(10:15 a.m. EST) -- Royal Caribbean's next new Oasis-class ship, Symphony of the Seas, is just over a month away from launching. Cruise Critic was among a select group of international journalists who had the chance to spend the day onboard Symphony of the Seas during its final fitting at the STX Europe shipyard in St. Nazaire, France. The ship is 94 percent complete and most spaces are either almost completely done or at least recognizable. Only a few -- Coastal Kitchen, Hooked and the Ultimate Family Cabin, among them -- bear no similarity to what they will look like when the ship is ready for delivery to Royal Caribbean in late March.
While anyone familiar with the Oasis class of ships will feel immediately at home on Symphony, there are a few key differences, many of which are less obvious to the casual observer. Others can't be missed.
Largest Cruise Ship at Sea
While other lines have started to muddy the waters of what constitutes the largest cruise ships in the world going with passenger capacity instead of size, the true definition of "largest" at sea is based on gross registered tons, and when Symphony of the Seas launches on March 27, it will be the largest cruise ship at sea -- 2,000 GRTs bigger than sister ship Harmony of the Seas, the current record holder. The extra size is a result of two differences between Symphony and the other Oasis-class ships. First, the Boardwalk on Symphony has been extended by six feet, which somehow enabled the line to put 28 additional suites in the area -- 14 on each side, seven ocean-view and seven Boardwalk-view balconies. Second, the Solarium, which is the largest in the fleet, uses glass ceiling panels rather than canvas.
A Solarium Pool
Speaking of the Solarium, loyal Royal Caribbean cruisers kicked up a ruckus when they discovered the Solarium on Harmony of the Seas didn't have a pool. Royal Caribbean heard and has brought the pool back on Symphony.
A Bigger Park Cafe
With its Central Park location and tasty free food at breakfast and lunch, Park Cafe is one of the most popular alternative eateries on all the Oasis-class ships. To help with the crowding, the space dedicated to the eatery has been expanded on Symphony of the Seas to 150 seats.
Studio B Goes High Tech
While the footprint of Studio B, Royal Caribbean's ice-skating rink and ice show theater, hasn't changed, the line has invested in some funky new technology to take its shows to the next level. Most significantly, the space now boasts six laser projectors, which can turn the sheet of ice floor into one giant digital screen with which the ice skater performers can interact. We saw a demonstration of the technology during which the ice was transformed into outer space and we watched as the 2016 eclipse played out in front of our eyes. We then saw the ice "flooded" by waves of rushing water, which froze over with loud crackling noise.
Boardwalk with a Twist (And the Largest Oasis-class Zipline)
With six additional feet to play with -- also allowing for the longest zip line in the Royal Caribbean fleet -- Royal Caribbean expanded the fun side of the popular Boardwalk neighborhood. As if a carousel, Johnny Rockets and watching people exit from the dizzying Ultimate Abyss wasn't enough, the line incorporated some traditional Boardwalk fun -- arcade games! -- through the addition of the all-new Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade. Here, cruisers will find 23 amusement park-style games, both inside the venue and outside on the Boardwalk itself. There's also a new candy shop, which besides offering constant sugar highs will have cupcake decorating classes and other activities for sweet tooths.
Ultimate Family Fun Without Leaving the Room
The bi-level Ultimate Family Suite is a playground for families with a slide for kids to get from their second-floor bedroom to the ground floor, a floor-to-ceiling LEGO wall, a wall-sized LED TV screen for movie nights, an air hockey table and 212-square-foot balcony with its own mini Luckey climber and whirlpool. With just one of these cabins onboard, it's unsurprising to learn that it's already sold out through all of 2018 (even during the Christmas holiday sailing when it went for close to $90,000) and is already starting to fill up for 2019. Execs onboard said the chances are quite high the category will be part of all future Oasis-class ship designs.
Symphony of the Seas will have the first dedicated seafood restaurant on any Royal Caribbean ship. Located on the second floor above the Solarium Bistro (that overall space has been expanded to be two decks instead of one), Hooked will offer fresh seafood (most of it sourced from ports along the cruise ship's itineraries) for lunch and dinner. Set menus at the 95-seat casual venue will cost $19 for lunch and $39 for dinner.
-- By Dori Saltzman, Senior Editor