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Carnival joins Royal Caribbean in requiring pre-cruise Covid tests and masks for vaccinated passengers

In:
04Aug2021
By: Matt Hochberg

Less than a week after Royal Caribbean said it would require vaccinated passengers to get a Covid test for certain sailings, Carnival Cruise Line announced a similar protocol.

Carnival informed guests of new testing and mask guidelines, where cruise ship passengers will be asked to wear masks in certain indoor areas of their ships and all guests, including those who are vaccinated, to have pre-cruise Covid tests.

Beginning on sailings the depart on August 14, 2021, all fully vaccinated cruise ship passengers will need to get a negative Covid-19 test (PCR or antigen) within 3 days of when their sailing will begin.

This means fully vaccinated guests will be required to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test along with proof of full vaccination upon arrival in the terminal and can then proceed on board.

Like Royal Caribbean, Carnival will not provide testing opportunities at the cruise terminal, so guests must take the test at home before they arrive.

Guests who are not fully vaccinated are still required to show the negative results of a PCR test taken between 72 and 24 hours prior to the sailing date, and will be tested again in the terminal prior to boarding the ship and again within 24 hours of debarkation (for itineraries five days or longer).  Unvaccinated guests approved for an exemption will continue to be charged US$150, per person, for testing, reporting and health safety screenings, and also must provide proof of travel insurance if departing from the states of Florida or Texas. 

Children under two are exempt from testing requirements.

Royal Caribbean's policy is similar, with the requirement for all passengers, regardless of vaccination status, to provide a negative Covid-19 test, regardless of vaccine status, prior to boarding on sailings 5-night or longer.

Royal Caribbean's testing policy went into effect beginning July 31, 2021.

Mask policy change

Carnival is also adding a mask rule for passengers on its ships while indoors.

The new mask rule begins on August 7, 2021 and "strongly encourages" all passengers to wear face masks when indoors, particularly guests who are unvaccinated including children under the age of 12 who should wear masks in public areas, except when eating or drinking.

All guests age 2 and older will be required to wear face masks in elevators and in designated indoor entertainment areas, all retail shops, and in the casino, except when eating or drinking.

Guests will be required to wear face masks prior to being seated in the main dining rooms and in the Lido Buffet area and occasionally in other designated areas where larger number of guests may congregate.  

Masks are required during embark and debark in the terminal, and masks should also be worn during the debarkation process on board.

Carnival says the new rule is being added, "to protect our guests and crew while on board."

Carnival Cruise Line President Christine Duffy spoke about the change, "These new requirements are being implemented to protect our guests and crew while on board, and to continue to provide confidence to our homeports and destinations that we are doing our part to support their efforts to protect public health and safety."

"We expect these requirements will be temporary and appreciate the cooperation of our guests. Our first month of guest operations has been met with tremendous enthusiasm and very positive guest feedback, and we are committed to continue our restart with both fun and safety in mind."

Royal Caribbean sees strong demand for cruises despite temporary Delta variant concerns

In:
04Aug2021
By: Matt Hochberg

The road to recovery for Royal Caribbean Group has not been an easy one, but the company told Wall Street analysts today that it sees positive signs ahead.

During the company's second quarter earnings call, cruise executives talked about many facets of the restart process, as well challenges they face getting there. Certainly there are many concerns in the market related to the Delta variant, but Royal Caribbean Group seemed confident these were short-term issues.

Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley characterized these concerns as an interim issue, but not stopping them from booking.

"I think customers now see this for what it is, it's a it's a blip and a bump," Mr. Bayley said while talking about the booking environment right now. 

"I think we feel encouraged by the protocols that we've got in place."

In fact, even when there are Covid cases on ships, the spread is limited due to the strong protocols in place, "We've been very encouraged to see that when we do have a positive Covid case on board our ships, we very quickly contact trace test. And what we find is that very often you may have a occur with positive either from a vaccinated or unvaccinated cast, and they'll be in the very same room with somebody who's vaccinated and they test negative."

"So the vaccines are really working."

In the month of July, Royal Caribbean sailed with around 92% guests vaccinated, which was while the cruise line still allowed guests ages 12 to 16 to sail unvaccinated.

"If there is good news with the Delta variant is that people are becoming far more accustomed to this. If you've got a highly vaccinated population, there's minimal impact," Mr. Bayley explained in talking about why consumers feel safe cruising."

"The feedback we get from our customers is recognition and relief that this is very contained and something that, you know, that's going to pass."

Royal Caribbean Group CFO Jason Liberty indicated the cruise line saw "small variations" due to the Delta variant with closer-in bookings and markets with high case counts.

Booking trends

In the first half of the year, Royal Caribbean Group CFO Jason Liberty said more than 130,000 guests across five brands during the first half of 2021.

While bookings are still below 2019 levels due to in part reduced capacity for 2021 sailings, Royal Caribbean Group has "narrowed the gap" during the second quarter. In fact, they received we received about 50% more bookings in the second quarter than during the previous three months.

"By June, we were receiving about 90% more bookings each week when compared to Q1," Mr. Liberty explained while going through the numbers. "The bookings for 2022 are practically back to twenty nineteen levels."

He also said July was their second highest booking month of the year.

When will they break even?

Royal Caribbean Group reported another quarter with losses measured in the billions of dollars, so when will the company finally break even?

Mr. Liberty said based on how things look, they could reach break even on a cashflow standpoint in six months, "Based off of what we're seeing the ramp up of our business, I think we will see ourselves be cash flow positive in about six months as we ramp up the business."

Increasing capacity

What is Royal Caribbean's plan to increase passenger capacity as ships return to service?

Right now, ships are sailing with extremely low capacity, but there is a plan to start ramping that up.

Mr. Liberty explained capacity will go up monthly, "Our plan is for our load factors to steadily increase from one month to the next."

"After a few weeks of getting these ships up and running, we're getting to occupancy levels in which the ships are accretive to our our overall cash position."

Guests want to know when ships will sail again

Royal Caribbean announced yeserday its plan when and how it will bring back all of its cruise ships, which was met with a lot of enthusiasm in the form of new bookings.

Mr. Bayley says the announcement of ships returning with a firm plan is important to consumers, and that is directly tied to bookings.

"We literally have hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of customers who are simply waiting for the confirmation."

"When we last announced return to service confirmation at the beginning of June. that's when we saw a really significant increase in bookings. And I think the announcement that we made yesterday should also receive a significant amount of interest."

"If you go on social media, people are there waiting. They're waiting for the confirmation. And yesterday, we gave confirmation on the remaining fleet. So we feel quite optimistic about that."

Royal Caribbean Group CEO: People are eager to cruise again

In:
04Aug2021
By: Matt Hochberg

Speaking to investors during the Royal Caribbean Group's second quarter earnings call, Chairman and CEO Richard Fain gave an overview of his company's restart plans.

While there was another quarter of losses exceeding a billion dollars, the outlook looks far more positive with ships returning to service.

Mr. Fain was optimistic that despite issues his company faces right now, the future looks very good.

It seems Mr. Fain believes the key has been a combination of healthy sail protocols, a compelling onboard experience for guests, and strong demand for cruises, especially in 2022.

Of course, there are going to be hesitations to travel again, and Mr. Fain thinks providing customers peace of mind is the key, "We believe that the best way to get them comfortable is to demonstrate just how well the process works."

"We call that the flywheel effect. Once we get the vast majority of our fleet back online and thousands of people sailing safely, it will make even more people feel comfortable doing the same thing."

To make things safe onboard, Royal Caribbean Group identified three pillars of health and safety:

  1. Ensuring ship experiences are as safe, or safer, than the shoreside equivalents
  2. Meeting and exceeding our exacting pre-pandemic expectations
  3. Doing so in a financially prudent manner

In terms of the protocols, Mr. Fain is quite pleased with how things are going onboard, "The idea is to limit the spread of Covid-19 aboard our ships. We all know it's impossible to eliminate cases on board a ship totally, just as it's impossible to eliminate cases on land."

"But the steps that we are taking are designed to prevent the isolated cases from becoming an outbreak, and it seems to be working."

Further building on that confidence is when there are cases onboard, they are limited and isolated.

"We have had people test positive, but almost everyone around them is vaccinated, they've remained isolated cases. That's the goal where individual cases and no significant spread."

"Repeat this with a few hundred thousand or million cruisers, and that creates the trust that will drive our resurgence."

According to Fain, in the month of July (excluding Singapore sailings), an average of 92% of the people on board cruise ships were fully vaccinated and Mr. Fain believes this number is likely to rise going forward.

Strong demand

As they say, the proof is in the pudding, and Royal Caribbean Group has been surprised how many are eager to get back onboard.

"Our guests are eager to cruise again," Mr Fain said during the call. "We had hoped that there would be pent up demand for cruises, but even we were surprised by the level that we're seeing."

"It is clear people are to people are eager to travel, to take a vacation and we are ready to make their vacation dreams come true."

There is likely to be more losses still to come, but the company feels good about their chances as next year comes around.

"While the third and fourth quarter of this year will continue to be painful, it's looking generally in line with our return to service and occupancy ramp up expectations."

"We don't expect 2022 to be a normal year. However, we are seeing rapid and steady progress towards normalcy starting in the spring and summer of next year."

Delta variant

While the Delta variant has the attention of a lot of people, Mr. Fain believes it is a short-term concern, not a long-term problem.

"The Delta variant is problematic for everyone, but even this looks manageable by our extensive protocols," Mr. Fain said while addressing the concern.

"If we only obsess about the present, we will fail to prepare for the future. We must keep our eye firmly on that future that we can see is coming."

Royal Caribbean Group reports $1.3 billion loss second quarter 2021 amid fast restart plans

In:
04Aug2021
By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean Group reported its second quarter 2021 financial results to Wall Street, along with an update on its restart plans.

Royal Caribbean Group reported a US GAAP Net Loss for the second quarter of 2021 of $1.3 billion, which is better than where the company was last year at this time when it has a US GAAP Net Loss of $1.6 billion.

The average monthly cash burn rate for the second quarter of 2021 was approximately $330 million, slightly higher than the prior quarter as the Company returned additional ships into operation. 

While the loss is not a surprise, Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain celebrated the quick restart plan the company has put into action, with 29 ships across its five brands, representing 42% of capacity.

By the end of of August, that number will move up to 36 ships, representing over 60% of its capacity.

"We're thrilled to be back on the water at accelerated speed in the US and elsewhere.  After 16 months of being at a virtual standstill and another painful financial result this quarter, the flywheel is clearly picking up momentum."

"Since the pandemic began, our objective has been to make our ships safer than Main Street, and today, we are proving that ambitious goal is achievable.  We are also encouraged by the booking outlook especially for 2022 and beyond."

Royal Caribbean Group expects 80% of its ships across all brands to be in service by the end of 2021.

Positive signs ahead

Royal Caribbean Group saw some good indicators for where the short-term future of cruising.

Booked load factor for 2022 is within historical ranges. Prices for 2022 are up versus a record-setting 2019, even including the dilutive impact of future cruise credits (FCCs).

Overall booking volumes have improved, and pricing remains strong. During the second quarter the Company received about 50% more new bookings compared to the first quarter with trends improving from one month to the next. By June, the Company was receiving about 90% more bookings each week when compared to the first quarter with improvements of a similar magnitude for both 2021 and 2022 sailings.

In addition, customer deposits increased from last quarter by $530 million to now account for $2.4 billion.

Royal Caribbean Group ended the second quarter with $5.0 billion of liquidity.

The company says they have seen a "very positive" response to the restart of cruising, which they see as "robust, pent-up demand for cruising."

In terms of the impact of the Delta variant, Royal Caribbean Group said it is too early to draw any definite conclusions, but they have seen, "a modest impact on closer-in bookings."

Nonetheless, they see 2022 bookings remaining very strong, especially spring and summer 2022.

Environmental initiatives

Royal Caribbean Group highlighted some of the environmental, social, and governance plans that were put into action to coincide with the company's restart plans.

Highlights of these important sustainability initiatives include:

  • Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions
  • Removal of a significant amount of single use plastics from the supply chain
  • Equipping the majority of its fleet with emissions purification systems
  • Outfitting new ships with Selective Catalytic Reduction to reduce NOx emissions
  • Reducing waste to landfill
  • Outfitting ships with Advanced Wastewater Purification
  • Introducing Global Sustainable Tourism Council certified tours.

The next generation of cruise ships will be powered by liquefied natural gas, a cleaner burning form of fuel, and fuel cell technology, which can help reduce ship emissions. 

According to Royal Caribbean Group, exploring alternative fuel solutions is a major priority. These efforts have placed Celebrity Apex, which had its maiden voyage in June, on the path to achieving the international targets of 40% reduction in carbon intensity by 2030 from a 2008 baseline.

Royal Caribbean Group has also focused on its employees in an effort to enhance their diverse and inclusive workforce, "We have also developed an active listening strategy that gives each of our employees a voice to drive meaningful change in the workplace. We believe setting our workforce up for success through initiatives that support these elements, positions our business to excel now and into the future. "

Royal Caribbean extends Anthem of the Seas season in the UK

In:
04Aug2021
By: Matt Hochberg

Brits will have more time to go on a Royal Caribbean cruise around the British Isles this fall.

Royal Caribbean announced it will add new sailings from Southampton, England in September and October.

Anthem of the Seas cruises will now go through October 20201, and beginning in September eligible international guests will also be able to set sail from Southampton, subject to the latest travel guidelines from the U.K. government and their country of residence.  

The new bookings that have been added to the tail end of the season are available for booking today.

Anthem of the Seas has been sailing 5- to 7-night British Isles cruises as part of Britain's cruise restart. Itineraries include stops at ports of call such as Liverpool, England; Belfast, Northern Ireland; and Kirkwall and Glasgow, Scotland. 

Anthem first began sailings on July 7.

All passengers sailing from Southampton that are 18 years and older must have completed all doses of their COVID-19 vaccine at least 14 days before sailing. Guests younger than 18 don’t need to be vaccinated — but if they are, they can follow the testing guidance for fully vaccinated guests.

Vaccinated Guests must bring the negative result of an PCR test for COVID-19 taken within 3 days of sailing. 

Unvaccinated Guests,  2-17 years old, must bring the negative result of an PCR test for COVID-19 taken within 3 days of sailing. Guests must also take a complimentary rapid antigen test at the terminal and receive a negative result in order to sail. 

Guests Under The Age Of 2 have no testing requirements.

All crew members onboard are fully vaccinated.

In addition, Anthem of the Seas employs a comprehensive, multilayered set of health and safety measures onboard.

Ben Bouldin, vice president EMEA, Royal Caribbean International, celebrated the extension of the cruise season, "We are thrilled with the response to our Royal Caribbean holidays from the U.K. Since recommencing sailings in early July, our British Isles itineraries have achieved peak guest satisfaction levels. Anthem of the Seas is an incredible ship and very popular with U.K. guests, so we have seen excellent demand from families wanting a holiday like no other this summer."

"We welcome the recent update from the U.K. government, which lifted advice against international cruise travel. While this marks a positive step forward in the global return of cruise, there are still complexities to navigate when calling at multiple European ports of call from the U.K. This, coupled with the popularity of our British Isles sailings to date, has led to our decision to extend our sailings around the British Isles, and I’m delighted to welcome international guests to experience these itineraries, starting in September"

Royal Caribbean announces restart plans for remaining cruise ships

In:
03Aug2021
By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean has laid out its plans for the rest of the fleet on when and where ships will resume sailing again.

While Royal Caribbean has restarted successfully a number of ships this summer, many sailings were in question without a firm restart date.

The cruise line shared restart plans for its cruise ships which were still in limbo as Royal Caribbean slowly restarts sailings.

The new restart plan encompasses 13 cruise ships, extending into Spring 2022.

Each ship now returning will cruise with the health measures that have safeguarded the well-being of guests, crew and destination communities to date across other ships in Alaska, Asia, The Bahamas, the Caribbean and Europe.

Here is what Royal Caribbean has announced for its restart:

Oasis of the Seas  7-night Bahamas cruises from Cape Liberty, New Jersey, starting Sept. 5; and 7-night Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries from Miami, beginning November

Liberty of the Seas 7-night Western Caribbean cruises from Galveston, Texas, starting Oct. 3

Serenade of the Seas  4- and 5-night Western Caribbean cruises from Tampa, Florida, starting Oct. 16; and 7-night Caribbean itineraries, beginning December

Explorer of the Seas 7-night Southern Caribbean sailings from San Juan, Puerto Rico, starting Nov. 7

Navigator of the Seas 3-, 4- and 5-night Catalina Island, California, and Ensenada and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico cruises from Los Angeles, beginning Nov. 19

Grandeur of the Seas 7- and 14-night Southern Caribbean sailings from Bridgetown, Barbados, starting Dec. 5

Ovation of the Seas 2- to 10-night domestic itineraries in Australia from Sydney, beginning Dec. 13

Brilliance of the Seas 4- and 5-night Bahamas and Western Caribbean cruises from Tampa, starting Dec. 16

Enchantment of the Seas  8-night Bahamas sailings, and select 12-night cruises to the Southern Caribbean from Baltimore, starting Dec. 23

Vision of the Seas 10- and 11-night Southern Caribbean itineraries from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, beginning Jan. 24, 2022

Voyager of the Seas 7- and 9-night cruises in Northern Europe from Barcelona, Spain, starting April 15, 2022

Radiance of the Seas 7-night Alaska sailings from Vancouver, Canada, beginning April 29, 2022

Rhapsody of the Seas 7-night Mediterranean and Greek Isles itineraries, sailing from Rome starting May 23, 2022

All other ships have either restarted cruises, or have plans to restart cruises this summer.

Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley celebrated plans to restart all the ships, "We are excited and appreciative to be able to say with confidence when all of our ships will return, especially for travelers looking ahead to plan their getaways. More than 110,000 guests have cruised with us since December, and they’ve done so safely while enjoying the memorable vacations they trust we’ll bring to life."

"It’s been incredible to see families come together again on board our ships sailing in the U.S., the Caribbean, Europe and Asia. And to know we’ll soon welcome more in a safe manner when our entire fleet is back by spring 2022 is wonderful."

Redeployments

Booked guests currently confirmed on the below sailings will be automatically moved to the corresponding sailing on the newly redeployed ship.  Should guests no longer wish to sail due to this change, refunds can be requested through August 24, 2021.

Brilliance of the Seas departing Oct 16 – Dec 6, 2021 to be moved to like-for-like sailing on Serenade of the Seas departing Tampa (Dec 6 sailing now 4N vs prior 5N sailing).

Radiance of the Seas departing Oct 1, 2021 to be moved to Serenade of the Seas on same sail date (now 13N sailing vs. prior 14N sailing).

Rhapsody of the Seas departing Dec 14, 2021 – Feb 19, 2022 to be moved to like-for-like sailing on Serenade of the Seas departing Tampa.

New cancellations

In conjunction with the restart plan announcement, Royal Caribbean also announced a new series of cruise cancellations to make way for the restart.

  • Anthem of the Seas departing Southampton: October 20, 2021 
  • Brilliance of the Seas departing Tampa: September 4-October 11, 2021; December 11, 2021; March 28-April 25, 2022
  • Enchantment of the Seas departing Baltimore: September 4- December 11, 2021 
  • Explorer of the Seas departing San Juan: October 31, 2021 
  • Harmony of the Seas departing Barcelona: October 31, 2021 
  • Liberty of the Seas departing Galveston: September 26, 2021 
  • Ovation of the Seas departing Sydney: October 27, 2021- April 10, 2022
  • Radiance of the Seas departing Miami: October 15, 2021- April 10, 2022
  • Rhapsody of the Seas departing Tampa: February 26- April 16, 2022
  • Serenade of the Seas departing Sydney: October 24, 2021- February 27, 2022
  • Vision of the Seas departing San Juan/Fort Lauderdale: September 5, 2021- January 14, 2022

Summer restart

The restart plan builds upon the ships that have either already resumed sailings, or are scheduled to later this summer.

Here is a list of those ships that already had restart plans announced by the cruise line:

  • Adventure of the Seas from Nassau, Bahamas, beginning June 12, 2021
  • Freedom of the Seas from Miami, Florida, beginning July 2, 2021
  • Anthem of the Seas from Southampton, England, beginning July 7, 2021
  • Jewel of the Seas from Limassol, Cyprus, beginning July 10, 2021
  • Serenade of the Seas from Seattle, Washington, beginning July 19, 2021
  • Odyssey of the Seas from Fort Lauderdale, Florida beginning July 31, 2021
  • Allure of the Seas from Port Canaveral, beginning August 8, 2021
  • Ovation of the Seas from Seattle, Washington, beginning August 13, 2021
  • Symphony of the Seas from Miami, Florida, beginning August 14, 2021
  • Independence of the Seas from Galveston, Texas, beginning August 15, 2021
  • Harmony of the Seas from Barcelona and Rome, beginning August 15, 2021
  • Mariner of the Seas from Port Canaveral, Florida, beginning August 23, 2021
  • Quantum of the Seas began sailing in Singapore in December 2020

What to expect on your first cruise

In:
03Aug2021
By: Matt Hochberg

So you have your first Royal Caribbean cruise booked (or are about to book one) and want to know what it's going to be like?

Cruise ships have been a popular vacation choice for decades because of how much variety and choices you have in making the trip your own. Relaxation, exploration, education, socialization... it's all up to you what you want to do.

With so many choices in what a cruise experience can be like, first time cruisers may be a little unsure of what to expect.

The good news is that Royal Caribbean designs its cruises to be as easy going as possible, and plenty of people go on them with little to no research in advance and have a good time.  But the more you learn about your sailing, the better prepared you will be to maximize your experience and avoid pitfalls later.

So if you have a cruise planned, here are the basics you should know before you sail for what is ahead of you.

You can do a lot of planning before the cruise

Before you every step foot onboard a ship, there is a lot you can and should do while at home.

Royal Caribbean provides a lot of options for its guests to pre-plan their cruises via the Cruise Planner site. This is where you can book shore excursions, internet, drink packages, spa appointments and more.

Booking these things before your cruise not only saves you time, but also money. In general, the prices you find online will be cheaper than if you waited to book them onboard.

Royal Caribbean's website is also where you can complete the online check-in for your cruise, which is something you should absolutely do before your sailing to save time later.

The more you can do at home, the less time you will spend in the cruise terminal later. This means you will bypass lines and get onboard sooner. Take advantage of this option and do as much of the check-in process early.

Don't forget

  • Create an account to manage your reservation on Royal Caribbean's website
  • Pre-book cruise add-ons to save money
  • Complete online check-in

Be prepared for changes

With the cruise industry getting back on its feet after the global health crisis, you should expect and be prepared for policy changes.

In short, there is no point leading up to your cruise where you are guaranteed not to get any more policy, itinerary, or protocol changes. Royal Caribbean is trying its best to "roll with the punches", as it is at the mercy of various local and federal government regulations. 

The cruise line does a good job of conveying changes to you and your travel agent as they happen. In addition, major changes are documented here on RoyalCaribbeanBlog.com.

Ignorance is no excuse, so do your best to keep up with what is happening and assume more changes could still happen.

Don't forget

  • Expect policy changes
  • Changes can happen at anytime

You can do as little or as much as you want

There is a misconception out there that cruises are like a giant summer camp where you have a schedule to follow, but that could not be further from the truth.

When you get onboard the ship, it is up to you how much you want to actually do. The cruise line provides lots of activities and things to do onboard, but it is up to you which ones you do and when.

If you want to sleep in, read in your room and then watch TV, you can do that.  But if you want to go up to the pool, climb the rock wall, go down a water slide, and partake in trivia, you can do all of that too.

Each day of the cruise there is a daily guide to what is happening onboard, known as the Cruise Compass. You will find a list of things to do with times they are operational, and you can elect to do any of these.

Most activities are complimentary, but some do carry an additional cost.  Anything you charge will go right onto your SeaPass account, which will be charged at the end of your cruise.

The bottom line is there is no pressure from the cruise line to participate or be part of anything. It is your vacation, enjoy it as you see fit.

Don't forget

  • Daily activities listed in the Cruise Compass
  • Some activities may cost extra
  • All activities are optional

More than one dining choice

Your cruise fare includes every meal and snack, and that means lots of choices of where to dine.

At the most basic level, you will find meals in the main dining room and Windjammer buffet to enjoy. Both of these locations carry no additional cost, and between the two, you can find food for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

There are also grab-and-go dining locations on the ship, where you can grab a slice of pizza, sandwich, or cookie.  Most of these tend to be complimentary as well.

Royal Caribbean also offers specialty dining choices, which are restaurants that have an additional cost to dine there. All specialty restaurants are open for dinner, and sometimes for lunch.

Why would you want to pay extra for food when you have food included in your cruise fare? Well, think of it like why would you pay to go to a restaurant at home versus eat at home: sometimes it is nice to pay more to enjoy something different.

Specialty restaurants offer food and cooking styles not otherwise available elsewhere on the ship.

Should you spend extra on food? There is no right or wrong answer, as you will find equally compelling choices in the included or extra cost restaurants. 

If you are brand new to cruising, it might not be a bad idea to try one specialty restaurant and see how it compares.  

Don't forget

  • There is a mix of included and extra cost dining options
  • Plenty of complimentary food
  • Specialty restaurants offer greater variety of food

What to do when your ship is in port

During your voyage, your cruise ship will periodically stop in various ports of call. 

In each port, the ship will usually dock (some ships anchor off the coast and run ferry boats to shore) and allow passengers to come and go as they please for a period of time.

In nearly all cases, you can disembark the ship on your own and walk around or take an organized tour.

If you booked a shore excursion through Royal Caribbean, there will be instructions provided to you where and when to meet your group.

You could also walk off the ship and explore the port area, hop in a cab, and otherwise do whatever exploration you see fit.

When it comes to exploring on your own, it is up to you to figure it all out and most importantly, get back to the ship on time. And yes, the ship will leave you behind if you are late, so manage your time wisely.

Booking an organized tour is the easiest option available, especially if you are unfamiliar with the port you are visiting.

You could book a tour through Royal Caribbean or an excursion on your own.  There are pros and cons to both approaches, so do research before your cruise to ensure you have a good sense of all options.

Don't forget

  • You can book tours through the cruise line or on your own
  • Research excursions before the cruise
  • You must be back onboard well before the all aboard time

Private islands

Royal Caribbean operates two private destinations, Perfect Day at CocoCay and Labadee.

Unlike other places your ship may stop, these private destinations are only open to cruise guests, so you will not find other tourists there.

Think of these places like walled gardens, where Royal Caribbean has designed the experience to be as relaxing as possible with add-ons you can book if you choose.

At their heart, both CocoCay and Labadee are beach days.  Both destinations have multiple beaches you can visit, and just like any other port of call, you can disembark the ship and walk around on your own for no additional cost.

Access to the beach, beach chairs, umbrellas, and lunch are all included with your cruise fare too.

There is much more you could do as well.  Labadee has a zip line, jet ski rentals, water slide, and even a few shore excursions to book. These all carry an additional cost.

Perfect Day at CocoCay offers a ton of other things to do, such as a water park, private beach club, excursions, jet ski rentals and more.

You will also find cabanas you can rent for the day at Labadee and CocoCay.

Just like any port, research what there is to do in either private destination to determine what your family wants to do. Keep in mind many guests simply walk off the ship and find a spot at the beach to relax, so do not feel you must book something that costs extra.

Don't forget

  • Admission to CocoCay or Labadee is included in your cruise fare
  • There are extras you can optionally book
  • Think of these stops as beach days

The last day

No one likes to think about their vacation coming to an end, but the last day of the cruise is a busy one.

Usually, your ship will return to port in the early morning hours. The exact time your ship docks and subsequently opens up the gangway for passengers to get off will vary on each sailing due to local authorities clearing the ship.

Sometimes getting approval to dock and disembark is super quick, and other times it can take much longer.  It all depends on what the maritime and/or federal agents determine as necessary in terms of inspections.

If you are flying home after the cruise, plan on booking a flight no earlier than 11am.  To be safe, a flight at noon or later will ensure you are not scrambling to get off the ship.

The night before the cruise, your room attendant will drop off luggage tags to affix to your bags you want delivered off the ship.  Place the packed suitcases with luggage tags outside your room the night before, and Royal Caribbean will take the bags for you and have them waiting for you in the cruise terminal after you disembark the next day.  Just be sure to leave an extra bag and change of clothes for that last morning.

When you wake up, there will be breakfast served in certain venues.  These are usually the Windjammer and main dining room.  Your departure instructions that come with the aforementioned luggage tags will list times and options.

Your luggage tag number corresponds to what time you may disembark the ship. They will call a number when it is clear for you to leave on the ship's PA system, as well as on a stateroom television channel that you can monitor.

Once you walk off the ship, you will enter the terminal building where you will pick up your luggage and go through the customs process. 

Don't forget

  • Put your luggage tags on your bags the night before the cruise ends
  • Leave yourself something to wear off the ship the last morning
  • There will be breakfast available on the last morning

More information

I wish this was all you need to know, but there is plenty more tips, tricks, and important things you should be aware of before you sail.

Here are a few helpful articles for planning your first (and likely not last) cruise vacation!

How Royal Caribbean's free drink vouchers for Diamond and higher members works

In:
03Aug2021
By: Matt Hochberg

Did you know Royal Caribbean gives away free drinks to its top tier Crown and Anchor Society members?

If you are Diamond, Diamond Plus, or Pinnacle, you can get a set amount of complimentary beverages every day of your cruise, which includes alcoholic beverages.

This is a fantastic perk, and Royal Caribbean recently revamped their offering by giving guests more options with their daily drinks.

So how does it work, and what can you get exactly if you are eligible for Diamond drinks benefits? Here is what you need to know about Royal Caribbean's beverage vouchers.

Who qualifies for free drink vouchers?

Royal Caribbean provides complimentary drinks each day to its Diamond, Diamond Plus and Pinnacle guests.

Guests who are at a lower tier of Crown and Anchor Society (Gold, Platinum, or Emerald) do not qualify for the drink vouchers.

In 2021, Royal Caribbean updated the policy to move away from a few select drinks guests can use each evening, to all-day vouchers.

Royal Caribbean has revamped its offerings to allow at least 4 beverage vouchers for Diamond and higher guests in Crown and Anchor, which are good all day and at any bar (except Starbucks).

  • Diamond: 4 beverage vouchers valid all day at any bar (except Starbucks)
  • Diamond Plus: 5 beverage vouchers valid all day at any bar (except Starbucks)
  • Pinnacle: 6 beverage vouchers valid all day at any bar (except Starbucks)

This includes alcoholic and non-alcoholic options, and includes any beverage up to $13 per drink ($14 on ships from the UK).

How do the drink vouchers work?

Drink vouchers are loaded automatically every day on a guest's SeaPass account. There are no paper coupons or physical vouchers to present.

Simply go to any bar, restaurant or lounge, and when ordering a drink, inform the waiter or bartender that you wish to use your Diamond drink benefit.

When you get the drink, you should receive a receipt for $0.00. 

It is up to you to remember to ask to use your drink vouchers, as well as to keep track of how many vouchers you have left.

Each Diamond or higher member gets the daily drink voucher allotment, and you can use your vouchers to pay for your drink.  Think of them like a coupon that you are applying when you order.

One other change Royal Caribbean made by upgrading the vouchers to all day options with no drink menu limit is there is no longer unlimited drinks in the Diamond Lounge in the evening.  Drinks consumed in the Diamond Lounge count against your voucher count for the day.

Royal Caribbean says the drink vouchers work at their private destinations of Perfect Day at CocoCay and Labadee.

Should you get a drink package if you have drink vouchers?

The new question many loyal cruisers are trying to determine is if it is worth it to get a Royal Caribbean drink package if they are a Diamond member or higher.

Ultimately, the decision will depend on the person, but the fact the complimentary drink vouchers offer the same menu of choices as the drink package makes a compelling alternative.

Even if you use all your drink vouchers every day, and pay out of pocket for an addition 3-4 cocktails every day, the overall cost should be less than the total cost of a drink package.

One benefit the drink package has for someone who might exceed the daily drink voucher limit is you can pre-purchase the drink package before the cruise to avoid running up your bill onboard the ship. For some cruisers, not having a big bill at the end of the sailing matters to them.

Your itinerary will also factor in the decision of which option to get. A port intensive itinerary where you will be off the ship often on tours, may make investing in a drink package not a great financial idea.

Read more2021 Royal Caribbean Drink Package Info, Tips, Pros & Cons

U.S. Virgin Islands requires all cruise ship passengers 12 and older to be fully vaccinated

In:
02Aug2021
By: Matt Hochberg

If your Royal Caribbean cruise visits the U.S. Virgin Islands, you will need to be fully vaccinated in order to go on the sailing.

The government of the U.S. Virgin Islands has informed Royal Caribbean of a new policy that requires all cruise passengers ages 12 and older to be fully vaccinated in order for the ship to be allowed entry into the port.

This latest requirement applies to all cruise ships scheduled to enter U.S. Virgin Island ports. 

In a statement by the cruise line, Royal Caribbean will require all guests ages 12 and older to provide proof of vaccination in order to sail on itineraries visiting the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Guests unable to show proof of vaccination will not be allowed to sail.

Guests under the age of 12, who are currently not eligible for the vaccine, will be able to sail with a negative test result at boarding and must follow certain protocols.

A Royal Caribbean spokesperson commented on the new Virgin Islands policy, "Royal Caribbean’s top priority is maintaining everyone’s well-being while complying with federal, state
and local laws as we always have. We will continue to evaluate and update its health and safety measures as circumstances evolve."

The Allure of the Seas sailing on August 8th has a scheduled stop in St. Thomas, which will be required to adhere to this new policy.

Guests sailing on Allure of the Seas who may be impacted by the change, are asked to contact the cruise line for a full refund or to move their reservation to a later voyage,or a different itinerary.

In addition, St. Kitts recently announced a new policy which only allows 700 guests to visit their island per ship. The Allure of the Seas sailing on August 8th will now visit Philipsburg, St. Maarten instead. 

It is not clear why the U.S. Virgin Islands made this policy change, but the delta variant causing a surge in new cases is a likely candidate.

Florida, where many cruise ships are sailing from, broke a record for coronavirus hospitalizations on Sunday, which was a day after Florida recorded the most Covid-19 cases in a single since the pandemic began in early 2020. Less than half of Floridians are fully vaccinated

How Royal Caribbean invested in new port projects and tech during the cruise industry shutdown

In:
02Aug2021
By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean may have been shut down for 15 months, but that does not mean work stopped behind the scenes on new innovations and ideas that were announced in the months leading up to the stoppage.

While there may not have been many public updates on what was happening, Royal Caribbean prioritized certain initiatives and expansions so that when cruise ships could return, the company would be ready with exciting new announcements.

Overseeing these initiatives is Royal Caribbean Group Chief Product Innovation Officer, Jay Schneider, whose job it is to blend product development and experience, and he manages Royal Caribbean's technology and private destination innovations.

So what has Royal Caribbean been up to all these months, and what changes, additions, and new offerings can we expect with cruise ships starting to restart operations? I asked Mr. Schneider what is behind Royal Caribbean's proverbial curtain.

Continual investment

First and foremost, Mr. Schneider pointed to the fact his team invested in creating a new tech foundation to support initiatives that would prove to be critical to success during the shutdown, "Had we not made that investment, getting back into service now would be very difficult and very expensive."

This includes things like reducing friction at check-in, emuster, or being able to review your folio were good ideas pre-shutdown, and are now critical for social distancing and reducing touch points.

More importantly, Royal Caribbean not stopping work on its digital projects is a lesson learned from the days of the last smartphone app, Royal iQ.

"I think one of the mistakes we made, if you remember our Royal iQ app," Schneider admitted.

"We stopped investing in it and it just became stagnant. And so you'll see us continue to make improvements and additions and edits to the Royal Caribbean app and build the product out."

Chat feature

Schneider says the chat feature was ready to be rolled out right before the pandemic hit, but it is ready for all the ships in the fleet now.

Mr. Schneider confirmed the chat feature is ready for use fleet wide, "As we bring every ship back, every ship, will have chat."

Royal Beach Club

In March 2020, Royal Caribbean announced a Royal Beach Club in Nassau, which is an enhancement of an area that Royal Caribbean's cruise ships sail to, with the option for guests to go there, or do something else in that destination.

Mr. Schneider confirmed the first Royal Beach Club will be in Nassau, known as the Royal Beach Club in Paradise Island. After that, the Perfect Day projects will continue, "We're going to continue to go and build out Royal Beach clubs. The first one will be here in Nassau. It will be the Royal Beach Club in Paradise Island. And then we're going to continue to expand our Perfect Day portfolio."

"We have gotten to the point where we've announced that we've executed our lease with the government. So the total space is 20 acres, 13 of which we own privately, and then it's seven acres of government land that we've leased."

"We are going to continue to move forward to that program."

The daily occupancy for the Royal Beach Club in Paradise Island will be 3,500 guests.

Also in the Bahamas is another project in Freeport on Grand Bahama Island. 

According to Schneider, that project is still moving forward, "It continues to move forward. We're still working through the legal agreements, so that's just been an elongated process that we hope will conclude sometime soon."

So which projects are a go with the way things stand now? Mr. Schneider would only say some things have changed over the last 15 months that may or may not alter Royal Caribbean's plans.

"Number one, the destinations are evolving, meaning they're coming out of a pandemic themselves. So their situations are different."

"Second, our guests are evolving and we're constantly updating our slate of where we want to go. And so those factors and formulas together help us think about where we want to go."

Read moreRoyal Caribbean's plans to build a cruise resort in Bahamas are still alive

Amplifications will return

One of the many projects that had to be sidelined were ship upgrades under the Royal Amplified program, and it looks like those updates are delayed, but not denied.

"We're going to pick up Amplification again. We're going to keep making sure that the Amplification we have is working."

Moreover, new ship construction is not stopping either, "Our new build portfolio isn't isn't stopping. We're going to continue to build amazing ships."

"You're going to see new concepts come out on future ships and you're going to see us experiment with new fun ways to, again, get people to have an amazing vacation."

Read moreWhat was added to each Royal Caribbean ship during its Royal Amplified refurbishment

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