Royal Caribbean named best cruise line for the money

In:
18Nov2014

US News and World Reports released its 2015 Best Cruise rankings and Royal Caribbean emerged as the Best Cruise Line for the money.

Royal Caribbean took top honors for the combination of low prices and what you get for it, "Royal Caribbean is one of the largest lines setting sail hundreds of times each year to destinations around the world. And having the ability to accommodate thousands of guests per ship allows Royal Caribbean to keep rates low: Cruisers won't have trouble finding itineraries costing less than $100 per person per night. Prices cover lodging, meals in the Main Dining Room and a wealth of onboard activities ranging from swimming and rock climbing to foreign language classes and Broadway-style performances."

Royal Caribbean also did well in other categories as well

  • Second place for Best Cruise Lines for Families
  • Tenth place for Best Cruise Lines for Romance
  • Second place for Best Cruise Lines in the Caribbean

US News and World Reports rankings are based on an expert evaluation of the line's level of luxury, as well as an assessment of user reviews and health ratings.

Quantum of the Seas named best new ship in 2014

In:
18Nov2014

Cruise Critic released its 2014 US Editors' Picks awards and Royal Caribbean came away with two awards, most notably best new cruise ship with Quantum of the Seas.

Cruise Critic gave Royal Caribbean's newest ship the top nod and commented, "Quantum of the Seas is all about innovation. Bumper cars and skydiving at sea grab the headlines, but the ship itself is simply revolutionary. The technology available onboard makes staying in touch a snap, and thoughtful details like USB ports in cabins and interactive kiosks for booking onboard activities are perfect for the modern cruiser."

Royal Caribbean also won Best Inside Cabins award mostly on the strength of its virtual balcony staterooms.

First introduced on Navigator of the Seas, the virtual balconies have transformed what an inside stateroom can be and Cruise Critic's editors seemed to like what they saw, "When Royal Caribbean introduced virtual balconies into some inside cabins on Navigator of the Seas, the line surpassed its competition. The cabins, also found on Quantum of the Seas, give passengers the feeling of being in an outside cabin via real-time video from outside the ship that's piped in and displayed on wall-sized digital screens."

Royal Caribbean offering 50% off second guest plus onboard credit and reduced deposit

In:
17Nov2014

Royal Caribbean is starting the Wave season promotions early this year with a special promotion that allows guests to stack multiple discounts.

Royal Caribbean's "Vow to WOW Sale" offers buy one guest, get the second guest 50% off, plus 50% reduced deposit, and onboard credit.

The amount of onboard credit is as follows

  • Interior & Ocean View staterooms
    • $100 onboard credit per stateroom
  • Balcony staterooms
    • $200 onboard credit per stateroom
  • Suite staterooms
    • $300 onboard credit per stateroom

The promotion is available for all open deployments, excluding China departures as well as Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas.

Buy One, Get One 50% off is combinable with the adjoining onboard credit offer, Crown & Anchor discounts and NextCruise offers. Buy One, Get One 50% off offer is not combinable with restricted rates (for example, Seniors, Residents, Military, Kids Sail Free). 

Onboard credit offer is combinable with restricted rates (for example, Seniors, Residents, Military, BOGO, Kids Sail Free) as well as NextCruise offers. OBC offer is not combinable with Crown & Anchor discounts.

Promotion is valid for cruises booked between November 17 and December 31, 2014.

Photo tour of D8 Superior Ocean View Stateroom with Balcony on Quantum of the Seas

In:
17Nov2014

Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas has a lot to offer, including a number of staterooms.  Today, we will look at the category D8 balcony stateroom and take you through the cabin to give you an idea of what to expect if you book this category.

On Quantum of the Seas, we reviewed stateroom 6244, which is located on Deck 6 just outside the aft elevator bank.  Entry to the room is by RFID scanner, which is above the door handle.

Walking into the room, you will immediately see the light from the balcony shining ahead of you.  The stateroom is rather long and narrow.

The bed is joined together but can be split apart if need be.  There's a large, flat screen television across from it and two night stands on opposite sides of the bed.  Access to the balcony is also on the other side of the bed.

The bathroom features a stand up shower, toilet and sink.  One thing we noticed immediately with this bathroom is there is far less of the white plastic you typically find on other Royal Caribbean ship restrooms.  Instead, there's far more glass and tile, which we found a welcome change.

Another change to the restroom is the shampoo and soap options.  On older Royal Caribbean ships, passengers would find a shampoo dispenser on the wall.  On Quantum of the Seas, the dispenser has been removed and instead small bottles of shampoo, soap and conditioner are available.  

Back out to the stateroom, you will find two armoires that allow you to hang clothing as well as store other clothing.  These seem larger to us than closets on other ships.

Of course, the reason to book this stateroom is the balcony.  At 55 square feet, the balcony is on the small side but it has enough room for two chairs and a table.  It's enough space for two people to comfortably enjoy the view and ocean air.

This stateroom does also include a sofa that opens into a bed.  Frankly, any more than two passengers in this stateroom would feel confined quickly. For a couple looking for the a balcony stateroom, the D8 category is perfect for them.

Restaurant Review: American Icon Grill on Quantum of the Seas

In:
17Nov2014

Today, we are taking in breakfast and dinner at Royal Caribbean's brand new Dynamic Dining restaurant, American Icon Grill aboard Quantum of the Seas.

American Icon Grill is one of five complimentary sit down restaurants aboard Quantum of the Seas and as the name implies, it serves up American comfort food that were handpicked from a variety of local favorites across the country.

American Icon Grill is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and we had a chance to try it out for breakfast and dinner.  Let's see how this new restaurant concept stacks up.

Atmosphere

American Icon Grill is located on deck 4, in the rear of the ship.  In fact, four of the complimentary restaurants are stacked on top of each other between decks 3 and 4.

The entrance to American Icon Grill is a glitzy walkway that features a lot of lights, mirrors and glass.  It's bright and reminded me of a hip restaurant you might find in a large city.

Despite the fact the restaurant is just one of many onboard that replace the main dining room, it's rather large.  It can handle 430 guests and on my visit, it was perhaps half full.

With all the complimentary restaurants, you will be asked if being seated with other passengers is okay.  On my visit, I managed to get a table alone but I certainly would not have minded the company.

Eats

The menu at American Icon Grill is the same throughout your cruise and each meal has its own special menu.

We will start this review with breakfast and then move onto dinner.  

Eating breakfast in American Icon Grill reminded me very much of breakfast in the main dining room on every other Royal Caribbean ship.  In fact, the menu was nearly identical, with an assortment of eggs, pancakes, french toast and other basic breakfast foods.

I opted for the french toast, which was exactly like the french toast I was used to on other ships' main dining room.

I did enjoy the french toast and found it to be soft and tasty.  The truth about breakfast on Quantum of the Seas, and all Royal Caribbean ships, is the menu is pretty similar every morning.  You dine at American Icon Grill because you prefer to be seated and have your food brought to you, as opposed to dining in the Windjammer which has essentially the same offerings but you must serve yourself.

At dinner, the menu opens up considerably and there's more than just what you can find upstairs.

At dinner, you are served an assortment of bread rolls.  I asked about the sourdough rolls and savory bites you typically found in the old main dining room, but they do not seem to be available here.

I did not want to fill up on bread but I did try the cornbread muffins, which were really moist and tasty.

My waiter suggested the New England Clam Chowder, and I happily took him up on that suggestion.  I'm no soup expert but I think I can tell the difference between soup that is fresh made and soup that comes out of can and this soup was definitely not born in a metal container.

I also sampled another appetizer, the Reuben Turnovers.  I had tried these earlier this year at another Royal Caribbean media event when Dynamic Dining was announced and loved it so I had to have the real thing.  

I'm a big Reuben fan to begin with and these are pastries filled with pastrami and cheese on a bed of sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing.  This is what I hope heaven serves as appetizers because they were stupendous.  I am a Reuben fanboy but I do believe these little bad boys are quite good.

I also decided to try one of the signature cocktails American Icon Grill offers in what they call The New Southern.  It tasted quite good, but I'm not sure it's my new favorite drink.  But then again, what I love about cruises is trying new food and drinks!

Back to the food, it was time for my entree and I went with what any self-respecting American would choose: a burger.  This was the dry aged steak burger, which sounded perfect to me.

This burger hit the spot, as it was juicy and had a lot of flavor with a nice toasted bun on top.  I also liked the pickles they served with it, which made the perfect topping.  

Not to be overlooked, the french fries have a parmesan garnish on top that reminded me of the fries one would get at Chops Grill.  I really enjoyed this choice.

Overall

I was surprised by American Icon Grill because of all the complimentary restaurants on Quantum of the Seas, I was looking forward to the others so much more that I overlooked this one. 

American Icon Grill had great tasting food across its menu, especially for dinner.  

After eating at American Icon Grill, I came to the conclusion it's like the last heir of the main dining room.  Breakfast (and lunch) are similar experiences to the main dining room and the food at dinner while more varied than what the main dining room offered, still felt like a similar experience. 

When I return to Quantum of the Seas in March, I will definitely be re-evaluating my dining strategy to include more stops here because I really enjoyed what I had.  We haven't reviewed the other complimentary restaurants yet on this blog but when we do, you will see that American Icon Grill stands out as a winner.

Full video of Quantum of the Seas naming and christening ceremony

In:
16Nov2014

Royal Caribbean formally christened Quantum of the Seas just a few days ago and we have the full video of the ceremony so you don't miss a minute of it.

Royal iQ app upgrades coming with new features

In:
16Nov2014

Royal Caribbean's new smartphone app, Royal iQ, is barely out but already they are looking at upgrading it to add more functionality.

Speaking with a few of the Royal iQ app developers while on Quantum of the Seas, they are eyeing adding new functionality, including the ability to view your Cruise Compass via the app and add the activities you like to your personal calender.

In addition, guests will be able to book more onboard services, such as spa treatments and beverage packages, directly through the app.

These new features are being targeted for a "spring" 2015 launch.

The Royal iQ app is currently only available for iOS devices but an Android compatible version will be coming "in a few weeks", according to the developers we spoke with.

In addition to using the app on your smartphone, passengers can take advantage of freestanding iQ stations around the ship.

Royal iQ's current functionality allows passengers to see their plans via a calendar, book dining reservations as well as text and call other guests onboard their ship for a nominal fee.  There's also an option to make ship-to-shore and shore-to-ship calls billed at a per-minute rate.

Royal iQ is currently available onboard Quantum of the Seas, but Royal Caribbean will roll the app out to sister ships Anthem of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas when they debut in 2015 and 2016, respectively.  Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas will get access to Royal iQ in 2015.

Nine things I loved, hated and was surprised by on Quantum of the Seas

In:
15Nov2014

I'm just back from a quick 2-night pre-inaugural cruise on Royal Caribbean's newest ship, Quantum of the Seas and I wanted to share what really stood out to me on this cruise.

Like all cruise experiences, we go in with certain expectations and we find some things were better than we thought, some not as good and others completely surprise us.  Here's a quick few that stood out just a few hours after leaving this amazing new ship

What I liked

Royal Esplanade

The center of activity and where I was consistently drawn to was the Royal Esplanade.  It just seemed to be the place to be at any given time of day.

Perhaps the colder weather forced more people inside that would have otherwise been on the pool deck, but the combination of food, drinks, shopping and entertainment really made the Royal Esplanade into a hub of activity.

The Royal Esplanade benefits from is its design and feels more like a neighborhood than its Royal Promenade cousin.  Rather than ceilings three decks tall, this whole area felt a lot warmer.

The Via area on the Royal Esplanade is also a big hit and I really liked the serenity of the area. Calming music, a dozen giant high definition TVs (the same exact TVs as in the virtual balconies) and beautiful art really made this area flow.  I don't think it was a coincidence why Vintages was always full here.

SeaPlex

I almost put this in the surprise category but I think SeaPlex was always a big push by Royal Caribbean so I'll include it here.  I'll be honest, the sports deck was never an area I spent a lot of time at before.  But SeaPlex changes all of that.

What I love about SeaPlex is it combines a lot of options in one space without feeling like it's being squeezed in.  Remember the ice skating rinks on other ships? They were great but tiny and the basketball courts on other ships were always in the hardest to find areas.  

In SeaPlex, you have a sprawling part of the ship on Deck 12 that seems to have everything. Bumper cars, roller skating, Xbox, air hockey, table tennis, iFly and more.  I always found lots of people here and it really made a big impact.  On a week-long cruise, I could see many visits here to check it all out.  Heck, I never even saw the circus school, basketball court (deployed, that is) or challenged any kids half my age to air hockey.  

And the other big win of SeaPlex? Xbox. Seriously.  This isn't a console they tossed in a corner like it was with the Nintendo Wiis. A dedicated gaming area with uplink to Xbox Live on beautiful TVs.  The only thing missing was Mountain Dew Code Red and Funyuns.  

North Star

I never really thought North Star would be as fun and impressive as it was when I tried it.  The views are amazing and it's the way to see where you are.  I think I would force myself to get back to the ship earlier than normal in a port so I could see the island from that perspective.

The view never ceases to be "old hat" when you're in that observation pod.  Everyone in there always was quoting Royal Caribbean's marketing slogan of "Wow" and after experiencing it myself, I have to think why didn't they do this sooner?

In a bit of trivia, Royal Caribbean chairman Richard Fain said prior to the North Star idea, the company considered a blimp that was tethered to the ship.  I like the observation pod idea a whole lot more.

WOWbands

I had such high hopes for the WOWbands and it hit that mark easily.  From announcing they would be complimentary to every way I used them, they made the cruise easier.

At its core, what made the WOWbands so great were they just worked.  And they worked easily.  No fuss and everything from the shops to the restaurants to guest relations were able to use them.  After perhaps 3 hours I put my SeaPass card back in the stateroom for good.

Two70 visuals

I don't care how into performance art you are or are not, but there's no denying the visual element presented in Two70 is stunning.  When you see what they can do with the back screens and the roboscreens, it's something to marvel at.

Having seen Starwater performed here as well as photos of what they did for the christening event, the technology behind Two70 is really quite impressive.  

The video projections and roboscreens offer visuals that are many times more advanced than the high-definition television you have at home and it shows.  There's so much potential with what they can do with these screens that I kept waiting to see what would they try next anytime a show was on.

What I didn't like

Wi-Fi not working all the time

Royal Caribbean promised super fast internet onboard thanks to new satellite technology and that worked exactly as promised. I used Facetime with my family multiple times and saw others streaming HBO go and Netflix.  However, the problem was getting to the connection.

The issue was the Wi-Fi networking that delivers the satellite connection to your devices.  In some areas, it worked really well (Royal Esplanade, Two70) but other places you would see a good connection but never be able to connect to anything.  

I believe this is just a "working out the bugs" kind of thing and by the time Quantum is in service regularly in a month or two, it will all be fine.  But not being able to use the Wi-Fi at all in my stateroom was annoying.

SeaPass cards to keep the lights on

I know we should all do our part to be more environmentally friendly but this little change was more annoying than anything.  When you're in your stateroom, you cannot turn the lights or air conditioning on unless you place your SeaPass card in a little slot near the door.

After a day, everyone figured out you could put any card in there and all it did was annoy people.  

Like I said, I know why they did it and it makes sense on paper but it didn't fly with me from a real-world perspective.

What surprised me

Music Hall

When you read about Music Hall on Royal Caribbean's promotional material, it sounds like a nice little area where bands will play.  Sounds cute, right?  The reality is this area was always the place to be every night.

First and foremost, the tribute bands found in Music Hall were phenomenal.  We had a Journey and Led Zeppelin tribute band onboard and they absolutely sounded like the real thing.  

After the bands were done playing, the DJ came on and it became a dance party.  I never saw so many people dancing and into the whole experience like I did in Music Hall.  I was really impressed by what I saw.

How small the ship felt

Quantum of the Seas is the second largest class of cruise ship Royal Caribbean has made and yet walking around the ship, it never really felt like "a big ship".

I noticed pretty quickly as I was making my around the ship that it did not feel like I was trekking through the Ardennes to get somewhere.  Rather, wherever I was, it was relatively simple and quick to get to where I wanted.

In fact, navigating the ship was also very simple.  Royal Caribbean added digital signage all around the ship to help guests find their way around the ship but the truth is after an hour or two, I had a pretty good sense of where everything was. 

When you can produce a cruise ship that is 11 times longer than a blue whale, it says something when people can easily get around.

Royal Caribbean christens Quantum of the Seas cruise ship

In:
14Nov2014

At a ceremony today aboard Royal Caribbean's brand new cruise ship, godmother Kristin Chenoweth took part in a ceremony christening the new ship.

Quantum of the Seas was named earlier this evening while docked in Cape Liberty, New Jersey, marking the official arrival of arguably the most anticipated new cruise ship of the year.

Royal Caribbean chairman Richard Fain spoke to those in attendance about what makes Quantum of the Seas special, "Our ships are built to be 1/3 traditional, 1/3 evolutionary and 1/3 revolutionary."

During the ceremony, Chenoweth used a tablet on the main stage to launch the champagne bottle against Quantum's hull.

Also part of the event were performances by the New York Police Department bagpipes and drums as well as a performance by singer-songwriter Clint Holmes.

Quantum of the Seas is the first Quantum-class cruise ship and marks the next evolution in cruise ships for Royal Caribbean.  It's the first ship in the fleet to not be based on the Voyager-class lineage since the Voyager class debuted and is full of new technological innovations, entertainment advances and impressive decor.

Quantum of the Seas also marks the introduction to Royal Caribbean of Dynamic Dining, which is the company's complete reboot of what dining is on a cruise ship.  The main dining room as well as dress codes have been relaxed in an effort to simplify dinner for guests while expanding the choices passengers have.

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