This week, we're sharing the details about our cruise on Navigator of the Seas to the Southern Caribbean along with many Royal Caribbean Blog readers! This nine-night adventure has lots of fun packed in, and Matt shares why he picked this itinerary, plans for onboard and onshore and some new things he will try on this sailing.
Be sure to also check out our pre-cruise summary of what Matt's plans are for the cruise and for how you can read the live blog each day from the cruise.
Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas has been a favorite cruise ship of mine since I first cruised on her in 2014, and it is time once again for me to return onboard for what I am certain will be an amazing journey.
My cruise on Navigator of the Seas coincides with the first Royal Caribbean Blog Group Cruise of 2017, with a great group of fellow Royal Caribbean fans as we enjoy a 9-night journey to the Southern Caribbean from Miami, Florida. Throughout the cruise, I will share a daily update of everything I did onboard to provide you a "virtual" escape with me.
As mentioned earlier, this is a long 9-night cruise that will take me to a destination I love and three ports that are brand new to me. Anytime I get a chance to visit somewhere new, it is a real treat.
The story of booking this cruise goes back a few years ago when I was looking for a group cruise idea. If you are new to Royal Caribbean Blog, it is important to mention my name is Matt, and I run Royal Caribbean Blog. Twice a year, I put together a Royal Caribbean cruise plan, where I invite everyone who enjoys reading Royal Caribbean Blog to join me on a cruise together. I figure everything is better with friends, and we fellow Royal Caribbean fans love nothing more than any excuse to book another cruise.
This sailing stood out to me for two reasons. First, it is aboard Navigator of the Seas, one of my favorite Royal Caribbean ships in the fleet. Royal Caribbean refurbished her in 2014 and added a number of new options and I loved it all. Navigator is large enough to be a "big ship," but she still retains a lot of character and I have been lucky enough to sail on her twice. With lucky number three, we get a chance to spend more time onboard and this time, bring friends. We started planning this cruise back in December 2015, so it has been a long time coming to be able to finally get onboard.
The other really intriguing aspect to this sailing is the itinerary. We sail out of Miami, Florida (a port I have never sailed out of), and will visit Royal Caribbean's private destination of Labadee and the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) in the Southern Caribbean. It is rare to get the opportunity to sail to the Southern Caribbean from the mainland United States, and the timing worked out perfectly over President's Day holiday.
I will be sailing with my wife and two children, who are 2 and 6. This will be my oldest daughter's first time in the Explorer's room of Adventure Ocean and she is very excited to try it out. My youngest daughter will be spending time in the Royal Tots and Babies Nursery, and she has already told us she is excited to "play with the babies" onboard.
Of course, this is a group cruise too, which means we have a large contingent of fellow Royal Caribbean fans joining me and I could not be happier. There is just something so fun about seeing friendly faces all around the ship, and being able to share in the experience in person is second-to-none.
We reserved two staterooms for this cruise, one for my wife and I and one for my kids. I love my children and enjoy cruising with them, but we have learned that when it comes to sleeping and children, it is ideal to have a second room. Plus, it provides an additional full bathroom.
For this cruise, we have reserved a Grand Suite and connecting standard balcony room. Depending on who you ask, the story of why we booked this arrangement differs. I will offer both and let you decide.
My account of the booking: Being the loving husband that I am, inbetween sweeping the floors and preparing another gourmet meal for the family, I suggested to my wife she should get, nay deserves, a suite for once. After we could have danced all night in jubilee, we happened to find the perfect suite option that provided me and my wife the opportunity to book a Grand Suite and the kids in a connecting room next door.
My wife's account of the booking: She was fine with two balcony rooms, but it was all my idea to book the room, which proves it is better to ask for forgiveness than permission.
Whichever tale you prefer to believe, the bottom line is we are staying in our first true suite on any cruise. We have stayed in a Junior Suite on multiple occasions, but never the real deal. We happened to book this cruise under the then-epic Cyber Monday deal of 2015, which netted us quite a bit of onboard credit on top of the great rate.
Our concierge emailed me this past weekend with the usual welcome letter (shoutout to Nadja), and we are really excited to see what a suite experience is all about. Personally, I am looking forward to the smaller perks which I think will make a big difference. Namely, the reserved area for suite guests near the pool, priority embarkation and private beach in Labadee.
As excited as I am about the ship, where we are sailing is even more impressive. A blend of sea days and port days, we will get a chance to explore a part of the Caribbean I have yet to see.
Being a nine-night cruise, this will tie my longest cruise ever, and provide us plenty of time to explore onboard and on shore.
Three things I am excited to try
3. Barefoot Beach
I love Labadee because of the absolutely beautiful serenity this private destination offers. I am also a self-described cabana junky and on this cruise, we will be trying out the Barefoot Beach cabanas. The fact of the matter is I did stay in a Barefoot Beach cabana once many cruises ago, but that was not as a suite guest and I barely remember it.
There are a few cabana types to choose from in Barefoot Beach, and we opted for the Beachfront cabana, which I hope will provide my kids easy access to the ocean. Plus, it looks to be a great spot and the same cabana experience we have come to love. Yes, the cabanas are pricey, but given the price breakdown of how much it costs per person, per hour over the course of the day in Labadee (and the privacy and service), it is worth every penny in my opinion.
2. Private Journeys
Royal Caribbean created a new shore excursion option just about a year ago, where guests can create customized shore excursions to do what they want, without having to compromise on the benefits of taking a Royal Caribbean shore trip. It is called Private Journeys, and in the name of research, I decided to try this out for myself.
While in Curacao, we booked a Private Journeys trip to take an historical tour of the historical and cultural Jewish sites of the island. The tour includes private transportation with our own private guide to visit historical Jewish locations, such as the Jewish Cemetery, Mikveh Israel Emanuel Synagogue with photo stops at Jewish village Mahaai and New Ashkenazi Synagogue.
I will post a full review of experience with Private Journeys, but we are excited to try out this new service and discover some really intriguing historical landmarks.
1. Suite Life
I would be remiss if I did not say I am really excited to finally be able to stay in a suite on our cruise. My wife and I have dreamed about staying in a suite for a long time, but we were never able to jump at the chance. This time, we managed to make it work and it is really exciting.
Personally, I am most interested in taking advantage of the subtle benefits, such as reserved chairs by the pool and in the theater, priority embarkation and disembarkation. I think it will be a nice change of pace for this sailing, and with it being an even longer sailing than normal for us, we get to enjoy the suite just a little bit more.
Our Navigator of the Seas cruise begins on Friday, February 17th, and I will be sharing the details on the blog, as well as across my social media channels. Be sure to follow me on Twitter, 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!
Get an exclusive look into the kitchen at Jamie’s Italian. See how handmade pasta takes shape on Harmony of the Seas!
Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas was kept in port through Tuesday morning, after U.S. Coast Guard inspectors forced the ship to remain in port until an issue with the lifeguards was resolved.
Cruise Critic reports a spokesman from the U.S. Coast Guard cited the delay stems from the ship's older life jackets, "generally speaking, problems with older life jackets can include fraying straps that could break when a person was in the water or disintegrating foam that will not float in the water."
Royal Caribbean sent messages via Twitter to convey the company is working around the clock to fix the issues.
@rockytopinfl We're currently working around the clock to get all issues resolved. All future sailing will not be impacted by this.
— Royal Caribbean (@RoyalCaribbean) February 14, 2017
There has not been any indication yet when Majesty of the Seas will be able to set sail on her 4-night Bahamas cruise, nor what impact the delay will have on the ship's itinerary.
9:30am Update: Royal Caribbean is offering guests a 25% refundable onboard credit, and a 25% Future Cruise Certificate.
@eric_thebruce The comp offer is a 25% refundable onboard credit, and a 25% Future Cruise Certificate.
— Royal Caribbean (@RoyalCaribbean) February 14, 2017
There are many great stateroom choices when booking a cruise, and certainly a room with private balcony is one of the most intriguing options. Having your own private space to enjoy the view of the ocean, a gentle breeze and the activities in port are a fabulous way to spend any cruise.
In addition to just the view, there are some really fun things to try when staying in a balcony room. Here are some of our top picks for favorite things to do on a balcony while on a Royal Caribbean cruise.
Enjoy a meal
Royal Caribbean puts tables on the balcony for a reason, and enjoying a meal outdoors is always a really fun way to enjoy a meal while onboard.
Room service is included in the cruise fare, so you might consider ordering a snack or full meal to be delivered to your stateroom. When the waiter brings the food, direct them to bring it to the balcony and they will be happy to set it up for you there. In fact, if you are staying in a Grand Suite or above, meals from the main dining room can be delivered to your room as well.
Another option is to bring something back from elsewhere on the ship to enjoy on the balcony. A few slices of pizza from Sorrento's, or just a plate of goodies from the Windjammer are always good options. Guests can bring food from pretty much anywhere onboard and take it to go for enjoying on the balcony. We really love bringing Izumi sushi back to the balcony to eat with a fabulous view.
Watch a show
On Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas and Harmony of the Seas, there are balcony rooms that offer a full or partial view of the AquaTheater, which has some truly impressive physical feats on display in a variety of shows.
Each ship has rather large suites that overlook the AquaTheater perfectly. Granted, these suites are not inexpensive, but many guests love having an unfettered and private area just for them to enjoy the view of the ocean and the AquaTheater.
Likewise, there are standard Boardwalk Balcony staterooms towards the rear of the ship that also provide a view of the AquaTheater. Some of these rooms will offer partially blocked or full views of the AquaTheater action too.
Bring drinks back
Just like food, enjoying a few cocktails on your balcony is a great way to take advantage of having a private balcony. It is easy enough to grab some drinks from somewhere onboard and bring them back to your stateroom to enjoy.
Whether it is sailaway and you are enjoying a toast to the best cruise ever, or just want to get away from the rest of the crowd and sip some bubbly while you watch the waves pass by, enjoying a drink on a balcony is a wonderful way to spend time onboard.
Read a book
You can read a book anywhere on a Royal Caribbean ship, but there is something extra relaxing about pulling up a chair, propping your feet on the balcony and opening up a great book to enjoy.
Reading a book while the ocean breeze passes you by is nearly as relaxing as one of the services offered by the Vitality Spa, and usually quiet enough to become immersed in the story unfolding between the pages.
Go in the hot tub
Certain suites on Royal Caribbean ships actually come with their own hot tub, which means you always have a reserved spot to enjoy the calming warm waters of your own Jacuzzi.
Just like the AquaTheater suites, suite staterooms that have a hot tub are not going to come cheap, but if you value having the best kids of accommodations onboard, it is hard to go wrong with a hot tub that only you can get to use. Our scientific research team assures us that nearly any view is better in a hot tub.
Watch the sun rise and set (many times)
If you are not enjoying the spectacle of the sun rising and setting at least a few times during your cruise, you are missing out. When you have a balcony stateroom of your own, you can see one of nature's most beautiful events with the utmost convenience.
Granted, your balcony will need to be facing the east or west to witness this occurrence, but if things do line up, be very certain to take advantage of it.
Happy weekend before Valentine's Day! We hope you are having a fun and relaxing weekend. The perfect compliment to any Sunday is our round-up of all of this week's Royal Caribbean news.
Royal Caribbean announced, and then subsequently extended a new WOW Sale promotion, where guests can take advantage of a number of great offers.
The WOW Sale includes 60% off the second guest, up to $200 in onboard credit and 50% reduced deposit for bookings made through February 13. This offer is open to residents of the United States and Canada.
The WOW Sale is combined with the February Wave Season offer that is going on, and we have heard from lots of readers who have been able to take advantage of this latest promotion.
Royal Caribbean News
- Enjoy this photo tour of the water slides on Adventure of the Seas.
- If you were wondering, here are the pros and cons to Royal Caribbean's drink packages.
- Our comprehensive guide to Royal Caribbean's Voom WiFi internet options.
- We' are counting down the top 5 Harmony of the Seas bars and lounges.
- We spotted new tiki mugs for sale on Labadee and on Royal Caribbean ships.
- The secrets to taking great photos on your Royal Caribbean cruise.
Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast
In this episode, Matt discusses what the main dining room offers guests, and shares tips and strategies for a great time dining there throughout the cruise.
Royal Caribbean Around the Internet
The Miami Herald looks at how Ovation of the Seas caters to the Chinese guest.
Royal Caribbean has a look at the "where" and "when" of sailings.
One Boston Herald writer is enjoying cruising after years of avoiding it.
TimeOut London has a look at 10 awesome robots (including one on Royal Caribbean).
Condé Nast Traveler shares 10 amazing Caribbean gems that are sure to move higher up on your travel list.
Royal Caribbean has a list of the coolest new 2017 cruises.
No visit to Royal Caribbean's private destination of Labadee is complete without the official drink of this oasis, the Labadoozie. And now, Royal Caribbean is offering new tiki cups that will let you toast to good times in style.
Thanks to Melinda for sharing these photos!
This new cup design is available as a souvenir cup and sold at many locations in Labadee. The cups come filled with a Labadoozie, and cost $15.28 with alcohol, or $10.18 without alcohol.
Like all souvenir cups, these are not included in any Royal Caribbean drink package, but can be purchased a la carte with the SeaPass card.
Do you like these tiki cups? Will you buy one on your next visit? Share your thoughts in our comments!
Royal Caribbean's unlimited drink packages have been available for a few years and are quite popular with guests who are intrigued by the idea of having most of their beverages included, rather than having to pay for each drink. The beverage packages promise convenience and a fixed cost to ensure one less worry.
The common question cruisers ponder is to whether the drink packages are worth the cost. Of course, the answer depends on you and your family. Take into consideration some pros and cons that might help you decided if you want to add a drink package on your next cruise.
Drink as much as you want
By far the best advantage of any drink package is you get to enjoy as many drinks that are included with the package, with no limit. When people pay for drinks individually, often the cost of running up a large bill enters into their minds, but drink packages assuage that concern.
Royal Caribbean beverage packages have no daily limit, so guests can enjoy as much or little as they want every day of their cruise. The Deluxe Beverage Package and the Royal Refreshment package also offer a good variety of beverages that are included with the packages, which means added opportunity to mix up the sort of drinks that can be enjoyed.
One of the best reasons to get a drink package is that you can enjoy all the drinks available, including some new ones. You can order something and not be worried that you might not like it and have to "suffer" through it, simply because you paid for it.
Use almost anywhere onboard and onshore
Royal Caribbean drink packages work pretty much everywhere onboard the ship and even in Royal Caribbean's private destinations of CocoCay and Labadee. This means whether you are in the dining room, hanging by the pool or at a specialty restaurant, you can enjoy the drink package benefits at any time.
There are a few exceptions to where you can use the drink packages, but most guests seem to find plenty of opportunity to take advantage of the benefits.
The convenience of being able to get a drink virtually anywhere on your Royal Caribbean cruise means being able to enjoy a refreshment anytime you want.
By purchasing a drink package, you are capping the maximum cost for drinks during your cruise. Most families like to be able to budget their vacations and not come home to a monster bill. The drink package is an easy way to ensure the SeaPass account does not get out of hand.
Additionally, guests that pre-purchase their drink package prior to the cruise can take advantage of discounts and the opportunity to break up the total cost of the cruise. Royal Caribbean charges guests for the drink package at the time of purchase when booked before the cruise, which means guests can potentially pay off parts of their cruise experience on different billing cycles.
If you can drink enough every day of your cruise, a Royal Caribbean drink package can definitely save you money. With the ever increasing cost of drinks, many guests have found the drink package to be a good value. Those that enjoy cocktails will find prices regularly $10-13 per drink, which makes a drink package investment much easier to "break even."
All unlimited drink packages come with a souvenir Coca-Cola cup that not only provides an easy way to get refills, but it can be taken home as a souvenir from the cruise. Souvenirs are rarely cheap, and having a good sized mug back home will provide another reminder of the vacation fun and potentially a new favorite cup at work or home.
Since the souvenir cups come with the drink package, there is no added cost to get one and the current mugs feature fun Royal Caribbean inspired designs that are sure to put a smile on your face each time you pull it out of the cabinet.
Drinking for the sake of drinking
It is not uncommon to discover when you have a drink package, you start getting a drink just because you have the package and not because you really want one. Certainly on the first couple days of a cruise, the opportunity to enjoy plenty of cocktails is novel, but there might be a point where you are ordering drinks simply as a means of getting your package investment back.
The principle reason to purchase a drink package is that it will save you money over purchasing drinks individually. Royal Caribbean provides a value proposition to the equation with the drink packages, but often guests find themselves having a drink just because they can, just to "break even." Anyone can drink 5-7 drinks in one day, but 5-7 drinks every day of the cruise could possibly get old.
Large up-front cost
Royal Caribbean's drink packages are priced per person, and per day, so the longer your cruise, the more you will have to pay in advance for the drink package. Depending on the length of your cruise and the amount of people that want to get a drink package, that can be a lot of money to shell out.
Theoretically you will recoup that value over the course of the cruise vacation, but there is a risk of that not happening, and moreover, a big charge to start things off. Certainly pre-purchasing the drink packages before your cruise can help take the sting out a bit, since they are charged at the time of purchase, but spending $400+ for an unlimited alcohol package per person on a 7-night cruise is never easy.
Still need to pay for drinks on land
Your Royal Caribbean cruise will bring you to some amazing ports of call, but your drink packages will not work there. Outside of Labadee or CocoCay, your drink package benefits stop, which means when visiting these different cities and countries, you will still have to pay extra for drinks.
Moreover, drinks are often much cheaper to purchase while onshore than on a Royal Caribbean cruise. Some guests prefer to drink very little onboard and then spend their money on drinks while on shore. Certainly the itinerary you are on may dictate how practical this idea is, but drinking on land might be able to satisfy your drinking needs without the cost of a drink package.
Loyal cruisers receive complimentary drinks
Believe it or not, Royal Caribbean does offer complimentary beverages on their cruise, including alcohol. Royal Caribbean includes quite a few non-alcoholic beverages with your cruise fare, and for members of Royal Caribbean's Crown and Anchor Society customer loyalty program, there are even complimentary alcohol each evening.
Crown and Anchor Society members that are Diamond or above, can enjoy complimentary beverages in the Diamond lounge onboard the ship, plus the added option of drink coupons to use each evening around the ship. Guests that have access to these beverages will have a subsidy of included alcoholic beverages, which may negate the value of purchasing a drink package.
Overall, whether Royal Caribbean's drink packages make sense for you is a highly personal decision based on a lot of variables. Depending on your priorities, there decision will greatly sway in one direction or another. The drink packages absolutely can save you money and time, but it depends on the person and it would be misleading to recommend it for everyone.
These days, we are seeing discounts being offered on the drink packages, which bring down the total cost. A 20% package saving might be enough to push some folks "over the fence" to make it a worthwhile investment. In fact, anyone considering a drink package should absolutely pre-purchase a package for the discounts that show up from time to time.
Keep in mind if you are unsure about purchasing a drink package, you can always opt to purchase the drink package after your cruise begins. Royal Caribbean will prorate the package based on the remaining days of your cruise, which means you can take a couple of days to see how much you really want to drink before deciding to try the package out.
What is your experience with the Royal Caribbean drink packages? Thinking about using it? Please to share your thoughts about Royal Caribbean's drink packages and how it works (or does not work) for you in the comments. If you have comments, ask them there as well.
Friday is here and we are sharing our readers' favorite Royal Caribbean photos, because who does not enjoy a "virtual escape" to a Royal Caribbean cruise?
Put your sunglasses on in your cubicle, and enjoy this week's edition of Friday Photos.
Our first photo is from Fatima of sunset in the Mediterranean while aboard Rhapsody of the Seas.
Here is a great shot of the water slides on Harmony of the Seas by Sarah Plazak, which was taken shortly after Harmony of the Seas left port in Port Everglades.
Lynn Thomas sent this photo of Oasis of the Seas while docked in Falmouth, Jamaica. Look at the size of the ship relative to the buildings in the port!
Here is the view from Cynthia Barbour's cabana in Labadee, which looks like the perfect way to spend the day. In fact, it is my favorite spot on Labadee!
Our next photo is of Susan Widdowson dipping her toes in the Mediterranean, right before Harmony of the Seas made her transatlantic crossing.
Here is a photo from a gondola excursion through the canals of Venice that D J Ep took last year.
We wrap up this week's edition with this photo by Mark Reed and his girlfriend on their first day on Harmony of the Seas.
Thank you to everyone who shared their Royal Caribbean photos this week, and if you want to share yours, please use this form to send them in for a future Friday Photos post. Happy weekend!
Going on a Royal Caribbean cruise means you will be seeing new sights, both on your ship and on land, with the opportunity to see ancient architecture, nature at its finest and incredible cities. Naturally, capturing these moments through photos is something many people want to do because it provides the perfect souvenir from any vacation.
Whether you are shooting with a fancy DSLR camera or just your smartphone, there are some good strategies to employ, which can ensure some lovely photos after your trip is complete.
Practice before your cruise
Whether you just purchased a new camera or have had it for years, it is important to get acclimated to the nuances of your camera before your cruise. The more you can practice, the better your cruise photos will come out.
Try going to a local beach or lake to practice beach photos, or take photos at the mall or shopping center to get used to indoor photography. Regardless of if you have a DSLR camera or a point-and-shoot, the key to taking better photos is knowing how your hardware works and trying things out.
Plan your shots
While you cannot anticipate every photo you will take on a cruise, doing a bit of research into the type of photos you want to take can mean you do not come home with regrets about missing out on a photo idea. If you have cruised before, think about the sort of spots you might want to take photos and make notes about which ones are important to you. Perhaps a family photo on the balcony, or the kids meeting Shrek on the Royal Promenade.
If you are new to cruising, or new to the ship, consider looking through what others have shot and use that for inspiration for your own photos. Flickr is a great resource for seeing other people's cruise photos, and it might serve to offer ideas you had not thought of previously.
Invest in a good smartphone app
The standard photo app on your smartphone seems like it can do a lot, but third-party apps can provide a lot of extra features that can make taking great photos easier. Look for smartphone apps that offer additional features, such as a grid overlay that helps establish the Rule of Thirds when taking a photo. Composition of the photo is arguably one of the most important factors to creating a great photo, and you want to ensure the subject of your photo is properly aligned, and what is important in the photo is the focal point of the shot.
In addition, a good app will provide additional settings to manually control things like the image sensor (ISO), shutter speed and focus on the smartphone camera. You may not need it all every time, but having some control over these sort of features can help a lot depending on the type of photo you are taking.
Seek good lighting
Regardless of what you use to take photos, or where you are, ideally you will want photos that have plenty of light. The more light, the less shadows and off-colors you will run into.
Having well-lit photos is important, so try for when the light will be lower in the sky (early or late in the day). Also, the mid-day sun is typically the hottest and can be harsh, so work around that time to have photos that will come out well, and subjects who are not dealing with higher temperatures.
Of course, a cruise has so much subject matter available to shoot, so it all comes down to what you see as beautiful. Sunrise, sunset and the "blue hour" are the times of days many photographers always look for when shooting.
Check your corners before taking a photo
A common mistake aspiring photographers make is not accounting for everything in the shot. A good way to avoid unwanted objects or people in your shot is to look at every corner of the frame to see what will show up in the background and in the photo minus the subject.
Look for objects, people, and obstructions that if you just shift a little to one side or another can improve the photo greatly.
Avoid the flash
Regardless if it is day or night, do not use the flash on your camera. Ever. The flash will flood the foreground with bright light at the moment of the photo is taken but often colors get washed out and the background disappears.
What you want to do instead is learn to control the shutter and aperture of your lens to control the amount of light that is let in without the assistance of a flash. Most cameras have these sort of controls and even smartphone cameras now have basic options to assist.
To avoid blurry photos when using this technique, try to stabilize your shot. Use nearby stationary objects like garbage cans (or bring a tripod) to take a steady shot.
What are your tips for better photos on a Royal Caribbean cruise? Any recommendations or ideas of your own that you would like to share? We love hearing from readers, so if you have any other comments or questions, please feel free to post those, too.