Fam­ily fun hits high note on new cruise ship

Sym­phony of the Seas sail­ing out of Mi­ami

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Travel & Life - By Jen­nifer Jhon South Flor­ida Par­ent­ing

Sym­phony of the Seas, now sail­ing out of Mi­ami, shows off what Royal Caribbean does best: true fam­ily va­ca­tions.

The Mi­ami-based cruise line’s new­est and big­gest ship, mea­sur­ing 238 feet tall and 1,188 feet long, hits plenty of high notes. Like all of the Oa­sis class ships, it has seven neigh­bor­hoods, which pro­vide plenty of space for its 5,518 guests (based on dou­ble oc­cu­pancy).

Much of the en­ter­tain­ment, din­ing and ad­ven­tures the ship of­fers are de­signed for kids and adults to en­joy to­gether — from the in­cred­i­ble “Flight… Dare to Dream” stage show and the jaw-drop­ping “HiRO” in the AquaTheater, to the pi­ano stair­case and the kids’ menu at the Won­der­land din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

The Sym­phony of the Seas is also the only Royal Caribbean ship with an Ul­ti­mate Fam­ily Suite, which brings the party in­side with a two-story slide, Lego wall, multi-level climber, pri­vate whirlpool and more.

The fam­ily fo­cus doesn’t mean the ship is any less fun for adults with­out kids, and Sym­phony does have the adult-only So­lar­ium on the front of the ship for those truly want­ing to get away. But for fam­i­lies look­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence a va­ca­tion to­gether, rather than tuck­ing the kids away in the kids club ev­ery day, the Sym­phony of the Seas is pitch­per­fect.

The thrills

The fam­ily that plays to­gether stays to­gether, es­pe­cially when there are plenty of photo op­por­tu­ni­ties along the way. On the top decks at the rear of the ship, fam­i­lies of all ages can en­joy a nau­ti­cal-themed mini-golf course, table ten­nis and a sports court for bas­ket­ball and soc­cer. For those who meet height re­quire­ments, there is also a zip line over the Board­walk nine sto­ries be­low, two FlowRider surf­ing sim­u­la­tors and the Ul­ti­mate Abyss – a 10-story slide that is the tallest slide at sea.

The Per­fect Storm is a trio of wa­ter slides near the front of the ship that in­cludes side-by-side rac­ers and a slide that emp­ties into a bowl, which riders

can cir­cle sev­eral times (de­pend­ing on their size and weight) be­fore drop­ping down a fi­nal slide into the splash­down lane.

In be­tween are four pools, nu­mer­ous hot tubs and SplashAway Bay splash pads and slides for younger cruis­ers. On Sym­phony of the Seas, each pool and splash pad (but not whirlpools) on the main pool deck has a des­ig­nated life­guard to keep an ex­tra eye on your lit­tle ones.

In­side the ship is more fun for fam­i­lies, in­clud­ing two ar­cades, an “Es­cape the Ru­bi­con” es­cape room ex­pe­ri­ence (ex­tra fee ap­plies), the Board­walk carousel and kids mul­ti­level climber, two rock-climb­ing walls, a glow-in-the-dark “Bat­tle for Planet Z” laser tag and an ice skat­ing rink.

The pi­ano stair­case lead­ing up to the Wind­jam­mer buf­fet is a high­light, light­ing up and play­ing the the next note in a song with ev­ery step.

The chills

Not all of the fam­ily en­ter­tain­ment in­volves an adren­a­line rush. Fam­i­lies can also sit back and en­joy them­selves to­gether with an “An­chors Aweigh” pa­rade, bat­tle and cel­e­bra­tion along the Royal Prom­e­nade on ship days.

If the kids can man­age to stay awake, they can ex­pe­ri­ence the bal­loon drop at mid­night on the Prom­e­nade on the first day of ev­ery cruise, which is a treat for par­ty­go­ers of all ages.

Sym­phony of the Seas also of­fers free Ad­ven­ture Art – in­clud­ing ex­clu­sive Royal Caribbean Muf­falo Potato! art ses­sions that teach all ages to draw us­ing num­bers and let­ters – and the Ad­ven­ture Science Lab, which al­lows kids and fam­i­lies to try hands-on ex­per­i­ments. Free dance lessons and jew­elry mak­ing are also of­fered, and Sym­phony has dive-in movies on the pool deck on se­lect evenings.

For a fee, fam­i­lies can also take cup­cake, sushi­mak­ing and other culi­nary classes, but sign up early, be­cause such of­fer­ings tend to fill up.

The shows

Cruise ship en­ter­tain­ment of­ten ap­peals to a much older crowd or isn’t fam­ily friendly. But Royal Caribbean’s Sym­phony orig­i­nal pro­duc­tions in­clude great mu­sic and even bet­ter ex­e­cu­tion.

Even the safety video shown dur­ing the manda­tory muster drill be­fore the ship set sail is en­ter­tain­ing. The “Mis­sion Im­pos­si­ble”type film de­liv­ers im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion in the guise of a spy ca­per.

In the Royal Theater, the Broad­way pro­duc­tion of “Hair­spray” shares top billing with a Royal Caribbean orig­i­nal, “Flight… Dare to Dream,” which cov­ers hu­man flight from fu­ture space travel back to the in­ven­tion of the air­plane. The show in­cludes songs by Sara Bareilles, Michael Jack­son, Mar­i­lyn Man­son, Shakira and many oth­ers, and a tribute to the fallen he­roes who have con­trib­uted to ad­vances in flight. The show ends with a por­trayal of the Wright broth­ers’ first flight that had the au­di­ence on its feet.

The re­ac­tion to the AquaTheater show “HiRO” was much the same. Pow­er­ful drums, beau­ti­ful and ex­pres­sive ae­rial danc­ing, syn­chro­nized swim­ming, balanc­ing acts, chore­ographed bat­tles and high div­ing drew gasps and cheers through­out the show.

Great mu­sic is a theme on Sym­phony that con­tin­ues in the ice show “1977.” A fleet of drones does the in­tro­duc­tion in a scene that is per­fect for the time-trav­el­ing theme of the show. When the skat­ing be­gins, the cos­tumes, chore­og­ra­phy and ex­e­cu­tion are ex­cel­lent, and the small Stu­dio B venue

brings the ac­tion close.

There are other wa­ter and ice shows, AquaNa­tion and iSkate, both of which highly rec­om­mended, but they were not fea­tured on the short Mi­ami in­tro­duc­tion cruise I was on.

The din­ing

Royal Caribbean isn’t known for great food, but the spe­cialty restau­rants on Sym­phony break that mold.

The most whim­si­cal of the of­fer­ings, Won­der­land, re-cre­ates a tea party with small plates of imag­i­na­tive fu­sion fare, such as Liq­uid Lob­ster, Mad Hat­ter’s Pur­ple Pot­ted Shrimp and Crispy Crab Cones.

It doesn’t sound like the place for kids, but Won­der­land ap­proaches its kids menu with as much whimsy as its adult menu. The mac­a­roni and cheese comes in fried pasta tubes filled with cheese, and the or­ganic pop­corn chicken is served in ed­i­ble pa­per that my daugh­ter loved. Both come with spe­cial sauces such as Al­ice’s ketchup, ba­nana ketchup and honey mus­tard.

Pre­sen­ta­tion is key at Won­der­land, with top marks go­ing to The Bird’s Nest (an ed­i­ble nest and eggs served un­der glass filled with smoke) and the choco­late ball dessert that is melted to re­veal a va­ri­ety of mousses.

Won­der­land has chairs with bunny ears and a

menu that must be painted with wa­ter-dipped paint­brushes to read it. Oc­ca­sional vis­its from the Mad Hat­ter round out the ex­pe­ri­ence, mak­ing Won­der­land my daugh­ter’s fa­vorite din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence – even above the ice cream ma­chine that squeezes out free ice cream from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Deck 15.

Play­mak­ers was our sec­ond-fa­vorite spe­cialty din­ing, with cheese-topped fries, cheese-and-ba­con­topped slid­ers and won­der­fully saucy chicken wings. Other spe­cialty op­tions in­clude Hooked seafood restau­rant, Izumi hibachi grill, Chops Grille, 150 Cen­tral Park and Jaime’s Ital­ian.

My fa­vorite ca­sual eater­ies don’t in­volve ex­tra fees – Park Café, with its made-to-or­der pani­nis and sal­ads and a well-stocked dessert dis­play – and El Loco Fresh, a Mex­i­can eatery with a tacos, bur­ri­tos, que­sadil­las, na­chos, tres leches and an im­pres­sive salsa bar.

The kids club

Royal Caribbean’s award-win­ning Ad­ven­ture Ocean pro­gram is free un­til

10 p.m. for potty-trained kids ages 3 and up, and

$6-$8 an hour for ages 6 months to 3. Late-night hours un­til 2 a.m. are $7 per hour, giv­ing par­ents an af­ter-hours op­tion for see­ing shows or en­joy­ing other nightlife. Pro­gram­ming is of­fered daily for ages Aqua­nauts (3-5), Ex­plor­ers (6-8) and Voy­agers (9-11), plus there are pre­teen and teen spa­ces and ac­tiv­i­ties.

To pro­tect chil­dren with food al­ler­gies, no food is al­lowed in the Aqua­nauts, Ex­plor­ers and Voy­agers ar­eas.

Art and science pro­gram­ming is in­cluded in the kids club, as well as spe­cial events such as tal­ent shows, and par­ents can rent toys for their rooms through the Toy Land­ing pro­gram.

The suites

Like many other new ships, Sym­phony of the Seas of­fers a spe­cial suite class, com­plete with larger rooms and ex­clu­sive ameni­ties, such as a sun deck and restau­rant ac­ces­si­ble only to suite guests. Each suite has a Royal Ge­nie, like a per­sonal but­ler who can help plan ex­pe­ri­ences and ex­clu­sive tours, re­stock your fa­vorites in­side your room, and es­cort you on and off the ship.

The Ul­ti­mate Fam­ily Suite is not the largest of these ex­clu­sive ac­com­mo­da­tions, but it is the most fun. The suite sleeps eight and in­cludes a video game sta­tion with a Switch, XBox and PlayS­ta­tion; air hockey and table ten­nis; a Lego wall; a whirlpool and a mul­ti­level climber on the bal­cony; a slide from the kids room on the sec­ond floor to the first floor; a se­cret hatch in the door to the sec­ond bed­room; two full baths; a pop­corn ma­chine; and lots of fun seat­ing, in­clud­ing sev­eral nooks un­der the stairs.

Pack­ing ad­vice

If you’re plan­ning to sail on Sym­phony of the Seas or Har­mony of the Seas, be aware of the ride re­stric­tions.

Tank tops and shorter shorts and skirts are not al­lowed on the Ul­ti­mate Abyss slide, and the min­i­mum height is 44 inches. Riders are not al­lowed to carry any­thing that does not fit in a pocket. You also can’t ride wet.

The rules are good ones: I saw skinned knees and skinned shoul­ders on riders who had slipped on their sides in­side the slide, even on those with cov­ered shoul­ders. So pack a thicker shirt and longer shorts or jeans for your slide. Long pants are also re­quired for ice skat­ing.

Shorts and sneak­ers or socks are re­quired for the zip line — no skirts or flipflops al­lowed.

The height re­quire­ment for the FlowRider and zip line is 52 inches, and the Per­fect Storm wa­ter slides have a min­i­mum of 48 inches, so pre­pare your kids for dis­ap­point­ment if they don’t meet those heights. They can al­ways slide on the SplashAway Bay slides.

Fi­nally, be aware that al­though you are cruis­ing the Caribbean on Sym­phony of the Seas, you’ll likely be in­side for most of the evening, and the ship can get cold, es­pe­cially for kids with hair still wet from a shower. Pack light jack­ets to keep the chill away.

If you go

Sym­phony of the Seas will sail the Caribbean year-round out of Mi­ami and se­lect cruises will in­clude “Per­fect Day at Coco Cay,” Royal Caribbean’s planned pri­vate is­land and wa­ter park, which is sched­uled to open in May. The ship docks at the new Royal Caribbean Ter­mi­nal at the Port of Mi­ami, and sev­eral el­e­ments — in­clud­ing the Royal Caribbean app that al­lows pas­sen­gers to up­load photo and pass­port in­for­ma­tion be­fore they travel — speed up the board­ing and dis­em­barka­tion process.

Get more in­for­ma­tion and prices at royal caribbean.com.

JEN­NIFER JHON/SUN SEN­TINEL

The Per­fect Storm wa­ter­slides in­clude the Su­per­cell slide.

JEN­NIFER JHON/SUN SEN­TINEL

Din­ers must paint the Won­der­land menu with wa­ter to be able to read it.

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