As excitement continues to build for the May arrival of the world’s largest cruise ship, Harmony of the Seas, we couldn’t pass on the opportunity to have our appetites whetted with a visit to Royal Caribbean’s first new arrival of 2016, Ovation of the Seas.
As is often the case, it was a grey day when we arrived in Southampton, so we couldn’t wait to get on board and hideaway from the rain. Check-in took mere minutes and we were soon doing the obligatory reccy of our stateroom. Plenty of wardrobe space? Check! Sizeable balcony? Check! Plenty of charger ports PLUS USB charging ports for all that technology kids insist on bringing with them? Check! Beds so comfy that you resent getting out of them every morning? Check!
A welcome gift in the form of a fortune cookie wrapped in metallic blue foil was left on our bed; a reminder that the ship was headed to a Chinese homeport following its inaugural season. Other evidence of an Asian target audience was hidden subtly around the ship; the casino was larger than average, Chinese signage sat discreetly alongside its English counterpart and Royal Caribbean’s signature family favourite, Johnny Rockets, has been replaced with a noodle bar in homage to Disney’s Kung Fu Panda. Although we had arrived a little too soon to witness it, another panda and her clambering cub would soon take a starring role at the very top of the ship as Ovation’s larger than life mascots.
Our ship tour started at the North Star, a Quantum-class signature feature that offers the very best ocean views from 300ft above sea level. A deck below, Splashaway Bay had us wishing we were 6 years old again and promises to become the place you’ll have to prise the kids away from come tea time. There’s plenty of pool time on offer for the adults too, from the main pool area with outdoor movie screen and Pool Bar, to the serene solarium. We quite fancied the thought of spending the morning in the tiered pool here, dipping in and out of the whirlpool spas and cosying up in cabanas. Afternoons would be spent with lazy lunches in the five-star spa style Solarium Bistro, followed by a cocktail or two from the Sunshine Bar; you could quite easily hideaway here for an entire holiday and never be disturbed. Apart from the therapists letting you know that it’s time for your daily spa treatment, of course.
The SeaPlex sits at the heart of Royal Caribbean’s Quantum-class ships and was equally exciting aboard Ovation of the Seas. Some of us hopped in the bumper cars and careered around the floor, whilst others laced up their roller skates to relive their youth (we don’t remember roller skating ever being this hard back when we were young and fearless!). Hot dogs at the SeaPlex Dog House followed, before we checked out a kids and teens chill-out area, arcade and nightclub guaranteed to make for family holiday’s without a single muttering of the word ‘bored’. We had been told that final rehearsals were in full swing for the ship’s live entertainment and were left mesmerised a little later in the afternoon, when a guy descended from the ceiling in the Two70 Lounge, twisting, turning and somersaulting to an eerie soundtrack as he crammed in one last practice session for the evening’s big performance.
The way to a Bolsover Cruise Club employee’s heart is through our stomachs and the dining options offered aboard Ovation of the Seas certainly hit the spot. From late night pizza at Sorrento’s to avocado and fresh crab ice cream cones at the fantastical Wonderland and Seafood Velouté at the exclusive Coastal Kitchen; the ship deserves a standing ovation for its culinary offerings alone. After nibbling on sushi at Izumi, salmon tarts in the Windjammer Marketplace and goat’s cheese crostini at Jamie’s Italian, we barely had room for our evening meal at Silk, one of the ship’s complimentary dining rooms. We battled on in the name of research, loosening our belts and tucking into a taster menu that combined various dishes from each complimentary restaurant on board; we opted for Seared Tuna Tataki, Grilled Filet Mignon and good old Apple Pie, in case you were wondering.
Live samba flowed out of Bolero’s bar as we wandered past on route to the Music Hall. Here, Wild Boys, the ultimate eighties tribute band, were filling the ears of revellers with the kind of 80’s classics we all loved back in the day. Madonna, Bon Jovi and Tiffany all popped up on the track list, the Music Hall’s plush velvet seating, epic chandelier and enormous dancefloor providing the perfect backdrop to the party atmosphere. Later, the more vocally gifted amongst headed to Bolero’s for karaoke, whilst others grabbed a maroon leather-clad booth in Michael’s Authentic Bar; as British a boozer as you’ll find anywhere on dry land, with server’s resplendent in a uniform of baker boy caps and braces.
We disembarked Ovation of the Seas into a foggy Southampton, something that seemed symbolic of having to leave the fun behind. A single night on board had been enough to convince us all that Ovation of the Seas held the same secret ingredient that has seen Royal Caribbean put the fun factor into cruising. Skydiving and surf simulators have somehow become the norm on cruise ships, as have dodgems and ice skating, water slides and dancing late into the night; if you’re a die-hard fan of all things classic cruising, it’s probably your idea of hell on high seas. However, if you’re gathering the family for some precious time away, where the kids won’t complain at being torn away from their Xbox and the tiny tots can play safely under the sun whilst you relax with a book, before finally getting everyone together for some of the best food and entertainment you’ve ever enjoyed, Royal Caribbean’s secret formula is perfect. An inaugural season in Europe and Australia will offer more families the chance to experience Ovation of the Seas, before she finally settles at her homeport of Tianjin. Like her sister ships in the hugely successful Quantum-class, Ovation of the Seas is revolutionising family cruising, one dodgem car and roller skate at a time. You should probably come and see what all the fuss is about…