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Happy on Harmony - 26 September to 3 October 2021 - only a little bit live


FionaMG
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It is really great to be back on board. I was so afraid one of us would test positive beforehand. We are enjoying the cruise but it is not the same experience as pre-pandemic. It is very quiet on board and the buzz is missing. There are 1200 passengers on board this week and safety is uppermost in everyone's mind.

The crew are falling over themselves to please us. 

The Windjammer is not open for dinner, the Solarium Bistro is only open for dinner and Johnny Rockets is not open for breakfast. Some of the shops are operating limited opening hours.

 

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6 hours ago, zelekar said:

Great, thanks for this information! It's going to be a little strange with the ship only a quarter full, but hopefully that will make things feel safe and mean less lines for activities.

I have seen no lines for anything. They are doing everything they can to keep everyone safe. Physical distancing is very much in evidence and most people are very respectful of the mask requirements. 

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A tip for those boarding soon, book your shows the minute you get on board. We had a later boarding time because we were visiting the Sagrada Familia that morning, so by the time we boarded and were able to connect to the ship's wifi some of the show times we wanted were booked out.

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Cruise compasses, boarding + departure info and show times attached as PDF files for easier reading.

@MelKaps and @wnoble1967, tagging you in this post so you can get an idea of what to expect. I hope you find them helpful.

Day 1 Compass - Barcelona.pdf Day 2 Compass - Palma de Mallorca.pdf Day 3 Compass - At Sea.pdf Day 4 Compass - La Spezia.pdf Day 5 Compass - Civitavecchia.pdf Day 6 Compass - Naples.pdf Day 7 Compass - At Sea.pdf Departure info.pdf Show times.pdf Welcome aboard info.pdf

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So, just to start my brief recap (there's no point in doing a full-blown report as Harmony is only going to be in the Med for a few more weeks), we had scheduled our check-in at the port for 1.30 pm, since we were visiting the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona that morning. By the way, if you haven't seen it, the Sagrada Familia is a must-do. We did a guided tour and could have stayed on after to visit the crypt but had to leave to head to the ship. Next time.

The terminal was practically deserted when we arrived there. The dreaded tests came first, quick but quite uncomfortable. Then we went through to the check-in area where an employee checked us in on a tablet while waiting for the test results. They came through very quickly and we had barely had time to sit down in our designated waiting area before we were told we could board. Then and only then was I able to relax.

The onboard welcome staff sent us straight to our muster station to do the drill before letting us head up to our room. That worked very well as the person manning it quickly explained everything to us and then ticked us off as done and free to go. Later on in the afternoon there were numerous calls for people who hadn't done theirs.

After dropping our bags off in our rooms, we headed to the WJ for some lunch. Although the cruise planner said "reservations preferred" for the WJ, I think they were probably not operating a reservations system on our sailing as there were never any slots available on the app and we never had to wait to go in. You have to tap in and out, and after tapping in you get sent to wash your hands before a crew members takes you to get your plates and cutlery and then leads you to a table.

We found the food was good, albeit with less variety than in pre-pandemic times. You could pick up plated items yourself and non-plated ones were served by the crew member at the serving station.

The freshly squeezed orange juice was available in the WJ at lunch as well as breakfast.

We had dinner in the My Time dining room. As I had pre-booked the same set time in the cruise planner beforehand, we were given the same table and wait staff each evening, so we were able to enjoy getting to know our wait staff in the same way as we would have with traditional dining. Apart from one dinner in the Solarium Bistro, we had all our dinners in the MDR, so I can't comment on the speciality dining. There did not appear to be any special offers for that on board and nobody tried to sell us any.

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I know I said I wasn't going to go into a lot of detail in my report but this particular day deserves special treatment! 

Day 2 of our cruise was in Palma de Mallorca and this was the only port where vaccinated guests were able to go ashore freely and do their own thing (unvaccinated could only get off the ship on a shore excursion here too).

Given that we had 4 extra hours in port as "compensation" for our cancelled call in Marseille the next day, I had put together a DIY excursion for our family party of four.

The plan was to get off the ship around 9 am, grab a taxi to the centre of Palma and get the vintage train to Soller at 10 am, where we would wander around for a bit, have some lunch and then catch the tram to Puerto de Soller for another wander before retracing our steps. It would not have been possible to do this if the ship had been departing at the originally scheduled time of 4 pm.

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While we did more or less manage to pull it off, there were a few hiccups along the way. Firstly my family are reeeaaallly slow and they always underestimate the time they need to do anything, so they were not ready to get off the ship until well past 9 and then, when we finally got to the gangway, SIL discovered she had left her sea pass card behind in the room - right at the very back of the ship. Time was getting a bit tight to catch the 10 am train by now but no worries, I thought, as there is another at 10.40 am.

Except... there were NO TAXIS!!! I guess the taxi people knew the occupancy on the ship was very low and reckoned it wasn't really worth their while hanging around at the dock. There were a couple of taxi drivers trying to entice people to do tours but they couldn't be persuaded just to take us into the centre. We were getting to the desperation point and becoming resigned to the idea of doing the tour, which wasn't much more expensive than our DIY trip, but obviously omitted the fun of the vintage train and tram, when finally a taxi turned up. We got to the station with about 10 minutes to spare, which was enough time to stand in line and get our tickets. There is now a (very recently added) option to purchase tickets online in advance; that was not available at the time I was researching the trip. It costs 32 euros per person for the combined round-trip train & tram ticket. Ticket sales, timetables and more info here: http://trendesoller.com/en/#

The train was packed (social distancing, what's that?) and masks were required. BIL got a telling off from the conductor for having his below his chin. (Served him right; pat on the back for the conductor). 

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The scenery along the way was pretty and the train stopped at a viewpoint along the way, where we were able to get off to take pics.

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Someone had recommended a place called Café Soller to us for lunch but their outdoor seating area was packed when we arrived in Soller, so we went for a wander and by the time we came back we were able to get a table. We had the Pa Amb Oli, which are toasted slices of rustic bread with various toppings and sides of olives, pickles and capers. We chose one with sobrasada sausage, a local speciality similar to chorizo, and one with dry-cured ham and Mahon cheese. Just the two were plenty for the four of us. They were delicious.

https://www.cafesoller.com/

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After that we caught the tram to Puerto de Soller, which is a holiday resort on the coast. It takes 30 minutes in the tram to get there from Soller.

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Because we had arrived later than planned, we did not have very long to look around, which was a pity. It is an attractive resort, with a long seafront avenue, lots of shops, bars and restaurants, and a marina. There is a small beach at either end of the bay and we had brought along a couple of towels in case we wanted to sit there for a bit but, apart from being short on time, we didn't think the beaches were up to much, so we didn't bother.

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We caught the 3.30 pm tram back to the railway station in Soller, the last one that would get us to the train station in time to catch the 4.30 pm train. That gave us enough time to enjoy some ice cream from a parlour near the station beforehand. There was another train an hour later, at 5.30 pm, which would still have got us back to the ship in time for all aboard, but it would have been cutting it a bit close and my risk tolerance is not that high! 😬

There were plenty taxis at the rank just across the road from the station when we arrived back in Palma, so we jumped in one and headed back to the ship. The taxi price ranges from around 15-20 euros depending on the traffic. We paid 20 on the way to the station in the morning and just over 15 on the way back, when there was less traffic.

All in all, despite the rather tense moments at the start, it was a great day out and I would definitely recommend it as a good way to spend the day as long as your ship has a later departure time. It's possible that once Covid is behind us there will be far more taxis and more frequent trains (currently there are only 2 out in the morning - at 10 am and 10.40 am - and 2 back in the afternoon - at 4.30 pm and 5.30 pm), making it possible to do the trip even if you have a shorter time in port.

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8 hours ago, absolutebrilliance said:

Hi!! Thanks so much for the lovely details on your trip. I had read somewhere that there were shuttles from the port to the Palma town center — was that not the case? 

Yes, there are. The cost is $10 per person round trip. They go from right outside the terminal but they drop off near the cathedral which is quite a long walk from the train station.

As an aside, if you are interested in churches, the cathedral looks absolutely stunning from the outside. We drove past it on the way to the station and the driver tried to persuade us to visit it instead of going to Soller. However, my family are not really into churches and, having done the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, that would have been pushing their tolerance level. I couldn't even get them to go into the little church in Soller! 😆 

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After our DIY excursion in Palma de Mallorca, we did not get off the ship again until it was time debark back in Barcelona.

This was essentially due to the fact that you could only go ashore in the Italian ports (La Spezia, Civitavecchia and Naples) on a ship-sponsored excursion (Italian government regulations, so no way around it, even for Italian citizens!). Within two days of Royal informing everyone about this, they hiked the prices so much that for us, as Europeans, it would have been cheaper to book a cheap flight to Rome and stay there for 3 days than to do a day-trip excursion, hence we simply stayed put on board and enjoyed the facilities. We found the wicker chairs with footrests in the solarium to be particularly comfy! DH, SIL and BIL had a nice little snooze there, while I enjoyed capturing them on film to tease them with later. 😆

The food on board was good. I managed to persuade the others to have breakfast in the MDR just once; I really wanted to go several times because I was keen to try some of the new menu items. Unfortunately, they were not fans. With limited English and not being particularly familiar with the items on the breakfast menu, they preferred the WJ where they could see the food on display and know what they were getting. The day we had breakfast in the MDR, SIL ordered what she thought was scrambled eggs with chorizo; it was actually the breakfast burrito, so she was astonished when her plate came out. She did enjoy it though.

Consequently, I only managed to try one of the new dishes: the Market Vegetable Breakfast Bowl. It was tasty but a bit too heavy for me at breakfast time, so I wasn't able to finish it.

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We did not do any speciality dining on this cruise, as we thought it was quite expensive. Someone either on this board or over on CC reported that, on their sailing, there were special offers on board for the speciality dining but we did not come across that on ours. There was also no hard sell, as we have seen on previous cruises; in fact, nobody approached us at all about speciality dining.

We ate all our dinners except one in the MDR, where we found the food was good. Since I had booked the same time every evening beforehand in the cruise planner, we were given the same table each evening and enjoyed the attentive service of the same wait staff throughout the cruise - a traditional dining experience but at a time that suited us.

Apart from the main menu, which can be found in the app, we also tried a few starters off the vegan menu. DH and SIL both had the Potato Soup with Roasted Mushrooms and really liked it and I tried the Green Bean Croquette with Rocket Salad and Peanuts, that I liked, and the grilled avocado, which looked better than it tasted. 

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I didn't take many pics of the food as I didn't have internet except for our 2 Diamond days so I knew I wouldn't be posting live. Plus, the menus are already well-established and peeps with better photography skills than mine have posted much better pics than any I might have taken.

As far as desserts were concerned, there was an amazing Dulce de Leche chocolate cake in the WJ one day at lunchtime that I treated myself to a massive slice of and apart from that, my all-time favourite in the MDR - the Royal Chocolate Cake - did not disappoint.

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We also had dinner one evening in the Solarium Bistro, which was nice too, one of the main attractions for me being that they had baklava for dessert, which I love but all of the other three all hated because it was so sweet! 😆

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Minor musings #1

Internet.

On our last few cruises pre-Covid, when we were cruising in the Caribbean, I bought a one-device internet package purely because we need to be reachable and it's cheaper than phone calls, text messages and mobile data on our European phones.

For this Harmony cruise in Europe, I would still have bought one if the prices had not been stupidly expensive. On a single occasion, away back in July of last year, it was offered at what, to me, was an acceptable price, but at that point I was still battling to get my cruise planner purchases refunded after Lifting and Shifting and I was not willing to lay down more cash.

Consequently, since we each had a free Diamond internet day that we could use on our two sea days and since we would have access to our mobile data plans on port days, we decided not to purchase any Voom.

Well, I clearly have a problem (😆) because I absolutely hated not being able to connect to the boards in the evening when DH was in the casino. That said, I still think it was the sensible thing to do.

On our free Diamond days, we connected to the internet without difficulty, although for some reason there were major connectivity issues with CC. I'm reading similar reports over there right now from a different ship, so it looks like there might be some blocking going on, as there was no issue when using mobile data to connect. I'm glad to report there were absolutely no issues connecting to the boards here.

The free internet is surf and it is apparently slow - as attested by the speed test run by my tablet's antivirus (I had no idea it would do that. It never has before. 😮)

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Despite what it says in the pic, I never actually found it to be slow (I don't know what the numbers mean) but I wasn't trying to do anything other than check my e-mails and hang out on the board. Plus there were so few people on board that I expect it was faster than usual because of low demand on the service.

 

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Miscellaneous musings #2

Diamond Benefits

This was only our second cruise as Diamond C&A members. The first one was on Adventure over Thanksgiving 2019, so before Covid and, consequently, a bit different.

As far as the Diamond Lounge itself was concerned, I much preferred the one on Adventure, as it was on one of the higher decks with beautiful sea views. I didn't care for the location of the lounge on Harmony, down in the bowels of the ship on deck 4 and with no windows to the outside world. Consequently, we only went there once, on the very first evening, just a little before the happy hour, to get some coffee and tea. At that time we were the only ones in there and we did have a pleasant chat with the Diamond Concierge (Lyli from Panama). We did see them starting to put out the nibbles for the happy hour but having eaten lunch late we didn't stay to partake.

I did notice a computer screen in there, but it wasn't attached to anything so was essentially pointless.

We did prefer the new drink vouchers system to the old one. However, we did not make very much use of it since, apart from BIL's glass of wine with dinner none of us drink alcohol. I don't think there was a single day when we managed to use them all up and those that we did were "spent" on such things as orange juice, cappuccinos and water. One day after my session in the gym, the server at the vitality café looked at me in utter disbelief when I asked him for two waters and "please take them off my Diamond allowance". 🤣

The only other two benefits we used were the $6 free play in the casino (which was actually $8 because the casino was offering an extra $2 on the first two nights) and the free photo.

Here are the information sheets we received:

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Miscellaneous musings #3

The gym 🏋️‍♀️

In these Covid times, the gym was the only indoor space on board (at least that I encountered) where masks were not required but there were "masks on" reminders as you exited. Every second cardio machine was switched off and had a sign on it saying that it was not in use due to physical distancing. Even so, the open ones were never fully occupied when I was in there, although I make a point of going to the gym in the late afternoon when I cruise because I know that's a quiet time, so it's possible it was busier in the mornings. The free weights and pulley machines were fully available. Not much physical distancing there but again with so few people around it wasn't hard to keep your distance. People would scrupulously sanitise whatever machine they'd been using when they were done, even the mats used for floor work.

Note that on this cruise the gym was operating fewer hours than normal, from 7 am to 7 pm rather than the usual 6 am to 10 pm. I got caught out the first evening and ended up doing my session on the running track instead, making use of the space at the aft where they normally have the deck chairs (and which were not there on this cruise).

Shows 🎭

There was only one production show on this cruise: the Broadway musical, Grease, which we did not get to see because it was only performed 3 times and we were unable to secure a booking for the only time that suited us.

The other shows - the ice show, the aqua show and the headliners - were all good. I liked that there were later show times available (between 10 pm and 10.45 pm); when the shows are at 7 pm and 9 pm, I invariably miss them because the earlier time clashes with my work out and the later one clashes with our dinner.

At the start of the week, most passengers were pretty compliant about wearing masks in the show venues but, by the end, many seemed to be tiring of the requirement. On the second-last night, in the main theatre, probably around 50% of the audience "chinned" or entirely removed their masks as soon as the lights went down.

The show times for this sailing can be downloaded from the PDF I posted near the beginning of the thread but I expect they will change very soon since the ship is due to return to the US at the end of the month.

Loungers 🏖️

Although the ship had few passengers, it was rarely easy to get a lounger right by the pools at the times we went (never early). I put this down to the large numbers of European passengers refusing to pay the outrageous excursion prices and simply staying on board. However, if you didn't mind going up to the deck above the pool, you could usually find loungers without too much trouble at any time of day.

The Solarium 🌞

A great spot and always very quiet. Southern Europeans tend to want to be in the middle of the confusion where they can all socialise together, so there did not seem to be much demand for the solarium. Plus, of course, Harmony is the ship with no pool in the solarium, which may have been significant. The wicker chairs with soft cushions and padded footrests in there were soooo comfy.

Final thoughts

We really enjoyed our cruise. It was very relaxing and just what the doctor ordered after the stress and anxiety of the last two years. However, it was definitely NOT the same experience that we would have had pre-pandemic. The ship was very quiet, too quiet in fact, and missing the usual buzz. Conversely, the service was magnificent, with the staff falling over themselves to make sure we enjoyed ourselves and, very importantly, felt safe. Departure was different too, since you go and have breakfast and then wait in your room until your tag is called. I would actually love to see this procedure maintained going forward as I felt it reduced the stress of departure considerably. 

Having booked a a cruise to the Greek Isles cruise on Odyssey of the Seas for next May just a few weeks before we sailed on Harmony, we booked another at the Next Cruise office, to the Canary Islands on Anthem of the Seas for next September, taking advantage of the low deposit, OBC and double points. We are thrilled to be back cruising again and are keeping our fingers crossed that the impact of Covid will lessen in the coming months and we will have a more "normal" experience on those two cruises. I have never before had two future cruises booked at the same time and I can't wait to get started on the planning for those! 😁

That's all for this one; if there's anything I've left out, do feel free to ask. If I know the answer I'll be delighted to help. Happy cruising! 😊

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33 minutes ago, PG Cruiser said:

How does the free play at the casino work?

You just tap your seapass card on the scanner or whatever it's called on the machine you want to play on. Then you have to go through some fiddly steps to transfer the credit for the $6 free play from your card to the machine. Not being terribly casino-savvy, we had absolutely no idea how to do it so one of the staff had to show us step-by-step. 😆 

For some reason the $6 hadn't been loaded on to my sister-in-law's card but the cashier was able to sort it out for her. And my card wouldn't work at all on any machine so I had to go and get a whole new seapass card before I could use mine!

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