On board the world’s biggest cruise ship

CNN  — 

Imagine a Miss America pageant where the same country keeps winning every year.

That’s what we’re seeing in the cruising world this week.

Royal Caribbean’s newest ship, Harmony of the Seas, debuts Friday on its pre-inaugural sailing out of Southampton, England.

Weighing 226,963 gross registered tons with a passenger capacity of 5,479 guests at double occupancy (it fits 6,780 guests total) and 2,100 crew members, Harmony is now the world’s largest cruise ship.

Royal Caribbean titles

She takes that enviable title away from another Royal Caribbean ship, Allure of the Seas, which in its 2010 debut dethroned another Royal Caribbean ship, Oasis of the Seas.

It may seem Royal Caribbean is determined to keep that “world’s largest” crown in the family.

But as they prepare for Harmony’s debut, Royal Caribbean executives insist they’re more concerned with pleasing passengers than bagging more bragging rights.

“We’re literally down to the wire and having hourly and daily and weekly meetings just ensuring that not only is [Harmony] the world’s largest but she literally is the world’s best cruise ship,” says Mark Tamis, Royal Caribbean International’s senior vice president of Hotel Operations.

MORE: The luxury cruise ship experience at 30,000 feet

100-foot slide

Royal Caribbean has added a bunch of bells and whistles to Harmony, the cruise line’s 25th vessel.

One of the big ones: The Ultimate Abyss, which the cruise line calls “the tallest slide on the high seas.”

Anyone who steps onto the slide will enjoy a 100-foot, 10-deck drop – from the Pool and Sports Zone on Deck 16 to the Boardwalk all the way down on Deck 6.

“The reports back, and of course the top secret videos that we’re seeing, are just literally thrilling,” says Tamis.

Harmony of the Seas is the latest cruise ship to be crowned the world's biggest.

Harmony also includes a trio of water slides called Perfect Storm.

The attraction debuted on another Royal Caribbean ship, Liberty of the Seas, where Tamis says it’s been a popular family draw.

“It’s not only kids but it’s parents and then it’s even older people,” he says.

“You get everyone there – the older relatives watching the youngest and getting just as much thrill watching them as the kids are having to do the rides.”

MORE: 8 luxury cruise ships that aren’t floating hotels

Greased Lightning

Harmony, like its fellow Oasis-class ships, is divided into seven “neighborhoods.”

They include the Pool and Sports Zone (where Perfect Storm and the Ultimate Abyss live); The Boardwalk, which includes a carousel and the amphitheater-style AquaTheater; and a tree-lined Central Park filled with restaurants, including Jamie’s Italian, a Royal Caribbean partnership with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.

For entertainment, the cruise line is offering a version of the musical “Grease.”

Spoiler alert: The show features a full-sized Greased Lightning car.

“We don’t do anything small,” Tamis says.

Bionic Bar

This being a cruise ship, there are bars galore – including Royal Caribbean’s popular Bionic Bar, which is staffed by a pair of robot bartenders capable of mixing, shaking and stirring 1,000 drinks a day.

After its pre-inaugural sailing in England this weekend, Harmony will begin its official maiden cruise on May 29.

She’ll spend the summer doing seven-night western Mediterranean sailings from Barcelona before shifting to the United States in November to make Caribbean runs out of Fort Lauderdale.

Prices start at $1,125 per person.

MORE: Booze cruise: The quirkiest bars at sea

With great ships comes great responsibility

With robots, tall slides and its record-breaking size, Harmony has a big responsibility: helping Royal Caribbean, the #2 cruise line, compete with the #1: Carnival, which also debuted its own (slightly less) big ship, Carnival Vista, in Europe this spring.

Of course, cruise lines like to brag about having the biggest ship on the dock. But how much does it impress passengers?

“I don’t think cruisers in general care about the ‘biggest ship’ – especially new cruisers who don’t have anything to compare it to,” says Geraldine Ree, senior vice president of sales and marketing for cruise booking agency Expedia CruiseShipCenters.

But she adds: “What consumers do care about is hearing what being the largest brings to cruising.”

Citing such recent cruise ship innovations like indoor skydiving, partnerships with celebrity chefs (like Royal Caribbean and Oliver and Princess Cruises’ deal with Curtis Stone), Ree says cruise ships have to get bigger to fit all the bells and whistles that lure passengers — and news headlines.

“These news stories allow new and experienced cruisers alike to hear about all the innovations that cruise lines are coming up with to appeal to the 50 million people who say they want to cruise in the next three years.”

Tamis says Harmony isn’t about size for size’s sake.

“Having this beautiful stage set for our crew to really do what they do best,” he says.

“That’s what’s really the most exciting part, having the world’s best stage … to bring that together to create this amazing experience.”

Of course, having a ginormous ship doesn’t hurt.

Sid Lipsey is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter at @SidLipsey