You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Aboard the world's biggest cruise ship

Press AssociationPress Association 30/05/2016 Sarah Marshall

Basking in excess, the world's largest cruise ship has already caused a wave of controversy. It cost $US1 billion ($A1.39 billion) to build, weighs 226,963 tonnes, has 23 pools and carries 8890 people.

Detractors dismiss Harmony of the Seas as "Butlins at sea", a reference to the UK chain of large holiday camps, but stepping aboard at Southampton for its inaugural sailing - a two-day trip across the English Channel - I leave all prejudices at the gangplank.

First impression: it's extremely well furnished, like a luxury hotel, not a holiday camp. More than 11,000 pieces of contemporary art are sprinkled throughout, from corridors to cabins (sorry, "staterooms").

Our suite, on the eleventh of 17 decks, has a huge living area, a double bedroom, a bathroom with separate shower and bath plus, of course, an all-important balcony, complete with sun loungers.

Premium accommodation options - which also include split-level staterooms and a frankly gob-smacking suite for families of up to 14 - even come with a personal concierge (or "genie") available 24 hours a day.

Yes, the ship is huge, but it's surprisingly easy to navigate as it's split into seven distinct neighbourhoods, including the lush "Central Park" and "Entertainment Place", lined with bars and clubs.

Dinner at Jamie's Italian proves to be, well, just like eating in town - familiarity for those who crave it - but slightly more adventurous options include pan-Asian cuisine and fine dining. The scale of this thing means there's huge variety - of everything.

The main restaurant is set over three storeys and, surprisingly, all guests are offered a full table service, over two separate sittings, included in the price.

I'd genuinely forgotten that we were at sea until there was an announcement that the start of "1887", an original ice show, would be delayed. The ship was turning, and even pros can't skate on a tilted rink.

The big shows, which also include an excellent production of Grease, are West End standard, but the music options are predictably cheesy.

Waking up next to water is a genuine thrill - and it's just the English Channel. This, truly, is what cruising is about.

Some internal rooms have a balcony overlooking the park and entertainment zones, while a few dozen others have to make do with a screen showing live footage of the sea. For me, that's never going to cut it.

Our weekend on the English Channel is blighted by rain, preventing use of the climbing wall and zip line. But I can confirm that the water slides are huge fun. The infamous, 10-storey corkscrew slide is thrilling too, but perhaps not worthy of so much hype.

Poor weather is unlikely to be a problem in future, as the ship will be based in Barcelona for a summer of European cruises, before heading to its permanent home in the Caribbean from November.

Rocking up to resorts for fleeting visits, with up to 6779 fellow passengers, is not this writer's ideal means of exploring the planet.

Nevertheless, I can see the appeal of cruising on this ship. Harmony of the Seas is a destination in itself.

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon