A gentle breeze rustles through the trees in Central Park. I grab a coffee in the park’s cafe and sit listening to a classical quartet. It’s a calming moment and I almost forget that I’m on the biggest cruise ship in the world.
Wonder of the Seas is not quite a city, but when full she carries 6,988 passengers and 2,300 crew — a total population three times bigger than the Kent village where I live.
From Central Park, I wander along to the Boardwalk, where the make-believe continues as I jump on a carousel ride. It’s all very Mary Poppins. But perhaps that’s the point.
Lesley Bellew boards Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas, pictured, the world’s largest cruise ship. She says that it’s ‘not quite a city, but when full she carries 6,988 passengers and 2,300 crew — a total population three times bigger than the Kent village where I live’
You have to hand it to the cruise companies. They are the masters of reinvention. For example, this £1 billion Royal Caribbean behemoth has a ship within a ship called the Suite Neighbourhood, with, yes, 188 suites over two decks.
It also features the Ultimate Family Suite, with room for up to ten guests and its own cinema, slide, karaoke area and table tennis table. The price for this can reach around £48,000 a week.
The Suite Neighourhood concept is new for Royal Caribbean, but it is a growing trend among big cruise companies. MSC Cruises’ Yacht Club and Norwegian Cruise Line’s The Haven also offer exclusivity within their megaships.
‘These massive ships are bonkers,’ says Lesley. Above is one of the pool areas on Wonder of the Seas – it features 19 pools in total
Wonder of the Seas, at 236,857 gross tonnage, took three years to build in France and has an extra deck which means it can claim to be ‘the biggest’.
‘This ship is aimed at everyone, of all ages,’ says Ben Bouldin, Royal Caribbean’s vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. ‘We are seeing more multi-generational families travelling and with inflation rising the grandparents are often paying.
‘We are also finding the higher-price accommodation in the Suite Neighbourhood is selling faster than other staterooms.’
Above is the Kids’ Room in the ‘Ultimate Family Suite’. With room for up to ten guests, the suite also features its own cinema, slide, karaoke area and table tennis table
The price for the ‘Ultimate Family Suite’ can reach around £48,000 a week. Above is the suite’s living room
Lesley wanders along to the Boardwalk (pictured) and jumps on a carousel ride. ‘It’s all very Mary Poppins. But perhaps that’s the point,’ she says
THE SHIP BY NUMBERS
- 18 decks
- 19 pools
- 1,188 ft (326 m) long (that’s three football pitches)
- 6 million coffee beans used each week
- 6,988 guests
- 2,300 crew
- 17 restaurants
- 3,200 slices of pizza cut every hour
- 60,000 eggs are consumed by staff and guests each week
- 700 lb of ice cream per week
- 2,100 lb of lobster tails per week
- 5,000 lb of French fries per week
Really? I’m perfectly happy with my balconied cabin on Deck 10, priced at about £770 pp for a week. It is smart and spacious with a pretty shower room, two wardrobes and a large chest of drawers.
As well as a double bed, there is also a sofa bed, so it could accommodate a family of four.
When it comes to entertainment, it doesn’t matter which part of the ship you are staying in — and Royal Caribbean’s shows are rather special.
It’s close to midnight and I am on the edge of my seat during the outdoor Aqua Theatre show ‘inTENse’, featuring a team of Olympic-class divers doing something I can only describe as ‘synchronised swimming on steroids’.
Amid all the dancing fountains and music, the women divers drop into a tiny pool from 60ft, while a trapeze artist at an even giddier height makes his way over the audience’s heads. It’s bonkers but brilliant. But perhaps that’s the point. These massive ships are bonkers.
Thousands of people on a single vessel, with an ice-skating rink, high-tech bars where you are served by robots, slides to make Disneyland look tame, 19 swimming pools, more than 40 restaurants and bars, zipwires, fake waves for surfing and a bar where guests’ seats glide up and down between the Promenade on Deck Five and Central Park on Deck Eight.
Meals in some restaurants are complimentary, while speciality ones require an additional fee.
My free-of-charge favourites are the Solarium Bistro, with its healthy options, and El Loco Fresh for help-yourself tacos and wraps.
The Windjammer Marketplace buffet serves everything from lobster to curries, and eating in the three-deck galleried dining room with waiter service is included in the cruise fare, too.
Lesley grabs a coffee in Central Park (pictured) and listens to a classical quartet. ‘It’s a calming moment and I almost forget that I’m on the biggest cruise ship in the world,’ she says
HERE’S WHAT WE THINK
- The ship is easy to navigate
- Show-stopping entertainment
- Free zipwire, slides and climbing wall
- Excellent pools
- Plenty of quiet spaces
- Tax of 18 per cent added to all purchases
- Top speciality restaurants are pricey
- Entertainment and restaurants need advance booking but the app wasn’t working on my sailing
The cost of dining at the speciality restaurants averages about £31 per person.
These include The Mason Jar, serving Southern U.S. comfort food such as twice-fried Orio biscuits for dessert.
I can only eat half of one of these (there are four on the plate, with a bourbon chocolate dip). It’s greasy, chewy and utterly delicious.
For passengers wanting to splash out, Vitality Spa guests can book to see Dr Enrique, who offers medi-spa treatments such as Botox-style skin tightening from £238, and CoolSculpting to freeze off fat for a cool £630 per session. That keeps the fantasy in check.
As we sail back into Europe’s largest cruise harbour, the Port of Barcelona, Wonder of the Seas dwarfs other megaships — and I ponder over just how much bigger cruise ships can get.
Work started last month on the sixth Oasis-class ship Utopia of the Seas, which will launch in spring 2024.
Yes, you’ve got it, this will eclipse Wonder of the Seas because it will be the fleet’s first LNG-powered (liquefied natural gas) ship and is set to be even bigger.
Royal Caribbean won’t give any details but says it will be ‘bold beyond imagination’.
Speciality restaurant The Mason Jar, pictured, serves Southern U.S. comfort food such as twice-fried Orio biscuits for dessert. ‘I can only eat half of one of these,’ Lesley admits
Above is the Solarium, an adults-only area on the ship. Wonder of the Seas’ maiden European sailing departs from Barcelona on May 8
Wonder of the Seas’ maiden European sailing departs from Barcelona on May 8, marking the start of its seven-night Western Mediterranean cruises. A September 29 departure from Rome costs from £770pp (royalcaribbean.com, 0344 493 4005).