My wife and I just returned from a 7 night Eastern Caribbean Cruise on Symphony. This was my 9th cruise on RC (#10 for my wife) and our first on Symphony. My brother and his wife and my sister and her husband also cruised with us. My wife ... Read More
My wife and I just returned from a 7 night Eastern Caribbean Cruise on Symphony. This was my 9th cruise on RC (#10 for my wife) and our first on Symphony. My brother and his wife and my sister and her husband also cruised with us. My wife and I aren't "big ship" cruisers, but we wanted to give Symphony a try and I'm glad we did!
Itinerary include new ports for us: St. Kitts (nice!), St. Thomas (uggh!), and Perfect Day at CocoCay (WoW!)
Like most of my reviews, this is a little long, but hopefully helpful, so a few thoughts up front. The ship is amazing and huge. There were nearly 6,500 cruisers on board including 1,200 kids...but the ship does a great job of diffusing that crowd and only once or twice did we notice. I'll note we bought the Key upgrade which probably contributed to why we didn't notice the crowd...it's basically like a FastPass at an amusement park. More on that below.
OK...on to a regular review:
We flew into Ft. Lauderdale (Southwest doesn't fly to Miami) and used SAS Transportation to get down to Miami (cost is about $15/person, takes about 30-45 minutes). Second time we've used this company. Second time we've been pleased with the service.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Port of Miami – Downtown. Very nicely sized room with views of the Bay. We booked a stay and sail package that included breakfast in the morning (very nice buffet) and a shuttle ride to the ship. If you don't book the package, you can still sign up for the shuttle. I think it was $6/person. Location is good with plenty of restaurants near-by including an outdoor mall/market right across the street that had a ton of bars and restaurants. We had a drink there, then headed back about a block from our hotel to CVI.CHE 105, a Peruvian restaurant. Highly recommend.
We headed to the port about 10 am on embarkation day.
Terminal A is the brand new terminal in Miami and it's impressive. However, the traffic snarl was also impressive. It was probably a 5 minute drive from our hotel to the terminal and then another 15-20 minutes to go the last half-mile for the shuttle to park and unload us/luggage.
After that, it was a breeze. We had the Key package so bypassed most lines and were guided to the same check-in group as suites/Diamond+. Security screening was quick and then it was on to the ship. If you have the Key, don't be shy and let staff know...they're trying to move the crowd along so if you don't tell them, you'll just get swept up in that, but if you do tell them, they pluck you out of the crowd.
Even with the traffic snarl to park, we were on board by 11 and that was in part due to waiting to link up with the rest of our group (who used RC's travel package option) before boarding.
You enter on deck 5, the Promenade, and it's very similar to Freedom/Anthem class ships if you've sailed those. After a quick beer at the Pub, we headed up to Chops in Central Park for lunch (that's included in the Key package). We got a table almost immediately since we were a group of 6. Service was good, but a little slow. Food was very good. We didn't really mind the wait as we were mainly waiting for the rooms to open up, which they did at 1 pm. You pick up your room keys at your stateroom. Before that, you just use your SetSail pass or give them your room number.
We love RC but hate My Time Dining, so were happy with a 5:30 pm main dining room. Our table was near the entrance which worked well since my sister broke her foot two weeks before we sailed and had a little knee scooter thing to help her get around. Food was above average, and we generally are happy with RC food...so Symphony was a step-up from “normal.” Each night there is a chef's recommendation and that's probably your best option. Waiters work very hard and seem to have less time to “get to know you,” but they do their best. Ours were Jeffrey and HongXiang and we couldn't have been happier with their service. HongXiang was the sweetest and happiest person ever. On two occasions, Jeffrey expedited our dinner so that we could make a show time. Very much appreciated.
One night, three of us did Wonderland. We paid pre-cruise so it came at a discount, but I don't remember how much. If you haven't done Wonderland, I highly recommend it. It's eclectic, tasty, and a very nice experience. Our waiter was very earnest, but once we settled him down a bit, it was great. We basically ordered a variety of items and then ate family style so we could all try it. I don't want to spoil the surprise, but basically, the top of menu are appetizers and the bottom of the menu are the main meals. They're themed after elements (Air, Sea, Wind, etc...). Very cool. We didn't have any kids with us, but I noticed that they have a special kids menu for them that keeps the theme while still offering things kids eat. We made reservations for 6 pm, told them we had an 8 pm show and they got us out of there about 7:30 without feeling rushed.
If you like Chef's Table, I don't think they offer that on Symphony, or at least I don't think it was available on our itinerary.
One night all 6 of us went to Jaimie's Italian. Again, the waiter was great and made some great recommendations. Again, we ordered a bunch of appetizers and shared them family style and then each of us ordered a main meal. Appetizers were better than the main meal overall. I had lasagna that frankly reminded me of Chef Boyardee. My brother and brother-in-law had the Tagliatelle Bolognese and both said it was very good. Deserts were impressive. The waiter basically brought out a selection of everything so we could try it. Lemon cheese cake was super lemony (wife said “Amazing!”)
Three of us did the “make your own sushi” class (which you then get to eat afterward) at Izumi. Second time for my wife and I to do this and it was just as good, just as fun, and slightly different than our previous time, so that was cool. If you like sushi, I highly recommend this for lunch one day.
Four of us did the wine tasting. Second time for us and will be the last time. The wines are fine but on both Grandeur and now on Symphony it was terribly organized, the crowd noise is louder than the wine steward (I think they allow too large a group to participate in a single seating), and the wine steward didn't know how to handle that. The wines were great, but the experience was poor. We won't do it again.
My brother did the Galley tour that included a deluxe brunch (he had steak). He said it was very good after some initial chaos. Once they were broken down into groups of about 25 and got going, it was good.
Breakfast most mornings was in the Solarium Bistro. Lots of choices, to include an omelet station and seating was never a problem except for one morning, but we just walked out into the outdoor seating area in the Solarium.
One morning we had breakfast at The Park Cafe in Central Park. Standard fare (parfait, yogurt, cereal (hot and cold), breakfast sandwiches/wraps, fruit cups). Perfect if you're in a rush. From our balcony we could see it did pretty good traffic all day, but was never overcrowded. This is also a good light lunch option.
One morning (CocoCay Day) we had breakfast in the Windjammer and we ate lunch there twice. Very impressed. Traffic flows were much better than on other ships and we never had trouble finding a table. Bravo to Symphony on that. The food was very good with a wide variety. Delicious Indian food on the buffet!
First...Symphony has a great Activities staff. Even though the ship is huge, there were still lots of opportunities to interact with them, especially if you play the games/trivia (and we do). The folks that ran bingo and line dancing and trivia and the game shows and..and..and...were great.
The Ice shows were excellent. There is apparently a story/plot to 1976, but I'm not sure exactly what it was...but it doesn't matter. The venue, the music, the skating...all were great. They do a second show that had even less of a plot...but again, great music, great skating. Very impressed.
We skipped Hairspray, the Broadway show, but did see Flight. Wow. They achieve some amazing special effects. Definitely a “go see.”
Highlight was Hyro, the water show. Mostly dancing, but it's really well done. But there's also diving, high-diving, tightrope walking, and, and...and. Wow. We caught a matinee and had great seats due to the Key program. It was great and would have been even better at night.
Quick note on stand-by lines. If you don't have reservations, you can wait in a stand-by line. About 10 minutes before the show starts, they release all seats to the stand-by line. I don't think anyone ever got turned away, it's just the seat choice was a bit more limited. So..if you really want to see a show, make a plan and make reservations, but don't be afraid to just show up if you didn't.
During the day we did trivia, the game shows, bingo etc....Lots of fun. Most evenings they had game shows in On Air. If you want a seat be there at least 20 minutes before the show starts. There is a good bar in there, so you have something to keep you occupied while you wait.
Casino...pretty standard. Pretty lively. Very smoky. Half is “smoke free” but I don't think any of the ships have figured out how to actually do that.
Outdoor pools – there are two or three and they were busy, but never overcrowded that I noticed. This ship just does a great job of spreading out the population. Several hot tubs, rarely were they full because there are so many. Even in the Solarium we were always able to find a lounger.
Waterslides/Ultimate Abyss – waterslides were fun...not super fast, but fun. My brother rode the Ultimate Abyss – he said it was a rush.
Lots of stuff to do next time that we didn't get to. One more note on the Key, there was an activity per sea day (sometimes 2) and a block of time (usually an hour) that was reserved for Key holders...so Flowrider, zip line, climbing wall, Ice skating....I can't remember what else. You just have to plan accordingly.
We had an “interior” balcony over Central Park on deck 11, room 11605. Very nice. Balcony caught a lot of sun in the afternoon and when in port, it was too hot to sit out there...but they're cool. Soundproofing works great. AC only works when the balcony door is locked, so keep that in mind.
Room was spacious with the bed and a large couch. Had a mini-fridge. Storage was very good (suitcases fit under the bed and it seemed like more closet hanging space that other ships). Bathroom was good. Shower seemed bigger. Looks like they made the sink area smaller to make the shower stall a bit bigger. Only downside was the mirror fogged up when shaving. Otherwise...great! Toilets worked fine throughout the ship. Room steward Navim was great though he was that ninja-elf you hear about (it was Day 3 before we actually caught him in action and had a chance to talk).
Departure was super easy, thanks to the Key. We carried off our luggage, but were able to have a special breakfast in the main dining room where we could store our bags, eat, and then proceed directly to the exit gangplank, avoiding the “regular” departure lines. Immigration and customs took less than 2 minutes. They used facial scanners which really sped up the process.
Once outside, we called SAS Transportation and 15 minutes later we were on our way back to Fort Lauderdale.
St. Kitts – Booked a beach day via RC. Got off the boat about 9 am, walked around the St. Kitts shopping market a bit. There are loads of folks selling excursions off the ship and “take a picture with my monkey” but they're not pushy and many were rather funny. In short, I didn't mind because while they're trying to hustle up some business, they took no for an answer. Got in line about 9:30 for our excursion, were loaded onto a 15 passenger bus and headed for the resort. Got to see a lot of the island. It was clean, tidy, and very pretty. Some amazing views on the way and then we arrived at a beach club. Our excursion included beach chairs but umbrellas were $10 extra. Recommend paying it as it was well worth it...otherwise there isn't a lot of shade there, though some folks did drag their chairs under a tree.
There was a bar and restaurant offering food/drink for a fee (which weren't cheap, but weren't crazy priced either.) They also had jet skis for rent and a small bouncy island water park thing (I don't know what they're called, but it's like a bouncy castle on the water). We were there about 2 – 2.5 hours. At 1 pm our driver returned and took us back to the ship. Ride was about 25 minutes each way.
St. Thomas – We didn't book an excursion. We walked off the ship at the Crown Pier (?). It's about 2.5 miles from downtown St. Thomas. There a shopping area there. (Fun fact, the area used to be a U.S. Navy submarine base). You can also catch a jingo taxi (pick-up truck modified with benches) to downtown. Cost was $4/person each way. We took the taxi downtown and wandered around for about 30 minutes. Wow (and not in a good way). Very pushy vendors and guys hustling to get you to go into store A or store B. Inside the shops, the staff were nice, but there are a ridiculous amount of jewelry stores (like every other store is a jewelry store). There are also some bars/restaurants but we'd had enough of saying “no thank you” every three steps only to have the guy follow you down the street, so we headed back to the ship. We talked to some folks that took a catamaran/snorkling trip and they loved it...so...maybe choose accordingly. I'm sure there is a nice part of St. Thomas, but downtown isn't it unless you love browsing jewelry shops and constantly getting hustled.
CocoCay – Perfect Day
You've seen the commercials, but the transformation is truly amazing. If you like “old CocoCay,” it's still there, you just have to walk out a bit further. The waterpark is similar to those in the U.S. and looked like they did a good business while we were there. Judging from the crowd at the swim up bar in Oasis lagoon, I'd say most people did the half-day ticket in the morning. There were lines we could see but not crazy long and things seemed to be moving pretty well. We didn't do the waterpark, but I didn't hear anyone complaining either. Disembarking in the morning was fast, if you can use the stairs. If you need an elevator, it may take a while. Not sure what was happening but my sister had to wait longer than normal for an elevator to come. Ashore they have beach wheelchairs. They tended to be lined up near the bathrooms, and that made it pretty easy to get her to areas that weren't paved with cobblestones. Staff are posted around the park with “Ask me Anything” shirts and they're very helpful too. You can get to a lot of places without needing the beach wheelchair, but not every where.
We rented a cabana at the Oasis lagoon. Had a ceiling fan, two chairs, a big couch, a cooler/table with 6-8 water bottles, and 4 sun loungers. They'll also bring you lunch if you order from the menu in the cabana. Bar tenders come around, but as we were just across from the swim up bar (there's a walk-up side too), it wasn't an issue.
Never did see the balloon go up...Did see wild chickens and iguana...
I think that's long enough. Enjoy Symphony! We're not usually fans of the big ships, but Symphony won us over. We spent a week on-board and still didn't see/do it all! Read Less