An uber-cool ocean cruise experience


  • Travel
  • Saturday, 23 Jul 2016

The Abyss, a 10-storey high dry slide on Harmony of the Seas is the cruise liner’s showpiece. Photo: The Star/N. Rama Lohan

Already eaten by the tendrils of cold, well before reaching that final step which would put us on the launch platform, I turned back to see if there were cowards like me, and what escape plans they had hatched. But I was alone ...

Trying to seem composed as I finally reached the peak, the fear multiplied as soon as it was apparent the platform was, in fact, transparent, so, the drop from that lofty height was disturbingly clear to see.

By that point, the chill (from cold and fear) had seeped straight through to the bone, so, by then, whizzing down a 10-storey dry slide, the highest out at sea, seemed like a more attractive proposition.

Besides, if I needed moral support, I got it from the random Singaporean journalist who had talked me into this expression of insanity. “Don’t worry, Lohan, it’ll be fine,” she said, gripping my arm in a feeble attempt to allay my fears. The cold from her palms pierced through my shirt sleeve instantly.

I needed little time in reverting to trusting my instincts. So, I sat at the mouth of the slide, aptly called The Abyss, and went on a thrill ride I will possibly talk about for the rest of my life. What was it like going down? Let’s not spoil the fun, shall we?

The purple slide that is The Abyss, is mounted on the rear of the largest cruise liner in the world, Harmony Of The Seas, which is part of Royal Caribbean’s fleet of plush ships.

Harmony of the Seas, the largest cruise liner in the world, provides the ultimate seafaring vacation. Photo: Royal Caribbean International
Harmony of the Seas, the largest cruise liner in the world, provides the ultimate seafaring vacation. Photo: Royal Caribbean International

It takes less than 14 seconds to whizz down the 27-degree slide The Abyss. Photo: The Star/N. Rama Lohan
It takes less than 14 seconds to whizz down the 27-degree slide The Abyss.

This mammoth of an ocean liner was unveiled two months ago and it embarked on its maiden voyage from the port city of Southampton, England. It sailed across the English Channel before making a U-turn and headed back to port, giving VVIPs, invited guests and international journalists a taste of modern-day luxury.

In fact, Harmony is opulence personified – if the stats look amazing, reality is simply mind-blowing. The ship boasts eight speciality restaurants (including celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s very own Jamie’s Italian, which, as you’d guess, specialises in Italian cuisine ... of the rustic variety, no less) which cater to a variety of palates and cultures. There are also a number of bars, the Rising Tide and Bionic Bar the most eye-catching of the bunch. The Rising Tide is an ingenious hydraulically driven serving platform, i.e. bar, which goes up and down, much in the way a revolving restaurant rotates the scenery, only in this case, patrons go up and down.

The Bionic Bar, on the other hand, has two computerised mechanical arms which function as mixologists (persons skilled in making mixed drinks), preparing its cocktail mix in the traditional Bond-approved method of shaken, not stirred.

Holidays on cruises are largely dependent on the quality of its F&B, and in that respect, Harmony offers a plethora of flavours, but humans being humans, we naturally gravitate to what we like.

Sure, some of the fine dining on board is akin to what Robin Leach may have teased us with in the travel show of yore, Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous, but for whatever reason, the complement of journalists on our entourage invariably ended up at the Windjammer Market restaurant the most.

Windjammer is jammed-packed with the sort of gastronomic delights that titillate most of our tastebuds – normal food prepared with the highest of standards, and cutting across cultures too, from European and American to Asian.

The Central Park deck clearly takes its cue from the Real McCoy in the Big Apple.
The Central Park deck clearly takes its cue from the Real McCoy in the Big Apple.

The interior of Harmony Of The Seas is nothing short of a six-star hotel experience, replete with bubble elevators.
The interior of Harmony Of The Seas is nothing short of a six-star hotel experience, replete with bubble elevators.

Onboard entertainment can be sought in a variety of ways, be it outdoor or indoor. Outdoor fun naturally includes water-based activities, and though we didn’t get to try any (courtesy of poor sailing weather and final touch-ups), they certainly looked like they could be fun, especially the slides.

Of course, thrill-seekers can always try their hand with the Zip Line ... skimming through the air nine decks above the Boardwalk.

Harmony prides itself on its stage productions, from 1887’s on-ice escapades to Grease, which was held in grand fashion during our brief two-night stay. Much of this entertainment is skewed towards wholesome family fun, and that’s exactly what it is.

When the sun sets, though (and you’d have no idea of this unless you were on deck or close by, given the ship’s sprawling interior), the nightlife comes alive. My pick for musical indulgence would be the 1980s tribute band The Wild Boys, which excellently played a compendium of nuggets from that halcyon decade.

And though the lights never completely go out on the Harmony, since cruises like these can be treated as non-stop parties, sleeping was a highlight, too. The room I was given was spacious, highly comfortable and had a balcony facing the ocean. Unfortunately, the view of the English Channel was an unbroken plane of grey, where sky and sea merge as one.

For holiday-makers with more money to burn, the Staterooms are a regal affair ... some of them literally penthouse suites out in the seas, and large enough to accommodate extended families, with even a jacuzzi installed in the balcony. Luxury knows no boundaries here.

However, the scathing reports of its “pre-inaugural” maiden ocean cruise for paying holiday-makers arrived thick and fast, the description “construction site” loosely bandied.

For number-crunchers at Royal Caribbean and its stakeholders, it would have made for concerning and infuriating reading. But for the artists and artisans who made the ship and serve on it, the discouraging feedback would have been heartbreaking.

There was blood, sweat and tears that went into making Harmony Of The Seas the Goliath of hospitality that it is, all done within a deadline that must have seemed impossible and, now, almost improbable.

Unfortunately, in this day and age of mandatory bottom lines and stake-owner satisfaction, the links further down the chain of command are the ones left most disappointed.

Mix and Mingle turning tricks at the Bionic Bar.</p><p>Photo: The Star/N. Rama Lohan
Mix and Mingle turning tricks at the Bionic Bar.

However, take nothing away from the valiant efforts that made this huge ocean liner the modern marvel that it is. For those who recall the Australian science and technological futuristic documentary Beyond 2000 from the 1980s, much about Harmony Of The Seas would seem appropriate content from its vaults, not least the Bionic Bar. No one needs Tom Cruise turning tricks behind a bar counter when Mix and Mingle do it more efficiently, without fear, favour (we all know how befriending a bartender gets you more of the good stuff) or distraction.

An obvious bit of practical advice for seafaring vacationers: give a new cruise at least a month to iron out the creases and fine-tune its operations before boarding for a holiday not to be forgotten – and for the right reasons, at that. And Harmony Of The Seas has those right reasons in spades.


This trip was sponsored by Royal Caribbean. For more info on its cruises, visit www.royalcaribbean.com.

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