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TravelSymphony of the Seas cruise ship review: What to expect on board

Symphony of the Seas cruise ship review: What to expect on board


Are you planning a cruise on Symphony of the Seas? Get ready to be wowed.

If you’ve never been on this famously massive ship or one of its giant Oasis Class sisters before, you’ll be amazed at all it has to offer, from outdoor decks loaded with amusements to seemingly endless options for dining, drinking and dancing the night away.

With the exception of Royal Caribbean’s new Icon of the Seas, which is in a class of its own, there has never been another set of ships as big, bold and bustling as the Oasis Class vessels. Symphony of the Seas is one of the newest and most amenity-filled of the five ships in the series.

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If you’re one of the nearly 60 million people living in the northeastern U.S., where Symphony of the Seas is based half the year, you will find nothing that comes close to it in terms of offering the ultimate megaresort-at-sea experience.

As I’ve seen during several cruises on the vessel since it debuted in 2018, including a weeklong voyage out of the New York area in May, Symphony of the Seas is one of the best cruise ships in the world for cruisers who love a big-resort experience with oodles to do all day and night. It’s also a particularly wonderful ship for families.

The biggest caveat to picking this ship: You have to be OK with crowds. And noise. Symphony of the Seas carries a lot of people. And it’s not a quiet ship. If it’s intimacy and tranquility you want in a cruise vacation, this isn’t the ship for you.

Overview of Symphony of the Seas

The massiveness of Symphony of the Seas is evident in this photo of the ship next to Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas, which was the world’s largest cruise ship as recently as 2009. GENE SLOAN/THE POINTS GUY

Symphony of the Seas was the world’s largest cruise ship when it debuted in 2018. Although it has since been surpassed in size by two newer Royal Caribbean ships (Wonder of the Seas and Icon of the Seas), it remains one of the giants of cruising — a floating megaresort on a scale that was inconceivable just a few decades ago.

Royal Caribbean built the ship so big — at 228,081 gross tons, it’s nearly 50% bigger than the biggest cruise ships of 15 years ago — not to set a size record but to ensure there was room for a huge range of onboard activities and venues. On that goal, it delivers mightily. As you’ll read about below, it has more restaurants, bars, showrooms and decktop fun zones than just about any resort anywhere (on sea or land).

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It’s also built to hold an enormous number of vacationers. Rising 18 decks high and longer than three football fields, Symphony of the Seas can carry an astounding 6,680 passengers with every berth filled. Add in its 2,200 or so crew, and you’re looking at a ship that sometimes sails with nearly 9,000 people on board.

Even by land resort standards, that’s a wildly large number of people sharing the same resort space, for sure. But like all of Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class ships, Symphony of the Seas has a brilliantly thought-out layout built around themed “neighborhoods” that spreads passengers around in a way that eases congestion.

Related: The classes of Royal Caribbean cruise ships, explained

As with most Oasis Class ships, there are seven such neighborhoods on Symphony of the Seas, each with its own vibe and similar attractions. This makes it easy to understand the ship and find your way around.

The seven Symphony of the Seas neighborhoods are as follows.

Entertainment Place (Deck 4)

The Royal Theater on Symphony of the Seas. GENE SLOAN/THE POINTS GUY

This neighborhood is home to the ship’s main theater, comedy club, ice skating rink and casino. The Diamond Club for high-level Crown & Anchor loyalty club members is here as well.

Royal Promenade (decks 5 and 6)

GENE SLOAN/THE POINTS GUY

This interior mall-like space houses shops, bars and quick-bite eateries, with the bars stealing the show. Drinking spots in this zone include the Bionic Bar, where the bartenders are robots, and the Rising Tide Bar, which travels elevator-style between the Royal Promenade and Central Park above while you drink. This is also where you’ll find the ship’s lively English-style pub, Copper and Kettle.

Vitality Spa and Fitness (decks 5 and 6)

Forward of the Royal Promenade is the Vitality Spa and Fitness Center, which includes a salon, barbershop and thermal suite. The on-site Vitality Cafe offers fresh juices and protein smoothies for a fee before or after a workout or treatment.

Boardwalk (Deck 6)

GENE SLOAN/THE POINTS GUY

This open-air neighborhood was designed to mimic a classic beach boardwalk of the sort you find along the coast of New Jersey. It boasts a hand-carved wooden carousel, hot dog stand, candy store, sports bar with arcade, and a Johnny Rockets burger joint. The main attractions are two giant rock climbing walls and the AquaTheater, which is home to spectacular water shows.

Central Park (Deck 8)

GENE SLOAN/THE POINTS GUY

This open-to-the-sky neighborhood at the center of Symphony of the Seas is filled with living trees and plants, just like New York City’s Central Park, and lined with the ship’s higher-end shops and restaurants, including a steakhouse and Jamie’s Italian, a restaurant created by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.

Youth Zone (Deck 14)

If you’re cruising with young kids, you’ll quickly get to know this area, which is home to the sprawling Adventure Ocean kids club and a drop-off nursery for babies and toddlers. A family-friendly escape room is also here. Note that several Youth Zone venues, including the Fuel Teen Disco and a kid-focused arcade, are one deck up on Deck 15.

Pool and Sports Zone (decks 15 and 16)

The main pool on Symphony of the Seas. GENE SLOAN/THE POINTS GUY

This top-deck zone of the ship is loaded with just about every family-friendly amusement you could imagine, including multiple pool areas and hot tubs, a kiddie splash area, giant waterslides, two surfing simulators, a miniature golf course, sports court, a zip line and a massive dry slide attraction that will drop you 10 floors to the Boardwalk area below. For those looking to get away from the kids, it also offers an adults-only lounge area called the Solarium.

What I loved about Symphony of the Seas

The incredible array of things to do

BELINDA LUKSIC

I was three days into my recent seven-day cruise on Symphony of the Seas when I realized that I hadn’t even been to the pool once. Not once. I had too much else to do, from rock climbing, miniature golfing, ice skating and zip lining to racing between more big-production shows, parades, karaoke sessions and dance parties than I could count. Plus, there were all the dining, drinking and dancing options that I mentioned above — so much that I started to wonder if I’d ever have time to sleep. It’s a wildly diverse array of options of the sort I love in a big-resort experience. You will, too, if having lots of choices when vacationing is a priority. There are lots of big cruise ships filled with all sorts of onboard venues. But only a handful offer as many options as Symphony of the Seas.

The spectacular shows

Symphony of the Seas may have the greatest lineup of shows of any ship at sea. Its signature production, “Hairspray,” is one of the most spectacular show offerings on any cruise ship. It’s a slightly abridged version of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical that ran in New York City for years. A second, in-house production called “Flight: Dare to Dream” is also a showstopper, if not quite Broadway quality. There’s also “Hiro,” the you-can’t-believe-this-is-on-a-cruise-ship acrobatic and high-diving spectacular in Symphony of the Seas’ AquaTheater (yes, this ship is so big it has an entire theater space just dedicated to water shows!). Symphony of the Seas’ third major theater for ice skating shows houses its own you-have-to-see-to-believe spectacular with some of the world’s best ice skaters.

The family-friendliness

GENE SLOAN/THE POINTS GUY

From a soaring water park area with three of the coolest waterslides at sea to three separate pool areas, two surfing simulators and an epic splash zone for the little ones, Symphony of the Seas has more family-friendly watery fun than almost any other cruise ship at sea. And that’s just the start of its family-friendly allures. Symphony of the Seas is a ship loaded with multiple kids club zones, including a teen-only hangout and an entire outdoor fun zone (the Boardwalk) aimed at families. Even without children along on my recent Symphony of the Seas sailing (my three girls are now all grown), I saw the appeal of this latter zone offering arcade games, a carousel, climbing structures for kids and family-friendly burger and hot dog outlets. I can’t wait for grandkids (yep, that’s a hint, girls), so I have an excuse to book back onto this ship again.

What I didn’t love about Symphony of the Seas

The skyrocketing cost of eateries

The cost of dining at the better restaurants on Symphony of the Seas has shot upward in recent years — so much so that, in many cases, these eateries are no longer worth the splurge. I was shocked on my sailing to see pasta-focused Jamie’s Italian priced at a flat fee of $64.89 per person, including the automatic gratuity. That’s a cheeky charge for a place where the waiters recommend bruschetta as a starter and a plate of linguini as a main, even with dessert included. Just three years ago, Jamie’s was priced at a more reasonable $41.29 per person, including the gratuity, and made my list of favorite Royal Caribbean eateries. Not anymore. Be warned that Symphony of the Seas’ other top eateries — Chops Grille, Hooked Seafood, 150 Central Park and Izumi Hibachi — all now have similarly sky-high prices, too. In some cases (see the dining section below), the prices are rising even as the eateries are making cost-cutting moves that are noticeable. For the consumer, that’s not a great combination.

The difficulty getting show reservations

The “1977” ice show on Symphony of the Seas. GENE SLOAN/THE POINTS GUY

Some people are super organized about booking cruise ship shows in advance. Alas, I am not one of them. That became a real problem for me when I sailed on Symphony of the Seas. When I went to book a seat for “Hairspray” about five days before my sailing, every performance for the next week was sold out. I couldn’t get a seat. Ditto for the spectacular AquaTheater and ice rink shows, as well as every single comedy club show (and there were a lot of them). If you’re a procrastinator like me, this could happen to you, and it could be stress-inducing.

The good news is that even if you struggle to get a reservation for the shows as I did, you likely will still be able to get into many, if not all, of them once on board. The trick is to queue in the standby lines that begin forming about a half hour before every show. Since some people don’t show up for their reservations, there almost always are a bunch of seats open at the last minute in every venue. The entertainment staff releases the open seats about 10 minutes before performances start.

That said, who needs that stress? There’s got to be a better way.

The intrusive photographers

Whoever is running the photography program on Symphony of the Seas needs to be reined in. Like, big time. The number of times I saw ship photographers interrupting passengers in the midst of high-priced specialty restaurant dinners to hard sell them on buying photographs was appalling. Even at the most elegant restaurants on board, they were trolling up and down the tables, breaking into dinner conversations to snap pictures and then returning minutes later with the prints and a sales pitch right there at the table. That last part is a new level of aggressiveness, and just … uncool. You’re already getting $100 per person or more from many of these diners for their food and drinks. You don’t need to ruin the elegance of the experience with another upsell.

Symphony of the Seas cabins and suites

An Ocean View Stateroom with Balcony cabin. GENE SLOAN/THE POINTS GUY

Symphony of the Seas has 34 cabin and suite categories — a mind-boggling number. But finding the right cabin category for you isn’t as complicated as that number might make it seem. Many cabin categories on Symphony of the Seas are essentially the same, with the exception of where the rooms are located.

My cabin was an Ocean View Stateroom with Balcony — the most common type of cabin on Symphony of the Seas. Nearly 60% of all cabins on the ship (1,316 out of 2,759) fall into this grouping of rooms, split among more than a dozen categories that tie to different locations.

Like most cabins in this grouping, my cabin measured 182 square feet, not including its balcony area. By hotel standards, that’s relatively small. But it’s typical for a balcony cabin on a cruise ship, where space is at a premium, and it’s big enough to contain everything you want in a cabin for a week at sea: a king bed that can be split into two single beds, a built-in desk and dresser area with a miniature refrigerator, a seating area with a sofa, built-in closets, and a bathroom.

For the most part, I was happy with my Ocean View Stateroom with Balcony on Symphony of the Seas. While it wasn’t high-end in its finishings or amenities, it had a clean-lined, contemporary look that felt modern and up-to-date. Boxy blond wood and walnut furniture against neutral gray walls and carpeting gave it a whiff of a Scandinavian modern feel. The bathroom was modern and bright, with a well-thought-out layout that made the best use of limited space.

If there was a weak point in the room, it was the bed and bedding, which had more of a low-end motel feel than I would expect at the Royal Caribbean price point. The sheets and duvet felt thin. While serviceable, the mattress wasn’t a wow.

Still, the room ticked most of the boxes for a cabin at a midmarket level. There was ample storage for two in the floor-to-ceiling built-in closets, which notably were deep enough that my dress jackets and shirts could fit straight in on a hanger. Unlike on some ships, my hanging clothes didn’t get smooshed sideways when I closed the closet door.

While the nightstands next to the bed were so small and narrow that they seemed like afterthoughts, both were topped with well-located lamps for reading at night, and one side of the bed was equipped with a U.S.-style 120-volt plug perfectly placed for charging electronic devices. (Memo to Royal Caribbean: In a perfect world, you’d want one of these on both sides of the bed.)

Alas, unlike many new ships these days, the nightstand areas lacked USB-A and fast-charging USB-C ports. The only USB ports in the room are in the built-in desk area, which also has three U.S.-style 120-volt plugs and a European-style 230-volt plug.

Other Symphony of the Seas cabin tidbits:

  • There are blue “Sleeping off the adventure” magnets to stick to your door when you don’t want to be disturbed. That strikes us as an old-school way to do a do-not-disturb notice. Many cruise lines in recent years have switched to more sophisticated electronic systems that let you push a button to turn on a do-not-disturb light outside your door.
  • Every cabin has a small hair dryer in a dresser drawer and a personal safe in one of the built-in closets.
  • There’s a flat-screen television on the wall with movies on demand, but they are exorbitantly priced at $11.99 per movie.

As is typical for Royal Caribbean ships, the cabin bathroom is functional and well-designed, if not particularly upscale in feel. You won’t find marble-topped sinks or elegantly tiled showers with sleek Duravit fixtures at this price point. But the semicircular plexiglass-walled shower has enough room that you don’t hit the sides when soaping up (not always the case on cruise ships), and there is ample storage space for toiletries on three open shelves on the side of the vanity and an additional open storage area below the sink.

One small gripe with the bathroom is that the toiletry offerings are almost nonexistent. The shower has just a single liquid soap dispenser with what purports to be both body wash and shampoo (call me a nitpicker, but I will note that on land, these are considered to be two different things). There’s also no conditioner, nor is there body lotion. Bring your own, I guess.

Your soap is also your shampoo on Symphony of the Seas. GENE SLOAN/THE POINTS GUY

Those who want something a bit more exclusive than a balcony cabin such as mine can book one of the 190 suites on the ship — some of them truly huge and luxurious. Among the big mass-market lines, Royal Caribbean has long had some of the most spectacular suites at sea, including two-story-high complexes found on all Oasis Class ships such as Symphony of the Seas.

The largest suite on the ship, the double-decker Royal Loft Suite, measures an astounding 1,530 square feet, not including balcony space — more than eight times the size of my balcony cabin. It has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a dining room and a living room. It also comes with such high-end touches as Duxiana mattresses and Frette linens — no thin sheets here.

At 850 square feet, the Royal Loft Suite’s balcony space is 17 times the size of the balcony I had with my balcony cabin (big enough to have its own sitting area, bar area, dining area and a whirlpool).

Symphony of the Seas is also home to one of the most epic family suites ever conceived for a cruise ship.

Related: Royal Caribbean cabin and suite guide: Everything you want to know

Dubbed the Ultimate Family Suite and measuring a palatial 1,346 square feet, it spans two decks that are loaded with all sorts of kid-friendly attractions, including an air hockey table, a building block wall, table tennis on the balcony and a vertical climbing maze.

The Ultimate Family Suite. ROYAL CARIBBEAN

There’s also a crawl-through nook connecting the main bedroom for adults and a second kiddie bedroom, plus — surely the coolest feature of all — a slide that descends from the second floor of the complex to the first floor. (Don’t worry, there are stairs for those who want to move between floors the traditional way.)

Other types of cabins on Symphony of the Seas include windowless interior cabins. But in a twist, many of these cabins have “virtual balconies” that let you see what’s going on outside the ship in real time.

Symphony of the Seas restaurants and bars

As is typical for Royal Caribbean ships, Symphony of the Seas is packed with dining options — some included in the fare, some at an extra charge. It’s got a smorgasbord of bars, too.

Even on one of the ship’s longer, nine-night sailings, you’ll have trouble visiting every food and drink outlet on board. In fact, we don’t recommend you even try. Just pick a few favorites and save the rest for another sailing.

Restaurants

Like all Oasis Class ships, Symphony of the Seas has an enormous main dining room and a casual buffet eatery where meals are included in the fare. In addition, you’ll find seven more included-in-the-price casual and quick bite outlets — more than almost any other ship at sea. And that’s just the beginning when it comes to the dining options.

In addition to the included eateries, Symphony of the Seas is home to an astounding array of nine extra-charge dining venues serving everything from high-end steaks to sushi.

The Main Dining Room on Symphony of the Seas. GENE SLOAN/THE POINTS GUY

Among the included options, my favorite is Solarium Bistro, which is a small buffet eatery at the front of the ship that sometimes offers more healthy options than the main Windjammer buffet at the back of the ship.

I was thrilled to find Buddha bowls at Solarium Bistro at lunchtime filled with quinoa, cherry tomatoes, green onions, diced mango, sliced cucumber and edamame. Grilled fresh asparagus, grilled peppers, ratatouille and some tasty Indian dishes also made an appearance.

Several times bigger than Solarium Bistro, the Windjammer buffet serves a wider mix of dishes and has far more seating. But it can be jam-packed at times and not always a pleasant experience. On some mornings, I struggled to find an open table for breakfast, and the crowds were so thick around the food stations that I could barely walk through the space. This is despite Windjammer’s food stations being set up in one open space where you can quickly see everything that is on offer. That’s an improvement versus the traditionally long and narrow buffet lines on some ships that cause long backups.

Symphony of the Seas’ Main Dining Room can accommodate more than 1,000 people at tables sprawled across three floors, and the experience is as you would imagine at a restaurant that big. While you’ll get table-served meals here that are included in the fare, don’t expect anything too gourmet.

In addition to the above, Symphony of the Seas also has several included-in-the-fare cafe-style venues that offer quick bites, some better than others. I was a fan of the make-your-own tacos at El Loco Fresh at the top of the ship. But I didn’t love the claustrophobic crowds that sometimes mobbed it (not always). I was disappointed in the pizza at Sorrento’s on the Royal Promenade (to be fair, I’m usually disappointed in the pizza on ships; it’s a weak point in the cruise world). But I do give the Boardwalk Dog House high marks for delivering not just yummy hot dogs but yummy brats, too.

Also included in the fare is Park Cafe in the Central Park area, where you can nosh on quick-serve breakfast sandwiches and bagels in the morning and salads and paninis at lunchtime. Cafe Promenade on the Royal Promenade is the place to grab your morning coffee (both included-in-the-fare drip coffee and extra-charge specialty coffee drinks). Just be warned that the specialty coffee side of the venue isn’t really set up for the volume of customers it gets, and the baristas aren’t as well-trained as they should be. You’ll wait a long time in line for an espresso drink that may or may not be burnt.

Two no-extra-charge soft-serve ice cream stations are in the middle of the pool deck for your sugar fix.

The extra-charge eateries on Symphony of the Seas run the gamut when it comes to cuisine, level of formality and cost.

You’ll find the most laid-back (and least expensive) extra-fee options at the Boardwalk area of the ship, which is home to Johnny Rockets and the Playmakers Sports Bar and Arcade. I’m a sucker for the burgers at Johnny Rockets, but no fan of the new $14.99 upcharge to eat there (not too long ago, it was just $6.95). At that price, it’s not worth it. Instead, get your burger fix across the way at Playmakers, where the house burger is even bigger, juicier and better priced ($11.99, including a heaping portion of cheesy fries).

For a more high-end experience, the place to go is Central Park. In addition to a classy wine bar and swanky shops (Cartier, Hublot and Bulgari), it’s lined with three of Symphony of the Seas’ most upscale restaurants: 150 Central Park (the fanciest restaurant on board), Chops Grille (the ship’s steakhouse) and Jamie’s Italian (created by British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver).

I tried all three during my week on board and had mixed feelings about them all, given their high price points. While 150 Central Park ($76.69 per person with the automatic gratuity, not including drinks) was an intimate and elegant venue, its culinary lineup lacked the finesse I expected for a flagship fine dining establishment. The scallops in my starter were small and watery, their flavor overpowered by a chorizo sauce that dominated. My main dish, a lamb Wellington, wasn’t much more inspired, resembling something closer to a soggy sausage roll. Both had come recommended by my waiter.

A disappointing scallops starter at 150 Central Park. GENE SLOAN/THE POINTS GUY
Lamb Wellington at 150 Central Park. GENE SLOAN/THE POINTS GUY

It was a surprise that 150 Central Park would let me down. I went into the venue with memories of several great meals at versions of the restaurant on other Oasis Class ships. But those dinners took place when the menu was under the direction of James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schwartz. I haven’t been back since Royal Caribbean ended its partnership with Schwartz in 2018.

If it’s a date-night dinner you’re after, Chops Grille is my pick over 150 Central Park. Its steaks were as juicy and prime as at any land-based steakhouse. My quibbles here were around the sides (the macaroni and cheese dish was sadly flavorless, the creamed spinach watery) and the loudness level of the piped-in background music. The music volume was intrusive enough that I had trouble hearing my dinner companion (and, can I just say, the whole idea of background music in a classy steakhouse is just … wrong).

BELINDA LUKSIC

As mentioned above, Jamie’s Italian was pricey for what it was: an Italian eatery specializing in homemade pasta.

Not far away on Deck 12 is another high-priced restaurant that is as amusing as it is gimmicky: the “Alice in Wonderland”-themed (and molecular gastronomy serving) Wonderland. Order the short ribs, which will melt in your mouth. Skip the branzino, which won’t. And tell your waiter to bring the showiest starters, just for the fun of them — particularly the smoke-infused “bird’s nest” egg dish. They won’t all wow you, tastewise. But that’s not the point.

You also will find Japanese cuisine on Symphony of the Seas at Izumi Hibachi and Sushi on Deck 4. It’s two restaurants in one, with a hibachi eatery to the right of the check-in desk and a sushi restaurant and bar to the left. If you have kids, book the hibachi side for classic, family-friendly hibachi hijinks. Skip the sushi side, which isn’t as good as you’ll find back home.

For better seafood, my pick is Hooked Seafood, one of my favorite eateries on board. Order the fresh-shucked oysters as a starter (if you’re sitting at the bar, you’ll see them shucked right in front of you) and garlicky mussels as your main. The lobster macaroni and cheese side dish is a winner, too (unlike its counterpart at Chops Grille, it rocks the flavor).

Hooked Seafood is still one of my favorite food spots despite what clearly have been money-saving cutbacks at the flat-fee eatery. Royal Caribbean regulars will notice that the crab-stuffed whole main lobster is no longer on the menu, and the pricier elements of the Royal Seafood Platter (soft-shell crab and scallops) are gone, replaced by cheaper fried items like calamari and coconut shrimp.

This is, alas, a trend I saw across Symphony of the Seas when on board in May. Royal Caribbean hasn’t officially said anything about cutbacks on board its ships of late, but I definitely got the sense that there had been some cuts to food operations since the last time I had sailed with the line, presumably to lower costs.

I also thought some of the restaurants were slightly understaffed and/or operating with staff members who weren’t as well trained as they used to be.

One Symphony of the Seas restaurant you’ll never see unless you pay up for a top suite is Coastal Kitchen. Open to suite guests only, it serves higher-end fare than what you’ll find in the main dining room in a more intimate setting. At the very top of Symphony of the Seas overlooking the main pool area, it also boasts stunning 270-degree views.

Bars

The Boleros bar along the Royal Promenade. BELINDA LUKSIC

You will never be more than a short walk away from a bar on Symphony of the Seas. There is at least one and often several drinking spots in nearly every neighborhood.

The most intimate and elegant drinking venue is Vintages, a classy wine bar with indoor and outdoor seating in the upscale Central Park area. It’s usually quiet and is the perfect place for a romantic predinner drink.

BELINDA LUKSIC

Also in Central Park is the all-outdoor Trellis Bar. And just a few steps away is the Rising Tide Bar, if it’s there. Like the Cheshire Cat, it disappears sometimes, descending three decks to the Royal Promenade below. It is surely the coolest elevator at sea.

In addition to the occasional presence of the Rising Tide Bar, the Royal Promenade is home to the famous-in-the-cruise-world Bionic Bar, where a robotic arm will mix you a cocktail. It’s kitschy fun to watch the robots in action, but if a quality drink is important to you, let someone else spend the money to order one here. There’s a reason most bars have human bartenders.

Instead, I recommend ordering a mojito at Boleros, a Latin-themed bar and lounge at the other end of the Royal Promenade. Or, grab a pint at the often lively Copper and Kettle nearby. There’s live music at both venues.

One deck up, overlooking the Royal Promenade, is the nautical-themed Schooner Bar. It has an eclectic cocktail menu and, in the evening, live piano music. A signature of all Royal Caribbean ships, it’s a great bar, though its location above the noisy Royal Promenade on Symphony of the Seas is a design flaw. When there’s something big and lively like a parade or dance party happening in the Royal Promenade (and there often is), it gets so loud you can’t hear yourself talk.

Other interior bars include two-deck-high Dazzles, a live music and dancing spot often overlooked by guests (when I visited, it was so dead I walked right back out).

The Dazzles Bar overlooks the Boardwalk area. GENE SLOAN/THE POINTS GUY

There’s also no shortage of bars on the ship’s outdoor decks, including around the main pool areas (the Pool Bar, Sand Bar and Mast Bar), the surfing pools at the back of the ship (the Wipe Out Bar) and the adults-only Solarium area (the Solarium Bar). The Solarium Bar is my favorite of the bunch for its relative calmness and stunning ocean views.

For a classic sports bar experience, head to Playmakers Bar and Arcade in the Boardwalk area.

If you like a smoked cocktail, don’t miss the hidden nine-seat bar at the entrance to Wonderland, which serves the same creative cocktails you’ll find in the restaurant. It has the only smoker for drinks on board, used to create the restaurant’s signature Smoke Rings drink — a smoky take on an old-fashioned that may be my favorite cocktail on the ship.

For coffee lovers, there’s a Starbucks on the Royal Promenade and the previously mentioned Cafe Promenade. Both serve espresso drinks made with Starbucks beans for a fee, but the snacks at Cafe Promenade are free, while the ones at Starbucks cost extra.

BELINDA LUKSIC

Note that if you have a drink package, you won’t have to pay for the espresso drinks made with Starbucks beans at the Cafe Promenade. However, you will have to pay for them at Starbucks, so skip Starbucks.

Starbucks coffee, smoothies and juices (also for a fee) are available at the Vitality Cafe in the spa.

Related: Cruise ship drink packages: A line-by-line guide

Symphony of the Seas activities

The kiddie Splash Zone atop Symphony of the Seas. GENE SLOAN/THE POINTS GUY

Like its Oasis Class sisters, Symphony of the Seas is awash with activities of all sorts, nearly all of which are family-friendly. And I’m not just talking about pools and waterslides, though there are plenty of those. This is a ship that offers all sorts of gee-whiz attractions, from two surfing simulators to an ice skating rink to keep you amused day and night.

Several of the most over-the-top attractions can be found in the Sports Zone at the back of the ship’s top deck. In addition to the surfing simulators mentioned above (there are two, designed by FlowRider), there’s a sports court where you can play basketball or volleyball 16 stories above the ocean, a miniature golf course and — get this — a zip line.

The zip line isn’t all that long. But it’ll take you flying over the Boardwalk area 10 decks below, which is pretty cool.

Over the years, I’ve seen enough cruise passengers wipe out in spectacular fashion on Royal Caribbean’s surfing pools (they’re now on 14 of the line’s ships) that I’ve avoided ever trying to surf on one. That’s not a picture I want to see on Instagram. But passengers seem to love them. They’re always well used.

The Sports Zone is also where you’ll find the Ultimate Abyss, a 10-story slide (dry, not wet) that swirls down to the Boardwalk area below. It looks terrifying, but in the name of research, I was determined to give it a go on my recent sailing. Alas, every day, I would wake up saying I would do it, and by nightfall, I had found an excuse to give it a miss. I am wimpy that way. That said, I’ve been told it’s not nearly as terrifying as it looked, which is the way slides should be, in my opinion.

The Ultimate Abyss slide swirls down to the Boardwalk. BELINDA LUKSIC

For fans of wet slides, the place to go on Symphony of the Seas is the Perfect Storm water park area, which is a sight to behold. It has three giant waterslides of a scale only found on the biggest cruise ships.

Symphony of the Seas’ top decks also feature three pool areas, oodles of hot tubs and a large splash playground for kids.

In addition, the Solarium is an entire multideck adults-only lounge area with hot tubs at the front of the ship.

The Solarium is a striking space. It sits under a partial glass covering that protects it from the wind that whips over the ship’s bow when it’s in motion. It’s a nice respite from the mayhem often found in the open-to-kids pool areas.

The only major outdoor activity not among all these top deck areas is Symphony of the Seas’ twin rock climbing walls. They flank the AquaTheater at the far end of the Boardwalk, and they’re massive.

Two giant rock climbing walls are in the Boardwalk area. BELINDA LUKSIC

The activities continue indoors, too. At select times (usually on sea days), the entertainment staff offers ice skating sessions and laser tag in Studio B, the ship’s indoor ice rink (for laser tag, the ice is covered with a floor and inflatable obstacles are added). Both are popular, so sign up or get in line as early as possible.

Symphony of the Seas also has an escape room aimed at the family crowd, and for kids of all ages, there are arcade games at both the Playmakers Bar on Deck 6 and at a dedicated arcade area on Deck 16 next door to El Loco Fresh.

The arcade on Symphony of the Seas. BELINDA LUKSIC

If you’re brave enough to sing in front of your fellow passengers, or if you just want to watch others do so, you’ll find a lounge that is partially dedicated to karaoke on the Royal Promenade. It’s called On Air, and it often gets packed when the singing starts. Don’t miss it. The performances can be professional level. Karaoke on ships is a serious thing.

For those who like gaming, there’s a large casino in the middle of the ship on Deck 4 where smoking is allowed and a smaller one near the ship’s theater that is just for nonsmokers.

For pampering, the Vitality Spa and Fitness Center on decks 5 and 6 is the place. It offers a full array of spa treatments (massages, facials and more) and salon services.

The fitness center is a first-class gym with a wide range of exercise equipment and (extra charge) classes, too.

All that said, my favorite area on the entire ship is Central Park. It’s been 15 years since Royal Caribbean first unveiled a Central Park area on a ship, on the then-revolutionary Oasis of the Seas, and it still amazes me that it’s something that exists on floating vessels (it’s now on five Royal Caribbean ships, including Symphony of the Seas).

What I love most about Central Park is that it’s a quiet respite from the bustle that you’ll find in almost every other part of the ship. You can sit on a park bench, just like you would in a park on land, in the shade of the trees that are miraculously growing in the middle of a cruise ship. You might even forget for a time that you’re on a ship.

Symphony of the Seas shows

The Broadway musical “Hairspray” is the marquee show on Symphony of the Seas. GENE SLOAN/THE POINTS GUY

Royal Caribbean ships are known for some of the best entertainment at sea, and Symphony of the Seas is no exception. In fact, it may have the best lineup of shows of any cruise vessel currently sailing.

The vessel’s signature production, “Hairspray,” is a slightly abridged version of the Tony Award-winning musical that was the hot ticket on Broadway in the 2000s. You would have paid big money to see this in New York during its seven-year run there. But on Symphony of the Seas, a ticket is included in the fare.

It’s not the Broadway cast performing “Hairspray” on Symphony of the Seas, but it’s a wonderful performance nevertheless. It takes place in a gorgeous 1,400-seat theater that rivals anything found on Broadway.

The theater is also home to a second musical spectacular created by Royal Caribbean’s in-house team: “Flight … Dare the Dream.”

Also the work of Royal Caribbean’s in-house entertainment team is the stunning “Hiro” aqua show performed at the outdoor AquaTheater at the back of the ship. Yes, Symphony of the Seas has an AquaTheater, as do all Oasis Class ships. If you haven’t been on one of the vessels to see this, you will be amazed.

Like all of Royal Caribbean’s aqua shows, “Hiro” is a 45-minute spectacle of high diving, slacklining and synchronized dancing and swimming in the most high-tech pool at sea. I can’t get enough of these performances, though they sometimes drag on too long for my taste. After about 30 minutes, some of the watery amazements start to repeat. That said, my fellow passengers on Symphony of the Seas apparently loved the length of “Hiro” just as it was, given the roars of approval and a standing ovation at the end.

The AquaTheater on Symphony of the Seas. GENE SLOAN/THE POINTS GUY

Pro tip: Arrive at least a half-hour early for “Hiro” if you care where you sit. Even with a reservation for entry (which is a must), you will find the best seats fill quickly. If you don’t want to get soaked, avoid the first few rows, which are squarely in the splash zone.

You also shouldn’t miss Symphony of the Seas’ ice skating show, “1977.” It’s another spectacle that you won’t quite believe is on a cruise ship. Just the fact that there are ice skating rinks for passenger skating and ice shows on some Royal Caribbean cruise ships may be mind-boggling to you if you’re new to cruising.

The storyline of “1977” involves a time-traveling hero who starts out in London in 1977 and travels around the world and through time to catch a jewel thief. But don’t bother trying to follow the plot. It’s just an excuse to present a skating extravaganza with colorful costumes and foot-stomping music.

Symphony of the Seas’ around-the-clock entertainment also includes parades down the Royal Promenade and themed parties in the same space on some nights. I loved the throwback tunes of the ’80s party on the third night of the cruise, even if it didn’t get as many people dancing as I would have thought.

Across from the ship’s Studio B ice rink, there’s also a comedy club called The Attic that hosts daily comedy shows. Just be warned that the (free) seats for it (bookable through the Royal Caribbean app) sell out way in advance of every sailing, and there’s always a long standby line to get in.

Symphony of the Seas itineraries and pricing

During the Northern Hemisphere’s colder months (November to April), Symphony of the Seas sails alternating Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries out of Miami. During the six warmer months of the year (May to October), it repositions to the New York City area for voyages to the Bahamas.

The Eastern Caribbean sailings out of Miami are seven nights long and bring calls at Philipsburg, St. Maarten (the Dutch side of the island of St. Martin); either San Juan, Puerto Rico, or Charlotte Amalie, U.S. Virgin Islands; and either Nassau, Bahamas, or Perfect Day at CoCoCay, Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas. The Western Caribbean cruises out of Miami are mostly seven nights long and bring stops at Nassau; Falmouth, Jamaica; Labadee, Haiti (a private beach destination); and Perfect Day.

A few one-off Western Caribbean sailings out of Miami are four nights in length and bring just one stop.

Note that port calls in Labadee have been canceled through September due to the unrest in Haiti. In most cases, they’ve been replaced with a stop at Grand Turk Island.

Symphony of the Seas sailings out of the New York City area are mostly seven nights in length and bring calls at Port Canaveral, Florida (near Orlando); Nassau; and Perfect Day. The trips depart from the Cape Liberty Cruise Port in Bayonne, New Jersey, not far from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR).

Symphony of the Seas docked in Nassau. BELINDA LUKSIC

Symphony of the Seas also sails a handful of longer, nine-night sailings from the New York area.

Prices for seven-night sailings start at $609 per person, based on double occupancy, for a windowless inside cabin. Balcony cabins start at $729. Bigger junior suites and suites typically start at more than $1,000 per person, with fares for top suites priced at more than $10,000 for the week.

Holiday weeks and other prime travel times have higher rates.

What to know before you go

Required documents

Since Symphony of the Seas sails round-trip from U.S. ports, U.S. citizens can travel with either a current passport or an official copy of their birth certificate and a driver’s license or other government-issued photo ID. Passports must be valid for at least six months.

The name on your reservation must match that on your passport or other official proof of nationality. Double-check if you’ve recently gotten married or use a different version of your name.

Gratuities

Symphony of the Seas guests will find an automatic service gratuity of $18 to $20.50 per person, per day, depending on cabin category, added to their onboard account and final bill. You are allowed to adjust this amount at the Guest Services desk before disembarking.

An 18% gratuity is added to bar and spa/salon bills. You should not feel pressured to add an additional tip.

Related: Everything you need to know about tipping on cruise ships

Wi-Fi

Royal Caribbean has one of the fastest Wi-Fi systems at sea, and you can take advantage of this on Symphony of the Seas. Currently, Wi-Fi packages with streaming bandwidth cost $29.99 per day for a single device; however, prices do change over time. If you’re traveling with family or sharing a room with friends, look for multi-device packages that are less expensive on a per-device basis. Certain suite guests receive complimentary Wi-Fi, so know your included perks before you sign up for a package.

Related: How fast is the internet on Royal Caribbean ships? We put it to the test

Carry-on drinks policy

A sidecar at Schooner Bar. GENE SLOAN/THE POINTS GUY

Royal Caribbean allows every passenger of drinking age to bring one bottle of wine or Champagne onto ships at boarding, plus up to a dozen standard cans, bottles or cartons of nonalcoholic drinks such as sodas. The line charges a $15 corkage fee if you bring the wine or Champagne to an onboard restaurant or other public areas to drink.

Smoking policy

Smoking (including e-cigarette smoking) is allowed only in designated outdoor areas and the casino. It’s forbidden in cabins and on cabin balconies, and those who violate this rule will face a $250 cleaning fee. In the casino, only cigarette smoking is allowed, and only in designated areas.

Laundry

Unlike some lines, Royal Caribbean does not build self-service launderettes onto its ships, so you won’t find any on Symphony of the Seas. The ship offers extra-charge laundry, pressing and dry cleaning services.

Electrical outlets

You’ll find North American-style 110-volt outlets and European-style 220-volt outlets in cabins, along with USB ports.

Currency

The onboard currency is the U.S. dollar. But you won’t need cash while on board. Symphony of the Seas operates on a “cashless system,” with any onboard purchases you make posting automatically to your onboard account. You’ll receive a SeaPass card that you can use to make charges, and Royal Caribbean will charge your credit card at the end of the sailing to settle the balance.

While onboard, you can check your balance through Royal Caribbean’s app, at Guest Services or via your in-cabin television.

Drinking age

You must be 21 to consume alcohol on Symphony of the Seas.

Dress code

During the day, there is no specific dress code, and people dress casually. If it’s a sea day, and you’re bound for the pool deck, that means looking like you’re going to the beach — T-shirts, shorts and bathing suits (with a cover-up to go inside) are just fine.

During the evenings, there is an official dress code, but it only applies to passengers entering the main dining room. On any given night, one of three dress codes will apply — casual, smart casual or formal.

Casual means just that — jeans, polo shirts and sundresses. Smart casual is a step up to collared shirts, dresses, skirts and blouses, or pantsuits, with a jacket for men optional. Formal officially means suits and ties, tuxedos, cocktail dresses or evening gowns. But don’t worry if you don’t want to go that fancy. Not everybody plays into it. You’ll see most men wearing suits or sports coats and women in cocktail dresses.

Related: What to pack for your first cruise

Bottom line

If your idea of the perfect vacation is a week at a megaresort loaded with every sort of amusement you could imagine plus lots of choices for dining, drinking and entertainment, you’ll probably love Symphony of the Seas. Few other cruise ships are as lively and activity-packed. Even on land, there aren’t all that many resorts that compare.

Symphony of the Seas also is particularly wonderful for families, as it is packed with family-friendly activities.

Just prepare yourself for the crowds and noise that come with a megaresort designed to hold nearly 7,000 vacationers at once. If you seek a quiet and intimate vacation experience, this isn’t the ship for you.

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