Boy nearly drowns on Royal Caribbean cruise ship

In:
30Jun2016

Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas had to head back to its homeport of Bayonne, New Jersey following an incident where a young child nearly drowned in the pool.

In a statement by Royal Caribbean, the cruise line indicated an 8 year old boy had an accident in one of the ship's pool.  The boy needed medical attention, so Anthem of the Seas sailed back to Bayonne.

He is currently being treated at the hospital. Royal Caribbean's Care Team is providing support to his family.

Royal Caribbean asked the public to keep the child in everyone's thoughts and prayers.

Royal Caribbean helping to test Federal programs aimed at reducing wait times for cruise passengers

In:
30Jun2016

Royal Caribbean is working with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to launch Automated Passport Control and Mobile Passport Control programs that are designed to expedite customs processing for eligible travelers arriving at Port Everglades.

Photo by Marc-Andre Mireault

The Sun Sentinel is reporting that the new programs are being tested this summer, with passengers arriving on Oasis of the Seas in Terminal 18 able to use new passport kiosks in the cruise terminal.

With Automated Passport Control, qualified inbound travelers can use kiosks to submit their travel documents and customs declaration forms before speaking to a customs officer. They must have U.S. or Canadian passports, or be an eligible Visa Waiver Program international traveler.

U.S. and Canadian citizens with smartphones can opt to use the free Mobile Passport Control app to complete their customs declaration form prior to arrival. The mobile passport app is expected to launch in late July.

Port Everglades is the first cruise port in the United States to test these passport kiosk and mobile app programs.

Royal Caribbean adds Vision of the Seas sailings from Galveston in 2017

In:
30Jun2016

Royal Caribbean added some new Vision of the Seas sailings in 2017, from Galveston, Texas.

The new sailings are available for booking now, and include 4- and 5-night cruises to destinations in Mexico.

Sailing dates begin on November 6, 2017 and extend through the end of December.

How to use your cell phone on a Royal Caribbean cruise (and not come home to a big bill)

In:
30Jun2016

Nearly everyone that goes on a Royal Caribbean cruise will have a cell phone with them.  These days, most adults and plenty of older children have a phone and odds are, they are bringing it with them on their Royal Caribbean cruise. With all of those phones on the ship, the last thing you want to do is come home with an unexpectedly large cell phone bill.

The nature of cell phones these days is they are constantly using their cellular connection to determine where the phone is, get updates, and update apps.  When you are at home or work, that is quite useful and functional, but on a cruise, it has the potential to cause a major headache when all that use leads to costly roaming charges.

Before we get into how to avoid a big bill, it is important to understand how and why an unexpected large bill can occur.

Understanding roaming

Before we can discuss strategies for avoiding big bills, we have to explain why these big bills can occur.

It is probably not a surprise to hear that your cell phone functions by communicating with cell phone towers that are set up and powered by the cell phone provider company that you pay each month.  When you are in your home country, your service plan allows for regular use of their network, under the service you signed up.

On a Royal Caribbean ship, you are outside your cell phone company's service area and that is what the cell phone industry refers to as "roaming."  Instead of using your cell provider's network, you use someone else's cell phone tower and network.  Royal Caribbean partners with Maritime Telecommunications Network (MTN) to provide a cell phone signal at sea known as "Cellular at Sea."  MTN provides the ability to place and receive calls, text messaging and (slow) data at a relatively high cost.  

Even if you were to go on a cruise with your phone and never use it, most modern smart phones still use their cellular signal when not in active use to keep its apps up to date. Of course, if you actively use your phone to make a call, check an app or otherwise use your phone's cellular signal to do something, then you will likely have an expensive bill because of all that roaming.

Airplane mode

In order to avoid having your phone try to use its cellular connection, all modern phones have an ability to turn off its cellular signal by enabling something called, "airplane mode."  This refers to a function that was originally intended for people going on airplanes when phone use was prohibited.  

By enabling airplane mode, your phone is incapable of using its cellular antenna.  It can, however, still use its WiFi and Bluetooth connections to stay connected, if you so choose.

Airplane mode is a mode that can be easily turned on and off, so it is important to ensure it remains in airplane mode while you do not want your phone communicating with any cellular towers.

The advantage to using airplane mode is it is a kind of "master switch," which makes it very simple to know if your phone can or cannot accept a cell signal.

How to enable airplane mode depends on your phone model, but a quick Google search should be easy, such as, "How do I enable airplane mode on an iPhone" or "How do I enable airplane mode on a Samsung Galaxy", etc.

You will want to enable airplane mode as soon as you get onboard the ship on your first day.  A very common mistake is guests forget to do it until later.

Data roaming

There are additional ways to ensure your phone will not rack up extra charges and one of them is to disable data roaming.

Your phone roaming on another network is something that can happen nearly anywhere.  It can happen in foreign countries or even somewhere in your home country that your primary provider does not offer service.

Most modern phones have an option to enable or disable data roaming.  This is important, because while most folks know enough not to make phone calls or text while roaming, they may not be aware that their phone is using data even when the phone is not being used by them.

As we mentioned earlier, smart phones perform a variety of maintenance functions, even when the phone is not in active use.  Phones will check for app updates, grab local data and try to determine its location.  This is normal for smart phones, but if you are on a cruise ship, it can lead to unintentional data use.

A smart safe guard against your phone ever using its data connection while not on your primary cell phone provider is to disable data roaming. Just like airplane mode, it is a setting in your phone that you can toggle. Just do a quick Google search for the exact instructions for your phone model.

Voom

Royal Caribbean's high-speed internet, known as Voom, is available on all ships across the fleet and it is the key to staying connected without the big bills.

To use Royal Caribbean's Wi-Fi without endangering your financial future, here are the basic steps:

  1. Put your phone into airplane mode prior to your ship leaving your embarkation port
  2. Connect to the "royal-wifi" network
  3. Sign up for the Voom plan you prefer
  4. Keep your plane in airplane mode for the duration of the cruise while using Voom

Regardless of which Voom service you choose, this method is the simplest and most reliable way to avoid using your cellular antenna.

How to make phone calls

If you want to make a phone call while at sea, there are a few options.

  • Sign up for an international plan with your cell phone company. These tend to be expensive, but cheaper than trying to make calls without a plan.
  • Use an app: Many apps will allow you to make phone calls using the internet, instead of over a cell signal.  Skype is a common solution.
  • Wi-Fi calling: Some carriers (AT&TT-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon) support making phone calls over a data connection. In order to use Wi-Fi Calling, customers just need a compatible device with iOS 9 installed, a postpaid wireless account set-up for HD Voice and a Wi-Fi Internet connection.

How to send & receive text messages

If you happen to have an iPhone, you probably can send and receive texts quite easily using Apple's iMessage capability.  iMessage is a feature Apple offers that allows messages to be sent via data instead of the usual SMS text messaging service.  Since iMessage uses data, and not a cellular signal, you can easily use Voom to make it work.

If you do not have an iPhone, there are other popular (and free) apps that can help. WhatsApp, Google Voice, Viber and a host of other solutions exist that use data-only and will allow you to message from your phone. 

Other strategies

There are other ways to avoid a big cell phone bill without having to use Royal Caribbean's onboard internet.  We think Voom is the simplest and most convenient option, but other options do exist.

  • You can use the internet while on land via free or low-cost Wi-Fi hot spots.  Nearly every port you visit will have internet options, and many include the service if you buy something at the store/restaurant.  A good strategy for finding good Wi-Fi connections on land is to ask a crew member, since they are visiting these ports on a regular basis.
  • Buying a SIM card for your phone and using that in the various countries is another option.  It is difficult to do in the Caribbean, but in Europe and other regions were cell phone carriers allow use between countries, it can be a good strategy for staying connected.
  • Turn off the phone completely and disconnect for your cruise.  Some people enjoy this low-tech strategy for avoiding a big bill.  While we cannot argue with the results, we do enjoy sharing the vacation experience with family and friends.

Top 5: Bars & Lounges on Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast

In:
29Jun2016

This week's podcast episode is ready to go, as we present episode 152 of the Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast for your downloading pleasure.

This week, Matt looks at the top 5 Royal Caribbean bars and lounges.  Great drinks and a great time are found at Royal Caribbean's bars and lounges, and this week is a countdown of our favorite spots to sit back and enjoy a drink.

There's also lots of reader emails to share this week about everything Royal Caribbean.

Here’s the podcast page for Episode 152. And don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast via RSS or on iTunes!

Take a listen and as always, let us know what you think! Please rate and review the podcast on iTunes and leave your comments below!

Royal Caribbean planning to homeport Oasis-class cruise ship from new Miami terminal

In:
29Jun2016

Royal Caribbean made a major announcement that it will build a new world-class cruise terminal in Miami, Florida and it also confirmed that it will base an Oasis-class cruise ship there.

The new terminal will be a striking addition to PortMiami, and will serve as homeport to Royal Caribbean ships, including a 5,400-passenger Oasis-class ship.

There is no word which Oasis-class ship will be based at this new terminal. Royal Caribbean currently has 3 Oasis-class cruise ships in service, with another two Oasis-class ships on order.  The unnamed new Oasis-class ships will enter service in 2018 and 2021.

“We are truly excited to be working with Miami-Dade County and PortMiami to create not just another cruise terminal, but a truly iconic building,” said Richard D. Fain, chairman and CEO for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. "This new terminal is a symbol of our commitment to Miami, the city where our company first started almost 50 years ago. We can’t wait to bring an Oasis-class ship to PortMiami."

The new terminal will not be the only addition for Royal Caribbean in the coming year. The company has committed to add a 20,000-square-foot Innovation Lab to its corporate headquarters located at PortMiami. The Innovation Lab will continue to generate Royal Caribbean’s industry-leading, innovative vessels.

Royal Caribbean will build a new cruise terminal in Miami

In:
28Jun2016

Royal Caribbean will design, build and operate a new cruise terminal in Miami, Florida that can handle the largest cruise ships in the world.

The Miami Herald is reporting that the new terminal is the result of a new partnership between Miami-Dade County and Royal Caribbean. The Miami-Dade County Commission must vote on the deal before it becomes final. 

The new terminal, Terminal A, will be able to handle even Oasis-class cruise ships and open in Late 2018. Terminal A would house an angular glass center and a parking garage with about 1,000 parking spaces at the northeastern side of the port, designed by England-based global architecture firm Broadway Malyan. 

Broadway Malyan has been selected as the firm to design the new terminal, after a global competition was held between five of the world's leading architectural firms. The firm was selected because of their creative thinking and cutting-edge design.

Royal Caribbean has not announced yet which of its ships will call Terminal A home.

The dock at the proposed Terminal A would have space for a 1,300-foot long ship (the Oasis ships are nearly 1,200 feet long). Royal Caribbean’s current PortMiami dock at Terminal G only fits ships that are about 1,000 feet long. 

The 170,000-square-foot terminal is nicknamed the ‘Crown of Miami’ because of its distinct shape. The design evokes the points of the symbolic headgear when viewed from the water; the ‘M’ of Miami when viewed from the east or western approaches; and a sense of waves rising or ships passing when viewed from the terminal side. At night, the terminal’s facade will be lit ensuring that the building makes a striking impression and providing a dynamic addition to the PortMiami landscape.

"We are truly excited to be working with Miami-Dade County and PortMiami to create not just another cruise terminal, but a truly iconic building," said Richard D. Fain, chairman and CEO for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. "This new terminal is a symbol of our commitment to Miami, the city where our company first started almost 50 years ago. We can’t wait to bring an Oasis-class ship to PortMiami."

"Miami-Dade County is happy to welcome Royal Caribbean’s expansion at PortMiami, and all the economic benefits that come along with it," said Carlos Gimenez, Miami-Dade County Mayor. "This public-private partnership will have an estimated economic impact of $500 million and generate approximately 4,000 jobs. Royal Caribbean has been an important part of our world-class community for almost 50 years, and this expansion will once again make PortMiami Royal Caribbean’s largest cruise port in the world. I thank them for their continued investment in and commitment to Miami-Dade."

Royal Caribbean's July 4th sale offering bonus onboard credit

In:
28Jun2016

Royal Caribbean is celebrating the Independence Day holiday in the United States with extra onboard credit for cruises booked during the holiday weekend.

All Royal Caribbean sailings departing on or after August 1, 2016 (excluding China departures) are eligible for bonus onboard credit.

Offer details:

  • Interior/Oceanview: $25 onboard credit per stateroom
  • Balcony/Deluxe: $50 onboard credit per stateroom

Cruises must be booked between July 1 and July 4, 2016.

Offer is combinable with current standard/full fare rates, 1,2, Free, Resident Bonus, free children promotions. restricted rates (for example, Seniors, Residents, Military) and Next Cruise offers. Offer is not combinable with any other offer or promotion, including but not limited to Group Standard, Interline, Travel Agent, Travel Agent Friends and Family, Weekly Sales Events, Net Rates, Crown & Anchor Discounts, and Shareholder benefits.

Offer open to residents of the United States and Canada.

Interior vs Balcony staterooms on a Royal Caribbean cruise

In:
28Jun2016

A common question for guests planning a Royal Caribbean cruise is whether they should save money by staying in an inside stateroom or pay a bit more for the amenities, size and view in a balcony stateroom. Is it worth it to pay extra for a balcony cabin on a cruise? Do I really need a room with a balcony?

Like almost every hypothetical question posed by this blog, the answer is, "it depends."  I hope this post will be helpful in analyzing the most important features of each stateroom category to see which category has advantages.

Price

It should come as no surprise that inside or ocean view staterooms are usually cheaper than balcony staterooms.  The added room size, balcony and view of a balcony come with a higher cost.  The thing is, how much extra can vary.

The price gap between an interior stateroom and a balcony will vary from ship to ship and sailing to sailing.  Sometimes it is measured in the thousands of dollars, and other times it is just a few hundred (or less).

When considering the price difference, one should look at the nightly price and what that gets you.  Nearly everyone that books a Royal Caribbean cruise is on some sort of budget, so even if they want to book a balcony stateroom, it may not be financially viable.  It is important to at least consider the options because there are many scenarios in which the difference in price is quite low.

Often inside staterooms are the least expensive option, which means guests can spend less money on their cruise vacation or have more money to spend during the cruise on things like drinks, shore excursions, specialty restaurants or anything else for sale.

The difference in price will depend on factors like itinerary (balconies on Alaska itineraries are more expensive than Caribbean itineraries), time of year (peak vs low season) and ship class (newer ships have more balconies, so more supply).

Advantage: Interior staterooms

Room

Balcony staterooms are significantly larger than interior staterooms. As an example, on Allure of the Seas a standard interior stateroom offers 150-172 square feet of space, whereas a Superior Ocean View Stateroom with Balcony comes in at 182 square feet, plus a 53 square foot balcony.

Room size is hard to quantify in a blog post, but every extra foot you have of living space does make a difference and it becomes noticeable quickly. It all adds up to more room for everyone to maneuver in and makes the entire experience less crowded.

Beyond the size difference, balcony staterooms have natural light, which makes the room feel less dark and gloomy.  You also get fantastic views of the ocean and ports you are visiting.  

Even the most ardent interior stateroom fan will be hard-pressed to debate the virtues of an interior stateroom over a balcony.  Personally, I think the best part of an interior room is the fact it can get pitch dark, which makes for excellent sleeping conditions.

Advantage: Balcony staterooms

Your vacation plans

Everyone vacations differently, and what you plan on doing (or not doing) may dictate which stateroom category makes the most sense for you.

Are you the kind of person that gets up at dawn, is doing every activity in the Cruise Compass and returns to their room only to shower and sleep?  Or are you someone that likes to take it easy and sleep in, or read a book?  

Many guests that pick an interior stateroom will tell you that they do not spend a lot of time in their room, so why should they pay for amenities they will not use.  It is a good point, although in my experience, I think the stateroom you book dictates to some extent what you end up doing.  If I book an inside room, I definitely do not spend as much time there as I do when I book a balcony. Having a balcony means I go there for sailaways and I bring food back to the room to eat.  The room can be the deciding factor in how you vacation in some cases.

Where you are sailing to also can be part of the decision.  Certain itineraries favor balcony staterooms over other itineraries.  In the Caribbean, it is not nearly as compelling to get a balcony stateroom over an interior stateroom compared to the Mediterranean or Alaska itineraries. That is not to say guests in an inside stateroom completely miss out on the natural beauty to behold, but they just have to do more to experience it.  

Advantage: Varies

Cruise Length

The duration of your cruise can be a major factor in deciding which stateroom category makes more sense.

Longer cruises, 7-nights or more, may offer more incentive to get a balcony so you can have your own outdoor space to relax.  Quick three- and four-night cruises may not necessitate spending money on a balcony since your time is limited and you may not spend as much time in your room.

One of the advantages of booking a balcony stateroom on a shorter cruise is the total price will not be as high as a longer cruise.  And some of the longer cruises (repositioning cruises) can offer great deals on all rooms, including balconies, because they are harder sailings to fill.

Generally speaking, the longer the cruise, the more advantageous a balcony stateroom, although the price factor that we spoke of earlier may supersede even the cruise length consideration.

Advantage: Balcony

Alternative choices

We would be remiss if we did not mention certain categories of staterooms that bend, blend or otherwise are a hybrid of the two categories.  Cruising has changed over the last few years, and Royal Caribbean has started offering new stateroom options that cater to different tastes and budgets.

One of our favorite room categories is a virtual balcony room, which is an inside stateroom with a 80-inch LED television that provides live high-definition views from outside the cruise ship, right into your stateroom.

There are balcony staterooms that do not face the ocean, but instead offer views of the Boardwalk and Central Park neighborhoods. These balcony staterooms have the same balcony experience of ocean-facing balconies, but often at a discounted price and perfect for people watching.

Speaking of people watching, Promenade view rooms offer a bay window view of the Royal Promenade, which provides the perfect vantage point for people watching and checking out what is happening on the Royal Promenade. It doubles as the perfect spot to view the parade!

Panoramic ocean view staterooms offer a floor to ceiling wrap around panoramic window that is 76 inches high by 103-321 inches wide.  That is a big window and you get amazing views without the balcony view price.

All of these stateroom categories offer guests the option of having a view without paying for the full balcony price.  Granted, none are exactly the same as having your own private balcony and the amount of living space is still more limited.  But for many guests, it is a "happy medium" between that balcony price and a standard inside stateroom.

Other

"Other" is not really a definable characteristic of any stateroom. Instead, this is a bit of a catch-call for other important features and amenities that do not fit in the above categories.  In addition to the critical categories above, another category that may be important is lifestyle. Being able to enjoy a glass of wine on your private balcony or have the ocean breeze enter your room are things that cannot be qualified objectively, but is important to some.

Likewise, sleeping in a pitch-black room of an interior stateroom can lead to some of the best sleep you have since college.  Many of us go on vacation to catch up on sleep and the notion of "quality of sleep" really means something when you avoid getting woken up by natural light entering the room.

How about romance? It seems like every cruise commercial out there that harps on romance on the sea has at least one shot of a couple enjoying the sunset on their balcony.  

Verdict

Whether it is worth it to you to pay more for a balcony stateroom depends upon your preferences, budget, and how much time you will be spending in your room.  If you like having extra space with views, balcony staterooms score points.  If money is an issue, the cost-savings of an interior stateroom will make you happy.  Plus, that is more money you can spend elsewhere on the cruise, like in a good specialty restaurant.

For us, balcony staterooms make a lot of sense for the extra space, private balcony and ambiance...provided the price is right.  We have a budget for every cruise we take, and the price difference between a balcony and interior stateroom is often a major deciding factor.  There is no question that when we have a balcony room booked, we spend more time in there than if we have an inside room.

For inside room fans, there are plenty of public places onboard to enjoy views anytime of the day or night.  The promenade deck, helipad (on select ships) and pool decks give us plenty of outdoor space when we need to "get out."

The interior staterooms are not for everyone, but we have nothing against them.  If it is the difference between going on a cruise or not, we will gladly book an interior stateroom.  A balcony is great, but not worth breaking the bank for it either.

Your thoughts

Is it worth it to you to stay in a balcony stateroom? Or, do you just save as much as money as possible by staying in an inside stateroom? Share where you normally choose to stay (and why!) in the comments!

Royal Caribbean's Empress of the Seas experiencing engine trouble

In:
27Jun2016

It appears Royal Caribbean's Empress of the Seas is experiencing a "technical issue" related to its engines.

Cruise Critic is reporting that Empress of the Seas' engine troubles are forcing the ship to reroute its current sailing.

In a statement by Royal Caribbean, the company explained that work is underway to resolve the issue, "Empress of the Seas is currently experiencing a technical issue with one of the ship's four engine. Since we became aware of the problem, our highly trained engineering team has been working to resolve the issue. While we work on the issue, the ship is sailing at a reduced rate of speed."

Empress of the Seas was scheduled to visit Grand Cayman, but instead visited Nassau yesterday and stopped at CocoCay earlier today.  It will call on Key West on June 29, as scheduled.

Royal Caribbean is offering compensation to guests aboard the current sailing in the amount of 10 percent of the cruise fare paid, per stateroom.

According to the line, all equipment onboard is fully functional and there is no impact on the maneuverability of the ship or on the safety of passengers and crew. Royal Caribbean has not yet indicated whether the next sailing will be affected by the engine trouble.

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