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

In:
02Jul2018
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

In:
01Jul2018
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

In:
01Jul2018
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.

Itinerary

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

In:
29Jun2018
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

In:
29Jun2018
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

In:
28Jun2018
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

In:
27Jun2018
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!

Explorer of the Seas Live Blog - Day 5 - Tracy Arm

In:
27Jun2018
By: Matt Hochberg

Of all the places in Alaska we are visiting on this cruise, a trip into Tracy Arm fjords has to be the real highlight.

I wish I could say I woke up super early to see the entire sail in, but we were so tired that we woke up exactly when the ship arrived at Dawes Glacier.

Even after seeing Mendenhall Glacier, the spectacle of today was even more pronounced.

After we arrived, the ship spun in 360 degree circles, so that everyone could have a view.  By my count, we completed 2.5 to 3 rotations before departing.  

I started off watching from my balcony, but quickly ran around the ship to different spots to not only see the glacier, but also see how crowded things were.

I was surprised to find plenty of space at a variety of decks to see the glacier.  

The view improved for everyone when the sun started to peek out, revealing some beautiful colors in the ice.

I wish we could have spent a few more hours there, but we started to head out.  The weather quickly turned again, with a cold wind and rain joining our departure.

For lunch, we decided to head to Izumi.  Unlike some other ships, they offered their full menu for lunch as well, which includes the hot rocks.

My wife went with the beef hot rock, while I opted for the DX Sushi combo.

After lunch, the weather improved yet again and it turned into quite a sunny day.

There were two showings of the ice skating show.  On this ship and sailing, they broke up the showings based on your muster station.  So depending on which muster station you are in, you would have ability to get into the show in advance.

Tonight was formal night, so we got dressed up and headed down to the Star Lounge for the Top Tier Crown and Anchor Society event.  The ship’s Captain, Captain Mal, was the featured guest.

For dinner we had booked Giovanni’s Table, which is located on deck 4.

We were part of a group of 8, so we ended up getting a lot of dishes served family style. It was a great opportunity to try everything on the menu.  

For my entree, I went with the sole filet.  Great choice and very light after a lot of appetizers and pasta.

Tomorrow is another sea day.

Stray Observations

  • There was an Asian Breakfast offered in Izumi today that I totally missed.  I asked, but they are not offering it again on this sailing.
  • There was a drink station and hot chocolate station on the helipad during the glacier viewing.

 

Explorer of the Seas Live Blog - Day 4 - Skagway, Alaska

In:
26Jun2018
By: Matt Hochberg

Northern bound we go with our next stop in Skagway, Alaska.  Since Skagway is so close to Juneau, we were scheduled to arrive in Skagway fairly early, 7am.  In fact, we have a long day in port, staying until 8pm, which makes for one of the longest port stops I have ever done.

Our shore excursion was scheduled for right at 7:15am, which is really, really early. We picked this time instead of one later in the day so that we would have plenty of time to explore Skagway later on.  It made logical sense, but it did not help any when we had to wake up super early to get ready.

Explorer of the Seas was cleared right on schedule and we disembarked the ship and met up with our tour group at the end of the pier.  We had scheduled a Yukon Hummer Adventure, which allowed us to drive Hummer H3’s to tour the area.

There was just one other family in our excursion, so it was not a giant group.  A bus took us to the parking lot where the Hummers were waiting.

We had our own Hummer to drive and quickly were on the road in a small caravan, with a lead driver to guide us and each family (group of four) in a Hummer following.

Our trip would take us out of Skagway, across the Canadian border and into the Yukon territory.  

The entire tour lasted 4 hours, and we made periodic stops along the way at some scenic spots.  

 

The trip culminated with a visit to Emerald Lake, which is absolutely stunning to see that kind of water color outside of the Caribbean.

We also stopped in a small town for coffee, souvenirs and an opportunity to stretch our legs.

Along the way we did manage to spot a brown bear, which was a real highlight.  

Speaking of wildlife, it has been noticeably absent on this trip.  Based on what I had heard and read from others, as well as anecdotal evidence from locals, I was expecting to find a lot more wildlife in general in both Juneau and Skagway.  Obviously no one has any real control over the luck of seeing animals or not, but it just seemed to me abnormal.

We then reversed the course and headed back to Alaska.

Our excursion ended just before noon, so we grabbed lunch at the Bonanza Grill (good luck getting that classic tv theme song out of your head now).  We then spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Skagway.

Downtown Skagway is quite lovely, and is comprised of historic buildings that have mostly become jewelry stores.   Despite the omnipresent tourist angle, we found Skagway quaint and charming.  While there were plenty of Diamonds International and the like, we found lots of stores run by locals with local crafts and foods that held out attention.

Besides the commercial aspect of Skagway, the beautiful mountainous surroundings were astounding.  

Since we were docked in Skagway until 8pm, we spent our day meandering around town, enjoying what it had to offer.  There is no doubt the fact Skagway was our last port of call in Alaska played a role in compelling us to spend as much time as we could on shore to soak it all in.

As afternoon turned to evening, we returned to our ship for a quiet evening of dinner, drinks and some much needed rest.

Tomorrow we are scheduled to visit Tracy Arm Fjord, although the Captain printed a notice in our Cruise Compass that the ice flow has been “limiting” and that the Captain will make a decision tomorrow as to which approach and glacier will be safest to see.  

Stray Observations

  • In both Juneau and Skagway, Radiance of the Seas has been docked in port with us and in both ports they have had the dock spot that is closer to town. 
  • The shuttle between the pier area and downtown Skagway costs $2 per person, per ride, although an all-day unlimited pass costs $5.
  • Having two staterooms on this cruise has been so nice with the kids.  It allows them to sleep when we are getting ready in the morning or winding down at night, and the extra bathroom is tremendous.
  • The forecast was for the high temperature to be in the low 50s today, but it felt significantly warmer than that.  So much so I ended up wearing a t-shirt for most of the day.

Explorer of the Seas Live Blog - Day 3 - Juneau, Alaska

In:
25Jun2018
By: Matt Hochberg

Spoiler alert: today was an amazing day.

Our first port stop brings us to Juneau, Alaska and I had such high hopes for today that I just could not sleep this morning.  I woke up around 6am and just had to get up and check out the scenery.

We were not scheduled to dock in Juneau until noon, but the voyage in takes a few hours and we got out first look at what Alaska is all about.

In the time it took to get to Juneau, you could see plenty of islands, landmasses and occasional wildlife.    It was also chilly in the morning, and the jackets came out quickly.  Regardless of the temperature, it was incredible to see the Alaskan landscape after all these months of waiting.

Our ship docked perhaps a bit early and we met up with our shore excursion group at the end of the dock right on time.  

We had booked the Alaskan sled dog excursion, which was essentially half lesson on dog sledding and half play with dogs.

My biggest problem with group excursions is the pace of the event being too slow, but this excursion went quite well.  They broke up the group, with some going on a dog sled first and the others meeting some of the dogs.  Everyone then met up at the end to play with the puppies.

We started off with the dog sled race, where we boarded a dog sled on wheels and had a real dog sled team take us down a course in the area.

 It was incredible to see the whole team of dogs working in tandem and it was a lot fun racing around the corners of the course and seeing how fast they could get up to.

After the race, we got to meet the dogs. We started off with the dogs that took us on our race, meeting each pair of dogs that were part of the team.

The piece de resistance had to be the puppies.  They had a few different puppies of various ages including some puppies that were just a few weeks old.  My wife and kids were in heaven!

At just about two hours, the dog sled excursion was the perfect amount of time.  Of course, my wife would have preferred a few more hours playing with the puppies but we all had a great time interacting with the dogs of all ages.

The excursion bus dropped us off downtown (we had the choice of going downtown or back to the ship), so we found a cab waiting and hopped on to go to Mendenhall Glacier Park. The taxi ride over was about $35 each way plus the admission cost to the park (plus a pit stop at McDonalds for the kids).

Since it was later day and we did not want to push things with the kids, we decided to take the relatively short trail to Nugget Falls, which provides not only an upclose view of a really large water fall, but also a fantastic view of Mendenhall Glacier.

For me, coming to the glacier and seeing nature in all of its glory was worth every penny and hour on the airplane.  It was simply incredible, and I wish I could have just sat down in a beach chair and took in the view. 

Afternoon turned to evening and we had to head back to the ship. Unfortunately we did not have time to visit downtown Juneau and take in the food and culture there, but it was an incredible day.

Back onboard Explorer of the Seas, we got the kids up to Adventure Ocean and then grabbed a quick drink in the Concierge Lounge before heading down to dinner.

It was 70’s night on the Royal Promenade but we were pretty darn tired and have an early day tomorrow, so called it a night.

Tomorrow we will be in Skagway, Alaska.

Stray Observations

  • Weather wise, it was downright frigid on our balcony sailing into Juneau.  Once on land, it felt fine and by the time we reached Mendenhall I took my fleece jacket off.  
  • In terms of wildlife, we saw a whale, a few bald eagles, a beaver and no bears.
  • We got invited to the Crown and Anchor Society event later in the cruise.  The challenge for me is to remember the day and time.
  • Interestingly enough, this was the first night of any cruise I have ever been on where there was no production show or comedy show or any event in the theater tonight.  Sure, there was the 70s party on the Promenade, but I cannot recall ever seeing nothing in the theater at all (not counting embarkation day).

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