It has been a few years since I have set foot on an (ocean) cruise ship but 2017 brought the opportunity to cruise twice, on two very different ships and experiences. My first cruise was on the current holder of the largest cruise ship in the world title, Harmony of the Seas, it was a seven night Western Caribbean itinerary during the peak family cruise season in the Caribbean and there were over 2,000 kids onboard. The second was an exotic Eastern Caribbean cruise on one of our favorite ships, the Celebrity Equinox, an upscale mass market ship. The Celebrity cruise was nearly twice as long and it was also in the autumn when families with children do not tend to travel, so the demographics skewed much older.
Harmony of the Seas and Celebrity Equinox docked in Cozumel
So, my first cruise after a 3 year drought, was on a ship that was completely different from anything I had sailed on before, the Harmony of the Seas. It was shiny and new and packed with entertainment options. We booked an ocean view balcony, received only a modest $25 on board credit and did not purchase the very expensive drink package. We received no other perks or inclusions, towards the end of the cruise, we did break down and purchase some wifi.
The cabins were a new design for Harmony and they looked beautiful in the photos online as well as in person, it was supposed to feel roomier and I suppose it did but I did not like some aspects of the layout. The way the bathroom was oriented, you lost that small hallway you typically have upon entering the cabin. I know this sounds silly but this allowed for more noticeable noise and light to transmit from the hallways and I just did not like the bathroom door facing inward toward the cabin. Royal Caribbean has also cut back on toiletries in the cabin and this just looks cheap, it is also inconvenient for those who do not want the hassle of having to drag their own. All you are provided with is bar soap and a dispenser in the shower that I guess is body wash and shampoo in one.
The ship was so large that there was always something new to see and while we are not traditional theater show people, a few of the shows drew us in due to their uniqueness, with one being performed on the ship’s ice rink and the other at the aqua theater located on the stern of the ship. We were glad we took the time to see the shows, they were spectacular.
Harmony also had an escape room, flow rider, rock climbing wall, mini golf, slides both wet and dry as well as zip lining. The biggest issue that made most of these features less enjoyable than they could be is the sheer number of kids onboard, which made for terribly long lines. Many kids were allowed to run around unsupervised so that some of these activities, like the mini golf, became exercises in frustration. Loud music blaring from neighboring balconies, packs of teenagers running through hallways, etc. were also some things we encountered. While it did not ruin our experience, we think we would prefer to try this ship again at a time when the demographics are a bit older, it has a lot to offer.
Not having an included drink package limited our desire to sit at the many lounges but I can see where if you had it or are willing to pony up for very expensive drinks, this ship would offer such great evening hangout possibilities. There are bars and cafes tucked into beautiful garden settings for a more quiet and relaxed vibe or on the more bustling boardwalk and promenade which makes for great people watching and a lively atmosphere. The food and service onboard was very good and we thought the champagne at dinner and mimosas at breakfast, that were often provided in the dining room, were a really nice touch. The windjammer buffet was a complete zoo at peak times so we only had one lunch there and snacks one afternoon, what we did have was good though.
The major shortcoming with the Oasis class ships, including the Harmony, is the lack of diversity in the itineraries, 8 day or shorter Eastern and Western Caribbean runs from the East coast of Florida. For me the ship is the destination when choosing one of the Oasis class vessels and I wish Royal Caribbean would adopt the Celebrity pricing scheme with included amenities like drink packages and a fair amount of on board credit, at least in the winter season when a more mature crowd like to cruise. I realize that these ships mainly cater to families with children but they offer a lot for cruisers like myself and could be so much more with more inclusions or a more varied itinerary.
Where it outshines the Celebrity Equinox: Entertainment and variety of dining and bar venues. It was actually easier to make reservations and request the same seating area with the My Time dining on Harmony than it was with Celebrity Select dining on Equinox .
Where it falls short of the Equinox: Somewhat boring itineraries, less inclusive, too many children in the summer months with many unsupervised and behaving badly, skimping on the toiletries in the cabin, new cabin layout is not that desirable. Buffet was complete chaos and there really is not enough seating for peak times.