It’s for the elderly, you might get seasick, there’s not enough to do…lots of preconceptions were going through my mind as I boarded a flight to Barcelona, where I would be boarding aboard a cruise liner for the first time in my life.
most of them were of my own making, having never really considered the option of a cruise vacation until I was offered passage on Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas – the largest world cruise ship – as it began its European sailing last month.
They say never judge a book by its cover, and that statement couldn’t have been more true when I got my first glimpse of the 16-story ship, with more than 40 restaurants and bars; more than a dozen pools; and enough slides and exhilarating activities for even the biggest kidult.
And that’s before you even consider the fully equipped gym, running track, ice rink and spa, where you can go for a range of services including nail painting, full body massage or even Botox.
Wonder of the Seas launched its Mediterranean cruises – departing from Barcelona and Rome – on May 9, with a week-long voyage stopping at destinations including Florence, Naples and Capri in Italy; Provence, France; and Malaga, Spain.
But my two-day cruise experience was all about the ship itself, which seats 6,000 people at full capacity. And I found plenty of reasons to stay on board. Talking to seasoned cruise goers before I left, I already expected my trip to be filled with all the food and drink I could want.
But I was blown away by the dining options – from specialty Italian, seafood and sushi restaurants to the more casual Johnny Rockets and pizza restaurant, where a slice of pepperoni was much appreciated after a long night. dancing in the ship’s disco.
Drink options were also plentiful with no cocktails on the menu, from lime and coconut at the pool bar, to an Aperol spritz at the Vue bar on the 16th deck. This new addition to the vessel does exactly what it says on the box, providing spectacular sunset views as you drink in the atmosphere.
What I didn’t expect was the abundance of activity and entertainment options, whether you wanted to relax by the pool or in the many hot tubs; or you like a little more exhilaration – including a 10-story zipline.
As a little adrenaline junkie, I wanted to give it a try. And I didn’t stop there, also tackling the Ultimate Abyss – the tallest slide at sea. A real scream, it starts at the 16th deck with the dark, winding tunnel that takes you up 10 floors. I also tried the FlowRider surf simulator – a good laugh, although I had trouble keeping the board afloat, let alone trying to stand up.
The pool is also flooded with waterslides, while rock climbing walls and even an arcade can be found in the ship’s bustling activity area. The new spaces dedicated to children (Adventure Ocean) and teenagers (Social100 and The Patio) will also be sure to entertain the youngest.
After filling up on the high octane fun, I spent the rest of the day soaking up the sun. Cocktail bars and live music make you feel like you’ve been to a pool party that wouldn’t go wrong in Ibiza, and there are plenty of dining options to keep you afloat. Mexican-themed Cantina Fresca is just one of the poolside eateries, where burritos washed down with a pineapple jalapeño margarita are popular with revelers.
There’s also plenty of live entertainment around the pool to keep you dancing late into the evening, before retiring to your cabin to get ready for dinner. There are plenty of new features to make Wonder of the Seas worthy of its title, including additional specialty restaurants, with The Mason Jar Southern Restaurant & Bar standing out for me.
A big fan of Southern cuisine, I gorged on fried chicken and delicious shrimp and grits, while the peanut butter jelly cocktail was a surprising hit. Highly recommend for brunch, with live country music and farmhouse-style decor contributing to the laid-back atmosphere – but make sure you’re hungry.
It would be silly to take a Royal Caribbean cruise and not sample some of the wonders of the seas themselves – the seafood at specialty restaurant Hooked. The surf and turf was delicious, with the beautiful restaurant and 360 degree view of the sea adding to its upmarket allure. If you don’t opt for the specialty dining package, there are still plenty of tasty food options in the main dining room, and you’ll struggle to sample everything at the breakfast buffet.
Eight new “neighborhoods” on board make you feel like you’re on vacation, depending on where you stop the elevator. On deck eight, there’s a New York vibe with the Central Park neighborhood, featuring over 20,000 real plants, plus an American sports bar and carousel.
At the fifth deck I had to remind myself that I was not on the Vegas strip as I strolled over the extremely decorative floor with shops, a pizza place, a piano bar and of course a Starbucks for your caffeine kick early in the morning .
After a delicious dinner, I strolled to the ship’s water theater where guests are treated to a breathtaking water show, performed by over 100 performers and technicians, with an all-female cast of aerialists, one most impressive acts.
Accommodation options on Wonder of the Seas are plentiful, with basic packages offering rooms facing the interior of the ship, while a room with a view will cost a few hundred more. I enjoyed my spacious sea view room with a large bed and a balcony with lounge chairs – an option I would recommend if you can afford it.
For those hosting larger parties or have the cash to spend, the ship’s new suite area offers options including the Ultimate Family Suite, which sleeps 10 people. Spread over two floors, it includes an in-suite slide, cinema and table tennis.
My first cruise experience left me heartbroken after two days of food, drink, sun, sea and marvelous views on board – but, oh, was it worth it. I am already looking forward to my next cruise. And if it sounds like Royal Caribbean’s latest offering, it will be really simple.
■ Packages to sail Wonder of the Seas start from €1,007 for a seven-night Western Mediterranean cruise in August, with prices from €881 in September. See royalcaribbean.com
■ Direct flights to Barcelona are available via aerlingus.com and ryanair.com.
■ There is a Med Cruise option departing from Rome at a price of €988 for September.
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