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Excursion Focus: Cycling in St. Maarten

In:
20 Jan 2022
By: 
Jenna DeLaurentis

One of the most challenging parts of planning a cruise is figuring out what to do while in port. What activity should I choose? Which beach should I go to? Should I book an excursion offered by Royal Caribbean or explore on my own?

While planning days in port for my 7-night sailing on Harmony of the Seas last week, I kept asking myself these questions. Our original itinerary was switched, leaving me with little time to plan my day in St. Maarten. I wanted to make the most of the day as I had never been there before.

My solution? Go for a bike ride! Not just any bike ride, though. My plan was to loop the entire island on a bicycle to learn more about the island’s landscapes, cultures, and people. I felt prepared from a fitness standpoint as I cycle a lot at home, but I had no idea what my day on a bicycle in St. Maarten would entail.

Spoiler alert: it was one of the best days ever.

Rental

I rented my bike from Tri-Sport SXM, which is the main cycling company and bicycle tour operator on the island. I originally requested a road bike, but they suggested getting an ebike so I could explore more of the island and have some assistance in climbing steep hills.

I met JP from Tri-Sport at the port and he gave me a helpful overview of my bicycle and his recommended route. The total cost of the ebike rental was $55 for the day. The rental came with the ebike, a bike pump, helmet, and a lock.

The Route

I had an ambitious plan. My goal was to loop St. Maarten counterclockwise, starting and ending in Philipsburg. In doing so, I would cycle between two countries, visit both busy and secluded beaches, and explore the island’s culture.

I started the bike ride by cycling north out of Philipsburg and toward the eastern side of the island. This was definitely my favorite section of the ride. Once I got outside Philipsburg, the road heading north was not overly busy and led to some beautiful lookout spots. Crossing the border of the Dutch and French side was fascinating and required some photos.

I passed through the small French town of Quarter of Orleans before continuing to Orient Beach. This is one of the most popular beaches on the island, but is quite long, so it’s easy to find a secluded spot on the beach. There are also many restaurants, bars, and beach clubs open during the day as well.

I continued to the north of the island, grabbing a fresh fruit smoothie in the town of Hope Estate before cycling toward Cul-de-Sac. From here you can take a ferry to the nearby island of Isla de Pinel, where hiking, kayaking, and snorkeling opportunities are plentiful.

Because I kept stopping to take pictures, I was a bit behind schedule. The next section of road was fairly flat, so I quickly bolted toward the northwest of the island. The road was a bit too busy for my liking, though, so I took a detour to Friar’s Bay Beach.

This beach was unbelievably beautiful and not very crowded. As the weather was quite hot, I replenished my water supply, had a quick snack, and relaxed in the shade for a half hour or so.

I wanted to avoid the busy road, so I attempted to find a detour to Marigot. The “road” on Google Maps was the steepest section I had seen all day and was the only point at which I had to briefly walk my bike up the hill!

Whereas most riding so far had been a paved road or a well-maintained dirt path, this section was a mix of cobblestone, grass, and dirt! As I struggled up the hill, I chatted with a few locals who were very curious as to how I found myself on this “road”. 

Regardless, I was able to avoid the busy road, so I’d take that as a win in my books.

After the “road” I cycled to Marigot, the capital of the French side of the island. I found the French-influenced town to be quite cute and enjoyed wandering through the narrow streets on my bike.

In Marigot I stumbled upon Chez Fernand la French Bakery, which offers a variety of french specialties including patisserie, breads, savory snacks, and ice cream. Having already ridden my bike halfway around the island, I was feeling pretty hungry and French delicacies really hit the spot.

After fueling up in Marigot, I left the main part of the island and started my loop of the laguna. Originally I thought this would be a calm section of road, but it actually ended up being one of the busiest sections of the ride! All drivers were cautious of my biking, though, and the road was fairly flat, so it went by quickly.

I took a detour down a dirt path to Cupecoy Beach, which has an area with many small inlets surrounded by limestone. I found several empty or nearly-empty beaches here, and it almost felt like a secret hideway on the island.

My last stop was Maho Beach, which is arguably the most well-known beach on St. Maarten. This beach is located right across from Princess Juliana International Airport in St. Maarten, and planes fly right over you as they land on the runway. Tourists flock here to marvel at the close proximity of airplanes and catch gusts of the powerful wind created when a plane takes off.

I thought it was a unique beach, although unfortunately no planes were landing when I was there! I would not recommend spending an entire day at the beach, though, as it was really crowded and not as nice as other beaches I had seen on my bike ride.

As it was now late afternoon, I began heading back to the cruise port. So did everyone else, apparently, because this section of the ride was the busiest of the day! I enjoyed taking in my final views of St. Maarten from my bicycle before a mellow ride through historical Philipsburg.

As I returned my bike and walked back to the ship, I could not believe how much fun I had cycling around the entire island. The total ride was around 34 miles up, down, and around hilly terrain, countless beaches, and historical towns. And while I certainly felt tired once I was back onboard, I don’t think there could have been a better way to see all that St. Maarten has to offer in a single day!

Safety

When I googled “renting a bike in St. Maarten,” I was shocked by the search results. Many people suggested not renting a bike on the island and saying it would be way too dangerous. Potholes, cars, and distracted drivers would be everywhere!

I decided to take this information with a grain of salt. As there was a reputable bicycle company on the island and St. Maarten has European roots, I figured it would not be as dangerous as the internet implied.

As I started cycling, I realized I was right. I did not encounter one aggressive driver passing me and found that drivers were courteous and patient, even waiting behind me as I struggled on the steepest of climbs. In addition, while there were some potholes on the road, I did not find the road conditions to be any worse than roads I have cycled on at home (with the French side having slightly better road conditions than the Dutch).

The locals on both sides of the island were friendly and helpful. I stopped to take pictures several times and many locals, spotting my bike on the side of the road, stopped to ask me if everything was okay. This definitely added to my feeling of security while cycling solo.

However, I would not recommend renting a bike and exploring on your own to beginner cyclists. While the ride on an ebike is doable for anyone with an average level of fitness, cycling in St. Maarten does require a high level of confidence on busy roads. The main roads are often unavoidable to get around the island, so you may find way more cars on the road than you are used to.

Therefore, the biggest consideration you should make before renting a bike in St. Maarten is your comfort level on busy roads. If you have never biked on a main road before, you may feel uncomfortable with the amount of cars passing you. There is little to no shoulder on the roads, so you have to stay as close to the right curb as possible to allow cars to safely pass.

What made me feel safer throughout the day were the attentive drivers behind me and the fact that all roads were just one lane on each side instead of multi-lane highways.

Guided Tours

There are two ways to go for a bike ride in St. Maarten: renting a bicycle or booking a guided tour. Many guests may opt for a guided tour, but what options do you have?

Royal Caribbean works with Tri-Sport SXM, and they offer a variety of guided tours, some of which are directly listed as Royal Caribbean excursions in the Cruise Planner.

The most popular tour offered is the Historical Philipsburg by Bicycle and Beach tour, which is a 6-mile guided ride through the Dutch-influenced capital of Philipsburg. This ride is suitable for beginners and families and will give a lesson into the history and culture of the city.

You may also choose to book a guided bicycle tour directly with Tri-Sport, as they offer more challenging rides that you cannot book as a Royal Caribbean shore excursion. One of the rides offered is the Tour de Lagoon, which takes you around the lagoon on the western side of the island with a stop at Maho Beach. These tours must have a minimum of two cyclists booking it, but offer a way to see more of the island in a smaller group.

If you are traveling with kids, I highly recommend booking a guided tour as opposed to riding on your own.

Pros and cons of renting a bike vs. choosing a guided tour

The pros of renting a bike instead of booking a tour are plentiful. Cycling on your own gives you the ultimate freedom to choose where you want to go. If you see something interesting, you are able to stop or switch your route in order to discover it more thoroughly. It also gives you the chance to cycle at your own fitness level, making the ride as challenging or relaxed as you want. I also felt that I was able to interact with locals in St. Maarten very easily as a solo cyclist, as they were generally curious about me, thus giving me a deeper insight into the island.

There are a few cons of renting a bike yourself, though. First, you will not have a local with you to help navigate your way around the island or fix your bicycle if something goes wrong. Second, you will attract less attention from cars on busy roads compared to a larger group. That being said, I did not find either of these problems to be an issue (and I never had a single problem with my bike).

Likewise, there are pros and cons to choosing a guided bike tour. The biggest pro is that everything is taken care of for you. There is no need to map out a route yourself and ask for directions whenever you get lost. You also stand out much more on the roads when with a group. A car that may try to quickly pass one cyclist will likely hold back on passing a group of twenty cyclists.

The biggest con I saw with a guided tour were the crowds. Cycling in a group means, of course, that you are with many other people, so you will not get as relaxing of an experience as in a smaller group or by yourself. Plus, many of the popular tours visit the most touristy spots on the island, such as Maho Beach and downtown Philipsburg. This means that not only are there more crowds in the destination you are visiting, but likely there is a busier road to get there in the first place.

Whether you select a tour or not, be sure to research the average temperature during the time of year you will be in St Maarten. I did this ride in mid-January and it was around 83 degrees. It was definitely doable, but I had to drink a lot of water and take occasional breaks in the shade. The good thing about riding a bike, though, is that you get a nice breeze as you ride which helps to cool you down. Plus, you can always take a break in the ocean! There are tons of markets and restaurants throughout the entire ride, so you do not have to pack much water with you on the bike.

Final thoughts

Cycling around St. Maarten put into perspective just how diverse the small island is, and being on a bike allowed me to travel at just the right pace. It was fascinating to see a mix of Caribbean, French, and Dutch influence in the island's cuisine, architecture, and lifestyle.

I've never been more intrigued by the linguistic diversity of a particular place. Not having done much research ahead of time, you can imagine my confusion when I arrived in St. Maarten and heard many locals speaking Spanish instead of Dutch, and that only a small minority of locals speak French.

I will definitely ride a bike again in St. Maarten and would recommend exploring via bike for any guest interested, whether with a guided tour or on your own.

Royal Caribbean reveals restaurants and bars coming to Wonder of the Seas

In:
19 Jan 2022
By: 
Matt Hochberg

Foodies and anyone that just enjoys good eats are sure to love what Royal Caribbean has in store for its next new cruise ship.

Royal Caribbean takes delivery of new world's largest cruise ship as it departs shipyard | Royal Caribbean Blog

Royal Caribbean revealed the dining options passengers can look forward to on Wonder of the Seas.

The fifth Oasis Class cruise ship will have more than 20 dining venues when she launches, including the debut of The Mason Jar Southern Restaurant & Bar.

Royal Caribbean describes this new concept as a place where "southern comfort food meets Royal Caribbean's hospitality".

"The Mason Jar invites guests to share a meal, drinks and memories in a warm, casual setting. Every detail serves up southern charm in the new specialty restaurant, and setting the scene is farmhouse-style and rustic decor, live country music, even a cozy porch decked out with a swing for lounging and a great photo op, and a dedicated bar at the center of it all."

Guests will be able to sample a variety of classic American food for brunch, dinner, and late-night.

Brunch favorites range from savory johnnycakes topped with barbeque pulled pork to the Sweet-Tooth Cinnamon Roll. At suppertime, highlights include fried green tomatoes, authentic southern fried chicken, crab beignets served with lump crab dip, and shrimp and grits. And for a sweet ending, there’s everything from traditional pies to spiked floats and shakes. 

The bar menu has also been sourced from the southland, with more than a dozen American whiskeys and a lineup of southern libations, such as the classic mint julep dusted tableside with powdered sugar and the Mississippi Moonlight – made with blackberry moonshine, blackberries and lemonade, and served in a chilled mason jar. 

Here's a look at all the dining venues and bars you can look forward to visiting while on Wonder.

  • Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar
  • Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade
  • Hooked Seafood
  • El Loco Fresh and Cantina Fresca
  • The Lime & Coconut 
  • Izumi
  • Wonderland
  • 150 Central Park
  • Johnny Rockets
  • Starbucks
  • Sugar Beach
  • Chops Grille

Wonder of the Seas debut

Wonder of the Seas will set sail in March 2022 from Fort Lauderdale, Florida and offer cruises in March and April 2022 before moving to Europe.

She will then sail from Barcelona, Spain and Rome between April and October 2022.

Wonder of the Seas will return to Port Canaveral, Florida beginning in November, where she will be based year-round.

Royal Caribbean will offer southern food restaurant on Wonder of the Seas

In:
19 Jan 2022
By: 
Matt Hochberg

One of the many new amenities coming to Royal Caribbean's newest cruise ship will be the cruise line's first southern American food restaurant.

Wonder of the Seas will feature a new restaurant, known as The Mason Jar.

According to Royal Caribbean, The Mason Jar is all about food from the southern part of the United States.

Mason Jar was one of the trademarks Royal Caribbean filed back in October 2021 that seemed to point to a new dining concept based on Southern food.

In a newsletter update to travel agents, Royal Caribbean confirmed the existence of this new restaurant concept, "In the South, food is meant to soothe the soul."

"Enter The Mason Jar, reinventing Low Country classics, Bayou staples, and bold BBQ."

Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley also confirmed the news via his Facebook page.

The new restaurant will offer comfort food, such as creole-style Lobster ’n Crawfish Gumbo and Gran’s Fried Chicken.

There will also be a brunch menu that offers breakfast dishes, such as Sweet-Tooth Cinnamon Roll or southern Chicken ’n Waffles.

If you're thirsty, you'll find spiked peach tea or a decadent shake made with peanut butter, banana and bourbon.

Naturally, country music will be played as well.

While not confirmed, it is expected The Mason Jar will be a specialty restaurant location that has an additional fee to dine there.

Why Mason Jar?

Given the restaurant serves south food, it makes sense to call it The Mason Jar.

Mason jars are widely used in the south, and used for canning, preserving, or storing food. In fact, southerners commonly refer to any glass storage vessel used for these purposes generically as a Mason jar.

Other names Royal Caribbean considered included Savannah's Table and Palmetto Room.

Where will it be located?

According to the deck plans, it will be on Deck 15 near the Windjammer.

Mason Jar menu

In zooming in on the concept art for the Mason Jar, it's clear to see a menu.  Whether or not the menu is accurate remains to be seen.

Here's what it lists:

Fresh buttermilk biscuits & jalapeno cornbread (served with cajun and whipped honey butter)

Smidges to Start (Appetizers)

  • Pimento Cheese
  • Lobster 'n Crawfish Gumbo
  • Smoky Deviled Eggs
  • Fried Green Tomatoes
  • Blueberry Johnnycakes
  • Crab Beignets
  • Caesar Salad
  • Charred Watermelon Salad

Heaping Helpings (main courses)

  • Shrimp 'n Grits
  • Blackened cajun catfish
  • Chicken pot pie
  • Classic po'boy
  • Crispy chicken sandwich
  • Southern burger

The Meat Up

Pick from one protein, fixins and two signature BBQ sauces

  • St. Louis-Style Rib
  • Beef Brisket
  • Gran's Fried Chicken (regular or Nashville hot)

Sides:

  • Coleslaw
  • Sweet potato fries
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Mac 'n Cheese
  • Collard Greens

Q&A: What is it like to sail on Harmony of the Seas this week?

In:
19 Jan 2022
By: 
Jenna DeLaurentis

Going on a cruise right now can be a little unpredictable. Protocols, entertainment, and dining options are subject to change from sailing to sailing.

I am onboard Harmony of the Seas this week for a 7-night Eastern Caribbean and Perfect Day cruise, and I wanted to share what the experience is like by answering questions people might have.

We asked our followers on Facebook what questions they had about sailing on Harmony of the Seas this week, and here are our most requested answers:

How many guests are onboard?

Guest Services told me there were around 2500 passengers onboard.

Harmony of the Seas has a capacity of 5,479 guests at double occupancy, so the ship is a little under 50% capacity this week.

What is the entertainment this week? Is anything canceled?

Due to the omicron surge, there has been an influx of changes in entertainment offerings onboard Royal Caribbean ships. When I boarded the cruise on Sunday, I wasn’t sure what, if anything, would be offered in terms of headliner entertainment on Harmony of the Seas.

There have been several changes in entertainment:

  • Grease: The Musical is not being performed this week
  • Big Daddy’s Hideaway Heist is being performed in the Aquatheater, but the other show, The Fine Line, is not.
  • 1887: A Journey in Time and iSkate Showcase are being performed in Studio B.
  • Entertainment in the Royal Theater includes headliner vocalists, comedians, and game shows

While some entertainment offerings have been canceled or modified, there is still no shortage of things to do this week. Whether live music, comedy shows, dance classes, or signature activities, it’s easy to keep yourself busy onboard.

How is Adventure Ocean operating?

Adventure Ocean is currently operating at limited capacity with around 15-20 kids per room. Reservations are required and the amount of time slots a child gets in Adventure Ocean depends on the amount of children on a particular sailing. There will be more reservations available per child on a sailing with less kids onboard.

Walk-ins are available throughout the week, too, but are not guaranteed. However, I was told that parents have usually been able to drop their child off at Adventure Ocean on a walk-in during this cruise.

The teen clubs are open as normal throughout the day and there are still specific times for teens available at onboard activities like the Flowrider and Ultimate Abyss.

What restaurants are open for dinner?

The following restaurants and venues are open for dinner:

  • Main Dining Room
  • Windjammer
  • Izumi
  • Jamie’s Italian
  • 150 Central Park
  • Chops Grill
  • Coastal Kitchen
  • Wonderland

A few other dining changes to note:

  • Johnny Rockets is only open for lunch from 11:30AM - 4PM on this sailing
  • Sabor is not open for food, although the bar is open
  • Solarium Bistro is not open for any meal

How did the testing go?

Royal Caribbean now accepts CDC-approved at-home COVID-19 tests | Royal Caribbean Blog

I tested before my cruise with the Abbott BinaxNOW Ag Card home test and I cannot recommend it enough! With the at-home test, you do not have to worry about finding a Covid test appointment and you can complete the test at whatever time works best for you.

Ordering a pack of these tests makes fulfilling the testing requirements a breeze. Each time I have done it so far, I have been completely done with the test in the same amount of time it would have taken me to drive to an appointment at CVS.

How was boarding the ship?

I had purchased The Key before my cruise, so I had priority boarding. With The Key, I was able to go through the priority boarding lane and got on the ship within 10-15 minutes total. The normal line to board seemed to be moving fairly quickly too.

Does this sailing offer any themed nightly activities?

There is the “Totally Awesome ‘90’s Party” and “Country & Western Line Dance Party” which are located in Studio B on days 3 and 4. On day 5 is the “70’s Disco Inferno Party” at the Aquatheater.

There are a variety of DJs and nightclub experiences throughout the week as well.

What are the port stops this week?

Our scheduled port stops this week were St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Perfect Day at CocoCay. When I booked the cruise we were originally supposed to go to Antigua, which was then replaced by San Juan… which was then replaced by St. Maarten!

Unfortunately, today it was announced that we will be unable to visit St. Thomas. I predicted this would happen because St. Thomas has been denying ships recently, but it is still a bummer! Having four sea days and only two ports is not the most ideal scenario. As it was known in advance that it was unlikely we would go to St. Thomas anyway, I do wish something else could have been planned.

Regardless, it is important to be flexible these days when going on a cruise.

Are you going to Labadee?

Harmony of the Seas Live Blog - Matt's Day 3 - Labadee | Royal Caribbean Blog

Our itinerary does not go to Labadee for this cruise, but next week’s sailing on Harmony of the Seas is scheduled to stop at Labadee. Labadee has not reopened since cruises restarted in June 2021, but it appears that Harmony of the Seas may actually be going there next week.

We have a full article about the possibility of Labadee reopening here.

Are they still doing “The Quest”?

They are not doing The Quest on this sailing. The Quest has also not been offered on the previous five cruises I have been on since the restart.

What are the best and worst specialty restaurants onboard?

This question is highly subjective, of course, and what is the “best” for one person might be the “worst” for another. In my opinion, the best specialty restaurants onboard Harmony of the Seas are Jamie’s Italian and Izumi Hibachi.

That being said, a restaurant like Wonderland is a dining experience that you should definitely try. I have also not had the chance to try Sabor or 150 Central Park yet!

How is the masking?

Royal Caribbean extends stricter face mask protocols until January 31, 2022 | Royal Caribbean Blog

Last month, Royal Caribbean changed its mask protocols to require masks worn at all times indoors except when eating or drinking. Previously, masks were not required in vaccinated-only venues onboard.

This change has not been an issue for me personally. On my sailings before the protocol change, I would often wear my mask in crowded indoor spaces anyway. Plus, I live in a state with an indoor mask mandate so I hardly even notice. In addition, for a lot of the cruise experience, you are either outside or sitting indoors while eating or drinking, so often the mask is only used when walking from place to place.

I have not noticed anyone purposefully disregarding the masking rules on the ship. The only protocol not being followed well is the capacity per elevator. There are often way too many people in the elevator!

Why didn’t you invite all of us?

Sorry about that!

Be sure to check out the Royal Caribbean Blog group cruises here and join the party! Our two upcoming group cruises are an 8-night sailing on Mariner of the Seas in July and a 7-night sailing on Wonder of the Seas in December.

Do the free Covid tests the U.S. government is giving away work for a Royal Caribbean cruise?

In:
18 Jan 2022
By: 
Matt Hochberg

Beginning today, the U.S. government is giving away free Covid-19 tests, so naturally people want to know if these tests are acceptable for a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Beginning on Tuesday, the Biden administration soft launched the free at-home Covid tests that you can order directly from the U.S. Postal service

People can order four at-home tests per residential address, and they represent an easy and very affordable way to get a Covid test.

Royal Caribbean requires all passengers to take a pre-cruise Covid-19 test to bring with them to the cruise terminal.

  • Vaccinated guests must show a negative COVID-19 test result for a PCR or antigen test taken no more than 2 days before boarding day. NOTE: Kids age 5 to 11 who have been vaccinated may present proof of full vaccination and follow the testing protocols for vaccinated guests.
  • Unvaccinated kids age 2 to 11 must show a negative test result for a PCR test (not antigen) taken no more than 3 days before boarding day.
  • Unvaccinated kids’ pre-cruise test cannot be taken on boarding day, because that may affect the sample taken during the kids’ test at the terminal.

Royal Caribbean does accept an at-home test, which can be conducted pretty much anywhere that you have a good Wi-Fi connection - hotel room, airport, vacation home - as long as it meets this criteria:

  • You are fully vaccinated
  • The test must have Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. FDA.
  • The self-test process must happen under live supervision on a video call with a telehealth representative.
  • The telehealth provider must issue you a result document that includes all the necessary information.
  • International guests sailing from the U.S. are able to complete their testing using telehealth test kits, providing the kit has been authorized for use by the U.S. FDA.
    • Telehealth test kits obtained internationally that do not meet this requirement will not be accepted. 

So can you use these tests for your pre-cruise test? Probably not.

The third bullet point is the key factor, because the free rapid tests the government is distributing are generally not the type that are proctored.

As of right now, the only at-home test Royal Caribbean accepts is Abbott's BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card Home Test (not to be confused with the Abbott’s BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Self Test).

Read moreI tried the at-home Covid-19 test that Royal Caribbean accepts

I tried the at-home Covid-19 test that Royal Caribbean accepts | Royal Caribbean Blog

When ordering the free tests from COVIDTests.gov, there is no indication which test you will actually receive.

For now, your best bet is to order the tests anyway because they are free and sooner or later having access to rapid Covid-19 tests is going to be something you will likely benefit from having around.  If they are the BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card Home Test, you're set, but if not, you can plan to buy those seperately.

You can purchase the BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card Home Test from eMed.com or Optum. eMed sells a six pack for $150 for six Covid tests, or $25 apiece.

The good news is part of the initiative by the Biden administration to provide easier testing accessibility is you can save the receipt to get reimbursed by your health insurance company later.

Who is Royal Caribbean Group's new CEO Jason Liberty

In:
18 Jan 2022
By: 
Allie Hubers

Royal Caribbean Group has a new CEO, Jason Liberty, but who is he and how did he get to be the new head of the cruise giant?

Just a few weeks ago, Royal Caribbean Group began the year with a new CEO, following the departure of former CEO Richard Fain. The company announced in 2021 that Richard Fain would be stepping down from his CEO role and would be promoting Jason Liberty to Chief Executive Officer and President. 

According to Royal Caribbean’s website, Jason Liberty, 46, will be the President and CEO of the company’s three global cruise brands: Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Silversea cruises.

In addition, Liberty will oversee TUI Cruises and Hapag-Lloyd cruises, which it is a 50% owner in a joint venture. Liberty will also oversee the Group’s strategy, technology, supply chain, port operations and legal functions. 

Royal Caribbean parent company officially renames itself Royal Caribbean Group | Royal Caribbean Blog

Stepping into this role, Liberty will oversee the company’s 60 ships that carry more than 7.5 million passengers to ports around the world, including all 7 continents. 

Fain’s departure from Royal Caribbean Group came as a surprise to some, as he was the third-longest serving CEO among current S&P 500 leaders. When it comes to contributions, Fain was an instrumental leader for the Royal Caribbean Group. He introduced new ship categories and helped transform Royal Caribbean’s classes of ships from Sovereign, Voyager and Oasis ships to Celebrity’s Solstice and Edge classes.

Fain most recently was a leader for the company through the unprecedented nature of the pandemic’s shutdown on the cruise industry. Many have praised his role and involvement as CEO during the cruise shutdown, including his visionary leadership and creation of Royal Caribbean's Healthy Sail Panel. 

History with Royal Caribbean

Jason Liberty | Royal Caribbean Blog

Liberty is not a new name to the Royal Caribbean Group, as the new CEO joined the company back in 2005. With more than 16 years of experience under his belt, Liberty has held many positions with Royal Caribbean Group. 

Liberty joined Royal Caribbean Group as a Vice President of Audit and Advisory Services before moving into Corporate Strategy, Revenue and Planning.  In 2012, Liberty transitioned into his role as Senior Vice President of Finance and Strategy. The following year, he was promoted to Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. Liberty held those positions for 8 years before his current promotion to President and Chief Executive Officer. 

Royal Caribbean Group announces new $700 million loan | Royal Caribbean Blog

Prior to his positions at Royal Caribbean Group, Liberty worked for the account firm KPMG LLP as a senior manager. According to LinkedIn, Liberty held this position for 8 years before transitioning to Royal Caribbean Group. 

Throughout his many roles with the Royal Caribbean Group, Liberty has been heavily involved in the company’s biggest strategic initiatives. He’s also been praised for his leadership during the pandemic, an especially difficult time for the cruise industry. 

Education

Jason Liberty is a graduate from the University of Miami School of Business, where he holds a bachelor's degree in accounting. Liberty also attended Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, where he earned a second bachelor’s degree in finance. 

In addition to his bachelor’s degrees, Liberty attended University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagar Business School in Chapel Hill to earn his Master of Business Administration. He currently serves on the board of directors of WNS Limited, which is a business process management company. 

A New Chapter

Richard Fain announces he is stepping down as Royal Caribbean Group CEO | Royal Caribbean Blog

With help from the board, Fain has stated that he had carefully planned a succession process for when the time was right for him to step down. After seeing most of the company’s ships return to service, Fain felt it was the right time for Liberty to take over as CEO and President.

On the topic of Liberty’s new role, Fain stated, “He is a highly versatile and strategic leader, who has been integral to all aspects of the company’s accomplishments and performance.” Fain expressed, “I couldn't be happier to have such a superbly qualified and principled leader succeed me as CEO. Jason will lead the Group to new heights.”

Royal Caribbean Group CEO talks about vaccine and Florida's vaccine passport ban | Royal Caribbean Blog

Additionally, Fain praised how Liberty has played a crucial role with organizing over $12 billion of financing during the pandemic cruise shutdown. Because of Liberty’s ‘methodical manner’, Fain is confident that the company will be well served for many years to come. 

In his new position, Liberty will also join the board, which Fain will continue to chair. In addition, Fain will continue to be involved in the company’s ship construction program

‘Humbled and Honored’

Top 10 Royal Caribbean questions people are asking Google | Royal Caribbean Blog

Liberty will be stepping into his role as CEO as a very qualified and principled leader. With culture at the forefront of the Royal Caribbean Group’s business success, Liberty will be embodying the company’s values through his leadership. 

In reference to his new role, Liberty shared that he is both honored and humbled to become CEO for the Royal Caribbean Group. He stated, “Our incredible people and culture, combined with our leading brands and the most innovative fleet in the world are what make our organization so successful."

"I'm grateful to both the board for selecting me, and to Richard, for his friendship, mentoring and guidance. I look forward to building upon the company's remarkable record in the years ahead."

Warwick Paradise Island day pass review

In:
18 Jan 2022
By: 
Jenna DeLaurentis

Nassau is one of the most popular cruise destinations. Whether it’s your first time visiting or you’ve been to Nassau plenty of times, planning your time in port will make your day go by much more smoothly.

On my recent cruise to Nassau, I decided to try out the day pass at the adults-only Warwick Paradise Island. This day pass is available to guests aged 16 and older.

I purchased a day pass to the Warwick Paradise island through ResortForADay.com, which sells day passes to hotels and resorts throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, and United States. A deposit is required at the time of booking, with the remaining balance to be paid upon arrival.

Day passes are available at the Warwick for $110 per person. As the hotel is all-inclusive, I felt this was a fair price to pay for pool and beach access as well as unlimited food and drinks.

You will need to take a taxi from the port area to the resort. The ride is only around ten minutes and the taxi fare will depend on the amount of people in your party. I paid $12 on the way there while sharing a taxi with a separate party and $15 in my own taxi on the way back.

Upon arrival at the hotel, I paid the remaining balance and presented my ID and vaccination card. The check-in process was quick and I was soon outside exploring the hotel.

The day pass is available from 10:30AM - 6:00PM and includes access to all outdoor and lobby amenities at the Warwick, including:

  • Beach lagoon access
  • Pool access
  • Outdoor activities including volleyball, basketball, tennis, and cornhole
  • Bicycles to use around Paradise Island
  • Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages from the Hog Bar
  • Lunch at the Verandah buffet or Chickcharnie’s Pizzeria
  • Towel service and lounge chairs at the pool or beach
  • Use of fitness facilities
  • Wi-fi service throughout the day

Beach & Pool

The Warwick is not beachfront, but is instead located in Nassau Harbor. This means that, while there is a small beach, there is no access to the open ocean and views are obstructed.

The beach itself has clear water, though, and is very calm, which makes for a relaxing swim. There is also a bridge in the water acting as a barrier for the beach and a walking path for guests.

The beach has lounge chairs and umbrellas available for use as well as hammocks and a volleyball net.

The pool area is where the Warwick really shines, though. The pool sprawls over a large area and has nice views of the harbor and beach. There is a lot of lounge chair space throughout the property, both right by the pool and further away. There is also a small hot tub available.

Additional areas and activities

If you get bored of laying on the beach or by the pool, there are other things to do at the Warwick.

In the lobby area, you will find a pool table, foosball table, ping pong table, and a few arcade games. There is also a small library stand where you can check out a book for the day.

Outside there is a tennis court available for those looking to get some exercise. You are also free to use the bicycles at the property to cycle anywhere on Paradise Island. Do be aware, though, that Bahamians drive on the left side of the road!

Near the pool, you will find a spacious deck with views of the harbor and a gazebo which offers plenty of shade.

Food & Beverage

The Warwick is all-inclusive so there is no need to worry about a price limit on food and drinks while at the resort.

There are two dining options available at the Warwick for day pass guests: Verandah buffet and Chickcharnie’s Pizzeria. Depending on the hotel’s occupancy, however, the buffet may or may not be open. When I visited the Warwick, lunch was only available at Chickcharnie’s Pizzeria.

Chickcharnie’s is located right near the pool and is a casual dining experience. The menu offers a variety of options including pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, quesadillas, and salads. 

First I ordered the conch fritters and a quinoa salad. The food was ready in around ten minutes and I thought both dishes were prepared well. I liked getting the chance to try the more traditional Caribbean dish of conch fritters, but I also enjoyed having healthy options on the menu too.

The portions were quite small, but since the resort is all-inclusive, you can order as much as you want. I also prefer having small portions so that there is less food waste. Another thing I appreciated was that there were labeled gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian options on the menu. 

Later in the day I ordered a personal-sized cheese pizza. While it wasn’t the most gourmet pizza in the world, it was what I expected for food by the pool.

My dining experience at the Warwick was good overall, although I wish I had the opportunity to try the Verandah buffet. The buffet area looked nicer than the super-casual Chickcharnie’s by the pool. However, I was visiting the Warwick on a chilly day in mid-January. During a more busy time of the year, both restaurants would likely be open for lunch.

Drinks are available at the Hog Bar near the pool. My bartenders were extremely friendly and the piña colada I had was both colorful and refreshing! There was also a DJ near the bar. The resort has a cocktail menu available but you are free to order off the menu as well.

Final Thoughts

I think a day pass can be a good option for those passengers who do not have a Deluxe Beverage Package onboard and are looking to enjoy an all-inclusive for the day. Several day pass options at other resorts are not all-inclusive and instead give you a monetary credit for food and drinks. At these resorts, food and drink prices are often high, so the credit does not go very far. At the Warwick you can enjoy as many cocktails and food as you want without spending extra money out of pocket!

Before selecting the Warwick, though, make sure you understand the location’s offerings and decide if it will work for you. The Warwick is not the best option if you are looking for a beach day, as the beach is in the harbor and is also pretty small. However, the pool at the Warwick has more than enough space to enjoy the day. I'd say the beach situation is the most important thing to consider before selecting the Warwick over another hotel, though.

While the day pass at the Warwick Paradise Island is not the cheapest day pass option in Nassau, I liked the all-inclusive aspect of it. Would I do it again? I think so, but just like any day pass, I would check the weather before booking it. As everything included in the day pass is outdoors, it is probably not the best option for a cold, rainy, or windy day.

Overall, if you’re looking for a relaxing pool day in Nassau over a beach day and are wanting an all-inclusive option, the Warwick can be a great choice.

Other day pass reviews in Nassau:

British Colonial Hilton day pass review

Margaritaville Beach Resort day pass review

We asked our readers what they're most concerned about going on a cruise right now

In:
17 Jan 2022
By: 
Matt Hochberg

There are plenty of challenges when traveling right now, so which of these are the top concern for cruisers?

Why do cruise ships float? | Royal Caribbean Blog

Royal Caribbean, and other cruise lines, have had to adjust their health protocols and plans due to the Omicron variant. Some ships had to cancel cruises, itineraries changed, activity schedules altered and more.

I wanted to know which concern is the top one for most cruisers to get a sense of what potential issues are at the top of everyone's mind.

The point of running this poll was to really see which issues cruise fans thought about, and which concerns were less important.

Royal Caribbean's plan to avoid a ship getting quarantined | Royal Caribbean Blog

I posted a Facebook poll with the question which of these options is your number one concern you have about going on a cruise ship right now?

  • Missed ports of call
  • Government restrictions coming home
  • Getting sick
  • Cruise being cancelled
  • Having to wear a mask onboard
  • Less activities/entertainment onboard
  • Getting quarantined
  • Getting (and passing) a Covid-19 test prior to the cruise
  • Other

In less than 24 hours, 2,893 people participated in this unscientific poll and the results were a bit surprising in some cases.

Quarantine

How Royal Caribbean provides medical care at sea | Royal Caribbean Blog

The number one concern among the respondents was having to quarantine onboard the ship because they, or someone in their family, tested positive for Covid-19 onboard the ship.

Passengers that test positive for Covid-19 are brought to an area of the ship with rooms dedicated for quarantining guests while they recover.

Jane Allen summed up the quarantine issue for many, "We could even live with quarantine if we could keep our balcony room, but to be locked in a room where we could not have doors open would be too much."

CDC drops 14-day quarantine requirement after international travel | Royal Caribbean Blog

Dru Mason wrote, "I understand the reasoning behind moving positive cases to a deck specific to quarantine, however, I would be disappointed to lose my cabin."

Blanche Bryant wishes the quarantine process could allow for them to be in their own cabin, "I wouldn't mind the quarantine so much - if I could stay in my original cabin."

Read moreWhat happens after testing positive for Covid on Royal Caribbean cruise ship

Getting sick not high on the list

What happens when you test positive for Covid on Royal Caribbean | Royal Caribbean Blog

Actually catching Covid-19 as a concern ranked number 6 in the poll, which may be reflection of a cruise audience that is vaccinated (and possibly boosted), as well as perhaps the less-serious nature of the Omicron variant.

The surprising result in this poll for me was the fact having to get and pass a Covid-19 test before the cruise came in a close second in the results.

Pre-cruise test

You need to get a Covid test before your Royal Caribbean cruise 2 days, not 48 hours, before your cruise | Royal Caribbean Blog

Anxiety among people that have a cruise and need to find somewhere to get a test done, and then hope no one tests positive, ranked high because that would put their entire cruise in jeopardy.

Tracie Rohner found getting a test for her unvaccinated child is a major challenge, "Getting my two year old a PCR test 3 days prior to boarding. It is so hard to get a child tested if they aren’t over the age of three. Local pharmacy will not test two year olds. "

Charleen Rader shared it's been difficult to get tests done with regularity, "We ran into problems getting tested, places are changing their policies almost daily about who they will or won't test, make an appointment and hope they follow through."

Royal Caribbean Post Round-Up: September 5, 2021 | Royal Caribbean Blog

Melissa Chin thinks the test coming back without feeling sick gives her concern, "Passing the test prior to boarding simply because of the potential of being asymptomatic. "

Mark Greenwald also thinks the potential for a last-minute cancellation because someone tests positive give him pause, "The pre-test is the most stressful."

"Knowing that all the excitement, anticipation, planning could be tossed out the winner 2 days prior, especially when there are flights, hotels, pet boarding involved, really ruins the excitement of the countdown. It's like a dark cloud."

Poll results

The poll was an interesting look in the different opinions on what worries cruisers the most. 

It seems the vast majority of respondents are planning to sail, but they certain think about potential pitfalls that could interrupt their vacation plans.

It's understandable why the answers were so widespread because how much of a risk there is will always subjective.

My first impressions of an Oasis-class ship

In:
17 Jan 2022
By: 
Jenna DeLaurentis

Today marks the start of a new adventure: my first Royal Caribbean cruise on an Oasis-class ship. I am onboard Harmony of the Seas this week for a 7-night Eastern Caribbean & Perfect Day cruise. Harmony of the Seas is currently, as of January 2022, the second biggest cruise ship in the world.

To say I was excited before the cruise is an understatement. After five sailings on Voyager, Freedom, and Quantum Class ships, I couldn’t wait to try out the ship class everyone talks so much about. As I planned my cruise, though, I wasn’t sure what I would think of Harmony of the Seas.

Read moreWhat's the differences between each of the Oasis class ships?

It seems many cruise fans love the Oasis-class because of the seemingly endless places to go and things to do onboard, but there are others who much prefer to cruise on smaller ships. Needless to say, I was ready to get onboard this morning and finally explore Harmony of the Seas.

First Impressions

The first difference I saw before boarding Harmony of the Seas was the amount of activities in the Cruise Planner. While all Royal Caribbean ships have an elaborate list of activities and events, I was shocked by the amount of programming listed in the Cruise Planner. From multiple dance classes per day to ziplining sessions and countless choices of live music, I was almost overwhelmed by options!

There is no shortage of things to do on any Royal Caribbean ship, but this is especially true on an Oasis-class ship.

When I got onboard, the first thing I noticed was that everything is bigger on an Oasis-class ship. The Royal Promenade is bigger, the spa is bigger, the pool deck is bigger, and even the elevators seem bigger!

I spent most of the day checking out venues that are only available on Oasis-class ships. First I tried a fresh smoothie at Vitality Cafe and later in the day I listened to live music at Jazz on 4. I always try to see the jazz shows on any ship, but having a special venue focusing only on jazz music is awesome! So far, it seems like there is something for everyone on Harmony of the Seas.

The sheer size of an Oasis-class ship really hit me, though, when I walked to the boardwalk. Seeing the ship’s aft split in two sides and the massive Aquatheater stage was unbelievable. I could not believe the scale of the ship and I found myself saying “Oh my gosh” over and over as I explored Harmony of the Seas.

Speaking of unbelievable, I had the chance to watch one of the ice shows, 1887: A Journey in Time, and it was also extremely impressive. The way that the show utilizes lights to create different scenes on the ice, such as traveling through space and being in the ocean, is unlike anything I have seen before.

While it's been a wonderful first day onboard, I cannot say yet whether I prefer the Oasis-class over another class of ship. Thus far in my cruising experience, I have not disliked any class of ship, but it’s hard to pinpoint which class is my favorite. The Voyager-class will always have a special place in my heart due to the fact that my first cruise was on Mariner of the Seas. That being said, I’ve also come to appreciate the expanded range of activities you will find in bigger ships like Odyssey of the Seas.

Harmony of the Seas is proving to be an incredible ship thus far, though, and I am excited to see what the rest of the week has in store.

The upcoming week

I will be staying in a balcony stateroom on this sailing. I had originally booked an interior cabin, but was upgraded to a balcony due to cabins being switched around due to distancing protocols. I’m definitely happy about the upgrade, and I even got $100 extra onboard credit for the “inconvenience”! Plus, it feels extra spacious after my small interior cabin on Independence of the Seas last week.

The only problem with having a balcony on a cruise with so much to do is that it is extremely tempting to spend the whole day relaxing on the balcony!

I will not be doing a live blog every day of this cruise, but will instead focus on highlighting activities, tours, and events throughout this sailing. Harmony of the Seas is set to visit St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Perfect Day at CocoCay this week. While I’m not sure we will make the stop to St. Thomas (several ships have been denied entry there recently), I am confident we will be able to make the other two stops.

Here are my plans for this cruise:

  1. Try complimentary onboard activities only offered on Oasis-class ships like the Ultimate Abyss, Zipline, and extra-high rock climbing wall
  2. Explore everything St. Maarten has to offer via a bicycle rental
  3. Try scuba diving for the first time in St. Thomas on the “Discover Scuba Diving” excursion

Read moreTop 25 free things you can do on Royal Caribbean's Oasis Class cruise ships

Covid protocols

As I am cruising in January 2022, things can be a bit unpredictable. Harmony of the Seas is operating at around 50% capacity with 2500 passengers onboard. So far the ship does not seem very crowded and everyone seems to be following mask protocols well.

There are a few changes to the week’s entertainment programming, though. Grease: The Musical will not be performed this week and only one Aquatheater show, Hideaway Heist, will be performed.  As of now it appears that both iSkate Showcase and 1887: A Journey in Time will be performed in Studio B.

Other than that, it appears that the Solarium Bistro is closed, and that only the bar at Sabor is open on this sailing. The Escape Room doesn’t appear to be open, either, but that has been the case on every ship I have been on since the restart.

While reading this may seem like a lot is closed onboard, it is just a tiny fraction of the venues available on an Oasis-class ship, so it is barely noticeable. I did plan to try Sabor, but I will have to do that on a future sailing.

Regardless, I feel safe onboard with the strict protocols in place and am looking forward to the rest of the week on Harmony of the Seas.

Spotted: Is Labadee closer to reopening?

In:
16 Jan 2022
By: 
Matt Hochberg

The rumor mill has been swirling lately with the unconfirmed possibility that Royal Caribbean's other private destination may reopen.

Royal Caribbean Blog - Unofficial blog about Royal Caribbean cruises

Labadee, a private destination in northwest Haiti, has been shutdown since cruises stopped in 2020. While Perfect Day at Cococay has reopened, Labadee has not and there has not been a great deal of detail as to why or when it might resume.

Up until now, scheduled visits to Labadee have been routinely cancelled and replaced with visits to other ports.

There are two new pieces of very circumstantial evidence that point to Labadee possibly welcoming guests back again sooner than later.

Friday Photos | Royal Caribbean Blog

First, Harmony of the Seas is scheduled to visit there next week when she sails on January 23, 2022. 

According to the Royal Caribbean app, Harmony is scheduled to visit Labadee on Day 5 of the sailing during her 5-night Western Caribbean cruise.

Of course, itineraries can change at any time.

Someone also shared a post on Facebook, claiming that the visit to Labadee is scheduled and that a "test cruise" is headed there on January 27th.

The other thing we spotted is Royal Caribbean is actively hiring for Labadee, posting on social media an opening for a Shore Excursions Manager to work in Labadee.

Royal Caribbean has made no announcement either way about Labadee reopening or not. 

Thus far, the only public comments have been made in emails to guests on booked sailings that have had to have their itinerary revised.

Labadee is a 260-acre private destination that Royal Caribbean has operated since 1986, and was visited by both Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises ships.

Challenges for Labadee

Labadee Guide & Tips | Royal Caribbean Blog

The exact reason why Royal Caribbean has not resumed visiting Labadee is not entirely clear.

Haiti has dealt with the assassination of its president, as well as a major earthquake.

The U.S. State Department lists Haiti as having a level 4 warning not to visit, which is the highest level of warning to avoid travel.

Should you expect cruises to visit Labadee?

Anthem of the Seas Live Blog - Day 7 - Labadee | Royal Caribbean Blog

It's still too early to tell what to expect for Labadee and when ships will visit there again.

Certainly ancillary evidence after months of little to no updates or information is a step in the right direction, but we still lack Royal Caribbean's confirmation.

For now, we will keep an eye on the situation and share any updates if the situation changes.