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Harmony of the Seas vs. Anthem of the Seas
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Live from the Biggest Cruise Ship in the World: First Impressions of Royal Caribbean's New Wonder of the Seas
Wonder of the Seas at Labadee, Haiti on March 6, 2022 (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Live from the Biggest Cruise Ship in the World: First Impressions of Royal Caribbean's New Wonder of the Seas

Live from the Biggest Cruise Ship in the World: First Impressions of Royal Caribbean's New Wonder of the Seas
Wonder of the Seas at Labadee, Haiti on March 6, 2022 (Photo: Aaron Saunders)
Aaron Saunders
News and Features Editor
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It is the biggest ship in the world: an evolution of Oasis of the Seas and one of the largest and most-innovative Royal Caribbean ships to grace the waters of the sea.

Wonder of the Seas is exactly that: a wonder. It is the biggest passenger ship in the world by gross tonnage at 236,857 gross tons. It has 18 passenger decks and stretches nearly 1,200 feet in length. A total of 5,734 passengers can be carried at double-occupancy; 6,988 if all berths are filled.

Cruise Critic is onboard for the first revenue sailing of Wonder of the Seas from Fort Lauderdale, an Eastern Caribbean cruise that will take us to Labadee, Haiti; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Nassau, Bahamas, and Royal Caribbean's Perfect Day at CocoCay.

But aboard Wonder of the Seas -- the fifth Oasis Class ship since Oasis of the Seas debuted in 2009 -- the true destination is arguably the ship itself.

Wonder of the Seas: The Biggest Ship in the World

The main dining room aboard Wonder of the Seas (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Seventeen short minutes. That's how long it took to embark the largest cruise ship in the world at Port Everglades Terminal 18 on its maiden voyage. Curb-to-ship, the level of organization in the terminal presented a marked difference from some of the more time-consuming and chaotic embarkations I've been part of in this unique time, when we're seeing COVID-19 regulations begin to move out of pandemic and into endemic mode.

Word is the ship is running about 60% full on its maiden voyage -- which, for Wonder of the Seas, still equates to over 4,000 passengers (estimates I've heard onboard vary wildly, so let's peg it at 4,000 and change). It's easily the busiest ship I've been aboard since cruising's restart last summer, and it's nice to see that intangible energy is back as passengers start to find their routines onboard.

Royal Caribbean also made face masks optional as of February 25 for fully-vaccinated passengers, making this the first cruise I've taken since last summer where face masks weren't a requirement. Most passengers seem to be enjoying their maskless experience, though I'll admit I still wear mine unless I'm seated or outdoors. Crew still sport N95 masks, though I hear that requirement could be lifted in the coming weeks as well, depending on guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This is, somewhat unbelievably, my first outing on an Oasis-class ship. I've largely avoided the class so far, fearful that the more inward-facing ship would deprive me of a connection with the sea. I tend to gravitate more towards the older, but still beautiful, Radiance-class vessels, with their walls of glass windows in nearly every public space.

And it's true: this is not a ship that offers a lot of outward-facing windows in public spaces. But a surprising amount of Wonder of the Seas is dedicated to unique outdoor spaces, flooded with natural light and warm Caribbean breezes. Those spaces that are interior-facing are so well decorated and appointed that the lack of view scarcely seems to matter, even to this unabashed sea lover.

Cabins were ready when I stepped onboard, and my balcony stateroom to be a spacious enclave of calm. A queen-sized bed is situated near the balcony, which is framed by an attractively-curved set of windows. USB ports are plentiful, as are North American and European outlets.

The bathroom is also a step up from older vessels: a magnetic door replaces the old clunky latching variety, and an oversized shower with glass door is about twice as big as that offered aboard older ships. (Just watch out -- my shower door swings powerfully shut on its hinge; you do not want your fingers in the way!)

Storage is well-designed and plentiful enough for two adults, though it might be a bit tight for a family of four occupying a cabin. A flat-panel TV offers live television channels and special programming just for kids, but movies on-demand are $11.99, and selection is poor compared to other lines which offer dozens of movies, free of charge. A bridge cam view is offered on the Navigation channel, which cycles between live maps and a forward-facing view from the vessel's navigation bridge, inset within data about the ship's course and speed.

Touring Wonder of the Seas Neighborhoods

The kid-friendly Splashaway Bay aboard Wonder of the Seas (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

At first blush, Wonder of the Seas is a gorgeous, but massive, ship that is almost unbelievable in its sheer variety of choice. There truly is something for everyone here onboard; a space that speaks to every type of personality, from introverted sea lovers to outgoing party types. A week onboard scarcely offers enough time to sample its 23 dining options, 12 distinct bars and lounges, and numerous entertainment options spread across eight individual themed areas that Royal Caribbean refers to as "neighbourhoods".

This includes Central Park, the outdoor café and dining area situated along the centerline on Deck 8 that is open to the elements between the forward and aft elevator banks. There is nothing else like it at sea except on other Oasis-class ships: trees flutter in the wind, and foliage lines the stone promenades that sit adjacent to the outdoor seating areas for the dining venues Park Café, 150 Park, Giovanni's Italian Kitchen, and Chops steakhouse.

At the center: the iconic Rising Tide Bar, which slowly descends from Deck 8 to Deck 5's Royal Promenade. I rode this on my first evening onboard, sipping on my Dark and Stormy as the bar descended slowly into the interior of the vessel. It's kitschy, sure -- but it's also a fun venue that is one of the smaller and more intimate bars onboard.

Royal Caribbean's app, plus printed copies of the Cruise Compass daily program, help passengers navigate all the options available to them. For those who have never sailed an Oasis-class vessel before, the experience of stepping onboard for the first time can be a little overwhelming. Should you go left or right, front or back? Moreso than other vessels, Wonder of the Seas inspires a true sense of exploration as passengers find their way around this gargantuan vessel, heightening the sense of discovery not just for hours, but days on end.

But for those who have sailed the Oasis-class before, Wonder of the Seas is also wonderfully different from those that have come before it.

An Oasis of the Seas, Evolved With New Venues The Vue, The Mason Jar

The Solarium aboard Wonder of the Seas (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Wonder of the Seas has evolved, not just within its class, but within Royal Caribbean's fleet as a whole. The best design features of other ships have been added to the ship, along with several new enhancements.

At the bow on Deck 15, the totally-enclosed Solarium is one of the ship's signature spaces, with its multi-leveled seating, numerous whirlpools and shallow pools for lounging. Outdoor areas allow for views over the ship's navigation bridge wings, and at the center of the room is a full-service bar bookended by floor-to-ceiling windows at the Solarium Café and Hooked seafood one deck above.

Having the solarium fully enclosed is a new enhancement aboard Wonder of the Seas, and it's been welcomed on this cruise, where the apparent wind at sea has reached 50 knots as we sailed south toward Labadee.

Much has been made of The Vue, the new cantilevered watering hole just aft of the Solarium on the port side of Deck 15. This was a whirlpool on other Oasis-class ships but has been turned into a hip panoramic bar aboard Wonder of the Seas.

The bad news: it's very small and very popular, making finding a seat here an exercise in frustration. Underway, the bar is almost unusable due to high winds and the lack of protection from the elements. On a calm day in port, it's a great new spot to whet your whistle. At sea -- you might want to find another place to quench your thirst.

Also new is the Southern-themed specialty dining venue known as The Mason Jar. This is a real win for Royal Caribbean. Sea Day Brunch runs for $24.99 per person, while nightly dinner here costs $39.99 and includes dishes like the Lobster N' Crawfish Gumbo, Johnny Cakes, Fried Green Tomatoes, and Shrimp N' Grits.

The Mason Jar also has its own bar area, which is worth a visit even if the Southern cuisine doesn't entice you. My pick so far: the "Far From Manhattan", a bourbon-based drink garnished with a slice of candied bacon. Or you can channel your inner Southerner with a classic Mint Julep.

Other spaces were added once the decision was made to redeploy Wonder of the Seas from China, where it was originally scheduled to debut. A Starbucks location was installed on the Royal Promenade, and the line's popular top-deck watering hole, The Lime and Coconut, was also added to the vessel.

Spotlight Karaoke on Deck 5 is a holdover from the ship's original design for the Chinese market (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

One thing that wasn't changed is Spotlight Karaoke on Deck 5. This dedicated space allows passengers to belt out their favorite tunes nightly, and was described by Royal Caribbean executives onboard as something of a test for the line. If it's successful, it could very well find its way onboard the sixth, as-yet-unnamed Oasis-class vessel, due to launch in the fall of 2024.

A few things aren't finished just yet. Supply chain issues have meant that Wonder of the Seas' Escape Room is still closed to passengers. But, with so many other diversions still available for passengers, it's hardly a deal-breaker.

Wonder of the Seas May Be the Biggest Cruise Ship At Sea -- But You Can Still Find Small Moments

Central Park aboard Wonder of the Seas sparkles by night. (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Wonder of the Seas has been its uniquely split personalities.

By daytime, the ship is an active hub of entertainment. Its pool decks bustle with sun-worshippers and thrill-seekers, and interior spaces are filled with folks enjoying the ship's many public areas -- whether that means doing early-morning trivia in the Schooner Bar, a Latin dance class at Bolero's, or simply curling up in the Solarium with a book.

By night, Wonder of the Seas really turns on the charm. Its soft lighting, neon accents and cleverly-hidden illumination sources turn the ship into a charming, soft and even romantic experience. Strolling along the Central Park promenade on Deck 8 at night is one of the most memorable experiences I've had in over 150 cruises. The Solarium transforms into a hip poolside bar, and the Schooner Bar offers a healthy dose of darkened maritime warmth for those looking for their very own shipboard piano man.

It's a gentle edge to a ship that prides itself in being big, bombastic, and larger than life. I wasn't expecting it, but I find I look forward to my evenings most aboard Wonder of the Seas because of it. Even in the largest of ships, you can still find intimate places to make your cruise your own.

Updated March 07, 2022

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