Harmony of the Seas vs Symphony of the Seas: What's the difference? This article should give you a clear understanding of what makes each ship a unique experience.
Featured Image: Sabor, the Mexican themed restaurant onboard Harmony of the Seas highlights one difference between the two sister ships.
Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class ships are some of the largest and most impressive cruise vessels on the seas. The number of venues, activities, and performances that are available are sure to keep guests busy for an entire week-long cruise. The two latest Oasis-class ships, Harmony of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas are often compared to each other as having a similar guest experience. While it’s true that both ships have a near-identical layout and design, there are some differences worth noting. Whether it’s the theater shows or a few subtle changes in the dining venues, Royal Caribbean keeps the repeat cruiser in mind and tries to make each ship a unique experience, even if there are more similarities than differences between the two.
Let's have these two megaships face-off so you can decide where you want to spend your next cruise vacation. Here we go: it's Harmony of the Seas vs Symphony of the Seas.
Round 1: The Royal Theater
Grease is the featured musical on board Harmony of the Seas
Royal Caribbean is known for staging some of the most famous productions that can be seen on Broadway. With top-notch talent and intricate set design, seeing a production in the Royal Theater is no less spectacular than seeing a show in the Big Apple itself.
I do enjoy live theater, but not so much that I would spend the money of time to see a Broadway show in New York City. However, when the theater is only a minute’s walk away from the main dining room and the cost is included with the cruise fare, taking in a show seems a lot more enjoyable.
Harmony of the Seas features the musical Grease, the classic story of 1950s high school romance. It’s likely that you already know the story and some of the songs from the 1978 film adaptation starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. If you are looking for something a bit familiar and just want to enjoy the music and production quality of the show, then Grease is a great musical.
Symphony of the Seas produces Hairspray, set in the 1960s with a story that revolves around its main character Tracy Turnblad, who finds herself cast on a popular after-school television dance show in Baltimore. Soon after becoming a local celebrity, she becomes a leader for social change as she advocates for racial integration within the show.
I enjoyed watching both shows but would give the edge to Hairspray. Maybe it’s because the story was new to me, or because the messaging in the show was that much more positive.
Royal Caribbean also produces an original musical on each of its Oasis-class ships - something that can be seen only while onboard. Harmony of the Seas stages Columbus - The Musical, a story about Christopher Columbus’s very distant cousin who tries to set out on an adventure of his own to claim his place in history, and maybe find a piece of himself that he didn’t know even existed. The production has a great message to always be yourself and never be defined by anyone else’s accomplishments.
Likewise, Symphony of the Seas has its own original production, Flight - Dare To Dream. As an aviation buff, I was super interested in seeing this show, a history of human flight that uses a reverse timeline that begins in the future as the world's first deep-space cruise ship takes its maiden voyage to Mars. Each scene then steps back an era into the history of flight and covers the golden age of flight in the 1950s and 1960s, the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) contribution to World War II, Chuck Yeager’s flight that broke the sound barrier, Amelia Earhart’s doomed flight around the world, and more. The final scene ends with the Wright Brothers launching from Kitty Hawk on the first powered aircraft and features a nearly life-size replica of the Wright Flyer that flies over the audience. Once again, the stagecraft is top of the line.
The Wright Flyer maneuvers over the audience in Flight: Dare to Dream onboard Symphony of the Seas
Royal Caribbean also produces an original musical on each of its Oasis class ships - something that can be seen only while onboard. Harmony of the Seas stages Columbus - The Musical, a story about Christopher Columbus’s very distant cousin who tries to set out on an adventure of his own to claim his place in history, and maybe a piece of himself that he didn’t know even existed. The production has a great message to always be yourself and never be defined by the anyone else’s accomplishments.
Likewise, Symphony of the Seas has its own original production, Flight. As an aviation buff, I was super interested in seeing this show, a history of human flight that uses a reverse timeline that begins in the future as the worlds first deep-space cruise ship takes its maiden voyage to Mars. Each scene then steps back an era into the history of flight and covers the golden age of flight in the 1950s and 1960s, the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) contribution to World War II, Chuck Yeager’s flight that broke the sound barrier, Amelia Earhart’s doomed flight around the world, and more. The final scene ends with the Wright Brothers launching from Kitty Hawk on the first powered aircraft and features a nearly life-size replica of the Wright Flyer that flies over the audience. Once again, the stagecraft is top of the line.
All of the productions are filled with music and comedy and are worthy of your time. However, I’ll have to give Round 1 to Symphony of the Seas.
Round 2: Boardwalk
Playmakers has both covered and outside seating. Wings, nachos, and other game-day favorites are served here.
The Boardwalk is one of seven “neighborhoods” on all Oasis-class Ships. This aft section of the ship is designed to make guests feel like they are strolling through a seaside resort, complete with a hot dog stand, carousel, and Zoltar® fortune telling machine. The Aquatheater is also located on the boardwalk, making this a very popular destination on the ship on many evenings of the sailing.
Common to both Harmony and Symphony are:
- Johnny Rockets - Premium, but cheap dining venue with awesome burgers, fries, and onion rings
- Two Rock Walls
- Dog House - Complimentary hog dogs
But there are some differences. If you like Mexican style food, then you will enjoy Sabor on Harmony of the Seas. This premium dining venue has a walk-up bar with an extensive margarita list and cervezas (beer). Tableside, Sabor is known for its fresh guacamole with tortilla chips, quesadillas, burritos, and tacos. It makes a great alternative to the main dining room when you want a casual meal with family or friends in an open-air setting. However, Sabor won't last long. Royal Caribbean has been trading out this restaurant for updated venues like Playmakers Sports Bar. When Harmony of the Seas arrives at her next drydock for refurbishment currently scheduled for 2021, Sabor is likely to be replaced.
Playmakers, found on Symphony's Boardwalk is a sports bar with multiple large-screen televisions broadcasting live sporting events. It also features an arcade and games like foosball and tabletop shuffleboard. While Sabor is an excellent restaurant and loved by many repeat cruisers on Royal Caribbean's ships, Playmakers appeals to the masses that want to hang out with friends, dig into a plate of wings and wash it back with a cold beer, or even a flight of beer. It takes the place of not only Sabor, but also of the dedicated Starbucks venue found on Harmony's Boardwalk. But of course, we can't do without a Starbucks, so Symphony has a large Starbuck's kiosk in the Royal Promenade instead.
I really do love Mexican food, and I will hate to see Sabor leave the Royal Caribbean fleet, but chances are that you will get to experience some great Mexican food in at least one port of call during your cruise. Playmakers is a venue that everyone can enjoy for multiple nights per sailing, so Symphony of the Seas takes Round 2.
Round 3: Aquatheater
The Aquatheater is an experience unique to Royal Caribbean's Oasis-class ships. Located at the aft of the ship on the Boardwalk, here you will see some amazing athletes perform an approximately 60-minute show that includes high diving, tight rope walking, slacklining, and parkour-style gymnastics in and around a central swimming pool. The pool's floor elevates and lowers, usually when your eyes are focused somewhere else, to allow performers to either swim or use it as a stage.
Shows on both Harmony and Symphony are supposed to have a theme, but truthfully any storyline is hard to follow here and you won't care about it anyway. The show is all about the athletic moves and raw talent exhibited on stage.
The main show on Harmony is The Fine Line, and on Symphony it is HiRo. These are evening shows that run about three nights per sailing. While on Harmony, I noticed that additional shows ran during the daytime. These were entertaining shows on sea days that are more fun and playful, and they drew decent attendance that helped spread out the crowds that can gather on the pool deck and Solarium on sea days. On Symphony, there were no shows during the daytime.
While The Fine Line and HiRo will both leave you wondering how they pulled off such a show on a moving ship, round 3 goes to Harmony of the Seas simply for having far more offerings at the Aquatheater.
HiRo onboard Symphony of the Seas
The Fine Line
A performer maneuvers on the slackline during the performance
This new-ish show onboard Harmony of the Seas may not be the headliner in the Aquatheater, but it's fun to watch keeps families entertained during the daytime hours.
HiRo Opening Scene
I was a pole vaulter in high school, so this opening scene from HiRo was pretty cool to watch. This photo was taken with my iPhone on the first night of our Symphony of the Seas sailing.
Aquatheater Backstage Magic
How does Royal Caribbean pull off such a complex and thrilling show?
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Round 4: The Solarium
The Solarium onboard Harmony of the Seas
All Royal Caribbean ships have an adults-only section called the Solarium. Located on the pool deck, this area has sun loungers, a couple of hot tubs, and of course, a bar. Generally, the Solarium also features a small pool for cooling off. However, when Harmony of the Seas was built, they removed this popular amenity. And Royal Caribbean heard about it. The post-cruise surveys were clear: Guests did not like that the pool went missing, and it was returned to its proper location when Symphony debuted in 2018. It's not a big pool - really it's just a cold water tub. But it feels good on a hot sea day and you don't have to pack into the main pools with the rugrats, so it's a win.
If that were the only difference, then I would give the round to Symphony. But there's more, and it's a big one...the bar. On Harmony, on deck sixteen above the loungers is the Solarium Bar. Not only does it have bar stools around the perimeter, but plenty of high-top bar tables laid out across a large deck. This was a place that my wife and I would frequent that never seemed to be crowded. There was plenty of open space and relative quiet.
However, on Symphony, this space was removed and replaced by a premium dining venue, Hooked Seafood. Being from Cape Cod, we were not looking for any New England seafood on our cruise, but we did stop in to get a drink at the Hooked bar. The acoustics were awful and sound bounced off the walls, making the background noise quite harsh. Combined with the bright lighting, we finished our drinks and beat feet. There are better venues for both eating and drinking on Symphony.
Harmony wins round 4 for being better all-around at crowd management, especially in the Solarium.
Round 5: Studio B
1877 shows onboard Harmony of the Seas several times per week
The final round in our Harmony of the Seas vs Symphony of the Seas face-off is the Studio B multi-purpose theater venue. Most passengers know it as the ice rink. The setup is identical on both ships, During the sailing, Studio B has a featured ice show that plays several nights throughout the week. Much like the Aquatheater shows, there is a storyline that is difficult to follow but does not impact the enjoyment of the show. Both main shows include top-rated talent including former Olympic figure skaters. I am generally not a fan of figure skating but these shows I found entertaining and had no problems sitting through either one.
The differences that I found were mostly outside of the main ice shows. Harmony of the Seas also produced a second show named iSkate. This was run toward the end of the sailing and consisted of the performers choreographing their own numbers, skating in their own style. Symphony of the Seas had no second show, which furthers my point that Harmony did a better job of daytime programming and crowd management.
Harmony also had skate sessions, where guests could rent skates at no additional cost and try out the ice rink. While Symphony did not do this, they did have laser tag sessions in Studio B. The ice was covered and inflatable walls were erected, making for a pretty cool arena. Each session lasts about 20 minutes and no reservations are necessary. It's a great activity for teens and adults alike.
It's close, but Harmony wins Round 5 for having more offerings at Studio B.
And the Winner Is...
Harmony of the Seas
Of course, all of this is personal preference. It was my experience that Harmony of the Seas offered more activities at most venues, and I place a high priority on crowd management. Harmony simply felt less crowded. As cruise and entertainment directors change out positions, the Harmony of the Seas vs Symphony of the Seas battle might need a rematch.
No matter which ship you choose, the experience is similar. My family and I had a great time on both of these Oasis-class behemoths. I hope you do as well.
Do you have any other differences to add? Drop your comments below to let others know about your experience onboard either of these ships.
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