Today was our first port day in Key West Florida; we were scheduled to arrive at 12:30pm – 7pm. This morning I woke up rather early for vacation, but I wanted to make sure I made the most of it and watch the sunrise. For many years, I never got up early to watch this and I can only think back on all the good ones I missed.
Since we had a few hours to kill this morning I decided to have breakfast at Chops Grill. On Empress of the Seas they have a special Diamond Plus & Suites breakfast in Chops. It’s like the one you would experience in the main dining room, but with much faster service.
I ordered a ham and cheese omelet and it came out much better than expected. They also have specialty coffees at no extra cost, which is an added benefit, because I’m usually buying them.
At noon the Cruise Director, Carlos, came over the speaker letting us know we would be arriving in Key West a little later than planned. I’ve noticed the winds are much stronger than I’ve seen in the past and it’s been causing us to slow down. We arrived in Key West at 1pm and we stayed an extra half hour to make up for the lost time.
My plans in Key West were actually nothing. I’ve been here a lot in the last two years, so I did want to try something new. I looked up a local brewery called The Waterfront Brewery. They had pretty good beer, but it wasn’t really what I was looking for. The venue felt very much like a chain at home, so I had my flight ($8) and headed out.
The next stop was Sloppy Joe’s, which is the most famous restaurant in Key West. I’ve been many times before, but it’s family friendly (for the most part) and I always get great service. I only had a few beers and skipped lunch to save room for Chops tonight. They had live music and it was very entertaining to just sit back and relax.
Key West was recently hit with Hurricane Irma a few weeks ago. I know they pulled ships out of here for week or two. But the last thing the locals need is the tourism dollars to be pulled out.
I didn’t really know what I’d see today, but for the most part they are up and running. On about every street they had old trees that were cut up and ready to be picked up. I saw a few places still boarded up from the hurricane, but I’d say they are 90% up and running.
The only stand out damage I noticed was all the boat docks at the pier were completely gone. Hurricane Irma totally wiped out all the docks, but I was happy to see they were already building new ones.
Evening on board, we saw the main production in the theater. The show was very different than anything I’d seen across the fleet. It was themed around Cuba and Latin dancing. It was very enjoyable and only last 35 minutes, which I tend to enjoy over long never-ending shows.
Right when we walked out they were just starting the parade of flags in the Centrum. This is when they highlight the countries the crew members are from. We just kept passing since we had reservations at Chops Grill.
Dinner tonight was back in Chops, I promise I’m not going to eat every meal in here. I decided to change it up a little and get a shrimp cocktail and a salad.
Main course I had the filet again, 9oz rare, with the red wine sauce. For dessert, I ordered the mud pie, it’s not on the menu but our waiter said they were bringing it back. For my taste, I thought it was too rich, and I was missing my ice cream Sunday from last night!
Tonight I used my Diamond Plus BOGO coupon, so I paid the cover charge last night and tonight was free.
After dinner I decided to get to bed, like most of the ship. They are recommending we be on the top deck to watch our arrival into Havana, Cuba tomorrow at 7am. Thanks for following my day in Key West!
Happy Sunday! It has been a busy week of Royal Caribbean news, and we have it all summarized for you in this round up.
A lot of Royal Caribbean fans had an opinion on the change this week to the rules for purchasing an unlimited alcohol package on future Royal Caribbean cruises.
This policy change matches what other cruise lines have required for years. The change appears to apply to many sailings beginning in late 2017.
There are, however, a number of exemptions to this rule, which simply requires a phone call to get the restriction removed.
Royal Caribbean News
- We posted a new Symphony of the Seas construction photo update.
- Royal Caribbean kicked off its 10th season in Australia.
- Royal Caribbean issued an update on which ports in the Caribbean are still closed, due to hurricane damage.
- A new Cruise Planner sale runs through this weekend.
- We shared a photo tour of a Crown Loft Suite on Harmony of the Seas.
- Michael is live blogging from Empress of the Seas this weekend.
- Here are 7 things you might not know about Oasis of the Seas.
- We shared 10 things to know about Sky Class suites on Royal Caribbean.
Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast
In this episode, Justin and Wendy talked about some things they tried for the first time on a recent Oasis of the Seas cruise.
Royal Caribbean Around the Internet
Curb free with Cory Lee interviewed Royal Caribbean's Director of Disability Inclusion.
Cruise & Ferry talked to Richard Fain about why Royal Caribbean is such a true pioneer.
Cruise Habit wrote about Celebrity Cruises' $400 million fleet revitalization.
It’s boarding day of my Empress of the Seas cruise to Cuba and Key West. In all my sailings, this morning was so different. I woke up very early and decided to go outside and watch Empress pull into the Port of Tampa. I hadn’t packed anything until this morning, so I took care of that. But I was able to leave my home and walk to the port in 11 minutes. I think it’s time I book more sailings out of my back yard.
Boarding itself was very easy, I arrived at 10:45AM and they had just started letting passengers board. They do require you fill out a Cuba Visa form and health form prior to approaching the counter. This is the help reduce the amount of time you are actually with the agent. Once I was on board I just explored the ship, and skipped my day 1 lunch at the Windjammer. I was started to get hot, so I thought why not just go for a swim. I carried my swim gear in my carry on bag and changed in a public restroom, since cabins didn’t open up until 1pm.
Right at 1pm they made an announcement that our cabins were open. Mine was on deck 4 – 4038. I had a standard ocean view cabin, which is fine for myself. When I arrived my luggage was already there. It was very nice to get settled in and unpacked.
The muster drill was at 3:30pm; it was a simple process and didn’t last too long. They do have you stand outside shoulder to shoulder, but it’s not too hot in Florida right now. Right after the muster drill they have a private sail away party for those Diamond Plus, Pinnacle or in a suite. This is an added perk on Empress, since they don’t have a diamond lounge. At the party they had cocktails and live music, but no food.
Since I have no drink package I made sure to use my 3 drink coupons at the schooner bar, while sitting there enjoy the ocean I saw the bridge! I jumped up and watched us sail under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Those of you wondering, it takes about two hours after sail away to reach this bridge.
Dinner tonight was in Chops Grills; this is the only specialty restaurant on board. They do have a small section in the corner of Chops for Chef’s Table. Our reservations were at 8:30pm and it’s $35 per person. From the start I could tell how enjoyable the experience was going to be. The service was outstanding; we never felt rush with ordering or enjoying our plates. For starters I had mushroom soup and a crab cake.
Main course was the 9oz filet and he brought out all the sides for us to share. Desert was a big hit, I’ve always wanted to try their ice cream Sunday. I absolutely loved it, and wanted to finish it all but didn’t. Once our meal was over the chef came out to our table to see how our experience was and if we enjoyed the food. Followed by the headwaiter to check on our experience. These are the little touches that makes the smaller ships stand out. On Harmony two weeks ago at chops, it was so busy it almost felt rushed the entire time.
After dinner we hit the casino for some late night luck. If you enjoy playing in a smoke free casino then you will love Empress. The casino here is multi-level with openings; so they don’t want smoke overflowing into sitting areas, thus make it smoke-free. While walking to bed they had a 70’s party going on in the Centrum, but I didn’t stop.
As I mentioned in my preview post, I didn’t get the drink package for this cruise. I decided since we have 2 full port days, I’d carry wine on board and use the drink coupons. I only bought one beer yesterday (used my BOGO coupon from Crown & Anchor) so drink bill so far is $7.
Well that’s a wrap on my day 1 live blog; tomorrow we are in Key West, Florida.
Suites on Royal Caribbean cruise ships are a wonderful way to indulge with extra space and level of service. The Crown Loft Suite stateroom category on Harmony of the Seas blends luxurious split-level accommodations with Sky Class level benefits of the Royal Suite Class.
Photos of this room come to us from stateroom 1728.
Main level - entrance and living room
The sofa can convert to a double bed.
Main level bathroom
A second bath with shower is located on the main level.
The master bedroom is on the second level and has a Royal King size bed and private bath.
The Crown Loft Suite has a private balcony that measures 114 square feet.
Every Friday we share Royal Caribbean cruise photos that our readers sent in, as a means of showcasing great photography and giving all of us a "virtual break" to enjoy the view of being on a cruise. If you want to send in your photo, use this form and we could feature it in an upcoming post.
Our first photo is from the North Star on Anthem of the Seas, taken by Maryjane Tupper.
Craig Martin took this photo on Explorer of the Seas of the t-shirt sale madness on the Royal Promenade. People really love their $10 shirts!
Here is a shot of Liberty of the Seas docked in Roatan, taken by Katie Shade.
Mistie Knight and her husband are illusionists that perform on Royal Caribbean regularly. Here is a photo they took while performing on Serenade of the Seas while the ship was in Geiranger. They found a secret spot near the Flydalsjuvet view point, and took this amazing photo!
Unfortunately, every day on a cruise cannot be warm and sunny. Jonathan Quealy took this photo on a rainy day aboard Anthem of the Seas.
Here is a photo of Navigator of the Seas, as seen from the top of the Dragon's Breath zip line in Labadee. Photo was taken by Gina Carlson.
We will wrap up this week's edition of Friday Photos with Stewart's photo of Harmony of the Seas docked in St. Maarten.
Thank you to everyone that shared their photos with us this week! If you want to share with us your photos, use this form to send them in!
Royal Caribbean is offering up to 30% off select Cruise Planner purchases during its Set Sail & Save sale.
Guest that log into the Cruise Planner will find certain items discounted. The exact discount available will vary from sailing to sailing, but we spotted the Royal Refreshment package discounted 30% off, along with similar discounts for many spa treatments and some shore excursions.
Based on the countdown timer, the sale expires at midnight on Monday, October 9, 2017.
Royal Caribbean's 10th season in Australia begins this weekend, as the first of the cruise ships arrive down under.
Radiance of the Seas will arrive in Sydney on Sunday, which marks the start of the cruising season for Royal Caribbean in the region.
Joining Radiance of the Seas is Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas, returning for her second and longest season yet, as well as family-favourites Voyager of the Seas and Explorer of the Seas.
"We’re back – Australia’s beloved Radiance of the Seas pulls into port this weekend, marking the start of an epic 10th birthday season ahead for Royal Caribbean," said Adam Armstrong, managing director for RCL Cruises in Australia and New Zealand.
UPDATE: The app has been updated again and Oasis of the Seas references have been removed. Support for Oasis of the Seas will come in "a few weeks".
The latest version of Royal Caribbean's new smartphone app that is under development has been expanded to work on Oasis of the Seas.
Version 1.1.0 of the Royal Caribbean App was released, which expands functionality and makes it work on Oasis of the Seas, in addition to Allure of the Seas.
The new app version includes a few new features:
- Learn about the hundreds of activities, movies, and shows available onboard
- Explore off-ship adventures in places like the Bahamas, St. Thomas, Cozumel, and more
- Peruse complete restaurant, bar, and lounge options
- Plan a day of indulgence with our array of Vitality at Sea Spa offerings
- Use deck plan illustrations to navigate the ship
Additionally, the daily planner is easier to navigate, and added a daily ticker with port, weather, and sunrise/ sunset information.
It appears guests who look to purchase an unlimited alcohol package for a 2018 or beyond sailing will be required to purchase an unlimited alcohol package for all adults in the same stateroom.
Guests who use Royal Caribbean's Cruise Planner site will see a new notation in the Deluxe Beverage Package description, that stipulates "each adult of legal drinking age assigned to the same stateroom must purchase this package."
Upon adding the Deluxe Beverage package to the shopping cart, the site requires all adults to purchase the package at that time.
Based on croud sourcing, thus far, the change appears to be for 2018 sailings and some late 2017 sailings.
Based on an email from Royal Caribbean to a concerned guest, there are exclusions to this rule:
- Recovering Alcoholic
- Medical Reason
- Religious Reason
- Does Not Consume Alcohol Due to Personal Preference
Royal Caribbean announced earlier this year it was going to test this policy change on Harmony of the Seas. The policy change would match other major cruise lines that Royal Caribbean competes with that already have a similar rule in place.
It’s almost hard to believe I’m back with another live blog already, as we had so much fun on the Harmony of the Seas group cruise a few weeks ago. Last week, I was in the post-cruise depression looking around at sailings I could jump on. I already have Enchantment of the Seas booked for October 13th, but that’s over the weekend and I have that whole week off work. Then I came across an Empress of the Seas, sailing out of Tampa at an incredible solo rate.
Those of you that don’t know, I live downtown Tampa and can actually walk to the ship, so no traveling cost or parking. So I’ll have this four-day cruise, two days back at home, then I’ll head down to Miami for Enchantment of the Seas on October 13th.
The cruise leaves on Saturday, October 7th out of the port of Tampa. We sail to Key West, Florida, Havana Cuba, followed by a sea day back home.
I am excited to get back to Key West, Florida it’s always a fun day. We are docked in Key West from noon to 7pm, so I’ll be able to spend most of the afternoon around town.
The highlight of this cruise is Havana, Cuba. We will be in port from 8am to 8pm, so we have a full 12 hours to explore.
My good friend, Nick Vitani is on this sailing and invited me on his private car tour he had arranged. I’ll be sure to report back on the private excursion and information if you are looking to reserve it. I’ll also report back on the currency exchange process, and what to expect going through Cuba’s terminal into the city.
Since I booked this sailing last week, the sale was on the guarantee cabins. Often when sailings get within a few weeks from sailing, they have special rates on guarantee cabins, if the sailing isn’t sold out. I booked at $479 solo rate for an ocean view cabin. Just a few hours later I noticed the cabin price had dropped to $449. I did some research and Royal Caribbean actually has a 48-hour price guarantee.
If you see a price drop within 48-hours after booking they will apply the difference + 10% more as on board credit. My price drop was $30, so I received $33 in non-refundable on board credit. My cabin assignment was given to me 3-4 hours after booking, Ocean View – 4038.
Drink Package and VOOM
For this sailing, I’ve decided not to purchase the drink package. I know, you must be thinking, ”he will give in on board and buy it!” Since we are in Key West all afternoon and Cuba for 12 hours, I’ve decided to pass. I do plan on taking two bottles of wine on board with me, plus I’ll have a bottle of wine in the room from Crown & Anchor. When I combine that wine with the three cocktails each evening, I think I’ll do just fine without the package.
As far as the VOOM Internet, I thought about buying it day two to save a few bucks. I usually purchase the VOOM on board with my Diamond Plus discount.
If you are planning to visit Cuba soon, please feel free to comment below if you have any questions.