After much anticipation, it was finally time to board Harmony of the Seas for her official maiden voyage from Southampton to Barcelona. This is a one way repositioning cruise so we flew from Manchester down to Southampton and extended the holiday by spending the night before at the Novotel, a reasonably priced 4 star hotel located near West Quay shopping centre and within easy walking distance to the port – literally just 5 minutes away, manageable even with cases and a small child.
We arrived at the port about 10.15am (totally ignoring the 1pm check in we’d been allocated) but thankfully there were no queues and we were greeted by staff with iPads who checked our paperwork, took us through the health questionnaire and directed us to a waiting area. As we are suite guests we were sat in section A and by 10.45am we were boarding!
In a change to usual procedure our cruise cards would be waiting for us in our cabin but we could use the set sail passes we’d printed at home to charge purchases until cabins were available at 1pm. We went straight to my favourite spot on the Oasis class, Central Park, an amazing space hollowed out of the centre of the ship, filled with thousands of plants, trees and living walls and also home to speciality restaurants Chops Grille and Jamie’s Italian. We took a seat at the Trellis Bar and enjoyed the first of many glasses of red on our drinks package accompanied by the must try hot roast beef sandwiches from Park Cafe, a complimentary venue serving salads, sandwiches and cakes throughout the day.
If you like a drink or two on board I highly recommend pre-booking a drinks package. We paid around £250 each for a premium package which includes pretty much all beers, wines and cocktails and is unlimited for the duration of the cruise. The bar staff were selling our package on board for significantly more than we paid so do try and pre book the one that suits you as pay as you go drinks aren’t cheap at around $10 for a good glass of wine. If you manage 4 or 5 drinks a day you are already winning!
Like many others, I was a little concerned when I read some of the media reports of the two pre inaugural cruises including the tabloid headline ‘Disharmony of the Seas’ and reports of a floating building site but rest assured this certainly isn’t the case. The ship looks immaculate and beautifully finished, everything is open and functioning and I’ve not seen any last minute work taking place.
We left Central Park and went to The Boardwalk, another of the ship’s distinct ‘neighborhoods’. This is a Coney Island style boardwalk with full size carousel which is free to ride, the Dog House, a complimentary hot dog bar, Mexican speciality restaurant Sabor, a Starbucks for anyone needing a caffeine fix and Johnny Rockets an American diner serving burgers and fries at $5.95 a head alongside a free and unmissable breakfast menu in the morning. It’s also the final destination of of The Ultimate Abyss, the world’s highest dry slide at sea dropping an impressive 11 decks in not many more seconds, and the Aqua Theatre where we saw staff rehearsing a Cirque du Soleil style high diving show which I’m looking forward to viewing from our balcony later in the week.
By 1pm our cabins were ready so we took the lift to deck 17 where we’d splashed out on a Crown Loft Suite. I turn 45 the week after we get home so this is a kind of mid life crisis cruise which called for an upgrade The cabin is absolutely beautiful, a two story loft with floor to ceiling windows, two bathrooms (one with a bath and one with a shower) stocked with L’Occitane toiletries, a bedroom, a sofa bed for Finn, a dining area and spectacular views from our balcony across the sports decks and the Boardwalk to the rear of the ship.
We unpacked our cases into two large wardrobes and endless sets of drawers and celebrated sail away on our balcony with friends who are also onboard. We then enjoyed dinner in Costal Kitchen, a gorgeous restaurant for suite guests on deck 17 with panoramic windows overlooking the sun decks below before ending the evening in the Schooner Bar watching pianist / singer Katia who was so good we had possibly one glass of red too many – thank heaven day 2 was a sea day!
A great night’s sleep was followed by a much needed full English in Costal Kitchen then a trip to the Cruise Critic Meet n Mingle which was followed by a cabin crawl expertly organized by Gillian aka Dutch Clogs. We were hosting so went back to the suite to await our visitors and big thanks go out to Alfonso our stateroom attendant who was fully aware of the cabin crawl concept and who had tidied up beautifully. Over 40 guests arrived to look around our room and admire the view from the balcony and there was still room to swing a family of cats : ) I think I may be hooked on the suite thing for life so I’m going to have to work hard and earn some serious cash ahead of next year’s holidays. It was a lovely sociable thing to do and everyone was putting faces to the names of people they’d met online and even our eight year old Finn made a brand new friend as they bonded over a mutual love of video games.
After the cabin crawl we had a great al a carte lunch in American Icon on the ground floor of the main dining room followed by another visit to the Boardwalk for more carousel rides and lots of clambering fun on lucky climbers, a child friendly climbing frame reassuringly surrounded by nets. I had a hair appointment at the Spa for a reasonably priced $39 wash and blow ahead of formal night. We dined in Costal Kitchen again where they do a fabulous Californian / Med fusion as well as offering all the classics off the main dining room for less adventurous diners like me. It was impeccably served by our waiter Fransisco who also kept our glasses topped up with Malbec as we all enjoyed generous portions of filet mignon. We then went to Harmony’s impressive 1400 seater theatre for the must see Broadway style musical version of Grease which was electrifying!
As well as this blog I’m using an app called Periscope to broadcast live video and commentary of our cruise and viewers can even ask questions as I’m showing you around. All you need to do is download the app and follow @nickywake if you’d like to see some of my previous videos and watch future ones live.