What it's like to spend a week on the largest cruise ship in the world
Thinking of heading on a cruise? You won't be disappointed...
The phrase ‘size isn’t everything’ is thrown around a lot and in many cases it’s true – though some would dispute it at least – but this phrase does not apply to Royal Caribbean International’s newest cruise ship, The Wonder of the Seas.
The largest cruise ship currently sitting atop any ocean in the world, The Wonder of the Seas is a tricky mistress to accurately describe. It’s not so much a big ship nestled among many small ships when you drive towards the harbour and see it first. It’s more like standing a boulder beside a grain of sand… and the boulder is 363 metres long and 64 metres wide.
At double occupancy, she carries 5,734 passengers – 6,988 if every berth is used – along with 2,300 crew.
Full disclosure, I was given the opportunity to experience the ship in full, in return for a fair and honest review of my experience.
The full duration of the trip ran from Sunday, 18 September to Sunday, 25 September. However, I boarded the ship on Sunday and left on the morning of the 23rd, which amounted to nearly five full days on the ship.
As you will probably be able to tell from the rest of this piece, I was a cruise virgin, and unsure of what to expect from my first time, although I was assured that – despite travelling on a boat – no one would be getting wet and that it would be an unforgettable experience.
For your reference, the cruise departed from Barcelona on Sunday, before stopping in Palma, Marseille, La Pezia (Florence/Pisa), Civitavecchia (Rome), Naples (where I departed the ship), then one more day at sea before arriving back in Barcelona on Sunday morning.
Dispelling the cruise myth
There’s an outdated and naive idea in Ireland that cruises are for an older generation and thus are filled with bingo, line dancing and free iPads for people to check out RIP.ie daily.
However, from the moment I arrived at the Terminal building at the Barcelona port, it was clear that all preconceived notions of what a cruise entails were about to be dissuaded. The cast of the cruise were a mixed bunch – ranging from couples and groups in their 20s and 30s, to families, to an older cohort – but it was clear there was no domineering age-range.
Walking up the gangway, a mixed generation family from America stood ahead of us, while a couple from London chatted away behind us, speaking excitedly about the week ahead. From their chatter I deduced it was also their first cruise, and briefly flirted with striking up a conversation to tell them that myself and my girlfriend were also a cool, young couple who were on their first cruise. But I’ve been trying to be less embarrassing in general recently so I decided against it.
Your cabin awaits
While a certain amount of Googling had given me an indication of what the living quarters would consist of, I was still quite surprised by the stateroom when I arrived onboard.
Passengers have the option of economical inside rooms, outside cabins with oversized windows, balcony cabins and suites.
But not all are created equal, as balcony cabins can overlook either the ocean or the ship's inner outdoor spaces carved out from the centre of the vessel. While windowed rooms can also look outwards at the sea or stare in towards the various courtyards on the ship.
I was staying in a balcony cabin, which can sleep up to four people with a bed and a couch bed. At 180 square feet in size and also coming with a balcony, there was more than enough space for the two of us. Although if you had four in there, you may feel a bit snug. But realistically, you spend so little of your time there that it would not matter.
The room offers a ton of drawer and shelf space, and the bathroom's shower has a glass door instead of a clingy curtain, which is a nice addition.
Top tip: While Royal Caribbean does provide soap in the bathrooms, you may wish to bring your own shampoo and conditioner onboard.
Also, it's likely the person who looks after your rooms and cleans them each day will be expecting a tip at the end of the week. That's the other top tip worth considering.
off on the seas
From the three-level main dining room found on aft decks 3, 4 and 5, to the speciality restaurants, and the many other options on board the ship, even the fussiest of eaters will find something to suit their needs.
I expected something of a buffet-style food offering as the primary eating option onboard the ship, and indeed there is that approach for breakfast, lunch and dinner if that is what you fancy, but there's also a sit-down à la carte option available each morning and evening in the main dining room.
The menu changes every evening and really is very good, and the whole feat is even more impressive when you realise that they're doing this for thousands of people each day. This is free of charge with your cruise package, but there's also a number of speciality restaurants on offer for an added fee which serve fantastic food. I would recommend Chops Grille, a steakhouse which serves one of the most succulent filets of steak you're ever likely to taste.
All you have to do is remember to book your spots on the Royal Caribbean app once you board the cruise.
To quote a wise woman, the quality and volume of food would put you out front and back.
Other included dining venues are Sorrento’s pizza, Boardwalk Dog House, Cafe Promenade, Park Cafe, El Loco Fresh, the Solarium Bistro, the Vitality Cafe and room service.
I can confirm that it was touch and go whether I would need to be rolled down the gangway after my time on the ship.
Top tip: If you're bringing a shirt which is borderline in terms of size, wear it on the first night of the cruise.
Did you think there'd just be a few pools and some arcade machines? You'd be sorely mistaken if you did.
There are four main stages on Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas, each of which hosts one of the company’s new performances. Each show is free to attend, but it's highly recommended you reserve a spot at each show on the app, as they tend to book out very quickly.
Much like with dining, it's well worth spending some time after you board to book into the various shows to ensure you get a chance to see them across your time on the cruise.
The Aqua Theatre features an all-female cast for a mesmerising water-acrobatic performance. The stage is a depth changing pool with performers leaping and diving from heights that would give most people vertigo. Many of the performers are former Olympians and they showcase their skills by diving from three stories high, performing synchronised swimming, and a variety of aqua aerobics that are as dazzling as they are impressive.
There's also an ice-skating show that is nothing short of remarkable, with choreographed dance and athletic moves set to popular music and performed by champion skaters. There’s also Studio B, which has a superhero-themed show dubbed “The Effectors II: Crash ‘n’ Burn.”
The best way to put it is that I was astounded that all of these shows are free to attend when you board the ship. As I discussed with anyone who was willing to listen to me rave about the cruise in the days after, you'd pay decent money to see any of them individually if they were on in Ireland.
Final thoughts and reluctant goodbyes
All good things come to an end, and it was with regret that I walked down the gangway on the last day of the cruise.
I had bought a book in the airport which I thought might be useful during some of the quieter moments onboard. But there really was no need to have worried that I’d ever be sitting idle with nothing to do.
Admittedly I have limited experience in cruise ships, but this just might be the perfect cruise ship for families and for those who want a top notch cruise experience.
If you haven’t been on a cruise but were considering going on one, all I can say is, you won’t be disappointed.
Royal Caribbean International is offering Caribbean and Mediterranean cruise itineraries on its new Wonder of the Seas ship from £791pp. Price based on a 7 night Eastern Caribbean and Perfect Day Cruise from Orlando departing 29th January 2023 for two people sharing a double interior stateroom.