Harmony of the Seas Cruise Review by Jax9000
- Sail Date: August 2017
- Destination: Eastern Caribbean
This was our family’s 20th cruise (4th with RCCL) and it reinforced my love/hate relationship with Royal Caribbean. Let me go over the trip details gong first over the positives.
1- The Ship! I always admired RCCL for its innovations and their boldness on building bigger and more advanced ships. Harmony of the Seas is an engineering marvel. If you don’t force yourself to the idea that you are on a ship you might believe you are on a resort. The ship doesn’t rock. The public areas are open and wonderful. The Central Park and the Boardwalk areas, with the Acqua Theater at its end, are amazing.
2- The staterooms. We had a balcony stateroom and it was one of the best we had. The bed was amazingly comfortable, the balcony was spacious, lots of space in the closets and lots of outlets, including two for USB cables. The kids stayed in an internal stateroom with a virtual balcony (check it online if you don’t know what it is). They enjoyed it a lot.
3- Most of the personnel. Everyone is helpful and eager to help unless they are instructed otherwise by company’s policy (see the Labadee Incident and the Plastic Bag Incident below).
4- Efficiency: Everything on board is designed for maximum efficiency. The Excursion desk, for example is almost all self-service and able to cut down some personnel. The pictures taking by the photographers can be accessed from special monitors, so they don’t need to print and place them in those little shelves, saving paper, work and is way more convenient for the passengers. They also sell you an RF bracelet that substitutes your SeaPass card and, since it is attached to your wrist, you have zero chance to lose it. And they have the Bionic Bar that is a nice (yet already outdated) curiosity.
5- Crowds: Yes, the ship had 6,480 passengers but crowd management is done on a way in which very rarely you feel trapped with a multitude of people on a restricted space. There are always free deck chairs. There’s always a nice place to sit and have a conversation. The only awful time is during the first day when you have people crowding the upper decks and the Windjammer restaurant becomes the quintessential nightmare of everyone that hates cruising. This lasts until the muster station drill. After that the crowd disperses, although, sometimes, the problem resurfaces on the main pools. (By the way, the security movie, shown during the muster station drill is a flop. They tried to do it funny and different but, alas, it completely loses the point on instructing passengers on what to do in case of an emergency). Embarkation 9especially if you did your homework before getting to the pier) and disembarkation were very easy.
1- The food outside specialty restaurants: You won’t get sick but you won’t write home about it. It is just OK, very comparable to other cruise lines in the same market space.
2- The soda package: As noted on point 4 above, you can access everything on line with help of your SeaPass card or the RF bracelet, but not the Soda! Passengers that bought the soda package need to carry that special Coca Cola branded travel cup through the ship, every hour of the day, like ghosts carrying their chains. Why just don’t add the info to your account?
3- The towel system on the pool: Again, the ship is designed to be efficient. A brilliant mind decided it was a good idea to cut pool attendants and open deckchairs without any doubts (uh, is this one taken, since there is only a towel?) by making passengers check and return pool towels in one of three stations (threating them with a 25 dollar fine per towel that is not returned). The problem here is that, a lot of time, only one of the three towel stations is open. Like the ghosts carrying their Coca Cola cups you see other souls carrying soiled towels or trying to get clean ones, trying to find an open towel station. And the ship is big. And once you find what towel station is open, there is always a line.
4- The main restaurant for “my own time” dinning: If you don’t have assigned tables you have to book your dining time every day. And that’s OK, since you can do it before you board the ship. However, every day, you face a line in front of the restaurant (we were assigned to ‘Silk’, on the 5th deck). Once you get to the attendant, they start using a walkie-talkie to find a table for you. But wait... they have a screen in front of them with the map of the restaurant showing red and green tables… yet they radioed some mysterious people expecting for someone to answer with an open table. Once the table is located, they print a small note and you are subsequently directed to your table by a guide. I couldn’t believe that a ship like that had such a stupid system. I asked one of the table locators inside the restaurant why they don’t use the map on their screens. “We have tablets here to manage the open tables but they always lose connection with the system. We can’t use them.” Really? After spending $ 1.4 billion building a ship you have an issue with wi-fi and the best way to solve it is by letting customers waiting outside?
There were some instances when I thought to myself ‘how this is even possible?’ Two of these instances are what I qualify as awful. But basically they all are linked to the revenue model employed by RCCL. I understand how the cruise line needs to make money and I know that the price of the cruise itself is not enough to turn the operation into a profitable one. The prices on board of the Harmony of the Seas were, by far, higher than in other cruise companies. Drinks, for example, were incredibly overpriced compared with our last cruise (with Princess). So were the Shore excursions. However there are some limits to this.
1- The Labadee Incident (first of the awful incidents): Labadee is the cruise line private beach. I was there before with the Explorer of the Seas but after years, RCCL managed to build a lot there, offering an incredibly nice and almost paradisiacal place, with stuff for all ages. However, the only thing that is ‘included’ are the long chairs on the beach and the picnic style lunch. Umbrellas, slides, flotation cushions are all charged for extras. Same as the zip line, kayaking, scuba, etc. No problem here. Private beaches are a smart way for cruise lines to keep the ship docked, reducing its expenses, while charging for things. There are some bars spread on Labadee, like inside the ship. A little bit before leaving the beach I approached one of these bars and asked for a cup of water. The bartender asked me if I wanted bottled water. I said no, just some water from the soda machine (or tap) would work. “Sorry, Sir” he said. “I can only offer you bottled water for a fee. I can’t give you any other water”. I was perplexed, flummoxed, bewildered. “You can’t give me a cup of water?” I asked again. “No, sir. I can only sell you water”. I can replicate here the expletives I used. Who refuses a cup of water to someone? Are we supposed to feel like hostages in Labadee?
2- The Plastic Bag incident (second of the awful incidents): We bought six pictures on the cruise. After selecting them on the monitors we were told to come later to pick up the prints. So, before dinner, we stopped by the photo area. Our pictures were ready and they were given to us. “Do you have a paper folder, for me to put the pictures?” I asked. Paper folders are common in any other similar operation in other cruise lines. “No, but I can sell you this leather folder for $25”. I looked the lady and said “I don’t want this. Can you give me, at least, a plastic bag, so I can carry the pictures?”. “No, we don’t have them”. I was baffled since I saw these bags in all of the ship stores. I walked to the other extreme of the photo area and tried again with a different representative. He again tried to sell me the leather folder, but he added “If you buy the leather folder I can give you a plastic bag”. “So, let me see if I understand. I just spent almost $ 100 and you want me to give you more $25 so you can give me a plastic bag that costs $ 0.03?” The guy looked at me with clear embarrassment. “Aren’t you ashamed?” I asked. The guy shrugged and reached to a drawer and gave me the bag. Honestly, I never see this type of stinginess in any other cruise.
3- Others: For the first time in 20 cruises I noticed that some of the luggage left on the pier with the porters was not brought into the ship. I can’t understand how this is even possible; shop personnel guaranteeing me that they will beat any price but when I brought a better price for the same article they told me that “well, it is a long story but this particular seller is not included on our ‘best price guaranteed offer’; the price for on demand movies was $ 12 per movie… usually free in other lines. I wouldn’t complain if it was $3 or $4. But $12?
The Harmony of the Seas is a beautiful ship with amazing areas and wonderful staterooms. It’s a magnificent piece of hardware. The “software” however, needs some improvement, and most of these improvements are related to the implacable revenue maximization model that, I believe, in in place. The Labadee incident is, in my view, a preposterous and egregious occurrence. Would I cruise with RCCL again? Perhaps, but they wouldn't be my first choice.
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