Allure of the Seas performed well in a test drive

By: Matt Hochberg

Soon after leaving its dock, Allure of the Seas reached the ocean for it's test runs.  It had been in the Baltic Sea this week for tests, although a storm caused minor changes in the test program.

Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas is one of STX's ships being built in Turku for the construction of the world's largest cruise. Its sister ship Oasis of the Seas was completed a year ago.

Allure has so far, at least, behaved well in a sea of expectations.

- Test drive and test all the things that berth can not be tested: the propulsion machinery, steering, navigation equipment. Everything has gone very well, that can be satisfied, "says project manager Sisko Hellgren sea.

Essentially a test has taken place in northern Baltic Sea, but the Allure of the Seas  was on Thursday afternoon near the island of Gotland, where the waters were calmer.  A sea gale was blowing in so some tests have been moved slightly to another location to avoid the wind issues.

Allure of the Seas will return to Turku shipyard again on Friday. In late October, Allure will leave Turku finally, when the ship is handed off to Royal Caribbean.

Royal Caribbean Introduces Innovative Chefmakers at Sea Aboard Freedom of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas

By: Matt Hochberg

Vacationing foodies can now choose from a range of culinary experiences aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise. Royal Caribbean International is partnering with renowned Chefmakers Cooking Academy, a cooking school dedicated to aspiring home cooks of all ages, to bring unique cooking programs to guests, who can share in fond family vacation memories and learn practical skills that can be applied day-to-day. Available now aboard Liberty of the Seas and beginning in the fall aboard Freedom of the Seas, guests, at an additional cost, can choose from over a dozen Chefmakers at Sea classes that are taught in the actual galleys of the ship.

"Royal Caribbean continues to be at the forefront of onboard food and beverage offerings, tempting guests with a diverse and exciting lineup of enriching and delectable programs,” said Frank Weber, vice president of Food and Beverage Operations, Royal Caribbean International. “The Chefmakers at Sea cooking experience engages guests of all ages by teaching and honing their skills.”
Chefmakers at Sea’s hands-on classes range from $40 to $125 and are ideal for both kitchen newbies and the experienced home cook alike. With several essential programs like Knife Skills, Quick & Easy Fish, and All About Chicken, to highly social and interactive cooking parties like Asian Persuasion, New American Cuisine, and Surf & Turf, there is an appetizing class for every palate. Successfully piloted aboard Mariner of the Seas, the three-hour programs are open to guests 18 and over, who can try their hand at a series of exciting recipes and new skills under the careful guidance of the Chefmakers culinary team.
“At Chefmakers, we teach Royal Caribbean guests the tricks of the trade, in turn providing a feeling of mastery and confidence that will last long after their cruise,” said Richard H. Klein, founder and CEO of Chefmakers Cooking Academy, LLC.
Other classes include: Small Bites; Quick & Easy Pasta; Tamales; Lazy Day Brunch; California Cuisine; and Cooking Around the World. In addition, Chefmakers at Sea offers a series of festive holiday classes, such as: Pumpkin Carving; Gingerbread House Decorating; Ultimate Thanksgiving; and Entertaining for New Years. Participants will receive their very own Chefmakers apron and recipe cards for all menu items prepared, as well as complimentary wine based on class selection. Guests will also have the opportunity to purchase the high quality kitchenware and utensils that they learn to use in the classes.
Little ones, from four to 11 years of age, can kick-start their culinary careers with a one-hour “Kids with Kids Baking” class. The future chefs will have fun preparing homemade sweet treats, like mini-puff pastry turnovers, learning lessons in chemistry and kitchen hygiene along the way.
Guests may register and learn about the specific classes being offered online using the Chefmakers pre-board reservation system. Private Chefmakers at Sea programs also will soon be available for various corporate groups that offer a very unique team building experience as well as for families looking for another memorable way to enjoy their cruise vacation.

Website reviews Independence of the Seas

By: Matt Hochberg has recently reviewed Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas on a recent Mediterranean cruise and by the sound of the review, it appears that it was a success.

One aspect of the review focused on the entertainment on the ship, which was a little hit or miss.

The main theatre is the Alhambra which has a balcony and seats about 1200 so early arrival is recommended for popular shows. The ships singers and dancers put on two shows a week (each one is shown twice a night); these are passable but not particularly polished. The other performers depend on the schedule and who is around so the quality is very variable.

Some other aspects of the review touches on drinks...

Drinks prices are high but probably not much worse than any cruise line. The soda passes are certainly worth their money if anyone in the family likes soft drinks.

...the gym...

The onboard Gym is huge with up-to-date fitness machines and the best view you could ever hope for whilst working out, there are also a huge range of classes but some carry a fee.

...and the Promenade

The real wow factor for this ship can probably be found inside. Deck 5 consists of a four story atrium promenade with shops, bars and cafes. This is the location of the Captains party and the various street parties that occur through the cruise.

I found this comment about the crowd level interesting.  With these larger ships, one of the most common questions is "does it feel crowded" and the reviewer had an interesting take on the situation.

Independence of the Seas is a huge ship that can have over 4000 passengers in the height of the season. This does lead to a crowded feeling on deck but it is usually possible to find a vacant sun bed somewhere. There are three separate pool areas on the deck and also two large cantilevered whirlpools that stick out from the side of the ship. The large number of guests also seems to result in a certain rowdy element and the pool areas in particular can become almost no-go areas for a lot of the passengers as they are taken over by groups of teens. The RCI staff do not seem to be very keen on sorting out disruptive behaviour which is unfortunate for many of their guest.

Royal Caribbean reaches agreement with family of missing man

By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean and the family of a man who was lost on his honeymoon cruise have reached a settlement to settle a mysterious disappearance that is over five years old..

The agreement reportedly includes both additional money and information the family of George Smith IV says will help solve the highly publicized 2005 case.

George Smith's wife, Jennifer Hagel Smith reached a $1.1 million settlement with Royal Caribbean back in 2007, but the family has been mounting a challenge.  According to the Associated Press, the amended settlement is for $1.3 million and requires Royal Caribbean to turn over to the family information the cruise line gathered in its investigation, including witness statements.

George Smith and his new wife Jennifer Hagel Smith were on a Royal Caribbean cruise in the Mediterranean when he disappeared somewhere between Greece and Turkey.  There were reports that he had also been drinking heavily prior to his disappearance.  Smith's body was never found and his family believes he was murdered.

Royal Caribbean had this to say about the incident, "We entered into this agreement in hopes that it will be another step in the healing process for Jennifer and the Smith family. We are confident that the disclosure of any additional information will again demonstrate that we acted properly in assisting Jennifer and the Smith family in the aftermath of their tragic loss."

Royal Caribbean offers new luggage service in UK

By: Matt Hochberg

Cruisers in the United Kingdom have a new way to get their luggage to the cruise ship a little bit easier now.  Royal Caribbean is offering Brits a home luggage collection service, for a fee of course.

Those going on a cruise can have their luggage picked up from their home and delivered to their cabin and then dropped back off at their home after their cruise.

This new service costs £35 per item each way and is available for cruises on Royal Caribbean ships Independence of the Seas from Southampton, Jewel of the Seas from Harwich and Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Eclipse from Southampton.

Luggage is picked up by Royal Caribbean between 24 and 96 hours prior to the cruise departure depending on the address in the United Kingdom.

Royal Caribbean Cruises UK and Ireland managing director Dominic Paul was optimistic about the new option, “We see this service as particularly useful to our guests with mobility issues, large families or those who need to travel some distance to the port.”

Hurricane Igor forces Oasis of the Seas to change itinerary

By: Matt Hochberg

Hurricane Igor is forcing a change in Oasis of the Seas' itinerary.  On Tuesday, Oasis of the Seas will  visit Philipsburg, St. Maarten on Tuesday and Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas on Wednesday.

Royal Caribbean stated that the change will allow the ship to visit both ports while avoiding the issues that a storm like Igor can bring.

Panama structures ready for cruise season

By: Matt Hochberg

Panama is preparing its port facilities and tourism services for the cruise season that begins in October, with aspirations to outperform the previous period, according to Panamanian sources.

Data from the Tourism Authority show that in the activity of this modality for the 2009-2010 period there were 246 trips from various destinations in the Caribbean and the U.S..
More than 300 000 passengers arrived in Panamanian ports, a figure that can be left behind if they meet forecasts for the coming season.
So far it is anticipated that at least seven companies are responsible for providing that option, and two of them (Pullmantour and Royal Caribbean International) used at the port of Colon in the province of the same name as the base.
Pullmantour operate with the ship Ocean Dream (thousand 422 passengers) to offer 36 departures between October this year and July 2011.
Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean will use the ship Grandeur of the Seas, with capacity for two thousand 466 tourists and 25 trips scheduled to come November to April next year.
In addition to the benefits of this modality to the ports, joins the positive impact on hotels and airlines because of the demand for accommodation and transportation.

An inside look at Royal Caribbean's latest advertising drive

By: Matt Hochberg

BrandWeek has an interview with Betsy O’Rourke, Royal Caribbean's Senior Vice President of Marketing about it's recent advertising campaign dubbed “Vacation Daze".   The new advertising campaign emphasizes the importance of taking vacation days and how many Americans do not use their vacation days and why that's wrong.

The advertising campaign is Royal Caribbean's attempt to induce a viral marketing campaign, advertising primarily on Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets in addition to the Royal Caribbean website. O'Rourke hopes consumers will send these videos to folks who are guilty of not taking their vacation days.

O'Rourke also mentioned that Royal Caribbean is doing better business as of late, although Royal Caribbean's numbers still lag a bit below their figures in 2008, before the financial crisis hit, "For Royal Caribbean, we are seeing a build up in demand. I can’t speak for the entire industry, but I follow what the U.S. Travel Association puts out. I came from the hotels business, and RevPAR [revenue per available room, a key metric] is up, and we’ve seen our business travel, meetings and incentives businesses pick up, so those are all very good signs. We also have more than 40 percent of our guests coming from international countries outside of the U.S. We’ve seen very strong demand across the board, but it varies country by country. We have not reached the ’08 levels yet, but we’re getting pretty close."

Also of interest is why Royal Caribbean chose to advertise only online, as opposed to using traditional media such as television.  O'Rourke explains the decision like this, "Television creates a lot of awareness, but what we know is that people go online when they are actually searching to plan their trips. That’s why we’ve chosen these two channels."

Prices for Royal Caribbean cruises fall

By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean President and Chief Executive  Adam Goldstein said prices for their voyages have fallen over the past year.  Moreover, Goldstein added that that those on sailings aboard Allure of the Seas would find cheaper rates than those for last year’s prices on her sister ship, Oasis of the Seas.

Goldstein avoided referring to reports of fares for Oasis of the Seas costing less than $1,000, he did reveal that the debut of Allure of the Seas has doubled capacity and therefore, is leading to more space and it's not unusual to see prices drop a bit for them.

Obviously this is great news for consumers who may want to try out the latest and greatest ships Royal Caribbean has to offer, as well as potentially lure new cruisers to give it a try.

Meanwhile Mr Goldstein revealed that “on some cruises I think there are more customers from the UK than from the US”. He added that the UK market remained an increasingly growing sector for the cruise industry, signalling that UK cruisers look set to continue an enjoyment filled relationship with one of the world’s largest cruise operators.

Designer of Central Park on Oasis of the Seas wins award

By: Matt Hochberg

Ambius, the group responsible for the plants decor in Central Park on Oasis of the seas, was "recognized for excellence in plantscaping sector" at the 18th annual PIA Interior Plantscape Hall of Fame and Awards Banquet at the CalScape Expo 2010 on September 2nd, 2010 at the San Diego Sheraton Hotel & Marina.

Amibus' Mark Hawry accepted four awards for his teams work on bringing the best of land to sea with the Central Park project for Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas ship.  Central Park showcases a revolutionary design that features a center of the ship that is open air and features lots of lush plant life.  

Central Park serves as a public area with pathways, seasonal flower gardens and canopy trees.  It provides cruisers with another and unique choice in outdoor space.  

Hawry accepted three Award of Excellence citations for Oasis of the Seas including oversight of the Exterior Garden, the installation of Central Park and the design and provisioning of the ships' silk replica and preserved foliage. Central Park on Oasis of the Seas also picked up the prestigious Judge's Award, which was awarded for the most outstanding overall project in 2010.