Video: Royal Caribbean Reimagines Mariner of the Seas

By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean International is inviting adventure seekers to break out of their ordinary routine and take their weekends to new heights with the debut of the reimagined Mariner of the Seas. After an extensive $90 million makeover, Mariner's 3- to 4-night Bahamas cruises will offer the chance to do, see and experience more than any quick getaway has ever done before, complete with an out-of-this-world bungee and trampoline virtual reality experience, a glow-in-the-dark laser tag arena, a tiki-chic lounge and more.

Live Blogging from Rhapsody of the Seas - Preamble

By: Matt Hochberg

Welcome to my live blogging adventure on Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Seas. This is an opportunity to take you on a virtual cruise with us, as we strive to share the cruising experience.

Photo by Royal Caribbean

This time around, I am sailing on Rhapsody of the Seas for a 7-night Western Caribbean cruise.  We will visit some new ports, try a completely new class of ships, and stay in a type of room that we only dreamed of booking earlier.

Why we chose this cruise

Photo by Royal Caribbean

With so many Royal Caribbean cruises to consider, the choice of the right one can sometimes feel daunting.  Sometimes, however, it seems to fall into your lap.  

We booked Rhapsody of the Seas because I was "kicked off" another sailing.

A while back I booked a cruise on Jewel of the Seas for this time of year, thinking it would be a sailing I would like to take again.  In the months that followed booking it, I saw new opportunities and cruise choices appear and my interest in sticking with what I booked waned.  My wife and I decided we would cancel that Jewel of the Seas cruise in lieu of something else.  While we came to that conclusion, I was slow on the trigger to actually cancel the booking (canceling any cruise pains me).  

I was so slow in taking my time to cancel that a group chartered the Jewel of the Seas sailing we had booked (but were planning on canceling) and as a result, Royal Caribbean canceled our reservation and gave us bonus onboard credit for "the inconvenience"! I always knew my mother was wrong about not being lazy!

We knew we wanted to sail this particular week because it is my daughter's spring break, and after considering a few other sailings picked Rhapsody of the Seas.  We did it for two primary reasons:

  • It was the least expensive option for a 7-night cruise out of Florida
  • It offered us an opportunity to book an Owner's Suite (and it was still the cheapest option).

Our plans onboard

This will not only be our first time on Rhapsody of the Seas, but our first time on a Vision Class ship.  I have always wanted to go on a Vision class ship, if for no other reason than to be able to speak about it better on the blog.  

Sailing out of Tampa means we do not have to travel a great distance (or at great cost) to get onboard, and the itinerary Rhapsody offers sounds really intriguing (more on that later).

We booked an Owner's Suite for a steal of a price.  One big advantage of the smaller, older ships is you can find some really good deals on them.  And as Master Yoda said, "size matters not."

We have stayed in suites on a few ships now, and we are by no means "suite snobs", but when the price is right, the perks are quite lovely.  With the kids, having priority embarkation and added service from the Concierge really helps.  Simply put, it is nice to have.

While Rhapsody may not have as much to see and do onboard as the larger ships, my kids are at the age where they simply want any and all opportunities to swim, eat ice cream, and then swim some more.  I think we will find plenty to fill our time.

Our plans on shore

Photo by Michael Poole

The itinerary for this cruise is particularly intriguing, because it brings us to a lot of different places.  

We have four port stops on this sailing:

  • Key West, Florida
  • Cozumel, Mexico
  • Belize City, Belize
  • Costa Maya, Mexico

My wife, nor my kids, have ever been to Key West.  Living in Central Florida, driving to Key West is just far enough away to fit into the "we will eventually go there, but not anytime soon" category.  A cruise ship stop there is perfect for our needs.  My kids (ages 7 and 3) are not quite mature enough to appreciate the history of Key West, but I think they will find a fun adventure in exploring the area.

For Belize, I decided to take a page out of Carrie Underwood's playbook, and instead of letting Jesus take the wheel, I let Royal Caribbean do so.  We contacted Royal Caribbean's private shore excursion option Private Journeys to have them help us plan a day.  I essentially said I have no idea what to do here, give me an idea.

Private Journeys came back with a personalized 5 and half hour private tour, which begins at the Belize Zoo, with up-close encounters with wild baby animals.  We then head to the at Kukumba Beach for Beach, a man-made watering hole where adults will find waterfront relaxation while sunning on beach chairs while the little ones go swimming, playfully bouncing on a floating trampoline or everyone can bravely descend a 90-foot waterslide.

It has been 8 years since my last visit to Costa Maya and we are going back to Maya Chan resort for a day of indulging at one of the best all-inclusive day passes I have ever been to.  This means more time at the beach, and unlimited Shirley Temple's for my older daughter.

We have no plans for Cozumel yet, but we are pros when it comes to Cozumel.  We may do another beach day with the kids, or leave them in Adventure Ocean and enjoy a day in town with my wife.

Our Itinerary

Three things I am excited to try

3. Vision Class ship

While I tend to gravitate towards the larger ships in Royal Caribbean's fleet, I cannot deny the appeal of going on a smaller ship that offers a more intimate experience. 

When it comes to cruising with my kids, I find that the more I can slow the pace down and let the vacation come to them, the better everyone fares.  Sure, I want to run around and "do it all" in the first two hours onboard, but cruising with kids has shown me that things work better when we let them dictate the pace.

I think going on Rhapsody of the Seas will offer all of us an opportunity to do more relaxing, or at least me watching them splash their heart's content out at the pool from dawn to dusk.

Of course, each class of Royal Caribbean ship has its own nuances and I am excited to try a Vision class ship first-hand.

2. Belize shore excursion

This is our second go around with Private Journeys, and I am excited to see how this one stacks up to our first experience.

We tried Private Journeys last year in Curacao and our guide was wonderful.  The primary reason I really like this option is because traveling with children is not simple. They tire out, get hungry, act out, and otherwise are a challenge in a group tour setting.  When we tried Private Journeys last time, it was so nice to have a tour guide who allowed us to skip a scheduled stop, stay longer at another and even work in a snack break at....McDonalds.  

1. Owners Suite

I firmly believe staying in a suite is a great way to splurge, but not the end-all be-all way to cruise.  When the cards work out in my favor to be able to afford one, I am all for it.

While being in an Owner's Suite means sleeping in the same room as my kids, I think the extra space offered in the room will make up for it.  Plus, my kids are a little bit older and theoretically slightly better at sleeping through distractions (I can already hear the cackling from other parents who are reading this).

What's next

Our Rhapsody of the Seas cruise begins on Sunday, March 18th, and I will be sharing the details on the blog, as well as across my social media channels.  Be sure to follow me on FacebookInstagram 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!

Royal Caribbean announces policy to protect full value of Future Cruise Certificates for travel professionals

By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean announced it has reevaluated its commissions structure for Future Cruise Certificates.

SVP Sales and Trade Support & Service Royal Caribbean International Vicki Freed announced to its travel partners that the cruise line is implementing a permanent policy to ensure travel professionals will receive the full value of the booking's commission when clients redeem their Future Cruise Certificates. 

Effective April 1st, 2018 and beyond, travel professionals that have a client redeem a Future Cruise Certificate will receive the full value of that booking’s commission.

According to Freed, the change came about as a result of last year's hurricanes that impacted so many reservations.  Because of this, Royal Caribbean protected the full value of commissions on bookings which included the redemption of a hurricane related Future Cruise Certificate.

Video: The Best Cruise Ship of 2018

By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean’s newest ship, Symphony of the Seas, is set to redefine the family vacation. From the jaw-dropping Ultimate Family Suite and a glow-in-the-dark laser tag experience to a trio of waterslides, there’s adventure at every corner for all ages on board the world’s largest cruise ship.

Brilliance of the Seas Live Blog – Day 9 – Sea Day

By: Michael Poole

My final day on board Brilliance of the Seas was a sea day, as we head back to Tampa, Florida. Today was the first day all cruise I slept in, I think all those early mornings finally caught up with me.


I went down to the solarium to relax, while my girlfriend went to the spa. She received the 50-minute hot stones massage. The cost after the 20% Diamond Plus discount was $130 + 18%. Not the cheapest massage, but it sure did make her happy. Of course, she mentioned the upsell at the end of the treatment, but she kindly said no thanks.


I was relaxing in the solarium and noticed how many chairs were open. Since 1/3 of the ship is spring breakers and they don’t hangout in here, you could almost always find a chair. We grabbed some breakfast from the Windjammer and just ate it poolside.


For lunch we had our one last meal at Park Café. I tried the corn salad and didn’t think it was very good. But the salad and roast beef sandwich were wonderful. After lunch it was time to get some packing done in the cabin, it so much more fun unpacking!


While walking through the main pool, I saw the Cruise Director Mike had a trivia game going on around March Madness. I’ve never seen this played on the pool deck, but I noticed almost everyone was playing.


They also had the same 50% off shirts & bags sale. I heard a lady tell her husband, “but it’s 50% off, we have to buy it!”


After the uneventful packing up the room, we headed down to vintages to enjoy some wine. We had one bottle in our room we hadn’t opened, so I thought let’s go enjoy it on the lounge.


Since it’s our own bottle we didn’t have to pay any fee to enjoy it, but I did tip the server a few dollars for getting us wine glasses and a cheese plate.


Dinner tonight was in the Windjammer; I wanted to dine here since I hadn’t tried their dinner all week. When we walked in, I thought wow I’ve never seen this place so empty!


They had the same lamb shank they serve in the main dining room the last night. I also found some grilled and fried fish, so I got them both.


The meal was enjoyable; I really liked that fact that I could look around at everything before deciding. For our dessert I just made a little sampler plate and we got to enjoy everything. When you can’t pick just one, get them all!

After dinner we walked around saying our goodbyes to all our favorite staff on board. I saw they were playing some kind of game in the centrum; I couldn’t really make out what it was. We ended getting to bed a little early, since we both have work tomorrow morning.


Overall it was an outstanding cruise, I loved being able to stay on board for the back to back. Brilliance was in good shape, but did have a few signs of wear. However, after her transatlantic to Europe next month, she will go under a dry dock. I tried to get some information about any changes to the ship, but was unable to get any confirmed information.

I hope you enjoyed this 9-day live blog; I had a lot of fun sharing my vacation with you. My next cruise is in 6 weeks on board Adventure of the Seas. I’ll be taking her from San Juan to New Jersey, so see you soon!

Royal Caribbean launches Annual Family Sale in Australia

By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean is offering families a newpromotion, withkids' cruise fares from just AU$29/NZ$39 a day, plus up to 30% off for mum and dad with the launch of the Annual Family Sale.

The deal also includes up to to 30% off for mum and dad with the launch of the Annual Family Sale. Available to book until 9 April 2018, the Annual Family Sale is applicable to all local sailings departing Australia between September 2018 and April 2019.

“We know how precious family holiday time is. It‘s essential to find the perfect holiday option that offers the right balance of activities and down-time for the whole family. That’s what makes a cruise on Royal Caribbean’s incredible range of three Australia-based megaliners the ultimate holiday destination,” said Adam Armstrong, managing director, Royal Caribbean Australia & NZ.

Prices start at AUD$1,689/NZD$1,859 per person for adults and from AUD$169/NZD$189 each for kids on an 8-night South Pacific cruise on Ovation of the Seas, based on quad-share accommodation. The roundtrip cruise departs Sydney on 9 April 2019 and calls at Noumea in New Caledonia and Mystery Island in Vanuatu.

Royal Caribbean Post Round-up March 11,2018

By: Matt Hochberg

Happy weekend! We hope you remembered to Spring Forward! Here’s all the Royal Caribbean news this week!

Royal Caribbean launched a new initiative this week that seeks to consolidate the logins and accounts between Royal Caribbean's sister companies.

Beginning in March 2018, Royal Caribbean will begin offering an enhanced guest account that will, "deliver many capabilities of our digital cruise experience, to simplify the guest experience online and to allow guests to quickly access features and information." The one login can be used for Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises apps and websites. It promises to bring them everything guests need from loyalty (Crown & Anchor) information, personalized itineraries and details – all with just one account login.

Unfortunately, the initial implementation has resulted in some "growing pains" that have resulted in some users unable to access the new system. You can always use the old log in in the meantime.

Royal Caribbean News

Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast

The 240th episode of the Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast is now available, providing an overview to the unlimited drink packages offered by Royal Caribbean.

In this episode, Matt goes over the basics of the unlimited drink packages, and explains what they entail, and if you shoud get one.

Please feel free to subscribe via iTunes or RSS, and head over to rate and review the podcast on iTunes if you can! We’d appreciate it.

Royal Caribbean Around the Internet

Travel Weekly reports on the non-TV marketing strategy Royal Caribbean is using before the ship's launch.

Miami Herald announced the new partnership between Royal Caribbean and Miami's Frost Science Center.

Brilliance of the Seas Live Blog – Day 8 – Cozumel, Mexico

By: Michael Poole

We made it to Cozumel, Mexico our only port of call on the quick four-night cruise. Our arrival time was scheduled for 8AM to 5PM. I woke up early to watch us arrive in Cozumel from my aft balcony. I’ve never used a balcony so much on a cruise; these aft views are really something special.


I spoke to the concierge in the lounge last night about helping us get of the ship early. He said no problem and requested we meet him at 7:50AM. Sure enough he took us down to deck 1 and let us skip the line of people waiting to get off the ship.


We had reserved an excursion through the cruise line called Fury Snorkeling Catamaran. The full price is $79 per person, however I booked in on a weekend sale in the cruise planner and paid $59 each. To be honest, I didn’t know too much about it but I was looking for something different to do. Our meeting time on the pier was 8:15AM.


The catamaran boat was docked at the pier, even before you get to the checkpoint before you exit the pier. It was nice that we didn’t have to take any transportation to our excursion.

The day is split into three different sections, within the four hours. The first is snorkeling, the second is beach time, and the finial is the one our ride back with some line dancing.


The snorkeling was really fun; I even jump off the ship. I did however, get stung by a little jellyfish while in the water snorkeling. It didn’t hurt too bad, since it was a little sting, they had some vinegar on board to help reduce the stinging.


The second part of the excursion was a quick ride over to their beach. Once you arrive on the beach drinks were included, but the lunch was $11 per person – we passed on their lunch.


Everything else on the beach is included, such as water sports, kids water aqua park, and beach chairs. This was a lot of fun and nice that we could do so much and not have to keep paying extra.


The last part was our ride back, which is about an hour ride. We stood on the top deck and took in all the views of Cozumel. The staff on board was so great, I’d say every 3-5 minutes they would come check with you if you needed a drink.


Overall the excursion was a great success and I’m really happy I booked it. I will likely try this again in the future while visiting Cozumel, but I’m staying away from the jellyfish!


In the afternoon we had planned to visit a little beach bar I found out about called turquoise. I learned about this place through some of the crew and then I had a friend visit a few weeks ago and kept talking about it. I thought it was 3 miles down so I took a taxi for $8. Turns out it was only about 1 mile down, so we ended up walking back.


They have a great view of the ship while you are enjoying lunch or a beverage. We were really hungry by this point, so we ordered some tacos. The food was so good, I might even make a bold statement and say it’s better than Nachi’s! We stayed around an hour and relaxed and enjoyed a few beers. Our bill for all the tacos, beers, and guacamole was $29.


We slept for a few hours in the afternoon, all that action packed day finally caught up to us. This evening we had reservations at Giovanni’s Table our second half of our BOGO. Usually it must be used night 1 and 2, however a wedding party rented out the whole restaurant on night 2.


Dinner was great as usual, they were joking that I had become part of their extend family this cruise. I said thank you, but you have also put 5 pounds on me! I ordered the filet and three-cheese pasta again. My girlfriend tried the fish and I really liked it, I kept eating hers.

This evening around the ship seem to be a little calmer than the past two nights. I think people called it a night from Cozumel. They had the 70’s party in the centrum tonight and that was a lot of fun. I saw so many passengers on board dressed up for it. I did make it to the disco tonight for about an hour, but even that was kind of dead.


Tonight we change for daylight savings time, so that means I lose an hour of my cruise! Tomorrow is my final day on board Brilliance of the Seas; stay tuned for a fun sea day.

Royal Caribbean expands new smartphone app to Symphony of the Seas

By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean has released a new update to its smart phone app, which primarily adds support for use on Symphony of the Seas.

Version 1.6.0 of the Royal Caribbean app was released to fix bugs, improve performance and also be compatible with Symphony of the Seas.

According to the app description page on iTunes Store, version 1.6 lets guests

  • Learn about the hundreds of activities, movies, and shows available onboard, and use category filters to sort them to their preferences
  • Explore off-ship adventures to make the most of our port stops
  • Peruse complete restaurant, bar, and lounge options onboard
  • Plan a day of indulgence with our array of spa offerings
  • Use deck plan illustrations to navigate the ship

The app is available on the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store.

Brilliance of the Seas Live Blog – Day 7 – Sea Day

By: Michael Poole

Today was our first of two sea days this sailing. I woke up at 6AM and took advantage of some quite time in the Diamond Lounge. If you were ever wondering when I spend the time to write everything for the live blog, it’s in the early morning hours.

Last night we placed the room service card outside our door for the continental breakfast. They have the option to order eggs, omelets, and bacon for a $7.95 upcharge.


But we just stuck to the basic items like toast, fruit plate, granola, and yogurt. They have 30-minute windows for the delivery time; we picked 8:30AM to 9:00AM. Right at 8:30AM they called the room and said our food was on the way. The breakfast was nothing special, but it was enjoy food to hold us over for the morning.


After enjoying breakfast on our balcony we headed down to the pool deck. Today was still kind of chilly and overcast so we headed to the warm solarium. I noticed while walking forward the pool attendants marking unoccupied chairs again. They seem to be all over this on Brilliance, let’s just hope they keep it up.


The Solarium was nice and relaxing all morning. We did try to get into the hot tub, but it stayed full the whole morning.


Lunch we headed to the Windjammer, I needed a break from Park Café. We went right at noon and it was packed! People were looking for tables, so we ate as fast as possible to help someone else out. I would recommend coming at 11:30AM or closer to 1PM to avoid the rush.


We had some nachos, they had a whole section where you could build them yourself. I might have gone up for more they were so good!


On the pool deck they had the $10 sale going on and 50% off shirts. This seems to happen every sea day. If you are looking for some good Royal Caribbean gear, this is good place to pick some up.


This afternoon we decided to enjoy some relaxing balcony time and our first beverage of the day. The pool deck was starting to get a little wild with all the college spring breakers. Also, so I could work on the live blog some as we are getting off the ship at 8AM tomorrow.


Around 3PM I went up to the concierge lounge for an afternoon coffee. Since I’ve mentioned this lounge a few times in my live blog, I thought I’d take some photos for the blog. They have some great outside seating, lounge seating, and the bar.


Tonight was formal night but we had planned to start our evening with room service brought to our room for dinner. The cost for room service is a flat fee of $7.95 + 18%. So if you are ordering for one or ten it’s the same fee. In the name of research we ordered a little more than we could eat.


A few of my favorites were the wings, Philly cheesesteak and cheesecake. The main course was the salmon and I really enjoyed it, very fresh and tender. I also liked being able to get through dinner in less than a half hour. We had the whole night ahead of us to do whatever we wanted. I would order room service again if I needed a fast dinner.


Most of the evening we spent down at the R Bar for the captain’s reception. They had a band playing for a little over an hour before the reception. People were up dancing and enjoying themselves. I used my three diamond drinks while sitting here, so no extra cost on drinks without the drink package.


The captain came on for about 5 minutes to introduce the officers and say a few words and the event was over. I asked someone about all the dancers they had out last cruise and they were confused also why that didn’t happen. No big deal, I just thought it ended very fast.


We jumped around to Vintages and to listen to some music at the schooner bar. I tend to like to jump around and see different venues. Around 10:30PM we did the ever so long walk back to our cabin and get ready for bed. We are breaking records on our steps this cruise, so I’ll take it!

Tomorrow is going to be a long day in Cozumel, Mexico and we wanted a good nights sleep. I'm excited to share all the new things I'm doing in Cozumel tomorrow!