Cruising from Galveston on Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas
With a sparkly new terminal in Galveston, cruising Royal Caribbean from Texas has quickly become one of the most accessible and convenient ports of departure and embarkation in the U.S. While most itineraries sail the Western Caribbean, they will soon have the addition of Royal Caribbean’s private island Perfect Day at CocoCay to look forward to, along with the usual Roatan, Costa Maya, and Cozumel ports of call. Harmony of the Seas’ recent arrival to Galveston from Florida has upped the game in Oasis-class cruising options for those looking to depart from ports other than Florida and New York.
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Harmony of the Seas, the third Oasis-class ship of six in the Royal Caribbean fleet, falls perfectly in the middle of the older Oasis of the Seas and the upcoming newest in the fleet, Utopia of the Seas. Harmony has later additions like The Ultimate Abyss dry slide, newer restaurants like Wonderland, and updated rooms with better outlets (compared to Allure or Oasis of the Seas). Being only seven years old, it is a great value compared to the newer, more costly sailings found on Wonder of the Seas and, soon, Utopia of the Seas.
One slightly odd item to note when sailing from Texas is that the bar menus are limited due to state regulations. The unlimited drinks package will work on day 1 (unlike on Carnival Cruises). However, the menu will be significantly limited until the ship reaches international waters (roughly one-and-a-half hours after departure).
For those looking for tips and tricks regarding planning and Royal Caribbean cruising expectations in general, you can find my full guide to Royal Caribbean tips and tricks here.
What to know when cruising to the Western Caribbean
When cruising from Galveston, scheduled port stops are usually distance-limited to the Western Caribbean (unless the sailing is longer than a typical four to seven day cruise). As a result, most sailings will include Roatan, Honduras, Costa Maya (Mahahual), Mexico, and Cozumel, Mexico.
Day 1: Embark in Galveston
Day 2: Sea Day
Day 3: Sea Day
Day 4: Roatan, Honduras
Day 5: Costa Maya (Mahahual), Mexico
Day 6: Cozumel, Mexico
Day 7: Sea Day
Day 8: Disembark in Galveston
Roatan, Honduras, is known for its beautiful waters for snorkeling and diving and is a port location where cruise line excursions are recommended. There are two cruise ports in Roatan, one of which is exclusive to Carnival Cruises. All other ships (including Royal Caribbean) will dock at Coxen Hole, so keep this in mind if adventuring out on your own.
Harmony of the Seas offers PADI-certified dive training onboard the first few days of the cruise, which includes guided dives at multiple port stops to complete the certification during the week. This option is great for those interested in gaining entry-level certification in one fell swoop and diving in Roatan.
In addition to snorkeling and diving options, there are a plethora of animal-related experiences across the island, so many that it can be overwhelming to choose from. If this is an activity your group would like to do, you are strongly encouraged to research the various companies before booking, as not all have the same standards regarding conditions for animals.
Remember when sailing from Galveston that Roatan is 1 hour behind, and the ship will stay on Central (Galveston) time. On the day you set sail from Galveston, turn off the auto-time zone feature in your phone’s settings so you do not have issues getting back to the ship on time because your phone says local time (when the ship stayed on “ship time”).
Costa Maya (Mahahual), Mexico
Costa Maya is a convenient jumping-off point for many regional excursions ranging from Mayan ruins to Bacalar Seven Colors Lagoon or the local town of Mahahual. Be forewarned, the port was designed as a giant maze to trap cruisegoers from ever leaving! If you are adventuring to the local town of Mahahual on your own, keep pushing past the pool and stores until signs finally start pointing toward taxis. The approved local yellow taxis are all organized through the port and will have signs on the side noting “Taxi Tour - Costa Maya.” From the port to Mahahual, it costs $4 per person, whether taking a small taxi or a van full of other guests.
Chacchoben Mayan Ruins is a relatively close excursion option at only an hour or so drive each way (beware, they will throw in a pineapple “plantation” that is better used to stretch your legs and skip its restrooms). While Chacchoben is not as large as Chitzen Itza, it allows visitors to walk and climb on many of the remaining structures. Note that if you plan to film videos or vlogs, they will require you to purchase an additional filming ticket onsite.
Mahahual town and beachfront is a fun, quaint, and easy-to-navigate adventure via a 10-minute taxi ride from the port. There are many restaurants along the beachfront to choose from, though the most highly recommended is the Krazy Lobster. Level set expectations regarding “beachfront,” as the Mahahual area containing beach loungers is perhaps 15’ from the water’s edge to where the tables and chairs for the restaurant sections begin, so quite narrow. The water is lovely and perfect for wading out quite a distance, and restaurants offer full massage services along the sidewalk for $20 USD per hour (though do not expect privacy as the beds are set up right along the sidewalk).
While it is normally recommended to have some local currencies for port stops, excursions, taxis, restaurants, etc. Costa Maya (and Cozumel) will quote prices in U.S. dollars (and prefer payment in such). Bringing Mexican pesos is inconvenient for both pirates involved, as they (or you) must scramble to calculate the exchange rate to pay.
Cozumel has too many options to name, though it is generally considered one of the best snorkeling areas in the region.
For those not interested in any group excursions, there are many raucous bar options right at the port to choose from, such as Señor Frog’s, Margaritaville, and Tequila A GoGo (just keep your head on straight enough to make it back to the ship on time)!
Cozumel has three separate ports, which is important to note when heading out on an independent adventure. One port is exclusive to Carnival/Princess cruises, another port downtown is used by other companies (such as Norwegian and MSC), and the International Terminal is exclusively for Royal Caribbean/Celebrity. Do note that the Cozumel cruise port uses detection dogs for arriving and departing cruise guests.
For those looking to snorkel and/or enjoy some beach time, two great (but very different) options are The Cabana Beach (south of the cruise port, next to Chankanaab) and Buccanos (https://www.buccanos.com/en/inicio) (which is north of the port, past downtown Cozumel). The Cabana Beach is quite upscale and exclusive (not all-inclusive), with various cabanas that must be pre-booked. It has gorgeous snorkeling right off its waterfront, including a cenote that lets out into the ocean in front of one of the VIP cabanas (#1). Note that the great snorkeling at this location is due to a rocky ledge leading into the water, which is navigated by steps (the sand does not slowly lead into the water here). The Cabana Beach is about a $12 USD taxi ride each way from the port.
Buccanos is a relaxed (not all-inclusive) beach club by day and one of the best restaurants on the island by night. Those interested in good food and drinks, lounging by the beach or pool, and possibly snorkeling (if desired, they have equipment onsite) should head here. They have a small beachfront entrance into the water, but as with The Cabana Beach, much of their coastline is rocky, leading to crystal clear snorkeling with lots of fish. Buccanos is a great option that does not need to be pre-booked and is a $12 USD taxi ride each way from the port. Buccanos does have an entrance fee of ~$20 USD. However, this is applied to your food and drink tab upon departure. If going, remember to bring beach towels from the ship.
Note that taxi drivers in Cozumel are known for telling riders that their desired destination is closed (or that they have somewhere else they recommend more), so be clear about your desired destination (and even call ahead to ensure they are open, just to be 100% certain you are not being led astray by a driver getting kickbacks from a different club).
Aquatheater - One of the best features of Oasis-class ships, Harmony’s Aquatheater show The Fine Line is not to be missed. Make sure to book reservations through the Cruise Planner website beginning roughly 60 days prior to departure. There is a secondary, more comedic show on the last day of the voyage that does not require reservations.
Studio B - The ice rink featured on most Royal Caribbean ships (not included on Quantum-class ships) is another must-see element of Harmony of the Seas. Each Royal Caribbean ship’s ice show has a different theme, Harmony’s being called 1887. 1887 has a storyline that revolves loosely around love in Paris in 1887. While the actual narrative of these ice shows is usually a bit obscure, the costumes and talent are absolutely top-notch and should be booked in advance through the Cruise Planner website.
Dazzles - A great two-story venue for music, game shows, and more. Make sure to see Finish that Lyric in this venue, which is a fun competition for those who are lyrically inclined!
Casino Royale - The onboard casino is enormous (just like all Oasis-class ships). It includes a separate non-smoking room (formerly the home of Jazz on 4), and both rooms have plenty of updated slot machines and table games.
Royal Theater - One of the great features of the somewhat older Oasis-class ships is that they still feature Broadway performances. Harmony of the Seas has Grease in a full-scale production that is well done for those enjoying theater. The same cast will also perform Columbus, the Musical, later in the cruise, which is a comedy about a far-removed cousin of Christopher’s named Marvin.
The Attic - Purpose-driven venue for the resident Oasis-class ship comedians. This venue will host comedy shows on many evenings of the cruise (note these are 18+ age-restricted). Activities like bingo, art auctions, and trivia are also hosted here during the day.
The Ultimate Abyss - Dry slide featured on Oasis-class ships (except Allure of the Seas) takes riders from deck 16 aft all the way down to deck 6 aft and is accessed via deck 15.
Perfect Storm waterslides - Three water slides featured on the Harmony of the Seas pool deck. Note that the champagne/toilet bowl slide on the starboard side of the ship usually has a smaller line because many people get stuck in the “bowl” part.
Solarium - The adults-only pool deck section is partially covered at the front of the ship, deck 15. However, Harmony of the Seas’ Solarium has no pool, only hot tubs.
Crazy Quest - Seemingly back on most Royal Caribbean cruises regardless of length, this adults-only, no-holds-barred game show is hosted towards the end of the cruise in Studio B and is not for the faint of heart (or easily shocked/offended)! Find a seemingly fun group of people and hold on for a wild ride…
Royal Caribbean standbys also on Harmony of the Seas - Vitality Spa, FlowRider, Rock Climbing Wall, Harmony Dunes mini golf, and the sports court (including pickleball),
Dining on the Ship
Specialty Dining - Consider paying extra on an evening or two for a lovely dinner at one of the fabulous specialty dining locations onboard: Chops Grille, Chef’s Table, 150 Central Park, Izumi Sushi, Izumi Hibachi, Wonderland, Jamie’s Italian, and Sabor (only remains on Allure of the Seas and Harmony of the Seas, and is a great Mexican cuisine themed venue).
Park Cafe - Exclusive to Oasis-class ships, Park Cafe is a convenient option for a quick breakfast or lunch, including sandwiches (such as the Kummelweck), build-your-own salads, self-serve drinks, etc.
Boardwalk Doghouse - Included in the cruise fare and has various choices of hot dogs and sausages for grab-and-go dining.
Johnny Rockets - A little-known perk of Johnny Rockets on Oasis-class ships is that breakfast is free and, therefore, a great alternative to the Windjammer or Solarium Bisto on sea days. Note that there is a separate line for milkshakes, which are included in the unlimited drink package.
Coastal Kitchen* - A lovely, upscale dining venue for those booked in Junior Suites and above, connected to the Suite Lounge on deck 17.
Mini Bites - Known as El Loco Fresh on newer ships, this is a great pool deck lunch option at no additional cost, which includes items like tacos, quesadillas, nachos, etc.
Windjammer - Included in your cruise fare and is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Note that it also has nightly themes at dinner, which can be found in the daily Cruise Compass.
Main Dining Room - All three decks have the same nightly-themed menu and are included in your cruise fare.
Solarium Bistro - Included in the cruise fare, an easy alternate option to the Windjammer for those who already find themselves forward on the upper ship decks near the Solarium.
Cafe Promenade - The only 24-hour food and drink venue on the ship, Cafe Promenade has a specialty coffee bar (included in the unlimited drinks package), self-serve coffee, tea, water, and light snacks throughout the day.
Sorrentos - Royal Caribbean’s quintessential pizza joint on all ships. Set expectations and enjoy this venue late night, as it is one of the only food options open until ~2:00 a.m.
Bars on Harmony of the Seas
Boleros - This location is perfect for festive music, specialty cocktails trending toward rum-based, and a great vibe. Make sure to give the Hemmingway Daiquiri a try.
Boot & Bonnet - The nightly staple English pub on all Royal Caribbean ships with live guitar music. This is also one of the few locations to watch sports, depending on which games/matches Royal Caribbean is streaming.
Schooner Bar - Another staple of Royal Caribbean ships, with the largest bar selection. Nightly piano bar performances, daily trivia, and many other activities will be held at this happening location. Try their new cocktail, the Sea & T, if you enjoy gin and tonics.
Vintages - A lovely, laidback vibe makes the wine bar Vintages a great place to have a pre-dinner drink, catch up on the day with friends and family, or even sign up for a wine-tasting course.
On-Air - While most commonly known for hosting karaoke, this bar will feature visual trivia games and televised sports events throughout the day.
Rising Tide Bar - Take a ride and enjoy a cocktail while this bar moves (very slowly) between the Royal Promenade on deck 5 and Central Park on deck 8.
Wipeout Bar - A great spot to watch the excitement of sailaway, the FlowRiders, and the Ultimate Abyss, this bar is at the very aft of the ship, accessed via deck 15.
Bionic Bar - Robotic bartenders make your classic or custom drink right before your eyes.
Starbucks - Technically not serving alcohol, but just as important, this full Starbucks location on the Boardwalk is not included in the unlimited drinks package (but guests are able to use their normal Starbucks app for purchase, if desired).
Other mainstays of Royal Caribbean Oasis-class bars on Harmony of the Seas - Dazzles music venue, Casino Royale, Suite Lounge* (for Grand Suite and above guests only), Crown Lounge* (for Crown and Anchor Diamond status guests and above only), Solarium, Trellis Bar in Central Park, Pool Bars (Pool Bar, Sand Bar, and Mast Bar), Vitality Cafe (for fresh juices, smoothies, and protein shakes included in the unlimited drinks package), Suite Sundeck Bar* (for Grand Suite and above guests only).
Need to Know
Western Caribbean cruises have all the trappings of everything you would expect from a warm, sunny Caribbean cruise. Plan to bring plenty of bathing suits, cover-ups, flip-flops, and sunscreen. Depending on your excursions, water shoes might be a good idea since Cozumel involves several rocky beach entrances.
7-day cruises on Harmony of the Seas will include two formal nights (usually night 2 and night 6), so bring some dressier attire if you feel comfortable. You will see everything from sundresses to ball gowns and tuxedos. Other theme nights include the '70s, '90s, western, Caribbean, and white nights, so bring along whatever you are able to fit!
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