Our newest podcast episode is out to help give you a quick "audio escape" to a Royal Caribbean cruise!
Episode 163 is available for downloading featuring a LIVE review from onboard Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas.
Our latest group cruise has just wrapped up and we recorded this week's episode onboard Freedom of the Seas, sharing our stories and tips for anyone going on Freedom of the Seas.
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's Harmony of the Seas is nearing her arrival to the South Florida area later this year, and Royal Caribbean has posted billboards around Miami to advertise the world's largest cruise ship.
Royal Caribbean Blog reader Victor Sacal shared these photos from around Miami, and we wanted to give our readers a "taste" of the excitement this new ship is bringing.
Today we are in Key West, Florida, which is our first port stop on this five-day cruise.
I woke up this morning at 5:30AM, I do not know why, but I decided to enjoy the ship while I was awake. I went around many of the public areas and able to capture some great pictures without people in them. I will admit it was kind of weird at points feeling like you were the only person on this ship.
I went into the Windjammer at 6AM when they opened. However, they only had breads and coffee available, no bacon until 7AM, bummer. I decided to head to the back of Boleros where they had that day one welcome party, to watch the sunrise.
I ended up staying well over an hour just taking in the views; it was absolutely breathtaking to watch.
Docking in Key West, Florida
I was able to see the local pilot board our ship to help us sail into Key West. For those wondering what that is, every port a cruise ship docks in, a local pilot boards the ship to help guide the captain to dock. They know the port and help provide the Captain some guidance along the way, however the Captain is still in control of the ship.
Since the Empress has recently added these short sailings to fill time before Cuba, the main pier in Key West was already booked by Carnival. Today we docked at the United States Navy training facility.
I actually thought were going to have to walk all the way into town and went back into my cabin to put tennis shoes on. However, once we got off they had rows of trolleys to take us into town. This was a different Key West experience and I really enjoyed the short 10-minute ride through the base and into town. They asked that we take no pictures of the base on our ride; so sorry I don’t have any.
Once I got into town, my mission was simple find some Key Lime Pie! A few friends recommend I try Kermit’s pie, so off I went. The walk to their shop was very short, I just plugged it into my GPS, but it was around 2 blocks.
When I arrived I noticed it was empty, but I guess that’s because it was 10AM. I went inside and ordered their classic Key Lime Pie, those wondering it cost $4.80. I’m not a huge sweets guy and it was early in the morning for pie, but it was amazing!
The staff here was really nice too, they actually asked if I wanted a sample of their other pie. Who turns down free pie? They brought out a chocolate covered froze pie, which was also good but I preferred the classic version or maybe I was just too full.
After, I headed to Sloppy Joe's for a beer. They did not have live music playing yet, so no real excitement there today on my visit.
By this point it’s 11AM and I’m getting tired and decided to head back to the ship. Well what an adventure that was, since we took trolleys into town you had to take one back. Let’s just say I got on the wrong one, not once but twice. The second one was an actual tour of Key West, so off I went.
They made a stop at Sloppy Joe's on the tour and I jumped off, and walked back to the bus area again. Now on my third try I asked the driver if we were headed to the ship, I can only laugh at myself on this one.
Afternoon on board
I wanted to take a nap but they were running test on the ship, which caused them to turn off power (including air conditioning) for a half-hour, so off to the pool deck I went. Not really a big deal since there were very few people on board, but I did notice how the temperature rises quite fast without running air conditioning.
I made some new friends in the hot tub and made good use of my select drink package.
I went into Windjammer for a small lunch; I was still full from all that pie in Key West. The options today were not as great as yesterday, but I usually just get rice and fish anyways.
Around 4PM I left the pool deck to get ready for the evening, still going with no nap.
Evening on board
Right at 5PM, I went down to Schooner Bar and used my Crown and Anchor drink coupon and noticed the bar was full. This was the first time I’d seen it so full like this, but I don’t think I usually go around this hour. Almost everyone was using their 3 free drinks loaded on their card, since this is pretty much the only place to do so.
Around 6PM I was starting to get hungry, my Chops dinner was not until 7:30 but I went early and they seated me right away. I was the only person in the restaurant when I arrived and there were 3 tables when I left.
The service was outstanding and I got to know my waitress during the meal. I decided to order shrimp cocktail, mushroom soup (which I can’t decide if that’s better or French onion) and a salad to start (if you were counting that is three starters!).
For my entree, I went with the 16oz New York Strip and let me tell you this was the largest steak I have ever seen. It was almost falling off the plate; once again the NY strip surprised me with how great it is compared to the filet. Which do I prefer? I am going to say I enjoy them both, but if you are really hungry, get the NY Strip.
After dinner, I decided to go the headliner show in the main theater.
I do not usually attend any shows unless I’m on an Oasis-class ship, but I wanted to try something new. We had Finish Henderson hosting the show. He sings all types of music and his voice sounded exactly like singer he was singing, no idea how he does it.
I looked on his website looks like he is headed to Anthem of the Seas next, and Allure/Oasis this fall. If you get a chance, go to the show. He received a standing ovation at the end of the show for quite a while.
Tonight is the white pool deck party; dancing under the stars they call it. It started raining and they moved it inside the Viking Crown lounge. I will say the event was packed, almost everyone wearing all white. I even saw a guy down their in his white crown and anchor robe, points for being creative. I stayed for an hour talked with the Cruise Director Elvis for a while really nice guy. Around midnight I called it a day, what a full day of events.
Tomorrow we have our first sea day, and I’m really looking forward to it.
Royal Caribbean is stacking an extra instant savings offer for a few days only that is combinable with the current promotion that offers up to 30% off your cruise.
The Fall Flash Savings will save up to $100 off the cost of the cruise. Cruise must be booked 9/14/16-9/18/16. Offer applies to all sailings on or after October 15, 2016 through March 31, 2017. Offer excludes China departures
- Cruises 5-nights or less
- Interior / Oceanview Staterooms: $25
- Balcony / Deluxe Staterooms: $50
- Cruises 6 nights or greater
- Interior / Oceanview Staterooms: $50
- Balcony / Deluxe Staterooms: $100
Additionally, for eligible Caribbean and Bahamas holiday sailings, offer includes a per stateroom savings based on stateroom category. For eligible holiday sailings 5 nights or less departing December 22-31, 2016 and 2017, savings are $50 per stateroom for interior and oceanview and $100 Savings per stateroom for balcony and suite categories., For eligible holiday sailings 6-nights or longer, departing December 15-31, 2016 or 2017, savings are $75 per stateroom for interior and oceanview and $200 per stateroom for balcony and suites.
Additionally for new bookings made September 1-17, 2016, offer provides for free cruise fare of third and higher guests who are 12 years or younger as of cruise departure date, booked in the same stateroom as the first two Offer qualifying guests in a triple or quad occupancy stateroom on a 5 nights or longer Caribbean, Bahamas, Bermuda, Dubai, and Europe sailing that departs October 2, 2016-May 15, 2017. Kids Sail Free Offer excludes sailings departing between 11/17/16-11/24/16, 12/15/16-1/05/17, 2/16/17-2/23/17, 3/10/17-3/20/17, 4/06/17-4/16/17, Harmony of the Seas, Star class and Sky class suites on Quantum class and Oasis class.
Instant Savings Offer is combinable with adjoining Save Now –Sail Later Savings, Kids Sail Free, Holiday Offer, and NextCruise offers. Instant Savings and Save Now – Sail Later Savings are not combinable with Canada Resident Sale or restricted rates (for example, seniors, Residents, and Military). Instant Savings is not combinable with any other offer or promotion, including, but not limited to, Crown & Anchor Discounts, Standard Group, Interline, Travel Agent, Travel Agent Friends and Family, Weekly Sales Events, Net Rates, Shareholder Benefits. Save Now –Sail Later Savings and Kids Sail Free are combinable with Crown and Anchor Discounts.
The largest entertainment producer in the world, Royal Caribbean International, operates a 132,500-square-foot facility that produces world-class entertainment for its fleet of ships around the world. The Royal Caribbean Production Studio, located on Florida International University's Biscayne Bay campus in Miami, FL, includes three-story studios, a 300-seat theater, a 20,000-square-foot costume-making facility, 10 rehearsal studios, audio rooms, a gym and residences for its singers, dancers and choreographers.
Well, my cruise day finally arrived! I could not have been more excited to get back on Empress of the Seas.
As I mentioned I flew in from Tampa, FL to Miami, FL today. The flight was on time and I landed in Miami at 8:30AM. With nothing else to do in Miami, I decided to head straight to the ship! I took an Uber ride from the airport to this ship. The ride was $15 and very easy process, pickup and drop-off were seamless.
I had some friends getting off the Enchantment this morning so as my face was all smiles, theirs was no so much. I chatted with them for a bit and then headed over to my terminal.
It was around 9:45AM and there were about 20 people in line to check-in. The security process does not open until 10AM, so we just waited in line until then. I checked in and their Loyalty Ambassador recognized me from a previous cruise and invited me into her suite lounge to wait.
This was a very nice lounge with water, coffee, and small sandwiches. Another perk if you are in a suite, is this lounge you get to board first, she took us right on board at 11AM.
Believe it or not, I was the first person to board Empress of the Seas today. Pretty cool experience, reminded me of being on board for a back-to-back.
Once I was on board I headed straight to the Windjammer for lunch. I am going to make bold statement here, the mac-n cheese might have been the best I have ever tasted before, all I can say is wow!
Lunch was outstanding and so fresh; I walked out with a smile that is for sure.
Now that I had a full belly I had to put my Select Drink Package to work. I had pre-purchased the drink package online prior to Royal changing their new drink packages. This package only allows me to get beer and house wines. When I cruise alone this package works well for me, because I get my 3 free Diamond drinks at night between 5:30-8:30. I talked to new friends at the poolside bar until our cabins opened at 1PM.
Cabin – Ocean View #7000
For this cruise, I am sailing in a standard ocean view cabin #7000. This cabin is all the way forward facing a little private walkway.
I wanted to try a different cabin that faced forward. On larger ships having a cabin all the way forward might cause some long walks to and from the cabin, but on Empress it iss a very short walk. The cabin can sleep up to 4 adults, so if you notice from my pictures there are two beds that hang on the walls. These beds make it very difficult to get in and out of the bed from the sides, because you have to bend over. I have been getting in from the bottom of the bed, pretending I am a child again.
Other than the extras bed kind of in the way, the cabin is nice and everything on the inside feels new from her recent dry dock.
The muster drill was at 3:30, and we set sail at 4:30. I have learned over the years not to arrive at the muster drills early, it can get hot standing on the side of the ship.
Our drill was very fast and did not take more than 10 minutes. After the drill I headed up to the top deck and wanted to get a close look at the Enchantment of the Seas. She is my favorite ship and it was excited for me to see her again. But I do have a cruise on her next month.
Once we set sail I headed to a top tier event for Diamond and up guest or suites. They usually host private events on Empress since there is no Diamond/Suite lounge.
The event was nice, with live music and all the officers attending, including the captain. They served fish and shrimp kabobs, which I do not want to share how many I had…
Evening On board / Dinner
Tonight, I headed down to the Schooner bar to use my Diamond drink coupons, which are pre-loaded to my SeaPass card before dinner. I grabbed a window seat and just watched the ocean go by, that view just never gets old. I had made reservations for Chops Grill when I first got onboard for 7:30PM tonight.
One of the Crown & Anchor benefits for Diamond Plus is a BOGO specialty restaurant. Since I am cruising along I paid the cover charge tonight $35 and tomorrow is free. The staff in Chops all remembered me from last month, so that was fun to see them again. I laughed because I ordered without even opening the menu. The restaurant was almost full, but do not feel like you need to reserve online before. I asked my waiter to speed the meal up because of Monday Night Football and since I was dining alone. Overall a great meal and I look forward to going back tomorrow night.
Shortly after dinner I decided to get some rest, day 1 is always a long day and I was ready for bed.
- The ships does not feel full at all, there is never any wait at the bars.
- My Crown and Anchor VOOM coupon was not loaded, so I had to have them apply a manual credit. However, the VOOM is working great!
- The gift shop now has the ship models for $32.95.
- The air conditioning is now working in 90% of the casino.
Stay tuned, tomorrow we are in beautiful Key West, Florida! If you have any questions, feel free to comment below and I will respond.
Royal Caribbean crew member dies and four others injured during lifeboat drill on Harmony of the SeasIn:
One crew member died and four other crew members were injured on Royal Caribbean's Harmony of the Seas earlier today.
During a lifeboat drill that was conducted in Marseilles, France, an accident occurred when a lifeboat, with five people on board, broke free from the vessel and fell.
Royal Caribbean confirmed the injury totals via social media.
Sad news to share that a #HarmonyoftheSeas crew member has died of injuries suffered during a lifeboat drill conducted in Marseille, France.
— RCLcorp (@RCLcorp) September 13, 2016
Four other #HarmonyoftheSeas crewmembers received medical treatment. We're keeping our colleagues & their families in our thoughts & prayers
— RCLcorp (@RCLcorp) September 13, 2016
Local news in France are reporting the accident occurred this morning when the boat detached from the fifth deck while it had five people on board.
Harmony of the Seas is cruising the Mediterranean and departed Rome on September 8.
Royal Caribbean is adding additional time for guests to enjoy two of the premier attractions on Anthem of the Seas.
In an effort to enhance the overall guest experience, Royal Caribbean is adding support staff onboard to accommodate expanded hours of operation at Ripcord by iFly and North Star attractions. This will allow more guests to experience these popular attractions than ever before.
The expanded hours for these attractions will be in place for sailings beginning November 27, 2016.
Royal Caribbean is also adding more convenient line-up of show times that complement the evening dining options. For guests in the early dinner seating at 6:00pm, their evening show will be at 8:30pm. For guests in the late dinner seating (8:30pm), their show time will be at 10:30pm.
The additional hours are part of the changes Royal Caribbean is making to Anthem of the Seas that were announced this week, including a notable change to dinner.
Royal Caribbean will be discontinuing its Dynamic Dining program on Anthem of the Seas, beginning with sailings on November 27, 2016.
The reason for the change is feedback from guests indicated a preference for a dining program that combines traditional seating with the option for flexibility. As a result, Royal Caribbean will offer on Anthem of the Seas My Time Dining program, with traditional and flexible options, as well as introduce new, upgraded dinner menus. The four main restaurants – Chic, Grande, Silk, and American Icon – will now become the main dining venues to support the My Time Dining program and will all feature the same upgraded dinner menu each evening. My Time Dining flexible venues will be located on Deck 4 in American Icon and Silk, while Chic and Grande will be designated as the early and late seating restaurants on Deck 3. The name and décor of each venue will remain unchanged.
All Anthem of the Seas sailings departing on-or-after November 27th, 2016, as well as sailings departing November 23rd, 2016 through April 14th, 2017 onboard Ovation of the Seas, will be impacted by this change. In addition, beginning November 27th, 2016, Anthem of the Seas will offer either one or two formal evenings per cruise, dependent upon sailing length.
All active bookings on-or-after November 27th, 2016 on Anthem of the Seas will automatically convert to the new dining program, respecting all pre-selected times, party sizes and other reservation features.
Traditional Dining will occur in The Grand and Chic restaurants and choose between early (6:00pm) and late seating (8:30pm). Traditional dining includes a fixed dining time, fixed venue, fixed table assignment and same table companions each evening.
Flexible Dining will occur in the Silk and American Icon Grill restaurants. Guests in Flexible Dining choose a preferred dining time and are seated on a first come, first served basis and include a variable dining time with fixed venue and flexible table assignments.
Families with small children can take advantage of My Family Time dining benefits while sailing onboard Anthem of the Seas. This is available as part of the traditional dining experience during the early seating time and can be reserved pre-cruise via Cruise Planner or once onboard. My Family Time dining allows children ages 3-to-11 to enjoy their meal within 40 minutes of seating before heading to the evening’s Adventure Ocean activities.
New, upgraded dinner menus will be introduced each evening in all four main dining restaurants.
The decision to change how guests dine on Anthem of the Seas marks a tremendous reversal in fortunes for the Dynamic Dining program, which at one time was arguably heralded as the future of cruise ship dining.
Back in March 2014, Royal Caribbean had previously announced its Quantum-class cruise ships would usher in a radically new dining program called Dynamic Dining, where there would be no main dining room and instead would offer a combination of complimentary and specialty restaurants for guests to choose from. Then in August 2014, Royal Caribbean announced Dynamic Dining would spread to Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas.
Hi blog readers, its Michael Poole here and I’m headed back on board Empress of the Seas.
If you recall, I was recently on Empress of the Seas July 28th and did a live blog on that sailing too. I enjoyed the ship so much, I’ve decided to head back and take you on another live blog adventure.
This time I’m cruising solo, so I’ll be going in more detail of the Empress and all she has to offer.
This cruise is a 5-day sailing, so one extra day than my last time on board. We are headed back to Key West, Florida on day two. Day three is a sea day, followed by Cozumel, Mexico and ending with another sea day.
For my time in Key West, I’m sad to report there will be no bike tour this go around. I was thinking about all my recent visits to Key West and how I’ve never actually had in Key Lime pie there, so I’ll be on the search for some pie.
In Cozumel, Mexico I’m thinking about just exploring around and see where I end up. I had thought about going back to Nachi, but I’m looking to explore and just see where I end up.
When I originally booked this cruise, I booked the lowest cost cabin type, which was an inside on the lower decks.
Over the course of a few weeks the cruise dropped a lot in price, since I was past final payment there is nothing you can do about the price. However, I was able to move up to an Ocean View cabin for no additional cost. Now I’ll be staying on Deck 7 forward, cabin #7000. This cabin over looks the secret walkway all the way forward, so I’ll be sure to include some pictures.
Travel Plans to Miami, Florida
My plan was to just drive to the port since I’m around 280 miles away from the port (4 hours). But after thinking about parking cost at the port $20/day puts me at $100 parking cost, plus fuel. So I ended up finding a flight for the same cost as parking and I’ll be flying in the morning of the cruise. I know that’s generally not a good plan, but worse case I’ll just jump in my car for a fast road trip.
Well friends, I’m really excited to share another live blog with you. As always, feel free to comment below if you have any questions or would like pictures of something. Be sure to follow me on Periscope for 2-3 daily live scopes from on board too! @mpoole3