Excursion Focus: Castillo El Morro and San Cristóbal in San Juan, Puerto Rico

In:
28May2016

Exploring a port of call's history can be just as interesting and fun as spalshing at the beach or enjoying local cuisine.  In Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, history comes in spades and among the most popular historical spots tourists can see are the two old Spanish forts that guard the city,  Castillo San Felipe del Morro (El Morro) and San Cristóbal.

These two forts are among the most popular historical sites to see in Old San Juan, and they offer an intriguing look back at the island's rich history as well as provide amazing views of the surrounding area.

Description

The two Spanish forts are located on the north side of Old San Juan, and are within walking distance of each other.

El Morro is the more famous of the two forts, as it guards the entrance to the harbor, while San Cristóbal was built to defend the city itself.

The city of San Juan provides a free shuttle from the cruise area up to the forts, although the distance is walkable by most people and there is a lot to see and do along the way.

Starting with El Morro, the fort is set opposite a rather large grassy area, where you will often spot locals and tourists flying kits, taking dogs for walks and otherwise enjoying the wide open space.

Like San Cristóbal, once inside the fort, guests are able to tour the fort on their own and explore every aspect of it. The park staff do offer guided tours at certain times that narrate the experience. Nonetheless, you should feel free to explore the fort on your own, as there is plenty of signs to help tell the fort's story.

There are many areas of the fort to explore, as El Morro is rather large and offers views of the entrance to the harbor, the ocean and the surrounding areas.

Admission to El Morro gets you admission to San Cristóbal as well (and vice versa).

After a walk to San Cristóbal, you will find a fort similar in nature to El Morro, but this fort offers better views of the city and harbor.

San Cristóbal was built to defend the city against land based attacks and is larger than El Morro. In fact, it is the largest fortification built by the Spanish in the New World.

Like El Morro, San Cristóbal provides a self-guided tour of the facility and there are plenty of nooks and crannies to explore.

If your Royal Caribbean ship happens to be in port during the evening, El Morro is lit up quite nicely and provides even more beautiful photo opportunities.

Comments

The two Old San Juan forts are among the most famous historical sites in Old San Juan and they are to Old San Juan what the Statue of Liberty might be to New York City.

There are two good tips we can offer for seeing the forts: try to go there early in the day before the temperatures rise and take the complimentary trolley from the cruise ship terminal.

Since Puerto Rico is in the tropics, it tends to get quite hot and humid in the afternoon, especially between the months of March through November.  Given that the fort is almost entirely outdoors, ideally you will visit it in the morning before it gets too hot outside.

If you are wondering about which fort to see if you only have time or energy for one, El Morro tends to be the better choice for its photo opportunities and slightly smaller footprint. Keep in mind that admission to one fort gets you into both (for up to 7 days), so there is no financial reason not to see both.

Be sure to bring your cameras to either fort, because the views offered are really quite impressive.  

Both fortifications can be explored everyday from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm either on your own or on one of the ranger led programs held throughout the week.

Cost: $7 per adult. Children 15 and under are free.

Photo tour of Junior Suite stateroom on Independence of the Seas

In:
28May2016

Lots of Royal Caribbean fans relish a stay in a Junior Suite (JS) and today, we have a look at one of the Junior Suites from Independence of the Seas to give you an idea of what to expect if you book a similar stateroom.

Brian Robinson took photos of his stateroom on Independence of the Seas while on a sailing in February 2016.

Junior Suites on Independence of the Seas offer guests 297 square feet of space and a balcony that is 94 square feet.

Junior Suites on Independence of the Seas include minibar, vanity area, hair-dryer, TV, phone, vanity table with an extendable working surface for laptop computers and 110/220 electrical outlets. Some have sofa beds and can accommodate 3-4 guests.

Some can also accommodate a rollaway bed or Play Yard. (Junior Suites located in the aft of the ship cannot accommodate a rollaway bed.) 

Royal Caribbean to add waterslides, aqua park and new restaurants to Adventure of the Seas

In:
27May2016

Royal Caribbean's Adventure of the Seas is due for a refurbishment in November 2016 and we are now getting details on what work will be done.

Royal Caribbean is planning on adding these changes and additions to the ship

Cyclone and Typhoon waterslides

These two water slides were first added to Liberty of the Seas, and have also found a home on Harmony of the Seas.

Adventure of the Seas will be the first Voyager-class ship to get water slides.

FlowRider surf simulator

The FlowRider has proven to be one of the more popular activities across Royal Caribbean's fleet. Guests can choose between learning to stand-up surf or boogie board throughout their cruise.

Royal Caribbean has been adding FlowRiders to many of its ships, including other Voyager-class ships.

Slashaway Bay aqua park

Splashaway Bay is an aqua park featuring an interactive kid’s play area with water cannons, geysers and much more.

Like the water slides, it too was first introduced on Liberty of the Seas and was also added to Harmony of the Seas.

Izumi

Fans of Japanese cuisine will relish meals at Izumi.  The restaurant is famous for fresh, quality made sushi as well as other traditional Japanese dishes.

Izumi has been added to many other Royal Caribbean ships over the years, and has become one of the most proliferated and popular specialty restaurants.

Addition of dry-aged steaks to Chops Grille

Royal Caribbean is capitalizing on the dry-aged steak fad, which is the process of hanging the meats and letting time and microbes do their magic to enhance the flavor of the beef.

Dry-aging beef takes time, usually 21-28 days, and as a result costs more money because the restaurant ties up cash in inventory that’s just sitting around, losing water weight and literally shrinking. The benefit is the flavors get concentrated, similar to how a reducing sauce becomes richer. It's become a big fad among steakhouses these days and Royal Caribbean wanted in on the action.

Adventure of the Seas is a Voyager-class cruise ship and is home-ported in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Friday Photos

In:
27May2016

Welcome to this week's edition of Friday Photos, where we share our readers' Royal Caribbean photos with all of you.  

To me, this weekly feature is an opportunity to enjoy a quick "mental escape" to a Royal Caribbean cruise vacation.  And you are invited to submit your favorite Royal Caribbean photos too!

Let's get started with this week's batch!

Dave Rimmington sent us this photo of the Nassau lighthouse and Atlantis, as seen from Enchantment of the Seas. Look at that water color!

Kaye and Bob Carpenter met a couple of movie stars on their Voyager of the Seas cruise.  Better watch those two!

Here is a great shot by Shawn Crossley of Explorer of the Seas docked in Sydney, right in the heart of the city.

Love this photo of a "friendly face," by Gwendolyn Salzman, as they spent their day in Labadee.

Check out this photo by Derek Jansante of sunset in Tampa Bay, as Brilliance of the Seas made her way to Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Simply beautiful.

Earl McGrath took this photo at about 2am while he was on Allure of the Seas and had the whole deck to himself.  Nicely done!

Our last photo comes to us from Janeen, and it is of Majesty of the Seas as seen from CocoCay. Yup, looks like paradise!

Do you have a Royal Caribbean photo that you want to share with us? Use this form and send it in!

Review: Izumi Express Sushi On The Go

In:
26May2016

It seems as though sushi has become more popular than ever, and while Royal Caribbean has been adding the wildly popular Izumi restaurants to its ships over the last few years, there is now another way to get your sushi "fix" while onboard.

While onboard Navigator of the Seas, we spotted the Izumi Express option, where guests can enjoy fresh and premium sushi that is freshly made, on the go.  Essentially, this is take-out sushi.

You might be wondering, "Why would I want take-out sushi?" and we thought about that too.  There are at least two good reasons Izumi Express makes sense to us:

  • You have kids and a full sit-down meal is not in the cards, but you still want sushi
  • You want to enjoy sushi somewhere else on the ship, like your balcony

The process of ordering Izumi Express is fairly simple. Simply call Izumi from any phone on your Royal Caribbean ship (I did from the comfort of my stateroom bed) and place your order. You can also go up to Izumi and order there, if you prefer.

You can order any sushi from the regular menu during the hours Izumi happens to be open. The staff will take your order and provide a time window when you can come up to Izumi and pick it up.

We placed an order and within about 10 minutes, it was ready and the staff even called back our stateroom to let us know it was ready.

Picking up the sushi is similar to any take-out restaurant experience you have likely encountered. It is prepared in a to-go container and bagged up for easy transport.

I opted to bring my sushi back to my stateroom and enjoy it on the balcony.  

I have to say, it was really fun having a favorite meal with my own personal view of the ocean.

We are not certain which other ships offer Izumi Express, but it should be available on ships that have an Izumi.

All in all, I really enjoyed the Izumi Express option, because it was a convenient option to enjoy sushi without having to bring my kids with me or leaving my wife with them.  For families, I can see this being a popular option, because it will provide great sushi without the formality of a full-fledged meal.

Will you be trying the Izumi Express on your next Royal Caribbean cruise? Leave a comment and tell us what you think!

Royal Caribbean orders fifth Oasis-class cruise ship

In:
25May2016

Royal Caribbean announced today it has signed  a memorandum of understanding with STX France to build a fifth Oasis-class ship for delivery in the Spring of 2021.

This order is contingent upon the completion of customary conditions, including documentation and financing. Final contracts, which include the definitive payment schedules, are expected to be completed within the quarter. Capacity increases for 2016 through 2020 remain unchanged.

"The response to the arrival of Harmony of the Seas is staggering, eliciting excitement from eager cruisers from markets on both sides of the Atlantic," said Richard D. Fain, Chairman and CEO, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. 

"The Oasis-class ships have delivered beyond expectations each time," said Michael Bayley, President and CEO, Royal Caribbean International.  "Harmony of the Seas' warm reception is evidence that growing this class of ship will continue to drive exceptional performance for the brand."

"We are extremely pleased with the recent success of Harmony of the Seas and take great pride in our partnership with Royal Caribbean," said Laurent Castaing, Managing Director of STX France.  "It is especially exciting to collaborate on such diverse projects from Oasis to Edge, both marvels in their own space."

A fourth Oasis-class ship is also being built at STX France, with a delivery date of 2018.

Royal Caribbean's Empress of the Seas arrives in Miami

In:
25May2016

Despite a couple of delays, Royal Caribbean's Empress of the Seas arrived in her new homeport of Miami earlier today, following a $50 million revitalization.

Photo by Royal Caribbean International

Empress will set sail on her first sailing on Saturday, May 28 visiting Royal Caribbean’s private island CocoCay, Bahamas and Nassau, Bahamas.

The ship will then offer short 4- and 5-night getaways from Miami to Nassau, The Bahamas; Cozumel and Costa Maya, Mexico; Grand Cayman and Key West, Florida. With longer stays in every port, guests will be able to experience spectacular golden sunsets in the Caribbean. Plus, on select 5-night itineraries, guest can experience the authentic Mexican culture and cuisine during overnight stays in Cozumel, Mexico.

Photos by Royal Caribbean International

Empress of the Seas will offer signature amenities including a thrilling rock-climbing wall for adrenaline seekers; new pools and whirlpools; a spa with an extensive treatment menu; and a complimentary Adventure Ocean youth program. 

Empress also will offer a variety of dining options, including the casual atmosphere of the Windjammer Café and fine dining at the brand’s signature steakhouse Chops Grille. In addition, the ship will offer Voom, the fastest internet at sea. 

Are Royal Caribbean's unlimited drink packages worth it?

In:
25May2016

Going on a Royal Caribbean cruise these days and you are bound to see plenty of offers to purchase an unlimited drink package, which begs the question, "are the drink packages worth it?".

Many years ago, the marketing geniuses at Royal Caribbean realized that guests really love convenience, and they hate having to take their wallets out on vacation.

And so, Royal Caribbean's unlimited drink packages were born. Each drink package has several price points and levels. With each, you get access to certain beverages for the duration of your cruise.  It may be convenient, but it is not always a good deal.

Drink package basics

Before you can even begin figuring out if any of the packages make sense to get, you need to have a good understanding of what they are and how they work.

Select Package

Includes

  • Beer
  • Wine (by the glass)
  • Fountain soda with souvenir Coca-Cola cup
  • 20% bottled wine discount

Premium Package

Includes

  • Beer
  • Wine (by the glass)
  • Cocktails
  • Bottled water (500 milliliters)
  • Fountain soda with souvenir Coca-Cola cup
  • 20% bottled wine discount

Ultimate Package

Includes

  • Beer
  • Wine (by the glass)
  • Fountain soda with souvenir Coca-Cola cup
  • Cocktails
  • Bottled water (500 millimeters)
  • Fresh Juices
  • Premium Coffee and Tea
  • 40% bottled wine discount above $100. Wines below $100 will receive a 20% discount

Within each package, the benefits are unlimited, so you can enjoy as many drinks as your package allows.  There are no daily or cruise-length limits.

Each guest must purchase one drink package for themselves, and there is absolutely no sharing of the package benefits.

Looking at the numbers

At the heart of figuring out if any of the drink packages are good value to you is, well, math.

There are three unlimited alcohol packages you can choose from:

  • Select package: $42.00 per guest, per day (including gratuity)
  • Premium package: $57.00 per guest, per day (including gratuity)
  • Ultimate package: $67.00 per guest, per day (including gratuity)

The cost of these packages is for the duration of your cruise, so if you pre-purchase before your cruise or buy it on embarkation day, you will be paying for use of it for the duration of your cruise.  If you buy it on day three, it will be good for that day onward. 

Figuring a seven night cruise is what many guests go for (and it provides some simple math), here are the weekly costs of each package:

  • Select package: $378.00 per guest
  • Premium package: $513.00 per guest
  • Ultimate package: $603.00 per guest

The idea to grasp is how many drinks you have to have per day, to "break even" on the package cost so the package is actually worth your money.  If you do not drink enough to break even, you would have been better off financially not buying a drink package.

If you are wondering how many drinks per day that is to "break even", it is somewhere in the ballpark these estimates. Keep in mind the premium and ultimate packages allow for different kind of drinks, so the drink prices you will find can vary greatly.

  • Select package: 6-7 beers per day
  • Premium package: 5-6 cocktails per day
  • Ultimate package: 5-8 drinks per day

The best way to figure out if you want a drink package is consult our list of Royal Caribbean drink prices, and start to figure out what you would be interested in ordering and see what kind of bills you can accumulate.

What the packages do not include

Figuring out if the drink packages are worth it involves some subjective reasoning beyond just objective math.

There are going to be drink specials throughout your cruise, which bring the price down of drinks and that makes it more difficult to "break even" on the drink packages.  As an example, the drink of the day will carry with it a 25% discount.

Any drink that comes in a souvenir glass or container is not included with the drink packages, so those sports bottles the Labadoozies come in or the hallowed-out pineapple drinks are going to cost you extra.

When you are in port and off the Royal Caribbean ship (not including Labadee or CocoCay), your drink package does not work.  Being on shore limits the time in the day you have to drink as well as requires you to still pay extra for alcoholic beverages.

The final decision

With all of the data presented, now it is time to figure out if the drink packages make sense for you.  

Despite the fact quite a bit of arithmetic was used in this blog post, one of the best ways to figure out if any of the drink packages are worth it is to ask yourself this question:

Can I drink 5-7 drinks per day, every day of my cruise?

If after thinking that you initially thought, "Woah, that is a lot to drink" or "Woah, that's it?", then you probably have your answer.

There are a few "x-factors" worth considering was well when it comes to any Royal Caribbean drink package.

Drink fatigue: This phenomenon occurs as the cruise progresses, each day you find yourself drinking for the sake of drinking as a means of "breaking even" on your drink package investment. Anyone can drink 5-7 drinks in one day, but 5-7 drinks every day of the cruise could possibly get old.

Trying new drinks: One of the best reasons to get a drink package is that you can enjoy all the drinks available, including some new ones.  You can order something and not be worried that you might not like it and have to "suffer" through it, simply because you paid for it.

Drink package discounts: Discounts on Royal Caribbean's drink packages used to be nonexistent, but these days, we are seeing more discounts being offered on the drink packages, which bring down the total cost. A 20% package saving might be enough to push some folks "over the fence" to make it a worthwhile investment.

The reality is there is no global answer for everyone.  You have to figure out the math for yourself.

There is no question Royal Caribbean's unlimited drink packages present a definite value proposition and you can make it work. Plenty of past cruisers swear by it.

On the other hand, everyone's tolerance for actually wanting to have a drink is different.  And since the reason to buy an unlimited drink package is the convenience and fixed drinking bill, one should consider just how much value the package offers.

Do you think Royal Caribbean's unlimited alcohol packages are worth it? Tell us why in the comments!

Royal Caribbean's Memorial Day sale offering up to $100 to spend onboard

In:
25May2016

Royal Caribbean is celebrating Memorial Day weekend in the United States with up to $100 onboard credit on select cruises.

Royal Caribbean bookings made May 25 - 31, 2016 on sailings that depart July 1, 2016 through December 31, 2016 (excluding China departures) are eligible for this new promotion.

Qualifying bookings will receive:

  • Cruises 5 nights or less
    • Interior/Oceanview: $25 OBC per stateroom
    • Balcony/Suite: $50 OBC per stateroom
  • Cruises 6 nights or longer
    • Interior/Oceanview: $50 OBC per stateroom
    • Balcony/Suite: $100 OBC per stateroom

Offer is not combinable with any other offer or promotion, including, but not limited to Canada Resident Sale, 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.

Royal Caribbean announces six more Ovation of the Seas Australia sailings

In:
25May2016

Royal Caribbean announced Ovation of the Seas will extend her second Australian season by six extra cruises, spending a further five weeks home ported in Sydney during the summer of 2017/18.

New cruises in 2018 include

  • an eight-night South Pacific sailing departing February 18 priced from $1,449 per person
  • a five-night Tasmanian cruise departing March 8 from $1,049 per person
  • two 10-night New Zealand cruises departing March 13 and 26 starting from $1,819 per person
  • a three-night sampler departing March 23 priced from $669 per person; all roundtrip from Sydney
  • a 14-night repositioning cruise from Sydney to Singapore, departing March 26, 2018, which stars from $2,069 per person

This is the second time in a matter of months that Royal Caribbean has added new Ovation of the Seas sailings.  In late April, Royal Caribbean added four more sailings to the 2016/2017 cruise season.

“Such is the excitement and anticipation of Ovation of the Seas’ arrival that we’re extending her second season before she has even commenced her first in Australia,” said Adam Armstrong, managing director for Royal Caribbean in Australia and New Zealand.

“The really special thing about Ovation of the Seas is that she’s appealing to an incredibly wide range of travelers. Existing cruisers are excited about the new amenities she offers, but she’s also fascinating Australians who have never cruised before. She is redefining the concept of cruising and we are delivering an entirely new way to holiday,” Armstrong continued.

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