Symphony of the Seas Live Blog - Day One - Embarkation Day

In:
18Nov2018
By: Matt Hochberg

We are back onboard Symphony of the Seas and it feels great to be sailing again! A mere two day break between sailings and this time we are with my kids, along with a bunch of friends from RoyalCaribbeanBlog.com.

We stayed at the DoubleTree Grand Biscayne between cruises, which is barely 3 miles from PortMiami.  We got going in the morning and drove our car to Terminal A to start our cruise.

We parked the car in the Terminal A garage this time around. As you enter the garage, there are porters ready to take your luggage, after which you proceed to park the car. Super simple.

After parking, we had perhaps the simplest and quickest check-in process ever.  After walking in the terminal, there is a special entrance for suite guests and Pinnacle members. You go up on elevator, sit down in the lounge and a port agent walks around with a tablet to check guests in.  Whole process took perhaps 5 minutes.

Boarding began around 11am and of course our first stop was the Windjammer for lunch.

Lunch felt more crowded than usual for that early in the day, but once they opened up the other side of the Windjammer, crowds subsided quickly.

After lunch we registered the kids for Adventure Ocean.

Next, it was time for the pool.  Despite cooler than average temperatures, my kids insisted on hitting up Splashaway Bay.

Rooms were ready at 1pm and on this sailing, we are staying in a Grand Suite stateroom.

The amount of space in this room is perfect for our family, and I love that the bedroom is completely separated from the rest of the room by curtains.

Our first RoyalCaribbeanBlog.com group cruise meet up was at Boleros for a celebratory first drink together. It was our first time to see many faces onboard and I had a great time setting the tone for the sailing.

Following muster drill, we headed up to the pool deck for a fun sailaway party.

The kids were getting hungry, so I took them to grab dinner.  One wanted pizza and the other a quesadilla, so we hit up Sorrentos and El Loco Fresh for a convenient dinner option.  They grabbed a few bites from the Windjammer too.

Adventure Ocean opened at 7pm, which was a pleasant surprise since usually Adventure Ocean opens an hour later (8pm) on embarkation day.

After dropping the kids off, my wife and I enjoyed some evening cocktails in the Suite Lounge.

Dinner this evening brought us to the main dining room, and the meal seemed to flow quite smoothly for embarkation day.  Usually the first day is a bit unevenly paced, but the staff tonight did a great job.

Our plans for after dinner were to see 1977, the ice skating show, but the show ended up being canceled.  

My wife went with my in-laws to see MO5AIC, an acapella singing group, while I opted to enjoy drinks with friends in the Pub.

We wrapped up our evening with a balloon drop on the Royal Promenade at midnight and then called it a night.

Tomorrow is a sea day.

The Bahamas celebrates Symphony of the Seas inaugural call on Nassau

In:
17Nov2018
By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean’s brand new Symphony of the Seas sailed into Nassau November 14, marking a momentous occasion for both Royal Caribbean and The Bahamas.

On board for the inaugural cruise of the sleek white-hulled ship were a handful of invited guests including 200 members of international media who joined dignitaries, local VIPs and sailing guests for a lively ceremony in the ship’s iconic amphitheater at the stern.

“We are very excited to welcome you onboard Symphony of the Seas,” said Royal Caribbean International President & CEO Michael Bayley. “It’s the newest ship in our fleet and of course the largest cruise ship in the world. Today marks Symphony’s inaugural visit to Nassau, Bahamas, a destination that we visit also with the three sister ships of Symphony, that’s Oasis of the Seas, Allure and Harmony.”

Mr. Bayley cited Royal Caribbean’s strong ties to The Bahamas, recalling that the cruise line’s first ship made Nassau its first port of call in 1970.

“Today 25 of our ships are registered here in The Bahamas. We bring over 1.2 million vacationers to your beautiful islands so thank you for hosting us. We plan on keeping coming back to The Bahamas. Our plan by 2021 is almost 1.75 million visitors to The Bahamas coming with Royal Caribbean. We also plan to extend the amount of time spent in port so our guests can do, see and spend more in your beautiful islands.”

With ships like Symphony of the Seas, Royal Caribbean hopes to increase the number of visitoris to more than 1.77 million by 2021.

She arrived with invited guests only on board, including travel industry partners, international media and high-ranking officials to a rousing welcome hosted by the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism which pulled out all the stops. Dignitaries including Cabinet member Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands and Environment and Housing Minister Romauld Ferreira, Senators, Members of Parliament, officials including Defence Force Commodore Tellis Bethel, Director of Works Melanie Roach, former Cabinet ministers and heads of nearly every department of government along with vendors, attractions operators, leading business people, hoteliers, Bahamas Taxi Union, Musicians’ Union, Straw Market and Hair Braiders Association representatives were treated to musical performances and a three-course luncheon. Dignitaries including Miami- Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez were ushered aboard by the Royal Bahamas Defence Force Band. Inside, the Royal Bahamas Police Force Band entertained along with the Gerald Cash Rhythm ‘n Youth band. Travel partners and guests rushed with Colours Junkanoo, capping off the ceremony that included a key, gift and plaque exchange between the ship’s agents, United Shipping, and Captain Rob Hempstead.

Symphony of the Seas officially named at ceremony in Miami

In:
16Nov2018
By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas was officially named by the first-ever Godfamily, actors Alexa & Carlos PenaVega, with Son Ocean, at a ceremony in PortMiami on Thursday.

Symphony of the Seas becomes the 25th ship in Royal Caribbean's fleet as the PenaVega family were on hand to christen the ship and bestow a blessing of safekeeping over her crew and guests.

The naming ceremony was the largest in Royal Caribbean's history, with nearly 1,000 guests in attendance, which occured at Terminal A in PortMiami.

The customary event was infused with modern day elements – ranging from an electronic violinist who serenaded the crowd throughout the ceremony, to a stunning sail away performance by nearly 400 choreographed drones – and also incorporated a number of local Miami touches. Florida International University’s Marching Band kicked off the celebration, while students from Miami Southridge Senior High headlined the occasion on stage with a rousing drumline performance. Through Royal Caribbean’s partnership with the GRAMMY® Museum, Miami Southridge Senior High was one of 20 high schools within the Miami-Dade County Public School District that received a Royal Caribbean-funded grant through the GRAMMY Museum® Signature Schools program, which supports music education programs in underserved high schools.

Symphony of the Seas and Allure of the Seas will offer 7-night Eastern and Western Caribbean sailings from Terminal A in PortMiami. It is anticipated that Royal Caribbean will welcome at least 1.8 million guests at PortMiami, representing no less than 30 percent of the port’s projected traveler traffic. 

A look at Royal Caribbean's new app feature roadmap

In:
15Nov2018
By: Matt Hochberg

While onboard Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas, we had the chance to get an update on what new features are coming to its smart phone app.

The app team held a demo and talk for members of the media while on Symphony of the Seas and shed light on a few new features coming to the app.

They team demoed guest messaging, which is currently being tested on Allure of the Seas. They indicated that they are looking to improve the ease at which guests connect with each other by using a code unique to each guest.  

They are looking to balance the need for privacy from other guests, combined with the need to make the app easy to use.

Speaking of chat, the team estimated the new chat feature could reach Symphony of the Seas sometime in the first quarter.

Speaking of chat, Royal Caribbean plans to add something they call "Ship to Guest messaging" where not only can guests chat with other guests, but get messages from the ship.  

They avoided calling it a chatbot, for fear of coming off as a gimmicky feature that lacks usability.  Instead, they are developing a feature that allows guests to quickly get assistance with different requests.

Another new feature will be the ability to view and rate shore excursions via the app.  Royal Caribbean not only wants to allow guests to book shore excursions, but get meaningful feedback on tours and allow guests to share their experiences.

The team was asked about moderating the reviews, but they indicated the key is to keep the reviews authentic and not watered down.  

Royal Caribbean also wants to make dining easier on its ships by allowing guests to view menus and even place orders. 

In addition, allowing guests to indicate stateroom changes and directly work with stateroom attendants to allow guests to set preferences for their upcoming stay.

Royal Caribbean shared some of their plans for having the ability for guests to order drinks via the app. The plan now is to first roll out that feature at Perfect Day at CocoCay, then expand to certain areas od the ship and finally expand to more areas of a ship.

Which feature are you most excited to see come to the app? Tell us about it in our comments!

Video: Take a Tour of Symphony of the Seas’ Boardwalk

In:
15Nov2018
By: Matt Hochberg

The reimagined Boardwalk touts fresh energy and swagger with the addition of lively venues, interactive experiences and entertainment throughout the day and into the night. With the iconic hand-carved carousel, the exit of the Ultimate Abyss, the tallest slide at sea; and the awe-inspiring AquaTheater – to deliver a seaside oasis for the entire family, from the little ones to the adults.

Symphony of the Seas Live Blog - Day Six - Nassau

In:
15Nov2018
By: Matt Hochberg

Our short two-night sailing brings us to our sole port stop on the only full day onboard, and that is Nassau, Bahamas.

As noted in yesterday's live blog post, this is a complimentary two-night preview sailing provided to me by Royal Caribbean.  

Symphony of the Seas arrived in Nassau shortly before 9am on a sunny and hot day in the Bahamas.  We had a great view of Nassau harbor as we pulled into port, with Enchantment of the Seas in port as well.

I grabbed a quick breakfast at Park Cafe to get my morning started. Their breakfast sandwiches are really good.

The first order of business this morning was a Q&A session with Royal Caribbean's CEO Michael Bayley and Symphony of the Seas' Captain.

The Q&A session was for the members of the media onboard, and questions covered a lot of interesting topics.  Most of what was mentioned was not news, but there is always some interesting tidbits or insight into Royal Caribbean's thought process.

Next up was an overview and update on Royal Caribbean's new smart phone app development.  The head of the new app gave an in-depth presentation on how Royal Caribbean's app came to be, where it is now, and what the future holds.

Of particular interest was the roadmap of features coming to the app.  Royal Caribbean prefers to itterate their development and roll out more releases over time, rather than doing  a lot of development and having periodic milestone releases.  

I will write up a new blog post with a peek into the future of the app shortly after this post.

Following the app session, it was time to grab lunch.

I headed over to the Boardwalk for lunch at Playmakers.  For the purposes of this preview sailing, they were only serving a combo meal of slider, wings and fries.  Everything tasted great, and I really think Playmakers is a compelling choice for an inexpensive, yet good quality meal.

Meanwhile, the Bahamas was celebrating the arrival of Symphony of the Seas to Nassau for its inaugural visit. There was a large ceremony in the AquaTheater, complete with marching band.

I wanted to see Symphony in port, so I actually disembarked the ship for a few minutes before getting back onboard.  She looked amazing with a picture perfect backdrop.

In the early afternoon, Symphony departed Nassau to start making her way back to Miami.

A real higlight was seeing Royal Caribbean's Vice President of Entertainment, Nick Weir, speak about the ship's entertainment.

Mr. Weir is as talented at creating awe-inspiring shows as he is providing audiences with a behind-the-scenes look at how all the show magic happens. He gave backstory and even demoed a few things from 1977 ice show, as well as talked about Flight, the AquaTheater and teased us about the future.

The best part of the show was a live demo of the drones that are used in the ice show.  These photos do not do the show justice.

We headed back to the room to get ready for dinner to discover a wonderful tote bag gift waiting for us.

We headed up to the Wonderland Bar for happy hour drinks with our favorite bartender on Symphony, Sorin.

We rounded out our evening with dinner and the late-night comedy show.

It was a great combined six nights onboard Symphony of the Seas and while I got to see a lof of the ship, much of it remains yet to be experienced.  Luckily, my family and I are coming back on Saturday for a 7-night Western Caribbean cruise with my friends from RoyalCaribbeanBlog.com.

We will hit the pause button on this live blog, and pick things back up on Saturday.

Symphony of the Seas Live Blog - Day Five - Embarkation Day

In:
14Nov2018
By: Matt Hochberg

When is the last day of a cruise not the last day of a cruise? When you are doing a back to back cruise!

Symphony of the Seas returned to PortMiami and while that meant the end of the 4-night sailing, I was staying on for the next 2-night cruise.

After waking up, I packed up my belongings and got myself ready to go.  My stateroom attendant would move my suitcases and clothes on a hangar to my new stateroom for me, so all I needed to do was get it all together.

It is a bit surreal being on a cruise ship on turnaround day when it seems everyone else is scrambling to get off the ship and go home.  In the 9am hour, when most guests are off the ship already, it feels like being in a store after they close.

At 9:45am, I reported to the main dining room on deck 4 to meet other consecutive cruisers.  I estimated there were roughly 100 or so of us.

After a bit, we were escorted off the ship and over to Terminal A for U.S. Customs.  Something different here was instead of talking to a Customs agent, we used faceless recognition machines.  You stare at this machine, it processes your face and then lets you go on your way.

After that, we were issued new SeaPass cards and made our way back onboard.

This new sailing is a 2-night preview sailing, provided by Royal Caribbean.  I’m sailing on this cruise as a guest of Royal Caribbean, which means it was provided without cost.  

Back onboard the ship, it felt like embarkation day with lots of new guests exploring the ship and plenty of celebrations going on.

My wife joined me on this sailing, so we spent some time walking around and exploring the ship.

On this sailing, we are staying in a oceanview balcony stateroom.  

The neat thing about this room is we are somewhat on the “hump” of the ship, so our balcony is a bit deeper than a standard balcony.

Sailaway brought us up to the pool deck for another dance party with the backdrop of a beautiful Miami sunset.  Say what you will about which port you prefer to sail from, but Miami sailways are among the most scenic.

We headed back to our room to get ready for dinner and the evening.

We attended a reception for members of the media in Dazzles, which featured a terrific jazz band performing.

Next it was over to Chops Grill for dinner.  

We rounded out our evening on the Royal Promenade and a street party event.

Tomorrow our ship will be in Nassau, Bahamas.

Stray Observations

  • There are lots of beautiful flower arrangements onboard the ship.
  • It looks like dry-aged steak is back on the menu at Chops.

Royal Caribbean and WWF-Australia announce partnership to protect critically endangered hawksbill turtles

In:
13Nov2018
By: Matt Hochberg

With the support of Royal Caribbean, WWF-Australia will step up efforts to help combat the illegal trade of hawksbill turtles in Asia-Pacific - the number one threat to the critically endangered turtle.

For the first time in the region, WWF-Australia will work with partners to test ground-breaking technology to extract DNA from tortoiseshell products, such as earrings, bracelets and other trinkets. The collaboration will develop a DNA database to help identify hawksbill populations most at risk from the illegal tortoiseshell trade by tracing hawksbills products from their point-of-sale to where they were poached.

“Despite international trade being banned over twenty years ago, poaching and the sale of hawksbill products still takes place in our region. It is unclear where poaching is most prevalent, but with the help of the turtle DNA test and database we’ll be able to map poaching hotspots and work with local governments in the Asia-Pacific region to combat these illegal activities,” said Christine Hof, Marine Species Project Manager, WWF-Australia.

Hawksbill turtles are one of the most beautiful and important species in the ocean, playing a vital role in maintaining the health of our oceans; from promoting coral growth through their appetite for algae, to supporting vital feeding grounds for reef communities.  However, over the last 100 years the hawksbill population has declined by more than 75% and it’s estimated there are only 4,800 breeding females remaining in the Pacific Ocean.

The hawksbill faces a unique threat as it is the only sea turtle species that is hunted for its shell, commonly known as “tortoiseshell”, which is made into souvenirs frequently sold to travelers while on holidays overseas. 

“Hunted and traded for their shell, Hawksbill turtles are critically endangered. Ending this trade will take a coordinated effort. We are extremely passionate about this partnership with WWF-Australia, and need to act now to ensure these prehistoric sea creatures have a future,” said Susan Bonner, VP and Managing Director, Royal Caribbean Australia & NZ.

The partnership will also increase awareness of the issue amongst those travelling throughout Asia-Pacific. RCL and WWF-Australia intend to educate millions of supporters and travellers about this illegal trade by providing them with the information they need to identify illegal tortoiseshell products and avoid buying them, with the launch of an extensive consumer campaign.

A hawksbill turtle adoption programme will be available to all Australians in 2019. Adoption of a hawksbill turtle via Royal Caribbean will support WWF-Australia’s essential conservation work – protecting the habitat, preserving their food sources and ensuring the safety of threatened species locally and globally.

RCL has a long history of innovation, and is committed to protecting the communities and environments in which it operates. From wastewater and waste management, to energy efficiency and sourcing practices, RCL is dedicated to continually improving operations, to minimise its’ environmental footprint and increase support for conservation.

“We have a responsibility to the guests who sail with us, the people who work for us, and the communities we visit, but most importantly we have a responsibility to the magnificent oceans, which are at the very essence of our business,” said Bonner.

In 2016, RCL and WWF embarked on a five-year global journey to help ensure the long-term health of the world’s oceans. The RCL and WWF-Australia local partnership to protect the hawksbill turtle will run in the Asia-Pacific region for the next three years.

For more information visit www.royalcaribbean.com.au/wwf.

Symphony of the Seas Live Blog - Day Four- Sea Day

In:
13Nov2018
By: Matt Hochberg

The last day of my first Symphony of the Seas sailing is here, and being that I will be on the next sailing, it certainly feels odd with that notion that this sailing is almost over and yet I am still going back.

Like every morning of this cruise, I woke up earlier than I probably should have.  Despite some late nights, once I wake up and remember where I am, my mind starts going and sleep is no longer an option.

I spent my morning relaxing by the pool in the shade and with a nice breeze.  One thing I love about Symphony’s pool deck is there are so many spots in the shade.

The weather today was noticeably windier than previous days.  There was a slight chop in the ocean, which meant very, very subtle movement sensations onboard. Considering the first two days of the cruise had virtually no motion, today’s ocean waves were merely a footnote.

I probably had more grandiose ideas for how to spend my morning, but I decided to take it easy.  As lunch rolled around, I headed down to Central Park to enjoy Chops.

I asked the waitress if I should get the filet mignon or the dry-aged burger.  She recommended the filet.  I suppose the chances of something outranking a filet is quite low.

The entire Chops meal was great, and I was glad to sneak that in.

I stopped by Boleros to notice they have the Coco Loco on their menu.  The Coco Loco is the official drink of Coco Cay, and I suspect perhaps the inclusion on this menu is a tie-in to Perfect Day at CocoCay.

I stopped back in my room to find that I had received my consecutive cruiser letter. The letter explains what to do on turnaround day tomorrow and where to be. Moreover, it mentions Royal Caribbean will move my luggage for me to my new room, which is such a relief not to have to schlep my own stuff around until rooms are ready at 1pm.

As day turned to night, I spent some time down in Central Park.  Central Park is my favorite neighborhood and evening is the best time of day to hang around.  The contrast of lighting and flora really stand out.

After getting ready for dinner, I walked down to Deck 4 to check out the Diamond Lounge.  Of note, the Attic was being used as a Diamond Lounge overflow space.

One thing everyone needs to do on Symphony is see the Solarium art piece at night.  So beautiful.

Dinner tonight was at Hooked.  I was excited to try a new restaurant, but I will admit that I was somewhat concerned about the menu options for myself since I do not eat shellfish.

I was happy to see there were a few different options to consider, including the messy fish sandwich in which the staff puts a bib on you.

My tablemates indulged in some of the oysters and mussels, while I went with the grilled salmon.

Overall, I thought Hooked was a good restaurant and I certainly did not dislike anything about the meal.  We had a great waiter and I think we enjoyed everything we ordered.  Nonetheless, it just did not stick out as the kind of restaurant I really wanted to go back to again and again.  As I recall, I felt indifferent to Jamie’s Italian the first time I dined there and now I love it, so who knows how this will all go.

After diner we grabbed a few drinks in the Pub, but I think 3+ days of fun on Symphony had caught up with us, so we pulled a Michael Poole and called it an early evening.

Tomorrow is day one of a 2-night Symphony preview cruise for media and travel professionals.

Video: Royal Caribbean Names the World's First Ship Godfamily

In:
12Nov2018
By: Matt Hochberg

There is a longstanding maritime tradition that calls for new ships to be blessed by a Godmother. But what about a Godfamily? Royal Caribbean is giving this tradition a modern twist by asking famous and longtime fans the PenaVega family to serve as the first-ever Godfamily of a cruise ship.

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