As I write this, Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas is arriving into Nassau, Bahamas for the first time ever, to a welcome of cheering passengers, honking horns, and shouts and yells from passengers on the four other ships docked alongside us.
Wonder of the Seas is the fifth of Royal Caribbean's Oasis Class ships, carrying up to 6,998 passengers in 2,867 staterooms and 188 suites -- most of which are clustered in the new suite "neighborhood" on Decks 17 and 18.
And to be sure, everywhere we've gone on this trip -- Labadee, San Juan and Nassau -- Wonder of the Seas has been greeted with tremendous fanfare. The newest Royal Caribbean ships always command attention, but the sheer size of Wonder of the Seas gives it special impact.
Because the ship has so much to do, choosing how to spend your time onboard can require a lot of careful thought and planning -- and some of the ship's best features aren't ones that you can find in the Royal Caribbean app or the daily Cruise Compass.
Here's a look at five things that have impressed us so far onboard Wonder of the Seas:
One of the best hidden features aboard Wonder of the Seas are the individual bars nestled within many of the ship's specialty restaurants. Each offers its own specialty cocktails, like Saint Peter's Spritzer in Hooked Seafood; the PB&J Old Fashioned in The Mason Jar; and the whimsical Cheshire Cat Cosmo in Wonderland, garnished with raspberry cotton candy.
Best of all, you don't need a reservation to enjoy the cocktails or the ambiance -- just amble on up to the bar for a surprising and fun beverage experience.
Many of the bars are inset into their own area within the restaurant, ensuring those pre-dinner cocktails never bother diners. In Wonderland, the bar takes up the restaurant's upper floor, while in The Mason Jar, it occupies an area adjacent to the restaurant itself. Ditto for Giovanni's Wine Bar -- it's a classy area of respite next to the bustling Giovanni's Italian on the Central Park walkway on Deck 8.
It's a great way to experience all of the specialty restaurants Wonder of the Seas has to offer -- without breaking the bank.
Located on Deck 15 aft on the ship's starboard side, The Mason Jar is Royal Caribbean's newest specialty restaurant. Wonder of the Seas is currently the only ship in the fleet that offers this Southern-style eatery, and our two outings have proved it is well worth the cost of admission.
The Mason Jar also eschews the dark, ranch-like décor that graces similar Southern venues aboard Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Line ships, trading it instead for a brighter décor that Royal Caribbean lovingly refers to as "grandma's porch".
Brunch is offered here on sea days for $24.99 per person, while dinner will run $39.99 per person. A separate kid's menu is offered for the little ones for just $10.99.
We found brunch to be a superb value. You will not leave here hungry, not when the menu includes the delicious pimento cheese and saltines as an appetizer and main courses that include Breakfast Biscuits, Blueberry Johnnycakes, Stuffed French Toast, and Meemaw's Chicken and Waffles.
Dinner adds options like Meemaw's Chicken, served with your choice of sides; Blackened Cajun Catfish; Chicken Pot Pie, and Shrimp N' Grits.
We had Meemaw's Chicken for dinner one evening, and found it to be sinfully good, if punishing on the ol' calorie chart. Wash those down with a No Joke, Smoke and Coke -- Coca-Cola with Smoked Buffalo Trace bourbon, or perhaps the Southern Belle, a cocktail made with Buffalo Trace, mint, lemon juice, and blueberries topped with club soda.
Both brunch and dinner fill up fast, so you'll want to reserve this as soon as possible. We're happy to report, however, we did have luck ordering from the dinner menu after stopping in for a drink at the bar -- even without reservation.
Neither the Studio B ice rink, nor the AquaTheater, are new to Wonder of the Seas. Studio B debuted in 1999 aboard Voyager of the Seas, and the AquaTheater made its first splash -- pun intended -- a decade later aboard Oasis of the Seas. But these two venues still offer some of the most unique and thrilling entertainment at sea, and technological advances have taken these shows -- and what can be done with them -- to new heights.
At Studio B (located on Deck 4 amidships), I took in "365", an ice performance spectacular inspired by the four seasons and the wonder of the Earth. I've seen Royal Caribbean's ice shows before, but somehow this one -- which was performed with only a single prop due to supply chain issues brought on by the pandemic -- seemed more immersive. Digital projection, studio lights that digitally track the movement of performers via RFID chips, and "real" snow were just a few highlights of this high-tech, 50-minute production.
Don't forget, too, that when it's not showtime, you can also go for a skate on the rink at Studio B (during designated times) -- free of charge. And, aboard Wonder of the Seas, Studio B also changes into a hip nightclub known as RED on select evenings.
Likewise, the AquaTheater aboard Wonder of the Seas has also been digitally upgraded, and the all-female cast puts on a formidable show set to a thudding soundtrack from composers like Hans Zimmer (Inception, Dunkirk). A new aft-mounted wind screen provides increased protection from the elements, and the stunts performed here are truly world-class.
Best of all, it is also offered free of charge. But, like most things aboard Wonder of the Seas, reservations are essential -- meaning the earlier you book, the better.
The Pool Deck aboard Wonder of the Seas is action and adventure central. A dizzying array of special features are offered here, from the FlowRider surfing simulator to the zipline, The Perfect Storm waterslide, and the Ultimate Abyss slide that whisks riders from Deck 16 to Deck 6.
These are some of the most iconic and well-known thrills aboard Wonder of the Seas, and they will either appeal to you, or not. The Ultimate Abyss, for example -- which you enter through the gaping maw of a menacing-looking piranha -- stands more than 150 feet above the sea and has two full 360-degree turns that are traversed at what Royal Caribbean says are "gut-wrenching" speeds.
But the Pool Deck areas aboard Wonder of the Seas offer fun for the whole family. There are pools and hot tubs galore, and a dedicated area for the kids and families known as Splashaway Bay.
The Pool Deck is also home to three locations of The Lime & Coconut, Royal Caribbean's newest -- and perhaps most popular -- poolside watering hole that was introduced aboard Navigator of the Seas in 2019. There are colorful cabanas that can be rented (for a fee) from The Lime and Coconut for top-deck mavens that prefer a bit of shade to their poolside experience, and the drinks -- served in a clever, brightly-colored "bucket" cup -- are crisp and refreshing.
One of the more creative mini-golf locations is situated on the aft starboard side of Deck 16, though its exposed location makes a round a pretty sweaty affair. Just aft, a brand-new area for kids known as the Wonder Playscape gives little ones a fun little space to call their own, complete with slides and netting for climbing.
The pool deck is massive aboard Wonder of the Seas, so be sure to walk it from stem to stern. We'd been onboard for three full days before discovering, for example, that there's a dedicated theatre-style seating area for the oversized LED screen mounted to the forward end of the new Suite complex.
For all of the non-stop activities offered aboard Wonder of the Seas, exploring the ship's decks at night just might be the most underrated and rewarding tip we can offer.
At night, Wonder of the Seas comes alive. Its pool decks are awash in multi-colored lighting. Central Park on Deck 8 turns into a romantic place to stroll and sample a glass of wine. The Solarium becomes a hip nightcap spot, perfect for libations taken poolside under blue and red neon lights.
Moreso than any other ship we've sailed on, the exterior decks aboard Wonder of the Seas truly come alive at night. Most passengers tend to gravitate to the ship's indoor spaces during the evening hours, and that's a shame -- up top, bars are open, activities still continue on, pools are open late.
By day, Wonder of the Seas is awash with non-stop activity. At night, it is subdued, even quiet and thoughtful, on its upper-deck spaces -- all of which have been designed with a distinct personality just waiting to be discovered.
So, beat the crowds and the heat of the day with a drink at The Vue Bar at night. Enjoy a dip in the solarium's pools when few are around, and the lighting is soft and subdued. Stop by for a late-night bite at El Loco Fresh, and stay for the margaritas.
No matter how you spend your time, this is a ship that is truly a wonder, by day or night.