6 mistakes & 3 things we did right on our Royal Caribbean cruise to Alaska

By: Matt Hochberg

We had a fantastic Royal Caribbean cruise to Alaska.  So much so, it was the kind of cruise vacation tha met and exceeded all of our expectations.  As they say, hingsight is 20/20 and looking back on our first Royal Caribbean cruise to Alaska, here are six mistakes we made and three great choices during the cruise.

The mistakes

Assuming a balcony room is a necessity

If you read any blog post, feature article or message board post about taking a cruise to Alaska, nearly everyone seems to talk about the importance of booking a balcony stateroom.  So much so that it makes it seem like not booking a balcony stateroom is a mistake.

Over the seven nights of our Alaska cruise, we stayed in a Junior Suite balcony stateroom and it was a spacious room with some nice perks associated with it.  However, I really do not feel that staying in a balcony stateroom is the must-do that everyone makes it out to be.

To be fair, having a balcony stateroom is very nice and I enjoyed walking out whenever I pleased to enjoy the scenery.  Having walked the ship, I felt there were numerous and ample opportunities to enjoy the scenery passing by without a need for a balcony room.

By far the best time for seeing the most compelling scenery is during the Tracy Arm fjords morning, culminating with a marvelous glacier.  

The ship does 360 degree spins to provide everyone with a view of the glacier and surrounding area.  If you rely purely on your balcony, you will miss out on a great deal of the viewing time.  Moreover, the public decks are not that crowded.  I surveyed the crowd on the helipad, pool deck and aft FlowRider area and in all cases, it was quite easy to walk up and snag a spot.

Booking a balcony room is not a mistake by any means, but when you consider how much more a balcony room will cost versus one of the interior rooms, saving a lot of money and opting for an interior room (money that can be spent later on some really amazing excursions) is a fantastic idea.

Booking CityPass in Seattle

Before and after our cruise, we wanted to get a good sampling of what the city of Seattle, Washington has to offer.  It seemed as though the CityPass option was perfect.  For one low cost, you could experience up to 5 popular Seattle attractions and save quite a bit of money.

There are two reasons why I believe buying a CityPass was a mistake for us.

First, we underestimated the amount of time we would need to do it all.  I really thought between the day we flew into Seatle before the cruise and the day after we got off the ship we would have more than enough time to visit all the attractions included with the CityPass.  Between the travel fatigue of getting into Seattle and the post-cruise fatigue, the reality was we needed more time to see it all (in addition to meals and catching up on sleep).  Moreover, some of the museums included in the CityPass were less than our favorite uses of time (the science museum and aquarium were great, but the Museum of Pop Culture was a dud).

If you happen to be spending more than 3 days in Seattle, it can be a decent money saving option.  Just keep in mind that while it includes five attractions, they are all not made equally.

Not spending more time at Mendenhall Glacier Park

When we planned our day in Juneau, we leaned heavily on the guided tours available. We had a great time learning about the Iditarod race and of course meeting and petting some really cute puppies. However, I wish we had spent much more time at Mendenhall Glacier Park.

I had no idea how close you can get by simply taking a taxi to the park and walking on one of the many easy to navigate trails and get an amazing view of this natural wonder. I am by no means an outdoors man, hiker or park kind of guy. Getting the mail in the summer afternoon is what I consider to be on par with Lewis and Clark’s survey of the Louisiana Territory. I found the Nuggets Fall trail to be very easy to walk and my kids loved seeing what was just around the next corner.

If I could go back again, I would grab a taxi and head straight to Mendenhall Glacier Park and walk the trails and enjoy the incredible scenery. There simply was not enough time for my liking on this go around and I would advocate anyone visiting Juneau to plan on lots of time at this park.

Not researching where to eat in port

In each port we visited, we spent a lot of time figuring out which excursion to try but no time researching the best local restaurants to dine at. The result was we ended up in good, but not great restaurants.

The ports of Seattle, Juneau, Skagway and even Victoria have a reputation for fresh seafood and while many establishments offer it, I think it is safe to say everyone wants to experience the best while on this kind of a trip.

I relied too heavily on simply pulling up my Yelp app to guide me, but there are a lot of choices and it is hard to know which spots really offer the best seafood, and which offer the okay or good stuff. 

My advice is to figure out which local food you are most interested in and finding a couple of options in each port to visit.  There are a lot of restaurants, but I know we probably ate at a few tourist duds rather than the real deal.

Not renting a car after the cruise

We planned a few days in Seattle after our cruise to explore more of the city.  Since Explorer of the Seas returned on a Friday, we had a built in weekend after the cruise to explore.  I wish I had taken the first day back to explore Seattle, and then rented a car to be able to go beyond the city limits.

Seattle offers a lot to see and do, but there is a ton very close as well.  The Boeing Factory, city of Vancouver and nearby national parks are wonderful places to visit and by the second day in Seattle, I felt like we were going to attractions that were nice, but nearly as compelling as the others I listed.

Moreover, renting a car would have included the cost of getting from our Seattle hotel to the airport, so it would not have been a major additional cost to spring for the rental car.

Not attending the lectures on the ports

Royal Caribbean offered complimentary lectures presented by higher education staff on the history and culture of the ports we visited, and I wish I had attended these.

As is often the case on Royal Caribbean cruises, we each must juggle the multitude of activities offered onboard (in addition to the ever tempting nap), and unlike a Caribbean itinerary, the lectures provided onboard offer important context for the adventures you will take on shore later in your visit.

These lectures may not offer money saving tips or pitfalls to avoid, but they do offer the kind of insider look at these ports that I think helps improve your appreciation of each city when you go to visit them later.  The other guests on my cruise that did attend these lectures reported back having a better understanding of the history and significance of various landmarks and institutions they would see in port. I think it is far more valuable to know about why the places you visit are important rather than trying to learn and appreciate at the same time.

Things we did right

Bought jackets on eBay

Unless you live in a particularly cold climate to begin with, more than likely you will find yourself buying a lot of clothing to be prepared for an Alaska cruise. One of the mantras of packing for an Alaska cruise is to layer your clothing.

Fleece and waterproof jackets are the bread and butter of layering, but you will find these type of jackets to be pricey (especially the name brand ones).

I have two kids (ages 7 and 3) that needed jackets and I really did not want to invest a lot of money on outerwear that they would quickly outgrow. Moreover, living in Florida means it was not like we would get a whole lot of additional use out of them after the trip.

Buying our kids jackets and my own fleece jacket on eBay saved us so much money. A North Face waterproof jacket and Columbia waterproof jacket cost just $50 total. My North Face black fleece jacket came in at just $13. We saved hundreds of dollars by going this route.

In many cases, it was clear people had bought these expensive jackets for a trip and now have no use for them anymore. When it comes to kids especially, the shelf life of clothing is quite short before they are too small and I am really glad I saved money with this idea.

Moving around the ship in Tracy Arm

As I mentioned earlier, we had a Junior Suite balcony on our Explorer of the Seas cruise to Alaska, which meant we had a private spot to enjoy the view in Tracy Arm. As the glacier started to slip from view due to the ship’s rotation, I wanted to see more and decided to see how crowded it was elsewhere on the ship.

To my surprise, the public decks were not that crowded. I found a one person deep crowd at any given area and it proved to be quite easy to get a spot of my own once someone else moved on.

Not only was it easy to get a spot along the railing to see the glacier, it meant I got more time seeing the glacier and surrounding beauty. Keep in mind that your time viewing the glacier is quite limited, so by moving around the ship to see the glacier on my own, I greatly multiplied my viewing opportunity.

Taking my kids

After booking my Alaska cruise, some people asked if I was bringing my kids with us.  I was kind of surprised to hear that question, because I knew it mostly likely came about because going to Alaska is quite expensive and how much will a 7 and 3 year old really get out of the experience.

Bringing my kids with us was a great decision for many reasons.  First, I believe good parenting starts with providing positive learning experiences for children.  Anywhere we take them, including vacations, should be about surrounding them in a positive environment where they can create memories that will guide them for the rest of their life. 

Second, the shore excursions in Alaska are vastly different than ones in the Caribbean.  While going to the beach or renting a boat is also a positive experience they enjoy, our tours in Alaska took us to places they only saw in books iPads and movies.  We often tell them our day trips at home are a kind of adventure, but taking them to Alaska was a true journey.

There is no point in arguing the fact that leaving the kids at home would have saved us thousands of dollars, but the memories we make as a family are so important to me, because it is my own memories of travelling with my parents and sisters years ago that I believe fostered my own drive to visit the world via a cruise ship.

Your thoughts

What do you think about the mistakes and successes from my first Alaska cruise? If you have cruised to or visited Alaska, what mistakes do you feel you made? Any questions for those taking or considering an Alaska cruise? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

Royal Caribbean's Fourth of July sale offers instant savings on select sailings

By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean's Fourth of July Celebration Sale is offering 50% off the second guest plus up to $100 instant savings.

The 4th of July Celebration Sale is valid on cruises booked between July 2 – 4, 2018 on sailings departing on or after August 2, 2018.

It includes:

  • 50% off cruise fare of second guest booked in the same stateroom as first full-fare paying guest
  • 25% off cruise fare for third guests and higher booked in the same stateroom as the first two qualified guests
  • Instant savings of up to $100 per stateroom determined by category booked and sailing length:
    • On sailings 5 nights or less, $25 savings for Interior and Ocean View, $50 for Balconies and $75 for Suites 
    • On sailing 6 nights or longer, $50 savings for Interior and Ocean View, $75 for Balconies and $100 for Suites

Kids Sail for Free Offer: offers free cruise fare for 3rd guests and higher who are 12 years old or younger on 4 nights or longer Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada, Caribbean, CaribNE, Coastal, Europe and Hawaii sailings departing between August 31, 2018 – May 14, 2019. The Kids Sail Free Bonus excludes sailings between November 17 – November 23, 2018, sailings between December 17, 2018 – January 1, 2019, sailings between February 15 – 18, 2019, sailings between March 16 – 30, 2019 and sailings between April 13 – 22, 2019

Fall Bonus: offers instant savings of up to $100 per stateroom on all Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada, Caribbean and Cuba sailings departing between September 1, 2018 – December 16, 2018. Savings are determined by category booked: On sailings 5 nights or less, $25 savings for Interior and Ocean View and $50 savings for Balconies and Suites; on sailing 6 nights or longer, $50 savings for Interior and Ocean View and $100 savings for Balconies and Suites.

Liberty Offer Code Driven Promotion: Offer includes up to $50 instant savings determined by category booked: $25 instant savings for Interior and Ocean View and $50 instant savings for Balcony and Suite. Offer applies to all Inside, Ocean View, Balcony & Suite bookings sailing on Liberty of the Seas departing between August 21, 2018 and April 30, 2019. Must be added through offer code: LIBERTY.

Combinability: BOGO and Deck the Holiday Deals are combinable with each other as well as with 4th of July Celebration Sale, Fall Bonus, Liberty Offer Code Driven Promotion, NRBD OBC, promotional OBCs, NextCruise offers, Instant Savings, restricted discounts (for example, Seniors, Residents, Military), Crown and Anchor discounts and Shareholder Benefits. BOGO and Kids Sail Free are combinable with each other as well as with 4th of July Celebration Sale, Fall Bonus, Liberty Offer Code Driven Promotion, NRBD OBC, promotional OBCs, NextCruise offers, Instant Savings, restricted discounts (for example, Seniors, Residents, Military), Crown and Anchor discounts and Shareholder Benefits. 4th of July Celebration Sale is combinable with Fall Bonus, Liberty Offer Code Driven Promotion, NRDB OBC, OBC, instant savings, NextCruise offers, restricted discounts (for example, Senior, Resident, Military) but not combinable with Shareholder benefits and Crown and Anchor discounts. All offers are not combinable with any other offer or promotion, including, but not limited to, Standard Group, Interline, Travel Agent, Travel Agent Friends and Family, Weekly Sales Events, Net Rates.

Offer available to residents of United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, and select countries in the Caribbean.

Deck the Holiday Deals: sale offers instant savings of up to $150 per stateroom determined by category booked and sailing length: On sailings 5 nights or less, $50 savings for Interior and Ocean View, $75 for Balconies and $75 for Suites; on sailing 6 nights or longer, $50 savings for Interior and Ocean View, $100 for Balconies and $150 for Suites for guests’ sailing between December 17, 2018 – January 1, 2019 and sailing between December 19, 2019 – December 31, 2019

Photo tour of what's new on Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas

By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas completed a $120 million refurbishment that introduced new thrills, restaurants, staterooms and entertainment.

Mariner of the Seas offers 4-night weekday and 3-night weekend cruises from Miami to The Bahamas, and we have a look at the new venues and options that were added onboard.

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Spotted: Wear Your Best dress suggestion on Mariner of the Seas

By: Matt Hochberg

Guests on Royal Caribbean's newly refurbished Mariner of the Seas have spotted another change to the ship, a change in how Royal Caribbean handles what used to be called formal night.

Royal Caribbean Blog reader Nick Vitani shared with us a copy of the Cruise Compass from Mariner of the Seas where the new dinner dress suggestions were listed.

The Cruise Compass on Mariner of the Seas lists a dinner dress suggestion of "Wear Your Best", which is described as "Say goodbye to Formal Night, and hello to Wear Your Best.  Get glamorous. Be Chic. It's time to shine - your way."

Casual nights are referred to as "Laid Back Lounging", where jeans, polos, blouses or sundresses are listed as appropriate dress for dinner in the main dinign room.  Shorts are welcome for breakfast and lunch.  

New managing director announced for RCL Cruises Australia and NZ

By: Matt Hochberg

RCL Cruises has announced Susan Bonner has officially moved into position as Vice President and Managing Director, Australia and New Zealand, effective immediately.

Susan is responsible for the business operations of Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises in the region, reporting to Gavin Smith, Senior Vice President International.

“With the highest market penetration for cruising of any country, I’m looking forward to continuing the incredible momentum our brands are experiencing in this region,” said Susan, “We truly believe there is a cruise out there for everyone, and our three distinctive lines offer award-winning cruise experiences to put us top of mind when Aussies consider their next holiday.”

Susan comes to Sydney from Royal Caribbean’s Miami office, where she served as Vice President of Celebrity Cruises’ Revenue Management and Onboard Revenue, and was integral in launching the line’s luxury Solstice Class ships. Prior to that, she led the Revenue Management and Onboard Revenue performance of Royal Caribbean International during the line’s historic introduction of the Quantum Class megaships.

Susan is a passionate advocate of gender equality, women in leadership and workplace diversity, part of an empowering female line-up at RCL which includes the first female CEO of a publicly traded cruise company, Celebrity Cruises’ Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, and an Australian office in which two thirds of the management team are women.

Bonner pursued her higher education by studying marketing at the prestigious Tulane University in New Orleans. As well as holding a passion for travel and cruising, Susan is a hot yoga enthusiast and the proud mother of a 19-year old son who attends military school back in the US.

Live blogging from Majesty of the Seas 2018 - Preamble

By: Matt Hochberg

Last week we knocked an item off our cruising bucket list, and this week we are going to do that again with our 5-night cruise on Majesty of the Seas to Cuba.

Ever since Royal Caribbean began offering sailings to Cuba, I have been looking for an opportunity to visit Cuba.  I believe the appeal of visiting Cuba is the combination of a rich culture mixed with history and a dash of forbidden fruit, so to speak.  With Cuba having been off-limits for visiting for most of my life, I am excited to visit this island nation and see what it is all about.

I booked this cruise just a few months ago after looking for something to do over the Fourth of July holiday.  This year it is on a Wednesday, so it is a but of an oddity but worked out perfectly for this sailing.  It all started during a Facebook Live cruise chat when a friend, Jose, asked if I would consider working while on a Royal Caribbean cruise again.  I immediately dismissed the idea, because I tried it last year over the Fourth of July in an effort to save on vacation time.  While we had a good time, overall I did not enjoy the experience of working while everyone else had fun onboard.  It felt too much like being at school while everyone else is off for the day.

Thinking about Jose's idea some more, I considered perhaps the key to a cruise where I work from the ship is best on a sailing that has fewer wor days (instead of a longer sailing with many work days).  After a bit of searching, I found the perfect opportunity.

Like my Alaska cruise I recently took, the itinerary I am booked on may not be the most intriguing itinerary with a stop in Cuba, but it gets the job done.  First, I have never sailed on Majesty of the Seas before (nor any Sovereign Class ship), so I get to experience this class of ship.  Second, I get a day in Havana, Cuba to visit somewhere I have always dreamed of going.  We will also visit Key West and Cozumel.

My family will be joining me on this cruise (wife and two daughters).  We booked two non-connecting Oceanview rooms.  Given the budget, late booking window and port intensive itinerary we will be on, it made the most sense.  Of importance, the rooms are not connecting, which means we have no common door between them.  I thought perhaps my kids (7 and 3) are old enough to sleep in the room without that door, but my wife thinks we will end up with one kid in each room.  

While Majesty of the Seas may not be the largest or newest ship in the fleet, I am looking forward to cruising on her and enjoying a relaxing Caribbean cruise.  Going on a cruise of this class has been a long time coming for me.  I am a self-described "big ship guy", as I prefer the larger ships in the fleet.  However, living in Florida means taking advantage of having so many cruise ships in my "backyard".  Moreover, so many of my friends have implored me to give it a try.  I believe some of the updates made to the ship a few years ago should be a great fit for our family, such as the addition of Splashaway Bay.


This sailing is round-trip from Tampa, FL, and take us to three ports of call, although I will not experience all of them.  Some of the times in port are a bit different than what we're used to and I'm not sure how much of this is because we're coming from Tampa, the routes were taking, or simply what port times were available.

Our first stop is in Key West, Florida, where I will work for the day.  I have not decided if I will work from the ship or get off the ship and head to Starbucks.  Perhaps a bit of both.  My wife and kids will visit the Key West Aquarium while I am busy.

For our day in Havana, I booked the Old Havana City Sightseeing excursion through Royal Caribbean. I was leaning towards booking a private excursion with a highly recommended guide, but it provided to be quite difficult to nail down a tour that matched up with our ship schedule.  Instead, I picked the Royal Caribbean excursion that appealed to my wife and I the most.

Our last stop will be in Cozumel, Mexico, but our port hours are quite odd, with a 1pm arrival.  We have not figured out what to do in Cozumel yet, but it is one of the best ports to "call an audible" due to the large array of choices.

What's next

Our Majesty of the Seas cruise begins on Wednesday, July 4th, and I will be sharing the details on the blog, as well as across my social media channels. Be sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Periscope for live updates throughout the day.

I invite you to share in this experience with me, by posting in the comments for any blog post questions and comments you may have. I try to make these live blogs as interactive as I can, so I want everyone to feel welcome to share their thoughts.

Thanks for reading all of this and welcome aboard our next fun live blog experience!

Video: Royal Caribbean’s Vitality Spa and Fitness Renews Mind, Body and Soul

By: Matt Hochberg

The Vitality Spa and Fitness Centers on board Royal Caribbean's ships give guests the chance to rejuvenate the mind, body and soul. The relaxing escape offers everything, from signature facials and bamboo massages to manicures, a hair salon and even a medi-spa. With the added benefit of a full-service fitness center, complete with state-of-the-art equipment and a lineup of workout classes, travelers can easily find the balance to maintain their healthy lifestyle while on a vacation.

Explorer of the Seas Live Blog - Day 7 - Victoria, Canada

By: Matt Hochberg

The last day of our adventure takes us to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.  I have never been to this port, but was not exactly sure what to expect.

We booked prior to the cruise the Butchart Gardens and Craigdarroch Castle shore excursion tour through Royal Caribbean.  Both options seemed like the most popular options and we hoped it would be a good choice.

Explorer of the Seas docked in Victoria and we headed down to deck two for disembarkation.  To our surprise, there was a rather long line to get off the ship.

Once off the ship, we took a bus to Craigdarroch Castle, which took about 20 minutes or so. 

Craigdarroch Castle was built by a wealthy family in Victoria, and it is an exquisite example of a Victorian bonanza castle. It was very cool to see how this way of life and era was preserved perfectly. 

Honestly, it was a bit creepy being in the building just because it felt like a time machine to that era.  Still, as a history buff, I loved seeing how people from the turn of the last century lived.

I think the kids enjoyed the castle, primarily just going room to room and seeing the oddities they could spot.

We boarded the bus and headed to the Butchart Gardens.  The Gardens was a bit of a drive, and are sprawling grounds that offer the finest example of botany thatI have ever seen.

Without a doubt, the gardens are incredibly manicured and it was so beautiful.

Unfortunately, it was quite crowded and part of the enjoyment was lost on me simply because navigating the crowds was tiresome.

Overall, the tour was great but I think I enjoyed the post-excursion exploring of downtown Victoria far more.

Victoria is beautiful and has a lot of history, along with some great food. I wish I had an extra few hours to walk around some more and see more of what it offers.

The walk from downtown to the port was about 20 minutes or so, and we got back onboard just in time to see sailaway and then get ready for dinner.

Overall, this was a fantastic cruise that exceeded all of my expectations.  Going to Alaska was everything I could hope for and more.  Everythng you hear about Alaska is as great as described.

Moreover, being able to explore Alaska for the first time with so many wonderful friends from Royal Caribbean Blog was an added highlight.  I met some new folks, and got to reconnect with old friends.  It was a fantastic cruise.

Thanks for following along this live blog.  I appreciate all the great comments during the blog, and loved sharing all of this with you.

Before you get too weepy-eyed about the end of this live blog, the good news is another live blog kicks off in just 6 days on Majesty of the Seas as we head to Cuba for the first time!

Explorer of the Seas Live Blog - Day 6 - Sea Day

By: Matt Hochberg

Interestingly enough, our last sea day is not our last day of the cruise.

We started off the day with a private ice skating session for those that booked into our group. It was so nice having the entire rink just to ourselves and my daughter made some real progress on skating without assistance.

Speaking of events, our lunch took us to Chops Grille for an invite-only event for Royal Caribbean Blog Insiders who were on the cruise to enjoy a great meal together.

Based on the recommendation of my server, I went with the salmon and it was fantastic.

After lunch, we took the kids up to the arcade for a few games prior to dropping them off at Adventure Ocean.

In terms of weather, it was another great day. By afternoon, the sun was shining and it felt great to me being outside without a jacket. My wife might disagree.

During the afternoon, we held a Royal Caribbean Blog Trivia Night event, where teams competed to prove their dominance of Royal Caribbean knowledge.  Here's a few sample questions:

  • What year will Oasis 5 debut?
  • What was the name of the barber shop that used to be on Freedom of the Seas?
  • What does the Greek letter Chi "X" stand for in Celebrity Cruises funnel stack?

It was a great time, and shout out to the "Jerel's Kids" team for winning the game.

We fed the kids in the Winjammer, which happened to be Indian theme night.  I enjoyed quite a lovely pre-dinner.

For dinner, it was back in the main dining room again.

Following dinner, it was time for the Quest.  After a disappointing and demoralizing Quest loss on the Harmony of the Seas group cruise (primarily eminating from poor leadership), we sought redemption tonight.  

As luck would have it, our team leaders persevered and brought home the winning trophy to the Royal Caribbean Blog Quest team.

We all celebrated at the R-Bar after our win.

Tomorrow is our last day, and we will be in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

Stray Observations

  • The drink card appeared today.
  • I got a chance to check out one of the best features of the Voyager Class ships, the Peek-A-Boo bridge.
  • The internet onboard has been quite slow since Tracy Arm.
  • The Royal Promenade was backed with sales today.

How to learn everything about your ship before you sail on Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast

By: Matt Hochberg

Our newest podcast episode is out to help give you a quick "audio escape" to a Royal Caribbean cruise!

Episode 256 is available for downloading, where Matt shares tips for learning all about the Royal Caribbean ship you booked.

After booking a cruise, you may want to start learning tips and tricks for everything the ship you will be sailing on has to offer.  Matt shares his favorite ways to learn about any Royal Caribbean ship prior to boarding.

Here’s the podcast page for Episode 256. And don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast via RSSStitcher 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!