You know you are on a big ship when the lifts go up to deck 17. And it feels just a bit different when you share a lift with a bloke playing a piano.

Well, if times have changed in the fast growing world of cruising, the clocks are going bananas at Royal Caribbean, the most innovative of the big lines. Hence the headlines when its latest baby took to the water at the STX yard at St Nazaire, France, not far from the World War II U-boat pens the RAF could not destroy.

She is Harmony of the Seas, in fact the biggest cruise ship in the world, although not unique. Two sister ships are already in Royal Caribbean’s fleet, and another is coming along in two years. All are remarkable vessels, if only for their size, moving more than 6,000 passengers in great comfort while being lavished with lashings of restaurants, bars and other accoutrements of good living.

Having said that, the sheer size originally put some people off, including myself, as my cruise writing focus steered me towards small, luxury ships with as few as 112 passengers. Harmony of the Seas is a humungous 227,000 tons with 18 decks, five times the size of the Titanic.

I did not sail on the first ship in this class, Oasis of the Seas. When the second, Allure of the Seas, came along, I thought I would risk a few hours on a day visit to Málaga, for I had noticed a trend with big ships creating exclusive, luxury sections rather like first class and steerage in ocean liners of old.

Allure of the Seas did not have a separate, gated community, but it did have some amazing suites which were increasingly popular with multi-generational travel, and there was something else – curry. I got a whiff of it heading into a meeting with tourism and port authority people. When the droning started, I slipped out and followed my nose to a restaurant doing a lunch buffet.

And there it was, the best curry I have ever had afloat. I was a changed man, and when I received an invitation to sail on the third ship, I set course for Southampton soon after its arrival from St Nazaire.

Getting aboard Harmony of the Seas was a breeze, handled nicely by a legion of staff who knew their jobs and smiled as well. Getting to my cabin was another matter, for this is a long ship with corridors that seem to go on forever. Go easy on your hand luggage and never forget your sunglasses.

Then we were off, Harmony of the Seas floating on a sea of bubbles, technically an air lubrication system, that are injected under the hull creating an effect like a board on marbles. As a result it is the fastest ship in the fleet. It is also incredibly smooth.

All of which makes an ideal platform for deck after deck of entertainment, such as Royal Promenade, where you can go shopping, pop into a pub and buy a slice of pizza. Three decks higher is Central Park, a leafy seaburb with swish restaurants and wine bars as well as Cartier and Bvlgari boutiques, all overlooked by towering cabins.

The top deck has most of the 23 pools, water slides and flowriders, surf lessons on a wave pool, a rock face for climbing, a zip line, three water slides and a thrilling ‘dry slide’ – the Ultimate Abyss, in which brave souls ride an enclosed tube down 10 decks. Thoughtfully located near the start is the Wipe Out bar…

Words David Wishart Photography courtesy of Royal Caribbean

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