Hey there! You may have noticed that I took two weeks off from blogging! I’ve had this post written for a couple weeks now but found myself subbing so many classes I haven’t had much time to edit. It’s important to protect your energy and mental health, so I’m proud of myself for recognizing that I needed a break. I’m officially back to weekly posting! Thanks for sticking around.
This week’s post is all about my experience on Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship (currently). If you’re interested in hearing my thoughts on the ship, continue reading. This is a longer post, so I’ve included links here in case you want to jump to specific sections:
As much as I loved this cruise, I can’t lie. The embarkation process was a nightmare. The new Miami Terminal A was built since my last cruise so I was expecting a more streamlined process. Our entire party was Crown & Anchor Gold members and supposedly would get access to priority check-in, but there was no evidence of any priority check-in from what I could tell. There was a massive crowd of thousands of people with no one telling us where to go. There wasn’t really a line, but more of a giant blob. Of course it was swelteringly hot outside and we were delayed in boarding by a couple hours due to the computers being down. Chaotic and stressful are the best words I can use to describe it. This doesn’t reflect on the ship at all; it’s really a Miami port issue. The stress of the situation is just amplified when there are more than 6,000 passengers trying to board the same ship and crowding around the area with no direction on what’s happening. Just like my experience with my last cruise, Miami port employees are generally incredibly rude. Once again this isn’t a reflection on Royal Caribbean, but when you’re preparing to go on vacation the last thing you want to deal with is nasty attitude from people at the port.
Symphony of the Seas is an absolutely gorgeous ship. There was clearly a ton of thought put into the design. From the elevators to the floors to the staircases, everything is beautifully designed and there is stunning artwork everywhere you go. We had an interior stateroom and found it very spacious for two people. The bathroom was also very modern with great shower pressure.
The ship is so huge and has so much to offer that I can’t possibly talk about all of it, but here were some of my favorite areas: The Boardwalk is right by the aqua theater and is such a cool place, especially at night. You really get the feel of a carnival here. There’s a candy shop and hot dog stand, as well as a carousel! Playmakers sports bar is located here as well.
Central Park is a nice area where you can walk around and feel like you’re outdoors in your favorite city park. There are real plants and trees and lots of benches to sit down and relax. Central Park 150, one of the specialty restaurants, is located here. I didn’t try it, but the people in my party who did really enjoyed it. Park Cafe is here as well.
I was super impressed by the gym and spa. I didn’t get any spa treatments but it smelled amazing and looked very clean. The spa leads into the gym and also sells healthy shakes/smoothies. I worked out a couple times at the gym and couldn’t believe how much equipment there was! TRX, weights, cardio equipment, you name it. Plus, it was so spacious!
I spent time in the Solarium every day of the cruise! The Solarium is for people ages 16 and up, so it’s a nice escape from some of the other pool/lounging areas where there are typically lots of kids throughout the day. There are pools, hot tubs, a bar, and plenty of places to catch some sun. In my opinion, the Solarium is one of the most aesthetically pleasing locations on the ship.
Would you believe that we only got to try one waterslide? There are several on the ship, but we just spent time doing so many other activities that we didn’t get a chance to try them all. The line moved quickly and the slide was really fun! There is also Flowriding (simulated surfing) and ziplining, which we unfortunately didn’t get a chance to try either. Somehow, even with over 6,000 passengers on board, the ship usually didn’t feel crowded. The Windjammer got a bit chaotic at times, but we never had issues finding chairs by the pool. We found ourselves at the karaoke bar most nights. They hosted some fun games and had lots of open karaoke. We did plenty of people watching and two of us even got up and did karaoke! This was a really popular place at night and we did find it difficult to get seating. If you plan to hang out there at night, get there EARLY to claim a spot!
This was a 7-night cruise leaving from Miami. We stopped in St. Kitts, St. Thomas, and Nassau. Apart from embarkation day and departure day, we had 3 sea days. I didn’t get off the ship in St. Thomas, and we had excursions through the cruise line at the other ports. I’ve been to St. Thomas before (and wasn’t very impressed with it) and since there’s so much to do on the ship, I felt no need to get off!
If you’re going to get off the ship in St. Kitts, do an excursion. It doesn’t need to be one you book through the cruise line - check online for cheaper prices. But just walking around the port area won’t be fun - just stay on the ship! Trust me on this one. You’ll be harassed left and right by people trying to sell you things. It’s nearly impossible to just sit and enjoy a nice meal or have a drink without being solicited. On top of that, there really isn’t much there. On my last cruise we stopped in Key West and were able to just walk around the port area and have a great day, but I wouldn’t recommend trying this in St. Kitts.
I ended up doing the Beach Break excursion through Royal Caribbean. It cost $43 a person and since we had some onboard credit, it seemed pretty reasonable. The excursion took us to Cockleshell Bay, a beach located in an upscale residential area. The drive was incredibly scenic and we saw some amazing views. It’s a drastic difference from what you’ll see near the port! On the way, your driver may stop and let you out to take photos at a mountain. It’s absolutely gorgeous - be sure to get pictures! But stay away from the guy with the monkey. He’ll charge you $20 to take a picture on YOUR cell phone with the monkey. Plus, the monkey was really angry and was running all over us. Not a good feeling when it’s an animal that has long nails.
The “welcome drink” you get upon arrival is a cup of juice. If you’re expecting an alcoholic beverage, sorry to burst your bubble! The beach, although not the most gorgeous beach I’ve seen, was nice. You’re provided with umbrella chairs which is great! No food is included with this excursion. My mom got a massage from one of the women selling them on the beach and didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t get one, but based on her experience I wouldn’t waste your money. You don’t really get much time at the beach, but I was ready to get back on the ship when it was time to go anyway. Overall, it was a nice and relaxing couple of hours at the beach.
I stayed on the ship because I don’t really care for St. Thomas. Had this been a ship with less offerings I may have gotten off to walk around for a bit, but I didn’t find it necessary. I was happy to spend another day on the ship! If you want to get off in St. Thomas, I’d recommend a day trip to St. John and a visit to Trunk Bay. It was named the world’s most photogenic beach, and it really is beautiful.
If you’ve never been to the Atlantis, I’d recommend visiting as an excursion. The excursions are very expensive, but the waterpark is awesome and the beach on the resort is AMAZING. No rocks or shells and the water is beautiful. Jet skiing on the beach is super fun as well! I’ve stayed at the resort for a regular vacation twice and did an excursion there on my last cruise, so I decided to do something different this time.
We initially planned to do the Blue Lagoon excursion which was pretty expensive. We met a really nice family on the ship who had some family members get sick, so they sold us their tickets at 50% of the original price for the Pearl Island excursion. I don’t remember the exact cost, but I know the original price of the excursion was over $100 per person.
To be honest, I was pretty disappointed with the Pearl Island excursion. We got lucky being able to buy tickets from someone at such a discounted price, but in my opinion it’s definitely not worth what the cruise line is selling it for (or even half that). First off, the Nassau port was a disaster. I don’t remember it being that bad on my last cruise, but it was incredibly disorganized and very difficult to find the meeting place. No one from the staff knew where we were supposed to go, and we kept being directed to the wrong place. Once we finally found the line we were supposed to wait in, we waited about 20 more minutes before taking a very long walk to small ferry boats. The boat ride was nice - the Nassau waters are stunning and there were some beautiful views.
By the time you actually get to Pearl Island, you probably won’t have much more than two hours there, three tops. The condition of the place just wasn’t up to par considering what most people paid to be there. Every single beach lounger we found was broken and had to be jimmied using rocks and sticks to get the umbrella to stay up. Many were rusty and ripped. The beach also had a ton of rocks and shells. It was actually pretty uncomfortable trying to get into the water, and once I was in the massive amounts of seaweed made it hard to really do much.
The food situation was my least favorite part of the excursion. Lunch was included and consisted of what you’d expect - BBQ chicken, fried fish, rice and peas, and coleslaw. I loved the rice and coleslaw. The chicken was incredibly dry and almost inedible. The fish was okay. About 5 minutes into lunch, they ran out of food and had to go make more. We waited probably 30 minutes for the food to come out so that we could eat. This was really disappointing because not only were we hungry, but waiting around for the food cut into our already limited time in the sun/on the beach. They know how many people are coming well in advance, so why they wouldn’t have enough food is beyond me. I wasn’t expecting an outstanding lunch, but the subpar food would’ve been more acceptable if it was ready when we were told it would be.
One thing I loved about the excursion, though, was the free access to kayaks and paddleboards on the beach! The attendant giving out equipment was super friendly and gave me a quick 2 minute lesson on stand up paddleboarding. I tried it and loved it! Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures, but this was the best part of my day.
If Atlantis excursions aren’t in your budget but you want a nice beach day, you might want to consider one of the free beaches in Nassau. I haven’t been to any, but I’ve seen many people have great experiences opting for that over an expensive excursion.
The entertainment on this ship was one of my favorite parts of the cruise. I took full advantage of the entertainment and saw all of the shows that were offered! Hairspray, in my opinion, was the best show of the cruise. It was Broadway quality, probably even better! The dancing, singing, and acting was seriously amazing and way exceeded my expectations. HiRo, the aqua show, was really cool. Really impressive stunts, great music, awesome dancing. If you don’t want to get wet, don’t sit in the first couple rows!
1977, the ice skating show, was so fun. A couple skaters fell down, but the costumes and stunts were great. The show takes you through a bunch of different time periods and cultures, so you get some awesome music and dancing!
Flight was another one of my favorites. There were parts that make you laugh and cry, and the finale is something you should NOT miss.
The comedy show was hilarious. We laughed to the point of tears. I honestly don’t remember the name of the main comedian, but he was pretty funny. The opener, Simeon Kirkiles, was SO funny. I don’t know how he wasn’t the headliner!
The music on this ship was so much better than on my last cruise! There are always live bands performing by the pool throughout the day which is really nice. The Silent Party was really packed and lots of fun, as well as the all white party at the Solarium. Royal Caribbean does a great job with activities programming, and there was stuff to do all day and all night. We had several different ages in our party, and everyone found stuff they enjoyed doing! Trivia, sports tournaments, competitions, outdoor Zumba, game shows...The list goes on! Make sure you don’t miss the Love & Marriage game show - it’s hilarious (but not appropriate for kids!).
I ate breakfast in the Windjammer (buffet) every day. The food, just like on my last cruise, was awesome. The buffet is HUGE and has pretty much every option you could think of. My favorite during breakfast was the avocado toast station they had each morning! Everything I tried from the Windjammer was delicious.
For lunch, I found myself eating at El Loco Fresh quite often! It’s a newer option for Royal, featuring quick Mexican fare like burritos and quesadillas. It’s close to the pools and sports areas which is where I was most days, so it was a convenient option. Even though it’s a quick grab and go place, the food is freshly made and nothing is sitting out for long periods of time. The quesadillas and burritos were awesome with a side of rice, some chips + queso, and a small cup of flan for dessert! There’s a soft serve ice cream machine nearby which is great for a day at the pool! I also ate lunch a couple days in the Windjammer.
For dinner, I ate at the Main Dining Room 3 out of 7 nights. The MDR on this ship was much more impressive than the one on Enchantment of the Seas, understandably so. I thoroughly enjoyed all of my meals there, but there were two standouts! I saw jerk chicken on the menu one night and had to try it. It came with plantains, coconut rice and a festival dumpling. This was seriously some of the best jerk chicken I’ve ever tasted. If you see this on the menu on your cruise and are a meat eater, make sure you try it! (Side note: I typically stick to a pescatarian diet, but I allowed myself to be a little more lenient on the cruise. I try to avoid eating meat other than fish as much as possible.)
My other favorite was, of course, lobster night. Lobster is one of my favorite things to eat, so when I heard the MDR does a lobster night at no additional cost, I knew I had to be there! They were some of the best lobster tails I’ve had, especially with the butter on top. Be sure to ask your waiters what night lobster night will be on your cruise. Portions at the Main Dining Room tend to be on the smaller side (with the exception of the jerk chicken, which came with a lot of food). But don’t worry - as with all Royal ships, you can always ask for a second appetizer/entree/dessert at no extra cost.
I ate dinner two nights in the Windjammer and was seriously blown away by the number of options and how delicious everything was! From soul food to Jamaican to Indian to Korean to American to Italian and more, there was something for everyone. And the desserts… Unreal. So many different types of cakes, pastries, cookies, and brownies. Try dinner in the Windjammer at least one night!
For late night snacks, Sorrento’s, the pizza restaurant, is open until 3am. The pizza is good enough (nothing special) and nice when you’ve had a long day/night! They also serve some appetizers. There’s a hot dog stand on the Boardwalk open during the day, but we never had a chance to try it!
I tried two specialty restaurants on this cruise: Solarium Bistro and Wonderland.
Apparently a lot of people don’t know that Solarium Bistro is a FREE specialty restaurant. It’s Mediterranean-inspired food and it’s delicious. You do need a reservation, so just be sure to book ahead of time. We decided to book here for the first night of the cruise to avoid some of the crowding we expected at other places. We were the only party there and received excellent service. The salmon was perfect and the desserts were unique and crazy good! If spending extra on dining isn’t in your budget but you still want a specialty dining experience, Solarium Bistro is the perfect option!
Wonderland is the dining experience of a lifetime and I highly recommend eating here if you can. Make reservations early because it’s sure to book up quickly. Wonderland is a specialty restaurant inspired by Alice in Wonderland, and each course is inspired by one of the elements. I won’t spoil all of the experience for you, but this was the most impressively unique food I’ve ever tried.
To be honest, I’m scared to try any cruise line other than Royal mainly because I don’t want to be disappointed by the food. Imagine being stuck at sea for 7 days with food you don’t like! While the ship had plenty of premium dining options, the free options were still outstanding.
This cruise was the best vacation I’ve been on, and my family felt the same. My mother has very high standards when it comes to vacations and didn’t expect to enjoy cruising, but she loved it! While actually getting on the ship was difficult, once we were on the experience was top-notch. From the entertainment to the dining to the service to the staterooms, everything exceeded my expectations. I promised myself I’d come back on this ship, I’m hoping to make it back on Symphony in 2020!
Taught barre class (sub for another barre instructor)
Taught barre class
Taught barre class
Taught barre class
Have you cruised before? Have you been on Symphony of the Seas or any other Royal Caribbean ships? Do you have any upcoming summer trips? Did you reach your exercise goals last week?
Let’s chat in the comments!
Dominique Cheylise, 25 year-old engineer and group fitness instructor.