Brilliance of the Seas Live Blog - Day 1

In:
06Mar2014

Day 1 - Embarkation on the Brilliance of the Seas Hi, blog friends! The day I’ve been waiting for is finally here -- boarding the Brilliance of the Seas! The weather is unpleasant today, but, then again, I could be sitting at my desk at work, so I can't complain too much.

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I arrived at the terminal around 10:30 a.m. and noticed almost no one was here. In fact, there were still guests getting off from the last sailing. I went through security and checked in within five minutes. The boarding process started around 10:45 a.m. and I was right on board.

My first impression of the ship was: WOW, this ship looks great with all the latest upgrades. The champagne lounge has been turned into vintages. They also added King & Country Pub along with the new and favorite R-Bar. I noticed the Schooner Bar was extremely large, and probably the largest I’ve seen in the fleet, so I'm pretty excited to head there this evening.

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Now that I’ve explored Brilliance of the Seas there is only one thing to do -- have lunch at the Windjammer. The lunch was very fresh and the selection was great for everyone. I even noticed they had veggie sausage balls and gluten-free bread, so there is literally something for everyone on board.

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After lunch I headed off to explore my cabin (E2, Deck 7, forward). The room features a flat-screen TV, new carpet and a large balcony. I’ve never seen a balcony so large! Now I understand why everyone likes the Radiance Class ships so much.

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One of my favorite things about blogging about my cruise experience is to share with you all, the readers, where I am when I’m actually writing the post. So I’m currently in the new pub which is right outside the casino on Deck 6, forward. I’ve noticed a lot of people walking by, but not actually coming in, so we'll see how the turnout is this evening. The decor in the pub is exactly like the Oasis Class ships, which offers a very vintage look with a wide selection of beers from all over the world.

I hope you all are enjoying my live blogging so far, and if you have any special requests please let me know in the comments below.

- Michael Poole

Top 5 Royal Caribbean unlimited alcohol package drink values

In:
06Mar2014

On my last cruise on Navigator of the Seas I noticed Royal Caribbean offers a lot of alcoholic drinks to choose from and the prices of each vary considerably.  It got me thinking, "Is there a strategy to maximizing the unlimited alcohol packages faster?"

Obviously no one wants to spend money on something they know in advance is a waste of money and there is a physical limit to the amount of drinks anyone can drink.  So I took a look at the most recent Royal Caribbean drink menu to figure out which drinks would give passengers the best value if they are using the unlimited alcohol packages.

What are Royal Caribbean's unlimited alcohol packages?

Royal Caribbean's unlimited alcohol packages are optional add-ons you can purchase to allow you as many beverages as you like for a flat fee per day.

If you do decide to indulge in one of the packages, consider these five drinks as the best ways to get your moneys worth from the investment!

Any margarita from Sabor Modern Mexican - $12

The brand new Sabor Modern Mexican restaurant on Navigator of the Seas specializes in Mexico's most famous liquor, tequila.  Their selection of margairtas is both tasty and a great value for those on the unlimited alcohol packages.

Click here for my review of Sabor Modern Mexican restaurant.

Their margaritas all cost $12, which is by far the most expensive drink we ran across included in the unlimited alcohol packages. 

Besides being a good value for those on the package, it's also a really, really good drink!  The Sweet and Spice Margarita and Sabor Grand Margarita are made at your table for ultimate taste.  The other margaritas offered are also the same price and worth your time as well.

Elderphire - $10.25

If you're a fan of gin, try this drink that was a Bacardi Cruise Competition winner. Bombay Sapphire gin, elderflower, sugarcane and fresh lemon make this a great drink and a great value on the drink package.

Photo by Bacardi Cruise Competition

Ultimate cosmopolitan - $9.50

For something a little smoother, the ultimate cosmopolitan is a great choice and also available fleet-wide.  It's sweet and does the trick for someone who enjoys a good cosmo in the evening.

Photo by Calvin Timothy Leong

Sparkling Peach Martini - $10.50

Vodka and wine, together again.  That's what makes up this drink and when you start combining multiple kinds of alcohol, you drive the price up.  At just over $10, a couple of these will help get you to the "break even" point on your daily alcohol package quest that much easier.

Patron Perfect Margarita - $9.25

While we love the margaritas from Sabor, if you're not on Navigator of the Seas, try the Patron Perfect Margarita that is available on all Royal Caribbean ships.  As the name implies, it uses a better brand of tequila to give you a strong drink.

Photo by Quick_Fox

Honorable mentions

These drinks didn't make our list of the best values but they are still good choices for maximizing your unlimited alcohol package value

  • Red Bull & Vodka - $9.00
  • Long Island Iced Tea/Long Beach Iced Tea - $9.50
  • Hendrick's Gimlet - $9.50
  • Luxury martini - $9.50
  • Appletini - $9.50
  • The Grand Margarita - $9.25
  • Grolsch beer - $6.50

Live Blog on Brilliance of the Seas - Intro

In:
06Mar2014

I want to welcome Michael as our guest live blogger, as he will be posting daily blog posts about his experience on Brilliance of the Seas.  I hope this will offer everyone a fun insight into what a cruise on Brilliance of the Seas is like, especially for someone who may be new to the Radiance class of ships.  Enjoy!

Hi I’m Michael Poole fellow listener of the Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast, and avid cruiser.

You might recognize me from the recent, round-table discussion podcast on episode 28 or even way back to episode 13 and 17 discussing my Oasis of the Seas cruise.

This will be my 16th cruise and lucky number 13th with Royal Caribbean and will also be my 3rd solo cruise. Needless to say, I’m excited to be sharing my upcoming cruise with all the Royal Caribbean Blog fans and I will be Live blogging while at sea.

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I’ve booked the 4 day Western Caribbean cruise on Brilliance of the Seas, which is in the Radiance class ships. I've sailed on every class with Royal Caribbean expect Radiance class, so I’m really excited to try something different.

I decided to book this cruise around three weeks ago when home on a snow day. I just looked outside and said I cannot take much more of this, and thought Why Not! I booked an E2 balcony on deck 7 forward, I’ve read mix review of balconies on this deck, some with views of lifeboats below so I’ll be sure to provide all the details.

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This cruise will offer two sea days and a port day in Cozumel Mexico.

For my sea days I'll be pool side soaking up the sun rays and for my day in Cozumel, Mexico I've made reservations at an all-inclusive beach resort called, Nachi-Cocom.

This should be a great experience and I’m really looking forward to sharing it with all of you. That’s all for now and my next post will be from Brilliance of the Seas!

Royal Caribbean could be adding an even bigger cruise ship to Port Canaveral

In:
06Mar2014

More and more, it looks like Royal Caribbean is poised to move a cruise ship to Port Canaveral that is even larger than what they currently have stationed there.

Consider these recent news items

  1. Port Canaveral has had plans to build a new cruise terminal to accomodate even the largest cruise ships in the world, such as Oasis-class
  2. Two weeks ago Port Canaveral announced Royal Caribbean had signed a 10-year agreement to stay in Port Canaveral

Currently Royal Caribbean operates Freedom of the Seas and Enchantment of the Seas from Port Canaveral, with Explorer of the Seas joining the duo later this year.

Royal Caribbean has two more cruise ships on order that have no home port announced yet, a third Oasis-class ship and a third Quantum-class ship.  Nor has it said if any changes to the deployment of the existing Oasis or Quantum class ships would be changed when these new ships arrive.

Travel Weekly is reporting Port CEO John Walsh said Royal Caribbean and the port are finalizing a letter of intent that would raise Royal Caribbean's minimum annual payment. It guarantees the port $7 million a year in the current agreement that expires in December. That would increase to $10.7 million next year and ultimately $18.4 million by the last year, Walsh said.

Royal Caribbean will also collect a per-passenger fee dedicated to financing the terminal complex, which includes a 1,000-car garage. 

A look at Royal Caribbean's kids club for 3 to 5 year olds

In:
05Mar2014

Royal Caribbean's Adventure Ocean is the award winning kids club the cruise line offers to families of daily activities for kids.  The Aquanauts program is designed for children between the ages of 3 to 5 five years old and on our recent Navigator of the Seas we got a first-hand look at how it all works.

The basics

Aquanauts, and Adventure Ocean in general, is complimentary and offered to all children in the age group.  

The only requirements are the child be 100% potty trained and able to go to the restroom on their own without adult help.  In addition, children cannot wear pull ups or diapers of any kind.

Prior to first bringing your child to Aquanauts, you will need to register him or her.  It involves sharing pertinent information about the children and signing the proper waivers.

There's only one entrance and exit to the Aquanauts room, which requires a a buzzer to be pressed to open the door that also sounds a chime.  This prevents kids from getting out without someone noticing.

Once in, the kids are introduced to the staff via funny names the Adventure Ocean staff give themselves.  Some of the staff on our cruise were nicknamed "Tinker Bell" and "Dino".  Kids are also instructed to take their shoes off, put them away and wash their hands before being allowed to participate.

You can check up on the kids at anytime by calling the Aquanauts room directly and seeing how your child is doing.  

Times

On our cruise, there were three main sessions per day on a sea day: 9am to noon, 2pm to 5pm, 7pm - 10pm. 

On port days, the schedule was simplified to two sessions per day: 9am to 5pm, 7pm - 10pm.

You could also opt in to the 10pm - 2am session for an additional fee of $7 per hour.

Activities

One of the first things you might be wondering is what exactly do the kids do.  The Aquanauts program is based around a combination of structured activities and free play.

Activities include story time, coloring, face painting, pirate night and central-theme based activities.  They did a lot and my three year old daughter would come back telling us about the funny things the Adventure Ocean staff took them through.  

They also did a lot of arts and crafts work that would be on display in the room and then eventually brought back to your stateroom.

Of course, there's plenty of free-play time with the toys and facilities available to the kids. Play time is supervised by the Adventure Ocean staff to ensure the kids are safe.

Food

There's only two times the kids are fed and that is on port days around noon or in the Adventure Dining session from 5pm to 7pm.  

The food options depend on how many kids are in that day.  If they have a fair amount of kids, they will order pizza or chicken nuggets from the Windjammer to be delivered to the Aquanauts room.  If they only have a few kids, the staff will escort the children to the Windjammer and let the kids pick their own meal.

For dinner, you can opt into the My Family Time Dining, where if you are in first seating of the Main Dining Room, you can bring your kids to the Main Dining Room, where the kids will be served within 40 minutes and then escorted to Adventure Ocean by the staff directly from the Main Dining Room.  This is open to Adventure Ocean kids between the ages of 3-11.

Observations

The staff were quite good at making the kids feel welcome and they really seemed to enjoy their time there.

On paper, Adventure Ocean says Aquanauts parents will get a beeper when dropping the kids off in case the staff needs to get a hold of them.  In practice, we only got a beeper about half the time.  Not a big deal since we never needed it but worth noting nonetheless.

If you're wondering how well the program is run, look no further than the fact my daughter cried just about every time we picked her up because she did not want to leave.  Once she got over it, she would then begin telling us everything she did that day and would constantly ask us when she could go next.

There are no means for the children to nap at Aquanauts, but the break in sessions between noon and 2pm is when I assume most kids take their naps.  

The late night session starting at 10pm was a great bonus, even with the additional cost.  Getting a little extra time after dinner was a treat for me and my wife since we had second seating dinner on our cruise.  Well worth the extra cost.

The biggest concern for us going into this cruise was the potty situation and often people wonder how strict they are with the potty training.  Any parent will tell you it's very rare for a three year old to be 100%, completely potty trained.  

Basically it comes down to your child not wearing a pull up or a diaper and not soiling themselves during Adventure Ocean.  Our plan was to always bring her to the bathroom right before going to Aquanauts.  This worked well although she did report going to to the restroom on her own multiple times so clearly when properly motivated she did well with it.

I think the key is to make sure your child is aware that they need to be able to go by themselves to the bathroom without anyone helping.  Going beforehand is also good practice to ensure it's less of an issue.

`Overall I found the Adventure Ocean program to be run well and the thing my daughter looked forward to the most about the cruise. For parents, the Adventure Ocean programis a great means of getting some time to yourselves while the kids have a blast playing with other kids in a supervised environment.

Onboard activities on Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast

In:
05Mar2014

Hey everyone! Episode 31 of the Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast is now available for your listening pleasure.

This week, Matt looks at all the activities, events and shows there are to do onboard your Royal Caribbean cruise.  From basketball to towel folding demonstrations to the bellyflop competition, there's a lot going on any Royal Caribbean cruise.

Here’s the podcast page for Episode 31. And don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast via RSS 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!

Video: Staying in shape on your Royal Caribbean cruise

In:
04Mar2014

Royal Caribbean’s state-of-the-art fitness centers offer everything for everyone. From Pilates to punching bags Royal has it all.

Restaurant Review: Izumi on Navigator of the Seas

In:
04Mar2014

Another brand new specialty restaurant to Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas is Izumi Japanese Cuisine.  For fans of having sushi at sea, this is the place for you to get your fix!

Atmosphere

Izmumi is located all the way up on deck 14 near the Viking Crown Lounge and offers a great view of the ocean and pool deck below.  

The restaurant itself is a blend of reds and blacks and feels like a modern sushi restaurant you may have been to back home.

The layout of the restaurant is somewhat crescent shaped, but it's mostly one large room with a small sushi bar in the back.  Most tables have a view out a window.

Izumi's decor is simple but has the feel of a classy Japanese restaurant. As you are seated, the waiter will bring you a warm towel to refresh yourself with and it helps sets the tone for your experience at Izumi.

Eats

On our Navigator fo the Seas cruise, we sampled the lunch menu, which is an all-sushi menu.  The dinner menu does offer non-sushi Japanese food, so keep that in mind when booking if you prefer more variety in your options.

To start with, Izumi currently offers complimentary edamame (a preparation of baby soybeans in the pod boiled in water together salt, and served whole)  and miso soup.  Both were good but I think the edmame was better.  I found the miso soup to be interesting given the color of the broth, which is usually clear but this was darker.  

The sushi menu at Izumi offers a number of choices to consider.  Another difference between lunch and dinner is at lunch there are no daily special rolls to also consider.  Lunch seems to be a strictly small menu with dinner greatly expanding the offerings.

The choices of sushi rolls range from pedestrian to more elaborate in nature.  Knowing that everyone has different tastes in sushi, I'll say I found the selection to be average.  I wasn't blown away by the variety but it was still on par with most sushi restaurants I've found on land.

I ordered a number of hand rolls during my visit to get a sense of the quality and size of the rolls.  For me, really good sushi will not only have fresh and good tasting fish, but it will also be large in size.  

The signature rolls definitely passed my test for what constitutes good sushi for the good size of each piece and the freshness of the fish. 

I believe there are two comparissons to make, how Izumi compares to land restaurants and how it compares to cruise ship sushi.  

Compared to sushi on land, I'd say Izumi is at least average if not slightly above average.  The traditional rolls were fairly tame (but then again, tuna rolls are hardly anything more than tame) and the signature rolls tasted as good as something I'd expect to find on land.

Compared to cruise line sushi, it blows any sushi I've ever had in the Jade section of the Windjammer out of the water by far.  It certainly held up to my memories of Izumi on Oasis of the Seas and I think Izumi is a great choice for sushi fans who are cruising.

The other good thing about Izumi was the rolls were not only large in size but ample in serving.  Each roll I ordered came with 8 pieces, which is a lot for any sushi roll.

In terms of value, the pricing of Izumi has changed from what you may remember.  Izumi on Navigator of the Seas has dropped the cover charge and simply charges a la carte.  This is good since a cover charge was silly but the price of the rolls were more than I remember on Oasis of the Seas.

Most signature rolls were $10 or more, which isn't cheap for sushi but the traditional rolls were all in the $6-7 range.  I've seen far worse in terms of pricing and the complimentary edamame and miso soup does add back a little bit of value.

Overall

Admittedly, I am a sushi fiend and can't get enough of the stuff so Izumi certainly made me happy while eating there.  I think it's a great place for lunch or even pre-dinner appetizer.  

While the variety of sushi isn't the best I've ever found, I did find what they did make tasted great.  Sushi is as much an art as it is a means of sustenance and Izumi balances this fine line quite well.  

In terms of value, it's about what you would pay for sushi at home from a decent sushi joint, so I think it fits the bill when you want a little Japanese flavor during your cruise. 

Izumi is open for dinner from 6:00pm to 9:30pm and for lunch at noon to 1:30pm.  We reviewed Izumi on Navigator of the Seas.

Royal Caribbean offering kids sail free on select May to December cruises

In:
03Mar2014

This month only, Royal Caribbean is offering a deal for families where their kids can sail for free on select cruises and they also are offering complimentary upgrades and reduced deposits on all bookings.

From March 1 through 31, 2014, Royal Caribbean is offering the option of kids sailing for free, complimentary upgrades and 50 percent-reduced deposits aboard select ships sailing Australia, The Bahamas, Bermuda, Caribbean and Europe, departing May 1 through Dec. 15, 2014.

Kids Sail Free

Royal Caribbean’s “Kids Sail Free” limited-time offer provides free cruise fare for third and fourth guests of all ages in triple or quad occupancy staterooms.

The “Kids Sail Free” offer is available fleetwide, excluding Quantum of the Seas and Grandeur of the Seas. Third and fourth berth staterooms are limited on select sailings and the offer is only applicable while inventory last.

Complimentary Upgrades and 50 Percent-reduced Deposit

Royal Caribbean is also offering as an option the chance to upgrade your stateroom. Guests may book a balcony stateroom for the same price as an ocean view stateroom on Oasis of the SeasAllure of the SeasFreedom of the SeasLiberty of the SeasIndependence of the SeasExplorer of the Seas,Adventure of the SeasNavigator of the SeasVoyager of the SeasBrilliance of the SeasJewel of Seas, Radiance of the Seas, and Serenade of the Seas, or an ocean view stateroom for the price of an interior stateroom on Enchantment of the SeasLegend of the SeasRhapsody of the SeasSplendour of the SeasVision of the Seas and Majesty of the Seas.

Those that book a Royal Caribbean cruise aboard the ships noted above also will enjoy 50 percent-reduced deposit, starting at $50 per guest. 

March 05 Update: It turns out this deal is NOT age restrictive.  Essentially, any 3rd and 4th passenger in a stateroom are free!

Royal Caribbean sales event for the week of March 3, 2014

In:
03Mar2014

Each week Royal Caribbean posts new sales for various cruises across its fleet that can offer great discounts on specific sailings in the near future.

This sale runs between March 4 through March 5, 2014, with early access for Crown and Anchor Society members on March 3

Adventure of the Seas
Itinerary: 7-night Southern Caribbean B Cruise
Departure Port: San Juan
Sail Date: 03/09/2014

Inside: $499 per person (Category K, L, PR)
Ocean-view: N/A
Balcony: N/A
Suite: N/A

Adventure of the Seas
Itinerary: 7-night Southern Caribbean A Cruise
Departure Port: San Juan
Sail Date: 03/16/2014

Inside: N/A
Ocean-view: $699 per person (Category G, H)
Balcony: $849 per person (Category D1)
Suite: N/A

Allure of the Seas
Itinerary: 7 night Western Caribbean Cruise
Departure Port: Fort Lauderdale
Sail Date: 03/09/2014

Inside: $649 per person (Category L, M)
Ocean-view: $749 per person (Category F, H, I)
Balcony: N/A
​Neighborhood Balcony: N/A
Suite: N/A

Allure of the Seas
Itinerary: 7 night Eastern Caribbean Cruise
Departure Port: Fort Lauderdale
Sail Date: 03/16/2014

Inside: N/A
Ocean-view: $799 per person (Category CV)
Balcony: $1099 per person (Category D2, D3)
​Neighborhood Balcony: $999 per person (Catetgory B1, B2)
Suite: $2299 per person (Category JS)

Allure of the Seas
Itinerary: 7 night Western Caribbean Cruise
Departure Port: Fort Lauderdale
Sail Date: 03/23/2014

Inside: N/A
Ocean-view: N/A
Balcony: N/A
​Neighborhood Balcony: N/A
Suite: $2199 per person (Category W)


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