Several words clearly never made it into Royal Caribbean International’s lexicon. Small is one, modest another. As the cruise line prepares to launch the world’s biggest ship, the superlatives are out in force. Bigger, bolder, unmatched. outstanding. But who can blame them given the vessel in question, Wonder of the Seas, is, well, wondrous, a floating pleasure dome with more places to eat, sleep and play than many a land-based resort.
It’s not the first time Royal Caribbean has amazed us with the world’s biggest ship – Wonder is the fifth in a series – but because the line likes to outdo itself, each is bigger than the last. Its immediate predecessor, Symphony of the Seas, is a mere 228,081 GT (gross tonnage) and can host up to 6,680 passengers. Wonder clocks in at 236,857 GT and up to 6,988 passengers. That’s several thousand more than many a UK village.
Ironically, given there are so many passengers, this isn’t a great choice for those hoping to make new friends. It’s so big that you rarely see the same people twice and anyway most folk are on for a fun holiday with friends or family and are not too bothered about going off the beaten track when the ship gets to port. If meeting people and discovering new destinations appeals, choose something smaller. There won’t be so many places to eat or things to do, but you’ll see more and won’t feel so anonymous.
From China to the Caribbean
Wonder was originally slated to sail in China but the global health crisis has prompted Royal Caribbean to alter its deployment plans. China’s loss is our gain as instead it launches in the Caribbean in March and relocates to the Mediterranean in May, cruising out of Barcelona and Civitavecchia (the port for Rome) to top spots in Italy, France and Spain.
There is a gym on board but frankly you get lots of exercise just getting from A to B on this behemoth (especially if A is your cabin way up front and B is the dining room at the back). Finding the way is surprisingly easy. Take your bearings from the Coney Island-inspired Boardwalk at the back, leafy Central Park with its real plants and shrubs in the middle and the spa forward and you’ll never get lost. Well almost never. If you do lose your cabin among the almost 3,000 on board, touchscreen deck plans by the lifts show the way.
Loft Suites and Royal Genies
Most ships have simple choices when it comes to cabins, with rooms inside (with no window), outside (with a fixed window) or with a balcony. Wonder of the Seas is not most ships. It has all the above, but inside cabins also come with a virtual balcony or a view over the Royal Promenade, a parade of shops, bars and cafés that runs through the centre of the ship. If a balcony appeals, take your pick from a view of the sea, Central Park or the Boardwalk.
Suites are attended by Royal Genies, aka butlers, and gathered together in a new gated residence (Royal Caribbean calls it a neighborhood) that has a sundeck with a plunge pool and bar, and private lounge and restaurant, Coastal Kitchen, where diners can come and go as they wish. The Royal Loft Suite is the best address in the house; for families and multi-generational gatherings, check out the Ultimate Family Suite. It’s set over two storeys and holds up to 10 people.
Pub grub or Bionic Bar?
With a ship this size comes plenty of choice. Take the dining options. Steaks in Chops Grille, fish in Hooked, Italian in Giovannis, fine dining in posh 150 Central Park. Mason Jar Restaurant and Bar is new and adds a touch of southern comfort with its cosy porch, swing and dishes such as green fried tomatoes, cinnamon rolls, crab beignets, shrimp and grits, while those with a taste for the fanciful can go down the rabbit hole in Wonderland and dine on liquid lobster, baby vegetables in ‘soil’ and snap, crackle and pork. All that’s before you even get to the main dining rooms, burger bars, grab-and-go Mexican tacos, Playmakers’ pub grub, various cafés and more. Let’s just say, going hungry is not one of the options.
You can’t walk far without tripping over a bar either. The Vue, a new cantilevered watering hole above the pool deck, is best for sea views and sunsets, while poolside Lime & Coconut has live music with a Caribbean vibe. Vintages in Central Park is for wine lovers. On the Royal Promenade, cocktails are shaken but not stirred by robots in the Bionic Bar and the Rising Tide Bar carries drinkers up and down between the promenade on deck five and Central Park on deck eight.
Paradise for daredevils
There’s more to this ship than eating and drinking though. There are clubs for all ages from toddlers to teens, pools galore, a surf park, zipwire and rock-climbing walls. Playscape is a new play area for youngsters; for an adrenalin rush, a new boomerang-style water slide ends by flinging riders up a chute before a final splash down. And then there is the dare-devils Ultimate Abyss, a 100ft slide where you plummet from deck 16 to the Boardwalk on deck six in just 13 seconds. Is it all a bit over the top? Of course it is, but isn’t that what people have come on board for?
Return to the Boardwalk after dark for more dare-devil stunts, this time courtesy of the high divers in the AquaTheatre who plunge head first from a platform 60ft above the pool. It is brilliant, as is the ice show, and all the more incredible when you remember you are on a ship. That is easy to forget as most of time you can’t even feel this leviathan moving. If you’re not a cruiser, or are just after a fun holiday at sea, this is the ship for you.
A seven-night cruise round-trip from Civitavecchia (for Rome) departing May 19 and calling into Naples, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Marseilles and La Spezia (for Florence and Pisa) costs from £799 per person excluding flights (royalcaribbean.com).