Inside Royal Caribbean's Symphony Of The Seas, World's Biggest Cruise Ship
After spending the first six months of her life in the Mediterranean, the world’s largest cruise ship at 228,081 tons, Symphony of the Seas arrived this past week in the United States where she will now homeport in Miami, also the headquarters of parent Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. Cruising, in case you haven’t been keeping score, is a big business. The company employs over 75,000 people worldwide, including 2,200 on its new flagship. Between its Royal Caribbean brand, Celebrity Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises, and other holdings, the company generated nearly $ 8.8 billion in revenues last year. Earlier this year it announced an agreement to purchase a majority stake in Monaco-based luxury and adventure line Silversea Cruises.
The cruise industry association, CLIA, reports over 25 million people sailed on one of its members last year, which includes Royal Caribbean rivals such as Carnival Corporation & PLC, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. and MSC Cruises SA. For Symphony of the Seas, her new itineraries will alternate seven-day sailings to the Eastern and Western Caribbean, two of the most popular routings. Michael Bayley, the president and CEO of the Royal Caribbean brand says the goal is not to necessarily take customers from competitors but to attract new cruisers.
The experience of sailing on Symphony of the Seas for its 5,500 guests actually begins at its shiny $ 250 million Terminal A at Port of Miami, opened earlier this month on Dodge Island, and for the exclusive use of Royal Caribbean. Forget anything you’ve ever experienced when boarding a ship, not always a pleasant experience. Designed to be a striking addition to the city’s skyline, if offers plentiful baggage drop-off points, fast track check-in, and expedited security. “Ten minutes from car to bar,” long-serving company chairman and CEO Richard D. Fain quipped.
Getting guests on the ship faster is a good thing not only for vacationers but also shareholders. In 2017 the company generated 28.1% of its revenues from selling onboard services, such as drinks and meals in specialty restaurants, a jump of more than 4% from 2015. In its Annual Report, the company even pointed to “a $ 125.3 million increase in onboard revenue attributable to higher spending…primarily due to our revenue enhancing initiatives, including beverage package, shore excursion and specialty restaurant sales (and) internet and other telecommunication service.” Get onboard fast, swipe your key card to buy a drink, click on your smartphone to buy Wifi access, and start sharing to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. There are even suggested locations for the best spots to snap and post that will make your friends and followers jealous, and maybe cruisers too.
Back aboard Symphony Of The Seas, its position as largest in the world is a bit like one of those skyscrapers claiming to be the tallest building by adding an antenna on the top. In fact, it is part of the Oasis Class vessels with the first, Oasis of the Seas launched in 2009. Symphony is about 1,000 tons bigger than Harmony of the Seas, enabling her to capture the crown.
Fain pointed out Symphony of the Seas is 30% more efficient than her oldest sibling, a significant feat, particularly when you consider the line spent $ 681 million on fuel last year. If you are wondering how one gets so much improvement out of what’s essentially the same structure, Bayley said it comes from numerous incremental changes to the hull design, including pushing millions of bubbles under the ship to reduce friction as she moves through the water. There are also new generation propellers and LED lighting, although onboard activities only consume 30% of the energy needed, perhaps a reason more lines are staying in port later into the evening and even overnight.
If you don’t really care about financials and environmental type issues, the bottom line for guests is that while Symphony of the Seas may not be groundbreaking, it gives Royal Caribbean a chance to again dazzle you with a host of its favorite tricks such as onboard ice skating rinks, zip lines, rock climbing walls, water slides worthy of any theme park, flow riders, aquatic shows with high board divers, full size carousels, automated bartenders and its own Central Park, a lush garden like stretch of the ship with over 20,000 plants, signature restaurants, bars and high-end shopping, including Cartier, Bulgari and Hublot boutiques. Open to the elements from the top, but surrounded on each side by a half dozen stories of cabin balconies that face inwards and glass encased elevator banks on either end, it is easy to forget you are on a ship.
Nearly four football fields long (1,188 feet) and 215.5 feet wide with 18 total decks, 16 of which are for guests, Symphony of the Seas has 2,759 staterooms. Built at STX France in St. Nazaire, the ship features seven distinct neighborhoods, including Central Park, a Boardwalk area with arcade and full-size carousel, Royal Promenade, an enclosed version of Central Park with its own Starbucks, pizza parlor and shops, plus various pool areas, a spa and fitness center equal to the best that you would find at any luxury resort, and a Youth Zone.
Among the highlights is The Ultimate Abyss, a 10-story waterslide Bayley personally had a hand in designing. His goal, he said, was to provide an experience that would scare his kids. The Perfect Storm is another trio of waterslides, and Battle For Planet Z, is a laser tag game. Altogether, there are 24 pools, waterslides and flowriders that contain 94 times the water in one eruption of Old Faithful.
There are over 300 different menu options are served at 23 restaurants, 11 of which are complimentary. Specialty options range from Johnny Rockets to Izumi Hibachi & Sushi (The acrobatic feats of its Teppan chefs are only equaled by the quality of their culinary skills), Chops Grille, Wonderland, as in Alice, and Jamie’s Italian from celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. Bartenders have recipes for 124 specialty cocktails, including Oyster Shots at Hooked Seafood. There are 161 types of candy at Sugar Beach.
One new element on Symphony is the Ultimate Family Suite, located on the aft of Deck 17, complete with its own game room and indoor two-story slide. Bayley said it was originally concocted as a marketing ploy to highlight that cruises are great family vacations. It’s success – it’s mostly sold out for the next year with rates running more than $ 80,000 per week during holidays – has made executives contemplate how they can add more of the type in the future, although likely a scaled down version and lower price point.
In terms of entertainment, in my cabin was a 48-page booklet with all the various shows. There was so much going on I had to look a couple times to make sure it wasn’t meant for all of the line’s ships, but indeed it was just for Symphony. There’s a remake of Hairspray, shows at the AquaTheater, with high divers, acrobats and synchronized swimmers. Flight is an original product that chronicles the evolution of flight from the Wright Brothers to a future commercial flight to Mars. There are also ice skating shows, comedy, karaoke, salsa dancing, multiple live music venues, pretty much anything you can imagine.
If you prefer clicking to flipping pulp pages, that’s not a problem. The entertainment guide and virtually everything you want to do is also available on an app you can download for free. Bayley said the company is “investing hundreds of millions of dollars” into its onboard technology so you can order drinks, another pillow for your room, chat with friends, or even book your next cruise right from your own smartphone, whether you are sitting at the pool, on your balcony or while waiting for dessert.
Perhaps the fact that Royal Caribbean is still printing paper catalogs underscores that Bayley says its Oasis Class vessels are popular with everyone from budget-minded customers and Millennials to jetsetters, retirees and particularly multigenerational groups of families and friends. The layout of the ship enables guests of every age and desire to find activities to excite them, and the variety of dining options provides places they can come together at mealtimes. He says its oversize Royal Class Suites, many with large private balconies and a Royal Genie, your own Johnny-on-the-spot, are popular with honeymooners seeking seclusion and romance. All restaurants have tables for two, even the massive three-story Main Dining Room. Next year, Royal Caribbean will open its own private island it has tabbed Perfect Day at Coco Cay, adding an extra reason to pick Symphony of the Seas.
If Symphony of the Seas is an evolution instead of revolution, and Royal Caribbean has already done ice rinks, bumper cars and rock climbing walls, what’s the next thing the brand is going to bring to the high seas that nobody has done yet? “We have a list with dozens of ideas,” Bayley told me. Asked if he would share one or two examples, he said, “No, because we might actually do them.” In the meantime, Symphony of the Seas demonstrates that evolutions can be satisfying as well.
Doug Gollan, Contributor
More at https://www.forbes.com/sites/douggollan/2018/11/17/inside-royal-caribbeans-symphony-of-the-seas-worlds-biggest-cruise-ship/