Harmony of the Seas – Pre-cruise 15 Sept 2017
The RoyalCaribbeanBlog.com group cruise was aboard the Worlds largest cruise ship, Harmony of the Seas. Let me preface to say that my family booked this trip over a year ago while sailing on Empress of the Seas using the Next Cruise desk. The anticipation of going from over a 365 day countdown to zero was long but well worth it. The few weeks prior to the cruise the excitement got ratcheted up a few notches. Then the tropics exploded, and the excitement turned to concern, not just for our trip but the residents of Florida and the islands of the Caribbean.
Harmony of the Seas – September 2017 Group Cruise
The RoyalCaribbeanBlog.com Harmony of the Seas Group Cruise had a Western Caribbean itinerary that departed from Florida and Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. From there we had stops at Labadee, Haiti then Falmouth, Jamaica, and finally Cozumel, Mexico before returning to Port Everglades the following Saturday.
Just a quick background: We booked this cruise the the Next cruise Desk, aboard Empress of the Seas over a year prior. Then we transferred our reservation to MEI travel agents (that is the firm that helps sponsor RoyalCarribbeanBlog.com and they would be handling the events for the Harmony Group Cruise).
Originally we had booked Central Park Balcony cabin 10593. When we got a little closer it was decided that we would upgrade to a Junior Suite, which originally cost $1700 more then the Central Park cabin. Whoa! Why would I agree to spend $1700 more for a Junior Suite? Well most importantly, I would be getting double cruise points which would make this cruise our Diamond cruise. If you have any questions about what Diamond or any other Royal Caribbean Loyalty level receives the click HERE!
Next there are a couple of on board perks given to those staying in a Junior Suite, namely: Priority check -in, upgraded toiletries, complementary robe, and availability of eating dinner at the Coastal Kitchen a suites only dining facility on top of the ship. So to make a long story short. The cabin we found was on the aft hump of the ship, this means it sticks out a little further and you get a little more balcony for the same price as other junior suites.
Did I mention that prior to final payment a cruise can be repriced if it was found to be cheaper than a newer booking. This is an advantage to having a travel agent. They get paid to track these sales. It seems that the Kid’s Sail Free promotion happened prior to my final payment and it applied to Oasis Class ships. What that means in English is I saved over $1100 this one time. So I was very happy to hear that.
A couple of points to remember on Oasis class ships (Harmony, Allure, Oasis of the Seas). A few months prior to sailing the shows will be available to book. In addition, the cruise planner with specialty dining packages, drink packages, VOOM internet, Excursions and much more will be available. Always check to see what is available. Again if you see a lower price than you purchased a Cruise Planner item cancel it and rebook it. There is no penalty and you will save money. During the months leading up to our cruise the drink package and our excursion both went on sale and we save around $150 by canceling and rebooking.
I personally don’t like the idea of cruising during the height of Hurricane season. A couple of weeks prior to our cruise the tropics blew up and there were three named storms churning. My mantra was “Just get me on the ship”. Well Hurricane Irma at one time a cat 5 storm flattened many islands on her path to Florida, luckily it decided to lose some velocity by running over parts of Cuba but it swung wide left unfortunately doing great harm to the Florida Keys but being a lot less damaging to Fort Lauderdale.
The cruises that were scheduled to return the day the storm hit were parked safely in Mexico, and their itineraries were extended. The cruise prior to ours was shortened to four nights. Fort Lauderdale airport was closed for a few days, but reopened first with limited flights and by the day of our departure to Florida seemed to be operating on all cylinders.
The group cruise did not get by unscathed. The original hotel the the group was booked for the night before was without power, and was sitting at a slightly lower elevation so water was an issue. Luckily the professionals of MEI through relentless calling scored a much better, alas slightly more expensive hotel right on the beach for our enjoyment for the night before the cruise.
The big day had arrived, we had a direct 8:15 AM flight out of Philadelphia to Fort Lauderdale. We arrived at the airport at 6 AM, and did curbside check in. Then we breezed through security thanks to TSA-Precheck which you can check out HERE!
So what does one do when they don’t board the aircraft for an hour and a half? Breakfast beers anyone? Of course, we didn’t have anywhere to drive for over a week and they had Yard’s IPA on tap, a solid choice. We finished up at the pub and headed over to the gate. I had one more surprise for my family. Last year when I bought the airline tickets I decided to upgrade to First Class for the journey down. The family didn’t find out till the gate announced group 1 boarding. The Bubs sure did enjoy the “Pope Class” seating as it is referred to in the Royal Caribbean Periscoping community.
Our flight was great. We were asked if we wanted anything to drink prior to takeoff. After takeoff, before our meal with real silverware and napkin. Even after our meal the flight attendant asked if we wanted anything else. The legroom was spacious and the seats very comfortable. If you ever get the chance, try 1st class. It is very nice! The plane took off and landed right on schedule. Another little perk, we were waiting for our bags at the luggage carousel, and guess which bags came out 1,2, and 3. Yup, we had our bags and it was time to go see if we could at least get the hotel to hold our bags till check-in.
We decided to take Uber from FLL to the Courtyard Marriott on Fort Lauderdale beach. We ordered an Uber-XL because we didn’t want to be crammed in to a Prius for a 20 minute journey. Pay close attention to where hired cars at FLL are supposed to pick you up. We landed at terminal 3 and the station is between terminal 2 & 3. No biggie except most Uber XL were giant GMC SUV’s and they seemed to be all black.
The journey from the airport to the beach was interesting. Most of the city avoided major damage from the storm. Stores were in the process of removing the boards, there were brush piles throughout, and there were a few detours. Our $27 uber ride turned in to a $37 Uber ride because our driver had to reroute due to a closure of a tunnel. No big deal. Finally we arrived at the Courtyard Marriott. We were first from our group, followed directly by Annette, the Lead agent from MEI. Our room was ready and we headed up to relax for a bit before exploring a little.
Fort Lauderdale Courtyard Marriott
The Courtyard Marriott is located at 440 Seabreeze Blvd, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316. The hotel sits directly across the street from the beach and it is host to the PTZtv Webcam on it’s roof which can be found HERE!
During Hurricane Irma this webcam was my clue to how the city was doing. During the aftermath is was my eyes, in fact it was interesting to see the heavy machinery rolling down the street essentially plowing the street of sand like they do in snow country.
After resting in our room which had a side view of the beach and more importantly a view of Port Everglades. We strolled across the street to the beach. The weather was nice but the beach conditions were pretty crappy. There was a lot of seaweed and palm fronds a long with household debris strewn across the beach. The actual water which was at low tide had a layer of seaweed that made swimming almost impossible and definitely not safe in my opinion but the life guard shacks were manned and there were a few brave souls in the water.
So we moved up to the hotel pool which was on the smaller side but it was clean and shady. There is also a pool bar in case anyone needed an adult beverage. Right in side the hotel by the pool there is a bistro which had some really good quesadillas. We enjoyed swimming for a bit as other group cruise members slowly trickled in. There was an informal meet and greet in the evening but we had to get a proper dinner first.
We walked down the street looking for a restaurant that was recommended to us with amazing burgers. We stumbled upon TSUKURO, an Asian fusion restaurant that looks like it turns in to a night club later in the day. We had a couple of beers and ordered burgers off the menu along with some fried rice. The burgers were huge and came with your choice of three different kinds of fries. I ordered the Umami burger (beef patty, shishito pepper, pepperjack cheese, teriyaki, on brioche bun and I had sweet potato fries. Mrs. Cookingyo had the Oishii burger with truffle chips, and Bubs had a Blue Moon burger with skinny fries. Dinner was delish and our server reminded us that each burger came with a draft beer. Well since Bubs isn’t old enough we took a roadie beer with us. I drank it while everyone else went shopping for some souvenirs.
Well wouldn’t you know it… this really drunk dude walks in to me while I was taking a panoramic photograph and spills half my beer. Uggghhhh. Hint, Hint not the last time we will see him. The walk back to the hotel was interesting as the sidewalks were still covered in a few inches of sand, so it felt like a walk on the beach that last block.
We walked back to the hotel, the Royal Caribbean Blog Group Meetup was happening. It was nice to introduce our selves to new friends and we even had friends who were staying in Miami drive up to say hi and meet everyone. In addition we were handed our MEI swag bag with a group itinerary.
It was getting late and Bubs decided to retire for the evening. The Mrs. and I went with the group to a spot pretty much next to the hotel. We had a nightcap and prepared for the big day ahead. I woke up at 5 AM and low and behold what did I see. The world’s largest cruise ship right outside Port Everglades. She docked shortly afterwards.
The group had a shuttle leaving at 10AM for the ship. We had an early breakfast at the bistro and got all of our stuff ready to go. We headed down to the shuttle 15 minutes early of our normal 15 minutes early. The shuttle was actually there and people were already boarded. Everyone was on board by 9:45 AM and away we were going to Terminal 18 of Port Everglades.
Check out the actual Harmony of the Seas Group Cruise, HERE!