Planning

The total Royal Caribbean cruise planning timeline

In:
Category: 
09Feb2015

Whether you're new to Royal Caribbean or been on a few cruises, there's a lot of considerations as to when to research, plan and book your cruise vacation.  It can be complicated and moreover, you want to ensure you aren't missing something important.

Thanks to the members of Royal Caribbean Blog, we've compiled an optimal timeline of what you should do, when to ensure you're ahead of the game in all respects.

This timeline is a suggestion and it is not to say that not following it in its entirety will lead to be a bad cruise experience.  Rather, this should be a guideline for your planning to assist, not dictate the cruise planning.

24-12 months before your cruise 

  • Start looking at cruise itineraries to pick the right one for you.
  • Check RoyalCaribbean.com for available sailing dates and cruise options.  Depending on when you're looking, deployment schedules may limit how far in advance you can actually book.  
  • Be sure to also look at deck plans for which staterooms have most space (i.e. hump staterooms). Also consider using cruisedeckplans.com to be able to drag the decks above and below your stateroom to ensure your room isn't going to have noise bleed.
  • Put a deposit down on the sailing you want and to reserve the stateroom you want.  You can change or cancel the cruise without penalty for several months while you continue researching.
  • Research if trip insurance for your cruise makes sense, perhaps due to hurricane season or if there are health risks involved.  Royal Caribbean offers insurance as well as third party suppliers, which are often cheaper.
  • Look at excursions after placing your deposit.  When excursions become available varies widely but it's best to start looking at what Royal Caribbean is offer as early as possible.

90 days before cruise 

  • Final payment due for all holiday cruises (Christmas or New Years Day). Look for your passport or birth certificate & make sure they 1) can be found 2) are up to date.
  • Online check-in becomes available
  • Start researching third party shore excursion options.  
  • Check your passports.  If you need to replace a lost birth certificate, apply for a new passport, or renew one that is about to expire, start the paperwork now.

75 days before your cruise

  • Final payment due for 7-night or longer cruises. Look for your passport or birth certificate & make sure they 1) can be found 2) are up to date.

74 - 65 days before your cruise 

  • For those on 7-night or longer cruises, check again for available staterooms, dining, entertainment or shore excursions that may have become available due to other guests not making final payment.

60 days before your cruise 

  • Final payment due for 3, 4 or 5-night cruises. Look for your passport or birth certificate & make sure they 1) can be found 2) are up to date.
  • Around this time dining and entertainment reservations will become available on royalcaribbean.com

59 - 50 days before your cruise  

  • For those on 5-night or shorter cruises, check again for available staterooms, dining, entertainment or shore excursions that may have become available due to other guests not making final payment.

49 days before cruise 

  • E-docs and luggage tags are available to download and print.

4 days before your cruise

  • Last chance to complete online check-in at royalcaribbean.com. You must complete and print out your SetSail Pass by now.

3 days before your cruise

  • Last chance to reserve shore excursions, specialty restaurants, spa or salon services using Cruise Planner. 

72 - 24 hours before your cruise 

  • Check into your airline online
  • Do one last check of weather expected for your cruise.

2 days before your cruise 

  • Last chance to purchase Gifts and Gear from Royal Caribbean.

Planning a Royal Caribbean cruise: Labadee

In:
Category: 
15Jan2015

In just a matter of weeks, I will be going on my next Royal Caribbean cruise, and I want to take you along for the planning of my cruise with what my plans are for shore excursions.  I hope this will give you some insight into my thought process and perhaps this will assist you for planning your next Royal Caribbean cruise too.

Today, we are going to look at excursion ideas for one of our stops on Quantum of the Seas 8-night cruise, Royal Caribbean's private island of Labadee.

Background

Labadee is a private "island" that Royal Caribbean leases from Haiti and it's one of my favorite places to visit for it's sheer beauty.

Labadee was designed to be the perfect destination relax and enjoy the beach.  There's a little shopping and some quaint cultural options but if you're going to Labadee, it's for the beach experience.

I've been to Labadee three or four times now and it seems like I always do the same thing: grab a spot on the beach and enjoy.  There's nothing wrong with that but I would like to try something else besides just a swim and getting a tan.

When I began doing research into what's available to do besides just swimming, I quickly remembered why I primarily just did the beach thing and that's the cost of the other activities. I would not characterize the options as prohibitively expensive but it does give me pause.  

The Options

After some looking around Royal Caribbean's Cruise Planner app, I came up with these excursion ideas.

Dragon's Tail Coaster

A few years ago, Royal Caribbean built an alpine coaster that descends down to the beach from a 680-foot height.  

Photo by drum881

It's set on Santa Maria's lookout mountain and promises a 30 miles per hour ride with 360-degree turns.  There's a great view at the top and along the way, along with a little thrill.

A single ride costs $26 and an all-day pass costs $36, so if I were to ride more than once I would "break even" on the cost.  Of course, the question is how many times would I really want to ride.  If I were to ride three times, would I just be riding three times to get my money's worth or would I genuinely find it something I'd want to do again and again.

Pros: Something new to try; Fairly inexpensive

Cons: All-day pass may not be worth it

Dragon's Splash Waterslide

I actually was not aware this was an option until I looked over the excursions.  Dragon's Splash Waterslide is an almost 300-foot slide that drops you into an 18-foot splash zone.  

Photo by TravnKC

It's hard to describe this anymore than I have, after all, it's a waterslide! They are fun but is it something I really need to try?  I've also heard that the metal can get hot in the sun (it's made out of stainless steel).

Pros: I haven't met a waterslide that wasn't fun to go down

Cons: $24 for one ride is rather pricey. 

Dragon's Breath Flight Line Tour

If you ask me, this is the pièce de résistance of Labadee. This 2,600 foot zip line gives you arguably the best view of Labadee as you zoom over the beaches of Labadee.

Photo by kbmay1

Custom-made safari vehicles bring you 500 feet above the beach to the zip line that will take you over Labadee at a speed of up 50 50 miles per hour and end up at Dragon's Breath Rock.

I've always wanted to try this but the primary reason I have not is because this excursion costs $96.  

Most people I've talked to that have tried it have said it was not worth the money but they did think it was something you had to try once.

Pros: Always wanted to try this: Unparalleled views of Labadee

​Cons: Expensive

Labadee Parasailing Experience

As I was thinking about that zip line tour, I ran across the parasailing option that offers a similar experience form slightly less money.

Photo by Leandro Rizzi dos Santos

The Labadee Parasailing Experience will bring you 400 feet above the ocean to enjoy a bird's eye view of Labadee and the surrounding area.

Unlike the zip line, there's a wider angle of Labadee to enjoy and you also get a speed boat ride in addition to just parasailing.

My primary concern is because of a bad parasailing experience I had once.  I have gone parasailing twice and one time the seas were rather rough and the speed boat was rocking quite a bit and a few people got sea sick to the point of "feeding the fishes".  It was miserable despite the fun time in the air.

Pros: Slightly cheaper than zip line

Cons: Bad prior experience; Parasailing happens away from Labadee

Labadee Cataway at Malfini

In an effort to consider something much different, I ran across another option I had no idea existed with a beach break at a remote beach near Labadee.

Photo by Colleen Travis

Royal Caribbean offers a quiet getaway at Malfini, which evidently far enough from Labadee to offer a private beach experience but close enough to be convenient.

Royal Caribbean describes it as a "secret paradise" with white sands in a remote cove.  There's floating mats available and "Malfini Punch" to try.

This sounds interesting but I keep wondering why I would go to a beach when Labadee is a great beach and free.  

Pros: Remote beach experience away from the crowds

Cons: Extra cost to do something I can do at Labadee for nothing extra

The Decision

After considering my options, I've ended up choosing: Dragon's Tail Coaster & Dragon's Breath Flight Line Tour.

Despite my earlier assertion that I wanted to try new things, I also wanted to have time to actually sit on Labadee and have a Labadoozie (or two) and enjoy the beach in addition to what I picked.  

I feel like the zip line and coaster are good choices of things to try at least once and are also of greatest interest to blog readers, who may be interested in trying the same thing.

If money wasn't a concern, I would probably include the water slide too but I just can't justify the cost for one ride.  

I think my choices will give me a taste of something different while still leaving me plenty of time to enjoy the wonderful beaches Labadee offers.

Cruise Compasses on Royal Caribbean Blog

In:
Category: 
25Jun2014

Our newest podcast episode is out to help give you a quick "audio escape" to a Royal Caribbean cruise!

Episode 47 is available for downloading where we take a look at the daily newsletter Royal Caribbean provides, the Cruise Compass.

Matt describes what the Cruise Compass contains, how to look through it and how to best utilize it to plan your day aboard your Royal Caribbean cruise.

Here’s the podcast page for Episode 47. And don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast via RSSStitcher or on iTunes!

Take a listen and as always, let us know what you think! Please rate and review the podcast on iTunes and leave your comments below!

How to convince someone to take a Royal Caribbean cruise

In:
19Mar2014

I was inspired by a fellow blogger who wrote about, "How to convince someone to visit Disney" and it got me thinking about a common question I run across of how to convince someone to take a Royal Caribbean cruise.

This question is targeted at two very different groups of people: those that have cruised before (but with other cruise lines) and those that have never cruised before.

I know I've received my fair share of friends, family and blog readers who want to know why I choose to cruise on Royal Caribbean so much.  It's a fair question because when you see someone really fall in love with a brand like Royal Caribbean, some people start to wonder what the appeal is to see if perhaps they are interested too.

As fans of Royal Caribbean cruising, we're passionate people that want to share the excitement of a Royal Caribbean cruise with everyone else.  After all, cruising with friends is always best and by bringing people new to Royal Caribbean to try it too, you're hopefully helping them discover a very fun vacation.

The good news is regardless of if the person you are looking to convince (new to cruising or not), I believe it is very possible to convince someone to give Royal Caribbean a try (and have a good time too).

Hype the value

Cruising in general is a pretty good vacation value when you start comparing it to comparable land vacations.  Because food, travel (between ports) and entertainment come with the price you pay for the cruise, what you get for what you pay is often a good balance.

With Royal Caribbean, I feel their balance of cost versus product is the best in the marketplace today.  Sure there are cruise lines out there with cheaper cruise prices but I feel what you get for the money isn't satisfying.  Likewise, cruise lines that charge more than Royal Caribbean don't deliver that much more than Royal Caribbean does (for less money).

Thanks to Royal Caribbean's vast fleet of ships, there's good prices to be found year-round and around the world.  

When you're trying to convince someone why Royal Caribbean makes sense, I often start with the bottom line price of how much it will cost to get onboard and remind them of everything they get for that price.  Food, onboard activities, pools, shows, demonstrations, more food, dancing, bars and more (did I mention food?).

It's not what you think

For those new to cruising, I think many people have certain ideas or pre-conceived notions of what a cruise is like.  It's largely based on what they've seen in television or movies and most times it's just not accurate.

The people that bring up the news stories about Norovirus, people getting lost at sea and other shocking stories, I remind them people get hurt everywhere on vacation.  Sadly, it's a fact of life.  

People get sick, hurt or worse at the beach, theme parks or in major cities.  The fact is, you can't avoid these risks because it's really just a fact of life.  However, the reality is it's very unlikely it will happen to you.  Remind them that the odds are low and Norovirus strikes many more people on land then ever at sea.  Remind them people get hurt all the time, everywhere.  You just have to be careful and mindful of the risks in advance.

The other major misconception is that all you do on a cruise is sit by the pool and there's nothing really to do.  I like to pull up a cruise compass from a recent Royal Caribbean cruise and start rattling off different activities onboard.  I often find these same people are surprised by how much there is to do on a Royal Caribbean ship.

In fact, I'll mention among the things Royal Caribbean does really well is offer a lot to do, especially on the newer cruise ships.  The company has strived for years to offer more and more onboard (often for free) and it's really up to you how much you want to do (or don't want to do).

Don't overdo it

I know you really, really want them to love Royal Caribbean cruises as much as you but the last thing you want to do is overwhelm them.  You and I probably enjoy reading a site like this, checking out the latest YouTube videos of Royal Caribbean cruises and perusing Cruise Critic message boards until the server crashes but don't put that stuff in front of them.

While you may be a super Royal Caribbean fan, they are new and likely hesitant.  Let them get excited on their own when you mention the cool ports you are visiting or the new specialty restaurants you want to try with them.

It's important to let them move at their own pace and respect that they are still on the fence, even if they have tentatively committed to the idea.  Remember, one of the best aspects of a Royal Caribbean cruise is it's your choice what you want to do and how much of it you want to do.

I think it can be fun to email them a cruise photo you run across now and then of something they can look forward to if they go on the cruise or maybe a video of sunset on the pool deck of a Royal Caribbean ship to give them the sense of what to expect.  

Family fun

Royal Caribbean is a cruise line for almost anyone I feel, but there's no denying it appeals directly to family cruising.  This can be families with young children or older children.  Heck, grown up kids too!

Knowing whom you are trying to convince, if they are looking for a family vacation talk up the family aspect of a Royal Caribbean cruise.  There's opportunity for doing a lot of things together as well as alone time too.

Certainly families with younger kids will appreciate Adventure Ocean for two basic reasons.  First and foremost, the kids will have structured and supervised activities each day to take part in and meet new friends.  Royal Caribbean has focused more and more attention to its Adventure Ocean program, which goes from 3 years old all the way up to 17.

The other big selling point is for the adults because it's your opportunity to get alone time on the cruise.  We all love our kids but having a little time to relax alone by the pool, go shopping or take a walk together means a lot.  I can tell you as a dad getting some time with my wife to enjoy a drink at the bar was lovely.

Of course, families do want to spend time together and the nature of a Royal Caribbean cruise celebrates that.  From shore excursions where you will experience new adventures together to the onboard dining venues to the daily activities, there's a lot for families to do together.

Anything else?

Those are some good selling points for convincing someone to take a Royal Caribbean cruise but is there another good point or "ammunition" to use in convincing others to give Royal Caribbean a try?  Share your ideas in the comments below!

Official guide to getting excited for your Royal Caribbean cruise

In:
Category: 
23Jan2014

I admit this is a silly post, but for those of us that really look forward to their next Royal Caribbean cruise, there is little that compares to getting excited for an upcoming cruise.

If you're like me, you probably get that warm, fuzzy feeling when you book a new Royal Caribbean cruise and it's only natural to want to carry that feeling over until your cruise is finally here.  So here are some ways I've found to keep that smile on your face.

Plan your onboard activities

Once you book your cruise, the next logical thing is to start planning what you're going to do on the cruise.  It's the next best thing to booking the cruise!

Figuring out which shore excursions you will take or which specialty restaurants you will eat at is always fun and it usually takes up a lot of time with the necessary research.  Don't forget about addons for your cruise like the unlimited beverage packages, stateroom decor and maybe even a surprise for your loved one.

It may also make sense to read some recent Cruise Compasses to see what kind of activities (paid and complimentary) are available on your sailing.

Sign up for a roll call

Royal Caribbean has partered with CruiseCritic to offer meet-n-migle on every cruise that has at least 25 people signed up.  

On CruiseCritic, you can find a list of roll calls where everyone on the same sailing as you can discuss your cruise.  I've found it to be an entertaining way to share in the excitement of your cruise getting closer as well as help each other out with questions.  

In fact, I've organized shore excursions with others on the site to help reduce costs, so it can be valuable in the planning process.  Plus it's just fun to find others who are as excited as you about your cruise (instead of annoying your friends).

Go cruise shopping

There's an inside joke among my family that when we book a cruise, we single-handidly stimulate the local economy because of the cruise related purchases we "have" to get.  From new clothes to gadgets to luggage, it seems there's always something we "need" to get for the cruise.

The truth is buying a new outfit or toy for the cruise is always a fun excercise and buying new duds helps keep the cruise in focus.  In addition, you can take advantage of off-season sales to stock up on things you will need in the warm Caribbean (or wherever your cruise is going).

Watch Royal Caribbean TV shows

Over the years, various travel shows have featured Royal Caribbean cruises in their episodes and thanks to the Internet, there's plenty of them around.

You can start on YouTube and search for phrases like "royal caribbean episode" or "royal caribbean tv" or "royal caribbean travel channel".  Google searches with the same phrases will also turn up results elsewhere.

If you don't mind paying for it, there are also some other TV show episodes available on iTunes or Amazon you can purchase for just a few dollars.

The great thing about these tv shows is they focus on life onboard the cruise and it helps me take a mental escape to my upcoming cruise.

Of course, I feel obligated to shamelessly plug the Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast which is an audio show that is free and full of Royal Caribbean fun!

Watch YouTube videos

To get a good visual of what you can expect for your Royal Caribbean, there are no shortage of videos on YouTube to check out.

Search for your ship name and odds are you will find hundreds of videos to watch.  Some are tours, some are family vacation videos and others explain aspects of the cruise.  Regardless, it's a fun way to see what you can expect on your cruise and add ideas to your little list.

Read trip reports/photo reports from others on same cruise

Speaking of mental escapes, I really find reading other people's trip reports and looking at their photos to be a great way to get excited for my own cruise.  After all, it's helpful to see what others found useful or a waste.

Once again message boards are a great place for this, in addition to our own little cruise reviews section.

Besides being entertaining, reading these reports helps with the first idea I posted about planning the cruise.  If someone reports a fun excursion or restaurant to try, I will note it in my cruise planning spreadsheet (yes, I have a cruise planning spreadsheet) for reference later.

Watch web cams

There's a few web cams out there to help you get a mental escape to being on a Royal Caribbean cruise.  

First, is Royal Caribbean's web cams on Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas.

There's also port webcams that on select days you can see Royal Caribbean ships in port and admire them for their beauty.   By far seeing them leave port in the evening is the highlight because it gives you a great view of these ships. PTZtv has a network of cams across North America and there's usually a couple of cams with Royal Caribbean ships to see.

Play music that reminds you of a cruise

There's a lot of great music out there that reminds me of a cruise.  It's the sort of music I'd hear on a cruise ship and for me, that can help get me through a day of work.

We posted earlier a cruise music mix but there's plenty of other music out there.  You can always tune into Radio Margaritaville for Jimmy Buffet music, which is all about warm islands with boat drinks.

Regardless of what music reminds you of being a cruise, I find it a great way to help me cope with not being on a cruise and getting excited for my upcoming cruise too.

Planning a Royal Caribbean cruise: Belize City

In:
Category: 
23Dec2013

As part of my next Royal Caribbean cruise, I want to take you along for the planning process as we make decisions and plan our Royal Caribbean vacation.  I hope this will give you some insight into my thought process and perhaps this will assist you for planning your next Royal Caribbean cruise too.

Today we are going to look at excursion ideas for one of the stops on our Navigator of the Seas 7-night cruise, Belize City.

Photo by afagen

Background

Belize City is one of three stops on our cruise itinerary and I knew very little about this port prior to researching it.  

Part of the reason I was attracted to this cruise was the fact we were going to go to Belize and Roatan (Honduras) because they are ports I have never been to before.  The other reason I liked the idea of going to Belize is I'm a big fan of visiting Central American countries for their great food, beautiful beaches and great value for the dollar.

Quickly into my research across message boards and travel web sites I discovered a few key facts that gave me pause.  First, Belize City is a tender port, which isn't ideal but what struck me is many people reported that the tender ride from ship to shore (and vice versa) is roughly 20 minutes.  That's a long tender ride.  

This long tender ride evidently leads to long lines trying to leave the ship in the morning or return to the ship in the afternoon.  The lines are such a problem that others have suggested you need to book a Royal Caribbean excursion because those people get priority to leave first.

The other issue with Belize City is the port itself, which outside of the port gates is described by many as being less than welcoming.  I've read the area looks rather run down and many that ventured out felt out of place very quickly. As someone that enjoys exploring the ports of call I visit, it was another concern.

The Options

After careful research I came up with these four excursion ideas.

Bannister Island

Royal Caribbean offers an excursion called the "Private Island Beach Break" that is your basic beach excursion to this very small island.  My research revealed this to be Bannister Island and is a basic, no frills beach getaway.  Water, sand and optional food and beverage are there and not much else.

Photo by zqvol

Reviews I found ranged from good/very good to mediocre/overrated.  I also read the sand is the kind of sand that has a lot of crushed sea shells so not exactly softest in the world.  The other big problem is the cost, at $128 for the three of us and that does not include any food or drinks.

The benefit of this excursion is the excursion departs directly from the ship, so I'd get priority disembarkation and I wouldn't even have to go to the port area.  A back and forth trip that appears to be seamless with nearly everyone reporting how easy it was to get to and from the island.  The other good thing is it's about 4 hours long, so we ought to be able to get back to Navigator of the Seas in time for lunch and a nap.

Pros: Conveniece getting on/off the ship; Ship-sponsored excursion; Not a big time commitment

Cons: Expensive; Beach reviews are less than glowing; Not really seeing Belize City at all

Goff's Caye

The first excursion outside of what Royal Caribbean offered that sounded interesting is Goff's Caye, a small island off the shore of Belize City. Like Bannister island, it's tiny but offers the sort of beach experience I'm looking for.

Photo by RWayne

Reviews for Goff's Caye fared better than Bannister island, with people saying the experience getting to and from the island from the port simple.  Photos I've found from others that have went look to be very beautiful and my overall sense is Goff's Caye is a better beach than Bannister Island.

The downside seems to be I have to first get to Belize City and deal with the mess that is disembarking Navigator of the Seas. Some reports you read of people who tried to go on their own in Belize results in crazy lines and late arrivals.  And while I know there's always going to people with negative experiences, there's enough of these long line reports to concern me.

Pros: Beach looks best; Price is cheaper

Cons: Getting to excursion pick up on time will be a challenge

Find a local in port

My tried and true strategy for most ports I visit is to wander into town, past the kitchy cruise stuff and find a local to drive us around.  It's often a good value and I feel like actually get a sense of the city I'm visiting.  I like to try the local food and go places most tourists don't.  

Photo by ShellyLeit

Lots of what I read online points to a port city that looks run down with a lot of pushy locals who make the toursits feel uneasy.  Not to mention many people recommend to have something planned before getting into Belize to avoid all this.  

I've searched online for drivers others have found, which has been a strategy that has served me well in other ports, but with no luck.  Regardless, you never know what your experience will be like and what one person finds "scary", I might find the kind of authentic experience I savor.

Given that this is my first time in Belize City, I really want to be able to say I got a sense of what the port was beyond a beach and what I could see from my ship that is 20 miles out to sea.

Pros: Sense of adventure; Chance to try local cuisine; Potentially money saving experience

Cons: Reviews of port area are concerning; Not many attractions/restaurants/things to do near port area

Stay on the ship

Of course, there's always the option to not bother going to Belize City and enjoying having Navigator of the Seas to myself.

Photo by Christoffer Löfhjelm

Staying onboard in a port is cool from the standpoint of many venues are emptier than usual and this means a good chance to enjoy the pool, restaurants and other areas.  Staying onboard will also mean a longer and more controlled nap time for my daughter.

I'll be honest, staying onboard considering this is my first time in Belize City will eat at me.  I relish exploring the ports I visit and having never been and staying onboard would be like someone baking a cake and leaving it in front of a cake lover who tries not to eat it.  Torture!

The other reason not to stay onboard is the cruise has 3 sea days so getting off the ship will be preferred.

Pros: Cheapest option; Zero hassle of trying to get off the ship; Pool time without crowds; Rested daughter = happy dad

Cons: Personality clash; Extra time onboard

The Decision

After considering our options, we ended up choosing.... Goff's Caye.

The reason basically came down to ultimately it was what we wanted to do that would be relatively simple but something we thought would be fun.  

Bannister Island seemed like too much of a compromise in terms of how we'd be spending the day and the other options were just too "out there" for us.  

The biggest concern about Goff's Caye is getting there on time, so we are planning on waking up early and ordering room service breakfast the night before to minimize the time spent getting ready to go.  

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