It’s a wonder the cruise industry is still alive after two years of massive disruption.
It’s a wonder that the world’s largest cruise ship was built during that same turbulent period, with supply chains in disarray.
And it’s wonderful for TravelPulse Canada to be aboard that ship – the Wonder of the Seas – on its inaugural voyage from Fort Lauderdale.
“The Royal comeback is behind us. We are back. The world’s greatest vacation is back,” said Mark Tamis, Royal Caribbean’s Senior Vice President of Hotel Operations to a crowded press conference just before the ship’s departure from FLL on a seven-night cruise.
After a “heartbreaking” beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when cruise ships were portrayed by media and some politicians as ‘petri dishes’ of infection, Tamis says the response of his company and the overall cruise industry has helped restore confidence.
“We’re constantly surveying consumers and we’ve seen a real rebound in trust and respect for what we’re doing. We’ve taken a science-based approach and have been diligent in putting forth the safest possible vacation,” Tamis said.
Tamis said he wasn’t just referring to Royal Caribbean, but the whole industry, which “never competes on health and safety,” and has come together in a partnership to follow scientific advice and learn how to adapt to operating during a global health crisis.
“From where I sit, we really do believe we have the safest vacation,” Tamis added.
There’s a major difference between this Wonder cruise and the two previous sailings TravelPulse Canada has experienced during the pandemic. Masks are no longer required for guests indoors or out, though the line has decided to voluntarily maintain a mask requirement for crew members for now.
For this Canadian, it’s a bit of an adjustment to not reach for a mask each time I leave my comfortable, efficient stateroom. It seems that others felt the same way, because there were quite a few of the 4,800 passengers wearing masks on Day 1. As I write on Day 3 of the cruise, docked at Labadee, Haiti, there are few face coverings to be seen, and plenty of smiles.
Tamis describes the 1,188-foot-long, 236,857 gross ton Wonder of the Seas as “a stage where the crew delivers the experience.” He’s right – the staff are amazingly welcoming and efficient – but the Wonder is quite a stage.
The behemoth ship has a capacity of 5,734 guests at double occupancy, an incredible 6,988 guests if third and fourth berths are filled. The international crew, with the largest groups from the Philippines, India and Indonesia, totals around 2,300.
While only about 4% larger than sister ship Symphony of the Seas, the previous world’s largest titleholder, there are noticeable differences, include the addition of an eighth ‘neighbourhood.’
The Wonder is the first Oasis Class cruise ship to feature a neighbourhood dedicated exclusively to suite guests. Located on Decks 17 and 18, the area gives Royal Suite Class guests their own plunge pool, bar and lots of quiet nooks for relaxation.
There’s a new restaurant on board, The Mason Jar, which features Southern U.S. comfort food, and entertainment by a country trio. More about this in a future article.
The open pool decks continue Royal Caribbean’s successful efforts to create a Caribbean resort ambience, with live bands playing reggae music, colourful tropical décor and the popular Lime & Coconut bars.
In an interview with TravelPulse Canada, Jay Schneider, Senior Vice President and Chief Product Innovation Officer, says each new ship design delivers a combination of tradition, evolution and revolution, elevating the experience while maintaining the things guests love.
Schneider says tradition on Wonder of the Seas includes places like The Schooner Bar, an old favourite of Royal Caribbean devotees. Evolution is seen throughout the food and beverage experience, with improved main dining room cuisine, and complimentary food venues brought closer to the open decks where many guests spend a significant amount of time.
“The transformation of the open decks is just a home run,” Schneider said. “And the evolution of food and beverage is tremendous.” Schneider also says programming for youth and families have significantly evolved, using technology to deliver an enhanced experience.
In terms of first impressions for this observer, Wonder of the Seas truly does deliver. There’s so much to see and do … and eat and drink. The quality of entertainment is truly impressive, from small musical acts in a wide range of venues to dazzling production shows.
Conversations with many guests reveal few complaints and buckets of praise for the newest ‘world’s largest cruise ship’. It’s that response that gives Schneider the confidence to declare: “I don’t think there’s a company on the planet better positioned to deliver the kind of experience we do.”
He’s also “very excited” about the future of cruising. “I think we’ve far and away demonstrated we’re not a petri dish. We’ve created the safest, healthiest way to travel and that’s why we feel so positive.”