The following Symphony of the Seas review was written by our friend Robert Farrington at The College Investor. Enjoy!
The Symphony of the Seas is Royal Caribbean’s newest (and currently largest) cruise ship! This ship is massive – with tons of activities and food – it sounds like fun for the whole family.
My family recently sailed on the Symphony of the Seas in June 2019, and I’m going to share my full review of the ship. We took a 7 Night Eastern Caribbean and Perfect Day cruise that sailed out of Miami, FL.
Even though we tried our best, we couldn’t get to everything this ship had to offer. But we also encountered enough challenges to have mixed feelings about this ship upon departure.
Let’s break down our experience, what went well, what went poorly, and share some lessons learned that hopefully you can apply to your next cruise.
Getting To Miami And Boarding The Ship
Traveling with smaller children always poses logistical challenges, and getting to the cruise ship is no exception.
There are two major airports that you can fly into: Miami International or Ft. Lauderdale. Depending on where you are flying from, you may not have options. But if you have choices, don’t be afraid of Ft. Lauderdale – it’s only a 15 minute longer drive than Miami International – and you may have better flight options (such as Jet Blue).
When booking your trip, you should also look into travel insurance. This is a huge expense with foreign countries involved and lots of moving parts. A travel insurance policy can be a good safety net investment on your vacation.
Getting from the airport to the port is another challenge. We decided to Uber it – making a stop at Target Drive-Up to get diapers and sunblock so we didn’t have to fly with it. Our Uber trip from the airport to Target, then to the port cost $35. This is much cheaper than booking through Royal Caribbean, which charges $16 per person per way. That would be $64 for our family of 4 each direction.
The trick to Uber-ing with a 2 year old is having a car seat. We love traveling with the WAYB Pico Car Seat. Super lightweight, carry-on, and the bag has room to store extras like diapers, hats, etc.
Once we arrived at the port, Symphony leaves out of the new Terminal A – which is amazing. Feels like a modern airport terminal.
Since we booked a Suite, we proceeded to the Suite elevator and lounge immediately to the right upon entry.
We used the app ahead of time to enter all our personal information and snapped our pictures at home, so check-in took 5 minutes and we could board.
The Suite Lounge in the port didn’t have much to offer. The support staff was awesome and there was plenty of room to sit, but they only offered cookies and water to eat/drink. Nothing fancy or special.
Also, nobody gives you directions of how to get to your room. It can be confusing. You cross the gangway into the ship, where they scan your SeaPass again, and you’re on your own to find your room. A little overwhelming. It felt like their team was so overwhelmed they couldn’t be bothered to help you.
Pro Tip: We travel completely with carry-ons, and it made getting on/off so much easier. No waiting for luggage. Nothing lost. So easy to travel. Challenge yourself to see if you can pack your family in carry-ons for your next cruise. Our neighbor stateroom didn’t get their luggage until after 7pm.
Symphony Of The Seas Stateroom In-Depth
We booked a Grand Suite for our cruise, and the space was incredibly worth it. However, may of the amenities they advertise for the Suite Level were lacking (which we discuss in-depth below). However, the room was solid from a space perspective – which is exactly why we booked it.
The room has a kitchenette, living room, bedroom, and full bath. There is also a great balcony.
In the kitchenette, there is a small refrigerator which is enough to hold some drinks. The countertop space is nice, but they glued large vases to it as decorations – which really make one countertop completely unusable. The main closet is also in the kitchen which has plenty of storage and even enough room to put your suitcases completely out of sight!
The living room is good sized, and the couch transforms into a queen bed – perfect for traveling with kids and each person having enough space to relax.
The bedroom has a comfortable bed, as well as desk/makeup area. Once again, lots of storage space for everything!
The bathroom in the suite is solid. The only thing lacking is a bit of countertop space, but with a little creativity, you can get by. The full shower and bathtub is great for young children and being able to give them a bath.
The balcony came with a table and two chairs, and then two comfy chairs with footrests. And parents, don’t worry – there is a child safety lock on your balcony door.
On check-in day, our stateroom was ready at approximately 1pm. However, the day is extremely busy for your stateroom attendant, and we struggled to get things we needed – like blankets – before our children’s bedtime.
Ship Amenities And Features
What attracted us to Symphony of the Seas was that it was a new ship with tons of things to do. And the ship doesn’t let you down!
One thing that might let you down (and it impacted us), is the service and crowding on the ship. The staff does seem a bit overwhelmed or overworked, and too many aren’t friendly or helpful. Combine that with the large crowd (the ship has 5,500 passengers), and it’s an equation for some frustration.
Here’s our experience with the ship’s amenities and features.
There are a lot of pools and hot tubs on this ship! In fact, we didn’t even find all the hot tubs until our 3rd day!
There are four main pool areas (all on Deck 15):
- The Main Pool
- The Beach Pool (with a cool beach entrance and loungers that are in the water)
- The Sports Pool (which hosts volleyball and most of the pool deck activities)
- Splashaway Bay (this has two parts, one for kids under 3 with swim diapers, and one for kids over 3 that don’t wear swim diapers)
Each pool area has a hot tub attached, but there are also hot tubs forward of the pools (a bit hidden), in the solarium (which is adults only), and there is a “secret” hot tub for suite guests on Deck 17 hidden above the water slides. If you have a suite, this is a hidden gem on the ship as it’s never crowded, especially in the afternoons and evenings.
The towel policy on Symphony was a little extreme – you had to check out towels with your Seapass/Seaband and return them or you get charged $20 per towel. As a result, most people would “attempt to dry off” at the pool deck to return their towels before leaving – but would end up dripping water through the whole ship – making a slippery experience, especially by the pool deck elevators.
Suite guests get free towels (no checking out needed) on the Suite Deck and Suite Deck Hot Tub. That’s convenient.
On sea days, the pool area gets packed, and if you try to go after 9am, you’ll likely not find a lounger. There are signs everywhere saying “no reserving loungers, staff will move your stuff to lost and found”, but over our entire 7 days, we never saw this enforced. As such, loungers were reserved and never came available for hours.
There are several bars all around the pool area – and there are waiters to deliver drinks to you. However, it’s crowded. Don’t expect fast service. If you want a drink, the best bet is to walk over to the bar yourself. It’s less crowded, and you’ll be enjoying a drink much faster!
The waterslides are a lot of fun. Expect longer lines, and a 15 to 30 minute wait on sea days.
The big drawback of the pool area is the staff. The lifeguards are unfriendly and make for a miserable pool experience. They made my son cry twice (one said he was too short to ride the water slides, even though he was tall enough and had been riding them all day, and the other for playing with his sister in the baby splash pad area even though he wasn’t in a swim diaper…), both times a supervisor came over and apologized, and promised he was allowed to continue, but it just made for a frustrating experience. By the end of the cruise, my kids didn’t want to go back to the pool deck.
All the other staff on the pool deck also are unfriendly – from the bartenders, to the crew, they just seem overwhelmed, beaten down by the crowds, and don’t really make any effort to try to make your cruise enjoyable. Basically, be prepared to be treated like cattle on the pool deck if you dare venture out on a sea day.
Swim Diaper Policy: Just a note for families here, that if your children aren’t potty trained, you need to have them in a swim diaper. That’s not surprising, but what is – the only pool you’re allowed to wear a swim diaper in is the baby Splashaway Bay. This pool closes at 5 or 6pm, which is the earliest. Your children aren’t allowed to go into any other pools or any hot tubs on the ship, which is disappointing.
The bigger issue here is that it creates more problems. As a result, most parents we spoke to simply ignored the swim diaper policy – leaving un-potty trained children to enter into the other pools with no diaper. They just wanted to be together as a family. But guess what? It lead to a pool being closed and drained every other day on our ship. Very annoying.
The Main Dining Room
The main dining room is your free “formal” option for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I say formal because there are a lot of other places to get food on the ship – buffets, stands, and more. But if you want a sit down place to eat, this is your go-to.
You have two options to eat dinner (breakfast and lunch are first come, first served) – MyTime Dining (go when you want), and specific time dining (which is 5:30pm or 8:00pm). I recommend you pick a time because they also give you a 45-minute buffer to arrive to your meal.
The reason you should pick a time is the MyTime line consistently runs a 45-minute wait. So even though you can “eat when you want”, you have to wait in a huge line to do it.
If you pick a time, you can roll up to your table within 45 minutes of your time, sit down, and get going.
The food in the main dining room is good. There are about 10 options for every meal, and you can order as little or as much as you’d like. I usually order 3-4 appetizers and 2-3 entrees to try it all out. We were only disappointed in about 1 in 10 dishes – which meant there was lots of good food to eat.
What made the main dining room the most convenient was they have the best meals for kids out of any other dining venue on the ship. You’d think it would be easy to get a hamburger, or mac and cheese, or simple kids dishes elsewhere? But no – the main dining room is where your kids will find the most “kid-friendly” food.
Finally, the service in the main dining room (especially dinner service), is the best on the ship. It’s what you expect on a cruise – friendly, prompt service, great attitude, and a staff that really cares about your experience.
Each night our waiter would ask about our day, provide recommendations, and even when we expressed frustration about the kids menus elsewhere – he gave us his card and ship phone number and said to call him and he’d get our kids a meal anywhere on the ship. That’s top notch service in my eyes.
The Buffets and Other Food Stops
There are so many other places to eat on Symphony of the Seas, we didn’t even get a chance to get to them all (and you likely won’t either). We did make a stop at these places, and so we can share our thoughts about them here.
If you’ve cruised Symphony, add to the reviews in the comments below!
Windjammer is the main buffet on the ship – and it’s massive. It wraps around the entire back of the ship above the pool deck.
The buffet has everything you can expect from a cruise ship buffet – salads and appetizers, main courses that include everything from pastas and meats to world cuisines to burgers and pizzas.
They also have a small dessert station (honestly, surprised by how small it was).
The food in Windjammer is okay. It’s not bad, but it’s also not something you’ll crave. We only stopped here as a last resort or when we were by the pool.
If you go during peak times (like breakfast before a shore day), be prepared to wait.
Hot Dog Stand
The hot dog stand is a hidden gem on the Deck 6 Boardwalk. It’s open for lunch and dinner and offers a convenient, short or no wait, food option that also works well for kids. Several times during our cruise we stopped by here for lunch for the kids.
Beyond the dogs, they also have small sides like potato salad and cole slaw. It’s a solid little gem to eat at or take the food back to your room.
Next to the hot dog stand on Deck 6 is Sugar Beach – a candy store and ice cream parlor. This food stop left a lot to be desired. The candy bins are all sticky and you can’t get the candy out into bags (they could probably use a deep cleaning). The ice cream choices are lacking. And they typically only staff it with one person, leading to lines – since everyone needs help getting candy out of the bins.
Our recommendation is to avoid and enjoy desserts elsewhere on the ship.
Next to Sugar Beach is Johnny Rockets. This is just like you’d expect Johnny Rockets to be – burgers, fries, and shakes.
This is probably the best hamburger you’re going to find on the ship. And the shakes are good too.
Highly recommend if you need a quick bite to eat that’s kid friendly.
Playmakers is the sports bar that’s on Deck 6 across from Johnny Rockets. What nobody mentions in other reviews is that there is a nice sized arcade in Playmakers that’s great for kids.
This became one of our favorite places to sit and enjoy a beer while the kids played games.
The ship has a Starbucks! A real deal Starbucks, that has legit Starbucks cups, straws, and everything. You can even use your Starbucks app to pay, get stars, redeem stars, and more.
If you need a coffee fix, this is a great place to go!
The Specialty Restaurants
We went to three specialty restaurants for dinner – and actually paid a repeat visit to Jamie’s Italian Kitchen because we enjoyed it so much.
We took advantage of these because our travel agent was able to give us one dinner free and we booked a dining package online ahead of the cruise for 50% off – so we felt it was a great deal.
Jamie’s Italian Kitchen
Jamie’s Italian was our favorite specialty restaurant. The food was incredibly good – from the appetizers to the pastas and main dishes, and the desserts were some of the best we had on the ship.
The service here was also great, with the waiters really caring and making the experience enjoyable. Plus, they have a good kids menu with food your children would actually eat.
We loved this so much, we came back a second time at the end of the cruise and did it again.
Our favorites were the lamb chops, all the house made pastas were amazing, and the key lime pie at the end for dessert.
Chop’s Steak House
Chop’s Steak House is a solid steak option on the ship. Another place where the food was incredibly good.
We loved everything from the bread, to the appetizers, and the steaks were cooked perfectly.
The only disappointment here was that the kids menu was all “fancy” and nothing was appealing for our children. The staff, though, was great, and made grilled cheese sandwiches with a side of mac and cheese for the kids.
If you love a good steak, check out Chop’s.
Pro Tip: You can actually order the Chop’s Filet in the main dining room for an additional charge. Something to consider if you just want a good steak and nothing else.
150 Central Park
Prior to sailing, we watched a lot of YouTube cruise reviews, and 150 Central Park came up as several people’s favorite restaurants. So, we were excited to try it but left incredibly disappointed.
The bread is the best part of your meal in 150 Central Park. After that, everything was lacking. The appetizers and about 50% of the main courses are served in the main dining room exactly as you’d find it in 150 Central Park. We didn’t believe it, so we ordered the Ceviche and it was prepared exactly as the main dining room had the day before.
For our mains we ordered the Seared Halibut and Lobster Thermidor. The halibut was terrible. It was like eating a hunk of defrosted fish with no flavor. The Lobster was a bit better, but the portion was tiny.
Compound all of this with very slow and poor service – no water or drinks, slow to take orders, slow to bring food, no place settings, just terrible service.
The dessert choices were also terrible, we actually got up and left before dessert because we couldn’t handle the wait and disappointment any longer.
Our recommendation is to avoid 150 Central Park. There are better places to eat for free, and the main dining room has almost all the same food throughout the cruise.
The highlight of the cruise for us was how many fun activities there were to do on the ship! Our kids had a blast doing all these things, and I’m sure there are places we didn’t even get to as the ship is so big!
Laser Tag was one of our favorite on-ship activities. We played on the first day and there was no line – so we went about 4 times in a row. So much fun!
By mid-cruise, the line for Laser Tag gets long. If you don’t have reservations, chances are you’re not going to play. Make reservations!
There’s not much to it – but there’s a mini golf course on the aft part of Deck 15. The clubs and balls are just available and you can go through the course. It was never very busy but it was a fun way to kill some time.
The Flowrider is the “surfing” pool at the back of the ship. There’s actually two of them – one were you can surf and the other where you can boogie board. There’s also a bar between the two where you can get drinks.
Each Flowrider has a small “grandstand” where you can watch and this can be enjoyable while you have a drink.
If you have young kids, there is a height restriction of 52”, so if your kids are under that, they can’t go on.
The Ultimate Abyss Slide
This is the big purple slide at the back of the ship that takes you down 10 decks! It’s a dry slide – you slide on a carpet mat down the slide.
Honestly, this isn’t as fun as it seems. In fact, my son got a rug burn when his arm touched the edge of the slide on the way down.
You must be 44” tall to ride. I’d do it once, then move on.
There are two arcades on the ship – one on Deck 15 next to the pool areas and one on Deck 6 by Playmakers. Both operate by using your Seapass or Seaband to activate the game.
These games aren’t cheap – expect to pay $2.50 per game! We heard you could buy a game pass before the cruise on the Royal Caribbean website, but we never saw that deal.
But the arcades are fun! And the kids loved it.
The Aqua Theater
This is one of the unique features on Symphony of the Seas – a water themed show that plays at the back of the ship. The current show is “Hiro”, and features diving, climbing, swimming, and musical martial arts. The show itself is actually really neat to watch, especially the tightrope walkers and high divers.
The drawback is the crowd! We had reservations but the show was packed. Luckily, we were suite guests and had our own area, but the show was so crowded people couldn’t sit and many stood behind and watched from the back.
Plan ahead on seeing this popular show! It’s worth it.
We heard really good things about the comedy shows, but we couldn’t make it. There was only one “Family” comedy show during our trip, and we couldn’t get to it on time.
There is an adult comedy show every night, starting at 9pm usually.
If comedy shows are your thing and you want to see the family comedy show, you need to plan it out in advance.
There are three main promenades on the ship, and once you figure it out, it’s a lot easier to navigate around.
The Main Promenade is on Deck 5, and that’s where all the shops are. It’s also where you find Guest Services, Shore Excursions, and more. Starbucks is also here, as well as several bars and restaurants.
The Boardwalk is on Deck 6 and connects to the Main Promenade via a fancy staircase. The Boardwalk is where you find the carousel, as well as the Hot Dog Stand, Playmakers, and more. This is a really fun area for kids.
Central Park is on Deck 8, and it’s lovely! This Promenade features most of the specialty dining restaurants, as well as a bar and a grab and go free restaurant. It’s also home to the high-end shops on the cruise.
Voom High Speed Internet
One feature we were really excited about pre-cruise was having great internet access. Royal Caribbean advertises their internet as the best at sea, and for being such a connected family, we knew we had to have it.
Luckily, Voom is included for suite guests, but if you pay for it, you’re looking at upwards of $19.99 per day per device.
We used the internet the entire cruise – from working and email to the kids watching PBS Kids, to being able to Facetime with family. And we never had any serious issues – it was great!
If you’re a power user, you’ll notice it’s not as fast as what you get at home. But it works, and works consistently, which is important.
Here’s what we were getting for download and upload speeds:
Download: 3.67 Mbps
Upload: 1.64 Mbps
Not too shabby for being in the ocean!
Adventure Ocean Kids Club
The Adventure Ocean Kids Club on the Symphony is great. Our kids had such an enjoyable experience that by the last day, they asked us to come pick them up later they were having such a good time.
The staff here is awesome, they seem to really care and have fun with the children, which makes you feel comfortable as a parent.
One great thing is that you get a ship-phone when you drop your kids off, so you can easily be reached if they need you for anything.
A perk we took advantage of is the dining program. If you drop your kids off before 5:30-ish, they’ll take them to dinner. Our kids loved this, and it was great to be able to dine kid-free as well.
Using the Royal Caribbean app is your key to successfully navigating this huge ship. We heard throughout the ship people who were having a hard time getting reservations – and all said the same thing – “there’s an app?”
Given there are so many people on this ship, you need to do a bit of planning. You need to make dining reservations, activity reservations (think laser tag), and more. This can all be done easily on the app.
While on the ship, the app also has maps and can tell you exactly what’s open now. Our favorite thing was to check the “Hungry Now” tab, which shows you exactly where and what you could eat at any given moment.
Download the app in advance of your cruise and start planning as soon as you can.
Ports Of Call
Our itinerary called for us to go to the Eastern Caribbean – St. Kitts, St. Thomas, and Perfect Day at Coco Cay. While your experiences may vary based on what activities you decide to do, here’s what we did and what we experienced.
St. Kitts was our least enjoyable port. It’s very industrial and not very welcoming (think barbed-wire fences at the pier). However, the locals are very friendly and we took a train around the island, which was easy and enjoyable.
There wasn’t much to do around the port, so after our tour, we got back on the ship early and enjoyed an empty pool area.
St. Thomas is what you’d expect from a Caribbean Island – a tropical, really cool town with small alleys and restaurants and bars tucked everywhere, a cool bay, and more.
The port is very nice, with lots of shops that look like they were recently built. We took a taxi to the downtown area, and it was incredibly easy to navigate, find the taxis, and everything felt very safe.
It was really fun to explore the alleyways and shops, see the bars and restaurants, and enjoy the town.
Perfect Day At Coco Cay
Coco Cay is Royal Caribbean’s private island – and it’s a lot of fun. From the beaches to the waterpark, there is always something to do.
We rented a cabana in Thrill Waterpark, thinking that would be our home base for the day. We don’t recommend it; the cabanas in the waterpark are all in bad areas, they lack amenities, and the service only brings you one meal per day – that’s it. Otherwise, you’re on your own. These just aren’t worth the price until they build out some fans, safes, and more shade, and improve the service level significantly. Luckily, the Royal Caribbean staff agreed, and refunded our cabana.
A better option is to go get a lounger on one of the beaches! Every beach is close to bars and food – and the water! Plus, the beach and ocean is where you want to spend your time on Coco Cay.
While the waterpark is cool, the lines get long, and it’s hot. There are plenty of “free” pools and activities outside the waterpark, and the beaches and lagoons are a lot of fun.
The food on the island is good too – burgers, tacos, and more. Lots to do and enjoy. Just avoid the cabanas.
Getting a suite made our cruise experience much better. Having the space in the room was a huge plus, and once we learned how to navigate the amenities, it really was helpful.
Was it worth it? The perks – not completely. But having a nice sized room was well worth it.
The concierge team on Symphony was awesome – both incredibly friendly and very helpful. From about a week before our arrival, they communicated with us and helped us make all kinds of reservations, which made our stay more enjoyable.
They were also great with our kids, providing treats and talking with them, and helping us navigate the ports with things to do. They were awesome.
If you book a suite, take advantage of this awesome resource – it makes your cruise experience much better.
Coastal Kitchen & Lounge
Beyond your stateroom, this is probably the best perk of having a suite – the Coastal Kitchen and Suite lounge.
Coastal Kitchen is a restaurant reserved exclusively for suite guests – and it serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s a sit down restaurant, which is great for kids. They also have one of the best menus on the ship for the whole family. And the service is top notch!
We ended up doing breakfast 5 out of 7 days here, and loved it. We also ate lunch here multiple times as well. The food is good, and it’s convenient, not crowded, and the service is great.
Another perk is the lounge area. Free beer, wine, and soda all day, and free hard drinks from 4pm to 8:30pm. This can save you a fortune if you use it right.
We would load up on bottled water everyday – taking 4 back to our room at a time. We’d also get soda and beer here throughout the day – making pit stops as needed.
The bar staff is also top notch – and remembered us and our drink orders after just a day on the cruise.
Pro Tip: Stop at the bar and get drinks before dinner – then take your drinks to dinner. You will be charged if you order drinks at dinner, but drinks in the lounge are free. We would do this before and after dinner, and skip ordering drinks at the table.
This was advertised heavily before the cruise, but at our first two ports, we didn’t even see it offered and were a bit confused. But the concierge said they only do it on Coco Cay and when you leave in Miami because that’s when it’s needed – and it is worth it.
Coco Cay is a later disembarkation day – about 10am. So everyone wants to get off at the same time – making the line to get off wrap around two floors of the ship! It’s crazy. And getting off to go home is no better!
To get priority disembarkation, you go to the suite lounge, and the concierge team will escort you off. So worth it!
Suite Deck and Hot Tub
This is a secret we didn’t discover until day 3, and after we did, we went everyday. The suite deck is on the forward part of the ship, on Deck 17 above the water slides. It’s hidden, and worth finding.
There’s a bar, lots of loungers, and a hot tub. We ended up going to this hot tub every night after we found it, as it wasn’t crowded and it was relaxing.
Take advantage of this space – it’s worth it.
Final Thoughts On Symphony Of The Seas
Overall, my family and I enjoyed our time on Symphony of the Seas. The suite concierges worked hard on service recovery, and once we figured out the main “tricks” of the ship, it was enjoyable.
The big wins were the food (in general), the amount of amenities and fun activities, and the comfort of the room.
The big drawback is the pool area on the ship – specifically if you have small children. Also, many of the rides and attractions are geared towards older kids, which could hold back your fun.
The service in most of the ship was also sub-par. You feel like cattle in a lot of places on the ship, and many crewmembers only begrudgingly assist you. The exceptions were everyone in Coastal Kitchen, and the main dining room staff. However, speak to the pool area crew at your own risk!
Finally, Thrill Waterpark is not as enjoyable as the YouTube videos make it out to be – hot, crowded, still under construction.
As a family, we’re definitely going to cruise again, but we’re probably going to pass on Symphony in the future, or at least until our kids are teens.
About The Author:
Robert Farrington is the founder of The College Investor, a leading personal finance resource for anyone looking to get out of student loan debt and start investing. While not a digital nomad by any means, he does travel frequently with his family and enjoys sharing what he experienced.