For the last couple of days, Royal Caribbean’s new flagship Harmony of the Seas, has been waiting patiently outside City Terminal in Southampton, anticipating the green light for her maiden voyage.
She’s the largest cruise ship in the world, and a template for the kind of floating city you might see in a sci-fi or fantasy movie. At almost 7,000 passenger capacity and housing over 2,000 crew members, she is the equivalent length of 4 football pitches – over 1,000ft. An impressive feat of modern maritime engineering.
The on-board facilities are state-of-the-art and more varied than anything that’s gone before it – there are robot bartenders, no less. But is there a point beyond which you can have too much of a good thing? When, for example, does ‘bigger’ stop meaning ‘better’?
Things To Do & Places To Be
Harmony of the Seas (or ‘HOTS’, as I prefer to call her) has a lot going on, with 23 swimming pools, 20 restaurants, climbing walls, a casino, 52 trees and a 10-storey water slide among the features! Accommodation alone takes up an immense amount of space – and the sheer number of decks she possesses (18) give her quite a modular, boxy feel. I’m not saying she’s unattractive, she’s a bonnie enough lass, but personally I prefer the sleeker outline of a smaller ship.
Aesthetics aside, what will the ‘customer experience’ be like? There’s certainly never going to be a dull moment on board and every demographic group will be properly catered for, but I feel I’d have to be on a full world cruise to benefit from the all the amenities on offer.
And while space to move around without feeling squashed like a London commuter is a good thing, some folk are more likely to enjoy the more intimate atmosphere and personal service that comes with fewer fellow passengers.
Cleaning Up & Gliding Along
Environmentally, it’s not rocket science. She’s brand new and sports the latest technology, which will enable her to comply with international environmental regulations.
For example, Harmony will feature scrubber technology, developed to reduce air emissions from cruise ships by removing sulphur and considerably reducing particulate matter such as black carbon from exhaust gases.
Nothing But Air
Probably the most impressive innovation is an air lubrication system, more commonly referred to as ‘bubble’ technology. This fascinating method reduces friction between the ship’s hull and the water by creating a layer of tiny bubbles between the two. It means that riding the high seas isn’t, literally, such a drag.
All in all, these initiatives result in a 20% improvement in fuel efficiency, which isn’t a bad thing for the environment, and a very good thing for the cruise companies due to the massive cost savings. However, those technologies are gradually being integrated into many global fleets, so, ultimately, Harmony will lose any green advantage and just be a bigger ship making a proportionally bigger impact.
Sails and Sales
I can see the main advantages of these colossal Oasis-class liners, though; People mostly take a cruise for two major reasons – on the one hand it’s a convenient way of visiting
multiple destinations with minimum hassle, all while in a comfortable environment. Others will simply want a relaxing getaway with all mod cons at hand. So a bigger, roomier ship with a greater choice of activities, events, themed spaces, dining, leisure facilities & beauty treatments, entertainment and shopping is going to benefit both those groups in abundance.
A wider range of purchasable products and services is good for business too. On-board spending generates crucial revenue for the cruise companies themselves, so the more tempting the goodies on offer, the higher the sales figures.
The Sea’s The Limit
Perhaps it’s inevitable that sea-passenger transport will continue to get ever larger. I’m hardly in a position to make a judgement on how good or bad this is on balance, as I’ve yet to go on my first cruise. That will take place in September, and on a much smaller ship. One day, I may also get to travel in an oceanic behemoth such as Harmony of the Seas, and compare the two experiences.
Maybe then I’ll have a better idea of how much size really matters.
Disclosure: Firstly, I was kidding about the ‘HOTS’ thing. Secondly, random travel musings are a natural by-product when you love travel & have worked in the industry on-and-off over many years. And when you live in a city where big Boaty McBoatfaces come and go.