After traveling as much as we had for the last year, our original summer plans were to stay at home. However, our close friends, the Simpson family, invited us to join them on a trip to Aruba. Both of our kids are best friends with their youngest two children. This is the family who joined us in Grand Cayman last year, and we had the best time. Unfortunately, in mid-June, their son, Christian (Kenneth’s best friend) was diagnosed with brain cancer, which obviously meant that they wouldn’t be joining us in Aruba. We didn’t want to go on a jointly planned vacation without them, so with just 2 weeks to go, we found a cabin available on Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas and quickly booked that.
Our ship left from Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale on a Saturday, so we booked a flight to FLL on Friday to give ourselves a night in South Florida prior to joining our ship. Imagine our surprise when we found out that the Simpsons had planned a long weekend getaway before Christian started radiation treatment and they had chosen…you guessed it…Fort Lauderdale…and they were staying at the Conrad, which was a 5 minute walk from the W where we were staying. We all decided not to tell our kids ahead of time that we planned to meet up on the beach that day…and their reactions were just priceless. It was an amazing day to enjoy the Florida weather with our dear friends (even though we did get interrupted by an afternoon FL thunderstorm!). We all met for dinner at Wine Garden , which is a delightful little Italian restaurant near the Conrad in one of the historic old hotels on Breakers Ave. After breakfast on Saturday AM, the girls tearfully said goodbye and we were off to our ship.
Embarkation for the Harmony was among the smoothest we’ve ever experienced. As usual, they took our tagged bags when we arrived at the port, and we went through security. We’d done the online check in at home before we left, which included uploading security photos so that they didn’t have to be taken at the port. After a quick check of our travel documents, we were onboard the ship and headed up to the suite lounge for a quick drink and snack as we knew our stateroom would be ready in about 30 mins.
We booked a Sky Class Suite on this trip, cabin 11660, which was, literally, the only suite available on the ship by the time we booked, so we did not choose it. However, the room itself was quite nice with lots of storage, and the location on deck 11 near the Aft lifts was also really convenient. My only two real complaints about the room is that I wish they’d put a door between the Master bedroom and the rest of the stateroom rather than a curtain, and I wish there’d been more than one bathroom. But those are minor complaints. We quickly changed and took advantage of the emptier ship to swim and try out the water slides. Later, after the muster drill (using the same safety video we saw on Celebrity last summer), we were off.
Our first dinner, we chose to eat at Chops to satisfy Belinda, our little carnivore. It was ok. The service was good, and the kids really enjoyed their dinner. Coming from Texas, however, we have very high expectations for a steakhouse, and it’s really tough to meet those. The service was good and attentive, and we didn’t really ever have to flag down the waiter for anything.
Our first stop was Labadee, Haiti, RCCL’s private island. We came here as a couple for the first time before we were ever married, and we had to tender to get to the island, which was really just a beach, a bar, and a place to get lunch. Boy, has that changed. After taking the golf cart to the private area of the beach reserved for suite guests and getting our chairs situated, we headed out to ride the Dragon’s Tail coaster. This was so fun. They weren’t busy, so even though we only bought a single ride ticket, the ride attendants let us go through a second time. Both kids LOVED it, and would have ridden all day if we’d let them. However, mom and dad wanted to spend some time on the beach, so we spent the rest of the day swimming and playing in the sand. It was gorgeous.
That night, we had what will likely be remembered as the worst meal we’ve ever had on a cruise ship. We went to Izumi, which is the Hibachi restaurant on the ship. Our kids usually really enjoy this, even though on most cruise ships, this food isn’t great…it’s all about the show. This night. they had literally packed people into the restaurant. The table next to the one we were at was drunk and a little out of control. They were getting sake bombs and cursing loudly. They were so loud that we couldn’t even hear our chef. Another man at our table got up and complained to the maitre’d, but it didn’t make a difference. We had trouble getting our waiter to refill glasses because it was so crowded, he couldn’t get through (and also couldn’t hear us). We did complain after the fact to our concierge, and while the Izumi manager did come and pay us a visit, all he did was apologize and offer us a return visit (um, no thanks).
Moving along, our next stop after another sea day was Falmouth, Jamaica. Again, we’ve stopped here before, and other than a quick shopping trip at the port, we’ve never done anything here since the beaches in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios are over an hour bus ride away. However, they have opened a resort 10 minutes from the port called Blue Waters Beach Club, and we decided to book a transfer to this resort from the ship. The day was beautiful and the water was clear and calm. The drinks, while not included, were reasonably priced, but not very good. The only wine available was a Jamaican wine (who knew that even existed?). All in all, though, a positive experience.
Our last stop was Cozumel, Mexico. Usually we go to Paradise Beach when we are here, but this time we decided to try something new and headed to Playa Mia. The beach was crazy busy because there were also several Carnival ships in port. But the drinks were pretty good and so was the food we ordered (the only place to get decent Mexican food outside of Texas is Mexico, haha!). The day was so HOT, even though the weather was beautiful otherwise, that we spent most of our time in the water and didn’t take many photos.
We did enjoy the many activities on the ship…especially the kids. Kenneth took advantage of the water slides, the zip line, and the FlowRider (all of which Belinda was too short to try). Both kids rode the carousel and tried the rock wall…and spent endless hours sliding down the Ultimate Abyss…a 10-story twisting purple slide down the back of the ship. It’s really a fun slide, even if most of us did scream a little on the way down!
Now, our overall impression of Royal Caribbean is mixed. We enjoyed all the activities on the ship, and were truly never bored. Our kids had a fantastic time, which is obviously important or we wouldn’t have a good time. Their shows were all really good…and there was a variety between the broadway production of Grease, an original stage production called Columbus (which was weird, but well performed by the actors/singers/dancers), two different aqua shows, two different ice skating shows, the Las Vegas Tenors, and some comedians. The mixed drinks were typically pretty good, especially the Aperol Spritzes, and the wine selections in the restaurants were acceptable. However, we noticed what appeared to be staffing level issues throughout the ship…even in the suite restaurant and lounge. We often had to wait long periods of time to have our order taken at breakfast, and dinner seemed a bit harried as well. Getting a drink around the pool, or even sometimes at the suite lounge, took a long time as they didn’t seem to have the staffing levels to allow them to serve customers in an expeditious manner. The staff didn’t seem particularly happy, and we felt that no one really felt the desire to go above and beyond for passengers.
The atmosphere on the ship was such a stark contrast to what we felt on Celebrity last summer, which is also owned by RCL, that it was surprising. Granted, this was a very large ship and a brand that isn’t billed as their “premium” brand, but especially within the suite lounge and restaurant, it was surprising. I think Royal Caribbean actually has a huge opportunity to improve upon their premium product onboard their ships to make it an all-around good experience.