Harmony of the Seas of the Royal Caribbean International is the world’s largest passenger ship at 226,963 GT. The ship carries over two thousand rooms and can house over five thousand guests. We were lucky to be hosted on one of Harmony’s inaugural voyages as part of Royal Caribbean’s advisory committee for autism travel.
On our two nights trip to the Bahamas from Fort Lauderdale, we were accompanied by media people, others on the advisory committee, and travel agents. Embarkation was speedy. We encountered a small line when we got there because we were originally scheduled to arrive at 2 PM but decided to come earlier. Royal Caribbean prides itself on assisting families with autism, and a staff member did walk us through the embarkation process.
The general décor of the ship was modern and elegant. While other ships typically have more flashy decorations, the Harmony of the Seas ambiance was more subdued with a few touches of color. Visitors will see many of the brighter bits in the Boardwalk and pool areas while the Central Park and Promenade are much more conservative.
We liked the fact that many parts of the ship are either completely open to the air or partially, providing many public areas with plenty of natural light.
This ship is part of the cruise line’s Oasis-class fleet and has family friendly features that the Royal Caribbean has developed in the last two years like the Sports Zone and different neighborhoods.
The Boardwalk area is all about fun. Visitors can enjoy several stores and eateries.For amusement, the Boardwalk has plenty for kids, such as a hand-carved wooden carousel, two wall climbing areas, and The Ultimate Abyss. In the Ultimate Abyss, people slide through a ten-story high purple tube on a cushion from the top deck all the way to the sixth.
There is also an Aquatheater with afternoon and night performances of a Cirque du Soleil-like show aimed to wow all ages. Our son with autism loved the various activities as well as the green rocking chairs where he could sit back and relax.
The Central Park area on the eighth deck boasted more adult venues. There is no real entertainment in Central Park, but the area houses several specialty restaurants. Like its NYC namesake, this relaxing garden features live trees and bushes, with fresh plants brought every few weeks on the ship. One can hear bird sounds, and not all of these are artificial. Real birds often ride in the ship’s Central Park between destinations.
Similar to its sister ships, the Harmony of the Seas features the Royal Promenade with Sorrento’s pizza, a coffee shop/sandwich area along with several upscale shopping stores. These stores include brands like Le Vian, Citizen, Chanel, and Michale Kors. Visitors can enjoy “duty-free” shopping, meaning that these items are tax-free as long as the goods are purchased out of the country.
The ship also has a huge Sports Zone on the top decks. For guests who love swimming, there are several indoor and outdoor pools with two FlowRider areas. Avid outdoor fans should try the rock climbing, zip lining, ping pong, basketball, mini golf and ice-skating.
The ship also had several interesting artistic pieces displayed in its public areas. One of these was a beautiful mirror head statue, called “Head” with interlocking pieces that continuously moved to change its face. Artist David Cerny designed this art piece for the Royal Promenade.
When we ate at the Windjammer Buffet, we noted several significant changes. Appearance wise, The Windjammer now featured more modernized and upscale decor. The buffet is based around the concept of an open fresh market, displaying the food for patrons. They offer a wide variety of buffet items as well as freshly baked goods.We appreciated the fact that the staff required guests to wash their hands before entering thus helping minimize norovirus cases onboard.
The Boardwalk included some of our son’s favorite spots, such as Johnny Rockets with its burgers, Sabor which makes terrific fresh guacamole, and the not to be missed complimentary Boardwalk Doghouse with delicious hot dogs.
Central Park featured plenty of high-end restaurants, such as 150 Central Park, Jamie’s Italian, Chops Grill, and Izumi. The area encompassed Park Cafe where guests can have a fresh salad or sandwich made in front of them. 150 Central Park is a posh restaurant with a seasonal menu that is not conducive for little kids. We dined in the first one aboard Allure of the Seas back in 2011 for Thanksgiving and had a great time.Our kids still remember the different flavored salts, from simple to spicy to fragrant.
And speaking of an incredible experience, parents can take a night out and go to Wonderland on deck eleven. The entire restaurant emphasizes the concept of surprise. Guests enter through a tunnel and receive a piece of paper and a brush. The menu appears when patrons take the brush and wet the paper. The food is categorized based on themes, such as Sun, Ice, Fire, Sea, and Earth.
Finally, topping the cruise experience guests should check out the bionic bar where robots mix drinks. Alcohol bottles hang from the ceiling as the robot arms mix the drinks ordered by guests on an iPad.
Shows and Attractions
The Harmony showcased several parades with the Dreamworks characters. During our sailing, the Harmony had its Holiday Parade, an event where they celebrate every holiday at the same time.
Families can also enjoy Grease the Musical. This musical includes all songs from both the seventies hit Broadway show as well as the movie.
Studio B, the ice skating rink, hosted 1887 a Journey in Time. This story is set in Paris and follows Juliet and her time traveling companion Tempus discovering the wonders of the world.
The Aquatheater on the Boardwalk showed the Fine Line Aquashow, which displays acrobatics and extreme sports athletes in immersive 360 degrees.As it was in the nighttime and the theater is open to the elements we left the show early when our son with autism said he was cold.
Escape the Rubicon, an escape room for which guests need to pay in advance was a great hit with our son. Groups of up to twelve get transported to “another time” and need to solve the puzzle to break out in sixty minutes.
Originally we booked it for 5 PM, but our son forgot all about it and showed up an hour late. He almost didnt get in but a sweet young gal galantly offered him her spot and averted what could have potentially been a meltdown.
The Harmony of the Seas offers several clubs for children and teens of various ages. The cruise line divides children into Aquanauts (3-5 years), Explorers (6-8 years) and Voyagers (9-11 years). Each group partakes in different age appropriate activities, and all kids can visit the Adventure Science area and Imagination Studio. Teens get divided into age 12-14 and age 15-17, and most of these spaces revolve around video games and socializing.
We checked out the teen club, shown around by Victoria, an enthusiastic staff member.
The ‘Living Room’ is comprised of a large room divided into smaller spaces with various seating arrangements.There are plenty of gaming options such as PS4, XBOX 360, XBOX One, WII, and other video games. There’s also board games, card games, and arts and crafts.
Furthermore we spoted a a place to dance and even a mini buffet with sandwiches and a beverage station that makes virgin drinks.
It is important for parents to know that this is not a place where kids sign in and out.
Teens can move independently through the club from ten in the morning to two in the morning. Also, no parents are allowed to be in this room unless they have special needs.Although the staff is eager to help those with special needs, this is not a one on one program.
A point to note is that the ship’s WIFI is fantastic, so relatives can call or message kids at any point if they need to stay in contact.
Autism Travel Tips:
- Parents should book any activities online to avoid disappointment or lines.
- At shows, parents should request seating close to the exit in case kids get restless.
- Parents should introduce their children to Grease songs ahead of time so they can enjoy themselves at the show.
- Families should try to book activities like the Abyss either when they first open or late in the afternoon or evening. Also, they should try to schedule these on days in port when there are fewer people if these activities are open.
- Those who want to try specialty dining should go on the day of embarkation when it is less crowded, and the dress code is flexible.
- The Boardwalk is always lively, and families can always leave if they feel overwhelmed. However, they should not book a room facing this area as it is busy and noisy.
- Each neighborhood features several Purell stations for keeping hands clean.
- The ship does have a mandatory muster drill with some physical exertion, which includes walking up stairs, in Studio B. Those who can’t participate in some parts of the muster drill need to contact the special needs department ahead of time. Parents of kids with noise sensitivities should bring ear plug as the muster drill includes seven horn blows.