It’s here: the world’s largest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas. It cost $1.5 billion to build, it has more individual works of art than the Louvre in Paris, and it’s made out of half a million individual pieces (27 times the number of parts in the Eiffel Tower).

It’s so massive that it weighs more than 17,000 African elephants, and it’s twice as tall as the Washington Monument. The Ultimate Abyss slide is taller than Mount Rushmore, and its two dozen pools, waterslides, and Flow Rider surfing experiences contain 94 times the water of an eruption of Old Faithful.

Don’t worry, you won’t get lost, thanks to an exceptional system of maps that guides guests through the ship’s seven neighborhoods. Another plus is that the ship is 25 percent more energy-efficient than sibling Allure of the Seas, once heralded as the most energy efficient ship ever built. According to Royal Caribbean Cruise Line chairman Richard Fain, “a thousand little things” have helped to improve the design and environmental impact; for instance, you won’t find plastic straws on board. It employs bubble technology sending out bursts of microscopic bubbles at the front of the ship to essentially help the ship “float on air,” reducing friction. The reduction in heat produced by florescent and LED lighting becomes less taxing on the air-conditioning.

Whether you plan to sail this monolith’s Mediterranean or Caribbean itineraries, follow these six tips to maximize your experience aboard the newest in Royal Caribbean’s line of Oasis class ships.

Symphony of the Seas’s open-air Central Park
Plan ahead. You’re competing with 6,680 other passengers for the ultimate vacation. Reserve specialty restaurants online to score preferred nights. (Hint: The last night is a good time to get a table because most people are packing.) Another insider tip: Book a table at Hooked Seafood, the New England–inspired seafood restaurant, first because it’s the newest offering aboard. Like the spa, the best availability is found when the ship stays later in port. Download the new Royal Caribbean app and check-in online to save time at the cruise terminal, but make sure your Crown and Anchor Society membership number is on the reservation for extra sailing perks. With so many passengers and luggage, it’s smart to pack a bathing suit in your carry-on so you don’t have to wait on for the onslaught of bags to be delivered.

Know the view you want. With so many room categories, there is a view for every budget. At the bottom of the price list are interior cabins with virtual balconies showing the passing sea behind curtains. Rooms with balconies are not all created equally, with some facing Central Park’s more than 20,700 trees and plants, but no sea views. The handful of balcony units overlooking AquaTheater offer unique bird’s-eye views of the acrobatic water show. The two-floor Ultimate Family Suite, which comes with a huge balcony, its own slide between floors, and floor-to-ceiling Lego wall, is one of a kind and has been booking up quickly.
The two-floor Ultimate Family Suite features an indoor slide, an air hockey table, and a giant Lego wall.
Walk the ship. There is no better way to discover everything than walking from bow to stern, floor by floor. You are sure to uncover some cool stuff like the piano stairway that lights up and plays different notes with each step between floors 15 and 16 near Windjammer Café. Seasoned cruisers know to make a beeline for popular activities like the FlowRider or zip-lining on embarkation day to avoid lines before everyone else discovers them.

Discover the secret food spots. There are too many dining options to experience on one sailing, so it is helps to know where the best goodies are. Windjammer serves buffet-style meals throughout the day, but you will discover a healthy stash of fresh strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries back by the chocolate fountain station. Don’t miss the hot dog stand by the carousel with a variety of sausage options and toppings or the Park Café’s grab-and-go salads that come in to-go containers that are great for taking on excursions. If you have a sweet tooth, there are occasional cupcake decorating classes at Sugar Beach on the Boardwalk. Nearby is a new sports bar concept with 31 TVs showing professional sports live-streamed and classic games like Jenga to distract you if your team is losing (no need to stay in the room to watch the game).
The tallest waterslide at sea, Symphony of the Seas’s Ultimate Abyss stands 10 stories.
Get hip to kid-friendly experiences. There are organized experiences for young travelers from age three and up, but unique offering include the autism toy lending bags for families to enjoy in their stateroom and hands-on science programs for kids. Lifeguards are on duty at the pools, but you can also ask for inflatable swim vests in three sizes. (Why waste space in your luggage carrying them around?) If you’re in a hurry, skip the lines at Windjammer and have breakfast at Johnny Rockets (most people don’t realize it’s open for breakfast).

Get off the beaten path. Even experienced sailors have to engage in a little digging to discover and test out the latest activities. Aboard Symphony of the Seas, these include glow-in-the-dark laser tag in Studio B and late-night disco parties where everyone wears headsets and dances to tunes of their own choosing. There’s also a Mexican taqueria with a sensational salsa bar. If you can’t find a whirlpool to soak in, head to the Solarium where the newly added pools there will surprise repeat cruisers. These are often less crowded. Yes, even on the world’s biggest, most bustling cruise ship, it’s possible to find a little solitude.
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