Sun, sea & decks | 

A maiden Caribbean cruise to paradise was as magical as you would expect

No, cruises aren’t just for the over 70s and no, you won’t be overrun by young families or saccharine honeymooners.

The amazing Wonder of the Seas

Denise relaxing in Haiti

Exploring the streets of Puerto Rico with Sean

Denise in the Bionic Bar

Denise braving a zipline

Inside the Wonder of the Seas

Denise at Hooked Seafood

Enjoying the stateroom balcony

Sean takes in the scale of the ship

A nighttime stroll on the top deck

Wonder of the Seas looks even more spectacular at night

Denise SmithSunday World

A tangy sea breeze whips the hair from my face as I take in the inky black expanse that stretches out around me. Aside from a wash of stars that light up the night sky like an upturned bowl of glitter, all is still on the Atlantic. And then there’s me, breaking the reverie singing Mickey Joe Harte’s We’ve Got the World Tonight, at volume.

It’s 3am and I’m perched on my eighth floor balcony. In between choruses of the Eurovision belter, I’m concentrating on navigating a sizeable slice of pepperoni pizza into my mouth without dropping a single crumb.

I’m nursing a still-cold cocktail as I pad back into my stateroom and guide my feet into the silky cool bed sheets. And before I can think back on a day of conquering zip-lining, Zumba and butchering many esteemed Irish artists on karaoke, the belly of the world’s largest cruise ship lulls me into a rhythmic, blissful sleep.

Welcome to cruise life, or to be more specific, welcome to the Wonder of the Seas.

Before we go any further, I invite you to have an open mind. In fact, I invite you to disregard every last stereotype you ever heard about holidaying on the seven seas.

No, cruises aren’t just for the over 70s and no, you won’t be overrun by young families or saccharine honeymooners.

Denise in the Bionic Bar

By the end of this travel review, I hope you will realise this is a holiday for everybody — and much more than that, it’s most likely the best holiday you will ever have.

When I was invited to travel on the maiden voyage of the newest member of Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class alongside my partner Sean, I was dubious as to how we would be entertained for seven days and six nights at sea.

As a pandemic couple, this would be our first ever trip Stateside, and did I really want to commit to a six-night trip that would see us nestling in for a week like sardines in a tin can?

Would we survive being kept in the same tiny confines day in and day out? And again, could our flourishing relationship sustain a toilet that was within arm’s reach of the bed?

But then I was informed we would be setting sail to the sun-drenched shores of the Bahamas, Haiti and Puerto Rico, and I swiftly made peace with living in such close quarters.

I’ll be the first person to admit when I’m wrong (which isn’t often) but, dear readers, my doubts were wholly and utterly unfounded.

Denise braving a zipline

Setting sail from Fort Lauderdale in Florida, we walked into the bowels of the 18-storey ship with the same energy as four-year-olds who have been let loose with a €20 voucher in Smyth’s Toys.

It was a case of sensory overload as we took in the glittering main promenade, that was reminiscent of the Las Vegas strip. Housing everything from a bustling Italian pizzeria, busy bars and a Latin dance club to high-end jewellery stores, I was overawed, to say the least.

And our stateroom? Well, let’s just say there was ample room for both of us and my 28kg suitcase.

Just to give you some scale, the Wonder of the Seas cruise ship is 362m long. If my sums are correct, which they often aren’t, that’s over two times the length of Croke Park. Weighing in at a mean gross tonnage of 236,857t, it features 18 decks, 2,300 crew members and can accommodate up to 6,988 guests across its 2,867 staterooms.

Enjoying the stateroom balcony

I spent the majority of the first day marvelling at how my travel editor could have possibly passed up this trip of a lifetime — then I celebrated by hitting up the Bionic Bar alongside a cohort of Irish journalists who were also along for the ride.

I animatedly punched my desired cocktail into a computer screen, tapped my room key and two robotic bartenders who promise to shake up your night out, mixed, muddled, and stirred up the liner’s favourite signature blends.

At this juncture, I’d like to highly recommend that you subscribe to the deluxe drinks package if you enjoy a tipple or two. This means you can sip on unlimited poolside piña coladas and wind down with the perfect wine pairing come sundown for between $48 to $79 per person a night.

After a mojito or two, I began to rationalise that it was completely achievable to take in the entire expanse of the ship.

That was not limited to 40 restaurants and bars, over a dozen swimming pools, a fully-stocked gym, running track, casino, spa and even an ice rink.

But before I could come up with a game plan, I found myself on top deck cheering on as some early revellers took on the FlowRider — a 40-foot surf simulator that gives everyone the chance to catch a wave.

Exploring the streets of Puerto Rico with Sean

This emboldened me to skip the lifts and try out another mode of transport — The Ultimate Abyss. At more than 150 feet above sea level, the purple dry slide is the tallest slide at sea.

Whizzing down 10 stories of twists and turns, I’m blasted onto the Boardwalk and straight into the doors of Johnny Rockets. For $10 you can stuff yourself with burgers, hotdogs and fries on repeat.

For more fine dining options that sit outside of your standard dining package, you’re in for a treat. We chowed down in Hooked Seafood and I sampled everything including crab cakes and ceviche, washed down with gin and tonic oyster shots — a first and last for me.

The Mason Jar was another speciality restaurant that won me over with its southern charm. I did an Elvis and tucked into his favourite — stuffed French toast. But be warned: don’t miss the boat, it’s best to book early. We missed out on testing our chopsticks at the signature sushi restaurant, Izumi.

If you’re a very organised cruiser you can book your chosen eateries before you even step aboard, or you can save some dollars and stick to the main dining hall — there’s a classic menu as well as daily specials, and the service simply won’t be beaten. The staff are superb and make the experience all the more unforgettable.

But it’s the Windjammer that really blew my socks off — the ultimate buffet comes as part of your standard package, and invites cruisers to explore the world dish by dish. I completely panicked at the sheer amount of choice and loaded everything from fresh lobster to pizza slices onto my plate.

It’s 48 hours later before we reach our first destination of Labadee, Haiti, and I still haven’t explored even a tenth of what the ship has to offer.

We’re up at first light to explore the private compound, which boasts turquoise waters and an endless stretch of white sand. We hurtle ourselves off a cliff-edge 180 metres above sea level and Superman our way back to shore, not before careening through the mountainside on the Dragon’s Tail alpine coaster ride.

Wonder of the Seas looks even more spectacular at night

I scream, I cry, and it’s at this precise time that I remind Sean that this press trip will be the pinnacle of my journalistic career, and to immediately lower his expectations for our next trip.

In Puerto Rico, we explore the best local eateries, and in the Bahamas, we embody the most basic stereotype of the Irish and hole ourselves up in a local Irish pub, sampling tasty deep-fried sprouts and even better Guinness.

The Bahamas is also home to a private island owned by Royal Caribbean called CocoCay — at its epicentre is a waterpark of mammoth proportions.

I’m pretty sure I break the sound barrier when our group is ushered into a rubber dingy and propelled down a vertical drop. Home to the tallest water slide in North America, I immediately call it a day and head to a cabana to compose myself.

There are plenty of thrills and spills on shore if you fancy the endless list of day trips available, but it’s the ship that boasts the most quality entertainment.

Inside the Wonder of the Seas

Having pumped millions of dollars into its all-star programme, we sampled everything from West End-calibre shows, to interactive dancing screens, eye-catching parades and breathtaking ice-skating shows. And that’s not forgetting the comedy gigs on tap, or my personal favourite, karaoke, which takes place on the main promenade.

The stand-out for me, however, is the aqua show, inTENse — led by an all-female cast who take their life into their own hands when they springboard from the AquaTheatre’s 30ft diving boards. I was on the edge of my seat as divers plunged from skyscraping heights into the tiny pool of water below.

I’m genuinely perspiring after the show and need a drink to calm my nerves, so the nightclub seems the obvious port of call. There are blinding neon lights and thumping bass as we walk through the doors. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it transformation, as the dancefloor was previously home to the ship’s ice-skating spectacular just hours earlier.

In that funny post-Covid way, it’s the first time myself and Sean find ourselves in a nightclub. After some overzealous Irish dancing and questionable shots, we call it a night.

Stopping for a slice of pizza or two, we let the stars guide us as we walk arm in arm along the sprawling top deck. And I can’t help but feel that Mickey Joe is right — we’ve got the world tonight.

TRAVEL FACTFILE

CARIBBEAN SEA See royalcaribbean.com ■ The seven-night Eastern Caribbean and Perfect Day cruise on the new Wonder of the Seas is priced at €935pp. ■ Leaving from Port Canaveral, Orlando on January 29, 2023, and returning February 5. ■ Visiting Labadee, Haiti; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas; and Perfect Day at CocoCay, Bahamas.


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