(4:58 p.m. EDT) -- It's almost midnight, and my cruise cabin is nowhere in sight. My day has been jam-packed, and as I groove to "Brickhouse" at the 70s Disco Inferno party at the innovative Two70 theater all the way aft onboard Odyssey of the Seas, I've decided I can sleep when I'm back home. I mean, the after-party starts in a few minutes, and I'm certainly not missing that.
Six days on Royal Caribbean's newest cruise ship, Odyssey of the Seas, clearly isn't enough. The ship is loaded with more activities and entertainment than anyone could possibly fit into a week-long sailing, but I'm sure trying. We're onboard with 1,690 other passengers (about 40 percent of the ship's capacity because of the pandemic) sailing onboard a cruise roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale with stops in Cozumel, Costa Maya and Royal Caribbean's very own private island in the Bahamas, Perfect Day at CocoCay.
Odyssey of the Seas quietly debuted July 31 and will sail cruises to the Caribbean through April, when it begins a series of Mediterranean voyages through fall 2022. The fifth Quantum/Quantum Ultra-Class ship is the culmination of the latest and greatest Royal Caribbean features, which makes it ideal for families or people who are looking for an action-filled cruise vacation that gets them out of their shell and trying new things.
Here's why you'll never be bored on Odyssey of the Seas.
The top-deck activities on Odyssey of the Seas are perhaps the ship's most-notable features. Taking up a huge swath of space at the back of the ship on decks 15 and 16, these activities are tough to miss.
From a distance, even the yellow "ball" of the Skypad stands out to the untrained eye. Here, guests wear virtual reality goggles while jumping on personal trampolines as an interactive story unfolds. It's surprisingly fun, regardless of your age. We watched as kids giggled and jumped alongside retirees.
Next to the Skypad, you'll find the FlowRider surf simulator, a Royal Caribbean staple that gives cruisers a chance to stand up or body surf. If those activities haven't worn you out, then you won't want to miss the RipCord experience by iFly, a sky-diving simulator. I've tried this before -- a few years ago on sister ship Anthem of the Seas -- and I had even more fun this time, maybe because I somehow performed significantly better, flying high without as much maneuvering from the instructor. This one has been a favorite on our cruise, with open sessions fully booked up.
You'll also find another Royal Caribbean mainstay, the rock-climbing wall, at the back of the ship. The wall sits on the starboard side of Odyssey of the Seas, right next to the gigantic pink cat and ball of yarn (the ship's fun outdoor artwork). It sets cruisers scrambling to ding a bell atop the two-plus story wall, offering various degrees of difficulty.
If you're looking for something truly different, then the North Star is for you. This is a glass-enclosed capsule at the end of a long arm that can extend high into the air and out over the side of the ship, giving you 360-degree views of the sea and port. The North Star has become the defining visual element of the Quantum and Quantum Ultra Class of ships and debuted aboard Quantum of the Seas in 2014.
If the outdoor activities are the most visible features on the ship, the SeaPlex is the indoor heartbeat that drives events throughout the day. While the SeaPlex is available on sister ships, it's been redesigned for Odyssey of the Seas, and the changes are pretty impactful.
At its core, the SeaPlex is a sports court that hosts activities like pickleball, basketball and even Zumba. But it also is a bumper car arena, offering passengers a chance to bash into one another in Royal Caribbean-branded vehicles at scheduled times throughout the day. Time slots are themed, so you can do rock-and-roll bumper cars or disco bumper cars, for example, with a DJ picking the appropriate tunes. A busy arcade flanks the sports court, spanning two decks.
The biggest change on Odyssey is the addition of Playmakers, a sports bar that offers guests 56 TVs for game-binging. It also has a solid bar menu (a la carte priced) and the best beer selection of any venue onboard. This is the best Playmakers in the Royal Caribbean fleet and probably the best true sports bar on a cruise ship.
The bar includes a comfy section of reclining chairs in an area dubbed "The Owner's Box" and beautiful seating area along floor-to-ceiling windows. High chairs flank a glass divider with a ledge that allows guests to look down on the action on the sports court or across at the biggest TV in the Royal fleet. The design means parents can enjoy the amenities of Playmakers while the kids explore the other activities, all in the same space. It's a clever approach to family cruising.
New to Royal Caribbean is the virtual reality experience, Zone Zero: Swashbuckler. This is located inside the SeaPlex as well, offering guests an interactive virtual experience that has them transforming into pirates and fighting off the evil Kraken, in other dimensions. It's a hilarious blast, especially if you haven't experienced much in the way of virtual reality before. And it's included in the price of your fare, which makes it a great family bargain.
Full disclosure: Royal Caribbean's Quantum/Ultra Class ships are my favorite. And a big reason for that is Two70, one of the most innovative entertainment spaces you'll find anywhere.
During the day, it's a spot for chilling, where you can unwind on comfortable seating throughout the two-level venue and unobstructed views of the aft wake thanks to multilevel floor-to-ceiling windows. It also hosts Odyssey of the Seas' library, which, sadly, is closed right now because of the pandemic. A few events might take place during the day; for example, the captain and cruise director hosted a Q&A session here on our sailing. An adjacent cafe means you can grab a coffee or a snack while enjoying the serene space.
At night, it's a totally different story, as it's transformed into a high-tech performance venue that features six giant dancing TV screens and an interactive ultra-HD screen that measures more than 100 feet wide by 20 feet tall. Rather than simply being the show, this technology supports the performers, who dance and sing -- and hang from the air -- on or above a stage that changes throughout the show. The shows tend to be a bit "avant garde" in approach but are wildly entertaining. We were thoroughly immersed in "The Book: Seven Chapters, One Journey", which took us along on an Alice In Wonderland-type trek through the different chapters.
All the way forward, the main Royal Theater still is part of the entertainment experience, offering one-off performances by singers and musicians as well as headline productions that weave singing and dancing with modern and classic hits.
Perhaps the unsung hero on Odyssey of the Seas is Music Hall, which hosts events all day, including trivia and game shows, then turns into an after-hours entertainment venue, where you might take a swing at karaoke or catch a concert.
While the pandemic is ongoing, Royal Caribbean has pivoted to create physical distancing in spaces and is requiring reservations for shows in Two70 and the Royal Theater.
With 16 restaurants and casual eateries, Odyssey of the Seas has something for almost all tastes. In six days, we're struggling to get to every spot, so instead we started with the new options and some of our favorites.
Included dining is solid, with more traditional options like the Main Dining Room and Windjammer Cafe buffet to some newer treats like El Loco Fresh (Mexican) and Cafe Two70.
(Because of the pandemic, the Windjammer is open only for breakfast and lunch each day, and food is served by crew.) We've been treated to great service and good food everywhere we've gone, including the MDR, which is a big, wide-open multideck space at the back of the ship. A surprise favorite for us has been Cafe Two70, which offers some terrific sandwich options at breakfast and lunch, alongside salads, pastries and the like. It's a great grab-and-go option when you don't want a meal that lasts too long.
Likewise, El Loco Fresh offers casual (and free!) outdoor dining, with fresh-made taco and burritos, along with the fixings. The pandemic has put on hold the self-serve concept, but we were impressed at how quickly servers moved through the line of people, loading plates with Mexican treats. The restaurant even has a salsa and sauce bar, which is staffed by a woman who doles out exactly the portion for which you ask. When the ship is full, it won't be sustainable, but for now, it's a great option that keeps hungry guests moving through the queues.
Our favorite specialty restaurant on Odyssey of the Seas is definitely Giovanni's Italian Kitchen. This is a new take on a Royal Caribbean standard, and the menu and service were simply outstanding here.
The menu includes starters like a giant meatball (literally, it’s a huge meatball), a meat and cheese plank, and calamari. Entrees are pasta faves like lasagna or chicken parm, along with a substantial pizza menu. We love the free pizza option (Sorrento's) on Royal Caribbean, but the pizza is Giovanni's is a real cut above. For our meal, we picked the meatball, and split a pizza as a starter, before loading up on carby pastas and dessert. (A day after we had dinner at Giovanni's, my husband still is full.) If you only can dine in one spot, this is the one.
Of course, you can't go wrong with some Royal Caribbean favorites, like Chops Grill for steaks and Izumi for sushi. (We like that for lunch, Izumi is offering either a la carte pricing or a price fixe option, which means you can order several sushi rolls without worrying about the cost skyrocketing.) The cruise line's molecular gastronomy option, Wonderland, also is a fun event that will play with your palate.
In those rare down moments, you'll have plenty of options for relaxing. Our favorite spot for exactly that is the Solarium, open to adults only. Odyssey of the Seas seems to have perfected the Solarium, offering a fully enclosed, multilevel space that offers ample lounge seating, pools and hot tubs. The atmosphere is serene, and you get the sun without the heat.
The pool deck itself is also a good option, especially if you're traveling with kids, who will adore the brightly colored Splashaway Bay. Because the ship is sailing at less than half full, we haven't had to compete for lounge chairs or worry about getting a spot at the Lime and Coconut Bar or Pool.
The ship also has several casitas on the sun deck, which guests can rent by the day for an additional cost. (This is a little disappointing, as casitas on other Royal Caribbean ships are free, first come, first served.)
Then, of course, there's the spa, which offers a full range of treatments from massages to facials.
Our best tip: Reserve what you can ahead of boarding, then dig into the Royal Caribbean app when you first board, so you can see the full day-by-day schedule and reserve what you want. This will help you figure out which shows run on multiple days, which will help you make sure you get your can't-miss experiences in.
With so much happening onboard, it's impossible to squeeze it all in -- though we're sure trying.