Symphony of the Seas Live Blog - Day Six - Sea Day

By: Matt Hochberg

Having our last sea day not be the last day of the cruise as well is kind of odd, but on this sailing we have that scenario.

After three port days in a row, this day started off with sleep. Lots of sleep. The kids and me and my wife slept in quite a bit, but it felt like a much needed re-charge event.  On the one hand, I think we all needed a few extra hours of sleep to get our energy levels back up.  On the other hand, sleeping in makes it feel like the day is much shorter, and when it is your second-to-last day of the cruise, every hour seems extra precious.

Of course, today is Thanksgiving and this is the third time I have celebrated this holiday on a Royal Caribbean cruise.  As the day progresses, it feels more and more like Thanksgiving. 

When I walked down the Royal Promenade in the morning, it certainly started to feel like Thanksgiving with lots of guests at NextCruise looking to book a cruise.  A new Cyber Weekend sale debuted today and it looks like it grabbed a lot of attention.

One of the RoyalCaribbeanBlog group cruise events I was really looking forward to was our version of the classic game show, Match Game.  We held the event in a conference room, and had a few different contestants try to match our six panelists.  In our version, we try to give the game a Royal Caribbean spin.

Here’s an example of one of the rounds we played: John said, "I set the new world record for Ultimate Abyss riding: I did it 3000 times in a row. And the minute I got off, I set the new world's record for _______ ing."

After the game, we headed up to the Solarium to enjoy some time outdoors. Unfortunately, it was a cloudy day, so not exactly a lovely sight to enjoy.  Nonetheless, it was mostly dry out and the cloud cover meant comfortable temperatures.

With it being formal night and Thanksgiving, we decided to get ready a bit earlier than usual.  We wanted to take some family photos and enjoy the holiday looking our best.

Our group met in Dazzles for a Thanksgiving toast, and enjoyed some champagne along with an opportunity to take a photo together.

For dinner, we headed to the main dining room.  Being Thanksgiving, there was a special menu for the holiday.

I opted for as many Thanksgiving dishes as possible, including pumpkin ravioli, butternut squash soup, turkey and pumpkin pie.

After dinner, we had reservations for Flight, arguably the premiere show on Symphony of the Seas.  I had heard such positive reviews that I was quite excited to see it for myself.

Flight is an original Royal Caribbean production and is a tribute to the history of aviation and to the people who dared to make manned flight and space travel a reality.

Unlike the original production on Harmony of the Seas, Columbus the Musical, this is less a story and more a historical celebration.  

There is no doubt that the visuals, technical aspects and theatrical presentation are incredible.  I dare any cruise line, anywhere to rival the visual effects of this show.  Heck, I doubt there is another stage production on land that comes close.  Some of the effects in this stage performance felt like I was on a Disney World ride rather than in a theater.

After seeing the show, I had a couple of drinks at the pub but decided to head to bed so I could have a full day of fun on my last day.

Tomorrow we are in Nassau, Bahamas.

Royal Caribbean's Black Friday offer has up to $300 in bonus instant savings

By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean's Black Friday and Cyber Monday deal could save you up to $300 off a cruise vacation.

Cruise must be booked between November 22, 2018 – November 27, 2018. Offer applies to sailings departing on or after December 22, 2018.

  • 60% off cruise fare of second guest booked in the same stateroom as first full-fare paying guest.
  • 30% off cruise fare for third guests and higher booked in the same stateroom as the first two qualified guests. 
  • Cyber Weekend Sale offers instant savings of up to $300 per stateroom determined by category booked and sailing length:
    • On sailings 5 nights or less, $50 savings for Interior and Ocean View, $75 for Balconies and $125 for Suites.
    • on sailing 6 nights or longer, $75 savings for Interior and Ocean View, $200 for Balconies and $300 for Suites.
  • Kids Sail Free: provides free cruise fare for 3rd guests and higher who are 12 years old or younger on 4-night or longer Alaska, Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada, Caribbean, CaribNE, Coastal, Cuba, Europe and Hawaii sailings departing between December 1, 2018 – December 14, 2019. Offer excludes Holiday sailings (Sailings between December 18, 2018 – January 1, 2019), President’s Day sailings (Sailings between February 15 – 18, 2019), Spring Break sailings (Sailings between March 16 – 30, 2019), Holy Week/Easter sailings (Sailings between April 13 – 22, 2019) Summer sailings (Sailings between May 15 – August 31, 2019) and 2019 Thanksgiving sailings (Sailings between November 23 – 30, 2019). 

Offer available to residents of United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, and select countries in the Caribbean. 

Symphony of the Seas Live Blog - Day Five - Cozumel

By: Matt Hochberg

Our third port stop took us to Cozumel, Mexico and if my math is correct, it marks my sixth time to the  island in 2018.

After waking up, we grabbed a very quick breakfast and headed off the ship right at 9am.  The weather was perfect today, with low humidity and plenty of sun.

Prior to the cruise, we had booked Mr. Sanchos Beach to try out one of the most popular all-inclusive beach break spots in Cozumel.

The taxi ride down to the beach was perhaps 10 minutes and then we checked-in with the staff.  The cost is $55 per adult, and it includes unlimited food, drink and beach and pool access. There’s a few add-ons available, such as an aquatic park pass for $12, beach beds, massages and more.

Mr. Sanchos is significantly larger than I was expecting in terms of its footprint.  There are at least three large pool areas, a couple of buffet restaurants, multi-story spa, shopping plaza, and more.

The advantage Mr. Sanchos offers is a ton to do.  You have swim up bars, the aquatic park, snorkeling, swimming in the beach and pools, and more.

Without a doubt, the service offered by the Mr. Sanchos staff is quite impressive.  They are not just attentive, they approach the point of almost being annoying in their consistent dedication to ensuring you have enough to eat and drink.

My kids had a great time swimming in the pool and beach, although I think they found the bar swings particularly fun. 

The food was good, but nothing special.  The guacamole almost certainly came out of a bag, but their chips were good and I enjoyed my ceviche and fish taco meals.  You will not go hungry at Mr. Sanchos, but I feel the food quality was better at other Cozumel all-inclusives.

By the afternoon, we decided to pack it up and head back a little early today to give the kids time to nap today.  We headed back to the ship and my wife took the kids back onboard.  I grabbed a cab and headed to run “an errand” and go to La Mega supermarket with Billy and Larissa from

Something I have come to really enjoy in Cozumel is stopping by a supermarket to pick up a few items that are either unavailable in the United States, or significantly cheaper.

On this occasion, I picked up a few bags of tortilla chips because the type of tortilla chips offered in Cozumel are not really sold in the US, plus they cost less than one dollar.

Back onboard the ship, I enjoyed a beautiful sunset from the aft of the ship and then headed back to the room to get ready for dinner.

Our evening routine was in full-force today, with taking the kids up to the Windjammer for dinner, dropping them off at Adventure Ocean at 7, and then enjoying a pre-diner drink or two.  We even found the stowaway pinao player!

Dinner this evening was at the main dining room.  One observation about the main dining room menu is that Symphony has been offering a somewhat augmented menu compared to other ships in the fleet. Essentially, there are some items missing, added or swapped across each day’s menu from what we are accustomed to.  Nothing bad, just different.

After dinner we headed to the AquaTheater to catch the HiRo show. Unfortunately, the show was canceled due to motion in the ocean.

Instead, we enjoyed music in the pub, followed by some late night fun at a few different spots before finally calling it a night.

Tomorrow is a sea day.

Symphony of the Seas Live Blog - Day Four - Costa Maya

By: Matt Hochberg

Our second port stop brings us to Costa Maya, Mexico and the weather today started off gloriously.

Our plan for the day was to head over to one of my favorite all-inclusive day pass places, Maya Chan Beach.  In fact, I invited other Royal Caribbean Blog Insiders on the cruise with me to join me for this adventure.

We all met up and walked off the ship and down the giant pier.  Getting on and off the ship in all our ports has proven to be quite easy and seamless.

Maya Chan is booked independently via their website, so like all third-party tours, you have to walk through the port are and then into town to pick up taxi cabs. There, a representative from Maya Chan met us and got us on our way.

The taxi ride to Maya Chan is about 25 minutes long, although it is on a very bumpy road that is mostly made of dirt. The ride over is not wonderful, but it’s also not long enough to be a problem. I was surprised how much bumpier it was today versus back in March, but we got there and it was all quickly forgotten.

Maya Chan is a beach resort run by a family of American ex-pats who operate in my opinion, some of the best service you will ever find at an all-inclusive spot.

In honor of our group’s visit, they debuted a brand new feature to Maya Chan, a new pool.  The pool is located on the right side of the beach and is a great alternative to the beach.  

Our group got to “test out” the pool and it was fantastic.

Of course, the beach is still the main attraction and this time around, there was no sea grass problem on the beach. The owner mentioned Costa Maya set up a barrier up the coast to collect the sea grass before it hits the beach and I was very happy to see that working.

We spent our day lounging at Maya Chan, enjoying the picture perfect weather, terrific food and time with friends.  It was really the kind of day that I never wanted to end because of all the fun we were having.

Alas, at 4pm it was time to head back to the port.  We boarded the bus and “enjoyed” another ride back into town.

Back on the ship, everyone in my family engaged in some form of shower, nap, get dressed (although not necessarily in that order).

We took the kids to eat at the Windjammer for dinner before dropping them off at Adventure Ocean.

Dinner this evening brought us back to the main dining room and the service was fantastic today.  Everything moved smoothly and we had a great meal.

After dinner, I headed down to The Attic to see the comedy show.  The opening act, which is performed by Simeon, is terrific.

Tomorrow we head up the coast to Cozumel.


Symphony of the Seas Live Blog - Day Three - Roatan

By: Matt Hochberg

Our first port stop is Roatan and when we woke up, it certainly did not seem like it would be a great day.   Cloudy and lots of rain started off our morning, but we were committed to our plans so off we went.

One of the RoyalCaribbeanBlog group cruise activities is an exclusive shore excursion for those that booked into the group with our sponsor, MEI Travel.  Our thought was if you supported the group by booking into it, we were going to give back to you with some special offerings.

Today we are headed to Mayan Princess beach resort, which is a Royal Caribbean shore excursion.  About 80 of us met in the Royal Theater and were escorted onto waiting buses to head to Mayan Princess.

Along the way, the tour guide on our bus explained what life is like on Roatan, the island’s history and other cultural norms.  It was a quick 25 minute drive from the port to the beach.

Once we arrived, we were all given a welcome drink and escorted across the resort grounds to the beach.  

Mayan Princess is a beach resort, and our admission got us unlimited beverages (including alcohol), beach access, pool access, buffet lunch and buffet snacks.

There were two primary areas you could spend time at, the beach or the pool.

The pool area is large, although seating is a bit limited.  Still, there are lounge chairs surrounding the pool, which is beautiful.

The beach is vast and a lots of seating in the shade towards the back of the beach, as well as seating in the sun.  Most people tend to sit at the beach.

Regardless of where you sit, there is waiter service to bring you drinks.  In fact, some waiters will wade into the ocean to bring you drinks.

It was a fun and relaxing day and the weather cleared up considerably.  By the time we left, the sun was out and there were barely any clouds. Luckily it never rained on us while there.

After a few hours, the bus took us back to the ship to relax and clean up.

We got back to the ship a bit early, so the kids took a nap in the room. I might have partaken in the napping too.

We left Roatan and I caught a glimpse of the sunset from the Suite Sun Deck area.

While the kids got ready for dinner, I grabbed a quick bite to eat in Izumi.  I call it “pre-dinner” because it is just something small to hold me over until dinner later in the evening.  Izumi is perfect for this because I can order just one roll and be on my way.

I headed back up to grab the kids and feed them dinner before dropping them off at Adventure Ocean.

For dinner tonight, we dined with a few Royal Caribbean Blog Insiders at Jamie’s Italian.  The food was terrific and we had a great time chatting about, well, Royal Caribbean!

After dinner we caught the late show of Hairspray. As it turned out, it was the final performance of Hairspray by the cast, which had been performing for 8 months.  There was a ton of energy in the show and it was fantastic.

Tomorrow we will be in Costa Maya, Mexico.

Symphony of the Seas Live Blog - Day Two - Sea Day

By: Matt Hochberg

Our first sea day of the cruise and second day overall means lots of different things going on.  On an Oasis Class ship, a sea day means picking between a lot of great activities.

I set my alarm for 9am thinking there would be no way we would all sleep that late, but clearly the first day took a bigger toll on all of us than I thought.  The alarm went off at 9am, but I think we all felt like it was 6am.  Still, it is much easier to get up and go in the morning when on a cruise than anywhere else.

We all had breakfast at Park Cafe. The kids opted for cereal and my wife and I got a breakfast sandwich.  Those breakfast sandwiches are really good!

We dropped the kids off at Adventure Ocean for the rest of the morning while we took relaxed up on the pool deck.

Speaking of the pool deck, it was a picture perfect day to be on a cruise. Clear skies, calm seas, plenty of sun but not too hot.  

For lunch, I headed up to Hooked to try out their lunch offering.  The lunch menu at Hooked is primarily a slimmed down version of the dinner menu.

I went with the grilled halibut, which was fantastic.

My tablemate opted for the lobster roll.

Our first RoyalCaribbeanBlog group cruise event of the day was a welcome aboard event in Dazzles, where we hosted a cocktail hour reception for everyone that booked the group cruise and booked it with our sponsor, MEI Travel.

It was great enjoying some drinks and seeing friendly faces.  Plus, Dazzles is such a fun spot.

Next, we headed to the Bionic Bar for a bar crawl.  This has become a regular RoyalCaribbeanBlog group cruise event where we have a drink at about a half dozen bars are so. Great not only for chatting with others in the group, but also for trying out a lot of bars.

We progressed between Bionic Bar, Schooner Bar, Solarium Bar, Wipeout Bar and Playmakers.  

It was great enjoying some afternoon drinks with friends!

Tonight was formal night, so we gathered together for a formal night photo.  I think I nailed it.

We got ready for our evening out and I enjoyed some pre-dinner cocktails at Wonderland.

Dinner this evening was in Izumi hibachi, and my kids were super excited for this meal.  They tried hibachi on Harmony of the Seas and loved it.

Our chef, Roque (pronounced “Rocky”), was very good and got my oldest daughter really involved.

My youngest daughter somehow fell asleep at the start of the meal.

I loved the Izumi hibachi and the meal did not disappoint.  There is no question why hibachi is so popular on Royal Caribbean, and that is because of the top quality product offered, both in food and service.

After dinner, the kids did a quick trip up Adventure Ocean and then we opted to call it a night.  We have an early start tomorrow in Roatan.

Stray Observations

  • We found the gnome in Central Park

Symphony of the Seas Live Blog - Day One - Embarkation Day

By: Matt Hochberg

We are back onboard Symphony of the Seas and it feels great to be sailing again! A mere two day break between sailings and this time we are with my kids, along with a bunch of friends from

We stayed at the DoubleTree Grand Biscayne between cruises, which is barely 3 miles from PortMiami.  We got going in the morning and drove our car to Terminal A to start our cruise.

We parked the car in the Terminal A garage this time around. As you enter the garage, there are porters ready to take your luggage, after which you proceed to park the car. Super simple.

After parking, we had perhaps the simplest and quickest check-in process ever.  After walking in the terminal, there is a special entrance for suite guests and Pinnacle members. You go up on elevator, sit down in the lounge and a port agent walks around with a tablet to check guests in.  Whole process took perhaps 5 minutes.

Boarding began around 11am and of course our first stop was the Windjammer for lunch.

Lunch felt more crowded than usual for that early in the day, but once they opened up the other side of the Windjammer, crowds subsided quickly.

After lunch we registered the kids for Adventure Ocean.

Next, it was time for the pool.  Despite cooler than average temperatures, my kids insisted on hitting up Splashaway Bay.

Rooms were ready at 1pm and on this sailing, we are staying in a Grand Suite stateroom.

The amount of space in this room is perfect for our family, and I love that the bedroom is completely separated from the rest of the room by curtains.

Our first group cruise meet up was at Boleros for a celebratory first drink together. It was our first time to see many faces onboard and I had a great time setting the tone for the sailing.

Following muster drill, we headed up to the pool deck for a fun sailaway party.

The kids were getting hungry, so I took them to grab dinner.  One wanted pizza and the other a quesadilla, so we hit up Sorrentos and El Loco Fresh for a convenient dinner option.  They grabbed a few bites from the Windjammer too.

Adventure Ocean opened at 7pm, which was a pleasant surprise since usually Adventure Ocean opens an hour later (8pm) on embarkation day.

After dropping the kids off, my wife and I enjoyed some evening cocktails in the Suite Lounge.

Dinner this evening brought us to the main dining room, and the meal seemed to flow quite smoothly for embarkation day.  Usually the first day is a bit unevenly paced, but the staff tonight did a great job.

Our plans for after dinner were to see 1977, the ice skating show, but the show ended up being canceled.  

My wife went with my in-laws to see MO5AIC, an acapella singing group, while I opted to enjoy drinks with friends in the Pub.

We wrapped up our evening with a balloon drop on the Royal Promenade at midnight and then called it a night.

Tomorrow is a sea day.

The Bahamas celebrates Symphony of the Seas inaugural call on Nassau

By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean’s brand new Symphony of the Seas sailed into Nassau November 14, marking a momentous occasion for both Royal Caribbean and The Bahamas.

On board for the inaugural cruise of the sleek white-hulled ship were a handful of invited guests including 200 members of international media who joined dignitaries, local VIPs and sailing guests for a lively ceremony in the ship’s iconic amphitheater at the stern.

“We are very excited to welcome you onboard Symphony of the Seas,” said Royal Caribbean International President & CEO Michael Bayley. “It’s the newest ship in our fleet and of course the largest cruise ship in the world. Today marks Symphony’s inaugural visit to Nassau, Bahamas, a destination that we visit also with the three sister ships of Symphony, that’s Oasis of the Seas, Allure and Harmony.”

Mr. Bayley cited Royal Caribbean’s strong ties to The Bahamas, recalling that the cruise line’s first ship made Nassau its first port of call in 1970.

“Today 25 of our ships are registered here in The Bahamas. We bring over 1.2 million vacationers to your beautiful islands so thank you for hosting us. We plan on keeping coming back to The Bahamas. Our plan by 2021 is almost 1.75 million visitors to The Bahamas coming with Royal Caribbean. We also plan to extend the amount of time spent in port so our guests can do, see and spend more in your beautiful islands.”

With ships like Symphony of the Seas, Royal Caribbean hopes to increase the number of visitoris to more than 1.77 million by 2021.

She arrived with invited guests only on board, including travel industry partners, international media and high-ranking officials to a rousing welcome hosted by the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism which pulled out all the stops. Dignitaries including Cabinet member Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands and Environment and Housing Minister Romauld Ferreira, Senators, Members of Parliament, officials including Defence Force Commodore Tellis Bethel, Director of Works Melanie Roach, former Cabinet ministers and heads of nearly every department of government along with vendors, attractions operators, leading business people, hoteliers, Bahamas Taxi Union, Musicians’ Union, Straw Market and Hair Braiders Association representatives were treated to musical performances and a three-course luncheon. Dignitaries including Miami- Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez were ushered aboard by the Royal Bahamas Defence Force Band. Inside, the Royal Bahamas Police Force Band entertained along with the Gerald Cash Rhythm ‘n Youth band. Travel partners and guests rushed with Colours Junkanoo, capping off the ceremony that included a key, gift and plaque exchange between the ship’s agents, United Shipping, and Captain Rob Hempstead.

Symphony of the Seas officially named at ceremony in Miami

By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas was officially named by the first-ever Godfamily, actors Alexa & Carlos PenaVega, with Son Ocean, at a ceremony in PortMiami on Thursday.

Symphony of the Seas becomes the 25th ship in Royal Caribbean's fleet as the PenaVega family were on hand to christen the ship and bestow a blessing of safekeeping over her crew and guests.

The naming ceremony was the largest in Royal Caribbean's history, with nearly 1,000 guests in attendance, which occured at Terminal A in PortMiami.

The customary event was infused with modern day elements – ranging from an electronic violinist who serenaded the crowd throughout the ceremony, to a stunning sail away performance by nearly 400 choreographed drones – and also incorporated a number of local Miami touches. Florida International University’s Marching Band kicked off the celebration, while students from Miami Southridge Senior High headlined the occasion on stage with a rousing drumline performance. Through Royal Caribbean’s partnership with the GRAMMY® Museum, Miami Southridge Senior High was one of 20 high schools within the Miami-Dade County Public School District that received a Royal Caribbean-funded grant through the GRAMMY Museum® Signature Schools program, which supports music education programs in underserved high schools.

Symphony of the Seas and Allure of the Seas will offer 7-night Eastern and Western Caribbean sailings from Terminal A in PortMiami. It is anticipated that Royal Caribbean will welcome at least 1.8 million guests at PortMiami, representing no less than 30 percent of the port’s projected traveler traffic. 

A look at Royal Caribbean's new app feature roadmap

By: Matt Hochberg

While onboard Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas, we had the chance to get an update on what new features are coming to its smart phone app.

The app team held a demo and talk for members of the media while on Symphony of the Seas and shed light on a few new features coming to the app.

They team demoed guest messaging, which is currently being tested on Allure of the Seas. They indicated that they are looking to improve the ease at which guests connect with each other by using a code unique to each guest.  

They are looking to balance the need for privacy from other guests, combined with the need to make the app easy to use.

Speaking of chat, the team estimated the new chat feature could reach Symphony of the Seas sometime in the first quarter.

Speaking of chat, Royal Caribbean plans to add something they call "Ship to Guest messaging" where not only can guests chat with other guests, but get messages from the ship.  

They avoided calling it a chatbot, for fear of coming off as a gimmicky feature that lacks usability.  Instead, they are developing a feature that allows guests to quickly get assistance with different requests.

Another new feature will be the ability to view and rate shore excursions via the app.  Royal Caribbean not only wants to allow guests to book shore excursions, but get meaningful feedback on tours and allow guests to share their experiences.

The team was asked about moderating the reviews, but they indicated the key is to keep the reviews authentic and not watered down.  

Royal Caribbean also wants to make dining easier on its ships by allowing guests to view menus and even place orders. 

In addition, allowing guests to indicate stateroom changes and directly work with stateroom attendants to allow guests to set preferences for their upcoming stay.

Royal Caribbean shared some of their plans for having the ability for guests to order drinks via the app. The plan now is to first roll out that feature at Perfect Day at CocoCay, then expand to certain areas od the ship and finally expand to more areas of a ship.

Which feature are you most excited to see come to the app? Tell us about it in our comments!