From TV ads you might believe that cruises were for middle-aged and older couples, happy to pack evening wear so they can dress for dinner; hardly the sort of holiday to take a wandering one-year-old, naughty nine-year-old or troublesome teenager. Step up Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas where, as I discover on a special pre-launch cruise, kids of all ages, parents and grandparents, can holiday together but not stick together, a truly multi-generational destination.
When full the ship holds over six thousand passengers but is so big it doesn’t feel over-crowded. It’s so wide it has two banks of cabins; guests choose between balconies facing out to sea or facing inwards over Central Park or the Boardwalk. Central Park is a delightful area with ten thousand plants and trees, plus a small Bar. It’s beautifully lit at night and I enjoy peaceful evening drinks in the open air. In contrast, the buzzy Boardwalk, with a carousel, fast food outlets and large Playmakers sports bar, is more suited to younger guests.
Towering over the end of the Boardwalk is the Ultimate Abyss, at one hundred feet the highest slide at sea – well two slides actually, so guests can race each other to the bottom. I discover two rock climbing walls, a sports court and a zip line one hundred feet above the Boardwalk. Two Flow Riders shoot water up slopes at around 25mph so guests can surf and body-board without moving. I also find an ice rink, laser tag area and, for those less energetic, crazy golf.
Key to multi-generational holidays are great kids clubs, so I check them out. Royal Babies and Tots caters for kids from six to thirty-six months. Parents can stay for a play session or leave their youngsters for a small hourly charge. Laura, one of the kids’ club’s trained crew, tells me that Symphony carries swim nappies and has a specially filtered pool, so even non-toilet trained tots can have fun splashing around.
Adventure Ocean is an area catering for Aquanauts (3-5 years), Explorers (6-8 years) and Voyagers (9-11 years). The services are free before 10.00pm and the area includes a science laboratory so kids can learn as well as play. However, it’s not all about staying indoors as activities are organised around the ship with reserved sessions on facilities such as the Flow Rider and zip line.
The teens club is a ‘come and go as you please’ facility. The Teens Only areas include a lounge and a nightclub. Activities include dinners, pool parties, BBQs, themed nights and discos; no parents are allowed and it’s open until 1.00am.
Kids tend not to get too excited about shore excursions which often include historical and cultural elements, so if the kid in your family has just found the love of their life, they can safely stay on board and do their own thing while you explore ashore. Pisa with parents or Pizza with a new friend – no contest!
Unlike the fixed dining on traditional cruise ships, Symphony’s guests dine when and where they want from a choice of twenty venues, and there are no formal dress nights. Seven dining venues are included in the fare while another thirteen carry a small extra charge. The main dining room offers a different menu each night whilst there are a number of speciality restaurants. Fans of Oriental food have a choice of sushi and sashimi, meat lovers can indulge in Chops Grill, and fish lovers can get their fill at Hooked. If you fancy Italian there’s Jamie’s Italian and Sorrento’s, an American/Italian mix serving a range of pizzas. For something different, 150 Central Park offers a six-course tasting menu with great wines.
Popular with kids, Jonny Rockets is a 1950s-style diner specialising in burgers and hot dogs. Then there’s Wonderland, inspired by Alice herself. The menu is blank but there’s a paintbrush and water to hand. Wet the menu with the brush to reveal such items as Halibut cooked in clear paper, and The Bird’s Nest, consisting of smoke, blue cheese and hot sauce.
There are also numerous bars ranging from a traditional pub to the Rising Tide, a bar that moves up and down between three decks. I try the bionic bar. I place my order on a nearby tablet then the robot starts work. It grabs some ice in its shaker, then pops around the overhead optics to get the items it needs. It shakes the ingredients to mix them and pours my drink into a glass. I go up to the bar and my drink slides towards me. Cheers!
After dinner, there’s a wide choice of entertainment. As there are no fixed dining times the ship stages full-length West-End style productions because it doesn’t need to cater for diners on first and second sittings. Shows in the main theatre include Hairspray, winner of eight Tony awards, whilst in the ice rink, I see 1977, a story about the fictitious theft of the Crown Jewels. Hiro is a new aerial show that takes place over the Aqua centre.
Surprises are everywhere. Getting into the lift I find myself sharing it with the pop-up pianist, so leaving the buffet on deck 16 I decide to walk down the stairs and am amazed to find that as I do so it plays Arabesque, each step playing the next note. The faster I climb up or down the faster the tune plays. After a hearty lunch I’m grateful it’s not Chopin’s Minute Waltz!
Oh, did I mention that this is a cruise ship that spends most days in ports so you can go ashore and explore different locations? If you want to, of course.
Tell me more about The Symphony of the Seas, the World’s biggest cruise ship.
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