First time cruiser's guide to Royal Caribbean's onboard activities

In:
06Jun2017

When you are onboard a Royal Caribbean cruise, there is a wide array of activities and events taking place every day of your sailing. Any notion of there not being enough to do is quickly dismissed once you take a glance at what is offered onboard.

Royal Caribbean's activities staff plan a variety of events to fill your time onboard the ship. These activities are optional for anyone to enjoy, and first time cruisers will find a great deal of options to pick from.  From trivia contests to dance lessons, exercise programs to dodge ball games, wine-tasting to surfing, there really is something for everyone.

Type of activities

From start to finish, your Royal Caribbean cruise will be filled with different activities to take part in.  Each activity is optional.  Think of them like a restaurant menu: you only enjoy what you want.  

Most of the activities listed for guests to enjoy are complimentary, which means there is no additional fee.  There are, however, certain events that have an additional cost associated with them.  It will be clearly labeled whether an event is complimentary or costs extra. 

In general, Royal Caribbean tries to offer its guests a wide variety of choices.  Having thousands of guests onboard its ships means the staff will try their best to have something for everyone.  The exact activities offered will vary from ship to ship, and sailing to sailing.  Royal Caribbean does not publish its activities prior to a cruise, but if you learn about the most common activities available onboard, it should provide a good idea of what to expect once onboard.

Physical activities

  • Rock climbing wall
  • Mini golf (not available on all ships)
  • FlowRider surf simulator (not available on all ships)
  • Sports court activities (basketball, volleyball, soccer, etc)
  • Water slides (not available on all ships)
  • Zip line (not available on all ships)
  • Ice skating (not available on all ships)
  • Fitness classes
  • Skydiving simulator (not available on all ships)

Educational

  • Trivia contests
  • Napkin folding demonstrations
  • Towel animal folding
  • History and port lectures
  • Dance lessons
  • Wine/alcohol tasting
  • Escape rooms (not available on all ships)
  • Culinary classes
  • Behind the scenes tours

Gambling

  • Bingo
  • Casino gaming lessons

Shows

  • Poolside games
  • Theatrical performances
  • Live music
  • Comedians
  • Acrobatic/dive shows
  • Karaoke

Family activities

  • DreamWorks character meet opportunities
  • Parades
  • Movies
  • Teens-only events
  • Dance parties

Cruise Compass

If you are wondering how to find out which events will happen and when, then you will want to consult the daily publication provided each day to guests, known as the Cruise Compass.  

Each evening, your stateroom attendant will deliver a paper copy of the Cruise Compass to your stateroom.  Inside, you will find a list of the next day's activities, shows and entertainment.  It also lists the times venues such as restaurants, shops, bars and the spa will be open.  There is even a weather report and information about the port you will be visiting.

Most importantly, there is a chronological listing of events from the early morning to the late evening. Each event has a time, event name, location and possibly brief description listed.  There will also be an indication if this event costs extra.

As mentioned earlier, Royal Caribbean does not provide a copy of its Cruise Compass in advance of a cruise, but we keep an archive of past Cruise Compass' on this website, so that you reference them.  While a past Cruise Compass will not provide an exact list of events for your cruise, it does serve as a "ballpark overview" of what to expect.

On Royal Caribbean ships that offer the Royal iQ smartphone app, a copy of the Cruise Compass can also be referenced there.  In fact, the app provides the ability to select events from the Cruise Compass and add them to your own personal calendar.  Royal Caribbean also announced that it is working on a new smart phone app, which should debut later this year.

Tickets and shows

Most activities and entertainment on a Royal Caribbean cruise require no reservations or tickets in advance.  Guests simply show up at the designated time and location and an activities crew member will be present to coordinate the function.

Certain events do offer advance tickets for the performances.  Oasis and Quantum class ships will even offer tickets for its theatrical products prior to the cruise, via Royal Caribbean's Cruise Planner website.  Tickets are complimentary, and guarantee a seat in the show, but not a specific seat.  Royal Caribbean also requires guests with tickets arrive to the show a certain amount of time before show time or risk losing that guarantee.

Activities such as exercise classes, wine/liquor tastings, or culinary demonstrations may require and/or offer advanced tickets to secure a spot.  The nature of these events are that there is a limit on how many guests may attend. You can certainly show up at the given time and hope for a spot, or speak to a crew member about reserving them.  Tickets to certain events are even available online via the Cruise Planner, where guests may purchase the tickets before getting onboard. 

If tickets are available prior to a cruise for an event, we generally recommend guests take advantage of the option to secure a spot for them.  Once onboard the ship, admission to certain events gets quite competitive, so taking advantage of pre-cruise reservations is a good practice.

Pools and water slides

During the daytime, the pool deck tends to be a hub of activity for guests of all ages.  Depending on the ship, guests will find a variety of pools and even water slides to enjoy.  Royal Caribbean designed their pools to be fun, relaxing and most of all refreshing experiences. Whether you are there for the ambiance, the cooling effect or the activities, time at the pool is a great idea.

Pools

Royal Caribbean's pools are a hub of activity on most cruises.  It is where the activity staff will hold many events and you will find by just spending time at the pool, you will encounter a lot of the ship's going-on's. 

Nearly all the events happening at a pool will occur at the main pool. Exact activities differ depending on your ship and sailing but here are some common ones 

  • Belly flop competition
  • World's sexiest man competition
  • Scuba classes
  • Fitness classes
  • Poolside bingo
  • Dance classes
  • Poolside movies

Water slides

In recent years, Royal Caribbean has begun adding water slides to its cruise ships.  Guests of most ages can enjoy the slides, which are complimentary and the kind of activity guests can enjoy as many times as they want.

Currently, water slides are available on

  • Harmony of the Seas
  • Symphony of the Seas
  • Liberty of the Seas
  • Adventure of the Seas

Some other ships feature slides for kids, such as the Radiance Class ships, as well as Majesty of the Seas.

Fitness Center and Gym

One popular onboard activity is staying physically fit while onboard.  Whether you love spending time at the gym, or are just looking for a way to work off the delicious food served onboard, Royal Caribbean's fitness center is the right place for you.

The fitness center is usually located near the ship's spa, and is open for most hours of the day.

Fitness center aboard Harmony of the Seas

Inside the fitness center are a variety of choices, ranging from cardio to strength-training equipment.  The equipment in Royal Caribbean's fitness center are complimentary and available on a first-come, first served basis.  There is no cost to use the machines and free weights at the fitness center.  In fact, Royal Caribbean tends to stock its gyms with top equipment for guest use.  

In addition, there are spaces for fitness classes, such as spin, yoga, and Pilates. These classes have limited capacity, and there is usually a sign up sheet near the entrance to the fitness center where guests can write down their name and stateroom number for a particular class they want to attend. Guests are charged for each class they attend, so you can attend as few or as many as you like, provided there is space available.

Family and children's activities

The heart of things to do on a Royal Caribbean ship for kids is centered around the Adventure Ocean program.  Adventure Ocean is the supervised children's program, which is kind of like camp, where parents drop the kids off and pick them up anytime while Adventure Ocean is in operation.

Adventure Ocean is available for children who are at least three years old and fully potty trained, all the way through the age of seventeen.  Counselors lead the Adventure Ocean programming while the children are in attendance, and activities are age appropriate.  These activities include art, dance parties, games, scavenger hunts, supervised play and more. Adventure Ocean is complimentary, unless your child stays in Adventure Ocean past 10pm, at which point an hourly charge is assessed. Kids may remain in Adventure Ocean until 2am during the after-hours time.

Children are split up into groups based on their age.  Older children and teenagers will find their own dedicated areas of Adventure Ocean that include lounges and teen-only events listed in the Cruise Compass.

On sea days, Adventure Ocean usually is open

  • 9am - noon
  • 2pm-5pm
  • 7pm-10pm
  • 10pm-2am (Extra cost after hours)

During port days, Adventure Ocean will be open as long as the ship is docked in port, allowing parents to leave their children in Adventure Ocean while they enjoy a time on shore.

Royal Caribbean publishes a special daily version of the Cruise Compass, just for kids and teens.  Your stateroom attendant will deliver a copy of this if there are kids in the room, and it lists Adventure Ocean programming for the coming day.  The regular Cruise Compass will also list teens-only events as well.

For children younger than three years old, Royal Caribbean's Royal Babies & Tots Nursery offers infants and toddlers supervised care for an hourly charge. 

The nursery has limited space, and it is recommended to make reservations for the times you wish to bring your child.  You can always call the nursery and inquire if there is open space to drop off at the time, but ideally you will want to make reservations. Like Adventure Ocean, the nursery is has set hours, and opens in the morning, going late into the night.  If it is a port day, the nursery can open earlier to match the time the ship is in port.

Beyond Adventure Ocean, many of the activities listed in the Cruise Compass are open to kids, as well as adults. 

Nightlife

After the sun sets, Royal Caribbean ships are filled with lots of evening activities. 

Music is a big part of Royal Caribbean's nightlife.  Guests will find live performances around the ship (primarily at bars), along with the opportunity to dance at many of them.  Dance parties on deck and in select venues are common as well, with usually a music event lasting well into the early hours of the next morning.

Each evening, there will be theatrical performances offered in the Royal Theater, as well as other venues such as Two70, the AquaTheater and/or ice skating rink.  Depending your ship, the variety and scope of nighttime entertainment will vary, but there will be something going on each evening that is clearly the primary performance.  In addition, there will be alternate times provided for most of these productions, to allow guests time to enjoy dinner without having to sacrifice seeing the show.

Royal Caribbean's shows are its signature activity, with some ships even offering full Broadway shows.  The shows are included in your cruise fare, and seating is provided on a first-come, first served basis.  We recommend arriving to any show at least 15 minutes early to secure a (good) seat.

Royal Caribbean will also regularly show feature-length films near the pool, provide sing-along music at the pub, offer karaoke performances, and much more.

Video: Culinary Creativity in Royal Caribbean’s Test Kitchen

In:
06Jun2017

At Royal Caribbean’s test kitchen, located at the cruise line’s Miami offices, great culinary minds come together to experiment with tasty ideas. From concept to reality, many signature Royal Caribbean dining experiences first came to life in the kitchen. The recipes that rise to the top are tested on board, where guests can get a taste and offer feedback until they have been tweaked and perfected, resulting in mouthwatering fare that thrills travelers at sea.

Royal Caribbean wins Effie Award for social media campaign

In:
05Jun2017

Royal Caribbean was honored with a silver Effie award at the 2017 North American Effie Awards in the Media Innovation – Existing Channel category for the #ComeSeekLive program.

The awards ceremony was held in New York CIty, and Royal Caribbean was recognized for its work offering a first-of-its-kind live, interactive experience that was showcased on billboards on the streets of New York City, thanks to the livestreaming capabilities of the social media app Periscope.

Designed and executed by Royal Caribbean’s creative agency, Mullen Lowe, and media buying agency, Mediahub, #ComeSeekLive combined traditional outdoor advertising with the then-new social platform, Periscope. Royal Caribbean's campaign enabled consumers to interact in real-time with influencers on board the cruise line’s high-tech ship, Anthem of the Seas, sailing to five idyllic Caribbean destinations. Through the #ComeSeekLive experience, audiences were given the ability to discover and participate in adventures they never expected from the brand.

The North American Effie Awards honor the most effective marketing efforts of the year in the United States and Canada.

Last minute Royal Caribbean cruise trip planning

In:
05Jun2017

Imagine this: You are sitting at home or work, looking around you and realizing that you have reached a point of needing a break from this. Surely you have earned a little break, and a Royal Caribbean cruise seems like the perfect way to escape the day to day doldrums that you are actively lamenting. Some sun, beach and a few trips to the Windjammer sounds like just what the doctor ordered.  The only problem is, you do not want to wait 6 months or more for a cruise.  You want one now!

Taking a last minute Royal Caribbean cruise may sound a little crazy, but it is doable. Sometimes folks encounter a scenario like we just described, or sometimes they just take advantage of cruises sailing soon as an excuse to get away.  While we advocate planning your Royal Caribbean cruise as far in advance as possible, taking a last minute cruise is doable, but you need to plan accordingly in a short(er) span of time.

Here is what you will need to get in order, what to expect, and how you can make the most of a last minute cruise.

Cruise Fare

Any last minute cruise is going to require purchasing cruise fare, and that means finding a ship, itinerary, stateroom and price that works for you.

When we say "last minute", in cruising that generally refers to a cruise booked no further out than 6-8 weeks in advance.  Some cruising veterans might argue a last minute cruise applies to cruises booked 2-3 months before you sail, but that is a debate for another time.  The bottom line is, you are past the final payment date for the sailing you are considering and looking to see what is available.

We should be clear, the phrase, "last minute" does not necessarily infer there is a "deal". The cruise industry is red hot these days, and Royal Caribbean ships are sailing full much more often than in years past.  Moreover, Royal Caribbean instituted a price integrity policy a couple years ago to combat super-last minute cruise fare reductions.  What this means is finding a bargain-basement price on an unsold stateroom just weeks before sailing may not be as simple as it sounds. Yes, there are deals to be found in those last few weeks, but they are significantly rarer than they used to be.

Searching for a last minute cruise fare starts out the same as looking for a cruise months and years in advance.  You should contact a travel agent to assist in the search, and you can augment the search by looking through Royal Caribbean's web site for offers.

Each week, Royal Caribbean publishes something called its Going, Going, Gone rates.  These are select sailings that have some sort of a discount associated with them because they are generally sailing soon.  They go on sale to Crown and Anchor Society members on Mondays, and then the general public Tuesday and Wednesday.  How lucrative these offers are, and the variety of choices, will greatly vary.

Of course, some people simply want to get away and finding a deal is secondary to finding a cruise that is reasonably priced. There are some good strategies for finding these sort of sailings that can apply to a variety of scenarios.

Look for a cruise sailing from fly to ports

Cruises that depart from ports like Galveston or San Juan, Puerto Rico, often start out priced lower than other sailings because people have to travel a great distance to reach them.  

Considering a cruise from one of these ports might be a good starting point for finding that price.

Guarantee rooms

To help fill in empty staterooms, Royal Caribbean will offer a guarantee room rate.  This means you pick a category of stateroom that you are promised you will receive nothing less than that.  In fact, you might even be upgraded to something higher.  On top of it, you will pay less than someone who picks their stateroom.

The "catch" to a guarantee room is that Royal Caribbean will assign your room number at some point between when you book the stateroom and your sail date.  You are essentially trading the ability to pick your stateroom location for a lower cruise fare.

Consider the calendar

The cruise industry is very much based around the concept of demand, with certain times of the year seeing higher or lower demand for a cruise.  Someone looking to take a last minute cruise in the middle of January will find a much easier time than someone in the middle of summer.

If you can, try to find a last minute cruise in a time of year when kids are in school and/or there are no major holidays occurring. Employing this strategy may find many more options to consider.

Airfare

Airfare fluctuates based upon market conditions. Since a seat on a flight is a perishable commodity, sometimes last minute airfare will be cheaper than airfare booked months in advance. However, this is not normally the case. Airlines are pretty good at anticipating demand, and price fares and schedule routes accordingly.  It makes sense to hold off on booking any last minute cruise until you can confirm a last minute flight makes financial sense.

To avoid getting burned on last minute airfare price, we recommend checking out ITA Software, which searches every airline (except Southwest) based on parameters you input. If the prices you get at first are not appealing, consider expanding your search to include airports nearby your home or where you're flying to.  As an example, if your cruise is going to depart from Port Everglades, it is easy to fly to Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach or even Orlando.

If prices are still too insane, consider driving if that is feasible.

Shore Excursions

If you have gotten this far into your last minute cruise planning, you have gotten over the most difficult hurdles.  Where your cruise will go is always an important consideration, but the good news is booking a shore excursion is relatively simple if you are booking close to your sail date.

Arguably the most difficult aspect to booking a shore excursion on a last minute cruise is you have less time to figure it all out.  For Caribbean cruises that go to ports that mainly involve some sort of beach activity, the decision can be much simpler than someone taking a last minute European cruise, where there is a wealth of choices.

If you have your heart set on a certain excursion, book it as soon as you can.  If you are flexible, or do not see anything right away that jumps out as appealing, you can certainly wait to book something later.  Heck, you can even wait to get off the ship in the port and hop into a taxi.  

Dining

In terms of the onboard experience, the problem most people who book last minute cruises run into problems is dining.  Specifically, getting the dinner rotation they prefer.  

Royal Caribbean offers My Time Dining and Traditional Dining for dinner. Depending on the sailing, your first choice may not be available.  If the dining choice you prefer is not available, the good news is there is a good strategy to still get what you want.  Have your travel agent put you on a waitlist for the dining option you want.  This puts your name on a list, and once a space opens up, you will be added.  In all my time of cruising, this has worked all but once.

If the waitlist fails to come through, then make plans to visit the dining room on embarkation day.  There will be a set time in the afternoon where the head waiter will be on duty to take dining requests and changes.  Ask to have your dining option changed to the one you prefer, and in our experience, that always comes through.

An alternative to a dining option that may not be available is to forgo the main dining room completely. There are plenty of great complimentary dining choices for dinner, including the fabulous Windjammer buffet. Many guests dine in the Windjammer each evening for dinner and never regret it.  Plus, there is far less formality to dining at the Windjammer.

Another option is to eat at specialty restaurants.  This comes with an additional cost, but the advent of specialty dining packages has made this strategy far more affordable than ever before.

Basically, doing a last minute trip from the perspective of dining just requires altering your expectations. There is a good chance you won’t get into all of your favorite options, but there likely will be great alternatives. Give those a try instead!

Your thoughts

Do you agree or disagree with our advice for planning a last minute Royal Caribbean cruise? Any hacks you use to save money on trips with little planning or advance notice? Any other recommendations? Any questions? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!

Royal Caribbean Post Round-Up: June 4, 2017

In:
04Jun2017

Happy Sunday! In case you missed any of the Royal Caribbean news from this week, we have a round-up of it all in one easy to read post!

The big news from this week is the return of the corkage fee for wine guests bring onboard their Royal Caribbean cruise and have opened at a restaurant.

Royal Caribbean updated its policy to charge guests a $15 corkage fee per bottle of wine consumed in public areas.  The new policy began this week.

The corkage fee only applies to wine brought onboard on embarkation, and not wine purchased and/or given on board.

Royal Caribbean News

Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast

The 200th episode of the Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast is now available, and we are sharing our best tips for first time cruisers.

In this episode, Matt opens the phone lines to podcast listeners to share their favorite cruise tips for someone who is taking their very first cruise.

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.

Recently added Royal Caribbean Menus

We regularly update our listing of Royal Caribbean menus to help our readers prepare for their cruise experience. Here is a listing of which menus have been updated this week.

    Royal Caribbean Around the Internet

    CNBC shared a video of Jim Cramer talking cruise stocks, including Royal Caribbean.

    Royal Caribbean recapped how 2,000 volunteers from its company helped show up for a weekend of hard work, for a good cause.

    Cruise Critic interviewed Royal Caribbean's chief meteorologist.

    Cruise Habit discusses what the start of hurricane season means to those going on a cruise.

    Alpha looks at the record breaking buildings and structures from around the world.

    Royal Caribbean shared insider tips for going to Cuba.

    Royal Caribbean charging guests corkage fee for personal wine opened onboard

    In:
    03Jun2017

    Royal Caribbean has apparently brought back the corkage fee for wine and champagne guests bring onboard.  

    According to the Royal Caribbean website, as well as reports from guests on ships sailing this week, there is a $15 corkage fee per bottle of wine consumed in public areas.

    Guests wishing to bring personal wine and champagne onboard may do so only on boarding day, limited to two (2) 750 ml bottles per stateroom. No beer or hard liquor may be brought onboard for consumption.

    Royal Caribbean removed its corkage fee in 2014 after previously charging it for many years.  

    UPDATE: It now appears that the corkage fee only applies to wine brought onboard on embarkation, and not wine purchased and/or given on board.

    Friday Photos

    In:
    02Jun2017

    This week's batch of beautiful Royal Caribbean photos is here and it's always fun to share with all of you the great photos our readers take while on their cruise vacation.

    The photos we have to show this week are fun and of course anyone can send us their Royal Caribbean photos to use as well!

    Our first photo is from Jeff L., and it is of the spools of thread artwork in the aft portion of the Royal Promenade on Independence of the Seas. Very cool!

    Ron Britt sent in this photo from a stingray excursion in CocoCay, while aboard Anthem of the Seas.

    Bret Chafe shared this photo of friends from the Royal Caribbean Blog group cruise on Navigator of the Seas. 

    David Berenbaum took this photo of Czech Sculptor' David Cerny's moving head sculpture in different lighting conditions on Harmony of the Seas. The constant movement of people is represented in the three-dimensional rotating head - and the fact that the sculpture is made from more than five tons of steel and embedded motors is amazing!

    Markita Brown shared this photo of her husband, son, and daughter's boyfriend dressing up for formal night on Harmony of the Seas. Who says people do not love dressing up for formal night?

    Here is a photo of Navigator of the Seas, as seen while Kyle Ritch was taking a tender into Grand Cayman.

    Our final photo this week is by Ryan Feuerstein of Adventure of the Seas docked in Curaçao.

    Thank you to everyone that sent in their photos this week and if you have Royal Caribbean photos, well, we want to see them!  You can use this form to send us your photos and we will feature them on an upcoming Friday Photos blog post!

    Uber and Lyft return to Houston and Galveston markets

    In:
    02Jun2017

    There is good news for cruise passengers that are looking for more options to get to the Port of Galveston from nearby airports.  A new Texas law will allow ride sharing companies like Uber and Lyft to offer their services to the Houston market.

    Uber and Lyft and the primary competitors in this space, and Lyft has already indicated it returned to Houston on May 31.  Uber has re-opened operations in Galveston on May 29. 

    Uber had left the Galveston market in 2016 following city ride share ordinances. Lyft pulled out of Houston market in 2014 after similar local laws created a problem for their operations.

    Lyft made its return to Houston on May 31.

    According to Galveston Cruise Tips, estimated fares for Uber and Lyft are $42-56 from Houston Hobby to the cruise port each way. The estimated cost is $73-96 for a ride from Bush Intercontinental to the Galveston port. It is important to remember the cost is per car, not per passenger.

    Readers can sign up for Lyft and receive a free ride credit by using this special link.  Please note that we receive a small commission for new sign-ups from links on this website.

    A look back at how Royal Caribbean weathered Hurricane Andrew

    In:
    01Jun2017

    Hurricane season in the Atlantic begins on June 1st, and the start of this potentially impactful time of year got us thinking about a major hurricane that directly impacted much of Royal Caribbean's operations.  Hurricane Andrew ravaged South Florida, and the story of how Royal Caribbean responded to the storm is an insightful reminder of the lengths at which the cruise line goes to keep its guests and employees safe.

    The story of how Royal Caribbean dealt with Hurricane Andrew is documented in the book Under Crown and Anchor: Royal Caribbean Cruise Line: The First Twenty-five Years, 1970 - 1995. This blog post borrows greatly from the author's retelling of historical events, as the events that unfolded that summer in 1992 are incredible to read about again.

    Before the storm

    Weather forecasters at the National Weather Service had been following the path of Andrew long before it would strike Florida, with a prediction of landfall at four o'clock on August 24, 1992. Majesty of the Seas was on her usual schedule of being docked at Berth 5 in Miami the day before.  Majesty departed port an hour late, but Captain Eigil Eriksen stayed with his plan to get away from the storm's path as quickly as possible.

    Shortly after Majesty left, Miami's port and airport were closed, along with Royal Caribbean's headquarters building.  Royal Caribbean's Vice-President, Purchasing, Properties & Logistics Ed Bollinger headed up a a small group of 15 employees from reservations and operations that flew to Atlanta to set up a contingency headquarters at the Hyatt Hotel.  The plan was for them to maintain communications in the event Miami's facility was incapacitated or destroyed. Royal Caribbean had adopted a hurricane preparedness plan after seeing the destruction Hurricane Hugo had leveled upon the United States Virgin Islands in 1989, and this was plan unfolded precisely as was laid out for the impending arrival of Andrew.

    In the meantime, other Royal Caribbean workers spent the weekend before the storm preparing the headquarters building at 1050 Caribbean Way. Royal Caribbean's headquarters is the only major Miami cruise-line office positioned within reach of its vessels.  Ordinarily, this helps provides a tremendous ship-to-shore link, but with a storm heading directly for Miami, it was now a liability.  Literally everything that makes Royal Caribbean function is in that building: operations, reservations, ticketing, public relations, corporate offices, human resources, entertainment. The building was considered, "hurricane proof," but Director of Facilities Barbara Cirino described the risk posed succinctly: "Our data center was surrounded by water in a building made of glass."  Ultimately, Richard Fain made the decision to take the facility down completely.

    Forty-eight hours before the storm, a Hurricane Team Meeting was called. At thirty-six hours, ground-floor files were removed and plastic bags and labels distributed.  At thirty hours, mail delivery was halted, food removed from the cafeteria, and filing cabinets wrapped.  Over 4,000 sandbags were filled and on standby in a neighboring warehouse.

    Nordic Empress

    Photo by Chris&Steve

    While all of Royal Caribbean's ships were at sea by now, Nordic Empress (later known as Empress of the Seas), was moored for the day in Nassau. Ordinarily, Nordic Empress would spend the next day off CocoCay before arriving in Miami on Monday morning. Prior to Royal Caribbean shutting down headquarters, the plan was for her Nordic Empress to return to Miami and disembark her passengers before conditions deteriorated.

    However, with the change in plans back at headquarters, Captain Kjell Smitterberg agreed to depart Nassau hour hours early.  Nordic Empress left at midnight, leaving behind three passengers who were unwilling to sail anywhere near a hurricane.  She skipped CocoCay and raced for the mainland.

    Meanwhile, Hurricane Andrew moved closer. A week earlier, Andrew had been clocked at forty knots, but the day Nordic Empress sailed from Miami, Andrew's winds had accelerated to sixty-five knots. Nonetheless, the National Weather Service claimed Andrew was, "remaining poorly organized."

    The following day, Andrew's winds escalated to ninety knots and its center began moving westward at fifteen knots.  Wind speed accelerated to over one hundred knots.

    Andrew's Arrival

    Photo by National Hurricane Center

    By Sunday, the lobby entrance was chained and padlocked, with a sandbag rampart laid across the still. The team of Royal Caribbean employees evacuated the area to secure their own homes.  Later that afternoon, Dodge Island (the location of Royal Caribbean's headquarters) was evacuated and closed down.

    Out at sea, Nordic Empress was seemingly followed by Hurricane Andrew, with both taking a westward track towards Miami. At nine o'clock, Nordic Empress received new instructions to change course ninety degrees, taking her south.  Captain Smitterberg headed through the Straits of Florida and spent the next two days idling along Cuba's northern coast through calm seas. 

    Of course, the guests aboard Nordic Empress were still worried, since many of them were from the greater Miami area.  The ship's radio-telephone capacity was taxed with everyone trying to call home.  Smitterberg understood the concern, and circulated a printed document advising guests of Miami's shutdown and that were were well out of harm's way.  Additionally, he announced, Tuesday, rather than Monday flights home were being booked at that very moment. 

    Luckily for Miami, Hurricane Andrew missed Miami from the worst damage. 

    Monday morning, it was discovered the port had suffered minimal damage, and Royal Caribbean's headquarters had weathered the storm beautifully. Remarkably, power had never been lost.  It was essential that the Data Center be air-conditioned before the computers be turned back on, which the team did, all the while with just the windows and doors open until the air conditioning could kick in. Tap water was undrinkable because an above ground main had been fractured and no city water was potable.  

    Royal Caribbean's team worked through until 2:00am Tuesday morning, bringing the building back up. In all, the facility suffered approximately $200,000 worth of damage with mostly wind damage causing leakage of subsequent rain.

    After the storm

    Photo by Ed Bollinger

    The day after the hurricane, Tuesday August 25, Nordic Empress was due at Miami's pilot station at 0600 hours.  Miami was under a citywide curfew until 7:00am, which meant Royal Caribbean employees dealt with a number of delays reaching the terminal because of the police. 

    Pier 5 had been damaged, so Nordic Empress moored at Berth 4 instead. Passenger disembarkation was slow. Line handlers were scarce and Customs and Immigration personnel arrived late for the vessel's return.  

    Nordic Empress would remain tied up at Pier 4 for the rest of the week.  Her next scheduled 4-day cruise was canceled.  While disembarking Florida passengers could drive home, those with air destinations were stranded: Airport schedules were chaotic, partly because evacuated planes from Miami had to return before service could resume.  So many out-of-state passengers simply remained on board. Reservations had alerted most Miami-bound passengers of the cancelation of their 4-day Nordic Empress cruise, however, those who showed up were permitted to embark.

    Yet a third category of impromptu passenger was welcomed on board, homeless company people.  Their houses and possessions had been destroyed, and all sense of stability had vanished. For those directly impacted by the storm, Nordic Empress was their temporary home.

    Richard Fain organized a great deal of Royal Caribbean's response effort in those hours after the storm.  At an early emergency meeting, Fain called for a company day-care center within twenty-four hours.  The plan was put into place the following day at the adjacent Terminal 12.  By week's end, a hundred children were accommodated. In the company cafeteria, the distribution of donated clothing was organized.

    Additionally, company-subsidized assistance programs were established for employees in need.  For those without insurance, Royal Caribbean underwrote low-cost construction loans; storage was arranged for household goods; counseling was offered for the traumatized; a check-cashing service was instituted until damaged ATM machines were repaired; generators below cost were provided; and special car-rental rates were established for employees without working automobiles.

    In addition to being a hotel, Nordic Empress proved to be an irreplaceable source of ice.  Miami had none.  All employees received a daily ration of a gallon of ship's fresh water and five pounds of ice. Twice daily, ice and food were sent from the vessel up to the day-care center and to the cafeteria, where employees ate free for the week. Other Nordic Empress ice went to hospitals.

    So taxing was the demand on Nordic Empress's freshwater supplies that Captain Smitterberg had to return to sea.  The city's water mains were still tainted and the vessel's reverse osmosis converter needed pure seawater to operate.  Royal Caribbean requested permission from U.S. Customs for Nordic Empress to depart temporarily, so passengers on board enjoyed a bonus cruise to nowhere. The vessel sailed Wednesday evening and returned the following morning. Overnight, she sailed 374 nautical miles up and down the coast, and her freshwater tanks were brimming.

    Nordic Empress would sail on her regular 3-day cruise Friday afternoon, leaving in her wake a port and company headquarters returned to operational status.

    Looking Back

    The story of Hurricane Andrew and how Royal Caribbean dealt with the storm is a testimony to the resilience of the people that survived and rose beyond that cataclysmic event. At the time, it was America's worst natural disaster and yet Royal Caribbean handled each phase of the event remarkably well.

    Every June, hurricane season approaches and the preparedness program devised and enacted for Hurricane Andrew continues to be a diligently rehearsed plan.

    Royal Caribbean offering cruise with perfect view of Great American solar eclipse

    In:
    01Jun2017

    On August 21, 2017, millions of people across the United States will see nature's most wondrous spectacle — a total eclipse of the Sun. If you want the perfect vantage point, Royal Caribbean is offering a special cruise just for you.

    Dubbed the, "Total Eclipse Cruise," Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas will offer a 7-night Caribbean sailing, which will cruise to the optimal spot at sea for guests to witness the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017. During the sailing, the sun will be entirely covered by the moon. 

    The Total Eclipse Cruise will feature a bucket-list-worthy viewing party with a live concert performed by a major headliner – to be revealed at a later date – to celebrate the celestial phenomenon that is poised to become the most photographed, most shared and most tweeted event in human history.

    Events include

    • dance parties, trivia
    • enrichment lectures
    • interactive science fun for kids
    • tasty cocktails and dishes with names like the Cosmic Cosmo, Planetary Punch and Moon Pie

    The 7-night Total Eclipse Cruise on board Oasis of the Seas will set sail on Aug. 20, 2017 from Orlando (Port Canaveral), Florida and visit Eastern Caribbean destinations: Phillipsburg, St. Maarten; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas; and Nassau, Bahamas.

    More information can be found at RoyalCaribbean.com/TotalEclipse.

    Seven other Royal Caribbean ships will be in the Caribbean during the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21, on itineraries ranging from 3 to 9 nights, offering guests extraordinary partial views of the phenomenon to make for a memorable experience. The seven ships are Allure of the Seas, Anthem of the Seas, Empress of the Seas, Enchantment of the Seas, Grandeur of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas and Majesty of the Seas.

    Pages