Secrets, Tips and Tricks

How being early is the secret to the best Royal Caribbean cruise, from start to finish

In:
15Feb2017

We have spent years sharing tips, secrets and strategies on this blog about taking a better and more fun Royal Caribbean cruise, and we discovered there is one common thread among so many of our best tips: being early.

There are plenty of ways to improve one's cruise, but if you remember a single mantra for your cruise, it should be simply to be early.  So many aspects of the cruise experience, from saving money to saving time, can be greatly improved if you embrace the idea of doing it all early.  If that statement does not make a whole lot of sense yet, check out the five steps we outlined in this post to demonstrate why being early will help you have a great cruise.

Book early

Perhaps one of the most common questions we receive on Royal Caribbean Blog is about how to save money and get the best possible price for a Royal Caribbean cruise.  Questions are often worded like, "How do I get a deal?", "When is the best time to book a cruise?" or "How do I get the lowest price?" and the answer to them all is simple: book your cruise as early as you can.

In general, Royal Caribbean's cruise fares are priced the least the further out you go, and as the sail date approaches, prices start to creep up as the supply of staterooms on a sailing begin to get booked up. So the earlier you book your cruise, the more stateroom inventory you will have and if freshman year high school economics taught me anything, it is that supply and demand plays a big part in pricing.

When we say "early", we mean booking your cruise 12, 18 or even 24 months before the sail date.  For some folks, that may sound like lunacy to plan a vacation up to two years in advance, but the fact of the matter is employing this strategy is the key to getting a really great price.  Royal Caribbean sales promotions will come and go, but if you talk to folks who book their cruises very early, they will tell you that booking super-early beats most sales offers.

Buy drink packages early

Have you heard about Royal Caribbean's unlimited drink packages? They offer guests the option to drink as much as they want on their cruise for a fixed price.  Sounds great, right? But did you know if you wait to book your drink package onboard the ship you will be overpaying for it?

The drink packages have become quite popular with guests, but Royal Caribbean rewards guests that purchase their drink package early with a discount. The exact amount of the discount will vary from sailing to sailing, but in general, the savings of booking a drink package online before a cruise can be as much as over $10 per person, per day compared to booking it onboard. Over the course of a 7-night cruise, those savings add up quickly!

What you want to do is log onto the Cruise Planner on Royal Caribbean's website and purchase the drink package of your choice online.  If you are concerned about the drink package price dropping, take solace in the fact you can always cancel and rebook with no penalty!

Not only will buying your drink packages online save you money, it will also save you time because typically there can be lines to purchase the drink packages onboard the ship. Your vacation time is limited, so do not waste it waiting to buy a drink package.

Arrive to your port city early

When it comes to travel, there are always going to be certain factors involved in the trip that you have no control over: weather, canceled flights, flat tires, and Michael Poole. If you ask seasoned travelers how they get around these obstacles, the answer is often to give yourself more time.  Instead of arriving to your departure city on the day of your cruise, get in early!

By planning to arrive to your departure port at least one day early, you assure yourself that a travel delay will not impact your ability to get on your cruise. Having an extra day or two provides a buffer to account for travel delays.  You really do not want to be that person in the airport losing their mind because the latest delay means the entire vacation is in jeopardy.

As an added bonus, by arriving to your embarkation port at least a day early, that means you get to start your vacation sooner!  And in many cases, the port you are departing from has its own cultural and historical attractions that you can explore.

Arrive to the pier early

If you subscribe to the theory that time is money, then you definitely want to arrive to your embarkation port early.  By arriving early, you will beat the big crowds that descend upon the cruise terminal later in the day, and you also get the added benefit of having some extra time onboard the ship.

Royal Caribbean may send you an email about boarding times, but those are mostly suggestions and not enforced at all. If you followed our previous advice about arriving to your port city early, then likely your hotel will have a check-out time in the early part of the morning, which is the perfect excuse to head to the cruise port.

If you are wondering what time constitutes, "early", we are talking about sometime between 10am and 11:30am. The earlier you arrive on embarkation day, the earlier you will board the ship. And the price you paid for the cruise is the same whether you get onboard at 11am or 2pm, so may as well get the most time possible.

Show up early to every activity

Whether it is a show, a ride on North Star or the tenders to CocoCay, the absolute key to avoiding waiting in any semblance of a line is to arrive before these activities are scheduled to open/operate/perform.

In our experience, most guests see the times for an activity and begin arriving after the scheduled start time.  However, if you show up just 10-15 minutes before these events, you will likely find few, if any, other guests waiting and first shot at even the most popular activities. Rope dropping is also a great strategy for the sort of activities that quickly generate a line.  

Disembark early

The last day of your cruise is never fun, and regardless of how many times you cruise, it never gets any less depressing.  If you believe in the, "rip the Band-Aid off quickly" theory of life, than disembarking your ship early will likely result in a shorter wait.

Royal Caribbean offers all guests the option to bring their own luggage (rather than have their luggage delivered to the terminal) and leave the ship anytime once customs officials clear the ship. You simply keep your luggage in your room (instead of placing it in the hallway on the last evening of the cruise) and then when the ship is cleared by Customs agents, you take your own luggage and disembark the ship.

This option may not be viable for everyone because families and large groups may find lugging all their stuff from the stateroom to the terminal is not practical.  In that case, keep in mind the luggage tags you will be provided with can be swapped out at Guest Services for a luggage tag with an earlier disembarkation time. Royal Caribbean is quite understanding about schedules, and if you need to get off the ship sooner, they are usually very accommodating.

25 must-read Royal Caribbean dining secrets

In:
27Dec2016

A Royal Caribbean cruise is a family vacation that millions of people look forward to taking each year, and good planning can enhance that vacation experience even further.

After more than a decade of Royal Caribbean cruises, we have perfected some expert tips and advice to get the most out of your Royal Caribbean cruise.

Today, we are sharing our 25 must-read Royal Caribbean dining secrets to ensure you have the best possible cruise experience!

1. Make dining reservations

Simply put, the best way to ensure you get into any Royal Caribbean specialty restaurant that you want is to make a reservation in advance.  You could wait until you arrive onboard the ship, or even chance it to simply walk up and ask for a table, but you are risking the restaurant of your choice filling up.  Make a reservation online via Royal Caribbean's Cruise Planner site or as early as possible once onboard the ship.

2. Do date night on a cruise

Royal Caribbean cruises are the perfect vacation for honeymooners and anyone looking for a romantic evening out.  Plan ahead and treat your favorite person to a signature dinner at 150 Central Park or Chops Grille. Or order ice cream and cookies to your stateroom via room service, or take a ride on the carousel together in the Boardwalk.

3. Don't miss the must-eat items

After years of eating on Royal Caribbean ships, we have amassed our own list of "must-eat" dishes, treats and snacks across the fleet. Fan-favorites, such as the Tutti salad bar, Labadoozie, escargot, savory bites and pretty much anything from Sabor are high priority when onboard a Royal Caribbean ship. 

To read up on our favorites, check out our list of 15 amazing things you can eat on Royal Caribbean article.

4. You can reserve specialty restaurants around 90-60 days before your cruise

A very common question we receive is, "when can I start booking specialty restaurants on my Royal Caribbean cruise?" and the answer is "it depends." Generally speaking, specialty restaurant reservations will open up sometime between 90 and 60 days prior to embarkation day on your cruise. The exact time frame will depend on a variety of factors.

The best reason to book dining in advance is to guarantee a spot for you and your family, as well as break up the total cost of the cruise. By booking these activities early, you can ensure you have the time and day that you want all lined up.

5. There are free beverages available throughout the ship

Believe it or not, you do not have to pay an extra dime onboard for beverages on your Royal Caribbean cruise. There are plenty of drinks included in your cruise fare to keep not only your thirst quenched, but also satisfied.

Here is the list of drinks that are included in your cruise:

  • regular coffee
  • decaffeinated coffee
  • tea
  • iced tea
  • tap water
  • milk
  • chocolate milk
  • lemonade
  • flavored waters
  • juices (at breakfast, not fresh squeezed)
  • hot chocolate (via instant packets)

These drinks are available throughout your cruise at a number of locations, so there will always be somewhere to get something to drink for free.

6. Research your dining options

Royal Caribbean ships offer more dining locations than ever before - everything from upscale dinners, to restaurants serving up burgers and fries. Take your time and research your options, and to that point, Royal Caribbean Blog has a list of Royal Caribbean restaurant reviews to provide a good starting point for learning about each dining choice available.

7. Free breakfast in Johnny Rockets

On Oasis class ships, Johnny Rockets is open for breakfast and it is included in your cruise fare. During breakfast, you will find classic American fare (just like the other meals), including pancakes, breakfast sandwiches, eggs, French toast and more.

Besides the price tag, Johnny Rockets is often a less crowded spot for breakfast, so if you need a break from breakfast in the Windjammer, head over to the Boardwalk and start your morning there.

8. Try My Time off peak hours

Royal Caribbean's My Time Dining allows guests to enjoy dinner on their schedule, but if you want to avoid the dinner rush, try eating off-peak hours.

We have found the most popular times to have dinner in the main dining room while on My Time Dining is between 6:30pm and 8:00pm.

Guests can make reservations for shorter waits, but if you want to truly avoid lines, try to go early or late: before 6:00pm or after 8:00pm.  

9. Research the Specialty Dining Packages to see if it meets your needs

One of the hot new choices many Royal Caribbean guests are opting for are the dining packages, which allow guests to get a discount on multiple specialty restaurants. Guests can choose between 2, 3, 4 or 5 specialty restaurants on their Royal Caribbean cruise with up to 40% off the price if they were purchased individually.

The only caveat to the dining packages is one of the restaurants must be experience on the first or second night of the cruise.  Nonetheless, the cost savings offered by the dining packages is perfect for someone who wants to experience many of the best Royal Caribbean specialty restaurants.

10. Book a DreamWorks character meal

Whether your kids love the DreamWorks films or you just enjoy hanging with the crew from Madagascar, then be sure to book a DreamWorks character meal.  Available on Royal Caribbean ships with the DreamWorks Experience, this is an opportunity to have breakfast in the main dining room with popular characters from DreamWorks films, including Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar films. This is a great opportunity for some very fun photos!

11. Communicate food sensitivity or special diets before your cruise

If you have a dietary restriction, special need or just prefer to have your food prepared in a certain way, your best bet is to let Royal Caribbean know about those kinds of requests prior to your cruise.

The best way to do this is by emailing special_needs@rccl.com; please include in the e-mail the guests' names, booking number, ship name and sail date.

You should also make a quick stop in the main dining room on embarkation day.  There will be a head waiter on duty to speak with, and that person can confirm they have your dietary needs on file and make any necessary changes too.

12. Try samples from the specialty restaurants

In an effort to get guests to book specialty dining, Royal Caribbean will often offer complimentary samples of food from that restaurant during the cruise. Sometimes there is a table set up to offer samples, and other times there are demonstrations offered with samples handed out at the end. Keep your eyes open and be sure to check the Cruise Compass for scheduled events.

13. Bring food from onshore

The ports of call your ship will visit offer a tremendous array of amazing food, but your culinary indulgences are not limited to when you are on shore.  Aside from alcohol, you can bring food back onboard the ship with you to enjoy later. Whether that is a freshly baked baguette, chocolates or something jarred for later, you can take it back with you for enjoyment later in the cruise or back home.

Keep in mind that the United States has strict laws about bringing back certain fruits and vegetables, so be sure to read up on these laws prior to bringing anything home.

14. When in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask.

If you have questions about the food or the menu at a restaurant, do not be afraid to ask your server about it. Royal Caribbean offers a tremendous amount of flexibility for the most part when it comes to making substitutions or accommodating dietary needs. They truly want you to be happy, so be sure to communicate any needs to the wait staff. In the main dining room, you can speak to the head waiter about any gluten-free, vegan or other dietary needs.

15. Fill up at the buffet

At the core of any Royal Caribbean cruise is the Windjammer buffet, which offers all-you-care-to-eat choices throughout the day. This is a fantastic choice for families or groups of guests that have wide variations in taste, as well as for picky eaters. For these reasons, the Windjammer buffet can be a wise choice for keeping everyone happy. 

Not only is the Windjammer very accommodating in tastes, it also offers a wide variety of choices and we have found the food quality to be quite good. In fact, some guests will eat exclusively at the Windjammer during their cruise.  That might be a bit much for our tastes, but keep in mind it is available most times of the day and evening.

16. Look for the cooking stations in the Windjammer

In addition to the array of food available in the Windjammer buffet, there are also cooking stations that offer custom-made dishes.  In the morning, this usually takes the form of an omelet station and each evening, there is a different choice offered.  There are custom-made pasta, Asian stir-fry, crepes and more regularly offered. 

Check with the Windjammer wait staff for a schedule of options.  These cooking stations not only offer the freshest food choices, but they will make it exactly to your taste.

17. Consider booking a dining event

In addition to traditional restaurants, Royal Caribbean offers on select ships dining events, including a Chef's Table experience, mystery dinner and prohibition party.

These events are a fun alternative to a typical mean, and offer entertainment in addition to the food and drink that these specialty restaurants are well-known for offering.

18. Drink packages work at all specialty restaurants

Royal Caribbean's drink packages have become extremely popular with guests, and the good news is the drink package benefits work at specialty restaurants too.

Be sure to ask your waiter about any exclusions, but a majority of cocktails, beers and liquors will be included in the drink package benefits.  This means extra value from a drink package and an opportunity to sample some exclusive beverages available only at specialty restaurants.

19. If this is your first cruise, do not underestimate the importance of specialty dining

Even if you have visions of riding the FlowRider, hanging by the pool and catching a show on your first Royal Caribbean cruise, first time visitors should not overlook the important of planning your meals.

Royal Caribbean dining choices, both complimentary and specialty, offer unique dishes and impeccable service that has the potential to be every bit as memorable as time spent at the pool or onshore. 

20. When all else fails, order room service

Sometimes you just need to take it easy, and room service on your Royal Caribbean cruise is complimentary. Ordering is as simple as picking up the phone and calling in your order.  Soon thereafter, your food order will be brought up to your room and served wherever you like. This can be great for when you need a break and want something quick and easy for a meal, or just a snack to tide you over.  

21. Have picky eaters?

Many of us go on a Royal Caribbean cruise and would prefer to eat chicken nuggets for every meal than try something new... and that is okay! Royal Caribbean is a safe haven for those with specific likes and dislikes. Check out the menus before you make your dining reservations to ensure there is something that everyone can eat.

Anything on the menu can be served as an entree, regardless of if it is listed as an appetizer, side dish or kids' menu item. Here are a few more tricks and tips for dining with a picky eater on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

22. You can bring your own water onboard

Royal Caribbean's rule about bringing bottled water, or any beverages onboard its ships, is simple: Guests are not allowed to bring beer, hard liquor, fortified wines or non-alcoholic beverages onboard for consumption or any other use on boarding day or while in port.

In practice, when it comes to bottled water and even soft drinks, we have rarely seen this rule enforced.  We cannot guarantee you will not have your water confiscated, but if you felt very strongly about trying to bring bottled water with you, then we would recommend putting the bottled water in your carry on luggage and hoping for the best. 

23. Take advantage of dining discounts onboard or pre-cruise

Royal Caribbean is known to offer pre-cruise discounts on various aspects of the cruise experience, including specialty dining.  In an effort to spur reservations, Royal Caribbean will discount specialty restaurant reservations and dining packages to guests that prebook on Royal Caribbean's Cruise Planner site.

Check your Cruise Planner site often, because offers can change from week to week.  And you can always cancel and rebook if prices drop!

24. Include your companions in the dining planning.

Traveling on a Royal Caribbean cruise with picky eaters, disinterested teenagers, first timers, a stressed out spouse? The best way to ensure that everyone has a great time on the cruise is to make them all feel invested in the trip planning. And who does not want to give their opinion on food? Share menus, reviews, and restaurant options with the family or your other traveling companions and get their feedback and favorites. This is an especially great idea for budding chefs!

25. Enjoy eating outdoors

On certain Royal Caribbean ships, there is an outdoor seating option that is available to enjoy a little al fresco dining.

The Windjammer on Radiance and Quantum class ships offers an area at the rear of the ship to enjoy any meal with a fantastic view of the ship's wake.  Also, restaurants in the Central Park and Boardwalk neighborhoods of Oasis class ships also offer outdoor seating.

On any Royal Caribbean ship, food from the Windjammer buffet may be brought to anywhere on the ship, which means the kids can stay in the pool while an adult gets the food and brings it back to the pool area.

Freedom of the Seas secret: Ordering Sabor guacamole from the bar

In:
13Oct2016

Sabor Modern Mexican has quickly become one of Royal Caribbean's most popular specialty restaurants with cruise fans because of the terrific food quality available. On Voyager and Freedom class cruise ships, Sabor is priced with a cover charge and to dine there requires paying the full cover charge.  If you are interested in just grabbing a bowl of Sabor's famous hand-made guacamole, there is another way to enjoy it without paying the cover charge.

While on Freedom of the Seas, we spotted at the Schooner Bar a sign that allows guests to order Sabor's guacamole, salsa and chips.  It is a fairly simple process and comes with the benefit of not having to pay the cover charge. The only caveat is guests may only order from Sabor when the restaurant is open (sorry, no midnight guacamole orders).

Just let a waiter from the Schooner Bar know that you would like to order from Sabor and they will get one of the waiters from Sabor to take your order.  The waiter will ask how many people should the order be made for.  Pricing will be based on how many guests you want to have enough guacamole, chips and salsa to accomodate. 

When we tried this out, we also had the choice of ordering from the restaurant's drink menu.

A few short minutes later, our food and drink was brought over for us to enjoy.

When we tried it out on Freedom of the Seas, the cost for the food (excluding the alcoholic beverages) was $10.00.  

Royal Caribbean Secrets: Tony the Gnome on Harmony of the Seas

In:
13Oct2016

Royal Caribbean's Harmony of the Seas is filled with a lot of fun activities, exciting shows and incredible dining choices.  The level of detail on this brand new ship is truly amazing, including one very small (and cute) bit of detail that is easy to overlook.

Hidden in the Central Park neighborhood, among the beautiful trees, shrubs and flowers, is Tony the Garden Gnome!


Photo by Tracey Van Leeuwen

Tony was donated by Matt and Samantha Alexander, and have been adopted by the ship's horticulturist, Tom Brownlee.

Guests can find Tony under a tree, opposite the Trellis Bar in the Central Park neighborhood.  While not as thrilling as the ship's water slides, Tony is a great example of a fun hidden gem onboard Harmony of the Seas that you can visit once onboard.

5 things to love about Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas

In:
22Aug2016

Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas is a popular ship that offers cruises in Europe and North America throughout the year.  There is a lot to love about this ship, and we have five important facts you should be aware of before your next cruise on Independence of the Seas.

5. Grease

In 2016, Royal Caribbean added the Broadway musical, Grease, to Independence of the Seas and it is available to enjoy on your cruise with no additional cost.

This stage production of Grease was specially adapted by Royal Caribbean Productions and features all of your favorite songs, such as “Summer Nights,” “Greased Lightnin’,” “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee,” “Born to Hand-Jive,” “Beauty School Dropout” and more.

The best news about Grease on Independence of the Seas, is that the show is included in the cost of your cruise fare, so you can enjoy a Broadway show while onboard for absolutely no additional cost.

4. Views from the helipad

Independence of the Seas has a large helipad at the bow of the ship, which is a great venue for guests to enjoy during most times.  The helipad is the perfect spot for sailaway, stargazing, enjoying a view of the ocean or just a spot to sit down on one of the benches and relax.

To access the helicopter pad, go outside on deck 4 and then walk forward, climb up a set of stairs and continue walking forward until you reach the helicopter pad.

If you want to go out to the helipad and avoid the flight of stairs out on deck 4, you can cut through Pyramid Lounge on deck 5 at the front of the ship. Walk in and you'll see a DJ booth on the right. Walk past that booth and you'll see a set of doors that look like they're crew only, but they're not. They lead right out to the entrance to the helipad. Only a short flight of stairs and you are there.

3. Cantilever hot tubs

Hot tub Jacuzzis are always a great way to relax and forget all of your worries, and on Independence of the Seas, there are cantilever hot tubs that offer as wonderful a view as they are comfortable.

The hot tubs on Independence of the Seas are 16-person, half-moon whirlpools that cantilever out 12 feet over the ship's side, to offer some incredible views of the ocean below.  And oh yea, they are super relaxing too.

2. Five bars to visit late at night

If your idea of a fun cruise is staying up late and enjoying drinks while perhaps dancing, talking or relaxing into the late hours of the evening, then there are a few bars you will find open later than others.

On Independence of the Seas, the Casino Bar, Boleros, Schooner Bar, The Raven and the Connoisseurs Club remain open later than other bars.  

Guests who want to avoid an (earlier) last call notice, should head to one (or a few) of these locations to enjoy uninterrupted late-night beverages.

1. FlowRider

One of the more popular features on Independence of the Seas is the FlowRider surf simulator on deck 13.

The FlowRider is a simulator that sends water a very high speed across a small area that mimics what it is like to surf on the ocean. Guests can try their hand at stand-up traditional surfing or boogie boarding.

The FlowRider is included in your Royal Caribbean cruise fare, and you may try your hand at surfing as many times as you like. Just hop back in line and wait for a turn.

There is the opportunity to book private lessons for an additional cost.  At last check, private lessons cost $60 per person and lasts about an hour. Each lesson will have six to eight guests.

Private lessons can be booked onboard the ship and is sometimes available via the Royal Caribbean Cruise Planner.

Your favorite

What is your favorite thing about Independence of the Seas?  Is it on our list or do you have something you think is worth the cruise fare alone? Tell us about in this blog post's comments!

16 Great Alaska Royal Caribbean Cruise Tips

In:
23Jun2016

When going on a Royal Caribbean cruise to Alaska, there are lot of things that can save you time and money, or improve the quality of your vacation.  Here are 16 random tips based upon our readers' experiences in taking cruises to Alaska. Some of them are simple and easy to understand tips. Other tips require a bit more effort, but will similiarly make your cruise more enjoyable.  

Not all of these tips may be applicable to everyone, but there should be a few "nuggets of information" that everyone can use.  Whether you are a first time planner or a weatherd veteran, there are tips for you here.

With these tips in hand, you can get the most out of your Royal Caribbean vacation.  

Make sure to also read the additional reader tips in the comments, as some of you readers have some great tips of your own that are really helpful. If you have some good tips, be sure to add them there, too. The more, the merrier!

  1. Plan early! Even if you are “just considering options”, book a reservation as early as possible to get the best price. Alaska is definitely a destination where rates tend to increase the closer you get to sail date. 
  2. For best value, consider shoulder season sailing (May or September). There are fewer children on board in May and September due to school. Shoulder seasons can also be less-expensive.  It has also been reported that in September at the end of season, port shops have fantastic “everything must go” sales.
  3. We have always sailed on Radiance in Alaska. But now there are options for ship classes when sailing Alaska. Radiance-class was built for Alaskan type cruising with onboard viewing opportunities from everywhere, which in Alaska is important when you hear someone yell “whale” because you will want to see it too! If you select Radiance, generally this will mean choosing either a north bound or south bound 7-night journey. 
  4. If you choose a north bound or south bound sailing, you will be arriving at one port and departing from another, so when booking airfare, be sure to compare pricing for “open leg” versus two “1- ways”; we sometimes find it cheaper to actually book two independent 1-way tickets.
  5. Go Balcony! In Alaska, you can actually sit on the balcony and see everything! – or at least look out while waking up in the morning or changing.
  6. Spekaing of balconies, if you book early enough, grab one of the huge aft balcony rooms at regular balcony prices! The balconies on the aft of Radiance class are 4 to 5 times the size of side facing balconies; more than enough room for two lounge chairs, and two regular chairs and a small table. 
  7. Always be looking at the water when on board. You may see whales, dolphins, seals, otters, and other sea life right from your cruise ship! And near shorelines, you will often see bald eagles and maybe even a bear at water’s edge. A kind of “free” excursion.
  8. Weather forecasts don’t always match reality. Be prepared for changing weather daily. Be prepared with varying clothing options (i.e. wear layers).  And when it does rain, just give it a few minutes, it generally doesn’t last long. Take it all in. And remember, many excursions go rain or shine!
  9. Speaking of excursions … excursions will likely account for a large portion of your budget – plan accordingly.  Some excursions costs hundreds of dollars per person … but this will likely be a once-in-a-life journey for many … so don’t pass up anything you really want to do. 
  10. To save on excursions, consider third party providers.  There are many options.  And many are rated by other travelers on TripAdvisor, Cruise Critic, and elsewhere.  Use the internet for your research … it’s actually part of the fun of the trip and it helps you learn more about Alaska prior to arrival!  Do check pricing with both Royal Caribbean and vendors. Over the past 4 years, Royal Caribbean pricing has become much more competitive and comparable with direct vendor booking and in one example this year, we found that Royal Caribbean’s price was actually cheaper than direct booking with the vendor; albeit for the most expensive tours like helicopters you can still save significantly by direct booking with vendors. Be sure to read and understand cancellation policies when booking direct with vendors. Nearly all will refund if the ship misses the port or there is an unplanned ship schedule change – but be sure to check.
  11. “Free excursions” … indeed, check out the many hiking trails in each port town. If you have an extra day at the Seward end of travel, check out the hand tram on Winner Creek trail in Alyeska in Girdwood, or hike to Exit Glacier near Seward. Use the internet to search for trails in each port. Many of the trails are well traveled, nicely groomed, and clearly marked. Walking is free, and often the best sights are seen from wooded trails. This year we saw moose, bears, dear, and bald eagles.
  12. Make transportation an excursion! If you are planning on a Radiance of the Seas sailing, you will have to get from Seward to Anchorage for your flight.  Take the Alaskan Railroad Coastal Classic Train! It costs only a little more than the bus ride or rental car. The Train travels a path where no other vehicles can get too. And upgrade your seat on the train to Gold Star – that will include a meal, a few drinks, more personal space, private outside viewing area, and will ensure excellent viewing from your seat with glass ceilings and glass wall all-round. You might even want to request the first row in the first car for the very best viewing opportunities! Specific requests can be made by contacting Alaska Railroad direct. 
  13. Get off the ship! No matter the weather, get off the ship at every port – even if you don’t have an excursion planned. Sometimes the piers are a little longer in Alaska but the port towns are pretty small and easily walkable making them nice for self-guided tours. The trinket shops are pretty similar in each port, but each port will feature specialty items; Ketchikan will have more focus on totem poles, for example.
  14. Day light is plentiful! The sun will rise early and set late. But unlike Caribbean cruises, nightlife is less significant on board an Alaskan cruise – the ship still offers many night activities, but in our experience, late night activities are not well attended. People hit the sack earlier in Alaska, and rise much earlier than customary in the Caribbean. It’s all part of the early bird and worm syndrome … port calls are typically early morning and people are up and ready for excursions at the crack of dawn, literally. Oh, not to worry, Radiance is outfitted with blackout curtains.
  15. Americans will find cell phone service included in their coverage while in Alaska.  In fact, it tends to work quite well.
  16. In Icy Straight Point, numerous eagles, whales and sea lions can be spotted either sitting at the Duck Point Restaurant or walking along the path to the Icy Strait Point Cannery or into Hoonah.

Have fun and go with the flow! Enjoy the beauty and bounty that is Alaska! 

If you want even more great advice and tips about Alaska, listen to our two recent podcast episodes all about Royal Caribbean cruises to Alaska!

Your thoughts

If you have solid tips that are not mentioned here, please post them below! If you have any other comments or questions, please feel free to post those, too.

10 ways to save money on your Royal Caribbean cruise

In:
13Jun2016

Many of you are probably planning your next Royal Caribbean cruise and we want to help you save money so your trip costs less. To help you get the most of out of your vacation dollars, here are 10 money-saving tips for your next Royal Caribbean cruise.

Regardless of your budget, it is never a bad idea to consider ways to save more money.  For some of you, cutting spending may be the only way you can afford a Royal Caribbean cruise. For others, saving money might not be strictly necessary, but rather a way to fund that second (or seventh!) Royal Caribbean cruise of the year.

Here are some of our recommendations for saving money on your Royal Caribbean cruise.  Not all of these tips may be relevant to everyone.  We each value different aspects of our cruises differently, and what is unnecessary for some might be make or break for someone else. These are just possible ideas, not across the board recommendations for everyone. Cost-cutting is not a good idea when it’s at the expense of the fundamental experience–if you cut things that are important to you, don’t be surprised if the amount of fun you have is negatively impacted.

10. Credit cards

Personal fiscal responsibility aside, proper use of a credit card can definitely save you some money on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Royal Caribbean has its own branded Visa credit card, which allows guests to earn points that can be redeemed for onboard credit on future cruises (as well as other rewards too).

For each purchase made with the credit card, you can earn points that can be redeemed for onboard credit or even free cruises.

Of course, there are lots of other credit cards out there with various reward programs that can help offset the cost of your cruise.  Credit card reward programs with cash back bonus are popular options.

9. Skip the drink package

Whether a Royal Caribbean drink package is worth the money is an age old debate (well, at least as old as the drink packages are). Yes, the drink packages can save you money if you can drink enough, but it assumes you can drink enough every day of your cruise to make money on it.  Many guests who buy the drink package often report back with a phenomenon known as, "drink fatigue", where after a few days of drinking 5-6 drinks per day (or more), they start to feel they are drinking just for the sake of drinking to utilize their drink packages.

Even in today's age of drink package popularity, the truth is there are still plenty of drink specials around your ship that are worth considering.

Guests who skip the drink package can still save money on their drinks by taking advantage of drink specials found around the ship. This includes the drink of the day, bar specials, Crown and Anchor Society coupons, Diamond drinks and more.

If you are looking to save money, the question to ask here is, "how little could we spend on drinks and still have a food trip?" compared to the cost of the drink packages, not, "how much would the same amount of drinks we would get with a drink package cost if we paid for it out of pocket?".

8. Bring your own wine

Hot on the heels of the last tip, there is no question one of the best ways to save money on your cruise if you enjoy wine is to bring your own.

Royal Caribbean allows guests to bring their own bottles of wine onboard, up to two per stateroom.

In addition, Royal Caribbean rescinded the corkage fee to open bottles of wine a few years ago, so it is a great strategy for enjoying the wine you really like, without the markup.

7. Take advantage of Crown and Anchor discounts

Once you are at least a Gold member in Royal Caribbean's Crown and Anchor society, you will receive automatic discounts that are pre-loaded onto your SeaPass card to be used on your cruise.

These discounts allow guests to save money off the regular cost of the services and products.  Buy one, get one drinks, discounts on the spa, photo discounts are just a few of the usual discounts.

As you move up the Crown and Anchor Society ladder of levels, you will get better benefits that can really help bring down that bill at the end of your cruise.

6. Consider low-cost excursions

The ports of call your Royal Caribbean cruise ship visits is usually the highlight of any vacation, but excursions are notoriously expensive.  There are, however, good alternatives to research that can offer a taste of the place you are visiting without breaking the bank.

Many Caribbean islands have inexpensive (if not free) beaches that may not be as impressive as some other beaches, but still offer a great beach day.  This includes Junkanoo Beach in Nassau or Emerald Beach in St. Thomas. Both are much closer to where Royal Caribbean docks than the more famous beaches, but both offer a fun beach day for far less cost.

While not as culturally enriching as other excursions, there are usually places to go right in the port area where your ship docks.  The Margaritaville in Falmouth offers a complimentary pool, the El Cid resort in Cozumel is next door to the port area and both offer inexpensive ways to spend your day.

5. Onboard discounts for specialty restaurants

There is no question that one easy way to bring down the cost of your Royal Caribbean cruise is to spend less, but that does not mean skipping all the fun.

Specialty restaurants have become a deeply ingrained part of the Royal Caribbean cruise vacation and there are ways to enjoy them without paying full price.

If a restaurant is open for lunch, often the cover charge is less to dine then, compared to dinner.

In addition, look for specials offered throughout your cruise that will knock down the cover charge or offer a discount on your bill. Attending complimentary events, like guacamole making demonstrations, will often come with offers to dine at the featured restaurant for less than the normal cost.

4. Take advantage of available discounts

In addition to the national sales promotions Royal Caribbean offers, there are also regularly available discounts for guests who may qualify because of their profession, affiliation or connection.

These sorts of discounts include

  • Active and retired members of the military
  • Crown and Anchor Society members
  • Royal Caribbean shareholders
  • Senior Citizens
  • Airline employees
  • Firefighters and police officers
  • Residents of certain states

Not all of these promotions are combinable with the highly advertised promotions, but it is important to be aware of them and to always consider them if they do apply. 

3. Spend your money on shore

If you want to enjoy plenty of drinks, eat at fabulous restaurants and buy some souvenirs for the family without breaking your budget, consider spending your money on shore, rather than onboard.

Generally speaking, the cost of drinks, food and souvenirs will cost less on shore.  Competition and even the cost of living can save a bundle compared to paying the prices for the same or similar products and services onboard.

If you are in the market for a massage, getting a massage on land can save a lot compared to the Vitality Spa.  Drinks at local bars almost always come out cheaper (and in greater quantity) at port.

If you followed the earlier tip to skip the drink package, drinking at the ports of call you visit can be a great strategy to enjoy a few drinks for far less.

2. Cruise off-season

If you really want to bring down the cost of your cruise fare and save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, then you need to cruise when others do not want to.

Cruising at times of the year when school is in session and most folks are not looking to vacation is a great strategy for saving tons on your cruise.  For cruises out of North America, these times include

  • January (except New Years eve week)
  • First two weeks of February
  • Late August
  • September
  • October
  • First two weeks of November
  • First two weeks of December

Many of the other tips we shared in this post are centered around saving a money here and there, but this strategy is the one suggestion that will really rack up the savings.

1. Use a travel agent

When it comes to saving money and ensuring you are getting the best possible deal, we are big fans of travel agents.

Travel agents provide great service to folks looking to take a Royal Caribbean cruise, whether it is your first cruise or your 100th, travel agents exist to make your life simpler.  They are keyed in on the latest promotions and they can be your best advocate for finding promotions that help you, not just the day you book but every day until final payment.

A good travel agent will be able to assist with the booking process, and give you every single permutation of pricing to figure out which itinerary, stateroom or promotion makes the most sense for you.  I cannot count the time I have saved by having the travel agent jump through the proverbial hoops for me to figure out what is the best deal for my family.

The reality is you only stand to benefit from using a good travel agent, both in convenience and time saved.

Your thoughts

Do you have any of your own “quick tips” for saving money on a Royal Caribbean vacation…or saving for a Royal Caribbean vacation? Disagree with any of our tips? Hearing from you is half the fun, so share your thoughts in the comments!

Top 10 Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas hidden secrets

In:
19May2016

Navigator of the Seas is a classic Royal Caribbean ship that offers as much for guests to see and do as it is a tremendous value.

It is a very popular Royal Caribbean cruise ship, and we have compiled our list of the best secrets that can be overlooked on Navigator of the Seas.

1. Hand-crafted margaritas

Navigator of the Seas offers quite a variety of tasty drinks to enjoy while on your cruise, but arguably the very best drinks are made right in front of you.

The hand-crafted margaritas at Sabor Modern Mexican on Navigator of the Seas are truly great choices for someone wanting absolutely no mixes and top-shelf ingredients.

Guests can pick from the two feature margaritas that are prepared table side: The Sweet and Spice Margarita and the Sabor Grand Margarita.

Each features excellent tequila and have unique tastes that cannot be beat.

2. Helipad

Whether you are looking for the perfect spot for sailaway, or just a great place to enjoy the view, Navigator of the Seas' helipad is the perfect location.

Located on the bow, guests can walk to the helicopter pad and enjoy the unobstructed views that you can only get from the helicopter pad. 

From the helicopter pad, guests can enjoy a near 360-degree view of what is surrounding Navigator of the Seas.

To access the helicopter pad, go outside on deck 5 and then walk forward, climb up a set of stairs and continue walking forward until you reach the helicopter pad.

3. Hidden door to the helipad

Speaking of the helipad, if you want to avoid the stairs that lead up to the front of the ship, there is a secret door that will get you right there.

Walk all the way forward on Deck 5 and enter the Star Lounge.  In the daytime, it is usually empty.  Enter the lounge and take an immediate right, just past the DJ booth.

There's a set of unmarked doors that you can simply open up an you will be let out right next to the helipad.  

This is especially helpful if you have a stroller or are in a wheelchair and stairs are a problem.

4. The second omelet station

Breakfast in the Windjammer can get a little busy, and if you want eggs cooked to order, you might consider the alternative location to get them the way you like it.

Throughout the morning, there is an egg station at the aft of the Windjammer, but when it is busy, the crew will open a second egg station on the starboard (right) side of the Windjammer.

This location tends to be less busy than the regular station, because most guests are unaware it is available.

5. Balcony dividers can be removed

If you happen to have connecting balcony staterooms, most Voyager-class ships cannot have their balcony dividers removed.  However, on Navigator of the Seas that is not the case.

 If you're interested in opening up balcony dividers on Voyager of the Seas, Explorer of the Seas and Adventure of the Seas, the balconies are attached to the ships' hull and cannot be removed. But on sister ship Navigator of the Seas, the balcony dividers aren't attached and can be removed.

6. Peek-a-boo bridge

On Navigator of the Seas, guests can go see what is happening on the bridge at any time.

Dubbed the "peek-a-boo bridge". there is an observation window that allows guests to peer into the bridge during most times of the day.

Head up to deck 11 and walk past the sliding doors that go forward of the Solarium and do not seem to lead anywhere.

From there, keep walking forward until you reach the front of the deck and you will see an area that provides a view of the bridge.

7. Enjoy the view from Cosmopolitan Club

It is really hard to beat the views of Navigator of the Seas' upper decks from the Cosmopolitan Club.

Located on deck 14 at the aft of the ship, the Cosmopolitan Club offers guests sweeping views of the upper decks and the ocean.  

To get to Cosmopolitan Club, you must use the aft elevators and go up to deck 14.

8. Ride the FlowRider on embarkation day

Guests cannot seem to get enough of the FlowRider surf simulator on Navigator of the Seas.  It is really fun to try and learn to surf without having to wait for that perfect wave but there always seems to be a line.

To beat the lines, go to the FlowRider on embarkation day.  Bring your swimsuit in your carry on luggage (or wear it to the ship) and then head to the FlowRider in the afternoon.  

Most other guests onboard will not have their swim suits or even be aware the FlowRider is open.  It is the perfect time to get multiple rides in without little or no wait!

9. Atrium sculpture is based on scuba divers

Navigator of the Seas' main Atrium sculpture spans over seven decks and is more than just something pretty to look at.

The ship features $8.5 million of art, including the Atrium sculpture, which is based on the bubbles a scuba diver makes when swimming under water.

10. Men can enjoy a view when nature calls

When it is time to use the restroom, head to deck 11 to enjoy the best view while you do your business.

The urinals are near a large glass window, which offer a view to the ocean or port you are visiting.

Did we miss any Navigator of the Seas secrets? Share them in our comments!

Five random facts about Royal Caribbean

In:
24Mar2016

Our writer Michael Poole has some fun facts to share today!

With all the excitement around all the new ships being built, ships changing homeports, and some even getting a full makeover in dry dock, I thought it would be fun to share some random facts about Royal Caribbean that you may not have known. 

5.  Johnny Rockets at Sea

In 1999, Royal Caribbean introduced the very first Johnny Rockets at Sea on Voyager of the Seas. 

Back when it was launched, the American-style burger restaurant was completely complimentary with the cruise fare.  This quickly created problems with wait times pushing over two hours, as everyone wanted to dine here for lunch on sea days. 

After a few years, Royal Caribbean added a cover charge to this venue to help with the crowd control for a nominal fee. 

At the time of this post, you can dine there for $6.95 per person, which includes gratuity. 

4. Nine Ships in six years

In 1999 the very first Voyager Class ship launched, changing the way we know cruising today.  Voyager of the Seas was the largest cruise ship in the world at 137,308 gross tons. 

But it didn’t stop there; between 1999-2004 Royal Caribbean launched nine new ships, marking the largest growth in the company’s history. 

But did you know Jewel of the Seas is newer than all the Voyager class ships? 

Jewel of the Seas launched in 2004, and the Voyager class was complete in 2003.  All of the ships are still in the fleet today, and we have all grown to love each of them over the years. 

3. Enchantment of the Seas stretch

In 2005, Enchantment of the Seas underwent the largest dry dock project in the company's history. 

In fact, they cut the ship in half to insert a new 73-foot section, to make her the longest ship in her Vision Class. 

This stretch is very noticeable by the suspension bridges on the top deck.  Her sister ship, Grandeur of the Seas was scheduled to receive the stretch, but the project was canceled due to the high cost of the project. 

So now we have one-of-a-kind in the Vision class, the really long Enchantment of the Seas. 

2.  Eight Retired ships

Royal Caribbean began as a company in 1968 and since then, we have said goodbye to eight cruise ships.  But the good news is one of these retired ladies is coming back to the fleet next year after a major dry dock, Empress of the Seas

Current Retired ships:

  • Song of Norway
  • Nordic Prince
  • Sun Viking
  • Song of America
  • Viking Serenade
  • Nordic Empress / Empress of the Seas (coming back in 2016)
  • Sovereign of the Seas
  • Monarch of the Seas

Have you ever sailed on any of these retired ships?

1. Project Genesis

In 2006, Royal Caribbean launched a new project called "Project Genesis" and at the time, we knew very little about this project. 

Royal Caribbean started leaking some information to tease us about their new class of ships. The excitement for this project was unlike anything I’ve ever experience with the launch of a ship. 

In 2008, they announced Project Genesis would be its next cruise ship, Oasis of the Seas. 

If you happen to sail on Oasis of the Seas today, you will see a man in the Royal Promenade washing away graffiti of Genesis. 

Tips for taking a 3-night Royal Caribbean cruise

In:
21Mar2016

Royal Caribbean offers a lot of amazing cruise experiences, including 3-night getaway cruises that are the perfect escape for a weekend or just a few days away from it all.

Three night cruises are among the shortest sailings Royal Caribbean regularly offers and today we have a look at some tips to consider if you are going to try a quick Royal Caribbean cruise.

6. There is a formal night

Just because it's only three nights does not mean there is not a formal night.

Usually the formal night is on the second night of the cruise, and it is just like any other formal night on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

5. Consider Buying the Drink Package

I know there are so many mixed reviews about Royal Caribbean's drink packages and whether or not it’s a value to you.  However, you might find it to be a great value to you for just three days. 

The type of package you might want is going to deepened on what you like drink, but remember you are only paying for three days vs the standard seven cruise. One more deciding factor that might swing your decision is the drink package works in Coco Cay, Royal Caribbean’s private island. 

On both, Majesty and Enchantment weekend sailings, they visit Coco Cay so the package works all day in the island.  Even with all the Diamond perks I get, I still find the drink package to be a great value on the short three-day sailings. 

Ask yourself; can you drink 12-15 drinks in three days? 

4. Inside Cabins 

Since you are just going to be on the ship for a short 72-hours, consider an inside cabin. 

I don’t even look at the other cabin types when I’m going on the weekend sailings, because there is so much to do and so little time.  If the cruise is a special occasion I understand wanting to splurge a little and get a nice cabin. 

However, outside of showering and resting a few hours in the evenings, you don’t have a lot of time to spend in the cabin.  More often than not Royal Caribbean is offering some type of sale on the inside cabin’s. 

3. Planning shore excursions in advance.

Honestly, for any cruise I’d recommend planning port day activates in advance.  And this holds true when you have such a limited time on board, the last thing you want to do is stand in another line.  

Often the shore excursions desk can get a lengthy line, especially on the shorter sailings. 

Prior to the cruise you can make any shore excursion purchases online to avoid working with the desk on board.  I also find the planning part at home to be just as fun, as the cruise itself, okay almost as fun. 

2. Activities on board

On every Royal Caribbean cruise you get a daily Cruise Compass filled with all the activates throughout the day.  This Cruise Compass is going to have activates around the clock, so the problem you run into is, you just can’t do them all. 

Years ago, when I first started doing the shorter sailings, I tried doing as much as possible.  However, I’d find myself extremely exhausted by the evening.  So my recommendation is find a few activities you really want to do and left a few go for the next time. 

1. Board the ship early

Royal Caribbean often sends out text messages or emails advising guest with their boarding time.  Fact is, you can board the ship anytime you want, regardless of the message states.  It usually has times listed to board by which deck you are on, but just ignore this message. 

Again, you only have 72 hours on board and you paid for these hours, so do not waste them. 

I would recommend arriving to the pier at 10:30am and you should be on board no later than 11:30am, if not sooner.  

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