It didn’t take me very long to appreciate the appeal of a big—okay, massive—cruise ship, particularly for active families.
It took me exactly two-days, or the duration of Royal Caribbean’s recent Odyssey of the Seas inaugural and naming event, exclusively for 2,200 press, travel professionals and the line’s most devoted guests.
As one passionately devoted to small and mid-size ship cruising, the thought of sailing the Quantum Class Odyssey of the Seas, a 1,138-foot long, 16-deck, 167,704 grt ship with a top capacity of 5,510 guests and 1,550 crew, gave me heart palpitations. I envisioned myself at day’s end lost and confused, walking the equivalent of three football fields trying desperately to remember my five-digit cabin number. Still, I packed my bag and braced myself to board the largest ship I’d ever sailed, deliberately leaving the stiletto pumps at home.
To say I fully experienced Odyssey of the Seas during this short sailing would be akin to someone claiming they’d visited New York City when, in truth, they simply changed planes at JFK en route to Albany. Even ravenous, there’s no way I could have sampled the ship’s 15 dining venues (seven complimentary) and even at my most active I’d never have enough time to experience all 12 of the innovative theme and sports attractions offered on board, including simulated sky diving, rock climbing, bungee trampoline, bumper cars, and “surfing” aboard the FlowRider. I wouldn’t catch all the shows featured, the shopping offered, and had I attempted to imbibe at each of Odyssey of the Seas’ bars and lounges…well, let’s just say it wouldn’t have ended well.
Nobody was more pleasantly surprised than I with what I found during my two-day introduction to Odyssey of the Seas. I discovered a visually dazzling ship filled with non-stop entertainment, exciting dining options and activities that will keep guests of all ages entranced for days on end. True, I simply scratched the surface of this new Royal Caribbean addition, but when I checked beneath my fingernails, I found gold.
Oh, Ship!: Even from afar, Odyssey of the Seas looks to me like a skyscraper placed on the water. Up close, I feel small, in the same way I felt small while standing at the foot of the Grand Canyon a few years back. I enter on deck 4 and find myself in the Royal Esplanade, a “neighborhood” of cafes, clubs and bars bordered by chic retail shops. Elevators with “touchless” buttons (simply hover your finger in front of the deck number you’d like) speed me silently up to my balcony cabin (which was surprisingly easy to locate) and I open the door to find a queen bed, wall-mounted flat-screen TV, sitting area with love seat and desk and balcony with sliding doors that frame, in the distance, Celebrity Apex—yes, this is Fort Lauderdale where cruise ships abound. The bathroom is a small but modern one with, as far as toiletries, only a bar of soap at the sink and liquid shower gel/shampoo in a dispenser in the shower. Oddly, the tissues are in a drawer in the bedroom.
I’ll be here a mere 48 hours, so I unpack and scurry up to deck 14, the sun-filled heart of the ship. The Lime & Coconut Bar is buzzing with drinkers; a few bikini-clad ladies are in the swimming pool or lying atop the quirky deck chairs that are immersed in the pool and surrounded by orange palm tree sculptures. Noticeably deserted is Splash Away Bay, a waterpark for little ones that features dump buckets, sprays and a water slide that, no doubt, will be swarming when families (as opposed to us middle age travel industry people) occupy the ship on its regular sailings.
I walk aft and discover the adults-only Solarium, which is where sun worshippers on future cruises will no doubt flock once that Splash Away Bay is filled with toddlers. I haven’t seen the entire ship yet, but I’m willing to bet that the Solarium will be among my favorite spaces: A vast but serene observation room with an indoor pool, hot tub, bar and even a buffet at the adjacent Solarium bistro.
AAAAction!: Royal Caribbean made headlines in 1999 when it introduced a rock climbing wall on its Voyager class ships and, since then, the innovations have kept coming, among them, the FlowRider, a surf simulator that allows anyone to catch a wave or body board atop a powerful 40’ stream of water. Aboard Odyssey of the Seas, these innovations are housed at the two-story Seaplex along with some new mindblowers like the RipCord simulator that lets guests experience the exhilarating thrill of sky diving, the SkyPad which combines bungee, trampoline and virtual reality and Virtual Adventure Zone, the first fully-immersive, free-roaming 4-D virtual reality experience at sea. Best of all, many of these attractions are available at no additional cost although reservations are required for most.
Not a particularly adventurous type, I hit one of the less daring of Odyssey of the Seas’ “On a Cruise Ship??!” activities: Bumper cars. I haven’t been in a bumper car since Rockaway Playland in 1970 but, aboard Odyssey of the Seas, I find myself climbing into one, speeding around the track, impressively slamming into others and racing away before they could retaliate—it was so much fun, I just might get a driver’s license.
Having mastered the bumper car, I tackle my fear of heights with a flight on Northstar, a futuristic observation capsule that rises over 300 feet above sea level to offer 360-degree views. It’s a slow and serene rise to the top of this attraction which holds the Guinness World Record as the tallest viewing deck on a cruise ship and, according to our captain, Odyssey of the Seas’ Northstar is 1.2 degrees higher than the Northstar found on other Quantum ships, taking guests to the very highest of the high.
Seaplex is also where you’ll find a full-sized sports deck for basketball, table tennis and arcade games like skeeball, air hockey and more; the upper Seaplex level includes Playmaker’s Sports Bar featuring craft beers, pub grub and over 50 high-definition TV sets, all tuned to sports programming.
Eat It Up!: From the elegant white table cloth and exquisite set menu of The Chef’s Table, to the casual atmosphere, vast international selections, and ice cream bar at the attendant-manned Windjammer buffet, Odyssey of the Seas has a staggering 15 dining venues (plus room service) to satisfy any appetite…and seven of these venues are at no additional charge.
Lovebirds might want to check out Coastal Kitchen which, with modern art-adorned walls and subdued lighting is a romantic spot that uses seasonal ingredients to whip up Pacific Coast favorites and Mediterranean-inspired dishes. It is here that I enjoy an earthy pork-studded pappardelle along with a Caesar Salad topped with lacy fried cheese, my request for extra anchovies generously granted. The breadbasket rocks, too, with a freshly-baked assortment of rolls, breadsticks and flatbreads—I love a good breadbasket. Coastal Kitchen is complimentary for all suite guests and Pinnacle Club members…talk about a cheap date!
Dining with the kids? Head to Teppanyaki! Part theater, part comedy and a full Far East delight, both you and the little ones will be dazzled as your sizzling entrees are prepared right before your eyes. Priced a la carte, Teppanyaki offers appetizers like Miso soup, green salad with ginger dressing, Japanese pickles and vegetable fried rice at no charge, while entrees range from $40 to a staggering $90 for a main course of top-quality Wagyu beef. I’m still dreaming about the crispy softshell crab encased in a cloud-like dumpling that I enjoyed at Teppanyaki.
Wonderland presents a magical dining experience—literally. You’ll think you fell down the rabbit hole once you follow the giant hand sculpture into Wonderland’s extravagant dining space with its candelabras, surreal artwork and ornate table settings. And what’s this? A paintbrush rests alongside a blank menu, the menu’s contents revealed only when “painted” with the water in your glass. A choice of five themed set menus—Sun, Ice, Fire, Sea, Earth—are on offer, each a whimsical fantasy of color, smoke and texture. Kids are offered a separate, though no less dazzling, menu including things like heart-shaped fries and a cotton candy-topped banana split.
While I didn’t dine at Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen and Wine Bar, I had an opportunity to sample some of the eight different pizza varieties that appear on the menu of this casual, family-friendly Italian overseen by Chef Renato Viola, an Italian native whose Mister 01 was named by Food & Wine Magazine as the best pizza in Florida. And yummy they were, from the seven-cheese variety to zesty Stromboli, the sweet and spicy Giovanni’s Pizza, and even a dessert pizza using Nutella and bananas. But Giovanni’s is more than just pizza—its menu includes extravagant charcuterie and meat dishes like osso bucco and veal meatballs as well as authentic Italian pasta dishes like lasagne. Price is $49.99 per adult and $10 for kids. (Pizza cooking classes are being planned for future sailings!)
Showtime!: Imagine the result of combining complex 12k resolution cinematography with the world’s most advanced 36-axes robotics, and a video system that allows three-dimensional, real time physics to combine with world-class physical performance for the most ‘kinetic art” ever seen!
Yeah, I don’t understand any of that either but I suspect, when translated, it means that Odyssey of the Seas is an entertainment mega machine that incorporates the coolest technology to delight, astonish and amaze audiences!
Most impressive is the innovative Two70Degrees which, by day, is a two-deck open area observation room but transforms at night into one of the most technically-advanced show rooms not just at sea, but on earth! IMAX is nothing compared to Two70Degrees and, on my sailing, it was put to astonishing use with a highly-entertaining visual journey called The Book: Seven Chapters, One Adventure.
Best for the kids and comic book fans of all ages, is The Royal Theater’s The Effectors, the story of a group of superheroes with awesome abilities that are based entirely on the powers of creativity. Visually breathtaking, this production blends video animation, live actors, real-time action and stage effects to create a blockbuster movie right in front of our eyes.
Fans of Las Vegas-type productions will return to The Royal Theater for “Showgirls” while rockers prefer Music Hall concerts featuring some of the best rock & roll tribute bands in the industry and tap and percussion fans will thrill to Tap Factory’s energetic and dynamic performances. In fact, throughout Odyssey of the Seas, music abounds in the evenings, with jazz quartets, pub guitarists, vocalists or, for those who are pretty particular about what they listen to, the Hush! Silent Party where guests select their own tunes, blast them through headphones to literally dance to their own beat.
Perfect Day: Nothing beats a hit of Bahamian sun and sapphire blue water, so a call at Perfect Day at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s private island, was a treat. Royal Caribbean invested a quarter of a million dollars in developing CocoCay from the modest island it had been before to what it is now: A virtual private playland with a water park featuring the tallest water slide in North America, beaches, restaurants, and the Oasis Lagoon, the largest freshwater pool in the Bahamas (with swim-up bar). You can even rent a floating cabana or ride a hot air balloon that will take you 450 feet up (if the wind isn’t blowing as it was the day we were there).
Odyssey of the Seas wowed this long-time small and mid-ship cruiser thanks to the ship’s stunning, easy-to-navigate layout, a seemingly endless variety of dining options and an entertainment and activities program that offers something for everyone.
I’d suggest you experience it for yourself. And, definitely, bring the family!
Pandemic Note: All guests on this special two-night sailing were fully vaccinated and, in addition, provided a negative covid test result taken two days before boarding. Still, I was surprised to learn that masks on board were “optional” and, in fact, guests remained unmasked for the duration of the cruise (the fully-vaccinated crew remained masked at all times).
On the morning of disembarkation, I noticed social distancing signs and stacks of face masks throughout the ship. When asked for an explanation, an officer advised me that the CDC allows ships to lift the mask mandate when 95% or more guests are vaccinated and our sailing far exceeded that level. The following sailing, however, would include many unvaccinated children, bringing the vaccinated percentage below the 95% level and, therefore, all Covid protocols would be enforced.—JC
Cover photo, credit Royal Caribbean — remaining photos credit Judi Cuervo
1-Odyssey-Ship1RCCL (Cover, credit Royal Caribbean)
View from Northstar: 360 degree views from this futuristic capsule!
Bumper Cars: A crashing good time!
Splash Away Bay: An on board waterpark, just for kids!
Solarium: A serene oasis, for adults only.
Giovanni’s Pizza: Mangia!
TapFactory: Entertainment abounds!
Teppanyaki: A dining delight!
CocoCayWaterparkKIDS: Having a splash!
Beach at CocoCay: Your own private island!
Shopping: Royal Esplanade Shopping
Wonderland: A magical dining experience
CocoCay Waterpark-2: Perfect Day!
Northstar: Soar above the ship!
CocoCayOdysseyFreedom: Odyssey of the Seas and Freedom of the Seas share Coco Cay!
CocoCaySandcastle: Welcome to CocoCay!