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Cruise ships growing bigger all the time: meet Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas

harmonyoftheseasHotels are going the boutique route. Cruise ships are going the opposite direction.

Each year, cruise ship operators seem to be upping their “mine is bigger and fancier than yours game.” And nobody does it better than Royal Caribbean.

The cruise line made a big splash, as it were, with its remake of the Oasis of the Seas about five years ago. Then came its ever-so-slightly bigger sister ship, Allure of the Seas. Both ships feature seven distinct “neighbourhoods,” along with a carousel and designer shops, such as Kate Spade, and carry roughly 5,400 passengers.

The Quantum of the Seas, which had it maiden voyage in November, 2014, features a giant viewing pod suspended out over the water as well as as sky-diving simulator. It weighs in at 168,666 tons and can carry 4,180 guests
Now comes word of a new and improved (gee, we can only hope so) 5,479 passenger ship for 2016 called Harmony of the Seas, the newest of the Oasis class from Royal Caribbean.

Harmony of the Seas will feature the Central Park garden theme and various neighbourhoods that cruisers have seen on Oasis an Allure of the Seas. But they’re adding three separate three-storey waterslides; better than most hotel pools by a long shot. They also are promising “larger balcony and suite staterooms than her sister ships (and) new virtual balcony staterooms.” Virtual balcony rooms have an 80-inch high-definition screen that projects the views from outside the ship into your inside room, thus providing the illusion of that great view of your ship steaming into port in San Juan.

As with the Quantum of the Seas ship, the new Harmony of the Seas will have robotic bartenders called Makr Shakr, as well as special wristbands you can use to pay for your upgraded dining experience or for a shore excursion. They also are promising high-speed Internet (at what price we don’t know) so you can talk with friends on Skype or download videos of yourself spiralling down a three-story waterslide as the ship steams between St. Maarten and St. Thomas.

Harmony of the Seas will span 16 decks, weigh an impressive 227,000 gross registered tons and feature 2,747 staterooms. The cost is reported to be about $1.5 billion (U.S.). Plans are for the ship to make its maiden voyage in April of next year. The ship’s itinerary is expected to be announced later this month in case you’re desperate to attain bragging rights.

I did a cruise on the 3,100 passenger Voyager of the Seas 10 or so years back, and I thought that ship was amazing. It had a rock climbing wall and multiple pools and a miniature-golf course and lots of great features. But it turns out it was just a play toy. Cruisecritic.com places it all the way down at No. 19 in the world on the size scale. Pshaw.

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JIM’S DESTINATION OF THE DAY

It doesn’t get as much publicity as sexier spots further south, but I love Florida’s Amelia Island. You’ll find a cozy, old-style town in Fernandina Beach with fun shops and what’s said to be Florida’s oldest bar. The beach goes on forever and there’s marvellous kayaking opportunities and even a nearby Segway ride you can take through the forest and along quiet waterways. You don’t find any Miami attitude, but you will find excellent golf and several fine hotels, including the Ritz Carlton Amelia Island and the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort, which has been given a major facelift.

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