First Time Cruisers

First time cruisers: What you need to know about gratuities on Royal Caribbean

In:
19May2015

When you take a Royal Caribbean cruise, one of the costs to passengers are gratuities (tips) to crew members during your cruise.  Gratuities are the way guests can recognize great service aboard their cruise.

We provide this guide to help you understand how gratuities work on the cruise, when you can expect to pay them and how much it is.

Automatic gratuities

Royal Caribbean automatically adds a daily charge to each cruise passenger's SeaPass account to reward the great service its passengers receive.  

Each day of your cruise, Royal Caribbean will add a charge per person that will be divided among several people that you interact with likely on a daily basis:

  • stateroom attendant
  • head waiter
  • waiter
  • assistant waiter

As of January 2, 2018, the daily gratuity amount is $14.50 per guest, per day for those guests in standard accommodations.  Guests in suites will pay $17.50 per person, per day in gratuities.  The daily gratuity amount is the same for all passengers, regardless of age.

Guests have the choice to pre-pay their gratuities before their cruise to help split up the cost of their cruise vacation.

If you are a My Time Dining guest, you must prepay your gratuities.  

In addition, if a guest feels they want to alter the amount of gratuity they pay, guests can go to Guest Services aboard their cruise ship and ask to have their automatic gratuity charges changed or removed. 

Beverage gratuities

If you order beverage onboard your Royal Caribbean cruise, such as alcohol, you will be charged an automatic 18% gratuity when you receive the bill.

The gratuity amount is for the service you receive from the wait staff to serve your drink.  The gratuity amount is added to what you purchase and indicated at the bottom of your receipt.

You can add an additional tip on the receipt if you wish. 

Specialty restaurants

The surcharge you pay to dine at a specialty restaurant aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise includes the tip.

There is no need to pay a tip on top of the surcharge amount, unless you would like to.

Discretionary gratuities

In addition to the gratuities listed earlier, there are opportunities to give crew members an additional tip for excellent service.  

As the name implies, this is up to you and not expected in all cases.  Even crew members who receive an automatic gratuity can receive additional gratuities if you feel it is warranted.

Some instances where a discretionary tip may be appropriate are for room service deliveries or luggage service by porters.

You can remove the auto gratuities

As previously noted, Royal Caribbean will automatically charge you for every night of the cruise but that does not mean you have to pay it if you are not satisfied with the service. 

You can go to Guest Services at any point in your cruise and have them reduced or removed from your account if you would prefer to tip a different amount.

WOW Cards

While a monetary tip is always appreciated, if you want to recognize great service by a Royal Caribbean crew member that will have a lasting effect on their career, fill out a WOW card.

Royal Caribbean will sometimes dispense to guests at check-in special cards to write about why a particular crew member went above and beyond the kind of service you might expect.  A guest can fill out the card, give it to the crew member and the crew member will then turn the card into their manager, which will in turn be placed on their permanent file.

WOW cards can help elevate crew members when it comes time for promotions and help their careers in the long run. 

If you do not receive a WOW card at check-in, you can go to Guest Services and request them.

First time cruisers: What you need to know about taking a Royal Caribbean cruise

In:
28Feb2015

Whether you are new to cruising or just new to Royal Caribbean, there's some important things to know about taking a Royal Caribbean that can definitely improve your cruise experience.  

We're big fans of planning ahead for any cruise vacation and these tips will give you some good starting points to be prepared for your first cruise onboard Royal Caribbean.

Be sure to check-in online

In years past, Royal Caribbean used to mail you your cruise documents with everything you needed to get onboard but since we are in the digital age, Royal Caribbean now has it all online and you'll want to fill it all out in advance.

Royal Caribbean's Online Check-In is a pretty simple tool to save you time at the pier and greatly simplify the entire check in process. 

You simply need to go to the Royal Caribbean web site to check in and complete the steps.  

At the end, you will have access to print out your SetSail Pass (your cruise boarding pass) as well as luggage tags.  

Remember, you must complete and print out your SetSail Pass 3 days prior to your sail date.

Use a travel agent

We're big fans of using travel agents in general to book our Royal Caribbean cruises but if you're new to the brand, having someone who knows Royal Caribbean really well and costs you nothing extra is a great bonus.

Royal Caribbean has 22 ships in its fleet and sails to destinations around the world, so it can be difficult to be aware of all the differences and changes going on.  A good travel agent will be able to guide you in the right direction based on the kind of cruise vacation you're looking for.

There's also lots of deals and discounts to be found and between that and the general questions you may have, a travel agent will help make your first Royal Caribbean cruise a big success.

Your stateroom won't be ready until 1pm

In most cases, your stateroom may not be ready for you to go into until 1pm.  We've seen situations where the time is earlier or later but it's usually in the early afternoon.

It's important to keep this time in mind because until you get into your stateroom, you will have to carry all the luggage you opted not to check with the porters.  

I've seen plenty of families camped out with there many bags in the stairwell waiting for their stateroom to be open.  What you ought to do is only take with you what is really necessary and that way you can stay mobile and explore the ship.

Read the Cruise Compass every day

Each day of your cruise, you will find in your stateroom Royal Caribbean's daily newspaper of events called the Cruise Compass.  Inside is a listing of all the events, sales and information you need to know.

The Cruise Compass is your best way to be aware of all the interesting things going on onboard your ship.  It also included a weather forecast so you can know what to expect when you step outside or on shore.

Essentially, you're reading the Cruise Compass so you don't miss out on an event that you may have wanted to check out.  Royal Caribbean offers so much onboard their ships, it can be difficult to know what's going on, so the Cruise Compass is a great tool.

You can also get extra copies of the Cruise Compass at Guest Relations if you need additional copies for the kids (or if you're a bad sharer.  We're not judging).

Sign your kids up for Adventure Ocean on your first day

One of the must-do's for your first day aboard your Royal Caribbean ship is any children who are eligible for Royal Caribbean's complimentary kids program, Adventure Ocean, should be registered at some point that day.

Adventure Ocean is a wonderful program for kids as young as 3 years old and as old as their late teens.  On embarkation day, Adventure Ocean isn't usually open but the staff will be there to give tours of the facility as well as register your kids.  

By registering on day one, you're assured they can jump right into the fun on day two and you don't have to waste time at that point.  Embarkation day is the right time to register kids for Adventure Ocean and it will set them up for a days of great experiences.

Make reservations for the specialty restaurants

No matter which Royal Caribbean cruise you will be on, there's a number of great specialty restaurants to choose from and if you opt to dine at one of them, be sure to make a reservation.

Specialty restaurants come with an additional surcharge, either in the form of a cover charge or a la carte pricing.  Regardless, they can be quite popular for dinner, especially at peak times.  

Whether you choose to make a reservation online before your cruise or onboard, you should make a reservation to avoid waiting for a table or being locked out of dinner.  

It's easiest to make a reservation online at Royal Caribbean's website but if you prefer to wait for the cruise, you can always book a reservation onboard by visiting the restaurant, Guest Relations or calling the dining reservations phone number in your stateroom.

Don't double tip (unless you want to)

If you order a beer or alcoholic beverage, Royal Caribbean will automatically add a gratuity to your bill, so unless you really loved the bartender or waiter, don't tip them twice.

Often guests don't really read the receipt and are so accustomed to adding a tip that they don't realize gratuity has been automatically applied to the bill. 

We're not advocating not rewarding very good service, rather, be aware of what you're really paying.

There will always be something to eat available at any time

Cruises in general have a reputation for offering a lot of food to eat and it's definitely the case on Royal Caribbean too.

Check your Cruise Compass, but there's always at least one venue open 24 hours in addition to room service which has its own menu items.   You don't have to worry if you get the late-night munchies onboard because there will always be somewhere to grab a bite.

If you are looking for an after-hours meal and opt for room service, keep in mind Royal Caribbean has a $3.95 surcharge on meals ordered between midnight and 5am. 

5 completely untrue Royal Caribbean myths

In:
15Dec2014

Royal Caribbean offers fantastic cruise vacations and many millions get to enjoy these voyages each year.  There are, however, misconceptions about what a Royal Caribbean cruise is all about and they're just plain wrong.

We've got five of the biggest Royal Caribbean myths to debunk for you, which will set the record straight.

1. Only new Royal Caribbean ships have the cool stuff onboard

Royal Caribbean is about to wrap-up a $300 million project that brought many of the popular Oasis-class ammenities to all of the ships across its fleet.

Nearly all the ships in Royal Caribbean's fleet have gotten better wi-fi access, FlowRiders on select ships, brand new restaurants, nurseries, upgraded kid facilities, giant outdoor movie screens, digital wayfinders and a lot more.

The result has been an infusion of "new life" into the fleet, which gives guests more options to choose from when they select their ship.  Just because a ship is a little older than others, does not mean it lacks those cool new features that were first found on the Oasis-class.

2. You have to get really dressed up for dinner on a Royal Caribbean cruise

Cruising has changed quite a bit over the years and today, cruising is about relaxing in all aspects of the experience.

It's quite easy to go on a Royal Caribbean ship and never dress up if you don't want to.  In fact, on Quantum of the Seas, Royal Caribbean has dropped dress codes.  

Royal Caribbean does have dress codes for dinner on most of its ships, but they are suggestions and only relate to the main dining room and specialty restaurants.

Simply put, you can go on a Royal Caribbean cruise with just something that you might wear to a religious service or an upscale restaurant at home.  

3. Royal Caribbean internet is slow

Royal Caribbean just activated high-speed internet aboard its Quantum and Oasis-class ships that deliver speeds like you're at home.

On these ships, you can not only browse the internet and check email quickly, but you can stream your favorite movies or make a video call to friends or family at home.  

Royal Caribbean also has plans to roll this new high speed internet across its fleet in the coming years.

4. Royal Caribbean isn't the best cruise line for families

I could cite all the awards Royal Caribbean wins each year for being the best at family cruises but the fact is Royal Caribbean built its ships to be the perfect family vacation.

Royal Caribbean has been a partner with DreamWorks Entertainment for many years now, which offers character meets, parades, movie screenings, character breakfasts and more onboard a number of its ships.

In addition, there's the Adventure Ocean program for children that is complimentary and offers structured supervision throughout the day and night.  Even toddlers and babies can enjoy the Royal Nursery that will allow parents to get away for a bit.

Teens have dedicated areas of the ship just for them to hang out, meet other teens and make their own fun onboard. There's also the great onboard activities such as bumper cars, surf simulator, mini-golf, ice skating and more.

In short, Royal Caribbean offers a lot for kids (and their parents) to do onboard.

5. Royal Caribbean has some of the biggest cruise ships in the world, which means it will be super crowded

A ship that carries 5000 passengers can sound like it would be crowded but Royal Caribbean has been working on making the ship seem as uncrowded as it can.

Using the latest in crowd control strategies, these massive ships help spread people around and have plenty of space per passenger along with sprawling common areas that help reduce that "sardine can" feel.

Ask someone who's been on Oasis of the Seas and they'll tell you it doesn't feel like you're onboard with the population of a small town.  Rather, the ships are designed to keep people moving and for you to feel like you can stretch out anytime you want.

First time cruisers: How do I wash my clothes on my Royal Caribbean cruise?

In:
10Nov2014

You're on your first Royal Caribbean cruise and you spill something on your favorite shirt.  Or maybe your kids were a little too rambunctious in port and got their clothes dirty.  Or perhaps you want to re-wear something again.  How do you launder your clothes on your Royal Caribbean cruise?

Photo by Jeff Goldberg

Send it out

The simple answer is Royal Caribbean provides a laundering service.  Just like the dry cleaners at home, Royal Caribbean charges per item to have it washed and press, pressed only or dry cleaned only.

The price for this service depends on the item. Refer to the list below for prices for each item and its corresponding service.

Depending on when your order goes in, you often can get your clothes back the next day.

Having your clothes simply pressed is a great way to have nicer clothing, like dress shirts, suits or dresses, wrinkle free for just a small cost.

You will find order forms for laundry in your stateroom (check the closet or ask your stateroom attendant).  Fill out the paperwork, deposit the clothes in the provided bag and leave it for your stateroom attendant or hand it to him/her to take care of for you.  The cost of the order will be deducted from your SeaPass account.

Can I do it myself?

The answer to this is mostly, no.  

Royal Caribbean prohibits passengers from bringing irons onto the ship and there are no self-service laundry facilities.

However, many passengers have found you can bring single-packet detergent and fill your sink up with water to wash small loads of laundry, like soiled shirts.  It's a good solution for kids clothes mostly.

First time cruisers: What are the differences between Royal Caribbean's ships?

In:
07Nov2014

When you're trying to pick the right Royal Caribbean cruise for you, there's a lot to choose from.  Royal Caribbean currently has 22 ships in its fleet and that's a lot to choose from.  Let's discuss what the differences (and similarities) are and which one is great for you.

Royal Caribbean ships do vary considerably in size, from ships that can handle around 2000 passengers to ships that top out over 5000 passengers.  

Ship Class

The first thing to understand are the classes of ships. Royal Caribbean has 7 classes of ships in active service to choose from.  

  • Quantum
  • Oasis
  • Freedom
  • Voyager
  • Radiance
  • Vision
  • Sovereign

Ship classes are categories of ships that have a very similar size, amenities and layout.  Think of ship classes like car models.  Every Ford Mustang for any given year is based on the same build, but individual cars can have slightly different options.

By looking first at ship classes, you get to more easily see key differences between the ships.  Each class is fairly unique but you will notice similarities too.

Understanding the what each ship offers is important.  Even among sibling ships, there are some differences. For example, Liberty of the Seas offers a Broadway show whereas none of its sibling ships have one.

The differences between ships used to be much larger but Royal Caribbean embarked upon a fleet-wide refurbishment in the last few years to bring innovations first developed for the Oasis-class onto older ships in the fleet.  To be honest, the changes have breathed new life into these older ships and now the differences between all ships has been greatly reduced.

Ship age

That brings up ship age.  The tendency in the cruising industry is to build bigger ships each time, so typically the smaller ships are also the older ships.  That's not always the case but generally speaking, the last few classes of Royal Caribbean ships (Quantum, Oasis, Freedom, Voyager) are signifigantly bigger than the older classes of ships. 

The newest class of ships are Quantum, Oasis and Freedom class. The oldest are Vision and Sovereign class.

Of course, age doesn't tell the whole story. In fact, many Royal Caribbean fans will tell you the older ships are their favorite ships. Smaller ships offer a much more intimate cruise experience and they often have things the larger ships do not, like more vantage points to the ocean.

Newer cruise ships have more of the fancier and newer technologies, which can factor into your decision but the recent fleet-wide refurbishment mentioned earlier did help quite a bit in "leveling the playing field".

You shouldn't make your decision based purely on ship age but it's a key difference between the ships.

What you should pay attention to

When picking the right ship for you, look at these key factors

Ammenities for your group

Each Royal Caribbean ship offers a lot to do but if the hyped up features don't interest you, then it may not be perfect for you.  Oasis of the Seas offers zip lining, Broadway shows, a surf simulator and over a dozen restaurants but if all you want to do is enjoy pool time and read, then perhaps it's more than you need.

Likewise, if you've got children, the newer ships in the fleet have larger and newer kids club facilities that will be a better fit.  Look at the features each ship has and see which are relevant most to you.

Price

I love the newest ships Royal Caribbean rolls out, but if I can get a similar cruise on a smaller ship for a fraction of the cost, then I'll gladly take it.  

Pricing fluxuates a lot but newer ships command a higher price, so if there's a deal to be found, then consider that option too.  You shouldn't let price solely dictate which ship you pick, but it's a powerful factor.

Where it's going

One advantage smaller Royal Caribbean ships have over larger ones is they can go to many ports the big ones cannot.  

Many ports in Europe, Asia and the Pacific can't handle the new mega-cruise ships Royal Caribbean has built so if you have your heart set on certain ports of call, make sure the ship you pick can get you there.

What first time cruisers need to know about Quantum of the Seas

In:
30Oct2014

Royal Caribbean is once again changing our idea of what a cruise ship can offer with its soon-to-debut Quantum of the Seas in just a few weeks.  But with this new ship comes arguably the most planning required to take advantage of this new ship and experience everything to its fullest.  If you're new to cruising, here's what you need to know about this new ship.

Pre-plan online

Before you ever step foot onboard Quantum of the Seas, Royal Caribbean is strongly encouraging all guests to plan ahead online.  

Using their new Cruise Planner online app, guests can make reservations for the new Dynamic Dining restaurants, shows, excursions and more.  

Royal Caribbean says you can wait to book these things onboard the ship but availability will be subject to if space is still available.  That's a big if.

Previous to the Quantum-class, online planning was available but not nearly as important as with this new ship.  Checking into your cruise online allows you to upload a photo of yourself, set up your credit card and do everything you can now to skip the lines at the embarkation pier.  In fact, you can pre-book what time you want to arrive to ensure you get from curb to ship in 10 minutes.

Dining onboard is completely different

With Quantum of the Seas we get our first taste of what Royal Caribbean is calling Dynamic Dining.

Instead of a main dining room with set dinner times, there are a number of restaurants that you can choose to dine at.  Some restaurants are included in the cruise fare while others have an additional cover charge cost.  

The concept is brand new to Royal Caribbean and it's a big push to get away from the formality of cruising's past.  Once again, you are encouraged to book reservations in advance to avoid being locked out of the places you want to go to.

Don't worry, there's still plenty of complimentary dining options as well as more casual fare, including a 24-hour buffet restaurant at the Windjammer Marketplace.

Check out the unique things on Quantum

Each new class of cruise ship that Royal Caribbean designs has amenities and activities unique to that class and Quantum of the Seas comes with quite a few of them herself.  Here are the ones not to miss

  • North Star - An observation pod that brings you 300 feet above sea level for impressive views all around you. (Complimentary)
  • SeaPlex - A brand new multi-purpose sports complex that will allow guests to roller skate, shoot hoops, learn to be a clown and drive bumper cars all in one cruise. (Complimentary)
  • Two70° - A two deck high space that offers sweeping views of the ocean that begins as a lounge by day but at night transforms into an eye-poppinmg show that utilizes robots. (Complimentary)
  • RipCord - Ever dreamed of sky diving? Me neither but now you can experience what it's like to sky dive in a safe simulator onboard. (Complimentary)
  • Music Hall - A new music venue that was designed to be the place for live musical performances.  (Complimentary)
  • Mamma Mia! - The hit Broadway show is available to see onboard this ship every sailing. (Complimentary)

There's a lot more new and really cool innovations on Quantum of the Seas but you're likely the ones we listed are the most noteworthy.

Research your rooms

Quantum of the Seas offers a number of different staterooms to choose from.  It's always a good idea to know all the options out there, but Quantum of the Seas has even more new types of staterooms than any other Royal Caribbean ship.

If you're cruising solo, there are brand new studio staterooms just for you. No more single supplement fee, these staterooms offer those going solo an affordable vacation choice.

Also really different are the virtual balcony staterooms.  Instead of a boring interior stateroom with no view, how about an 80-inch LCD screen that delivers live views outside the ship that mimic what a balcony would look like, including the sound!

If luxury is your game, then check out the Royal Loft Suites that are two-story accomodations meant to wow everyone.  If you're going to spend enough money to buy a used car on the cruise, this is the stateroom for you.

Your Thoughts...

If you're a veteran Royal Caribbean cruiser, what advice do you think is important for a first time cruiser to be aware of?  Please share your thoughts in the comments!

First time cruisers: Dinner on Royal Caribbean

In:
24Oct2014

If you're new to cruising or just Royal Caribbean, dinner onboard may seem different than you're used to, so here's a guide to how dinner is handled in the main dining room on your cruise ship.

There are two types of dinner experiences you can expect on a Royal Caribbean cruise.  Which type you have the opportunity to get to experience depends on the ship you pick.

Traditional dining

As the name implies, traditional dining is the classic means of experiencing dinner on your Royal Caribbean cruise.

There are two seatings, first and second seating.  First seating is usually around 6:00pm and second seating is usually around 8:00pm. Exact times will vary.

When you book your cruise, you can choose which seating you like. Typically families choose first seating because it's harder to keep kids up later for the second seating.  You will still see kids in second seating, but there tends to be more families in the first seating.

You will be assigned a table in the main dining room that can be as small as two people or as large as 16 or even larger.  Royal Caribbean can also place you at a table with other guests onboard your ship.  Who you sit with (if anyone else) depends on a few factors but it's usually the norm to be seated with others.  

You can change your seating if you prefer not to sit with others or are unhappy with whom you are seated with.  Speak to the head waiter to arrange a change, although changes are subject to availability.

Once seated, you will be taken care of by your main waiter, assistant waiter, and to a lesser degree, head waiter.  

The main waiter takes your orders and brings you your food.  Your main waiter is your primary point of contact and will do most of the serving.  The assistant waiter is the head waiter's help and brings you beverages, bread and otherwise assists the main waiter.

The head waiter largely manages the wait staff he or she is responsible for and can handle special requests.  You may not see the head waiter that much but it's usual to have the head waiter visit your table once every night or two.

Eating at the main dining room is a lot like eating at any restaurant at home in that you get a menu of appetizers, entrees and dessert and you can choose anything on the menu.  In fact, you can order as much food as you want so feel free to get a few entrees and appetizers.

THE TRUTH ABOUT DINNER DRESS CODES

My Time Dining

My Time Dining is a lot like traditional dining with one big exception: you do not have a set time that is the same every night of your cruise.

You will still dine in the main dining room, but you can choose between making reservations or showing up and waiting for a table.  

My Time Dining advertises its benefit as being you do not have a set time to eat each night.  So if one night you feel like dinner at 6pm but another night you want to stay at the pool later, you can come eat at 8:30pm.

Like the main dining room, you may be seated with other people at your table.  Where you sit is subject to availability.  Unlike the main dining room, you may not have the same wait staff each night.  You can request certain waiters but you may have to wait to be seated at a table they serve.

The my time dining experience once seated is nearly identical to traditional dining.  You order off of the same menu as traditional dining and can order as much food as you like from that menu.

First time cruisers: Disembarkation day

In:
12Aug2014

Getting off your Royal Caribbean cruise to go home is without a doubt the saddest day of your vacation. No one likes it and even thinking about it is downright depressing but it's busy day so we wanted to discuss what you need to know about getting off your cruise to go home.

Bring your luggage or let someone else do it?

The first thing you have to decide is if you want to have Royal Caribbean bring your luggage off the ship and onto shore for you or if you want to bring your luggage yourself.

Those that take their luggage on their own can get off the ship anytime they want once the ship has cleared customs.  This allows for the speediest exit from the trip and for those that want or need to get going early, this is the best solution.

Of course, taking your own luggage means you have to physically bring it from your stateroom, through the ship and onto shore.  That's a lot of lugging, which may be too physically demanding for many.  Luckily, Royal Caribbean offers a complimentary service where they will pick up your luggage the night before your ship returns and deliver the luggage to shore for you.

Part of this decision is if you can physically handle taking the luggage yourself but the other part is what your plans are.  If you have an early flight or a long drive, or just have plans and want to disembark early, taking your own luggage is the best option.  If you have a little more time or want to enjoy a few mour hours onboard the ship, then let Royal Caribbean take your luggage.

Numbers

Royal Caribbean gives every cruiser luggage tags with a number at the end of the cruise in sequential order.  The number corresponds to what time your luggage will be ready for you to  get off the ship.  

These numbers are supposed to be based on your plans for after the cruise, meaning those with early flights will get lower numbers while locals may get higher numbers.

Don't worry if your number seems high because you can always go to Guest Relations and get a lower number if you need it.  If you need to be one of the first groups off the ship, ask to speak to a manager because it's been our experience "the squeaky wheel gets the oil", if you know what I mean.

The night before

The night before your cruise is when you will have to start packing and getting ready in earnest. If you elect to have Royal Caribbean take your luggage, you need to have your luggage packed and in the hallway outside of your stateroom by a certain time (usually 11pm).

Royal Caribbean crew members will take your luggage and have it ready for disembarkation so all you have to do is bring a small bag with things you cannot pack and go to the luggage pick up area once on shore.

It's very important to remember to leave things you will need not just that night but the morning after.  Clothes, shoes, toothbrushes, glasses and other useful things are important to have for that final morning so make sure not to pack it.  Royal Caribbean crew can tell you stories about many guests who forgot to leave clothes for the next day and ended up disembarking in their pajamas. Don't be those people!

Disembarkation day

Once your cruise ship docks, things will get going early.  

Breakfast will be available in select locations, like the Windjammer and the Main Dining Room.  Once you pack up the last of your things, bring all of your belongings to breakfast and enjoy a meal before being directed to your waiting station.

Each group number (the number from your luggage) has a special waiting area so you can sit down and relax.  

Once customs clears your ship, Royal Caribbean will begin calling numbers, with groups spaced out evenly to (try to) avoid congestion. If you are taking your own luggage off the ship, you can disembark anytime you want.

The last people will need to leave by about 9am or so.  It's important to note that breakfast service usually ends early, so check your Cruise Compass the night before to know what will be available.

Once you leave the ship, you will scan your SeaPass card one final time before going to the port luggage area to get your luggage from an area for each number.  You can optionally use a porter to haul your luggage for you (the service is free but a tip is expected).

I always recommend a porter for making things easier on yourself (you're still on vacation!) and porters often get special customs lines for them that move faster.

First time cruisers: The truth about dress codes

In:
21Jul2014

If you're new to cruising, often there's a lot of confusion and misconceptions surrounding the idea of dress codes and how formal (or informal) you have to be on your Royal Caribbean cruise.  It's time to clear the air about what to wear!

Here's the quick and simple answer: 

You don't have to dress up at all!

That's right, if you want to wear shorts and tanktops all day, every day of your cruise there is no reason you cannot.  Royal Caribbean has a few dress codes that are only for dining in select restaurants. Otherwise, you can wear whatever suits you all the time.

When and where you will need to dress up

The only places you will need to adjust what you wear is in select restaurants.  The main dining room has a dress code for every night, which is stipulated in the Cruise Compass.  It varies from casual to formal and applies to dinner only.  

For breakfast and lunch (if open,), the main dining room has a less stringent dress code of no swimsuits, hats, tanktops or other pool clothing.

The specialty restaurants always have a dress code that falls somewhere between casual and formal that Royal Caribbean calls "smart casual".  Royal Caribbean defines it as, "jackets and ties for men, dresses or pantsuits for women.

Other complimentary restaurants such as the Windjammer or Seaview Cafe simply require shoes and a shirt. 

Casual is okay

Worrying about the dress code can be a major obstacle for those new to cruising but it really does not have to be a problem at all.  

Some people enjoy dressing up and others despise it and it's okay for both people.  Royal Caribbean offers dress code suggestions with alternative dining venues if you choose not to dress up.  

In fact, a lot of veteran Royal Caribbean cruisers will tell you they really enjoy dining in the Windjammer every night for the wide variety of food and relaxed atmosphere.  

If you feel like packing a collared shirt and "nice" jeans and maybe a dress to have a nice night out, that's okay too.  Royal Caribbean wants every guest to feel comfortable and under no pressure when it comes to what to wear at dinner.

Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas

You have heard about Royal Caribbean's newest class of cruise ships coming in 2014 and 2015, Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas (there's a third, unnamed ship in that class too) and these ships are turning dress codes upside down.

Royal Caribbean is dropping formal night dress code for ship wide recommendations.  Instead, they will have one restaurant that only offers formal dress every night.  A more relaxed attitude towards dress codes is also going to be felt across the entire ship.

Don't worry!

The bottom line is don't worry about dress codes.  At all.  They exist but they are suggestions and you will not be ostricized for not following them.  

There are lots of places to eat onboard if you choose not to follow them and even when you do follow them, the dress codes are pretty relaxed. Royal Caribbean ships are not full of people in tuxedos and formal ball gowns.  

Enjoy your Royal Caribbean cruise experience without worrying about what you will be wearing at any given time.

First time cruisers: Ten mistakes to avoid

In:
17Jul2014

Going on your first Royal Caribbean cruise is exciting and it will likely be a lot of fun but people new to cruising can often make mistakes along the way.  The good news is, you can avoid these 10 common mistakes to ensure your first Royal Caribbean cruise is awesome.

10. Not researching your ports

When you get off your ship and into the ports of call that your Royal Caribbean cruise will visit, you do not want to be at a loss for what to do.

The Internet is a wealth of information for figuring out the best activities to do in every port your cruise will visit.  Researching in advance will give you the chance to figure out what your group can do and what may be available.

"Winging it" can be adventurous but being informed about your choices in advance gives you a major advantage, especially if you're interested in an activity that has limited capacity.

9. Not bringing a passport

Let me be as clear as I can: get yourself a passport.

Cruises leaving the United States have the option for Americans to sail with either a passport or birth certificate and for those that do not have a birth certificate but if things go wrong in another country, the difference between having a passport and not having a passport is tremendous.  If you have a passport, you can leave that very minute to go back to the United States. Without it, you will have to go to the embassy and go through a lot of red tape to get a visa back to the country.  It's not fun.

While expensive, passports are still the best way to get you onboard your cruise.

8. Not using a travel agent

When it comes to cruising, I love using travel agents because they make my life so much easier.  

A good travel agent that specializes in cruising can really help make your first Royal Caribbean cruise a big success.  They will help navigate you throughout the whole booking process and be your guide to what makes the most sense for your family.  Early or late dinner? Travel insurance or not? Which day to arrive? These are all great questions that require personal input.

When it comes to making changes to your reservation, such as pricing out different staterooms, changes in fares, adding more people to your reservation or anything else requiring speaking with Royal Caribbean, the hold times for the phone can be downright awful.  But a travel agent will do all that leg work for you.

In addition, a good travel agent will work to get you the best deal on your cruise not only today but every day until the final payment date.  They can be save you money in addition to time.  And did I mention travel agents cost you nothing?

If something were to go wrong during your cruise, contact your agent and it's now their problem to solve. Always enlist your agent to handle issues on your behalf.

7. Sailing to the wrong place

Which itinerary you pick is important so make sure which sailing you choose is right for you.  

Very short sailings (3-4 nights) may be appealing but anyone who has cruised before will tell you those are just too short.  Five to seven night sailings seem to be a better balance in general and give you a real sense of what cruising is like.

Likewise, where you sail to is important.  Try picking an itinerary that stops in ports of call that really interest you instead of just choosing the cheapest fare available.  There are so many ports Royal Caribbean visits these days but make sure they are in line with the sort of activities you enjoy.  The Caribbean is full of beautiful beaches while Europe is more about urban exploration.  

6. Picking the wrong stateroom

Price is not the end all, be all of choosing the right Royal Caribbean cruise but it certainly is important and the stateroom you pick out first will be important.

In general, staterooms in the middle of the ship are the most desirable for their convenient location as well as least motion felt by the ocean.  For first timer cruisers, staterooms in the very front or rear of the ship can save you some money but you may not find it as enjoyable being there.

In addition, paying a little extra for ocean view or balcony staterooms may be worth the money for the extra space.  Don't under-estimate the imporant of a few extra square feet when it comes to stateroom size.

5. Skipping the specialty restaurants

Royal Caribbean's specialty restaurants, which have an additional cost to dine there, are among the best dining locations at sea and you're missing out if you don't try one or four.

You can always dine at the complimentary restaurants but working in a specialty restaurant on a few nights of your cruise can really give you a nice change of pace and exposure to cuisines that aren't available elsewhere for free onboard.

Royal Caribbean's specialty restaurants are wonderful and it's hard to go wrong at any of them, so it's worth spending a little bit more to eat here a few times.

4.Picking the wrong ship class (for you)

Royal Caribbean has over 20 ships in their fleet and there's new ships coming online all the time but the reality is not every Royal Caribbean ship is perfect for everyone.

I've loved exploring many of the ships Royal Caribbean has but there's no question in my mind the ships that are either new or recently refurbished are among the best choice for first time cruisers.  The reason is the newer ships have the most new ammenities and offer the largest variety of activities onboard.

For families especially, the newer ships have larger kid spaces and more for them to do.  I'm a fan of the Oasis, Freedom and Voyager class specifically as good choices for first timers.

3. Only booking Royal Caribbean excursions

Royal Caribbean offers a lot of great excursions that are easy to book and offer tremendous convenience but often it comes at a price.  Booking excursions on your own can be a great way to have more choices and save you some money.

We're not saying never book Royal Caribbean's excursions, but at least consider third party excursions for their tremendous value and smaller group size.  

2. Tipping on top of the auto-gratuity

Royal Caribbean adds an automatic gratuity to pretty much everything you spend onboard, from booze to spa treatments to food.

When you buy something with your SeaPass card, look at the receipt before adding a tip because most often there is already a 18% tip there.  

And while over tipping is something to avoid, you do want to make sure that you are tipping good service, especially waiters, porters and attendants.

Of course, if the Royal Caribbean crew member did a tremendous job, then please feel free to reward them appropriately!

1. Flying to your cruise on embarkation day

If you have to fly to your cruise, do not book your flight for the same day your cruise leaves because you're only setting yourself up for a potential problem.

Veteran cruisers will always fly in at least one day before their cruise leaves and that's to avoid travel nightmares that the airlines are notorious for. Delays, weather and breakdowns happen consistantly so don't let those kind of inconveniences cause you to miss your cruise.

Getting in a day early will give you plenty of time to get past any travel delays you encounter with the added bonus of beginning your vacation a day earlier!

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