children on this cruise. Symphony has a large, well-equipped children's area but it did not completely absorb the children on this cruise. The ship was designed with young families in mind and so one should expect to see kids out and about.
The weather throughout the cruise was sunny and the sea was calm. Thus, Symphony did not face any challenges. She was very stable throughout the cruise.
Cruise ship review - - Royal Caribbean International - - Symphony of the Seas - - Caribbean-Bahamas