Category Archives: R. Doug Wicker

Harmony of the Seas Review — From Play to Dining


Harmony of the Seas Perfect Storm water slides start on Deck 18 and empty onto Deck 15

Make no mistake about it: While every cruise ship is billed as an ocean-going resort, Harmony of the Seas is truly a floating resort. There is just too much to see and do, with fun distractions for almost all age groups. Indeed, I’m going to go so far as to say that I would not sail the Harmony for anything less than 10 days, and even then only if the itinerary were port intensive. Doing so will leave one far too little time to take advantage of even a fraction of what this Oasis Class resort has to offer. Fortunately, Ursula and I were on a 13-day (shortened from the original 14 days) from Barcelona to Port Canaveral, with only two stops along the way. So we got to pick and choose among the full measure of Harmony‘s offerings.

Zip lining on Deck 16 — nine stories above the Boardwalk

Yes, there is even a venue for zip-lining while suspended nine stories above the Boardwalk on Deck 6. But if miniature golf is more attune with your level of adventurism, then Harmony has you covered there as well with the Harmony Dunes Mini Golf course:

Harmony Dunes Mini Golf course

Between those levels of adrenalin, you have choices ranging from Surfing on one of two FlowRiders

Surfing one of the two FlowRiders on Deck 16

… to the Ultimate Abyss, a pair of dry slides that take you all the way from Deck 16 and dump you nine stories below onto the Boardwalk on Deck 6:

Entrance to the Ultimate Abyss dry slides on Deck 16 for a seven-story descent

Now let’s head on down to Deck 15 for a closer look at Harmony Dunes:

The nautically themed Harmony Dunes Mini Golf course

So, the Boardwalk neighborhood is located on Deck 6 aft. Meanwhile Central Park meanders through the central portion of Harmony on Deck 8. Below is a view from above of both Central Park and the balcony suites that overlook this neighborhood:

Central Park neighborhood on Harmony of the Seas

The Boardwalk resides to the rear on Deck 6, which also hosts a Johnny Rockets; antique carousel; Starbucks; Sabor for Mexican fare and tequilas; the Dog House for hotdogs, bratwursts, and fries; the Luckey Climber play area for adventurous children (with lots of safety nets); an arcade, and a couple of retail stores. Step inside from the Boardwalk and you’ll find one of our favorite watering holes on any Royal Caribbean ship, Schooner Bar, which overlooks the Royal Promenade on Deck 5.

On most Royal Caribbeans ships the Royal Promenade is the heart of social gathering and places to hang out. And while Central Park gives the promenade on Oasis Class ships a run for this title, the Royal Promenade on the Harmony still comes out on top. Here, from the bow, you can see Boleros Latin Club and the shore excursions desks:

Royal Promenade

Here you can get pizza by the slice or order a whole pizza to share at Sorrento’s:

Sorrento’s for pizza

And then there’s the sportscar/racing themed Boot & Bonnet Pub with both “indoor” and “outdoor” seating for some liquid refreshments:

Boot & Bonnet Pub

Speaking of sportscars, all Royal Caribbean ships have in their respective Royal Promenades a classic automobile over which you may drool. Harmony has one of my all-time favorites, a Jaguar XK120, and it appears to me that it’s an early production example — probably from around 1949-1950:

Early Jaguar XK120 — the forerunner of the XK series culminating in the E-Type of 1961

Well, time for dinner. And upscale dining on Harmony of the Seas means going up to Central Park. Here you’ll find Vintages wine bar, Jamie’s (as in Jamie Oliver) Italian, Chops Grille steakhouse (a staple of all Royal Caribbean ships), and 150 Central Park. I’m going to apologize right now, because I neglected to take my camera for by far the best meal we had, which was at 150 Central Park. So, instead, I’m going to review the second best meal of the voyage — Jamie’s Italian. After that I’ll give you a brief description of our meal at 150 Central Park, and what made that dining venue so fantastic.

Jamie’s Italian on Central Park, Harmony of the Seas

Now for restaurant reviews: Ursula and I were first introduced to a Jamie’s Italian during our back-to-back Alaska cruises beginning in late November (first of that series at: Cruising in the Age of Covid-19 — Part 1). We had no real interest in going to Jamie’s, but we ran into an old friend working aboard Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas. That person is Slavio Correia, who handles Park West Gallery auction events on various cruises. We’ve knows Slavio for many years, and it was wonderful running into him again. At any rate, Slavio insisted upon taking us to dinner at the Jamie’s Italian on Ovation, which is his favorite dining venue, so we were ready to try it again on Harmony.

Jamie’s Italian in Central Park aboard Harmony of the Seas

We were familiar with the menu by now, buy you probably are not. So here it is:

Jamie’s Italian menu

One last look around the Harmony version of Jamie’s before we get to the food. Here you’ll find nice, homey touches, such as:

Jamie’s Italian decorative accessories

Ursula was eager for us to dive into the Our Famous Meat Plank, which she adorned from our previous experience aboard Ovation. This appetizer includes prosciutto, Tuscan fennel salad, various olives, focaccia, pecorino sardo topped with a chili jam, bocconcini mozzerella, coppa picante, a pistachio mortadella, and a tomato-topped crostini.

Our Famous Meat Plank appetizer

Appetizer Number Two was a favorite from our last Jamie’s encounter, the Crispy Squid served with a lemon-garlic mayonnaise. And while it was delicious, this example was a bit on the rubbery side and not quite as crisp as in the establishment aboard Ovation.

Crispy Squid — a bit of a disappoint this time ’round, but still delicious

For a change I decided upon trying Our Famous Prawn Linguine. Here the prawns nicely prepared, the pasta perfectly al dente, and the saffron-and-fennel infused tomatoes a nice, tasty touch.

Our Famous Prawn Linguine pasta dish

Ursula went with the Chianti-Braised Short Rib, which came with a Parmesan mash potato. This dish was a real winner, with the rib meat fork-tender and hearty.

Chianti-Braised Short Rib

We kept the sides simple and tasty. Ursula opted for truffle and Parmesan Posh Fries, while I got the more mundane parsley and garlic Funky Fries. The flavors were definitely up to snuff, but the fries themselves could have used more time in the frier. Or, better yet, a traditional European second trip to the frier to crisp up a bit more.

Funky Fries (left) and Posh Fries

And, for the pièce de résistance we finished up this meal with an incredible Amalfi Lemon Meringue Cheesecake. This is described in the dessert menu as, “Velvety mascarpone & lemon cheesecake topped with Italian meringue, served with lemon curd & blackcurrants.” And, yes, it was even better than it sounds or looks. It was stupendous.

Amalfi Lemon Meringue Cheesecake

Now for the dining highlight of our cruise (and, once again, my apologies for neglecting to bring my camera for this one): 150 Central Park. We opted for two entrées, a half portion of the Roasted Tenderloin Beef for Two (150’s version of Chateaubriand) and Lobster Thermidor. The appetizer was a delightfully prepared Crispy Berkshire Pork Belly with parsnip purée, apple and watermelon radish slaw, and a port wine reduction.

The staff at 150 were kind enough to halve the already half portion of tenderloin so that Ursula’s portion would come out bleu (raw in the middle) and mine made medium rare (warm pink center). This steak was, quite possibly, the single best piece of beef either of us has ever tasted. It met the clichéd cut-it-with-a-fork tender, and the flavor was absolutely divine.

Not to be outdone, the Lobster Thermidor presented us with tender chunks of cold-water lobster islands floating amidst a delectable cognac cream bearing just the right balance of tarragon and Parmesan. Neither flavor trumped the other, and the generous chunks of lobster shone through. Just as they should.

If you’re going to spring for only one additional-cost meal aboard an Oasis Class ship, 150 Central Park is it. Trust me on this. The fare is absolutely stunning.

Fun Photo Friday I’ll present my favorite shots of the magnificent Harmony of the Seas, and next week well see the start of another travel series.

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Harmony of the Seas Review — A Mega Ship Behemoth


Ursula and I recently returned from Barcelona, Spain. But we didn’t fly back to the U.S. As you would probably expect from my many travel articles, we cruised back. And what a cruise it was. We were aboard Royal Caribbean‘s ship Harmony of the Seas on its repositioning voyage this past November. This massive ship, with seven separate “neighborhood,” would take us from Barcelona to Port Canaveral, with stops in Málaga, Spain and Nassau, The Bahamas. As Harmony is by far the most impressive ship we’ve yet encountered in 60+ cruises, I thought she deserved a week-long blog treatment. So, Monday and Wednesday I will review Harmony, and this week’s Fun Photo Friday I will present some of my favorite shots of her.

The Royal Promenade on Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas with suite windows above

A ship so large that it contains seven distinct neighborhoods, which we’ll discuss in a moment. But first, let’s look at the particulars of the second largest cruise ship in the world, surpassed only by her sister Oasis Class ship Symphony of the Seas. Here Harmony’s relevant stats:

⦁ Gross Tonnage: 228,081
⦁ Length: 1,184 ft. 5 in./361.011 meters
⦁ Beam: 155 ft. 8.0 in./47.448 meters (waterline)
   215 ft 6 in./66 meters (maximum beam)
⦁ Height 238 feet/72.5 meters
⦁ Decks: 18 (passenger decks: 16)
⦁ Capacity: 5,479 passengers (double occupancy)
   6,780 maximum
⦁ Crew: 2,300

One fun aspect of this journey are these numbers: You may notice that my photos of Harmony show remarkably few people. That’s on a ship with a maximum capacity of 2,300 crew and north of 6,700 passengers, for a total of around 9,000. There’s a reason for that apparent scarcity of fellow voyagers. We left Barcelona with just over 1,500 passengers and a reduced crew. When we hit Málaga, nearly 250 of those passengers disembarked, as they were travel agents on a familiarization cruise. Thus, we departed Málaga and went transatlantic with only 1,295 passengers served by a crew of 1,818. That works out to 1.4 crew for every passenger. In other words, this voyage is something neither Ursula nor I ever expect to again experience in terms of light crowds and no waits at the various venues and attractions. It was, quite frankly, Cruise Heaven. We felt as though we were being transported upon the most deluxe yacht to ever sail.

Harmony “Boardwalk” neighborhood, including a Merry-Go-‘Round (right) and Sabor’s Taqueria (left)

There are balconies galore on Harmony of the Seas. Balconies over the water. Balconies overlooking the Boardwalk neighborhood. And if you’d rather have a room with only a view, you can opt for a Royal Promenade View “interior” room. As for today, I’m going to show you our exterior balcony suite:

Roomy Harmony balcony suite
Ursula chillin’ on the balcony
The view from our Harmony balcony included an encounter with this lovely rainbow

We were fortunate that our balcony suite was located on Deck 8. I say fortunate because Deck 8 is also home to our favorite neighborhood — Central Park.

Deck 8 — Our cabin was located left of the red dot above

Central Park is aptly named, as it sports lush greenery, flowing walkways, high-end shops such as Cartier, Bulgari, and Hublot. It is also home to upscale restaurants, including Jamie’s Italian (as in Jamie Oliver), Chops Grille, and the exquisite 150 Central Park, where we had the best steak of our lives. Also in Central Park is Vintages wine bar and Park Café deli for a light bite in a park setting.

Park Café map

Here’s a montage of Central Park images:

There is another fun spot on Deck 8. Well, sort of. It alternates between Central Park on Deck 8 and the Royal Promenade down on Deck 5. Yep, it’s a venue that travels. Vertically. It’s the Rising Tide Bar:

A bar with a departure time? Rising Tide Bar Deck 8, soon to be on Deck 5
Rising Tide Bar in Central Park

And here’s the same Rising Tide Bar on Deck 5 in the Royal Promenade:

Rising Tide Bar in the Royal Promenade

Another place to find a quick bite to eat with some really great fries is on Deck 15, the Sports Deck. That would be Mini Bites:

Mini Bites for burgers, hotdogs, fries, and more

Three decks up from 18 you’ll find the Perfect Storm waterslides, which hang over the Boardwalk ten stories below:

Perfect Storm waterslide 10 stories above the Boardwalk neighborhood

We’ll continue our review and tour of Royal Caribbean’s massive Harmony of the Seas on Wednesday. Until then I’ll leave you with this view of the Royal Promenade (Deck 5) and more venues on Deck 4:

Royal Promenade (Boleros Latin Club left) and Deck 4 below

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Fun Firearm Friday — A Revolver Week Fraud!


WARNING:
Severe, exceedingly obscure, fascinatingly trivial, yet amazingly fun history lesson follows! Approach with extreme caution.

A Webley Mk VI… or is it?

Webleys are the iconic English military pistol. They’ve been around since 1887, and continued in Commonwealth and U.K. military service until withdrawal in 1970. The most famous of the Webley series was the Mk VI dating back to World War I, all of which were factory chambered in the oddball .455 Webley (most have since been rechambered for reduced pressure .45 ACP loadings). Worldwide there are probably tens of thousands of these things still being used in former colonies of the British Empire.

A Webley Mk VI… or is it?

Well, this certainly looks like a Webley. And it’s even stamped “WEBLEY PATENTS” above the trigger guard:

“WEBLEY PATENTS” stamp

And it’s stamped as a “MARK VI” along the backstrap:

“MARK VI” stamp

The “broad arrow” stamps are a nice touch as well. The “broad arrow” was used as a British property stamp, and those “broad arrows” are all over this weapon. And I do mean all over it.

British “broad arrow” property stamp
I count five “broad arrows” on this image alone
Even on the trigger!

Indeed, this weapon even operates like a traditional top-breaking, self-extracting Webley revolver. You can see in the sequence below how this thing elegantly breaks open at the top. Then, as you continue to rotate the barrel-cylinder assembly away from the frame, the star extractor arm extends to eject cartridges from the cylinder. Finally, continue even farther and the extractor arm snaps back into its recessed position, ready for the user to reload the cylinder with fresh rounds.

Thumb the cylinder lock below the hammer to break open
Continue rotation to extend the star extractor arm (above the cylinder) to unload spent cartridges
Extend farther and the star extractor snaps back into the cylinder for reloading

I believe Smith & Wesson pioneered this break-top, self-extraction concept back in 1870 with their S&W Model 3. If there is an earlier version, I’d love to hear about it. And, yes, I am aware of the break-top 1858 French Divesme, but it used a manual extractor rod to push cartridges out from the front one at a time rather than an automatic self-extractor to pull out of them simultaneously from the rear. At any rate, this Smith & Wesson-style extractor is now more closely associated with Webley revolvers.

“Broad arrow” acceptance marks even on some of the screws

As you may have guessed by now, looking at all the bizarre “broad arrow” proof marks, there is something decidedly amiss with this “Webley.” But there are other clues, such as nonsensical “English” stamps:

“AMEBRAHIMLEE&SON”? Really? And bracketed by yet more broad arrows?
And don’t even ask me what these three cylinder stamps represent

Well, let’s take look at the serial number for some additional clues:

Serial Number 1950

But, wait. What’s this stamped above the trigger guard?

195018

So, which is it? Is the serial number 1950, or 195018? Being on the cautious side, and noting that the frame usually bears the serial number, the gun store went with 195018 on the ATF Form 4473. Probably a good move, as I’m pretty sure that’s the number it would have been imported under. Although… there is no import stamp, so it’s very likely a G.I. bring-back from…. Any guesses yet? I’ll give you a clue. This had to have wound up in the duffle bag of someone returning from a recent combat zone which would in the past have been under the United Kingdom sphere of influence (hey, it is after all a WEBLEY, right?). And the logical suspect would be…

More nonsense, probably from a non-English speaking “manufacturer”

I’m sure some of you have probably guessed by now that this an infamous, and here in the U.S. a very rare and much sought, “Khyber Pass clone” from somewhere along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. These clones are still made today by local gunsmiths operating their own metallurgic furnaces, casting and forging parts copied from abandoned relics of conflicts from long ago. In other words, this is a poor copy of a Webley revolver made at the hands of some backyard smithy. He then embellished his work of art with fake stamps meant to convey a place of origin on distant soil this gun never saw.

More gibberish and additional “broad arrows”

The only question remaining is which side of the Kyber Pass did this gun originate? Was it the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region of Pakistan, or was it Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province? My gut tells me Nangarhar, but who knows? It’s a mystery, and likely to remain as such.

Cylinder stamp

This particular example of a Khyber Pass clone is not something I’m ever going to test fire. The cylinder lockup is sloppy, and that’s an understatement. The metallurgy is suspect enough that I wouldn’t trust it to handle even the weak .38 S&W “Short for which it is supposedly chambered. Which, by the way, is a round for which the Mark VI was never chambered. Yet another clue that something is amiss.

Gibberish Galore!

I hope you enjoyed today’s Fun Firearm Friday, which closes out Revolver Week here at the blog. Next week we return to travel, with my first week-long ever review of a single cruise ship. And what a ship it is — 226,963 Gross Tonnage, 5,479 double-occupancy passenger capacity (6,780 maximum capacity), 2,300 crew, and seven distinct “neighborhoods” throughout this behemoth.

Meanwhile, if you found today’s article interesting and would like to know more about these Khyber Pass gunsmiths, here’s a nice, informative article for you to peruse:

The Gunmakers of the Khyber Pass

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