Video: Take a Tour of Symphony of the Seas’ Boardwalk

By: Matt Hochberg

The reimagined Boardwalk touts fresh energy and swagger with the addition of lively venues, interactive experiences and entertainment throughout the day and into the night. With the iconic hand-carved carousel, the exit of the Ultimate Abyss, the tallest slide at sea; and the awe-inspiring AquaTheater – to deliver a seaside oasis for the entire family, from the little ones to the adults.

Symphony of the Seas Live Blog - Day Six - Nassau

By: Matt Hochberg

Our short two-night sailing brings us to our sole port stop on the only full day onboard, and that is Nassau, Bahamas.

As noted in yesterday's live blog post, this is a complimentary two-night preview sailing provided to me by Royal Caribbean.  

Symphony of the Seas arrived in Nassau shortly before 9am on a sunny and hot day in the Bahamas.  We had a great view of Nassau harbor as we pulled into port, with Enchantment of the Seas in port as well.

I grabbed a quick breakfast at Park Cafe to get my morning started. Their breakfast sandwiches are really good.

The first order of business this morning was a Q&A session with Royal Caribbean's CEO Michael Bayley and Symphony of the Seas' Captain.

The Q&A session was for the members of the media onboard, and questions covered a lot of interesting topics.  Most of what was mentioned was not news, but there is always some interesting tidbits or insight into Royal Caribbean's thought process.

Next up was an overview and update on Royal Caribbean's new smart phone app development.  The head of the new app gave an in-depth presentation on how Royal Caribbean's app came to be, where it is now, and what the future holds.

Of particular interest was the roadmap of features coming to the app.  Royal Caribbean prefers to itterate their development and roll out more releases over time, rather than doing  a lot of development and having periodic milestone releases.  

I will write up a new blog post with a peek into the future of the app shortly after this post.

Following the app session, it was time to grab lunch.

I headed over to the Boardwalk for lunch at Playmakers.  For the purposes of this preview sailing, they were only serving a combo meal of slider, wings and fries.  Everything tasted great, and I really think Playmakers is a compelling choice for an inexpensive, yet good quality meal.

Meanwhile, the Bahamas was celebrating the arrival of Symphony of the Seas to Nassau for its inaugural visit. There was a large ceremony in the AquaTheater, complete with marching band.

I wanted to see Symphony in port, so I actually disembarked the ship for a few minutes before getting back onboard.  She looked amazing with a picture perfect backdrop.

In the early afternoon, Symphony departed Nassau to start making her way back to Miami.

A real higlight was seeing Royal Caribbean's Vice President of Entertainment, Nick Weir, speak about the ship's entertainment.

Mr. Weir is as talented at creating awe-inspiring shows as he is providing audiences with a behind-the-scenes look at how all the show magic happens. He gave backstory and even demoed a few things from 1977 ice show, as well as talked about Flight, the AquaTheater and teased us about the future.

The best part of the show was a live demo of the drones that are used in the ice show.  These photos do not do the show justice.

We headed back to the room to get ready for dinner to discover a wonderful tote bag gift waiting for us.

We headed up to the Wonderland Bar for happy hour drinks with our favorite bartender on Symphony, Sorin.

We rounded out our evening with dinner and the late-night comedy show.

It was a great combined six nights onboard Symphony of the Seas and while I got to see a lof of the ship, much of it remains yet to be experienced.  Luckily, my family and I are coming back on Saturday for a 7-night Western Caribbean cruise with my friends from

We will hit the pause button on this live blog, and pick things back up on Saturday.

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

By: Matt Hochberg

When is the last day of a cruise not the last day of a cruise? When you are doing a back to back cruise!

Symphony of the Seas returned to PortMiami and while that meant the end of the 4-night sailing, I was staying on for the next 2-night cruise.

After waking up, I packed up my belongings and got myself ready to go.  My stateroom attendant would move my suitcases and clothes on a hangar to my new stateroom for me, so all I needed to do was get it all together.

It is a bit surreal being on a cruise ship on turnaround day when it seems everyone else is scrambling to get off the ship and go home.  In the 9am hour, when most guests are off the ship already, it feels like being in a store after they close.

At 9:45am, I reported to the main dining room on deck 4 to meet other consecutive cruisers.  I estimated there were roughly 100 or so of us.

After a bit, we were escorted off the ship and over to Terminal A for U.S. Customs.  Something different here was instead of talking to a Customs agent, we used faceless recognition machines.  You stare at this machine, it processes your face and then lets you go on your way.

After that, we were issued new SeaPass cards and made our way back onboard.

This new sailing is a 2-night preview sailing, provided by Royal Caribbean.  I’m sailing on this cruise as a guest of Royal Caribbean, which means it was provided without cost.  

Back onboard the ship, it felt like embarkation day with lots of new guests exploring the ship and plenty of celebrations going on.

My wife joined me on this sailing, so we spent some time walking around and exploring the ship.

On this sailing, we are staying in a oceanview balcony stateroom.  

The neat thing about this room is we are somewhat on the “hump” of the ship, so our balcony is a bit deeper than a standard balcony.

Sailaway brought us up to the pool deck for another dance party with the backdrop of a beautiful Miami sunset.  Say what you will about which port you prefer to sail from, but Miami sailways are among the most scenic.

We headed back to our room to get ready for dinner and the evening.

We attended a reception for members of the media in Dazzles, which featured a terrific jazz band performing.

Next it was over to Chops Grill for dinner.  

We rounded out our evening on the Royal Promenade and a street party event.

Tomorrow our ship will be in Nassau, Bahamas.

Stray Observations

  • There are lots of beautiful flower arrangements onboard the ship.
  • It looks like dry-aged steak is back on the menu at Chops.

Royal Caribbean and WWF-Australia announce partnership to protect critically endangered hawksbill turtles

By: Matt Hochberg

With the support of Royal Caribbean, WWF-Australia will step up efforts to help combat the illegal trade of hawksbill turtles in Asia-Pacific - the number one threat to the critically endangered turtle.

For the first time in the region, WWF-Australia will work with partners to test ground-breaking technology to extract DNA from tortoiseshell products, such as earrings, bracelets and other trinkets. The collaboration will develop a DNA database to help identify hawksbill populations most at risk from the illegal tortoiseshell trade by tracing hawksbills products from their point-of-sale to where they were poached.

“Despite international trade being banned over twenty years ago, poaching and the sale of hawksbill products still takes place in our region. It is unclear where poaching is most prevalent, but with the help of the turtle DNA test and database we’ll be able to map poaching hotspots and work with local governments in the Asia-Pacific region to combat these illegal activities,” said Christine Hof, Marine Species Project Manager, WWF-Australia.

Hawksbill turtles are one of the most beautiful and important species in the ocean, playing a vital role in maintaining the health of our oceans; from promoting coral growth through their appetite for algae, to supporting vital feeding grounds for reef communities.  However, over the last 100 years the hawksbill population has declined by more than 75% and it’s estimated there are only 4,800 breeding females remaining in the Pacific Ocean.

The hawksbill faces a unique threat as it is the only sea turtle species that is hunted for its shell, commonly known as “tortoiseshell”, which is made into souvenirs frequently sold to travelers while on holidays overseas. 

“Hunted and traded for their shell, Hawksbill turtles are critically endangered. Ending this trade will take a coordinated effort. We are extremely passionate about this partnership with WWF-Australia, and need to act now to ensure these prehistoric sea creatures have a future,” said Susan Bonner, VP and Managing Director, Royal Caribbean Australia & NZ.

The partnership will also increase awareness of the issue amongst those travelling throughout Asia-Pacific. RCL and WWF-Australia intend to educate millions of supporters and travellers about this illegal trade by providing them with the information they need to identify illegal tortoiseshell products and avoid buying them, with the launch of an extensive consumer campaign.

A hawksbill turtle adoption programme will be available to all Australians in 2019. Adoption of a hawksbill turtle via Royal Caribbean will support WWF-Australia’s essential conservation work – protecting the habitat, preserving their food sources and ensuring the safety of threatened species locally and globally.

RCL has a long history of innovation, and is committed to protecting the communities and environments in which it operates. From wastewater and waste management, to energy efficiency and sourcing practices, RCL is dedicated to continually improving operations, to minimise its’ environmental footprint and increase support for conservation.

“We have a responsibility to the guests who sail with us, the people who work for us, and the communities we visit, but most importantly we have a responsibility to the magnificent oceans, which are at the very essence of our business,” said Bonner.

In 2016, RCL and WWF embarked on a five-year global journey to help ensure the long-term health of the world’s oceans. The RCL and WWF-Australia local partnership to protect the hawksbill turtle will run in the Asia-Pacific region for the next three years.

For more information visit

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

By: Matt Hochberg

The last day of my first Symphony of the Seas sailing is here, and being that I will be on the next sailing, it certainly feels odd with that notion that this sailing is almost over and yet I am still going back.

Like every morning of this cruise, I woke up earlier than I probably should have.  Despite some late nights, once I wake up and remember where I am, my mind starts going and sleep is no longer an option.

I spent my morning relaxing by the pool in the shade and with a nice breeze.  One thing I love about Symphony’s pool deck is there are so many spots in the shade.

The weather today was noticeably windier than previous days.  There was a slight chop in the ocean, which meant very, very subtle movement sensations onboard. Considering the first two days of the cruise had virtually no motion, today’s ocean waves were merely a footnote.

I probably had more grandiose ideas for how to spend my morning, but I decided to take it easy.  As lunch rolled around, I headed down to Central Park to enjoy Chops.

I asked the waitress if I should get the filet mignon or the dry-aged burger.  She recommended the filet.  I suppose the chances of something outranking a filet is quite low.

The entire Chops meal was great, and I was glad to sneak that in.

I stopped by Boleros to notice they have the Coco Loco on their menu.  The Coco Loco is the official drink of Coco Cay, and I suspect perhaps the inclusion on this menu is a tie-in to Perfect Day at CocoCay.

I stopped back in my room to find that I had received my consecutive cruiser letter. The letter explains what to do on turnaround day tomorrow and where to be. Moreover, it mentions Royal Caribbean will move my luggage for me to my new room, which is such a relief not to have to schlep my own stuff around until rooms are ready at 1pm.

As day turned to night, I spent some time down in Central Park.  Central Park is my favorite neighborhood and evening is the best time of day to hang around.  The contrast of lighting and flora really stand out.

After getting ready for dinner, I walked down to Deck 4 to check out the Diamond Lounge.  Of note, the Attic was being used as a Diamond Lounge overflow space.

One thing everyone needs to do on Symphony is see the Solarium art piece at night.  So beautiful.

Dinner tonight was at Hooked.  I was excited to try a new restaurant, but I will admit that I was somewhat concerned about the menu options for myself since I do not eat shellfish.

I was happy to see there were a few different options to consider, including the messy fish sandwich in which the staff puts a bib on you.

My tablemates indulged in some of the oysters and mussels, while I went with the grilled salmon.

Overall, I thought Hooked was a good restaurant and I certainly did not dislike anything about the meal.  We had a great waiter and I think we enjoyed everything we ordered.  Nonetheless, it just did not stick out as the kind of restaurant I really wanted to go back to again and again.  As I recall, I felt indifferent to Jamie’s Italian the first time I dined there and now I love it, so who knows how this will all go.

After diner we grabbed a few drinks in the Pub, but I think 3+ days of fun on Symphony had caught up with us, so we pulled a Michael Poole and called it an early evening.

Tomorrow is day one of a 2-night Symphony preview cruise for media and travel professionals.

Video: Royal Caribbean Names the World's First Ship Godfamily

By: Matt Hochberg

There is a longstanding maritime tradition that calls for new ships to be blessed by a Godmother. But what about a Godfamily? Royal Caribbean is giving this tradition a modern twist by asking famous and longtime fans the PenaVega family to serve as the first-ever Godfamily of a cruise ship.

Symphony of the Seas Live Blog - Day Three - Cozumel

By: Matt Hochberg

We have reached our first port stop of Cozumel, and while it sounds cliched, I have plans for fun in the sun.

We were alongside the pier at about 8am, but I did not get of the ship (or up) quite that early.  My plan was to be off the ship by 9:30, and we managed to hit that goal.

Being in Cozumel today was somewhat different, because it was a Sunday and we were the only cruise ship in port.  I am not certain that has ever happened to me before in Cozumel.  Moreover, there was a triathlon event today and the cycling portion of the event meant they closed a lot of roads for the morning.  My taxi ride that should have taken 20 minutes or so ended up going over an hour due to detours and delays.

My plan today was to try a new all-inclusive day pass spot, El Cozumeleno Resort.  Not only was this a resort I have not been to, but it is also the first time I have gone further north past downtown.  All the day pass resorts I have been to have all been south of downtown.

Despite the traffic issues, we arrived and checked in at the lobby.   El Cozumeleno is a hotel that sells day passes to anyone.  The cost is $55 per person and I booked it via a third party website.

From the moment we checked in, I knew this was somewhere special because service seemed to be quite important to the hotel staff.  We were served welcome drinks, and the staff set us up at a perfect spot at the pool.

Our day pass includes all the food and beverages offered at the hotel, as well as access to the grounds.  The only thing not included was towels or motor sports.

El Cozumeleno is quite large, and has a beautiful and scenic beach area.  There are two beach areas that you can choose from.

The north beach has palapas, while the south beach area has hammocks and a more pristine view.

The thing that attracted me to El Cozumeleno is the pool, and it did not disappoint.  There are two pool areas, with the south pool area being expansive and impressive.

Between the two pool areas is a buffet and sit down restaurant. In addition, food can be ordered and eaten from the pool or beach.

There were waiters that roamed the pool area and took any food or drink orders we wanted. They were extremely friendly and always around to take an order.

As soon as I sat down, I knew this place was a good decision.  The grounds are lovely, and the wonderful service made the day so fun.

I stayed there for most of the day and left at 3pm.  I would have stayed a bit longer, but I was concerned that perhaps the triathlon event was still snarling traffic.

Luckily there was no traffic, so we explored the port area a bit.  I may have stopped into one or two of the (in)famous establishments along the water.

All aboard was 5:30pm, and we got back onboard Symphony of the Seas an hour or so before that. 

Back onboard, I headed up to the pool deck to watch sailaway and enjoy a beautiful sunset.

I headed back up to the room for a shower and to get ready for this evening.

I had no dinner plans for tonight, so I decided to check out Playmakers Sports Bar and Arcade.  It seemed like a good opportunity to see how their food stacked up.

I ate with a group of friends from MEI Travel, and we ordered quite a bit from the menu.

I tried the buffalo wings and went with the hottest sauce choice and it was quite tasty.  Their burger is by far the best choice on the menu, but I did enjoy the chicken sandwich and the portobello slider.

After dinner, it was time to see the new AquaTheater show, HiRO.

Luckily, a friend is staying in an AquaTheater suite, so I was able to watch the show from there.  Honestly, while I enjoy the convenience of the AquaTheater suite, I think the show is best enjoyed from the seats from a pure visual standpoint.  Nonetheless, it was a fantastic show.

If you have seen an AquaTheater show, then you know these are performances full of skilled choreography, diving, dancing and some incredible feats of balance.

After the show, I saw the Quest in Studio B, where Instagram celebrity Cruise Life Rick managed to come out victorious.

We celebrated with some time in the Schooner Bar watching Billy Pando perform. Billy has a well-deserved reputation as being one of the, if not the, best piano singers on Royal Caribbean. It was a great way to cap off our evening.

Tomorrow is the last day of this sailing, and it is a sea day.

Stray Observations

  • Everyone onboard received two bottles of Symphony of the Seas themed Heinken beer.
  • My stateroom attendant asked if I was a consecutive cruiser, but I have not gotten any letter yet about the transition.  I will just head to Guest Relations to ask.


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

By: Matt Hochberg

The second day of our cruise is a sea day and that means out first full day onboard Symphony of the Seas. 

We had a lot of fun last night, perhaps even too much fun last night, so it was kind of a slow morning.  I opted to grab Starbucks to kicks start my morning once I got up.

The creator of Izumi is on this sailing, and I had a great sit down chat with Chef Travis on Facebook Live and we talked all about Japanese cuisine and he surprised me with an authentic Udon noodle soup to enjoy.

After we wrapped on our chat, I was feeling the effects of not sleeping enough the last two nights so I headed back to the room for a much needed nap.

I woke up feeling much better and headed up to the pool deck for some time outdoors with a breeze. I found ample seating near Splashaway Bay and was treated to a glorious day.   

The weather was the kind of sea day weather everyone dreams of to enjoy by the pool.

As evening set in, I headed back to the room to change for formal night.

To start our evening, we went to Wonderland for happy hour.  We have the drink package, but it’s still a fun spot for drinks.  I would point out that from 5-7pm, you can get two of their cocktails for $15.

Dinner was in 150 Central Park, and this was my first time dining there since Chef Michael Schwartz ended his relationship with Royal Caribbean.

Being formal night, the restaurant was busy, but we were seated promptly at our dining time.  We started off the meal with their signature cocktail, the cucumber martini.

For our entrees, I tried the halibut and cauliflower steak.  Halibut was excellent, while the cauliflower steak was nothing special.

My friend ordered the steak and while the menu lists it as a steak for two, you can get a single portion.

After diner, we checked out the comedy show. We had no tickets, but managed to get in via the standby line.

The comedy show had the opening act and the headliner and both were great and this being the adult show, there was definitely nothing held back.

After the comedy show, we meandered around the ship seeking out a good time onboard.  It seemed like a lot more people were out and about this evening compared to day one.

Tomorrow is our first port stop of Cozumel.

Stray Observations

  • The Voom internet has worked quite well and performed as well as any ship I have been on.  Even my consumer grade VPN was able to connect.
  • Speaking of Voom, my phone was getting signed out from the Voom and I discovered having open browser tabs with the Voom login page may have been to blame. Lesson learned is after signing on, close the browser tab.
  • We received another gift in our room.  Symphony of the Seas sunglasses and a can of hairspray (in honor of the Broadway show onboard with the same name).

  • I tried the “new and improved” Sorrento’s Pizza and I can tell it is better than what it used to be.  The crust especially is quite good.

  • Not surprisingly, many of the soft drinks onboard are in the European forms.

  • The Starbucks onboard does not have the full red cup menu yet.  I was told by the time the Royal Caribbean Blog group cruise comes around next week, they should have it.

  • I asked at Guest Relations and it sounds like we will be able to stay onboard as a consecutive cruiser for the next sailing that I am on.

Video: Symphony of the Seas Arrives Home to Miami

By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean International’s highly-anticipated Symphony of the Seas arrives into her new home at the state-of-the-art Terminal A in Miami today. The ultimate family vacation,Symphony is set to deliver a new sound of adventure with one-of-a-kind experiences for all ages on 7-night Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises, which will visit the cruise line’s private island destination in The Bahamas, Perfect Day at CocoCay (opening May 2019).

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

By: Matt Hochberg

After years of planning and excitement, Symphony of the Seas has arrived in Miami and that means time for my cruise onboard.

The night before, I drove down to Boca Raton from Orlando, Florida to help break up the three and a half hour drive.  The morning of the cruise, I woke up far too early (I was just too excited to sleep) and drove down to Miami to get going.

I had rented a car, so I returned the car at the Budget office that was fairly close to PortMiami.  I got to the office around 8:30am and as I expected, there was lots of people there who were picking up a car following their cruise ending.  Luckily, the return process was super simple and it only took me a few minutes.  They did offer a shuttle that brought me to the port.

I got to Terminal A at PortMiami far too early, but I figured I would rather wait there than my hotel room or on the highway in traffic.  The doors were closed until about 9:30am, at which point check-in began.

The check-in process at Terminal A was extremely easy.  I used the Royal Caribbean App’s digital set sail pass.  There was a line of port agents who expedited the check-in process, followed by a standard security screening. It was easy, fast and well-run considering it was their first few times actually doing this.

Terminal A is beautiful, and frankly a pleasure to be in.  Every cruiser I talked to spoke so highly of the beautiful nature of the new cruise terminal.  I think we were all impressed by the beauty of the building, and pleasantly surprised by the fact this cruise terminal was fundamentally different than any other cruise terminal we had ever been in before.

The boarding process began right around 11am and getting onboard Symphony I was so excited to see the ship I had read, heard and seen so much about.

The ship looked amazing and this being my first Oasis Class cruise ship in over a year, I had almost forgotten just how impressive and dynamic a ship of this size can be.

They were serving complimentary champagne to everyone boarding the ship, which was the first of many ways Royal Caribbean was celebrating the arrival of Symphony of the Seas to North America.

As is tradition for myself, my first stop was embarkation day lunch in the Windjammer.   

Properly fed, I started exploring Symphony of the Seas and walked the ship.  Naturally, my exploring of the ship may have coincided with some bar hopping.

I managed to exchange an old WOWband for a new one (I had an old WOWband from a previous Royal Caribbean cruise).  Something different about this WOWband is the muster station is not marked on the band. The WOWband sale location was in Boleros.

At 1pm the staterooms were ready.  On this sailing, I am staying in a Central Park balcony room.  I have stayed in this category of stateroom on multiple occasions, and I really enjoy it.

I had the 3-night dining package on this sailing, so I also went to make reservations for dining.  I found it a bit more difficult than on other sailings I have been on to get a reservation.  It seemed like a lot of guests had booked specialty dining on this sailing.  We managed to get reservations, but not at our first choices of times.

Following muster drill, it was time to head up to the pool deck for sailaway.  Our sailaway was a bit later than usual, for a very good reason that I will get to in a moment.  To start off, we enjoyed a picture perfect sunset over Miami.

At 6pm, it was time for another celebration of Symphony’s arrival, with a special fireworks send off.

We remained docked at Terminal A as the Miami Fire Department saluted the ship.

Then, it was time for an amazing fireworks spectacular.  The show must have lasted around 10 minutes and I loved every minute of it.

At last, it was time to sail away from Miami.

Dinner tonight was in Izumi, and it was a fantastic meal.  Some of the best sushi I have had in recent memory.

Following dinner, it was time to party and enjoy our first night onboard.

At midnight, there was a balloon drop on the Royal Promenade, which was a lot of fun.

Tomorrow is a sea day and that means lots more exploring!

Stray Observations

  • All guests were given a complimentary Symphony of the Seas inaugural season hat.
  • There are a few pieces of art in the stairway that have a three dimensional look to them, and they are very interesting and also a bit trippy to look at.
  • This is the first cruise I have been on with the no plastic straws or stirrers policy in place.  Paper straws all around.