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Just Back from Wonder of the Seas: Hits and Misses From the World's Biggest Cruise Ship
Wonder of the Seas in Labadee on March 6, 2022 (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Just Back from Wonder of the Seas: Hits and Misses From the World's Biggest Cruise Ship

Just Back from Wonder of the Seas: Hits and Misses From the World's Biggest Cruise Ship
Wonder of the Seas in Labadee on March 6, 2022 (Photo: Aaron Saunders)
Aaron Saunders
News and Features Editor
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Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas is the biggest cruise ship in the world. And though it is the latest evolution of the Oasis class ships that debuted back in 2009, the newest Royal Caribbean ship nevertheless offers up its own unique place in history, introducing a number of firsts for the line and fine-tuning well-loved past features.

After a week onboard Wonder of the Seas -- sailing to Labadee, San Juan, Nassau and Royal Caribbean's very own Perfect Day at CocoCay -- we discovered this is a ship that offers no shortage of things to do, from big, splashy attractions like the Ultimate Abyss slides to quiet, subdued evenings wandering the ship's Central Park neighborhood, glass of wine in hand.

Most importantly, Wonder of the Seas offers something for everyone. Even if you're not a big ship fan (and, to be sure, this is the definition of a big ship), you're likely to find a space, attraction, lounge or entertainment option that you identify with.

For families, friends, couples and adventurous solos traveling together, Wonder of the Seas is a ship that everyone can be happy aboard. Be forewarned: there's so much to see and do onboard, you might need a week to recover!

Hits from the Biggest Cruise Ship in the World

The Mason Jar

The bar at The Mason Jar aboard Wonder of the Seas (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

We have fantasies of taking Wonder of the Seas' transatlantic crossing to Europe just to have more sea days to indulge at The Mason Jar. Royal Caribbean's first Southern-inspired restaurant is a hands-down winner, from its light and homey décor to its sumptuous sea day brunch offerings, its calorie-busting dinner of comfort food favorites, and its late-night bar snacks. We're talking Crab Beignets, Cajun fries, fried green tomatoes -- the works.

Speaking of the adjacent bar, it might be the most underrated watering hole onboard, with a lavish cocktail menu of Bourbon-forward libations like the PB&J Old Fashioned and the Stubborn Mule -- a southern take on the classic Moscow Mule.

Plush rocking chairs are situated adjacent to the room's floor-to-ceiling windows, making this a space you'll want to hang out in long after you've finished devouring some of Meemaw's Chicken.

The Redesigned Windjammer Marketplace

The entrance to the Windjammer Buffet aboard Wonder of the Seas (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

When Royal Caribbean designed Wonder of the Seas, it completely rethought the upper deck spaces, including the Windjammer Marketplace buffet on Deck 15 aft. The room -- which now wraps attractively around the Boardwalk neighborhood below and the sports decks above -- is reportedly the largest Windjammer in the fleet.

To start, passengers will find an attractive entryway complete with hand-wash stations and comfortable couches for lounging while you wait for the rest of your party to arrive. There's café-style seating in the entryway to the Windjammer that we loved, and plenty of seating options for parties of all sizes. The Windjammer then spreads out to both sides of the ship, and the windows overlooking the Boardwalk below provide ample light in what could have been a dark and cavernous space.

It's also worth noting the food here is above average for a buffet. Sure, you'll find the usual assortment of burgers and hotdogs and Caesar salads, but our sailing also trotted out some delicious Caribbean-themed options along with international cuisines highlighting dishes from China, India, and others.

Be sure to stroll around the entire room, too -- we didn't realize the Windjammer sported an amazing selection of cheeses for dessert until after we'd finished eating.

Spotlight Karaoke

Spotlight Karaoke aboard Wonder of the Seas (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Call it a leftover from Wonder of the Seas' intended homeport in China. Located on Deck 5 forward, port side, Spotlight Karaoke was an unexpected hit on our sailing -- an entire room dedicated just to karaoke performances (though some other activities, including special karaoke sessions for Teens, are held here as well).

Royal Caribbean executives told media that the room was a bit of a test aboard Wonder of the Seas to see if the concept would translate to the ship's North American market. From what we saw -- packed sessions that were standing-room only on most nights -- we'd say this one-off test is here to stay.

The Solarium

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

Wonder of the Seas has perhaps the best Solarium in the fleet. Located on Deck 15 forward, this enclosed space actually spans two decks in height thanks to tiered levels that cascade attractively forward towards the bow of the ship.

This is a space for activity, for relaxation, and -- yes -- even for sleeping. After all, it's hard to curl up in one of the sumptuous chairs and not be lulled into a dream-like state by the gentle motion of the ocean.

Nearby, pools, hot tubs, and a dedicated Solarium Bar offer plenty of reasons to stay put, and hidden outdoor access to viewing platforms atop the port and starboard bridge wings provide some incredible arrival and departure views.

At night, though, is when the Solarium really shines, becoming a quiet, subdued cocktail lounge nestled within one of the most dramatic vantage points aboard Wonder of the Seas. And because it's fully enclosed, neither high winds nor rainy weather can dampen the party.

Onboard Entertainment

Aquatheater performances aboard Wonder of the Seas are stunning (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Royal Caribbean once again ups the bar with entertainment aboard Wonder of the Seas, which was flat-out stunning. Sure -- there is no Broadway-style show onboard. There is, however, the stunning Aquatheatre situated outdoors all the way aft on Deck 6 that provides some of the most dramatic performances we've ever seen at sea, including the line's first all-female lineup of Aquatheatre performers. It's truly a spectacle to behold, and the best and most unique entertainment we've ever seen at sea in over 150 cruises.

Also strong is the entertainment at the Studio B Ice Rink on Deck 4 midship, which offers dramatic skating performances by an equally-talented group of performers. This is a venue that has been around since 1999 when it debuted aboard Voyager of the Seas, but Royal Caribbean keeps upping the technical capabilities of the stage itself, not to mention the quality of the shows.

Of course, passengers aboard Wonder of the Seas can also take in live music throughout the vessel in the evenings (including the fantastically crazy Stowaway Piano Player, who pops up in the ship's elevators to entertain passengers as they go from floor to floor); parades in the Royal Promenade on Deck 5 (cast and crew were still rehearsing on our voyage); and live comedy shows and vocal performances in the ship's main theater.

Count some of the ship's specialty dining experiences as entertainment as well: a group of friends and I ended our voyage aboard Wonder of the Seas in Wonderland, the ship's whimsical imaginative dining venue inspired by Alice in Wonderland. Besides offering some absolutely delicious cuisine, the unique and inventive presentation -- not to mention the presence of The Mad Hatter, who roves around the tables offering advice, backstory, and clever quips -- makes this a pseudo-form of entertainment in its own right.

Misses from the Biggest Cruise Ship in the World

Not everything aboard Wonder of the Seas is perfect, however -- a few things missed the mark on our sailing.

The Vue Bar

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

One of the most highly-touted features aboard Wonder of the Seas was the addition of a new outdoor bar known as The Vue, a cantilevered watering hole jutting out over the ship's port side just aft of the Solarium on Deck 15. On previous Oasis-class vessels, this was an oversized whirlpool hot tub, which has been removed from Wonder of the Seas in place of this bar (the starboard whirlpool still exists).

The Vue, however, is marred by its small size and lack of protection against the wind, which makes the bar almost unusable at sea. In port -- particularly around departure time -- the venue fills up to standing-room only, making it tough to get a seat.

The biggest letdown, however, is the lack of a dedicated menu: the bar simply deploys the same drinks, menus and branding from the poolside Lime and Coconut bar. It's a disappointing miss for a line that is typically very committed to the little details. The good news: we hear a dedicated menu for The Vue is in the works, so expect to see that roll out on future sailings.

Fully Booked Dining and Entertainment

Hooked! Seafood aboard Wonder of the Seas (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Upon setting foot aboard Wonder of the Seas, we were surprised to find most of the prime dining and entertainment reservations already fully booked up.

While dining can be booked on the Royal Caribbean app in advance, entertainment and activities cannot -- and we found the entire weeks' worth of comedy club shows completely sold out the second we loaded the app. A handful of times were left for the ice shows at Studio B, and one Aquatheater performance was left -- on Day 6 of the voyage.

While those who have sailed Oasis Class ships before will likely know where they want to go, and when, those who are new to the class (or Royal Caribbean), or cruising in general will likely be overwhelmed with the sheer choice of activities onboard and may not know in advance what they want to do, where they want to go, or when.

Advance reservations are absolutely key onboard this ship. If you think a dinner at Izumi looks like fun, or a lunch at Giovanni's, be prepared to be flexible: the best times are completely sold out by the time you get onboard -- and some venues, like the Chef's Table, had zero availability across the board.

This issue is definitely not unique to Wonder of the Seas, but with the vessel sailing at roughly 60 percent capacity on our cruise, things could get very competitive under a full load of passengers.

Having said that, if you've got your heart set on dinner at a certain restaurant, pop by and see if there are any last-minute no-shows or cancellations. I had good luck dining at Izumi Hibachi this way -- and was not disappointed.

It's Crowded - At 60 Percent Capacity

Crowds assembled at the rail aboard Wonder of the Seas (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

More of a quantifier than a con, Wonder of the Seas is bigger and larger than life -- and there are crowds to match. Even at only 60 percent capacity, there are moments -- usually when a show lets out -- where the ship becomes downright crowded, particularly on the Deck 5 Royal Promenade area, and around the pool deck on sea days.

Though crowds are to be expected on a ship of this size, we have to wonder how the ship will feel at full capacity -- getting a seat at your favorite bar or lounge could be a bit on the competitive side.

Wonder of the Seas Delivers the WOW

Overlooking the Boardwalk neighbourhood aboard Wonder of the Seas (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Make no mistake about it: Royal Caribbean's fifth Oasis-class ship still delivers the WOW. Thirteen years may have elapsed since Oasis of the Seas first set sail, but Wonder of the Seas is a thoroughly modern ship with its own unique personality, and new and exciting features to boot.

This is not the ship you take for a quiet, restful vacation -- though there are plenty of quiet nooks and crannies to be found, including a traditional Card Room on Deck 14 that is (like all card rooms) downright funereal on a decibel scale.

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

Instead, this is a ship you take to be entertained on. It is a larger-than-life experience that really shines with its multi-generational friendliness and accessibility and sheer variety of choice. No matter what vacation style you personally trend towards, there will be something onboard Wonder of the Seas that speaks to you. The gargantuan size of the ship and diversity of its offerings -- entertainment, food, beverage and accommodations -- practically assures it.

And yet, Wonder of the Seas delivers plenty of surprising experiences that you would never expect on a ship of this size. There's the quietness of the Solarium at night, or the beauty of the outdoor Central Park area, with its real trees and greenery fluttering softly in the wind. Or the aft-facing Boardwalk on Deck 6, with its Coney Island-esque feel and bustling combination of Johnny Rockets and the Playmaker's Sports Bar, opposite the large central carousel.

Whimsical artwork adorns men's public restrooms aboard Wonder of the Seas (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

I expected Wonder of the Seas to deliver on its food and entertainment promises. I never expected to quantify a ship of this size as "charming". But it is most assuredly that. It is a ship that is big and brash alongside quiet and romantic. It's also whimsical -- clever artwork adorns the men's public restrooms, mostly of furry woodland creatures with magnifying glasses, and fun signs line the jogging track that encircles the ship on Deck 5.

The things I thought about the Oasis-class turned out to be wrong. Yes, it's big. Yes, it's busy and yes, it can most certainly be crowded. But there are features aboard Wonder of the Seas that I will miss on every cruise I take after this; ones that will unexpectedly bring me back to this ship -- the largest in the world -- despite being an avowed small-ship fan.

Perhaps that is Royal Caribbean's greatest strength: it really knows how to wow even the most skeptical passenger -- and keep them coming back, again and again.

Updated March 15, 2022

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