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Review of the Harmony of the Seas- January 5, 2020


When I started Beyond the Blue Travel, I knew that one of the things I wanted to do was start a blog letting potential clients, clients, friends and family now about the experiences I had while traveling. As I grow as a travel consultant and learn daily about the travel industry, I understand the importance of firsthand knowledge on the destinations people are traveling to. This is the first official review of a ship and destination since becoming a travel consultant.


Pre-Cruise Hotel: Radisson Resort at the Port

Before embarking on our cruise, my daughter and I planned to stay at the Radisson Resort at the Port in Port Canaveral. We had rented a car and navigated to Port Canaveral on our own. The drive was easy but cost a just under $3.00 in tolls. Our first stop was Jetty Park to watch the cruise ships depart port. For those who like camping and cruising, Jetty Park has over 150 camping sites just off the water. After watching the Norwegian Breakaway sail away from Port Canaveral, we proceeded to the hotel. The hotel is one of the closest hotels to the port and is easily accessible from Florida A1A or Astronaut Boulevard. It is nearly impossible to miss this hotel. The exterior is pink with a green roof. Upon arrival we were greet by staff and quickly checked in, however they failed to give us our vouchers for breakfast the next morning. We booked a 1-bedroom suite which included 2 queen size beds and a separate living area. Both spaces were good size and would offer plenty of room up to 6 people. The room was clean and well cared for. The living area featured a sofa, dining table, wet bar area, TV and workspace. This space made it very convenient for someone to work or watch TV while others went to bed. The grounds of the hotel are decent. The hotel had a nice pool area which would be perfect for children of all ages during their stay. It also offered a lite sports court, although it was surrounded by rooms which could make it hard to sleep if guests were out there playing anything. Breakfast the following morning was good. They had an omelet station with made to order omelets and a menu which you could order a la carte. For those not arriving in a rental vehicle or personal car, this hotel offered a shuttle to the port, but you need to sign up as early as possible if you want to get to the port early. There are also plenty of restaurants within walking distance of this hotel from fast food to sit-down dining. This resort also offers an on-site bar if guest prefer to stay in. All in all, the hotel met expectations and offered everything a guest needed for a pre-cruise night stay. Because of its close proximity to the port, this resort should be considered for pre-cruise stays.


Embarkation:

Our Embarkation at Port Canaveral was almost flawless. We dropped our car the Alamo Rental Counter around 9:30 am, hopped on the shuttle and headed to the port. The shuttle driver was very help and provided information on where to catch the shuttle when we returned the following Sunday. The drive to the port was less then 5 minutes and we were soon at the port. As we exited the shuttle, we were met by the luggage porters who took our luggage and transferred it to the ship. We arrived in the cruise terminal around 10:00 am despite our scheduled time being at 12:00 pm. We arrive to very few people at the terminal and no one in security. We quickly made it through security and headed up to check in. I found that having all our documents organized and ready assisted with this process. Once we got up to the cruise check-in area, we met with Royal Caribbean personnel with a tablet, provided them our SetSail Pass Documents and passports. They checked us in, and we were set. They gave us a colored card that would be used to identify our sections when they called it. We were in the terminal for less the 10 minutes when they started boarding the ship. Within 5 minutes our section was called, and we were on our way. The only hiccup was that apparently the lady who checked us in missed something and did not check us in. After a quick detour to recheck in, we were though and on our way to the ship. We stepped foot on the ship at 10:20 am. Arriving early allowed us to opportunity to spend around 20 minutes checking our luggage, going through security, checking in and boarding the ship. Not bad. Side note- when the staterooms opened at 1 pm our bags were waiting for us.


Initial Impressions:



Wow. That is all you can say as you approach this ship. The sheer size of this ship is amazing. We boarded the ship on the Promenade. This is important to know as a lot of the final cruise preparations take place here. We immediately went to Boleros and got our Wow Bands for the week. These bands are useful through out the ship, for the most part. These bands allow you to gain access to your room, purchase beverages and other items while onboard and also contain your reservations for shows. They cost approximately $5 each and are well worth it if you ship has them. With that being said, they do not always work the way you would like. Purchasing beverages in the Royal theater and in the Main Dining Room seemed to be an issue with them. We then secured our reservation for 150 Central Park and confirmed our reservations in the Main Dining Room. You may also purchase internet packages, schedule Spa Appointments and make show reservations in this one area. The Promenade at 10:20 was nearly empty, it was not that way later in the day as more guests showed up. Arriving early is a must if you want to avoid the crowds. We spend the better park of the next 2 hours exploring the ship. We easily walked back and forth across the ship 10 plus times just trying to get our bearings. It also allowed us the opportunity to see a bunch of venues without other guests around. The ship is magnificent. It was well cared for and kept up nicely. The ship offers multiple distinct neighborhoods which make navigating the ship easier to do. The neighborhoods allow the ship the opportunity to offer a little of something for everyone.


Stateroom: Boardwalk Balcony Stateroom



We chose the Boardwalk Balcony Stateroom for our accommodation for the week. The size of the room was comparable to other balcony rooms I have stayed in in the past. It was nice having two separate closets on each side of the couch, so Madison had hers and I had mine. The benefit of this room category is that depending on where your room is, you get both Boardwalk views as well as ocean views out the back of the ship. I did find drawbacks for this room that would not keep me from booking the room again but are noteworthy. First off, the bed placement makes it hard to split the bed. Rather then being closer to the door, it was closer to the balcony, which most seem to be, but it really limits the distance between the beds when split apart. There was about 6 to 8 inches between the beds which make it a little uncomfortable depending on who you are staying with. I also have read that noise is an issue in these rooms. The noise level in the room was significantly higher during the day and when they had shows or contests going on down on the Boardwalk. There were a few times where the noise was excessive if you were trying to nap. Lastly, one of the benefits of the balcony room is having the sun walk you in the morning. That is not possible with these rooms unless you would like every other guest across from know what you are doing at night or during the day. Having the rooms across from you make it hard to have privacy on your balcony or in your room. Our stateroom was also towards the back of the ship, which was fine but there were no stairs or elevators near where our room was, so it was often along walk. Our Cabin Steward was extremely nice but seemed to lack ambition. We asked for the beds to be split the first night and had to have someone else come up and split the beds as it was not done. Our room was cleaned each day, but the turn down service fell way short of expectations.


Dining:

There are more dining options on this ship then you could ever need. We did not get to all of the restaurants but managed to get to 3 specialty dining options and several other complimentary restaurants. If there was one place that seemed like there were 6,000 or so people on the ship, it was the Windjammer Marketplace. This is the main buffet dining option onboard the ship. While there are lots of seats for people to sit, they are almost always full. We ate sparingly here and instead decided to try some of the other options. Sorrento’s was a favorite spot to eat and how can you complain about pizza. There was limited seating but there are several other options for places to sit in the area. Mini Bites was probably the biggest surprise of the week in dining. We ate breakfast and lunch in this area on a regular basis. The crowds were light for breakfast and they offer bacon, eggs, made to order omelets, hashbrowns, waffles, eggs and more. For lunch they offer hamburgers, hotdogs, nachos- although the cheese isn’t the best- a spicy nachos cheese option would be nice, french fries and more. It is a great place to eat without having to wait in long lines. It is also close to the ice cream which is a bonus. Boardwalk Dog House was another nice quick snack option. They served several different types of hotdogs with lots of fixings. We spent most of our nights in the Main Dining Room. We had My Time Dining which allowed us to pick our time to eat. Prior to the cruise we made reservations for 7 pm each night. This time slot worked perfect for us so we could see the shows we wanted and do what we wanted. I did find the Dining room to be cluttered and crowded at times. It seemed the wait staff was overwhelmed and, at least in our section, the service did not match anything close to what I expected or to what we saw on the Freedom of the Seas last year. Our waitstaff were nice and friendly to be around, but the service was lacking. We never met the head waiter once during this trip. On the Freedom our head waiter was always there making sure things were being done correctly. The quality of the food in the Main dining room was excellent.


The three specialty restaurants we ate at were Johnny Rockets, Chops Grille and 150 Central Park. First off, the food in all three locations was fantastic. Johnny Rockets is all you can eat burgers, Fries, Onion rings, etc. We ate at Chops Grille the first night of the cruise. The atmosphere in the restaurant was nice however it seemed like you were on top of other diners. The tables were not spaced at all well and you could literally take part in a conversation with your neighbors if you wanted. In our case, the people next to use decided to join in our conversation. Unlike the main dining room, the service in Chops Grille was excellent. Our servers were attentive and made sure we had everything we needed. The only downside to Chops Grille is they only allow you one main course which meant I could not try the Spicy Shrimp and the Filet, which is understandable but disappointing. Later in the week we ate at 150 Central Park. All I can say is this was no Applebees. The service in this restaurant was out of this world. Our server, Lorna, was the best. The dining was quite and intimate. The quality of the food far exceeded my expectations and it really help show what fine dining is all about. I would highly recommend 150 Central Park if on an Oasis Class ship and would recommend Chops Grille if you are looking for a steak house.


Shows & Entertainment

The shows and entertainment on this ship did not disappoint. We were luck and were able to see all of the shows we intended to see. Due to the weather and the rocking of the ship, several of the shows were cancelled and were unable to be rescheduled. Both of the Aqua shows were well done and had some amazing performances. The biggest draw back to the shows is that there is so much going on, you can’t watch everything. With that said, the performers did an amazing job and created an entertaining show for guest. In the Royal Theater we saw several entertaining shows. Grease was the big production on the ship. The show was entertaining to watch however it was hard to hear and understand what they were saying at times. We also saw three other shows including a ventriloquist, two comedians and the Columbus the Musical show. The Columbus the Musical show was well done, but weird. The Ventriloquist was probably the most entertaining show next to Grease. I should add that all of the shows were well done and entertaining and the critiques are nitpicking.


Excursions:


We did not book excursions though the cruise ship. All of our excursions I booked through third party vendors and would not hesitate to do it again. We did not book anything on Coco Cay. If you are looking for a stop to sit at the beach and chill, this is your stop. The beach is right off the ship and you are able to walk to it.


Costa Maya- We booked a Discover Diving Excursion through Doctor Dive. The drive to the dive shop was approximately 10 minutes. It was a little confusing getting to a cab but once we went out of the port area it was simple. Our guide for the day, John, was great. He was extremely help and made sure we had a great time. He took us down to a max depth of 45 feet where we say Lionfish, Sting Ray and other fish. The reef was nice and provided a peaceful escape from the surface world. The cost for the three plus hour trip was less than $120 per person. If you have never dove before and always wondered about it, I highly recommend Doctor Dive. Ask for John.

Roatan- We booked a ziplining, horseback riding, snorkeling, and shopping adventure. We booked through Roatan Anderson Tours. We started our day with Jungle Top Zip Line. Our guides Wilson and Darvin were excellent and made for a fun experience. We had the ziplines our self, it was nice. We skipped the sloth and monkey encounter so we could do a little more shopping later and headed straight to the horseback riding. While the horseback riding was fun, I do not believe the location in which we did it provided for the best experience. We rode through a very run-down part of town on trash filled streets. The high light of the trip was the snorkeling at the reef in Roatan. The reef was gorgeous, and snorkeling was amazing. We will definitely go back to snorkel or dive that reef again. The last stop was shopping. We had a private driver for the day. Our driver was nice and personable, but I am unsure what his intentions were. We asked he take us to a place where we could go shopping and he said he knew a better place then where I asked to go. I put faith in him that he would take us to the best spots. Instead it appeared he took us to the spot where he could make money off of what we purchased. After we made our purchases, I watched the cashier hand him a handful of cash. Whether he did this intentionally or nor I do not know, but it was a little off putting for me. The excursion was fun, but it would be hard to recommend Roatan Anderson Tours again if this driver was going to be involved.

Cozumel- Today we booked an Xrail Adventure to Jade Cavern though Wild Tours. For those wondering, an Xrail is like a side by side / dune buggy cross. After a short drive to the home base, we watched a short safety video and then climbed into our rides. We were supposed to have a shared Xrail but were able to take our own which was really nice. The trail out was drying which was a bummer as we hoped to get covered in mud, but still had fun anyway. Our Xrail had a GoPro mount on the hood so that was nice to be able to record our journey. Jade Cavern is an underground Cenote filled with bats. While it was nice to see, was not getting into the water. Wild Tours did a nice job and we had a fun excursion for the price. We were also in a group of 15 compared to the large groups the shifts offer. The tour was definitely worth it at less then $170 for two people.

Final Impressions:


When I booked this cruise for my daughter and I, I booked it because of the ship. I researched over 15 different ships across several different cruise lines. I wanted an opportunity to see what it was like to be on one of the largest ships in the world. What I learned is the way Royal Caribbean had designed this ship allows for you to move around with ease. The ship is so large that there are times you forget you are on a ship. You could literally stay to the interior of the ship, have a great time and never see the ocean. With one or two exceptions, I never felt the ship was crowded. The food on the ship was top notch but the service was lacking in some areas. All staff onboard the ship were fabulous and very friendly. We did not even begin to scratch the surface of what this ship has to offer. If you want a ship with a lot of activity and different places to hang out, this is the ship for you. You will have to try to be disappointed.

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