Our newest podcast episode is out to help give you a quick "audio escape" to a Royal Caribbean cruise!
Episode 199 is available for downloading, and this week we have an exclusive interview with the Godmother of Harmony of the Seas, Brittany Affolter.
Brittany shares with us the story of how she came to be the Godmother to Harmony of the Seas, and shared a review of her recent sailing aboard Harmony.
Take a listen and as always, let us know what you think! Please rate and review the podcast on iTunes and leave your comments below!
Royal Caribbean started its Memorial Day Sale, with 30% off all guests, plus instant savings that can be stacked with other offers Royal Caribbean is currently offering.
The Memorial Day Sale requires cruise must be booked May 24, 2017 7:00AM EST to May 31, 2017 11:59PM EST and applies to cruises that depart on or after June 24, 2017. Offer excludes China departures.
The Memorial Day Sale includes
- 30% off the standard cruise fare for all guests in a stateroom; all stateroom categories.
- Instant savings
- $25 off per stateroom for interior and oceanview on sailings 5 nights or less
- $50 off per stateroom for balcony and suite on 5 night sailings or less
- $50 off per stateroom for interior and oceanview on sailings 6 nights or longer
- $100 off per stateroom for balcony and suite on 6 night sailings or longer
Oasis Class Savings
Also, bookings made between May 24, 2017 through May 31, 2017 at 11:59PM on Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas and Harmony of the Seas sailings departing on or after June 24, 2017 are eligible for an additional dollars off determined by stateroom category booked:
- $50 off per stateroom total for interior and oceanview
- $150 off per stateroom total for balcony
- $300 off per stateroom total for suite
Kids Sail Free
Additionally, Kids Sail Free offer provides free cruise fare of third and higher guests who are 12 years or younger as of cruise departure date, booked in the same stateroom as the first two qualifying guests in a triple or quad occupancy stateroom on 5 nights or longer sailings that depart between Sep. 1, 2017 - Dec. 14, 2017 across Bahamas, Caribbean, North East Caribbean, Bermuda, Coastal and Canada itineraries.
Kids Sail Free excludes sailings departing on or between 11/16/17 – 11/26/17.
Maycation 30% is combinable with adjoining Dollars Off, Kids Sail Free, Crown & Anchor discounts, NextCruise offers and Shareholder Benefits. Dollars Off and Kids Sail Free is not combinable with Crown & Anchor discounts or Shareholder Benefits. Maycation 30%, Kids Sail Free and Dollars Off are not combinable with any other offer or promotion, including but not limited to, restricted rates (for example, Seniors, Residents, and Military), Standard Group, Interline, Travel Agent, Travel Agent Friends and Family, Weekly Sales Events, and Net Rates.
Offer open to residents of the U.S. and Canada.
It’s hard to believe it’s already day 3, but here we are on our second sea day as we head to St. Maarten. My plans for today were, well no plans. This morning I woke up and decided to relax in the room, in all my cruises I don’t ever recall a calm morning in the cabin. I think my cruising style is slowly changing, but that’s okay with me.
We had our room service sent to the room again and it was right on time. For those who enjoy coffee, I’ve been very happy with the room service coffee.
Since we were taking the morning easy, it hit me we hadn’t even gone to the aft of the ship yet. So we walked all the way aft (I think it took us 10 minutes) this ship is so large. We watched some people on the flowriders for a while, it’s just so entertaining. They have some covered seats where you can watch, while getting some shade.
I saw many playing putting on the mini golf course; I’ve actually never played before. While I was in the aft area, I noticed the wipeout bar was almost empty, so great spot for good bar service.
After we explored for awhile we headed to the hot tub that hangs over the side of the ship. Surprisingly it was empty and we jumped it.
Really unique views from these side hot tubs and I couldn’t have been more relaxed.
Lunch – Sabor
No surprise we headed back to Sabor for lunch. I decided I’d change it up today and order the shrimp tacos for lunch. These tacos were hands down the best tacos I’ve ever eaten at Sabor. They come put together with their toppings already on them and in a hard shell. For some reason they also brought out the chicken tacos, but I certainly didn’t turn them away.
While we were dining they had an employee making taco shells, talk about fresh tacos!
During our lunch I asked the head Sabor waiter about coming for just guacamole. He informed me that you can come to the bar, inside the restaurant and order some for $7 without paying their cover charge of $19 per person. If you want it to-go they can also arrange that, perfect for the balcony afternoon snack. Also on my sailing they introduced a new Sabor “Happy Hour” special, it was actually starting today. During 3pm-6pm on sea days you can get a side item and margarita for $12, the drink alone goes for $13 regularly.
Evening on board
We had the headliner scheduled for tonight but we decided not to go, since it was Elvis music. So we decided to hang out in Central Park before dinner. The weather on this cruise has been much cooler than I was expecting, making the afternoons and evenings nice and cool in the park.
Our dinner plans tonight were Chops Grill at 6:30pm. It was the classic chops grill experience. I ordered the shrimp cocktail for a starter, then the mushroom soup, and the filet. The mushroom soup there is by far the best soup on the ship, oh I love it.
My girlfriend ordered the fish and thought it was really good also; she was getting tired of all the red meat. The experience tonight was wonderful and we really enjoyed our window seat looking into the park.
After dinner I wanted to go ride the Rising Tide bar. I was surprised to see how many people were on the bar tonight. The Rising Tide lasted around 10 minutes from Central Park to the Royal Promenade. You can get a drink and relax but I almost recommend riding it for two cycles since it happens so fast.
Dazzles tonight had the Cat’s performers singing for one hour. They were so entertaining and really made my evening. They have so much talent singing; I think it’s really nice they come to dazzles for one evening to sing. I remember the Broadway cast doing this on Allure last year also, so be sure to check it out.
Well, that wraps up my second full sea day, tomorrow we are arriving to our first port of beautiful St. Maarten.
Day 4 on our Empress of the Seas Cuba cruise had us in Cozumel Mexico. We've been to Cozumel many times before and it feels a little bit like home whenever we visit. Visiting a fun and familiar destination today softened the blow of leaving Cuba yesterday, which was of course a major highlight of our journey. We'll take a look at our arrival, where we went, and look ahead to our next day on board.
Before Arriving in Cozumel
We were not scheduled to arrive in Cozumel until 1:00pm today, which is the latest we'd ever visited. There have been a number of times in this and other ports where we come back to the ship at the end of the day and find a ship that wasn't there in the morning. This time, we were that ship to the folks on Liberty of the Seas, which was the other vessel in port today.
Because of our late arrival we were lucky enough to once again get to enjoy brunch in the main dining room. Arriving a few minutes before the dining room opened at 9:30am there were many people waiting, mostly because we turned back the clocks one hour last night, and many people failed to realize this, so the thought it was an hour later than it was. The doors opened a couple minutes early and everyone piled in. We sat at a large table with other guests, which is usually something we avoid, but we were in a hurry. We did the same on the day we visited Key West, and both days were fortunate enough to sit with some friendly folks. The selection was different from a couple days ago, but the overall layout and concept was the same. There was some bread art, which wasn't't going to win any awards, but was neat to see.
Arrival & Disembarkation
After eating we headed to the pool deck to grab a drink and enjoy the bright sun and views of the turquoise water of Cozumel. Empress' age, while of no detriment, seems to manifest in ways other than the physical structure. For example, as we moored in Mexico the pool band was playing classic Caribbean cruise songs like the "Dollar Shuffle" and "Hot! Hot! Hot!". I'm not a big "party person" but hearing these songs while sitting in the sun reminded me of cruises when I was a kid, and it really felt nice. I took a short video and then jumped on Periscope.
We chatted up an Aussie group we' encountered before and offered up some tips for Cozumel. As we did this, the Cruise Director informed everyone via the PA system that the island was experiencing a power outage. I was quickly glad I'd brought both USD and Mexican Pesos along, as it seemed credit cards and ATMs may not be an option. At this point we decided power or not, we should go enjoy the city, so we headed off the ship. Disembarkation was once again painless; in a no time we were in a cab heading to Parque Benito Juarez to get some espresso at Coz Coffee.
Our Time in Cozumel
Just before we arrived at the square we noticed some street lights on, and sure enough when we'd arrived at the square power had been restored. We got some great coffee and chatted for a bit. I've mentioned it before, but do try and stop by Coz, they roast coffee on site and have a nice establishment. Their location is nearby shops ad restaurants, but also an area that has some local flare, and we even saw some schoolchildren playing, then getting a soda at a shop next door.
Continuing with our day it was after 2:00pm and time to get food. Initially we walked the The Pub, another favorite spot of ours which is just a block or two from Coz, but we arrived to find they're closed on Tuesdays. Needing to find another spot to eat and relax I remembered that some time ago Matt and I researched a restaurant a ten-minute walk from The Pub, but hadn't enjoyed as it was closed that particular day. My mental map of Cozumel served us well and we arrived at El Palomar. The food was reasonably priced and was a bit more high-end (though not overly fancy) than some other places in the area. Among other items, we had a cold avocado soup that I'll be thinking of for time. I don't usually like cold soups but the flavor and texture was fantastic, and small cubes of queso fresco and tortilla strips made the dish something that really stuck out. Oh, and this may have the beginning of a lot of Mexican beer.
After a few drinks, we wanted to go for a walk and seek more adventure, and a grocery store. On this walk we went into a souvenir shop for $1 beers, and the promise of "different crap, better prices" by amusing shop owners, which was a common and funny line in the touristy areas today. I should have mentioned earlier than this entire trip we dragged our friend Ron along with us. When we travel, we love going to grocery stores to see how locals live, and you can often find some bargains. We'd visited the Chedraui grocery store before, but we wanted to show Ron what prices look like outside of touristy spots, though the store is only a couple minutes walk from the port. After seeing liquor for half of what it goes for at the port, tons of fresh vegetables, prepared and bulk items, etc we bought some ibuprofen (not for any special reason, we just needed ibuprofen) and I then realized that I had a mission to complete.
A good friend has terrible migraines, and the medication which helps he is almost $900 in the US, even with insurance it's hundreds per dose, so we offered to try and get some at a lower price. They didn't have it at the grocery store but they recommended a larger pharmacy down the street. The helpful folks showed us to the medication but they didn't have it in the right form unfortunately. For the record, it was however about a tenth of the price. We're going to see if we can order it ahead of time in the right for and get it the next time we visit Cozumel (which is rarely far off).
After our pharmaceutical excursion (which sounds far more exciting and nefarious than it was) it was time for another beer. We'd passed "Machete" a number of times in the past but hadn't tried it out. The restaurant has bright colors and an amusing staff. This is probably a gross generalization but I'm encouraged when shop, bar, etc has their prices in Pesos rather than dollars, that often represents a better deal (not that they won't take US dollars).
We sat down after checking the menu and I asked in Spanish if they accepted credit cards to which the gentleman replied, "tarjetas (cards), effectivo (cash), iPhones, cars, whatever you want". This is when a pretty epic Periscope started. This was another one of these zen moments. Locals were walking by, there was a nice breeze, staff was having fun with us, and we got to share with our friends online, and of course, beer helped as well.
I think we sat and chatted for almost two hours, but eventually the sun began to set and it was time to head back to the ship before the 8:30pm all-aboard. I really wanted to stay, and at many points during the day we talked about our often discussed thoughts about moving to Cozumel for some time and enjoying the locals and taking in island life. No wishing or planning changed that it was time to head back though, and a $2 cab ride later we were back to the pier in time to take some pictures of the Empress at night. Part of what made the shots unique is that despite being there 30 minutes before all-aboard, there was literally no one else on the pier, it seems that the darkness made everyone head back to the ship.
Back on Empress
Exhausted from a fun day, we showered and then headed to the Windjammer for dinner as we watched the city lights get smaller and smaller. This is when I realized that the next time we see land it will be Tampa, and our cruise will be over. Luckily we have another day left, so I'm enjoying it with friends in the Schooner bar as I type this. Once again the activity level on the ship is very low. Friends who have sailed on this ship recently found a lot of energy at night, but that doesnât seem to be the case on this sailing, perhaps because the Cuba itinerary attracts a more subdued crowd.
Tomorrow: Sea Day
Two of my favorite things on cruisers are visiting great destinations, and going nowhere, so I'm perfectly happy to have a sea day where we can just relax, and hopefully enjoy Boleros a bit, which I've not spent enough time in. We've also not caught any of the onboard entertainment (except for in the Schooner Bar), so hopefully we can reconcile that, and maybe even enjoy the pool.
- I often have Mexican Pesos on hand, and while taxi prices are fixed from the cruise terminal, elsewhere they're quite negotiable, and much lower. Rates become even lower with an attempt at Spanish and Pesos in hand.
- I've said it before, but it's always impressive how great Cozumel is when you just step a few feet off the main drag.
- Usually in Cozumel the line I hear from shop-owners is "almost free!" but we only heard it once today. In a funny was I kind of missed this.
- Everyone on the ship keeps talking about how great Cuba was. I'd love to see the repeat rate for Cuba sailings, I bet it's very high.
- We changed time last night, which I prefer. Staying on local time, to me, avoids confusion. Last week the ship did not change time, which seems strange.
- The Windjammer was good (especially the crepe bar), but I didn't realize until after dinner that there is a sign noting that there is vegetarian curry and other options available upon request. Is curry *always* available? I may move onto this ship and work remotely!
- The drink card was available today for a price I'd not yet seen: 10 drinks for $59! That's a great deal, and I'm guessing the demographics and number of those with Diamond perks means they haven't sold many drinks.
Starting today, Oasis of the Seas is rolling out a new offer for guests to enjoy a featured margarita and an appetizer for one low price.
Royal Caribbean Blog blogger, Michael Poole spotted this new offer that is beginning today on Oasis of the Seas. Every day, from 3pm - 6pm, guests can get one Bar Bite and one Featured Margarita for $12.
Chicken-Stuffed Jalapenos Wrapped in Bacon
Shredded Beef Short Rib Taco
Sweet & Spicy
The staff at Sabor say this new deal begins today, and will be available until further notice every day.
In addition, Sabor is also offering a la carte priced guacamole for $7 if purchased from the Sabor bar.
Sabor recently changed to a cover charge cost recently, where guests must pay $19 to enjoy all the food on the menu.
Casting a watchful eye on the world's weather around the clock is a tall order, and James Van Fleet is the meteorologist for the job – the first of its kind in the cruise industry. Royal Caribbean’s Chief Meteorologist develops forecasts for the cruise line’s fleet of 24 ships. Translating technical data into digestable information is second nature for Van Fleet, who’s a veteran TV meteorologist with more than two decades of experience. With his guidance, captains have the added support to continue making informed decisions and delivering the best possible vacation experience for the cruise line’s guests.
Today was our first sea day on board Oasis of the Seas.
I had planned to sleep in, but it is a cruise vacation there is no time for sleeping! I woke up at 6:30am and headed down to the coffee shop for my morning blogging.
Last night we had placed the room service card outside our door for an 8am delivery. Room service called our room at 7:45am to confirm our order and it arrived shortly after. We only decided to order the free options that include: coffee, tea, juice, fruit, yogurt, and cereal. I knew we were going to have a big lunch, so I was preparing myself.
After breakfast we went to relax in the Solarium for a few hours. I was actually surprised at 10am there were large amount of chairs left.
In the past, I’ve rushed my mornings to the pool deck to get the prime seat, but not so much anymore. At 10:30am it started raining and we decided to head inside, I swear every time I cruise it rains.
Today we decided to use our ultimate dining package lunch at Sabor.
With our dining package, it covers lunches on sea days and any cover charge restaurant. Sabor has recently changed to a cover charge restaurant for $19 per person. I asked the headed waiter who seated us, if this has caused any slower days and he said no. With the cover charge you can order anything on the menu, YOLO try it all!
It was a little less exciting receiving our guacamole, since they no longer make it tableside. However, the taste is the same and I think it actually helps speed up the service.
I ordered a spicy margarita that’s included in the deluxe drink package, it was okay but I think I like the perfect margarita the best, it’s a classic but perfect.
After lunch, we relaxed poolside at the beach pool. Once again, we were able to find seat in the prime area.
Tonight is formal night on board and this is always one of my favorite evenings on board the cruise. You are finally relaxed and had a full day on board; well maybe it’s the free champagne I love so much… From 7:45pm to 8:15 they hand out champagne in the Royal Promenade.
With our dining package we made reservations at 150 Central Park for 6:30pm. This was a first for me, when we arrived they said there were full with no tables left and we could sit outside until one became open. Okay, no problem, so we sat outside waiting for our table, but it did take a half hour.
At 7:00pm we sat down for dinner, they were so busy. The staff was doing everything they could but they couldn’t seem to keep up with the tables. Our meal lasted until 9:30pm so we missed the captain’s reception. Now to the good stuff, their cucumber martini is the best cocktail I’ve ever drank. This drink is $15, ($2 with drink package) and worth every penny.
Also the tableside beef tenderloin was absolutely outstanding. They bring a cart to the table and cut the meat right in front of you.
Overall not the best dining experience, but the quality of their food and drinks is really great here. I would recommend dining here later in the week when it’s not formal night.
Evening on board
After dinner, I was really in the mood to listen to some live music, so off to Jazz on 4 we went.
This music hall often goes unnoticed since it’s tucked down on the 4th floor. But it’s a really small place and makes the music that much more enjoyable. They had different jazz music every hour in the evening, so take a look at the cruise compass.
My group went to bed at 10pm, so off to the pub I went. I couldn’t believe how pack it was. They also have live music and everyone was just having the best time in there. For you IPA beer lovers you will be happy to hear they have two great new beers now. You will find one of the first IPA’s made, Stone IPA and Dog Fish Head that are very hoppy.
Must plug in my late night pizza before bed. Of course I thought it was great, but for some reason that pizza just taste great around midnight.
Day 3 of our Empress of the Seas cruise took us to Havana Cuba, the highlight of the cruise for most guests, I'm sure. I've lived in South Florida my entire life, been lucky enough to travel much of the world, some of my closest friends were born in Cuba, and yet I was hopeful but never sure that I'd get to visit the island nation just a short distance away from my home. Summing up this trip and walking away would sell it short and so I'm sure there will be more to come.
Arrival in Cuba
We arrived in Havana around 7:30am and the tour for which we were booked met at 8:30 at Boleros. This is quite early for us, but for a new and exciting destination we were happy to start our day early. As we got breakfast and headed to Boleros, we saw the the Havana skyline. It was then that the reality set in that we were in Cuba, and we got so excited.
Arriving in Boleros, I was impressed as Royal Caribbean did a fantastically efficient job of making sure that all guests walking in to Boleros had their documentation. They then assigned you a number (which correlated to the group and bus you were on), so they made it clear to not ask for your group number until your entire party was present so that you could stick together.
In short order we headed off the ship, and for the first time in my life I was on Cuban soil. I've never been more aware of stepping foot in a new country. It's important to know that this isn't because of anything that was particularly different, it was just something for me personally that was of great significance.
Passport Control & Currency Exchange
I had no real reservations about this trip, but I was a bit concerned that the process of going through passport control, changing money, etc was going to be a pain, or at least take time. Not just because it's Cuba, but even arriving in the EU can mean long lines at immigration. I was pleasantly surprised to find that we simply walked towards numbered booths to present our passports and visas, they took our pictures with a webcam (just like when you check in for a cruise), and then we were set to go.
Walking from passport control, the building was quite modern, though a bit plain, and warmer than some might be used to, but not unbearable. Next stop is security, which was odd in that you go through metal detectors and such going into the country. They were efficient, and the process painless. Take a look at the women's uniforms while there, as I bet you've never seen anything like this in terms of government employee outfits. Skirts must be taxed based on length.
We proceeded to an area where we changed currency. I wrote up some tips for changing currency, as Cuba has a two-currency system, and the taxes can be high changing US dollars. I'm pleased to report this process was very quick. I changed some British Pounds to CUCs, the local currency for business and tourism and was on my way in less than a minute to meet back up with our tour group, who waited for everyone to change money.
Havana Walking Tour
In previous posts I mentioned that we changed tours because of schedule changes, and we ended up on the walking tour from Royal Caribbean, as it started early enough that we had time to explore on our own after the tour. We started in Plaza San Francisco, which is where arrive as soon as you leave the cruise terminal building. After an explanation of the history we were given 10-15 minutes to explore on our own before meeting back with the group. This pattern was standard fare for all four plazas we visited on the tour. Each had a story, a history, interesting buildings, and were connected by narrow alleys.
I won't go into the details of the tour here, because as mentioned, there is so much to unpack and I don't want to lose sight of my goal, which is to provide a summary of our day. This isn't in any way for lack of amazing information and experiences.
I will mention that in Havana Vieja, the area nearest the port, the streets are sometimes stone and uneven, but there are marble or concrete sidewalks in many areas. If I was going to rate the difficulty of walking in this area, on a 1-10, where Las Vegas sidewalks are a one and the uneven and steep cobblestone paths in Eze France are a ten, Havana Vieja was a five. That is to say persons with mobility issues will get by, but will want to use caution and may tire a bit more quickly than some other areas.
On our tour, we encountered a number of buskers, but for the most part there wasn't any pressure. There were a couple exceptions, such as the women n traditional dress who wanted money to take photos with them, and would give you a big lip-sticky kiss. That experience isn't on the top of my list, but I feel like if you make eye contact you may have some level of social obligation to throw them a few CUCs, or possibly marry them, I'm not clear on how this works.
As we walked from plaza to plaza we made a few stops. One of them was at the Museo del Chocolate, the Chocolate Museum. I. Love. Chocolate. Now, to call this a museum may have been a stretch unless there was another section I wasn't aware of. There were some display cases containing samples of different ingredients, agriculture tools, and factoids on placards. The highlight here was the chocolate. They had a menu, which a smarter writer would have taken a picture of, but I do recall that they have around 15-20 varieties of truffles containing rum, nuts, mint, and more. They ranged from $.40 to $.50, and larger plain chocolate pieces were $3-4. I bought $7 in truffles and while they melted quickly in the head, they were awesome.
Another stop was at a store which sold nothing but rum, cigars, and coffee, three items for which Cuba is quite famous. I always like to stock up on Havana Club, Cuba's dominant brand of rum, and we always bring some back from Mexico and other countries, so it was exciting to see it at its source. I opted not to buy any at this stop because I didn't want to carry it around and knew I could find it again. Cigars were a big hit with many guests, as was the coffee. One thing I noticed here was that there are far more Cuban rums than Havana Club, though it's certainly the most popular.
At this point we walked towards an air-conditioned bus, which was a welcome sight as it was a very warm day and everyone was ready for a break. The bus ride was very short however, but took us to a well shaded courtyard where we were to sample rum, coffee, and cigars (seems a bit out of order, no?). I enjoyed the rum and coffee. Larissa and I were both impressed that the coffee wasn't overly-sweet as is common in Cuban coffee back home in Miami. Guests who were so inclined were taught how to properly light and smoke cigars, and things got very social. Some guests were dancing with the tour guides (who were fantastic in every way, by the way), and I checked out one of the shops in the courtyard, buying an original photo of some murals in Havana. I fancied the picture and while I was hoping for a print, I was also quite happy to pay $25 for an original photo. We chatted with the shop keeper whose only son lives in Miami. It's incredible to think about how happy everyone seems to be (and I don't think it's a faced in any way), but that so many have family in the US. I could tell she missed her son but more than that it was clear that she was happy he had an opportunity to live in Florida. I left wondering if I'd ever met, or might one day meet him.
After the tasting, we got back on the bus and headed back to Plaza San Francisco right by the ship. I took this opportunity to chat up our tour guide again, inquiring about how to best get into town from the airport, because I was already planning on a return trip at this point. In case you're wondering, there is no easy way, so you either find a friend or take a cab.
Most headed back at this point, but we wanted to explore on our own. Walking around we found a restaurant where we had a snack and some local beer. The restaurant was on the second floor of a building in Plaza Vieja, where school children were exercising and playing, locals chatting, and tourists taking pictures of a naked women riding a giant rooster. It's actually a statue that has to do with female independence and the county's first female teacher, but describing it first was more fun. The cake we had was delicious, and the beer wasn't nearly as cold as one might be used to, but it was still refreshing. The bill came to $11, which I thought was reasonable, though I'll note that I saw places elsewhere advertising sandwiches for $2.50 and beer for $1, so shop around.
Also note that there are two types of restaurants in Cuba: normal/state run businesses, and private businesses, called paladares. The government owned establishments are probably more consistent (and the one we went to was perfectly clean, including the restrooms), and had clear pricing. Paladares, which I wish we'd have had time to try as well, may be great, though I get the impression you risk consistency. On the upside, you'd more directly supporting Cuban people at paladares.
Following our snack we headed to do some shopping. Larissa and I needed rum and our friend Ron wanted a hat. There are no shortage of stores to buy knick-knacks, though many are tiny and have limited selections. Don't be afraid to haggle though, as I was able to get the price down for every purchase we made but one, and was even able to help Ron and another guest get a better deal too. It never hurts to ask, though I'll admit that while I don't think non-Spanish speakers would have trouble in Havana Vieja, a bit of Spanish may help to get better deals.
Looking for a larger selection of wares we asked some employees at a restaurant where to find a larger shop and they directed us to a large indoor flea-market about a ten-minute walk from where we were. This short walk may have been my favorite part. Why? When I'm in a new place I like to get lost, away from the touristy spots, and this walk took us that route. Seeing locals chat, seeing the less-polished looking buildings, and feeling like I was experiencing the real Havana for a moment made my day. This quickly ended when we got to the flea-market, though it was in a beautiful area on the water.
The market had anything you could have possibly wanted. Rum, cigars, clothes, knick-knacks, internet access (which isn't free, read more on that here), another CADECA (currency exchange center), etc. We bought a number of items and would have liked to have spent more time here. If you've ever wanted to see the world's largest selection of Che Guevera t-shirts, this is your place. More than that though, they had some neat items, and we felt like they were less pushy than in many other countries. This was the place to get some deals. Frankly, it was cleaner, quieter, and there was less pressure than at flea-markets in Miami.
At this point it was time to head back, which we were bummed about, though excited at the proposition of air-conditioning and a shower.
Cuban Immigration & Getting Back on The Ship
Walking back in the terminal building you can now change your money back into whichever currency you prefer (out of the major currencies of course), and there is no tax for turning CUCs back in. Once again this area was quick. After this you go back through security, and then back to passport control where they stamp your passport once again. This whole process was very simple.
Back on Empress
Like that, our time in Cuba (well, at least standing on land in Cuba), was over. We enjoyed sail-away, and have a short video here, but then we had to run in as it started to rain. Better during sail-away than while we were touring.
At this point Larissa and I really needed to relax and shower. After this we headed up to the Windjammer to have an oddly-timed meal which ended up being the first of two dinners. There were roughly five types of hummus, which was awesome, along with corn-chowder, balsamic glazed, veggies, a Cuban vegetable stew, and a number of meats.
For dinner number two we headed to the main dining room and I had some more vegetarian Indian food, which was good, though not as good as last night. I'm now writing this while having a post-dinner drink or seven in the Schooner Bar. I'm quite tired but we I have a feeling it's going to be a late night based on the crowd and our schedules.
Cozumel has started to feel like a second home to us, so we don't really have plans but are happy to be going. We're scheduled to arrive at 1:00pm, though we're also setting our clocks behind tonight, which makes the odds of a late night all the greater. This late night will make Coz, a great coffee shop in Parque Benito Juarez, all the more delicious.
- Guests walked right onto the ship with liquor from Cuba. I suspect that they'd need to run x-ray to properly find/hold liquor, and because the Cuba government did this right before getting on this ship they didn't want to impost on guests again.
- The process associated with Cuba travel (immigration, currency exchange, etc) was far less burdensome than I'd have guessed.
- There was more construction in Havana than I'd have guessed. Some sponsored by the EU or other governing bodies, others part of Cuban preservation and historic groups or government divisions.
- There are no shortage of cabs or classic cars to get anywhere. Booking ahead is nice, but don't feel you're out of luck if you don't.
Royal Caribbean announced the teams of adventure squads that are finalists in the cruise line's "The World’s Most Adventurous Squad" contest.
In late March, squads began competing in the contest’s opening round of five challenges chronicled on social media. With themes like “Thrills and Chills” and “Epic Eats,” these challenges ran through April. Royal Caribbean then selected one winning squad for each challenge. Five finalists were picked among a field of more than 3,000 competing teams who entered the contest. Each team is made up of up to four thrill-seekers, and will compete to be crowned the winner in just two weeks.
The contest progress can be tracked at AdventureSquad.com. The finalist teams are
- Cousins of the Caribbean, Winners of the Thrills and Chills Challenge — These competitive cousins are former collegiate athletes, game-changers, and open-minded wanderlusters.
- Hawaii Koa, Winners of the Hidden Gems Challenge — Instagram ‘Pros and Bros’ are self-proclaimed ‘surf & snow animals’ that believe life begins at the end of your comfort zone.
- Bangarang, Winners of the Epic Eats Challenge — This globetrotting team collectively has sampled many of the world’s wonders and believe, ‘You gotta risk it to get the biscuit.’
- Seas the Day, Winners of the Culture Capture Challenge — Calling themselves ‘a couple of couples,’ this crew enthusiastically seeks out the adrenaline rush of serious adventure travel.
- Skallywags, Winners of the Air Land and Sea Challenge — Having brains, muscle, and moxie, these outdoorsy outliers know how to beat attitude with gratitude and plenty of altitude.
From May 27–June 3, the remaining tier of the Adventure Squad contest begins. The Final Five will embark on Royal Caribbean's Harmony of the Seas for a seven-day sailing. Beginning in Labadee, Haiti, squad mettle will be tested as teams careen down Dragon’s Breath Flight Line, the world’s longest overwater zip line. A sail to Haiti’s remote Amiga Island, surrounded by white-sand beaches and crystal blue waters, culminates in a kayaking and wave-jet surfing adventure to round out the day.
Next, competitors sail to Falmouth, Jamaica, where they’ll raft their way down three miles of the Martha Brae River on handmade vessels of bamboo. Later, crews get to sample some of the best jerk chicken and pork in Jamaica that’s cooked over the pimento tree wood pits of Scotchie’s Restaurant in Montego Bay. Exploring the exhilarating waterfalls and secret cave of Jamaica’s Blue Hole as well as off-roading on ATVs through the island’s jungle terrain is also on the adrenaline-pumping itinerary. But no worries, squad members get to shake off hard-earned road dust with a refreshing cliff-dive into azure waters.
The final port-of-call will take the eager travelers to the island of Cozumel, Mexico, where they’ll hop a plane to explore the intriguing archaeological Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. Once there, underground limestone caverns of some of the country’s many cenotes await their inspection. The group will then be treated to restorative handmade tortillas at a private Cozumel taqueria.
At the end of sailing, all five teams will gather in Harmony’s outdoor AquaTheater to hear which group is crowned “The World’s Most Adventurous Squad.” Each winning squad member will be awarded with three Royal Caribbean cruises.
Pre – Cruise
Before the cruise I had some work to do in Phoenix, AZ and actually took the red-eye back to Orlando, FL the morning of the cruise.
My flight landed in Orlando at 5AM Sunday morning and my ride was coming in around 10am. I started thinking about it and I didn’t want to sit at the airport all morning. So I was starting look at my options for a transfer from Orlando Airport to Port Canaveral. Many of the shuttle services, don’t actually leave until 10am. Unfortunately, only Uber Black works at the airport and it was giving me a rate of $139 one-way to the port. This is when I got creative and decided to take a taxi from the airport to a gas station 3 miles away ($10). Once you are away from the airport you can take an Uber X (the cheapest one) to the port for($39).
For $50 I got over to the port and the ride too less than an hour. I will note that my taxi driver, asked me if I was using him just so I can take an Uber.
Check – in
In Port Canaveral, they have a new terminal they built just for Oasis class ships. However, having used the amazing terminal in Port Everglades, this one really struggled holding all the passengers.
Around 11:15am-11:30am guest arriving had little to no seats left for arriving passengers. The good news is, boarding starting at 11:30 and that was a very easy process.
Once on board I headed over to Central Park to make my dining reservations. When I wrote the preview post, I only had the 4 night dining package. Well since then, I have since changed to the ultimate dining package. This means we will be dining in specialty restaurants all week. This package is $168 per person and also includes lunch on sea days at any of the restaurants. I went into Giovanni’s Table to make our reservations for the week. A few nights I wanted 6:30pm and they only had 6:15 or 6:00. Not a big deal to me, as most of my shows are later into the evening.
For lunch we headed over to Park Café and I couldn’t believe how empty it was. This is a free option for lunch where they have salads and sandwiches. Most cruisers head up to the windjammer day 1 for their first meal, but I highly recommend Park Cafe, for a much calmer and enjoyable lunch. You also don’t want to miss out on their famous roast beef sandwich!
After lunch I was actually starting to crash, I failed to mention I was going on 30 hours straight of no sleep. With the 3-hour time difference in AZ, and red eye over to FL there just wasn’t anytime, but I made the cruise and that’s all that matters. I headed to our cabin at 1pm and our bags had already arrived.
Before sail-away we had the muster drill and on Oasis class this is so much more enjoyable than standing shoulder to shoulder with total strangers on all the other ships. On Oasis class, you watch a short video in a lounge you are assigned to, mine was the theater.
During sail-away I went down to the jogging track and went all the way aft.
This location is often unnoticed if you don’t ever go on the track, they have chairs back there and you can just watch the ocean for hours. After we started moving I changed locations to the forward observation bridge on deck 14. This bridge is few steps away from my cabin D5 Ocean Balcony - 14144.
This bridge is likely the best location to watch, but get there right after the muster drill for a front row seat.
Tonight we had dinner at Giovanni’s Table in Central Park.
They have actually changed their menu recently to add a few more options. The big change I recommend is the octopus starter. This was so good; I could have eaten this for a meal to be honest. I also asked if they had any leftover lasagna from lunch and they said yes! So I had the filet and lasagna, and if you are counting that’s two main courses!
The filet was very large and had so many flavors; I can’t wait to go back here later in the week.
Tonight we had Oasis of Dreams aqua show. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen this show, so I was excited to see the original aqua show again. Our show started at 9:30pm and they let you in the theater at 8:45. I really suggest getting there at least 30 minutes before the aqua show for a good seat. I saw so many people coming in right before show who couldn’t find seats together or only left with the front row “splash zone.”
The show was outstanding as always, the reason I love this show so much is because they have a little love story in the show.
- Tiffany’s had a mailbox to insert wish-list items. I wonder if they call the spouse to come down and purchase it? Actually, I don’t want to know!
- Aqua Theater had reserved seats for Star Class Suites, with their cabin number on their seat.
- The Royal Genies are with their suite guest all the time. I saw them in the terminal checking in, to getting them drinks in the aqua show. Really cool perk, if you can afford it.
Well friends this wraps up my first day on board Oasis of the Seas.
It was such an action packed day that I went to bed at 10pm to catch back up on sleep for tomorrow.