It’s for older people, you might get seasick, there is not enough to do… many preconceptions were flying around my mind as I boarded a flight to Barcelona, where I would be stepping aboard a cruise liner for the first time in my life.
ost of them were of my own making, having never really considered the option of a cruise holiday until I was offered passage on Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas — the world’s largest cruise ship — as it began its European sailing last month.
They say never judge a book by its cover, and this statement could not have been more true as I took in my first glimpse of the 16-storey ship, complete with over 40 restaurants and bars; over a dozen swimming pools; and enough slides and exhilarating activities for even the biggest kidult.
And that’s before you even consider the fully-stocked gym, running track, ice rink and spa, which you can pop to for a range of services including nail painting, a full body massage or even Botox.
Wonder of the Seas kicked off its Mediterranean cruises — leaving Barcelona and Rome — on May 9, with the week-long trip stopping off in destinations including Florence, Naples, and Capri in Italy; Provence, France; and Malaga, Spain.
But my two-day cruise experience was all about the ship itself, which caters for 6,000 people at full capacity. And I found plenty of reasons to stay on board. Talking to seasoned cruise fans before going, I was already expecting my trip to be full of all the food and drink I could want.
But I was blown away by the options when it came to restaurants — from speciality Italian, seafood and sushi restaurants to the more laid-back Johnny Rockets and a pizza diner, where a slice of pepperoni was much appreciated after a long night dancing in the ship’s nightclub.
Drink options were also plentiful with no cocktail off the menu, from the signature lime and coconut at the poolside bar, to an Aperol spritz in the Vue bar on the 16th deck. This new addition to the ship does exactly as it says on the tin, offering spectacular sunset views while you drink in the atmosphere.
What I wasn’t expecting was the abundance of activity and entertainment options, whether you want to chill by the pool or in the numerous hot tubs; or you like a little more exhilaration — including a 10-storey-high zipline.
As a minor adrenaline junkie, I was keen to give it a try. And I didn’t stop there, also taking on the Ultimate Abyss — the tallest slide at sea. A real scream, it starts on the 16th deck with the dark, twisting tunnel taking you down 10 floors. I also tried the FlowRider surf simulator — a good laugh, even if I struggled to keep the board afloat, never mind attempting to stand.
The pool area is also awash with slides, while climbing walls and even an arcade can be found in the ship’s bustling activity zone. Newly designed areas dedicated to kids (Adventure Ocean) and teens (Social100 and The Patio) are also sure to keep youngsters entertained.
After getting my fill of high-octane fun, I spent the rest of the day soaking up the sun. Cocktail bars and live music make you feel like you have stepped into a pool party that wouldn’t go amiss in Ibiza, and there are plenty of food options to keep you afloat. Mexican-themed Cantina Fresca is just one of the poolside eateries, where burritos washed down with a pineapple jalapeño margarita are popular with revellers.
There is also plenty of live entertainment around the pool to keep you dancing well into the evening, before retiring to your cabin to get ready for dinner. There are many new features to make Wonder of the Seas worthy of its title including additional speciality restaurants, with The Mason Jar Southern Restaurant & Bar a stand-out for me.
A big fan of Southern food, I gorged on fried chicken and delicious shrimp and grits, while the peanut butter jelly cocktail was a surprising hit. I’d highly recommend it for brunch, with live country music and farmhouse-style décor contributing to the laid-back atmosphere — but make sure you are hungry.
It would be silly to go on a Royal Caribbean cruise and not sample some of the wonders of the seas themselves — the seafood in the speciality Hooked restaurant. The surf and turf was delicious, with the beautiful restaurant and 360 sea views, adding to its upmarket allure. If you don’t go for the speciality dining package, there are still plenty of tasty food options in the main dining hall, and you will struggle to sample everything in the breakfast buffet.
Eight new ‘neighbourhoods’ on-board make you feel as if you are on a variety of holidays, depending on where you stop the elevator. Up on deck eight, there are definite New York vibes with the Central Park neighbourhood, featuring over 20,000 real plants, as well as an American sports bar and a carousel.
Down on the fifth deck, I had to remind myself I wasn’t on the Vegas strip while wandering around the extremely decorative floor complete with shops, a pizza joint, a piano bar, and of course a Starbucks for your early-morning caffeine hit.
After a delicious dinner, I wandered down to the ship’s Aqua Theatre where guests are treated to a jaw-dropping water show, courtesy of more than 100 performers and technicians, with an all-female cast of aerialists just one of the hugely impressive acts.
Accommodation options on Wonder of the Seas are wide-ranging, with basic packages offering rooms overlooking the interior of the ship, while a room with a view will cost a few hundred more. I enjoyed my spacious sea-view room with a large bed and a balcony complete with sun loungers — an option I’d recommend if you can afford it.
For those catering for larger parties or with money to spend, the ship’s new suite neighbourhood has options including the Ultimate Family Suite, which sleeps 10. Set across two floors it comes complete with an in-suite slide, a cinema, and table tennis.
My first cruise experience left me wrecked after two days of food, drink, sun, sea and the Wonder-ful sights on board — but, oh, was it worth it. I am already looking forward to my next cruise. And if it’s anything like Royal Caribbean’s latest offering, it really will be plain sailing.
■ Packages for sailing on Wonder of the Seas start from €1,007 for a seven-night West Mediterranean Cruise in August, with prices from €881 in September. See royalcaribbean.com
■ Direct flights to Barcelona are available through aerlingus.com and ryanair.com.
■ There is a Med Cruise option departing from Rome priced at €988 for September.