My wife and I cruised on the Symphony of the Seas in January 2019 to the Western Caribbean. This was our 27th cruise overall, 11th on Royal, 4th on their mega ships. We are in our 60’s and usually cruise to a more interesting location as we’ve cruised the Caribbean too much. However, she attended a conference on this cruise so we had no choice on location or timing. Overall it was a good cruise but not great which is why I gave it 4 stars. There were two main issues:
First, the weather was poor which is expected this time of year and not the cruise lines fault. Be aware of Caribbean cruises in mid-Dec to mid-Feb as you are likely to encounter rain and strong winds. Departing Miami we had rough seas for a couple days, got rained out at Roatan (most excursions cnx), okay weather in Costa Maya, windy in Cozumel, and very windy at Coco Cay so most activities there were cnx.
Second, we felt Royal is eliminating or reducing items that were free before and now make you pay extra for the same thing. Also known as “nickel & diming you to death!” This first occurred on boarding where we looked forward to a peaceful lunch in the dining room to avoid the crowds at the buffet, only to find that the only dining room lunch available was for “Key members” who paid an extra fee of $25 per day for perks including lunch on first day and reserved seating at shows, etc – which takes away seating from us little people. Then we found the Windjammer buffet stopped at 9:15pm every night, normally it’s 10 or 11pm, so you have to go to their very limited Café Promenade or pizza place OR order room service at $7 plus fee if you want a snack late at night. In room TV is now extremely limited with a few channels with obscure tv shows or very old movies as they want you to buy the On Demand pay movies. Final expense we didn’t appreciate was the specialty restaurants now are $50ish per person. We ate at Chops and it was fine but not as good as we’ve had and certainly not worth $53!
EMBARKATION – We drove to Miami and parked in the garage next to the pier for $25, pricey but very convenient. You drive up until you find the porters (on level 4 that day), drop off your bags, then park. Walk over to terminal, go thru checkin line, then security. Although a little crowded at noon, we were thru and on the ship in 20 minutes. You do not get your room key until you board the ship, it’s in an envelope outside your cabin. If you charge drinks, etc, you show your boarding pass until you get your key card.
SHIP – Symphony OTS is a beautiful ship as it’s only 2 years old. As with our earlier cruises on these mega ships, there is a lot to do and activities for all ages. The crew and staff were outstanding and very friendly and helpful. Even with the windy weather the ship did not rock that much. We had a full load of 6,000 plus passengers but there were lots of quiet areas - our favorite was Central Park on Deck 8
CABIN – We were in a balcony cabin on deck 11 forward. The cabin seemed larger than previous mega ships, definitely longer as we had a king bed and a full size couch. They’ve added storage and two separate wardrobes with hangers, very nice. Plenty of electric plugs. The shower is also larger. Our room steward was very good and gave us extra towels, soap bars, and shampoo as needed.
DINING – We had early fixed dining at 5:30pm with the conference group which worked well. Late dining was at 8pm. They also had a room for anytime dining but we heard no comments on it. We prefer fixed dining as the servers seem better because they know your preferences and the food arrives quicker. Our waiter and assistant were superb. Overall the food was good, even beef options were tasty, but the menu was somewhat limited as there were only 3-4 new choices each night plus 5 standard choices. Lobster tails were served on the second formal night. Formal nights are now more business casual as you only need a collared shirt, no coat or tie.
OTHER FREE DINING – We ate in Park Café (Deck 8) and El Loco Fresh (Deck 15) quite a bit. Park Café has been expanded so there was always seating available. It has breakfast sandwiches and pastries and then salads and great roast beef sandwiches rest of the day. El Loco Fresh is outdoors in the aft area by sports activities and has a limited breakfast buffet and then a great Mexican buffet rest of the day. We really enjoyed El Loco! Café Promenade and Sorrento’s Pizza (Deck 5) were okay but I found the sandwiches a little odd and the pizza just okay. Windjammer buffet was always crowded and the choices were limited compared to other cruise line buffets. Also they did not have omelet stations for breakfast unless you went to the dining room for brunch.
DIAMOND CLUB – This was our first Royal cruise where we were Diamond status and thus could use the Diamond lounge on Deck 4. We really enjoyed it. Although not a large room, it is very comfortable and was never crowded for happy hour. Happy hour was 4:30 – 8pm where you got unlimited drinks in the lounge plus 3 free drinks at bars and dining room. Drinks were well drinks, although they made martinis, cosmos, and margaritas in the lounge, wine by the glass, beer, and sodas.
ENTERTAINMENT – Symphony had the best shows of any ship we’ve been on. Hairspray and Flight were outstanding in the main theater. 1977 was a great ice show and Hiro the very energizing water show. Very important tip – make your show reservations online before the cruise - they were available 45 days prior for our cruise. You can also make reservations onboard using the Royal app but they book up quickly. If you do not make reservations you will be in long lines hoping to get seats just before the show times. We also went to the Comedy Club but found the comedians average.
SPORTS – Symphony, like the other mega ships, offers many recreational options. I like the large gym and long jogging track (Deck 5). There are four full size pools, a kids area with water slides, adult pool in Solarium up front, and many jacuzzis. In aft on Deck 15 they have 2 flow riders, basketball court, short zip line, and new slide Ultimate Abyss. You wear street clothes on Abyss and sit on a mat when you slide - surprisingly the lines were not long for this. One more complaint about the free items disappearing is the flow riders have a lot of time allocated to people who pay for private lessons and reserved times so free riding time is limited.
WIFI – We bought one Voom Surf plan for the week, that’s the slower plan than the Surf & Stream plan. Buy it online before the cruise as it’s cheaper. We had connectivity thru the ship but it was slower in our cabin. My wife and I shared the one plan by logging in & out with each device.
ROYAL APP – I downloaded the free Royal app before the cruise and found it helpful on the ship. It has the daily planner as well as the activities we’d booked already. You can also check your onboard charges and make reservations for excursions and shows.
DEBARKATION – Very smooth and quick. Unless you declare customs, you get your bags and walk out of the terminal. There was a face scan station which apparently took care of immigration. Took our bags to the parking garage and drove off.
We were in a balcony cabin on deck 11 forward. The cabin seemed larger than previous mega ships, definitely longer as we had a king bed and a full size couch. They’ve added storage and two separate wardrobes with hangers, very nice. Plenty of electric plugs. The shower is also larger. Our room steward was very good and gave us extra towels, soap bars, and shampoo as needed.
Rainy, stormy so excursions cancelled
Very windy so alot of water excursions cancelled for waves.
Extremely windy, almost all excursions cancelled except water park. Good buffet though when you weren't getting sand blasted.