I posted a review of my Symphony cruise on my blog but also wanted to post the main parts here. The link to the full review (including some pictures and the cabin tour) can be found here and the Cruise Compasses can be found here.
My mom and I recently returned from a 7 night Caribbean cruise on Symphony of the Seas. We went on Symphony's sister ship Allure a few years ago so we didn't really expect to be wowed by Symphony but we definitely were.
Both me and my mom were in desperate need of a vacation so of course our first choice was a cruise. We really prefer the newer ships now so we sought a cruise, any cruise, on Symphony since Royal Caribbean has now become our favorite cruise line. We've done quite a few Caribbean cruises so the itinerary wasn't very important this time since we more than likely would have visited the ports on a previous cruise. My only requirement was that the cruise make a stop at Labadee since I've become quite fond of floating in the water for a few hours, and of course the zip line.
Even though we could have taken the hotel shuttle we decided to to take an Uber to the new Terminal A at Port Miami. This new terminal opened with great fanfare a few weeks prior to our cruise and I was excited to experience it for myself. That excitement quickly wore off when we noticed that the signage in the terminal area was not very good and our Uber driver was very confused about where we needed to go and so were we. Our driver didn't speak English very well but luckily my mom speaks Spanish so they were able to communicate but we didn't really know how to direct him since the area was so chaotic. Since the terminal was still new I chalked it up to growing pains but I hope the area has improved since we were there.
Another thing we were looking forward to doing was checking in at the Port with the new Royal Caribbean app. I did everything in the app before hand except take our pictures but I was told we could do that there. As we got in line to meet with the representative I tried to pull up the app but could not get it to load, either using the wifi in the terminal or via my phone's data connection. Luckily I printed out our Set Sail passes just in case and I suggest doing that at least until the kinks are worked out with the app. It only took a few minutes to check in and since we arrived around 12:30pm the boarding process had already begun so we didn't have to wait in the terminal.
Since we boarded at the Royal Promenade initially I wasn't impressed since it was pretty much the same as Allure, but during the week we definitely noticed differences. I would say the biggest differences I noticed where the size of Symphony; the color palette (very muted colors, primarily blues, grays and whites which I thought made the ship look more upscale); and the Ultimate Abyss slides (to be fair you can't miss them. I do like that they're there because I did enjoy going down them but I didn't love how they obstructed the view from the boardwalk).
We booked an L2 Crown Loft Suite on Allure and we really enjoyed overlooking the Sports Deck to people watch, listen to the music and watch people on the zip line. For Symphony we decided to again book a cabin that had a balcony that didn't overlook the ocean so we went with a Central Park balcony. It was our first time booking a neighborhood balcony and I'm confident that it won't be our last. We found it to be good value for money and enjoyed the perks that came with that room category and also for booking through Costco Travel. A neighborhood balcony isn't for everyone though because most people like going on cruises to be able to see the ocean from their balcony and you won't get that with a Central Park balcony. However, you might get a small sliver of an ocean view if you book certain Boardwalk balconies. Privacy can also be a concern with neighborhood balconies because you can see other passengers from your room and they can also see you (make sure the curtains are closed if you're undressed or doing things you want to keep private)! The room size was good for two people but I think it would be difficult for more than two adults to stay there comfortably.
Entertainment and activities on Symphony were top notch, which is what we've come to expect from Royal Caribbean. It amazes me that they're able to have ice shows, water shows, and Broadway shows on their ships. For the first time in a long time (maybe ever) I wasn't able to attend some of the activities I was interested in because there were so many entertainment options available during the same time. I wasn't sure if I would ride the Ultimate Abyss because I'm a bit of a scaredy cat but in the end I decided to try it and ended up going twice because I enjoyed it so much. I would say that the only scary part is when it goes black briefly but other than that it was a fun ride. Be sure to keep your elbows tucked in though because if you don't they'll scrape against the side of the slide and that's not fun.
We're not foodies so we're easily satisfied with the food on mainstream cruises, and Symphony was no exception. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day during cruises and I usually never miss it, but I was so in need of a vacation (and sleep) that I missed breakfast every day except debarkation day. We went to the sea day brunch in the main dining room twice and learned on the first day that there are two lines for a reason; one is for a seated lunch and the other is for the buffet so check the signs by the hostess desks to make sure you get in the correct line. Our booking included two dinners at a specialty restaurant so we went to Chops Grille both times. We enjoyed the meals we had there (especially the red velvet cake!) but I don't think I would have paid extra to dine there because there are so many good dining options on Symphony that don't require an additional charge. A meal at Johnny Rockets was also included in our booking so we went there one night for dinner. The food was good (especially the onion rings) but what stood out for us was the service there as all of the servers were excellent. Also included was a cupcake decorating class; while it was fun I definitely don't think it was worth $30 per person and would not have attended had it not been included. I'm glad we went though because it was something we hadn't done before and the crew members there were excellent as well. We had embarkation lunch at the Solarium Cafe and I believe it was our first time dining there; it was a nice change from the Windjammer and I recommend going there for a relaxed meal. The Windjammer was also nice and we never had a problem finding seats there.
There's no doubt that Symphony is a large ship but I didn't have any problems finding my way around or feeling that it was too large. The only issue I had with the size is that since it's so big it holds a LOT of passengers. That was really only an issue before shows because we found that even if you had reservations you had to get to the theater at least 30 minutes before the scheduled time if you wanted to get good seats and seats for your whole party because that's when people started lining up. We had My Time Dining but tend to eat dinner around 6:30pm so the lines were never too bad that early in the evening but they did get long later in the evening. Debarkation was a little hectic due to the sheer number of people debarking but I'm not sure how they can improve that. There were definitely some frustrated passengers and some downright angry ones because I think they were worried about missing their flight and weren't expecting the process to take so long.
Our itinerary had us calling at Phillipsburg, San Juan and Labadee plus three sea days. For Phillipsburg we decided to just walk around the port area but we ended up not doing that for very long because it was just so hot. We booked the 'Give Back to La Perla Community' excursion through the ship for San Juan and were really looking forward to it but we received a note in our cabin a few days prior to arriving in San Juan that the excursion had been cancelled. A reason for the cancellation wasn't provided but my assumption is that it was cancelled due to lack of participants. We were in San Juan about a year ago since that's where our Adventure of the Seas cruise departed from so we decided to just walk around and give back to the community by shopping at the local market. As always San Juan was a nice port stop and I wish we could have had more time there. At Labadee we once again went on the Dragon's Breath zip line, which is always fun albeit a bit overpriced. Afterwards we took the tram around the island before getting off to spend some time at the beach but unfortunately I can't remember if it was Columbus Cove or Nellie's Beach. This was the first time we didn't book a cabana so I wasn't sure if we would have a hard time finding chairs in the shade but we had no problem at all and I'm not sure we feel the need for a cabana anymore. My mom did some reading in the lounge chair while I decided to float around in the water.
Overall we had a great time on Symphony and I would highly recommend a cruise on that ship.