Jane Archer reviews three new ships and what they have to offer groups onboard.

In the space of just four weeks, three fun-filled ships that between them hold more than 15,000 passengers came into service. Jane Archer went on board to find out why you should be lining them up for your next cruise group.

Royal Caribbean International - Symphony of the Seas 

Officially the world’s biggest cruise ship, Symphony of the Seas is a 228,081-ton behemoth with room for up to 6,680 passengers and activities and restaurants galore. She is sailing the Caribbean round-trip from Miami throughout 2019.

Activities: Laser tag joins a line-up that includes a puzzle room where you have an hour to uncover clues and escape, a trio of water slides, rock-climbing walls and a zip-wire. Dare to do a 100-foot slide, dubbed the Ultimate Abyss, and you’ll whizz from deck 16 to deck six in about 13 seconds.

Food for thought: New Mexican diner El Loco Fresh is included in the cruise price along with the dining room, self-service and Park Café. All are fine but the speciality restaurants are better. New Hooked will excite fish-lovers, while sports fans can nibble on burgers, wings and nachos while watching the latest games in the Playmakers diner-cum-sports bar. Stroll along Central Park and take your pick from Jamie’s Italian, Chops Grille and 150 Central Park.

It’s showtime: The musical Hairspray is playing in the theatre, while 1977 is an ice-skating show with a quick-change artist and outstanding special effects that even create a whale beneath the ice. At the back of the ship, high-divers do their breath-taking stuff in the Aquatheatre.

And so to bed: Choose between inside, outside and balcony cabins but for a real treat it has to be one of the Loft Suites complete with a Royal Genie (think butler without the stuffiness). A new family suite has a slide, Lego wall and cool £40,000 per week price tag.

Anything for groups? Bookings for eight or more cabins (minimum 16 people) qualify for free berths. Royal Caribbean can organise group tours and cocktail evenings and events on board. 

0844 571 7567


Carnival Cruise LIne - Carnival Horizon 

Imagine a week-long party for 5,000 people and you have Carnival Horizon, the latest ship to join Carnival’s self-proclaimed Fun Ship fleet, where things start rocking the moment you get on board and don’t stop until it’s time to leave. She is cruising the Caribbean from Miami throughout 2019.

Activities: Buckle up because you’re off on a wild ride on recumbent pedal bikes that go around an 800-foot track 150-foot above deck 12. Only those with a head for heights should apply. Same goes for the ropes course, which has high wires, swinging beams and nets for fun-fiends to negotiate.

Food for thought: A Japanese Teppanyaki is new but small with room for just 16 diners. JiJi serves some of the best (and best value) Asian food at sea at $15 extra per person for dinner. At lunchtime the venue is Mongolian Wok. Choose your stir-fry ingredients and it’s cooked up at no charge. There are steaks in Fahrenheit 555 and cheese-on-everything Italian dishes in Cucina del Capitano, both for an extra cost.

It’s showtime: Take your pick from production shows themed around New Orleans and the Great Gatsby era, stand-up comedians for family and adult audiences, live musicians in the bars and sing-a-longs in the Piano Bar. 

And so to bed: Havana Cabana cabins have patios instead of balconies and their own deck and pool area (it opens to all passengers from 7pm). Family Harbour rooms sleep up to five people and come with access to a private lounge with TVs and snacks. There are also plenty of inside, outside, balcony and suite accommodation.

Anything for groups? One free berth for every 15 full-fare passengers on the group booking. Selected sailings attract Fun Points that can be exchanged for amenities and bonus commission. 

0808 234 0680


Norgwegian Cruise Line - Norwegian Bliss

Bliss by name and bliss by nature, NCL’s newest ship is a dream for casual cruisers (no dress codes here!) who live life in the fast lane. She holds 4,004 passengers and sails the Caribbean from Miami in winter and to Alaska from Seattle in summer. 

Activities: Who’d have thought folk would feel the urge to drive a go-kart at sea. NCL apparently, given they have put a two-level race course on the back of Bliss. It’s fast, fun and costs $7 a go (eight laps). Laser tag is also great fun but what’s there’s a no-running rule – surely like trying to eat a doughnut without licking your lips. Cost is $5.

Food for thought: A new Texas Smokehouse called Q (think brisket, ribs, beans and corn) and Mexican Los Lobos join a line-up of NCL favourites including a Japanese Teppanyaki, steakhouse, and Italian and French bistros. All cost extra. The Local is complimentary, open 24 hours and the place to go for a peaceful breakfast away from the self-service crowds.

It’s showtime: A full-length rendition of the musical Jersey Boys is the headline act in the theatre, but it’s the Beatles who pull the crowds. Not the real ones of course, but a tribute band that get the Cavern Club rocking.

And so to bed: The best rooms are in the Haven, a residents-only area with its own restaurant and lounge. Elsewhere there are inside, outside and balcony cabins as well as lots of studios for solo passengers. They are small, but have access to a singles lounge where lone travellers can meet up.

Anything for groups? One free berth for every 16 full-fare paying passengers. Cocktail parties, shore excursions (minimum 25 people), hire of conference rooms and other service can be arranged on request. 

0333 241 2650