Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas: Boarding the Ship

Not even a mask could disguise the smile on his face. “Because of you, we have a job,” says Kadek, the assistant waiter on my Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas cruise. “We are so happy to be back.”

That sentiment was repeated over and over on my seven-night Eastern Caribbean cruise. “We are so excited to be back doing what we love,” says Cruise Director Brian Leavitt.

Of course, I am excited to be cruising on one of the world’s largest cruise ship, launched  June 9, 2017. And so are my fellow passengers. “We have been looking forward to this ever since our cruise was cancelled when the pandemic hit,” says Laura Carmichael of Fort Lauderdale.

Departing from Miami, my journey will visit St. Maarten, St. Thomas and CocoCay, with three days of cruising at sea. My stateroom has a balcony which I’m sure will see plenty of use. I do love to watch the ocean roll no matter what time of day or night.

Smooth Boarding Process

The boarding process went exceptionally smooth since I had done most of the necessary paperwork at home on my computer. I had entered all the important information and took a selfie cellphone photo so I didn’t have to get in line to have an ID photo taken at the terminal.

Because it was difficult to find a speedy COVID-19 testing place in my Indiana hometown to meet the required negative test 48 hours before boarding the ship, I opted to buy an Abbott Binax Now COVID-19 Antigen Card Home Test. A two-pack of tests cost $69 and arrived within two days of my online order.

Must admit I was a bit nervous about the self-test. But my fears were for naught. I logged on to the eMed website two days before my flight to the Miami port. I had to download a Navica app and fill out basic information and request an appointment with an eMed testing guide.

My eMed guide named Maureen immediately appeared, asked for proof of who I am (showed my passport to the computer screen) and walked me through every step of the test. She also closely watched me take the test.

Two important warnings – do not open the package until instructed to do so. Big red warning label on the package. That’s to make sure no funny business goes on. Also be aware of the expiration date for home tests. Mine was good through December 2021. You don’t want to waste your money buying one of the tests in anticipation of a cruise, then have the test expire before you can use it.

Maureen watched me open the test box that contained a test card, a little bottle of solution and a cotton swab. I was instructed to drop the solution into the testing hole of the card, swab the inside of each nostril (no discomfort at all) and insert the swab into the testing kit, turning the swab three times.

Then Maureen told me to wait 15 minutes for the results. After 15 minutes, I was instructed to hold the test card in front of my computer. One pink line meant a negative result. Two pink lines meant positive. My results were negative.

The results were then sent to me both through an email and an alert on my iPhone letting me know that I could see the results on their dashboard or on the Navica app. I printed out my results so I could show them along with my COVID vaccine card upon boarding the ship. So very simple.

As for boarding the ship, I just walked on ahead of my scheduled time. Paid $16 for a Royal Caribbean shuttle bus from the airport to the ship. Arrived a bit early but was directed inside the cruise terminal. Showed my negative COVID test, my vaccine card, passport and boarding pass and was given a blue ribbon wrist band with the words “The Royal Comeback” which signified I am fully vaccinated. Easy peasy, as my grandchildren would say.

                                                     Hi-Tech Safety Drill

I even took the shipboard safety drill on my cellphone at the terminal. That was my initial experience with the cellphone technology for the safety drill and I really appreciate it.

Over the years, I’ve seen many different variations of the safety muster on other cruise lines.

But this new Royal Caribbean method accomplishes the important task of mandatory drills while doing away with the large shoulder-to-shoulder crowds and waiting times for all passengers to show up.

The key elements of the safety drill – including reviewing what to expect and where to go in case of an emergency and instructions on how to properly use a life jacket – are accessible to passengers through their mobile devices and interactive stateroom TVs.

Passengers can review the information at their own time prior to setting sail, eliminating the need for the traditional large assemblies. After reviewing safety information individually, passengers complete the drill by visiting their assigned assembly stations. There crew members verify that all steps have been completed and answer any questions and check off names of passengers who have done the drill.

Every passenger must complete the safety drill prior to the ship’s departure, as required by international maritime law. I did hear over the ship intercom that a few passengers had not completed their individual safety drill and Symphony of the Seas would not budge until they did. Those passengers quickly took care of that important drill and we were on our way.

 Beautiful Cruise Ship

Symphony of the Seas is a real beauty with a maximum capacity of 6,680 passengers. On our cruise, there are 2,946 passengers and 1,500 crew, according to Cintia Silva in customer services.

Passengers range in age with 200 children and a broad spectrum of young and older folks from hometowns around America. Having the ship less than half full was very pleasant as it was easy to socially distance and find plenty of places to sit and enjoy the cruise. Masks are required except for when eating or drinking or in outdoor spaces.

As for customer service, every crew member I met was friendly, helpful and hard working. The second time I saw Kadek in the main dining room, he knew my name, my table by the window and what I liked to drink at meals.

Kadek started working on Royal Caribbean cruise ships in 2019, was sent home to Indonesia when COVID stopped cruises and spent 17 months jobless. Rather, he spent that time helping his family work their rice field. “My family doesn’t own the field,” he says. “They farm it and pay 50 percent of the crop to the field owner. Then they keep 50 percent.”

His main job in the rice field, Kadek says, was to shoo off birds. “I had a stick with a piece of plastic on it that I would wave to scare the birds,” he describes, adding that sometimes a horn would be used to keep the pests away.

Kadek was called back to Royal Caribbean on June 1 and will go home Dec. 11 when his six-month contract is up. While on the cruise ship, all crew members must wear masks and are not permitted to go ashore as a health precaution. Crew members also wear a button on their shirt that shows their unmasked face with the words “The smile behind the mask.”

“I will be home for two months, then I hope to get another contract,” Kadek said. “But there are many crew members who haven’t been called back and they want to work, too.”

A ring on his finger is a reminder of his mother, girlfriend and family who love him. “My mother only paid about $10 or $15 for the ring but it is very important to me. Every time I look at it, I think of her,” he says. “My family is very proud of me. I am the family success story.”

Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch

Symphony of the Seas is one of the world’s largest cruise ship (above)

The Solarium offers plenty of open spaces and ocean views. (cover)

The ring that Kadek’s mother gave him. / Crew members wear buttons that show their faces without masks. / Kadek stands beside my table in the main dining room. (end gallery)


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