A gleaming white colossus, capable of carrying almost 9000 passengers (6680 guests and over 2200 crew), Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas is the largest cruise liner to sail the oceans. Measuring 362 metres long, 66 metres wide and soaring 18 decks, it's eclipsed sister vessel, Harmony of the Seas, for the 'world's biggest cruise ship' mantle (with a gross tonnage of 228,081 - that's more than 17000 elephants). Australians will have to fly overseas to experience this floating 'city'. It's cruising around the Mediterranean between now and October - mainly on 7-night voyages, calling in at ports like Barcelona, Rome and Naples - before it crosses the Atlantic to Miami, the launchpad for Caribbean cruises until 2020. Here's why it's worth making the journey for.
Boasting 'more boroughs than New York', Symphony has seven distinct 'neighbourhoods', including the Royal Promenade, a mall-liked covered zone with designer boutiques, quirky art (there's said to be more art on board this ship than the Louvre in Paris has paintings) and a cluster of places in which to eat, drink and mingle, including the Bionic Bar, where 'robot' bartenders craft cocktails. Another neighbourhood that's made for hanging out in is Central Park, a leafy open-air space with exotic plants, trees and vertical gardens, as well as a cluster of restaurants and watering holes (oenophiles should pop into Vintages wine bar).
It's exciting to explore this vast, Insta-worthy ship - you might want to bring a Fitbit or something similar to see how many steps you cover per day - but you'll appreciate having a nice retreat to retire to. There are 2759 staterooms in total, spanning 30-plus categories. At the most affordable end of the scale are the cosy (14-24 square metre) interior cabins. Some overlook public spaces, like Central Park; others have "virtual balconies", which have near-floor-to-ceiling LED screens giving real-time vistas of the ship's route. You might prefer an Ocean View Balcony room, or one of the lavish suites. The most attention-grabbing is the Ultimate Family Suite, which sleeps up to eight people and comes with many perks, including a 'Royal Genie' butler, a private cinema and a stainless steel slide that links one of the upper bedrooms with the downstairs lounge. For a 7-night cruise, the suite can cost up to AU$100000.
Dining is a major part of any cruise and you're spoilt for choice on Symphony, whose culinary options are as cosmopolitan as you'd expect considering the make-up of its guests and crew (at least 160 countries are represented on board). You'll have access to seven 'complimentary' eateries, including the enormous buffet affair, Windjammer Marketplace, Mexican taco and burrito purveyor El Loco Fresh and the elegant, three-level main dining room with waiter service. There are 13 'speciality' restaurants, too, which draw a cover charge (around AU$20-60 per head). These include Izumi Hibachi & Sushi, New England-inspired Hooked Seafood and Chops Grille, where you can order top-notch steaks.
Fun And Games
Although Symphony is extremely family-friendly, it also caters to active couples of all ages, groups of buddies and solo travellers. In short, there's something for everyone. In the Pool and Sports Zone, for example, you can whizz down The Perfect Storm - a trio of giant waterslides - and also sit on a mat and whoosh down The Ultimate Abyss, the tallest slide at sea (it's almost 46m above sea level and drops ten decks to the Boardwalk, a 'neighbourhood' that evokes an American seaside strip with a carousel, candy store, hotdog and hamburger joints, a sports bar and games arcade). Other activities on Symphony include ziplining, glow-in-the-dark laser tag, surfing/bodyboarding simulators, an escape room and mini-golf. There's also an outdoor basketball court, a jogging track, a gym and spa crammed with cardio and strength equipment and wellness offerings.
Some of your most memorable moments on Symphony will come when you're watching its superb live productions. As well as performances of hit Broadway musical Hairspray, you'll witness awe-inspiring displays of ice-skating, trampolining, tightrope-walking, high diving and synchronised swimming (Aqua Nation, staged in the al fresco Aqua Theater, is not to be missed). You can also check out stand-up comics, magicians and live bands, enjoy karaoke and even a silent disco (where you join revellers listening to music through wireless headphones). There's also a huge casino, where you can look to strike it lucky, and win enough dollars perhaps to extend your stay on this extraordinary ship.