Visit our travel agent friends at MEI Travel

Royal Caribbean executives talk CocoCay expansion, higher prices & more

In:
07 Feb 2023
By: 
Jenna DeLaurentis

Top executives from the Royal Caribbean Group discussed a variety of topics during the company’s fourth quarter earnings call on Tuesday.

Each quarter, Royal Caribbean Group hosts a call with Wall Street analysts to provide an overview of their financial results and share insights on the company’s growth and plans to come.

Here are the important takeaways from this quarter’s earnings call as it relates to how Royal Caribbean is doing and what their plans are for the rest of 2023.

Back to normal

Jason Liberty, Royal Caribbean Group President and CEO, discussed how 2022 saw the return to normal for cruise vacations.

“2022 was a challenging but successful transitional year. During the fourth quarter, demand for our brands accelerated. We delivered a record 1.8 million vacations, achieved a 95% load factor, and successfully returned to Australia for the first time in three years.”

In the cruise industry, load factor refers to the passenger capacity onboard Royal Caribbean’s ships. Most Royal Caribbean ships continue to sail at full capacity as 2023 begins.

Couple at the pool

Why do cruise vacations remain so popular? Liberty discussed how consumer preferences are shifting from goods to experiences.

“Entertainment and travel spend remain strong and the job market continues to show resilience. Consumer sentiment has improved and banks have recently reported healthy savings and continued resilience in credit card spending.”

Royal Caribbean Group’s products appeal to a broad range of vacationers, whether booking short getaways to Perfect Day at CocoCay or a luxury world cruise.

The company’s fourth quarter results clearly show that cruise lines are back to normal, and growth should be expected to continue in 2023.

More web traffic and more new to cruise than 2019

Symphony of the Seas

Royal Caribbean Group is seeing an influx of new cruisers to their brands, with the fourth quarter's new to cruise and new to brand mix above 2019 levels.

This growth can easily be seen when looking at Royal Caribbean Group’s website traffic. As Jason Liberty stated, “Growth in cruise search has outpaced general vacation searches, resulting in double the number of visits to our websites compared to 2019.”

More website traffic also means more traffic on the Cruise Planner website, with around 60% of guests making pre-cruise purchases in advance of their cruise. This translates into “more revenue, stickier bookings, and happy guests.”

Cruise planner results

Related: The Ultimate Guide to the Royal Caribbean Cruise Planner site

Liberty explained how increased website traffic has, unsurprisingly, led to a significant increase in bookings. “The seven biggest booking weeks in our company’s history all occurred since our last earnings call. Our commercial apparatus is full speed ahead and all channels are delivering quality demand above 2019 levels.”

Royal Caribbean Group expects to provide “amazing vacation experiences” to over 8 million guests in 2023.

Hideaway Beach update

Western look at cococay

As part of the earnings call, Royal Caribbean Group discussed what’s new for the company in 2023. Aside from new ships across Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Silversea is a new addition to Royal Caribbean’s private island, Perfect Day at CocoCay.

“We plan to launch Hideaway Beach in the fourth quarter of 2023,” Liberty stated, “an adult neighborhood making Perfect Day at CocoCay more perfect.”

Related: Guide to Hideaway Beach adults-only beach at CocoCay

Hideaway Beach is set to increase capacity at CocoCay by 3,000 guests, bringing the island's total capacity to 13,000 guests per day. Little details are known about the offerings and design of Hideaway Beach, but it will surely be a popular spot on the island for adults in search of a more tranquil atmosphere.

Demand for Perfect Day at CocoCay

Ship at CocoCay

Royal Caribbean Group estimates around 2.5 to 3 million guests will visit Perfect Day at CocoCay in 2023, and Royal Caribbean President and CEO Michael Bayley spoke of the island’s success.

“The demand for that product [Perfect Day at CocoCay] is exceptionally high. The demand not only is there from a volume perspective, but the rate is there and that rate has been going up again in a very healthy way.”

The popularity of Perfect Day at CocoCay has also led to increased spending for products and experiences on the island. While much of the island is complimentary, many guests choose to spend extra on add-ons like Thrill Waterpark, the Coco Beach Club, and private cabanas.

It’s no secret that prices for these add-ons have gone up since the restart of the cruising industry in 2021, but Bayley explained how “we’ve seen a great demand and a lot of resilience as the prices go up. So it’s a hit and it’s very successful.”

Want more Perfect Day locations

Perfect Day at Lelepa artist rendering

During the call’s question and answer session, Michael Bayley was asked about the company’s plans for opening additional Perfect Day locations around the world.

“We have an appetite for other such ventures,” Bayley answered. “As soon as we’re ready to make any other announcements, we will. Our intention is to continue to grow this piece of the experience for our guests.”

Thus far, Royal Caribbean has only announced one additional Perfect Day location: Perfect Day at Lelepa, which will be located in the small South Pacific nation of Vanuatu.

No new information was released about Perfect Day at Lelepa during today's call, but we can expect this island to be a major driver for bookings in the Australian cruise market.

People still spending a lot on extras

When the cruise industry restarted in 2021, Royal Caribbean noticed an increase in the amount of spending by each guest onboard. From specialty restaurants to drink packages and shore excursions, the company saw a sharp increase in the amount of cruise add-on purchases.

When asked whether or not this trend is sustainable, Michael Bayley explained how “When we first starting coming out of the pandemic and we saw this really strong, robust onboard spend, we wondered how long it would last for. It’s just continued to strengthen.”

With 60% of passengers booking pre-cruise purchases and 25% of the purchases occurring directly on the Royal Caribbean app, Royal Caribbean Group feels confident that this performance will continue throughout 2023 and into 2024.

Icon of the Seas best selling ship ever

Icon of the Seas aerial at night concept art

Although the inaugural sailing of Icon of the Seas isn’t until January 2024, the ship was mentioned as an important business driver for 2023.

Michael Bayley discussed the incredible success of Icon of the Seas thus far.

“We opened up Icon of the Seas for sale a few months ago, and that ship has literally been the best selling product in the history of our business and has been absolutely outstanding in terms of the demand and the pricing that we’re generating for that product.”

Icon of the Seas is the first ship in Royal Caribbean’s Icon Class, the first new class of ships since the Quantum Class launched in 2014. The ship will feature a waterpark, family-oriented neighborhood, upgraded suites-only spaces, and an indoor AquaTheater entertainment space.

Thrill Island and Surfside

Related: Icon of the Seas: Itinerary, features, and more

In addition to new public spaces are new stateroom categories, the most elusive of which is the Ultimate Family Townhouse, a three-story cabin in the ship’s Surfside Neighborhood. Bayley mentioned how this cabin alone had incredible success with bookings.

“It’s only one category of room… but the Ultimate Family Townhouse that we sell on Icon is already 55% sold out for 2024 at an average price of $75,000 a week.”

Related: Guide to Icon of the Seas cabins and suites

Royal Caribbean Group believes 2024 will be a very healthy year for the company, and a big driver of success will be the launch of Icon of the Seas.

Lingering effect of Ukraine war?

As the Russia-Ukraine war continues in Europe, Royal Caribbean Group has seen several effects on their business offerings and demand.

The first lingering effect of the conflict in Ukraine is the deployment impact; cruises to Eastern Europe and the Baltics are still on pause.

The second effect is the war’s effect on energy prices in Europe. European consumers are encountering significantly higher energy costs than in the past, influencing consumer spending.

Jason Liberty discussed that despite the conflict in Ukraine, there is still great demand for European cruise itineraries, including demand from European consumers.

“Their propensity to cruise, their desire to go on a vacation experience is high. The value proposition for the cruise, as I noted in my remarks, that gap is still very significant.

“But I think that’s really where you see the effect. European consumers desire to go to the Nordics, desire to go to the Western Med, Eastern Med, which is really kind of fully open to them to experience, that demand is there.”

China cruise market re-opening

The final takeaway from today’s earnings call with investors is the state of the cruising industry in China.

Michael Bayley stated two impediments to the re-opening of the Chinese cruise market:

  • A ban on cruising and group travel in China is still in effect
  • Japan has a requirement that Chinese tourists must test for Covid-19 and could potentially be quarantined

The company is hopeful these requirements will be dropped during the first half of the year. Once these conditions are no longer in effect, the market will reopen.

“We’re thinking that it’ll be late 2023 and we’re kind of thinking that in 2024, probably, realistically, the China market will be back,” said Bayley. “But obviously that’s based upon how we understand and see the situation currently.”

China has been a highly profitable market for Royal Caribbean Group, so the company continues to anticipate the restart of the cruising industry in China.

Currently, Spectrum of the Seas, Royal Caribbean’s Quantum Class ship designed for the Asia cruise market, offers sailings from Singapore.

Royal Caribbean Group Q4 earnings beat Wall Street expectations with smaller-than-expected loss

In:
07 Feb 2023
By: 
Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean Group posted its fourth quarter 2022 earnings on Tuesday with a smaller-than-expected loss.

The company reported a loss of $500.2 million in its fourth quarter and losses of $1.12 per share, which beat Wall Street predictions of of $1.37 per share loss.

Royal Caribbean Group posted revenue of $2.6 billion in the period, which met analysts' expectations.

The better results were a result of better pricing on close-in demand, strong onboard spend, favorable timing of operating costs, and lower interest expense.

Ship sailing

"2022 was a pivotal year as we successfully returned our business to full operations and delivered memorable vacation experiences to 6 million guests," said Jason Liberty, president and chief executive officer, Royal Caribbean Group.

"We also returned to positive Adjusted EBITDA and Operating Cash Flow by consistently growing revenue and controlling costs. Our teams have worked tirelessly to deliver the best vacation experiences, responsibly, and we are grateful for their extraordinary efforts."

Fourth quarter numbers

Here's a breakdown of Royal Caribbean Group's fourth quarter earnings:

Ship capacity (aka load factors) across the fleet were at 95%, with Caribbean sailings reaching 100%, and holiday sailings close to 110%.

For the entire year, load factors were at 85% full. This averages out every sailing, in every market, for the year.

Total revenues per passenger cruise day were up 3.5% as-reported and 4.5% in Constant Currency, compared to the fourth quarter of 2019.

Royal Caribbean Group incurred a $130 million hit as a result of a lawsuit stemming from the former owners of the cruise ship docks in Cuba. The company that owned a port terminal in Havana prior to the Cuban Revolution, sued the cruise lines under the Helms-Burton Act, which allows certain U.S. nationals with claims on properties confiscated by the Cuban government on or after Jan. 1, 1959 to seek compensation from the companies operating those properties.

Royal Caribbean Group said it, "continues to vigorously defend" against the lawsuit.

For the full year, the company reported Net Loss of $2.2 billion compared to Net Loss of $5.3 billion in the prior year. 

Predictions for 2023

Symphony back view

The year started off quite well for Royal Caribbean Group with a record-breaking WAVE season, driven by strong demand. 

Demand is so strong that the company had its seven biggest booking weeks in its history since the last earnings call in November 2022.

Customers are returning to a more normal process of booking cruises in advance, which RCG sees as confidence for its business that the booking window returns to normal.

Liberty of the Seas

All those drink packages, shore excursions, and wifi purchases continue to exceed prior years driven by greater participation at higher prices, which the company sees as quality and healthy future demand.

North America sailings, many of which visit Perfect Day at CocoCay, are leading the way and are booked in line with record 2019 levels for the full year and ahead for the second quarter through the fourth quarter.

Bookings for European itineraries have been accelerating during WAVE and are now higher than 2019.

Couple using tablet in Europe

"Leisure travel strength continues as consumer spend is shifting towards experiences, with cruising remaining an attractive value proposition," said Mr. Liberty.

"The quality demand trends further exhibit the strength of our brands and the growing propensity to cruise."

The craziest things we've seen on our Royal Caribbean cruises

In:
06 Feb 2023
By: 
Angie Vognild

Unexpected things can always happen on a cruise, and although you can dream about the perfect vacation, you shouldn't always expect a cruise to go as smoothly as you hope.

Realistically, you might experience a few unpredictable mishaps during your cruise. Here at Royal Caribbean Blog, our staff has collectively cruised more than 200 times. Needless to say, we have experienced a few crazy things ourselves during our cruises.

From being kicked out of the Diamond Lounge for wearing shorts to watching pier runners sprint their way to the ship before all-aboard time, we’ve seen it all!

Below are some of our craziest stories from our very own Royal Caribbean Blog staff members.

A ship struck Mariner of the Seas

During a quick sailing on Mariner of the Seas last spring, Allie Hubers was onboard when it was struck by a cargo ship.

“On embarkation day," Allie mentioned, "we were notified that Mariner of the Seas needed to dock in Freeport for some routine maintenance, which would replace our sea day.

"After wandering around for a bit in Freeport, we went back to our inside cabin, which was located at the aft of the ship. Suddenly, we felt a big jolt and the ship swayed. My sister and I joked, ‘we must have hit an iceberg!’ to one another.

"The captain came on the speakers almost immediately to announce that a cargo ship docked next to us had 'bounced' into the ship. We ran to the back of the ship to see the cargo ship's bridge nearly crumpled. Crew members blocked off the area where Mariner sustained minor damage. The captain assured us that Mariner was seaworthy and that this would not impact our sailing.

"Essentially, it was so windy that when the cargo ship tried to dock, the wind pushed the ship into us. Their bridge bounced off Mariner's aft on deck 5, creating a pretty noticeable hole in the ship. We were lucky it wasn't worse. I would have been more terrified if we weren't docked at a port when it happened.

"Only a few people were interested in what happened, as the belly flop contest was happening at the time of the incident and the spring breakers were having too much fun to know what was going on!”

A new stateroom for the night

Sailing onboard the now-retired Monarch of the Seas, Marcy Miyar and her husband were desperate to get some sleep, so they tried to find somewhere to go in the middle of the night instead of their extremely noisy cabin.

“It was our first time in a Junior Suite on Monarch of the Seas," said Marcy. "Back then, the three-night cruises didn't depart Nassau until midnight. Because of this, the ship would have a sail away party on the pool deck, but it would last until 3 or 4 AM!

"The junior suites are directly below the pool deck, so we could hear everything like they were in the room with us. The DJ on the microphone, the music, people singing and laughing, deck chairs scraping along our ceiling... we could hear it all.

"We went down to Guest Services and asked if we could be moved to a lower-category room, but of course, the ship was full. We were like zombies walking around the ship with our pillows, looking for somewhere to get some sleep. Luckily, we stumbled upon an unlocked conference room on deck 2. That's where we spent the night. 

"Now, we always make sure to check what is on the deck above us when picking out a stateroom!”

Oscar, Oscar, Oscar

Symphony of the Seas docked at CocoCay

While cruising on Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas, Haley Harnish experienced a scary announcement: Code Oscar.

“Shortly after noon, we heard an Oscar Oscar Oscar call over the PA system," said Haley. "The Oscar code is for man overboard, so it is the absolute last one you want to hear. We had just been seated in Izumi for a sushi and sake pairing, and everybody around us was distressed. The staff did a wonderful job keeping the lunch flowing, even though I'm sure they were just as worried.

"We could feel the ship slow and stop, and about ten minutes later, she turned around and headed back south. The captain announced about midway through lunch that there was an overboard situation and the Coast Guard was involved. The running track on deck 5 was closed to guests so that rescue operations could be activated from that portion of the ship.

"The captain made another announcement around 1 PM, this time telling us that a guest had claimed a person was in the water. To account for everyone on the ship, all guests had to go to the dining room to scan their SeaPass cards. Crew members were to do the same.

"Luckily, my guest and I were first in line to be scanned. It was a fairly easy process, like getting off the ship for an excursion. Then we were directed through the dining room to an emergency door and out onto the running track, up a set of stairs, and onto the Boardwalk.

"The captain let us know just after 3 PM that all crew and guests were accounted for. We had to wait about 30 minutes more to be cleared by the Coast Guard, as they had sent a helicopter to scan the area. At 3:40 PM, we were cleared. 

"This situation made us delayed going to Perfect Day at CocoCay, as we did not arrive until about 12:30 PM. However, we were all very relieved that this was the only negative outcome of the day!”

A surprise guest in our cabin

When boarding Liberty of the Seas, Nicole Feist and her husband were notified of someone else listed on their cabin.

“As we were scanning our SeaPass card to go up the ramp to the ship, we were asked where ‘Lisa’ was," Nicole explained. "We told them that we didn't know a Lisa, and we were the only two assigned to our room. The person scanning had us move to the side and get a supervisor over to check out what the issue was. 

"On their system, it was showing that all three of us were assigned to the same cabin. They told us that they would look into the issue and we were fine to board, so we went ahead and got on the ship. 

"My husband headed to Guest Services to see if they knew what the issue was. It turned out that Lisa was from the previous sailing and hadn't yet closed out her onboard account. That was why she was still showing as assigned to our room! We kept an eye on our account, and luckily we didn't get any of her charges placed on it.”

Late-night false alarm

Adventure of the Seas in St Maarten

During the mandatory muster drill, you never expect to actually hear the ship’s alarm during your cruise vacation. 

Onboard Adventure of the Seas, Matt Hochberg was enjoying himself in the pub when all of a sudden, the alarms sounded.

“Once the alarm went off, crew members instructed us to go to our muster stations," Matt explained. "It was 11:20 PM, and my kids were in Adventure Ocean. Being on the Promenade, we were close to our station so we were among the first out to the station. In fact, we beat a lot of the crew members out there. 

"All this time, the alarm was repeating. A few minutes later the alarm stopped and the captain came on the intercom to let us know it was a false alarm. The crew later told us something was up because when the alarm goes off in drills, they expect to hear an announcement after the first time the alarm is sounded.”

Unexpected scenarios can always occur on a cruise, and these are moments we'll never forget! Have you ever seen anything out of the ordinary on a cruise? Let us know in the comments below!

I cruised in a suite for the first time. Here are 5 things I learned from the experience–and 3 I'd do differently next time

In:
06 Feb 2023
By: 
Jenna DeLaurentis

I recently stayed in one of Royal Caribbean’s most opulent cabins–an $870 per night Owner’s Suite. Usually a budget traveler, I had no idea what to expect and whether the spacious cabin would be worth the hefty price tag.

As someone who typically books the cheapest cabin on a cruise ship, I suddenly felt like royalty when skipping lines, hosting in-suite parties, and ordering free room service to our cabin’s sparkly dining room.

Like anything new in life, though, my first time in a cruise ship suite was nothing short of a learning experience, and I certainly made a few mistakes along the way.

Here are 5 things I learned from my first suite experience and 3 I’d do differently next time.

1. The suite concierge is super beneficial

One perk of staying in a suite on Royal Caribbean is access to the suite concierge, a crew member who acts as a suite guest’s own personal Guest Services during the sailing.

The suite concierge can go above and beyond what a regular Guest Services crew member can do. They can book shore excursions, make dining reservations, handle billing discrepancies, and answer any questions you have.

Before my cruise, I heard from other cruisers that the suite concierge would be extremely helpful during my cruise. I have to say, however, that I was skeptical. I rarely need any questions answered onboard, and I'm comfortable handling dining reservations and travel logistics on my own.

Related: What is the difference between suite concierge and a Royal Genie?

Yet in spite of my skepticism, I found myself feeling grateful for our suite concierge every day of the cruise.

As this was my first-ever suite experience, I had more questions than normal:

  • How do I get my formal wear pressed for free on formal night?
  • Which specialty restaurants are open on embarkation day?
  • How do we arrange to be escorted off the ship on disembarkation day?

Because a suite experience is so different from staying in a standard cabin, at times I felt as if I were a first time cruiser, so having concierge service was extra convenient. Plus, our concierge sent an introduction email the week before our cruise, allowing me to take advantage of these services before I even got onboard.

2. The exclusive breakfast at Chops Grille was a huge perk

Prior to my Liberty of the Seas cruise, I was bummed I would not be able to experience Coastal Kitchen, Royal Caribbean’s suites-only restaurant.

This exclusive restaurant is only available to suite guests on Oasis and Quantum Class ships. It has a breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu that changes daily, and offers a more upscale dining experience than busier venues onboard.

As a Freedom Class ship, Liberty of the Seas does not have a Coastal Kitchen location. Instead, a private breakfast is offered each morning at Chops Grille, and this ended up being one of my favorite parts of the suite experience.

Each morning of our cruise, complimentary breakfast was offered in Chops Grille exclusively for suite guests. This menu featured an enhanced menu compared to breakfast in the Main Dining Room or Windjammer buffet, with both sweet and savory dishes.

Related: Food on a Royal Caribbean cruise

My favorite breakfast was a half grapefruit followed by French toast with caramelized bananas, although every dish I tried for breakfast was excellent.

The biggest perk of breakfast at Chops Grille wasn’t necessarily the food, though. The best benefit was, by far, having a quieter, calmer dining experience than everywhere else onboard.

Mornings on a cruise ship–especially on port days–can be hectic as thousands of guests rush to eat before disembarking the ship. Just walking into the buffet each morning was chaotic, and seeking refuge at the suites-only breakfast in Chops Grille was a lifesaver.

3. Embarkation is so much easier

Nothing puts a damper on embarkation day quite like long lines in the cruise terminal, so I was extra grateful to be a suite guest while boarding Liberty of the Seas.

As a suite guest, I received priority embarkation in the cruise terminal. When I arrived at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, I entered through a separate line and breezed through security and check-in in only five minutes.

I then waited in a separate, suites-only waiting area until we could board the ship. I was surprised to see complimentary beverages and pastries available in the waiting room, which was an additional nice touch on the embarkation experience.

As suite guests, we were the first to board Liberty of the Seas, too, and were onboard much quicker than those staying in standard cabins. Starting off my vacation in a more comfortable, relaxed way was a wonderful perk of staying in a suite!

4. Despite initial skepticism, a suite can totally be worth the cost

Ever since my first international trip in 2014, I’ve always been a budget traveler. I prefer stretching my vacation budget as far as possible, whether it means taking a bus instead of a train, booking a flight with a layover instead of a direct route, or reserving a hotel further from the city center.

My budget travel style transferred over to cruising, and I regularly book the cheapest cabins, avoid booking shore excursions, and dine primarily at complimentary restaurants.

So when I booked an Owner’s Suite, I was skeptical it would be worth the cost. In fact, my initial article pitches involved titles such as “Why I didn’t think my suite was worth the cost” and “10 reasons I’ll probably never book a suite again”.

Let’s just say my initial judgment was quickly deemed incorrect, and by the first few hours onboard, I finally understood why booking suites is so popular.

Having a suite enhances your cruise experience in a way you can’t achieve in a lower category cabin. Even if you buy a dining package, book the most sought after shore excursions, and reserve a spa treatment, it won’t come close to the level of luxury you’ll find in a suite.

With a suite, you have an ultra spacious, private getaway from the busy activity found elsewhere onboard. You receive top-notch service and benefits, whether it’s the free drinks in the Suite Lounge, concierge service, or free room service.

If you can stretch your vacation budget far enough to book a suite, it can be well worth the cost, particularly if you’re celebrating a special occasion.

5. But… I also learned that I am 100% okay with booking cheaper cabins

As much as I loved my suite experience on Royal Caribbean, the final thing I learned from my time onboard was that I am perfectly okay booking standard cruise ship cabins.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated every aspect of my Owner’s Suite experience, but I definitely would not book a suite every time I cruise. Spending $3000 on one 3-night cruise in a suite is not nearly as appealing as spending the same amount of money for three separate sailings.

Whether in a suite or interior room, much of the Royal Caribbean experience remains the same. You can see the same shows, dine at the same restaurants, and visit the same destinations.

Although I might consider a suite if I find a great deal, I’m unlikely to book any $10,000 suites any time soon.

What I’d do differently next time I’m in a suite

1. Take better advantage of the Suite Lounge

Suite guests on Liberty of the Seas have access to the Suite Lounge, a private space with comfy seating, an outdoor patio, private concierge, and complimentary food and drinks.

One of my biggest regrets from my suite experience is that I didn’t spend nearly enough time in the Suite Lounge, especially during the evenings.

Each evening from 5-8PM, hors d'oeuvres and alcoholic beverages are provided in the lounge free of charge. Having access to free drinks onboard is a huge benefit, especially considering individual cocktails cost $14 each!

Plus, the lounge offers a quieter atmosphere than other bars onboard and–given its top deck location–has excellent views of the ocean.

Although I initially planned to spend time in the Suite Lounge each day of my cruise, I found myself too busy to take full advantage of this perk. Returning from port at 4PM each day and getting ready for dinner reservations at 6PM meant I had little time to enjoy the lounge in the evenings.

If I book another suite in the future, I’ll reserve later dinner times so I’m not as rushed after port days and can enjoy the Suite Lounge to the fullest.

2. Order Main Dining Room meals to the cabin

Free room service is an awesome perk to staying in a suite, and what makes this benefit extra special is having access to not only Royal Caribbean’s standard room service menu, but the Main Dining Room menu.

Related: Royal Caribbean room service guide & tips

Suite guests on Liberty of the Seas can order food from the Main Dining Room menu during the restaurant’s operating hours. You can order breakfast, lunch, and dinner from the Main Dining Room and have the meals delivered directly to your cabin.

Lunch and dinner menus from the Main Dining Room change daily. You can have French onion soup and pesto tagliatelle delivered one night and lobster delivered the next.

Because ordering from the Main Dining Room menu is only available for suite guests, it provides a more special dining experience compared to what you’ll experience in a regular cabin.

Our Owner’s Suite had a dining room table both inside and outside on the balcony, and I wish I had taken advantage of having Main Dining Room menu items delivered to our suite.

We were cruising with a large group, so we enjoyed dinner in the dining room each evening. If we were cruising by ourselves, though, I would have ordered dinner directly to the suite for a more intimate dining experience.

3. Book a cruise with a sea day

Liberty of the Seas

I booked this suite on a 3-night cruise that included port stops in Nassau and Perfect Day at CocoCay, Bahamas. Due to the cruise’s short length, there were no sea days on the itinerary.

Due to the port-intensive itinerary, I found myself with limited time onboard–let alone in my suite. Sure, I could have skipped a port day, but then I would be missing out on the beautiful beaches of the Bahamas.

By the time I got back onboard after a port day, I quickly showered, changed, and headed to dinner. This left very little time to relax in our suite and take full advantage of Royal Caribbean’s fantastic suite benefits.

Next time I book a suite, I’ll choose an itinerary with more sea days so I can fully enjoy the suite experience.

Planning a Royal Caribbean cruise in a suite? Here are our best tips:

Royal Caribbean News Round-Up: February 5, 2022

In:
05 Feb 2023
By: 
Matt Hochberg

Happy weekend! We hope you are in the midst of a wonderful weekend full of things to do to pass the time between cruises.  We have a summary of all of this week's Royal Caribbean news in case you missed any of it!

Royal Caribbean has provided an in-depth look at its new neighborhood aimed at young families, Surfside.

Surfside neighborhood with Water's Edge pool

When Icon of the Seas debuts, Royal Caribbean thinks it will have the best family vacation in the world, and they totally mean it.

Part of that strategy is by creating a purpose-built neighborhood for families.

Royal Caribbean News

Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast

The 486th episode of the Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast is now available and this week, Matt reviews his Liberty of the Seas sailing.

Matt sailed on Liberty of the Seas for the first time, and he compares the ship to other Freedom and Voyager Class ships and talks about what stands out about Liberty.

Please feel free to subscribe via iTunes or RSS, and head over to rate and review the podcast on iTunes if you can! We’d appreciate it.

New RCB Video: 12 things I'd tell anyone new to cruise ship travel

Have you subscribed to the Royal Caribbean Blog YouTube Channel? We share some great videos there regularly, all about taking a Royal Caribbean cruise! This week, we are sharing our latest video — 12 things I'd tell anyone new to cruise ship travel — and don’t forget to subscribe here.

10 commandments of a great cruise ship vacation

Thou shall follow these 10 cruise commandments for a thoroughly awesome vacation.

While a lot of cruise advice could benefit you, there are a few core tenants of cruise ship travel that I think are a must for just about anyone.

In reflecting on the cruise tips and advice I dole out each week, I wanted to come up with the 10 most important pieces of cruise advice I would give to just about anyone. 

This regular cabin includes free ice cream and suite lounge access!

Have you ever heard of the Ben and Jerry Sweet on Royal Caribbean's Freedom Class ships?

This Promenade View room is situated right above the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream parlor, and it comes with cow-themed decor, vouchers for free ice cream and highly-coveted suite lounge access - all for the same price as every other inside promenade stateroom onboard.

Best extras for a cruise under $10

Why you should book a cruise ship inside room | Royal Caribbean Blog

When I sailed on Liberty of the Seas last week, I forgot to bring liquid soap and it reminded me of some cheap things to bring on a cruise that I always regret forgetting.

Underwear, toothbrush, sunscreen, are all examples of things you probably bring with you on any trip, but certain "good to have" extras for a cruise vacation aren't as obvious.

Before you hit the road to get on a cruise, double check you packed these under $10 things that will make your cruise better.

Alaska cruise ports guide

In:
03 Feb 2023
By: 
Jenna DeLaurentis

Alaska cruises are all about the beautiful ports you’ll visit, from small, historic towns to massive glaciers. Most cruise itineraries to Alaska visit 4-5 ports, and there’s a lot to learn about these unique destinations before setting sail.

Radiance of the Seas in Alaska

Before cruising to Alaska, it's helpful to have an idea of what is offered in each cruise port. Some ports offer the best whale watching opportunities whereas others are best for visiting historical sites and learning about Native Alaskan culture.

You’ll want to research Alaska ports before you sail to ensure you have enough time to book shore excursions and plan your days in port. It’s always better to be prepared for a port day whether you book a tour or explore on your own.

Here’s our comprehensive Alaska cruise ports guide which will provide an overview of all the ports you can visit on an Alaska cruise.

Juneau

Franklin Street

Juneau, although the capital of Alaska, is not the biggest city in the state–only 32,000 people call Juneau home. Don’t let the city’s small size deter you from visiting, though. The mountains, glaciers, and wildlife surrounding Juneau make this charming town anything but small, and it’s one of the main tourist hubs in all of Alaska.

Every Royal Caribbean Alaska cruise itinerary includes a stop in Juneau. With whale watching, hiking, history, and mouthwatering cuisine to discover, it’s a favorite port stop among many cruisers.

Mendenhall Glacier

Many visitors to Juneau head to Mendenhall Glacier. Only 20 minutes from downtown Juneau, this 13 mile long receding glacier is the most easily accessible glacier from an Alaska cruise port, and it offers hiking, kayaking, and sightseeing opportunities.

Outside of Mendenhall Glacier, many cruisers spend their day walking South Franklin Street downtown, riding the Mount Roberts Tramway, or taking day trips to nearby attractions like Admiralty Island (home to 1,600 brown bears) and Echo Cove.

Read more about Juneau:

Skagway

Skagway ship at end of street

Located in the most northerly part of Alaska’s Inside Passage is Skagway. This small town is most known for the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897-98, during which the famous White Pass and Yukon Railway was constructed.

Despite being home to only 1,200 people, Skagway receives upwards of 1 million visitors each year!

Related: Local’s guide of what to do in Skagway, Alaska

If you’ve never been to Skagway before, consider a ride on the White Pass and Yukon Railroad, a scenic railway climbing 2,885 feet to the summit of the White Pass. Complete with stunning views of the mountains and the breathtaking Bridal Veil Falls waterfall, it’s hard to beat booking an excursion on the train.

Skagway is also a popular destination for active travelers. The city boasts a variety of hiking trails, from the Dewey Lake Trail System to the Chilkoot Trail–used by gold prospectors in the late 1800s. Trekking through Alaska’s dense forests and picture-perfect lakes is sure to be a highlight for visitors to Skagway.

If you’d prefer to keep things simple, you can have a wonderful day walking around Skagway’s historic downtown. Packed with souvenir shops, saloons, restaurants, and unique architecture, strolling through downtown makes for a relaxing day in this Gold Rush town.

Read more about Skagway:

Sitka

Sitka, the former capital of Russian Alaska, was originally founded by the Tlingit people over 10,000 years ago. Now part of the United States, Sitka is home to 10,000 year-round residents and is a popular port on any Alaska cruise itinerary.

If you’re looking for a blend of history, nature, and culture, Sitka has it all. Many visitors flock to downtown Sitka, where you'll find shops, restaurants, and the famous St. Michael Orthodox Cathedral–the first Orthodox cathedral in the United States.

Related: Local’s guide of what to do in Sitka, Alaska

You can also explore the Baranof Castle State Historic Site, where the former transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States took place.

Nature lovers will flock to the Sitka National Historic Park, a 113-acre park in a lush rainforest of Sitka Spruce Trees. At the park, you’ll find Tlingit and Haida totem poles, hiking trails, and wildlife viewing opportunities.

Note: Cruise ships dock six miles from downtown Sitka, and free shuttle buses are provided to and from downtown.

Read more about Sitka:

Ketchikan

At the southern end of Alaska’s Inside Passage is Ketchikan, a town of 8,000 people best known for its idyllic scenery, Native culture, and fishing.

The town has many nicknames, including the Salmon Capital of the World, for its abundance of salmon, and Alaska’s First City, as it was the first town reached by sailors cruising to Alaska from the south.

Related: Local guide of places to visit in Ketchikan, Alaska

Cruise ships dock in the center of downtown Ketchikan, making exploring the town’s attractions a breeze.

Creek Street is one of the most popular places to visit in Ketchikan. The town's former Red Light District, this boardwalk is lined with shops, homes, and the famous Dolly’s House Museum. It’s also a fantastic place to spot wildlife, as the boardwalk is built over a creek where salmon run each summer.

The town is also known for its totem poles, with over eighty of the tall, hand-carved sculptures found throughout the town and in the nearby Native village of Saxman. Due to the area’s rich Native culture, many visitors enjoy learning more about the history and traditions of the Tlingit people while in port.

Other recommended activities in Ketchikan include a visit to the Misty Fjords National Monument, exploring the town’s hiking trails, and tasting local, freshly caught seafood.

Read more about Ketchikan:

Icy Strait Point

Icy Strait Point is a private port that was opened by the Huna Tlingit Native Alaskans in 2004. Despite being a new cruise port, it still offers plenty of amenities and activities to keep passengers busy.

Icy Strait Point has a scenic boardwalk, walking paths, history museum, souvenir shop, cultural center, restaurants, and bars. Adrenaline seekers will love the ZipRider, which features six ziplines exceeding 60 mph over the rainforest. ATV and Jeep tours are also available to book.

Related: Best things to do on an Alaska cruise

Icy Strait Point is also one of the best ports in Alaska for whale watching. It’s located near Point Adolphus, home to Alaska’s largest population of humpback whales in the summer. Other than humpback whales, you may spot orcas, sea lions, otters, and seals.

Due to its small size, Icy Strait Point offers a more serene port experience than other Alaska cruise ports. It’s best for those looking to relax in the nature of Alaska while enjoying local cuisine and gaining insights into Native culture.

Related: How I spent the day at Icy Strait Point on my Royal Caribbean cruise

Many visitors opt to visit the nearby town of Hoonah while docked at Icy Strait Point. Only 1.5 miles from the port, Hoonah is home to less than 1,000 people and offers an authentic, small town Alaska experience.

In Hoonah you’ll find a totem pole carving workshop, a handful of restaurants, and a few shops. The size of Hoonah makes Juneau feel like a metropolis, but that’s part of what makes the town so charming.

Haines

Just 20 miles from Skagway is the small town of Haines, located in one of the deepest fjords of Alaska’s Inside Passage. It is one of the most quaint ports found on any Alaska cruise itinerary, and most ships only spend a few hours in the town.

In fact, it’s rare to find an itinerary with a full day in Haines. Royal Caribbean ships tend to visit Skagway in the morning, travel the short distance to Haines in late afternoon, and remain docked in Haines for the evening.

Related: Ultimate Alaska cruise guide

Active adventurers will love sea kayaking, rafting, cycling, and riding ATVs through Haines’ pristine wilderness. Those looking to explore without a tour can try local restaurants and shop for handmade artwork and souvenirs.

Victoria, British Columbia

Victoria is found on every Royal Caribbean Alaska cruise departing from Seattle, but this port is not even in Alaska... it's in British Columbia, Canada!

Due to the Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA), all foreign-flagged ships must visit at least one foreign country on a roundtrip cruise from the United States. Because of this, Alaska cruises from Seattle include a port stop in Victoria, British Columbia, the most easily accessible foreign port en route to Alaska.

Victoria is significantly larger than other ports on an Alaska cruise, with a population of over 90,000 people. The city’s endearing downtown transports visitors to a small English village, with streets of colorful Victorian buildings and a plethora of pubs.

Two of the most popular attractions in Victoria are the Butchart Gardens, an internationally-renowned, 55 acre garden display, and Craigdarroch Castle, providing a look into the life of Victoria’s wealthy in the 1890s.

Related: Visiting Butchart Gardens and Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria

Outside of these sites, many visitors enjoy walking Victoria’s Fisherman’s Wharf, a picturesque harbor with restaurants, shops, and bars.

In Victoria on a rainy day? Consider booking Tea at The Empress, a sophisticated high tea experience at the luxury Fairmont Empress hotel. Or perhaps walk through the Royal British Columbia Museum, a natural and human history museum with a collection of over 7 million objects.

Most visitors to Victoria on an Alaska cruise explore the city’s highlights, but there is still plenty of nature to explore near the port as well. Whale watching tours are popular in the city, so if you didn’t book a whale watching tour in an Alaska port, you’ll have another chance to spot these majestic animals while in Victoria.

Seward

Seward, Alaska is a port found only on one-way Alaska cruise itineraries. One-way cruises to Alaska start in Seward and end in Vancouver (and vice versa).

Unlike the other Alaska cruise ports on this list, Seward is not located in Alaska’s Inside Passage. The small city of 2,600 people is located in southern Alaska just 125 miles from Anchorage.

Seward is the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park, where nearly 40 glaciers flow from the Harding Icefield. The town also has hiking trails, a waterfront park, aquarium, and downtown center with shops, bars, and restaurants.

Related: When is the best time to cruise to Alaska?

The main attraction by starting or ending a cruise in Seward, however, isn’t the town itself, but the proximity to some of Alaska’s most popular destinations. Those cruising from Seward will usually spend several days in Alaska’s interior before (or after) their one-way cruise, visiting places like Denali National Park and Reserve and Talkeetna.

Although roundtrip sailings to Alaska are more common than the one-way itineraries visiting Seward, southern Alaska is certainly worth a visit if you’re interested in exploring more of what makes the state so special.

Visiting glaciers on an Alaska cruise

Glacier seen from cruise ship

In addition to visiting Alaska’s small, scenic towns, most Alaska cruise itineraries also include visits to the state’s colossal glaciers. On glacier viewing days, Royal Caribbean ships sail slowly near a glacier, completing a 360 degree turn to ensure everyone onboard can view the glacier.

Passengers do not disembark the ship on glacier viewing days, but there may be excursions to book in which you can disembark your cruise ship for a smaller expedition vessel to view the glacier more up close.

Before viewing glaciers on your Alaska cruise, make sure to find the best viewing spot on your cruise ship. Many passengers flock to the helicopter pad or pool deck whereas others prefer watching the scenery from the comfort of their balcony.

Here are the three main glaciers you’ll find on Alaska cruise itineraries:

Hubbard Glacier

Hubbard Glacier is the largest tidewater glacier in North America; it’s over 400 feet tall and 6 miles wide, and it’s rapidly advancing at around 80 feet per year. Its enormous size makes the glacier a highlight on any Alaska cruise itinerary.

Visiting Hubbard Glacier is a half-day experience. Ships first sail into Yakutat Bay and continue to Disenchantment Bay en route to the glacier.

Related: Hubbard Glacier vs. Glacier Bay: which glacier is better to see on a cruise?

Hubbard Glacier is located further north than the other glaciers on this list. Due to its more remote location, you’ll usually only find Hubbard Glacier itineraries on one-way sailings to or from Alaska.

Endicott Arm & Dawes Glacier

Glacier in Alaska

Located just 50 miles from Juneau, the narrow fjord of Endicott Arm is commonly traveled through on Alaska cruise itineraries. As you pass through the fjord with snowy mountains, waterfalls, and drifting icebergs in all directions, you’ll reach the end of the fjord: Dawes Glacier.

At 300 feet tall above the waterline and a half mile wide, Dawes Glacier is another of Alaska’s most spectacular glaciers. If you’re lucky, you may witness the glacier calving as your ship approaches.

In addition to the glacier, Endicott Arm is home to a variety of wildlife, including harbor seals, brown bears, bald eagles, moose, and wolves. Be sure to pack your binoculars!

Related: Alaska cruise packing list: What to pack for your sailing

Tracy Arm Fjord (Sawyer Glaciers)

Also located near Juneau is Tracy Arm Fjord, a narrow, deep water fjord surrounded by tall, snow-capped mountains on both sides. At the end of the fjord are the twin Sawyer Glaciers.

The South Sawyer Glacier is difficult to access as it is at the very end of Tracy Arm Fjord, so the North Sawyer Glacier is much more commonly visited. Its face is a half mile wide, giving excellent viewing opportunities from your ship.

Cruises to Tracy Arm Fjord are commonly found on 7-night Alaska itineraries departing from both Seattle and Vancouver.

Best things to bring on a cruise under $10 I always regret forgetting to bring

In:
03 Feb 2023
By: 
Matt Hochberg

There's all sorts of extras you can bring on a cruise, but it seems I forget one or three of them when I actually go on a cruise.

Royal Caribbean's Harmony of the Seas in Labadee

Last week I sailed on Liberty of the Seas for a short 3-night cruise, and the first time I went to wash my hands in my stateroom bathroom I realized I forgot to pack liquid hand soap. While there's nothing wrong with the bar soap that Royal Caribbean provides, I prefer bringing my own for ease of use.

That got me thinking about other really cheap extras someone can bring on a cruise that enhance the experience.

While we have a great cruise ship packing list you can refer to, it's easy to overlook these extras because they aren't things that one might naturally consider in the course of preparing for a cruise.  Underwear, toothbrush, sunscreen, are all examples of things you probably bring with you on any trip, but certain "good to have" extras for a cruise vacation aren't as obvious.

Before you hit the road to get on a cruise, double check you packed these under $10 things that will make your cruise better.

Please note that I linked to each item on Amazon which contains an affiliate link. This affiliate link costs you absolutely nothing extra, but I make a small commission if you purchase it.

Liquid soap

Liquid soap

$9.39 at Amazon

As previously mentioned, liquid soap is so nice to have in your cabin.

Washing your hands on a cruise ship is super important, but the bar soap the cruise line provides requires more work to work up a lather compared to liquid soap, and I never like the "dry" feeling it leaves me with after.

Instead we like to pack liquid soap to have in the bathroom.

Not only does it feel better on my hands, but it's faster and smells better too!

Laundry hamper

$6.99 at Amazon

Ever since I tried bringing a laundry hamper with me as part of my inside cabin hacks testing, it's become a staple of my cruise packing procedure.

On my last cruise, I forgot it at home (it was in a different piece of luggage than I ended up bringing) and it was then I realized how nice it was to have.

Without a hamper, I just designate a corner of my cabin closet as the laundry pile and it grows and grows until the end of the cruise. When it's time to pack up, I have to gather everything up.

With a pop up laundry hamper, it's so much easier to keep things organized and grab it when the cruise is over.

Luggage tag holders

$6.99 at Amazon

While remembering to print out luggage tags is a challenge in and of itself, having luggage tag holders gives me much more confidence they wont get ripped off accidently.

I've been using luggage tag holders for years as an easy way to display luggage tags without fear the paper tags would break off in the process.

Not only are they cheap, but they last a really long time.

My own shampoo & body wash

$7.99 at Amazon

I remember when Jenna took her very first Royal Caribbean cruise and I neglected to mention she should pack shampoo and body wash because the mystery liquid in the cabin showers is less than ideal.

After a couple days, she mentioned how bad it was and I was flabbergasted she was using it because I usually bring my own.

Along the same lines, I sometimes overlook packing my own and the stuff in the cabin never works as well.

Suites have upgraded toiletries that are much better, but it's still not as good as what you probably use at home.  This is especially true for women who have specific needs for their hair.

Depending on your brand, this one may come in above the $10 threshold, but even a cheaper one you bring will likely be better than what is waiting for you in the shower.

Aspirin

Aspirin

$4.59 at Amazon

If you have a Royal Caribbean drink package, there's a good chance a bottle of aspirin is a solid investment for the next day.

Between hangovers and drinking enough water every day, it's easy to run into a headache while on a cruise. 

Just like travel insurance, having a bottle of aspirin is so helpful when you really need it.

Chapstick

Chapstick

$1.49 at Amazon

Every time I take an Alaska cruise, after a day or two I suddenly remember I forgot to pack chapstick because it becomes apparent we need it.

Just like sunscreen, chapped lips can hurt quickly.

Other must-have cruise items worth bringing

In addition to the list of sub-$10 things I love to bring on a cruise, I thought it would be helpful to also include other items I would be disappointed if I forgot at home.

We all (should) know to pack the basics, such as underwear, socks, pants, and shorts. But there's a host of other things I strongly recommend you pack on your cruise too.

AirTags

Close up of AirTag

Not only are AirTags helpful if you're flying, but they can be really useful if you're going on a cruise.

Include an AirTag in your luggage and you can easily track where your bags are using your iPhone.

Read moreI tried AirTags to track my luggage on a Royal Caribbean cruise

Reusable water bottle

Reusable water bottle

You can get water around the ship, but it's much more convenient to have a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated.

Not only does it hold more water than any cup of water you'll find on the ship, they can be brought off the ship for shore excursions.

Noise cancelling headphones

Noise cancelling headphones

Not only are noise-cancelling headphones useful outside of an airplane, they make a tremendous difference in being able to enjoy "me time" onboard a ship.

I really love putting them on when I'm on the pool deck so I can enjoy the breeze and sun while laying out in a lounger, without all the conversations, music, and noise you'd have to put up with around you.

For years, I've used and recommended the Sony WH-1000XM4 wireless noise-cancelling headphones for over-the-ear comfort and unbeatable noise cancellation.

I know a lot of other people that prefer the Apple AirPods Pro because they offer noise cancelling without the heft and size.

Read moreThe best travel tech gadgets for a cruise ship vacation

Air freshener

Bathroom door on Wonder of the Seas

Whether you're sharing a cabin with a friend or family member, what happens in the bathroom shouldn't be well-known to everyone else.

Poo pourri and other air fresheners are a must-pack item to keep your cabin bathroom from being a point of contention (or embarrassment) 

Magnetic hooks

Your cabin walls are metallic, which means you place magnetic hooks just about anywhere.

Storage space on Royal Caribbean ships is notoriously low, and magnetic hooks provide convenient ways to hang clothes and accessories.

I recommend these magnetic hooks if you have not purchased one yet.

E-reader

Woman reading her kindle

If you're a reader, bringing a Kindle or other e-reader is a must-have on a cruise.

You'll find lots of opportunity to read while on a cruise, especially on a sea day. The Kindle Paperwhite is perfect for the pool deck as well as in your cabin.

Night light

It shouldn't come as a shock that inside cabins are really dark at night because they have no natural light source.

This night light not only offers lighting, but it will only come on when someone moves around.

How a cruise is totally different from other kinds of vacations

In:
02 Feb 2023
By: 
Matt Hochberg

A cruise ship vacation offers an experience that in many ways is completely different from land vacations, which is actually a benefit.

Mariner of the Seas docked in Labadee

Cruise lines consider their primary competition not other cruise lines, but rather, land vacations. To that point, they have ensured that the experience and value differs enough from their land-based alternatives in order to highlight the advantages a cruise has.

When comparing a cruise to a land trip, you'll find some inherit nuances and differences between cruises and other forms of travel. For many people that choose to cruise, these subtleties are a compelling rationale to cruise instead.

From value to entertainment to experiences, here are the major ways a cruise vacation is completely different from a land vacation.

Cruises are still the best value

Serenade and Mariner of the Seas docked in Cozumel

When you consider that a cruise ship is a floating hotel that includes meals, snacks, shows, and transportation during your voyage, it's easy to see how much more value a cruise vacation has over a land vacation.

If you choose to visit a theme park or city, you'll not only need to pay for lodging, but also be on the hook for food and activities.

Cruises include much of that in their cruise fare.  There are certainly optional add-ons that will cost you extra on a cruise, such as specialty dining or excursions, but more is included with the base cost than on land.

Odyssey of the Seas pool at night

To illustrate that point, Royal Caribbean Group CEO Jason Liberty told investors in November 2022 that the value gap is sizeable, "We've seen this 40% gap to land-based vacation [this year]. It used to be about 20%"

When travel insurance comparison site insuremytrip.com compared the price of a land vacation to a cruise, it noted customers were paying about 30% less for cruises, with the average land trip costing $6,426 — $1,469 more than the average cruise.

When you consider a mass-market cruise line like Royal Caribbean to land-based hotels and resorts, the value offered is hard to beat.

Sunrise at sea

Part of that gap is because land resorts have seen their prices sky rocket, despite the global health crisis of the last few years.  Meanwhile, cruise ship prices did not move much at all during the same time.

While cruise ship prices are certainly on their way up now, a cruise vacation remains a terrific value.

People are more social on cruises

If you've ever walked through a hotel versus a cruise ship, you'll probably get more greetings and get to know your fellow passengers on a cruise ship.

So many cruise ship activities result in passengers participating together, such as shore excursions, shows, and even just sharing a table in a dining room.

The result is you're likely to strike up a conversation with a stranger on a cruise ship more than on land.

Similar to being at a bar on land, there's more opportunity on a cruise ship to be seated next to someone you don't know and that tends to breed conversations.

People that cruise a lot will tell you the friendships they've formed on cruise ships have been life changing in many cases. Passengers meet someone in a lounge or bar, and they become good friends and they end up cruising with.

Even if you don't find your BFF on a cruise ship, the nature of being with other people on a cruise ship in certain situations tends to lead to far more conversations with strangers than I've found when I'm on land.

Stateroom door decorations

Cabin door decorations

One phenomenon of cruising is that some passengers will decorate their cabin door, which is something I've rarely (if ever) seen on land.

I'm not sure where or when this cruising tradition began, but a great number of passengers will bring print-outs, magnets, and all sorts of decor to attach to their stateroom cabin.

Many first time cruisers are unaware of this tradition, but I've seen plenty of them that love the idea and make plans to do it also on their next cruise.

Door decorations

Stateroom door decorations are a fun way to share your excitement about the cruise, as well as convey to others special occasions you're celebrating, or who you're cruising with.

In short, it's a fun excuse to celebrate being on vacation and you probably won't see the same at your land hotel.

Incredible customer loyalty benefits

Diamond Club sign

If you compare a cruise line's customer loyalty benefits to any hotel or resort's program, I think you'll be shocked how much more cruise ship guests get.

Using Royal Caribbean as an example, after just one cruise, you're entitled to a number of discounts that you can use every day of the cruise. The Crown and Anchor Society perks for Gold members include:

  • 50% off coupon for any glass of wine, beer, or soda
  • 25% off any coffee beverage
  • 10% off any wine, beer or soda by the glass

Once you hit the higher tiers, the perks really start to come in, such as free photos, discounts on balcony cabins, wifi plan discounts, and even free alcoholic beverages every day of the cruise.

Read moreThe Crown and Anchor perks you should use on every Royal Caribbean cruise

Good luck finding any kind of similar benefits at a land based resort or hotel, even at their top levels.

You're somewhere different every day

Aruba beach

It's pretty obvious a cruise ship will take you somewhere different every day, but this is a really big advantage for a cruise ship vacation.

When you do a land vacation, you pick a city, town, or resort and you're there for the duration of the trip.  While that place may be wonderful, variety is the spice of life, and being able to move around and see other places means more opportunity to mix things up.

You could do a beach day in one port, but then take in the culture and history of another.  Or double down on the beach. It's up to you.

El Morro

Not to mention the fact that if a hurricane is headed for where you're going on a cruise, the ship can go elsewhere.  On land, you're stuck.

Beyond the weather, a cruise affords you the opportunity to visit cities and places in short order that are otherwise difficult to get to on your own. A great example are Alaska cruises, which visit cities, towns, and glaciers that are so remote it would be a more difficult task to see them on land.

And while you could travel around on a land vacation to try to replicate the same experience on land, you only have to unpack once on a cruise!

You don't have to worry about where to stay

Grandeur of the Seas hallway

If there's one aspect of planning a land vacation that gives a lot of travelers anxiety, it's where to stay to ensure it's clean, safe, and a good location.

With a cruise, you don't have to worry about picking a hotel in a bad part of town, or that the hotel you chose is rated poorly.

A suite that’s sweet! I stayed in the weirdest cabin on Royal Caribbean – it included free ice cream and cow-themed decor

In:
02 Feb 2023
By: 
Allie Hubers

Situated on deck 6 of Royal Caribbean’s Freedom-class ships is a promenade stateroom that’s unlike any other cabin onboard.

Ben & Jerry suite

Imagine a stateroom featuring cow-themed decor, vouchers for free ice cream and highly-coveted suite lounge access - all for the same price as every other inside promenade stateroom onboard.

Without a doubt, the Ben and Jerry’s suite is the weirdest stateroom onboard any Royal Caribbean ship; and I was lucky enough to experience this bizarre stateroom for myself onboard Liberty of the Seas last weekend.

Found on Liberty of the Seas, along with Freedom of the Seas and Independence of the Seas, the Ben and Jerry’s suite is the only inside cabin suite on any Royal Caribbean ship.

While cabin 6305 might look like a regular ol’ promenade stateroom from the hallway, most don’t realize this stateroom is perfectly situated right above the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream parlor. Open the cabin’s blinds and you’ll find a front row view of two life-size cow’s derriere (or should I say dairy-ere?)

Here’s what it was like staying in the weirdest Royal Caribbean stateroom.

Having never heard of the Ben and Jerry’s Sweet, I did some preliminary research to see what I could expect staying in the promenade “suite.” 

Legend has it that the cow-obstructed views were an oversight from Royal Caribbean during the construction phase of building the Freedom-class ships. Once it was discovered that these massive cows block most of the cabin’s promenade view, Royal Caribbean decided to add a few freebies for guests.

Alas, the Ben and Jerry’s Sweet was born!

After learning about this peculiar promenade stateroom, I found an older article on RoyalCaribbeanBlog that provided some pictures, videos and details about the Ben and Jerry’s suite.

Back in 2011, the Ben and Jerry’s suite appeared to be covered with cow-themed decor from head to toe. From bedsheets and pillows with cow-prints to mini cow trinkets and clocks, the Ben and Jerry’s suite was decked out with decor. The door of the suite even had a special plaque, which surely intrigued other guests onboard.

Booking the Ben and Jerry’s suite was the same price as every other promenade stateroom on Liberty of the Seas

Because of the cabin’s obscureness, it was difficult to find any updated or current photos of what to expect from the suite. With just 3 cabins existing in Royal Caribbean’s entire fleet, the Ben and Jerry’s suite is considered a hidden gem.

Although I’ve cruised many times on Royal Caribbean ships that feature promenade staterooms, or glorified inside cabins that have a window overlooking the lively promenade onboard, I’ve never actually booked one for myself.

I always worried that a promenade stateroom would be too noisy when trying to sleep at night, especially considering how busy the promenade is on any Royal Caribbean cruise. I was anxious to see whether I liked staying in a promenade stateroom and I was grateful to try out this cabin on a short, 3-night sailing.

For this cruise, I’d be sailing with my husband. I warned him about expecting obnoxious cow decor in the stateroom while in the same breath sharing that we would presumably be receiving suite lounge access and free ice cream with the stateroom.  

While boarding, I was confused whether we could board with other suite guests, as we didn’t receive any communication regarding the benefits of our room prior to boarding. As such, we boarded like everyone else so as to not potentially embarrass ourselves. 

Walking inside the stateroom for the first time after boarding, my husband looked to me and said “Uh, I don’t think this is the Ben and Jerry’s suite.” 

Expecting to see an obscene amount of cow-themed decor, we opened the door to cabin 6305 to see a stateroom that initially looked like every other promenade cabin. There was no plaque on the stateroom door like I had seen in older pictures and videos.

I gave a confused look to my husband and went inside the cabin further to investigate.

Once we were inside the promenade cabin, we quickly spotted a framed photo of a cow painting. The quirky artwork confirmed we were indeed in the Ben and Jerry’s suite!

I looked out the window to find the life-size cows right above the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream shop in the promenade. 

These massive cow structures blocked the majority of our promenade view - and it certainly made us laugh when seeing the cow posteriors for the first time.

On the stateroom vanity, we found a coupon that was titled “Ben & Jerry’s Sweet Guest” with small boxes to check for each complimentary treat. 

The voucher said, “Enjoy a daily complimentary ice cream treat from your friends at Royal Caribbean International and Ben & Jerry’s. Present this voucher at the time of ordering.”

The voucher stated that the coupon was non-transferrable, non-refundable and non-replaceable if lost or stolen. Since the sailing was only 3-nights, the boxes for Treat 4 through Treat 7 were crossed out.

We also found a welcome sheet from the suite concierge welcoming us onboard, writing, “We're thrilled to welcome you to the Ben & Jerry's Sweet onboard Liberty of the Seas for what’s sure to be an unforgettable adventure. This one of a kind stateroom overlooks the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Shop on the Royal Promenade - and it comes with some pretty cool perks.”

The perks listed on the sheet included a free treat at Ben and Jerry’s on every day of our cruise for all guests staying in the stateroom, along with exclusive access to the Suite Lounge for continental breakfast and happy hour each evening from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm. 

I’ve only ever stayed in a junior suite onboard a Royal Caribbean cruise, which confusingly enough did not come with Suite Lounge access. We were excited to see what the Suite Lounge was all about and compare it to the Diamond Lounge.

Of course, we couldn’t wait too long to take the Ben and Jerry’s voucher for a spin.

Voucher in tow, my husband and I went to Ben and Jerry’s for a little ice cream treat after boarding and dropping off our luggage. 

Proudly displaying the voucher to the crew member working at Ben and Jerry’s, we inquired about what exactly our “complimentary treat” entailed. The crew member seemed a bit confused at first and didn’t entirely know what would be included. 

We told him that the description said in our room that we could each have a daily complimentary treat, but he still seemed unsure about what the voucher was all about. 

Eventually, he said we could pretty much have whatever we wanted, including any size of ice cream. I opted for a small Phish Food while my husband tried the Cookies and Cream.

After serving up our ice cream, he checked off Treat 1 on our voucher. We were surprised that using the voucher seemed to be confusing for the crew members, as there must be guests on each sailing that have this benefit.

Access to the suite lounge, including complimentary happy hour, was a huge benefit of the Ben and Jerry’s suite.

I’d look at a cow’s derriere (or are we saying dairy-ere?) each day of a cruise if it means I can enjoy complimentary happy hours each evening!

As I mentioned, I’ve never had access to the Suite Lounge. This gal is a cheap cruiser, so I normally stay in an inside cabin guarantee and enjoy my complimentary Diamond + drink vouchers.

We were giddy as we took out our SeaPass cards to enter the suite - I even took my phone out to film us waltzing into the Suite Lounge. We had big smiles until the card reader flashed red over and over again. We tried both cards until we finally accepted our fate that the cards were not going to let us in.

After waiting for someone else to enter, we rode their coat tails and spoke with the suite concierge who assured that he would fix our cards. We enjoyed a few drinks in the Suite Lounge before heading to dinner with others in our travel group.

I was surprised to find that the Suite Lounge has the same assortment of appetizers and snacks as the Diamond Lounge. I always assumed that the Suite Lounge would have a more desirable spread during happy hour, but this wasn’t the case when I went into both lounges on the same night. 

The following evening, our cards still didn’t work, so the concierge issued us brand-new cards to use. While we confirmed they worked for the lounge, we were unable to access our stateroom that night; my husband had to go get us new cards at guest services around midnight. 

With two SeaPasses in my lanyard, it was slightly frustrating to have these issues between the lounge and our stateroom - which were two of the most important places we needed access to!

Luckily by the last evening, we had access to the lounge and statement without any issues. 

The promenade stateroom was indeed noisy, especially at night and during certain events.

We felt there were two major drawbacks of the promenade stateroom: the noise and the privacy. On the plus side, the promenade stateroom feels pretty similar in size to an inside cabin, although it does have two seating booths around the window nook. It was also nice to have a view of something other than a blank wall or a giant mirror.

We had to be very mindful of the curtains being closed while changing, as it would be very easy to forget about onlookers in the promenade. Because the cows block most of the views from our window, we would forget that people could easily look into our window if we weren’t cautious of closing the blinds.

Another major drawback of the promenade stateroom was how noisy it can be in the evenings. I would argue that the promenade had loud music playing each evening until midnight. The final evening of our cruise, my husband tried to go to bed at a reasonable time because we had an early morning flight the following day.

While trying to fall asleep, the 70s disco inferno party started in the promenade. He said it sounded like a concert was taking place inside our cabin and that it was actually vibrating from the music.

He texted me that it was so noisy, “They might as well be performing in our stateroom!” To investigate, he got out of bed to open the curtains and see what was happening. He was taken aback to find the performers were literally standing next to the cows on the small platform right outside our window!

He said he couldn’t close the window quick enough, especially considering he was dressed to go to bed. 

We both agreed we would stay in the Ben and Jerry’s suite again, but probably not any other promenade stateroom.

The perks of the Ben and Jerry’s suite make this promenade stateroom worthwhile, but I don’t think I am sold on promenade staterooms in general. 

Of course, access to the Suite Lounge with complimentary, nightly happy hour is a huge perk of booking the weirdest cabin on a Royal Caribbean ship. Considering the Ben and Jerry’s suite doesn’t cost anything extra compared to other promenade staterooms, it’s truly a great deal.

As a sweets lover, it was a fun daily treat to have Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. It did feel as though the crew members at Ben and Jerry’s didn’t know the rules of the voucher or suite, as we always seemed to get different answers when inquiring.

For example, we asked about whether we could have a milkshake instead of ice cream and it wasn’t entirely clear. On the last day, the voucher was taken after I ordered my daily treat, but my husband hadn’t had the chance to get his.

It was great to have the free ice cream vouchers daily, but I certainly wouldn’t need to have daily ice cream on a longer cruise. The 3-night sailing was perfect for a daily ice cream treat after long days in the Bahamian sun.

Again, I’d happily look at a fake cow’s dairy-ere if it means I get free ice cream and complimentary happy hours with drinks each day. The noise and privacy of the promenade stateroom wouldn’t always be worth it, but the Ben and Jerry’s suite is a must if it’s available!

The 10 commandments of a great cruise ship vacation

In:
01 Feb 2023
By: 
Matt Hochberg

There's a lot of cruise ship tips and tricks, but what are the most repeated bits of cruise advice I give to readers every week?

Wonder of the Seas in Port Canaveral

I host question and answer sessions on our YouTube and Facebook channels every week, and there's all sorts of questions about going on a cruise that are asked.  Over the years, I've definitely developed a few tenants of cruising that I think are critical.

To be fair, a lot of the advice I give out are opinions based on my own experience that I think will benefit others.  But there are also some pieces of advice that I think are hard and fast rules everyone should follow because the consequences of skipping them could result in a dramatically worse experience.

While cruises are designed to be very easy going and require very little pre-planning, anyone that's cruised a lot will tell you the more effort you put in in advance, the higher dividends you see later in overall experience and avoiding problems.

Promenade Deck

In reflecting on the cruise tips and advice I dole out each week, I wanted to come up with the 10 most important pieces of cruise advice I would give to just about anyone.  These are universal truths that I think are imperative to having a great cruise and skipping them could lead to problems later on.

You might be able to skip all of them and still have a fun time, but you only stand to benefit and protect yourself against pitfalls by following these "commandments". My hope is they'll save you time, money, or both.

1. Never fly the same day your cruise departs

Houston Hobby airport

There are places in you vacation cut corners, but your flight to your cruise ship isn't one of them.

Flying in the same day your cruise ship departs is playing with fire when it comes to being able to make the cruise.  Flights get delayed and cancelled all the time, no matter which time of year it is.

What you want to do is fly in at least one day before your cruise begins.

Miami downtown night

Sure, an extra night before the cruise sails means the added cost of a hotel room, vacation day from work, dog sitter, and a variety of other expenses.  But it will cost you much more if you miss your cruise because your flight prevents you from getting to the ship before it departs.

It doesn't take a nationwide airline problem to be the reason your flight gets cancelled. Everyday flights get delayed and cancelled, and there's no reason to chance your entire vacation on the connecting flight being on time or a snow storm in Milwaukee shutting things down.

I've seen too many people miss their cruise because they flew the same day of the cruise, so add an extra day before and start your vacation sooner.

2. Pre-purchase add-ons and re-price later. Don't wait to book

Soda cup

A lot of people will try to time Royal Caribbean's sale in the same way they would time a sale on jeans at the mall.  Unlike retail stores, you can reprice purchases much easier before the cruise.

First and foremost, the price for that Royal Caribbean drink package, wifi, or shore excursion will cost less if you buy it before the cruise.

What you want to do is buy it in the Cruise Planner as soon as you think you know you want to get it. Lock in the price and then you're good.

However, if the price goes down at any point before your cruise, you can cancel and rebook it quite easily in the Cruise Planner website.

This may lead some to wonder why not just wait to see if there's a price drop, and if there isn't, book it in those last few days. The reason why that's a bad idea is because prices can go up.

Booking these things before the cruise locks in the price and protects you against a price increase, while still allowing you to re-price if the price goes down.

3. Book your cruise as early as you can for the lowest price

Deck view of Symphony of the Seas

If your cruise vacation is that big trip you're going to take, be sure to book the cruise as soon as you can for the lowest price.

Generally speaking, the best prices for cruises are when they first go on sale. In the months leading up to your cruise, more people book up cabins on a given sailing and that drives up prices.

The best strategy for locking in the cruise ship cabin you want at the price you can afford is to book it as early as you can. Booking six, twelve, or even 18 months in advance will likely get you a better price than if you wait longer.

Mariner of the Seas sailing away

Moreover, booking early gets you the cabin category and location you really want.

While last-minute cruise deals do exist, they're few and far between and it may not line up with the time of year you want to sail.  Or the cabin selections could be extremely limited.

Book early and if you're in certain countries, re-price up to final payment date if there is a lower price.

4. Always buy travel insurance

Symphony back view

I used to consider travel insurance as a discretionary purchase that some people could skip, but it seems like the benefits greatly outweigh the cost.

Like all insurance, it's a waste of money until you need it.

Most people think of travel insurance in terms of health benefits if you were to get sick or hurt in a foreign country, but I think it's far more likely to come in handy in the course of regular travel.

Airplane cabin

Did you know travel insurance covers trip interruption and cancellations? It protects you when unforeseen events occur that would otherwise leave you high and dry financially.

Considering basic travel insurance is likely going to cost you much less than a drink package, it's an investment worth taking every time, just in case.

5. Complete the entire online check-in before the cruise

I hate wasting time on my vacation, and the biggest waste of time on a cruise is standing around in the cruise terminal doing things you could have done at home.

Royal Caribbean's check-in process is super simple and it behooves you to complete all the steps before the cruise so that you can breeze through the cruise terminal.

The goal of the online check-in is to get passengers from curb to ship as quickly as possible. 

If you upload all your documentation, take a photo, and enter your billing information, you'll find it takes you longer to walk through the terminal than actually checking-in. It's time saved so you can do more onboard.

6. All ships are great, but look at what it has and doesn't have

Liberty of the Seas

I get asked all the time if a certain Royal Caribbean cruise ship is good, or what is the worst ship in the fleet.

There isn't any ship I don't recommend and no ship is so bad everyone should avoid it. But there are ships that might not be a good fit for you and your family.

Not all Royal Caribbean cruise ships are the same, and that means they all don't have the same restaurants, activities, amenities, or features you might want in a ship.

The primary reason someone may not like a ship is because it lacks something they personally value as important. Water slides, specialty dining, public venues, or even types of cabins could be reasons why a particular ship isn't great for you.

What you want to do is compare the ship you are considering to other ships to figure out what it has and what it doesn't have, and then decide which you would prefer.

Managing expectations is key to having a great cruise, so don't get onboard and be surprised when something you assumed was going to be there isn't there.

7. Use a travel agent

Aft balcony

I'm still shocked how many people don't use a travel agent when booking their cruise, but you only stand to benefit by using a good one.

Many are unaware travel agents still exist, or that they can be beneficial when it comes to cruises.

A travel agent's value is more than just booking a cruise. Anyone can book a cruise. 

Hump room

Travel agents' value is saving you time and money, as well as being your answer hotline along the way.

They may have special group rates or discounts you hadn't considered, but they're also the ones that sit on hold with Royal Caribbean instead of you when there's a problem or discrepancy.

If you used a travel agent and didn't like them, that's fine, find one that is awesome. They exist, you just haven't found them yet. 

Promenade deck

Just like how you can't rely on one restaurant, lawyer, or park as the basis for judging all other restaurants, lawyers, or parks, there are all sorts of travel agents out there. Get a personal recommendation from someone you know and trust and you'll be surprised how helpful a travel agent can be.

Oh, and a travel agent should never cost you anything extra. The cruise line pays them a commission and the price is the same whether you book directly with them or with the agent.

8. Book dining reservations as soon as you get onboard

Izumi hibachi on Mariner of the Seas

Specialty dining packages have never been as popular as they are today, so if you buy one, be sure to make reservations as soon as you get onboard.

Dining packages can save you a lot of money compared to going to the same number of restaurants and paying the normal cover charge.  The "trade off" is you have to wait to book a reservation for a specific restaurant at a specific time until you get on the ship.

As soon as you board the ship, go to any specialty restaurant and ask them to make reservations for you.  They can book any other specialty restaurant.

By making reservations on the first day as soon as you board, you'll likely get a time and location you really want.

9. Research ports in advance

Puerto Plata

Shore excursions can often be very "hit or miss" due to how many options there are and the variety of vendors.

The ports of call you visit are a major component to any cruise vacation, and you have just a few hours to make the most of your time there. It greatly benefits you to have a plan in place before you arrive to save you time, money, or sanity.

Once you book the cruise, look into which tours and things to do there are in each port you are visiting.  Book tours through reputable providers and have a plan.

Odyssey of the Seas in Curacao

All too often people report back they had a disappointing time in port because the tour wasn't what they expected, they were unaware of what there was to do, or they simply chose poorly.

Read as much as you can about the places you'll visit and pick the right activity for you.

10. Sign up for activities before the cruise or once onboard

There's limited capacity for shows and signature activities, so make a reservation whenever you can, as soon as you can.

Royal Caribbean allows guests to book activities and shows up to a month before the cruise on Oasis and Quantum Class ships.  Other ships may have reservations available once you get onboard and connect to the wifi to book it via the Royal Caribbean app.

Regardless of which way is available, book things up to assure yourself of a spot.

 It’s not uncommon with some ships to find that some shows, tours and activities book up in advance.