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.

Up to 30% off pre-cruise purchases with Royal Caribbean's weekend sale

By: Matt Hochberg

Guests could save up to 30% select pre-cruise purchases made this weekend with Royal Caribbean's Ready, Set, Save sale.

The Ready, Set, Save promotion runs between November 9, 2018 - November 12, 2018 and is valid on select sailings November 15, 2018 - April 30, 2019.

The offer is valid on certain shore excursions, drink packages and internet packages.

Royal Caribbean states guests can expect to see:

  • Beverage Packages: Up to 30% off onboard prices
    • Deluxe Beverage Package + VOOM Surf & Stream 1 Device: Discount varies by ship
    • Deluxe Beverage Package: Discount varies by ship
    • Refreshment Package: 30% off onboard prices
  • Shore Excursions: Save up to 25% on select tours on select sailings. Discount varies by ship.
  • Internet: up to 60% off on select sailings
    • Voom Surf + Stream Voyage Package 1, 2, 3, 4 Device(s): Discount varies by ship.
    • Voom Surf Voyage 1, 2, 3, 4 Device(s): Discount varies by ship.
  • Dining
    • 3 night Dining Package: Save 20% off. Available on select ships.

To check if your sailing has this new offer available, log into the Cruise Planner on Royal Caribbean's web site look for any available offers. Keep in mind that not all sailings may see the sale applicable, nor are all offers significantly cheaper than previously posted.

If you spot a better discount on something you already pre-purchased, you should be able to cancel the purchase and then re-purchase the same item under this promotion.

Royal Caribbean's Fall Adventure Sale offers bonus savings this weekend

By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean is offering 60% off second guest, plus bonus onboard credit on cruises booked this weekend.

The Fall Adventure Sale is valid on cruises booked between 11/8/18 – 11/13/18 on sailings departing on or after 12/8/18.

BOGO Offer

 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.

Kids Sail Free

Kids Sail Free provides free cruise fare for 3rd guests and higher who are 12 years old or younger on 4 nights or longer Alaska, Bahamas,Bermuda, Canada, Caribbean, CaribNE,
Coastal, Cuba, Europe and Hawaii sailings departing between 12/1/18 – 12/14/19.

Offer excludes Holiday sailings (Sailings between 12/18/18 – 1/1/19), President’s Day sailings (Sailings between 2/15/19 – 2/18/19), Spring Break sailings (Sailingsbetween 3/16/19 – 3/30/19), Holy Week/Easter sailings (Sailings between 4/13/19 – 4/22/19), Summer sailings (Sailings between5/15/19 – 8/31/19) and 2019Thanksgiving sailings (Sailings between 11/23/19 – 11/30/19).

Kids Sail Free is not combinable with Deck the Holidays Deals.

Fall Adventure Sale

Up to $100 to spend at sea per stateroom determined by category booked and sailing length:

  • On sailings 5 nights or less, $25 OBC for Interiorand Ocean View, $50 for Balconies and $75 for Suites
  • On sailing 6 nights or longer, $50 OBC for Interior and Ocean View, $75 for Balconies and $100 for Suites.

Refer to for complete terms and conditions.

Offer open to residents of US, Canada, Puerto Rico and select countries inthe Caribbean.

Spotted: Happy hour special at Hooked on Symphony of the Seas

By: Matt Hochberg

Guests sailing on Symphony of the Seas can take advantage of a special Hooked Seafood restaurant runs that can save some money on enjoying an early dinner snack.

Royal Caribbean Blog reader, Twangster, spotted this new offer on Symphony of the Seas.  For $10 you can have the nightly happy hour appetizer and a beer or glass of wine.   The happy hour appetizer changes from night to night.

On one evening, the appetizer was 6 raw oysters. The app lists a menu of appetizer choices that change depending on the day.

Does this happy hour special sound like something you would like to try? Tell us int he comments!

Holiday Inn Port Of Miami-Downtown Hotel Review

By: Matt Hochberg

The Holiday Inn Port Of Miami-Downtown is located just a mile and a half from PortMiami, making it an extremely convenient place to stay before or after a Royal Caribbean cruise.  This review features photos of the room & hotel, thoughts on the amenities, and our experience in staying here during our recent visit to the Miami area.

The primary rationale for picking this hotel is simply its location.  Being right on Biscayne Boulevard means you can practically see the cruise ships from the hotel's higher floors.  In fact, step outside the hotel in the afternoon and you are likely to hear a ship's horn as it conducts muster drill.  The proximity to PortMiami makes this Holiday Inn an appealing choice.

The hotel offers 200 rooms, including eight "Bayview" suites, and is located in the heart of Downtown Miami.  You can easily walk outside the hotel and check out various shops, hop on the Metro Mover (the city's monorail), or walk across the street to the Bayside Market.

In my opinion, being downtown is a double edged sword.  You are incredibly close to the cruise port, and there is lots around you to explore.  However, downtown Miami like so many major cities has its share of issues.  In the grand scheme of neighborhoods in and around Miami, downtown is not necessarily the most tourist-laden spots you will find.

Being a Holiday Inn hotel, walking into the lobby reminded me of so many other Holiday Inn hotels.  It features a lot of characteristic greens and other Holiday Inn decor. 

Anytime I walked past the Front Desk or had a need to stop by, there seemed to be little to no lines.

This location offers an outdoor pool, business center, complimentary health & fitness center, WiFi (free for IHG members, which is free to sign up for) and daily housekeeping.

I booked a King Suite Nonsmoking room for my stay.  It was located on the third floor at the end of the hallway. The rate for the first night was $179.55 and the second night was $231.83.  If you had booked a regular room, you can easily find rates closer to $110-$150 per night.

Upon walking into the room, it is indeed quite massive.

There is a very large living room, small kitchenette, sprawling bedroom, bathroom and closet.

The living room has plenty of space, and would be great for kids to sleep on the pull out couch.  I like the fact the living room and bedroom are separated by a set of doors.

The kitchenette is quite small, but functional.  There is a fridge, freezer, sink and microwave.  Perfect for storing and reheating food that you will likely get if you are staying a few nights.

The bedroom has a king size bed, along with a large desk area that was perfect for doing work.  

The bathroom seemed to have been more recently updated than the rest of the room.  Its lights were brighter, and the floor and tub appeared to have been replaced.

The room offered a lot of living space and was clean.  It is worth noting that there was an odd smell to the room, which I never complained about because within a few minutes I stopped noticing it.  But anytime I left the room and came back, I would note the smell.  If I had to describe the smell, I would probably peg it as a putrid, but I seemed to adjust quite quickly.  I also have no idea if any other rooms had this experience, but I figured I would note it.

I would also note that the room felt a bit old.  It was well maintained and certainly clean, but you can tell this is not a new construction hotel.  Some of the room walls had that look and feel of being repainted a few times. This is by far not a problem, but I know some people prefer newer hotels.

Overall, the Holiday Inn Port Of Miami-Downtown hotel fit the bill of what many look for in any pre- or post-cruise hotel, which is somewhere clean, safe and moderately priced. It is a very utilitarian spot to stay that will get you about as close as you can get to PortMiami.  

If you are just staying one night, I think this hotel is just fine for a place to rest and relax until you depart on your cruise. 

Your thoughts

Have you stayed at Holiday Inn Port Of Miami-Downtown? Are you a fan of it? What did you think of the suites? Is this a hotel you’d consider? Please share your thoughts or questions in the comments section below!