Royal Caribbean International’s new Harmony of the Seas will soon be plying the waters of the Mediterranean and Caribbean as the largest cruise ship in the world, but before its May launch, it must first complete its construction. I just had the opportunity to tour the ship (and its forthcoming Oasis 4 sister) at the STX Europe shipyard in Saint-Nazaire, France, and she is emerging as a full-figured beauty.
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Witnessing the shipyard building process and the yet-to-be-named 2018-model Oasis 4 in its early stages of assembly provided a wild perspective for just how involved such an undertaking is. After all, these ships are essentially twice as wide as Royal’s own Radiance-class ships, so it’s no wonder that they take ample time and labor to complete.
From raw steel come larger panels, and from panels come larger blocks, that are altogether positioned and welded together in a building basin that is over one kilometer in length. The assembly appears more like a LEGO set than a completed ship until the curved bow and stern sections are installed, but standing under the keel and looking up at the behemoth Oasis 4 above you proves this is no toy.
Our first glimpse inside the Harmony of the Seas was an empty Diamond Lounge where soon Crown & Anchor Society loyalists will mingle about. On our tour, makeshift workstations, raw materials and exposed ductwork, wiring and bulkheads are evidence that the ship still has a long way to go in just under 100 days’ time, but it will happen, as workers methodically ply their trades like ants on a sugar cube.
As my dad, a self-employed residential building contractor and tour companion, and I, his protege, mused, the scene is not unlike that of a home being remodeled before tying up lose ends to present a polished product. Of course, the scale here is much grander. Studio B (seen above), for instance, looks much like it does on Harmony’s sister ships, but the ice has yet to freeze over and not a single seat has been bolted down yet.
The Bionic Bar, here replacing the previous Champagne Bar, is just a sturdy frame where robots and liquor bottles will soon be mounted. This time around, the hardware will be the same as on the Quantum-class ships, but the software and interface to order drinks will be streamlined. Overhead the Rising Tide Bar (seen above) looms above, perched on its vertical supports rails that will escalate the mobile watering hole from the Royal Promenade, a sprawling expanse currently filled with scaffolding, to the Central Park, sans its future foliage.
The main dining room is once again a regal three-deck restaurant that will be divided into three Dynamic Dining venues – American Icon, Grande and Silk – each serving the same menu with distinct flavors and specialties. Also from the Quantum class of ships is the Wonderland (seen above) specialty restaurant in a two-story variation overlooking the Boardwalk district and exterior stern of the ship. Its increased size will accommodate 98 guests, twice that of the Anthem of the Seas.
Speaking of the Boardwalk (seen above), here now will be the home to Starbucks, relocating from its former Royal Promenade location, where new shore excursions will be located. What’s more, the AquaTheater will feature a new four-point aerial system that will, according to Nick Weir, vice president of entertainment, allow performers to precisely float above the stage and audience while new sporting game camera systems fly though stadiums. Not to mention the tallest slide at sea, the Ultimate Abyss, will stretch above from deck 17 down to deck 6 with sound and lighting effects, but that had yet to be delivered from its German manufacturer.
What had been mostly installed is the Perfect Storm (seen above) trio of water slides – two tube racers and a champagne bowl – save for their initial and final approaches, which were off to the sides ready to be craned in to place. Also, awaiting its installation is the Splashaway Bay kids water park. The basin and perimeter are in place, but the equipment is not quite yet. The pool and sports decks are mostly covered in protective particle board before FlowRider surf simulators, mini golf and the like are installed. Meanwhile, the Solarium is taking shape as a longer space with fewer steps and more overall room, and a new “fresh and fit pod” sits forward of the lifeboats for al fresco fitness.
Accommodations are anywhere from bare bones (seen above) still to entirely outfitted. This time around, cabins are larger thanks to the replacement of closet slider compartments with bed-flanking cabinetry. Plus, as the Harmony comes online in May so too will Royal Genies on all Oasis and Quantum-class ships. Vicki Freed, SVP, Sales and Trade Support & Services, introduced us to the new Star Class suite feature wherein British Butler Institute-trained staff provide personalized service with preferences to music, movies and more researched with the help of travel agents.
To ensure consistent standards of Royal Caribbean service, the crew onboard will be assigned 10 percent from each existing ship, and only after at least four months will new hires be recruited. The Harmony of the Seas launches in May 2016, and the Oasis 4 launches in spring 2018.