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What's it like to cruise right now?

In:
20 Sep 2021
By: 
Dan Kline

Before the cruise industry shutdown, I did a short cruise (almost always a three-day weekend on Navigator of the Seas out of Miami) about once a month for over a year. In addition to my trips on the Navigator as a solo cruiser, I did an occasional longer trip with my son on a variety of other ships including Independence, Explorer, and even once on Majesty).

When Royal Caribbean began its comeback in July, I was lucky enough to be on the first revenue sailing of Freedom of the Seas over the 4h of July holiday. That trip was tremendous fun, but it also wasn’t typical of what cruising would be like as the company mounts its comeback because that trip had a lot of Royal Caribbean executives on board as well as some celebratory touches (lobster on the opening day buffet, free drinks on the 4th of July during the fireworks display) that are not part of the new normal. In addition, that July 2 Freedom sailing did not have a typical crowd as there was a large media and social influencer presence onboard.

My most-recent trip -- Sept. 13-17 -- on Freedom was, perhaps more typical of what it’s like to cruise now and, while it was one of my favorite trips ever, there were some things that remain different from the pre-COVID world.

Protocols and testing

New requirements from the Bahamas made it so every person over 12 on-board had to be vaccinated and show proof of vaccination (a CDC card) when boarding. Passengers were also asked to upload pictures of their vaccination cards when checking-in for their cruise but doing that did not exempt you from showing it three separate times during the onboarding process which was perhaps more times than will be typical because there were computer issues at Terminal A in Miami when we boarded.

All passengers also needed to show proof of a negative Covid test taken one or two days before the cruise. I used the Royal-approved at-home test and that was a very easy process. In theory you could show the email you got with your negative results but having it printed out made the process go much faster. In fact, printing your set-sail pass also led to getting processed and boarding faster.

I carried my luggage on-board, but people who used the porter system seemed to get their bags very quickly because there were only an estimated 1,300 people on board (roughly 33% capacity). Boarding times were semi-strictly enforced but because the computers were down there was a line for my 2:30 boarding time when I arrived at about 2 and I was actually at my room a few minutes after 2:30.

Masks were not required in the outdoor part of the queue and there wasn’t much distancing. Once you entered the terminal masks were required until you reach your room. In general, you had to wear a mask walking indoors but could remove it in vaccinated venues, which were most of them aside from Playmakers which allowed masked, unvaccinated kids under 12.

In a broad sense, wearing a mask wasn’t as enforced as it was on the July 2 sailing. This wasn’t an official change in policy, but when people forgot to put their mask on or had it on incorrectly, I did not seem them corrected as they were on my previous trip. Still, most people wore masks when walking indoors and nobody seemed to be overtly ignoring the rules.

Fun, sun, and a whole lot of water

Despite the well-below capacity crowds, the beautiful weather made the pool areas very popular on the first day of the cruise, which was a sea day. The main pools had a healthy crowd and there were times the Solarium pool had limited open space along the walls or seated areas. There were even a few times when the Solarium hot tubs were filled to capacity (meaning there was no place to sit as no capacity rules were enforced),

Still, at no point did the pools feel crowded and getting a chair in a desirable location was easy. It rarely took more than a minute or two to get a drink at the various pool bars (and being a responsible reporter I believe I tried them all). Lines were limited at the walk-up soft-serve station and, while El Loco Fresh sometimes had a bit of a crowd, it was quick by normal standards even with crew members serving passengers instead of the normal self-serve procedures.

I spent most of the sea day bouncing between hot tubs and pools. It was busy enough to have people to talk to (something I find important as a solo traveler) but never crowded. The only notable difference aside from crowd size is that on my pre-pandemic trips there were generally more movies playing on the poolside screen with more showings of each film. This trip had a couple of movies each night but lacked the daytime repeats and the overall number of films screened was smaller than usual.

What was the crowd like?

Many of the people onboard were frequent cruisers and a lot of the people I met were not on their first sailing this summer. Much like the July 2 sailing, the passengers appeared very happy to be there and people were very friendly. 

I had joined a pre-cruise Facebook roll call for the trip and that group did an unofficial meetup at the Lime and Coconut pool bar on the first afternoon. It was a well-attended kickoff and the group got together in various combinations throughout the cruise getting bigger along way as we added new people we had met. 

One of the nice side effects of there being fewer people on board was that it was almost impossible to avoid seeing people you knew. I’m a pretty outgoing guy and generally make friends onboard, but this was the first time I have ever been part of large group that remained loosely affiliated for an entire trip (and I suspect this will be the most people I ever keep in touch with post-cruise). 

There were very few kids onboard with most that were there being below school age since this was a weekday trip.

Way too much food  

Normally, I start my cruise in the gym (as a way to avoid the buffet) but I was not that disciplined this time. Instead, I went to the Windjammer and sampled a few dishes. Since it was already about 3 p.m., however, I kept it to a few bites. Service was quick with crewmembers dishing out the food and drinks. Seating was easy to come by even though half the tables were marked as not available due to social distancing

On my way into the buffet I stopped at Chops where the woman working the reservation desk greeted me by name and helped me make reservations for the next four nights. As a solo traveler I tend to book the Ultimate Dining Package as it was around $70 when I booked it (prices can vary a lot) and eating alone in specialty restaurants by yourself has always felt more comfortable to me than eating alone in the main dining room (especially now when singles are largely not being sit with larger groups due to the pandemic).

There was, however, a major change on this trip compared to the policies on my July 2 sailing -- Royal was allowing people not travelling together or on linked reservations to dine together. I found that out late in my trip after learning that some members of our informal group had been allowed to dine together in the main dining room. 

One of the big advantages (or disadvantages) of the limited number of passengers meant that you never waited for food. Places like the Promenade Cafe, El Loco Fresh, and Sorrento’s, which often have long lines, almost never had more than a few people waiting. That made it way too easy add that post-midnight slice of pizza or pre-dinner dessert that you maybe didn’t need.

I ate at Chops the first and last night and Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen on nights two and three. Originally, I planned to eat at Izumi Sushi on one of those middle nights., but a scheduling snafu on my part led to a change in plans.

Dinner was largely excellent but the lack of crowds led to service being, perhaps, a little too quick. Dinner normally takes me closer to 90 minutes than 60 and I was in and out in under an hour all four nights.

Freedom of the Seas completes $116 million Royal Amplification | Royal Caribbean Blog

At Chops I had the wild mushroom soup both nights which may be my favorite dish in any Royal Caribbean restaurant I have sampled. I also particularly enjoyed the lamb chops the first night and had specifically saved the ribeye with the peppercorn sauce for my last night.

I treated Giovanni’s as essentially two separate experiences going with the calamari and polenta as an appetizer the first night (alfredo dipping sauce is excellent, but I prefer the zesty marinara with the already fried dish) and had the linguine vongole as a main course. The sauce was light and the fresh pasta was cooked perfectly. 

For the second visit to the Italian eatery, I decided to sample the pizza (a first for me) going with the wild truffle which includes truffle oil, an egg with a loose yolk, and bacon. The runny egg made the dish truly decadent and I mopped up as much as I could though my waiter was surprised when I left a little less than half of the pizza unfinished.

Both Chops and Giovanni’s excel at dessert, I got a shot of espresso all four nights and tried the Red Velvet Cake at Chops, the cannolis and tiramisu at Giovanni’s and. A new one for me, the key like meringue at Chops on the last night which was a lighter complement to the ribeye that was my main course.

I skipped breakfast all four days instead opting for lattes (included in the drink package) at the Promenade Cafe while I got some work done for three of the four mornings. On the last day, for Perfect Day at CocoCay, I instead took my coffee to go and sipped it once I left the ship.

Perfect days

Our trip started with a sea day that I spent largely in the Solarium bouncing between the pool and the hot tubs. Conversation was plentiful and people seemed to be relishing getting back to cruising. This weekday trip did not have bachelorette parties, boys weekend groups, and other heavier partiers I saw often on the three-day weekend version of this cruise so, while drinks were flowing, I never saw anyone overtly drunk.

The lines were minimal everywhere on board and, while I’m not a waterslide or FlowRider person, those activities were easily accessible. I generally like doing a few trivia sessions on board and while some were scheduled, there were fewer than there were in the past. There was also no laser tag which has been missing since the pandemic (likely because it’s impossible to distance while playing). 

In general, the activities were exactly the same as they were pre-pandemic with fewer sessions of some things and some minor changes like I mentioned earlier with fewer movies playing.

Like most of those onboard, I elected to not get off in Nassau as many of the shops remain closed and, while I enjoy walking about a mile to Junkanoo Beach, taking advantage of the semi-empty ship seemed like a better option. Nassau also has some pretty strict mask-wearing rules and the thought of being masked on a hot day when I could just opt to stay on-board was mildly unpleasant.

Our last day included a much-anticipated stop at Perfect Day at CocoCay. On the July 2 sailing, the Freedom was the only ship that stopped at the private island and with its limited crowd, it left CocoCay feeling very empty and since I was the second person off the ship, I literally had the Oasis pool to myself (well me and dozens of crew) for about 45 minutes.

This time, the Mariner of the Seas was also docked and while the island still had a very light crowd, it was busy enough to not feel empty. It was never hard to get a prime beach or pool chair (I never found it all that hard in the pre-pandemic days) and the bar was hopping at the Oasis pool with seats at the actual bar being the only tough get on the island.

We closed our Perfect Day with a small meetup at Captain Jacks where the crowd was sparse but the music and service were top-tier. 

And perfect nights

At night, I tend to skip the theatrical productions because when you travel on the same ship repeatedly the stock shows quickly become repetitive. Freedom did require reservations for the headliner shows but walk-ins were accommodated.

I tend to split my nights between the Pub, the casino, and the Schooner Bar, depending upon who’s performing at the two music venues. In this case, I had seen John Winters in the Pub and Andy C. in the Schooner on the July 2 sailing and enjoyed both of their work. I spent more time in the pub, however, because I enjoy the mixology menu which might be the best drink selection of any Royal bar I have experienced.

The staff was incredibly attentive and almost too-quick to replenish your drink. They were, however, quite accommodating when I asked for a bottle of water with each drink (and requested they not bring me another until I finished it). 

We also had a pretty neat experience in the casino bar when on night three we got stuck in Nassau until after midnight due to a passenger needing emergency medical treatment (I later learned the person involved was brought to Ft. Lauderdale and was expected to make a full recovery). A few of us were waiting for the casino to open and we had been asking the bartenders to make us drinks they thought we might like. Daria started making a few different concoctions that were well received, but Christian was the star of the night. He created the “Emergency In Nassau” which was a layered red and blue drink which mixed when you removed the champagne flute that was served with it.

The small crowds made it easier to connect with staff and from bartenders to waitstaff and room attendants, service was universally more able to talk than usual. 

As for the casino, it was never crowded, but always had a steady audience. My personal luck was mediocre, but it was easy to secure your favorite slot machine or a seat at a table game. Freedom, it’s worth noting, has a ton of slot machines, but only four video poker machines hidden in a back corner.

Back to reality

When we docked in Miami I planned to carry my luggage off to get back to my car to make the 90-minute ride back to West Palm Beach. You’re supposed to stay in your cabin rather than line-up waiting for the all-clear, but I opted to get coffee at the Promenade Cafe (have to make the best possible use of the drink package) and, while I was drinking it, the doors opened to let people off.

Normally, Miami has a super-easy facial recognition system where you don’t need to take your passport out. On this trip, however, I had the bad luck of being flagged (randomly, I think) for added security screening. The officer who pulled me in was super nice and asked if there was anything in my bags he needed to know about. Since I hadn’t bought anything and the only addition was some beach sand, I said “no,” and two officers went quickly through all of my belongings. It wasn’t fun, but it was handled well for what it was and about 20 minutes after I would have gotten to my car had I not been flagged, I was in my car, heading for a long workday, and planning for my next sailing on Oct. 11 (also on Freedom).

Dan Kline covers the cruise industry as part of his work as a lead advisor for 7investing. He also hosts 7investing Now, a free show for long-term investors that airs Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 1 p.m. ET which can also be found on all major podcast platforms.

Celebrity Cruises will now accept a mixed combination of mRNA Covid-19 vaccines

In:
20 Sep 2021
By: 
Matt Hochberg

Celebrity Cruises has updated its policy to now allow some mixed vaccines and recognize those passengers as fully vaccinated.

In an updated policy posted to Celebrity's website, it says the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated its guidelines regarding mixed vaccinations, which prompted Celebrity to change their policy.

Earlier this summer, many cruise lines were forced to not recognize any passenger who had a combination of vaccines from different manufacturers, including Royal Caribbean. The reason being the CDC did not recognize any mixed combination of Covid-19 vaccines as fully vaccinated.

According to Celebrity, the CDC has "clarified their position regarding mixed vaccinations."

Celebrity has seemingly followed that guidance from the CDC in their updated policy and will now recognize a mixed combination of mRNA Covid-19 vaccines (Pfizer/Moderna) as fully vaccinated.

  • If a guest has already received two mRNA vaccines in mixed series at a minimum interval of 28 days, the CDC will consider that individual to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • Guests who received the Janssen (aka Johnson & Johnson) vaccine before or after another COVID-19 vaccine should be considered to have received a valid, single-dose Janssen vaccination—not a mixed vaccination series—and are considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • To be recognized as fully vaccinated, guests 12 years of age and older, must complete a vaccine series with the last dose administered at least 14 days prior to sailing.

"For sailings departing the United States, to be recognized as fully vaccinated, guests 12 years of age and older, must complete a vaccine series with the last dose administered at least 14 days prior to sailing. The CDC will also consider a guest fully vaccinated with proof of vaccination that can include mixed doses of the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines. Celebrity Cruise will not accept any form of Certificate of Recovery."

The issue of mixed vaccines affects residents of certain countries where the practice was encouraged by their governments, such as Canada.

A change to Royal Caribbean's policy has not yet been posted.

Celebrity also added a new option for passengers that lost their original vaccination card, but want to show an electronic copy instead.

Celebrity will now accept proof of vaccination from a passengers if that person can furnish proof from the government site or app.

Photos or photocopies of the original vaccination card are still not accepted.

Royal Caribbean Post Round-Up: September 19, 2021

In:
19 Sep 2021
By: 
Matt Hochberg

Welcome to this week's edition of the Royal Caribbean post round-up, where we summarize all of the Royal Caribbean news and information from this week into one handy-dandy post! There is plenty of great content to enjoy, so sit back, relax, and enjoy this week's round-up!

Royal Caribbean surprised a lot of people this week when they announced Wonder of the Seas would sail from the United States and Europe, instead of China.

The new plan is for Wonder of the Seas to debut from Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, with sailings beginning on March 4, 2022.

Wonder of the Seas will sail from Fort Lauderdale just in time for spring break in 2022 and in Europe, sail from Barcelona for summer vacations in the Western Mediterranean in May.

Caribbean sailings are available to book immediately. European sailings will open for booking on September 22.

Read moreWonder of the Seas: Itinerary, features, and more

Royal Caribbean News

Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast

The 422nd episode of the Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast is now available, where Matt and Billy review their Odyssey of the Seas cruise.

After sailing on a 6-night cruise aboard Royal Caribbean's newest cruise ship, this week's episode looks at what stood out about Odyssey of the Seas.

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

Video: 8 Things I learned on my first Royal Caribbean cruise

Have you subscribed to the Royal Caribbean Blog YouTube Channel? We share some great videos there regularly, all about taking a Royal Caribbean cruise! This week, we are sharing our latest video — 8 Things I learned on my first Royal Caribbean cruise — and don’t forget to subscribe here.

The questions everyone is still asking about going on a cruise in 2021

Cruising may be back, but there are still some very commonly asked questions out there about what it's like to go on a cruise ship right now.

More than half of Royal Caribbean's fleet is back in operation, and Royal Caribbean is welcoming back more and more guests.  So if you have questions about the experience, there's a comprehensive look at the top questions people want to know about being on a ship in 2021.

You will find answers to concerns about wearing masks onboard, testing requirements, limited capacity issues and a lot more.

Everything I ate on Royal Caribbean's Odyssey of the Seas

In:
18 Sep 2021
By: 
Matt Hochberg

Odyssey of the Seas is Royal Caribbean's newest cruise ship in 2021, and included onboard are some terrific dining options.

Royal Caribbean has steadily improved its onboard food over the years, and Odyssey of the Seas represents some of the best culinary options you can find on any cruise ship.

In the name of research, I took it upon myself to sample as much of the great food you can eat on Odyssey of the Seas.  I did not manage to eat everywhere, but I tried my best to hit up as many places as possible.

Here is a look at all the food I ate on Odyssey of the Seas, and which items truly stood out as the best.

Windjammer

No Royal Caribbean can properly begin for me unless I eat lunch in the Windjammer because this is one of my personal cruise traditions. Every cruise I have been on has begun with embarkation day lunch at Royal Caribbean's signature buffet.

The Quantum Class Windjammer is massive, with plenty of buffet stations to choose from. Salads, soups, sandwiches, curries, cheeses, pasta and more.

Lunch on embarkation day would end up being the only time I ate in the Windjammer, but chalk that up to so many good choices.

Ultimately, I had to go with my all-time favorite food Royal Caribbean offers in the Windjammer, and that is Indian curry.

I had a serving of chicken curry and chana masala over a bed of rice.  Combine the two, and you get some excellent flavors.

I was content with just that, until I saw Odyssey has an ice cream station featuring more than just vanilla, chocolate and strawberry.  They had coffee ice cream, which is my all-time favorite flavor.  

Izumi Teppanyaki

Perhaps there is no better crowd pleaser for dinner on any Royal Caribbean ship that the hibachi dinner at Izumi Teppanyaki.

On Odyssey, the Izumi sushi and hibachi are separate restaurants, which allows both restaurants to have plenty of space.

Before we get to the food, the views were outstanding given you can see the ocean behind the chef.

Besides our chef (Orlando) being really good, the food was even better.  Freshly cooked meats, vegetables, and rice served with a heaping amount of garlic is a recipe for success.

I had the chicken option with my meal, and it really hit the spot.

Cafe @ Two70

If you are in a rush, the best place to get a good breakfast and coffee is at the rear of the ship in Cafe @ Two70.

Similar to Park Cafe on other Royal Caribbean ships, Cafe @ Two70 has a good assortment of grab-and-go breakfast, such as bagels, muffins, wraps and more.

Of course, they also have a good selection of coffees, which are valid if you have a Royal Caribbean drink package.

A iced caramel latte is the best way to start any day on a Royal Caribbean ship.

Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade

Following a fun day in the sun at Perfect Day at CocoCay, we decided to keep it casual and head to the SeaPlex for dinner at Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade.

I love that Royal Caribbean put Playmakers in the SeaPlex, because it perfectly compliments the sports action below, as well as better utilizing space in the upper part of the SeaPlex.

Between our group of friends, we ended up ordering nearly one of everything, and two items really stand out as the best of the best.

First, is the Pile On Nachos.  Personally, I enjoy nachos that are overloaded with veggies, guacamole, cheese, and whatever else they pile on.

And then there is the Campfire Cookie, which is so darn good. 

I know at the end of every meal you are thinking "I'm stuffed, there is no way I can eat dessert", but the Campfire Cookie is worth it.

Main Dining Room

Just like the Windjammer, I only made it to the main dining room once, but I do not regret my visit here at all.

I had breakfast on the first sea day, and I purposefully went here so that I could enjoy the aesthetics of the dining room.  In short, it is a beautiful space and I love how Royal Caribbean altered the look of the dining room on Spectrum and Odyssey so that it fits in more with the flow of the ship.

I ordered an omelet just the way I like it, and it came out perfectly.  The nice thing about eating in the dining room is the slower pace, so you can sip your morning coffee, check the news, and then have breakfast brought to you.

I wish I could have eaten dinner here as well, because of how impressive the space looks. Maybe next time.

Solarium Bistro

An easily overlooked restaurant on Odyssey of the Seas is the Solarium Bistro, which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and costs nothing extra!

I think most people are unaware it exists until perhaps later in the cruise, and I love how there is a much greater variety of choices than at other restaurants.

Read moreTop 10 Odyssey of the Seas hidden secrets

Solarium Bistro has long been an excellent choice for vegetarians, but I find plenty I like to eat here too. The Mediterranean salads are what draw me in every time, although the German sausages and bratwurst looked so darn good.

Just like the main dining room, you can have breakfast here and enjoy omelets cooked to order.

El Loco Fresh

I am a sucker for fresh salsa on just about anything, and El Loco Fresh has plenty of it to go around.

Located on the pool deck, El Loco Fresh has quesadillas and burritos, but do yourself a favor and skip the pre-made ones and go right to the made-to-order area.

You are given a fresh tortilla, and you can load it up with rice, beans, chicken, beef and all sorts of toppings.

Giovanni's Italian Kitchen

When I boarded Odyssey of the Seas, I knew dinner at Giovanni's Italian Kitchen would be at the top of my list of things I was looking forward to doing.

I sampled the menu on Freedom of the Seas, so I was eager to get back and try the food out again here.

Luckily, it did not disappoint.  Truly the "problem" with Giovanni's is there are so many good items on the menu to choose from.

I think their pizzas are fantastic, and all their pastas are made fresh daily so it would be a crime not at least eat some.

Let us not forget about the appetizers, which are served family style and just try not to pick at them while it sits on the table.

To that point, I have to confess I just had to try the meatballs, which contain beef and pork. I do not eat pork, but they looked so darn good that I just had to give it a go and it did not disappoint.

This time around, I really liked the margherita pizza the best of all the pies we had.  Whenever I go to an Italian restaurant, chicken parmigiana is my go-to order.

Along with the side of pasta, it hit the spot.

Chops Grille

A last-minute decision was to go to Chops Grille, and it is one of those restaurants on any Royal Caribbean ship you can bet on being a solid meal.

Given it is a steakhouse, the steaks are what everyone orders when they visit and it is tough to beat their filet mignon (although I prefer the filet at the Coco Beach Club restaurant).

My personal favorite item on the menu is actually the tuna tartare, which has a lot of raw tuna and guacamole.  Such a great combo.

Giovanni's Italian Wine Bar

Another great change Royal Caribbean made to Odyssey of the Seas compared to her sister ships was to transform Vintages Wine Bar into Giovanni's Italian Wine Bar.

In addition to the selection of wines, you can order food from Giovanni's Italian Kitchen.  There are even two items only available at the Wine Bar: the arancini and lasagna bites.

A good tip to remember is if Giovanni's Italian Kitchen is ever too full to seat you on a whim, go next door to the wine bar for basically the same food.

Just like at Giovanni's Italian Kitchen, we also ordered a large sampling of food and got to revisit some favorites from the previous night.

I think Italian food fans are going to really enjoy so many options.

Wonderland

Our final meal on Odyssey of the Seas was Wonderland. We chose Wonderland because there was some friends with us that had never dined there.

Wonderland is a blend of over-the-top decor, odd looking food, and exploration inbetween.  It may never be my favorite restaurant to dine at purely for the food, but I do think it is a fun experience.

Our waiter took us through the entire meal and provided fun entertainment as we went through the various courses.  Nearly all of it looked odd, but most tasted better than it looked.

Top 5 things I ate on Odyssey of the Seas

Now that I have listed all the restaurants I dined at while on Odyssey of the Seas, I wanted to list my top picks of what I enjoyed the most.

There was a lot of good food, so needless to say I did not leave the ship hungry or disappointed.  So I wanted to share which dishes truly stood out as my personal favorites.

1. Pile On Nachos

2. Lasagna bites

3. Hibachi dinner

4. Margherita Pizza

5. Indian curry

Is food included on a Royal Caribbean cruise?

In:
17 Sep 2021
By: 
Matt Hochberg

When you go on a Royal Caribbean cruise, you have a choice of places to eat throughout the day.  So which food is included and which cost extra?

Royal Caribbean working on new main dining room menu | Royal Caribbean Blog

While not all the food on Royal Caribbean is included, there is enough food and drink for you to enjoy that is included so you will not need to pay extra for food.  However, you may feel inclined to pay for drinks or meals anyway as a way to enhance your cruise.

Depending on the ship you sail on, the exact venues with complimentary (included) food will vary, but here are some basics you can expect on any Royal Caribbean ship:

  • Main dining room
  • Windjammer Cafe (buffet)
  • Grab-and-go coffee shop (Cafe Promenade, Cafe Latte-tudes, or Cafe Patisserie)
  • Pool deck quick food (El Loco Fresh, Boardwalk Dog House, Park Cafe)

The two primary places you will find the widest selection of food included with your cruise is in the main dining room and Windjammer.

Main dining room

The main dining room is open for breakfast and dinner every day of your cruise, and for lunch on sea days.  The main dining room is a sit down restaurant where you have assigned seating.

For dinner, there are two types of main dining room seating: traditional and My Time Dining. 

Traditional dinner is when you pick between early or late seating.  Every day your dining time is the same, and your waiters and table mates are the same.

My Time Dining offers flexible dining times, where you can reserve times in advance or show up and wait for an available table. You will likely have different waiters and table mates every day, unless you request otherwise.

Read moreMy Time Dining versus Traditional Dining

Nearly all the food available in the main dining room is included with your cruise fare, with the exception being alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, and some upcharge items at dinner (steak or lobster).

Windjammer

The Windjammer Cafe is the classic cruise ship buffet, and it is open for all meals every day of your cruise (the Windjammer is currently closed for dinner in 2021 while there is limited capacity, but will eventually re-open for dinner).

The Windjammer offers the widest selection of foods to eat, with different buffet stations you can walk up to and pick from.

All the food you see in the Windjammer is included.  Just like the main dining room, alcoholic drinks and soft drinks cost extra.

Read moreGuide to Royal Caribbean's Windjammer Cafe buffet

Room service

There is a service charge for room service, where you pay $7.95 per order.  Whether you order one or ten items, the service cost is the same.

You can order a continental breakfast option that has no service fee in the morning, which consists of coffee, tea, and assorted breakfast choices.

Drinks

Royal Caribbean includes some beverages with your cruise fare, which cover the basics to keep you refreshed and hydrated.

The drinks included in your Royal Caribbean cruise fare are:

  • tap water
  • milk
  • tea
  • coffee (regular and decaf)
  • lemonade
  • iced tea
  • flavored waters
  • juices (at breakfast and not fresh squeezed)
  • Hot chocolate (via instant packets)

Read moreWhat drinks are included with your Royal Caribbean cruise?

10 Ways to Save Money on Your 2019 Royal Caribbean Vacation | Royal Caribbean Blog

All other drinks cost extra, including alcohol, soda, and juices.

Royal Caribbean offers guests beverage packages that can be purchased to save money on these extra drinks.  Drink packages are worth it if you drink enough every day of your cruise to "break even" on the package cost.

Snacks

Besides meals, there is also a good assortment of food you can munch on between meals.

Depending on the Royal Caribbean ship you sail on, the exact venues will vary, but there are some common options for something small to eat that has no additional cost.

  • Cafe Promenade, Cafe Latte-tudes, or Cafe Patisserie
  • Park Cafe
  • El Loco Fresh
  • Boardwalk Dog House
  • Sorrentos

These locations are open most hours of the day and night, and you will find sandwiches, pizza, desserts and much more.

Not only are these grab-and-go restaurants included, they offer some very tasty choices that many cruise fans really enjoy.

Some top favorites include:

  • Roast beef kimmelweck sandwiches from Park Cafe
  • Pizza slices from Sorrentos/Cafe Promenade
  • Cookies from Cafe Promenade, Cafe Latte-tudes, or Cafe Patisserie

Perfect Day at CocoCay

Royal Caribbean opens Perfect Day at CocoCay | Royal Caribbean Blog

Perfect Day at CocoCay is Royal Caribbean's private island in The Bahamas, and there is a surprising amount of food included with your visit to the island.

Lunch is served at the island, and there are a few different dining venues you can go to that should be close enough to anywhere you are relaxing.

Not only is there a lot of food included at Perfect Day at CocoCay, it is really good too.

  • Skipper's Grill
  • Chill Grill
  • Snack Shack

Cups of water are available at no additional charge at these venues.

Labadee

Do's & Don'ts of Labadee | Royal Caribbean Blog

Royal Caribbean also has a private destination on the coast of Haiti, called Labadee.

Just like CocoCay, lunch is served for all guests to enjoy.

  • Columbus Cove Cafe
  • Cafe Labadee
  • Dragon's Cafe

Cups of water are available at no additional charge at these venues.

More information

Friday Photos - September 17, 2021

In:
17 Sep 2021
By: 
Matt Hochberg

The weekend is here and every Friday, I share our readers' favorite Royal Caribbean photos so that we can all enjoy a quick "virtual trip" back on a cruise.  

This is a fun opportunity to highlight cruise photos RoyalCaribbeanBlog readers have taken, and for a little bit of time, take a mental escape onboard.

If you want to share your Royal Caribbean photos, use this form to send them in!

Our first photo is from Steve Cohen, and it is from the brand new Odyssey of the Seas.

Steve went up to the pool deck to share what it looks like at night.

Next up is a photo from Sky Sessions of Tom on the FlowRider.

This was a birthday surf session, with Allure of the Seas in the background.

Here is a photo of Independence of the Seas departing Port Everglades.

This photo was taken by Sandy back in 2015, and you can see the Goodyear blimp in the background.

This is a great photo of Brilliance of the Seas taken by Mark Greenwald.

Brilliance was off the coast of Grand Cayman in 2019, which requires tender service to shore.

The art on Royal Caribbean always stands out when you are onboard, including this art display in the atrium of Navigator of the Seas.

Andrea Vrsek took this photo of the area near Guest Relations on the Royal Promenade and it is indeed lovely.

Hiram Perrand took this photo of the sunset, as seen from the aft of an Oasis Class ship.

Hiram did not specify which ship it was, but it's still a beautiful view to see on any ship!

I really like this photo of Mariner of the Seas in Nassau, taken by Beth Dewey.

Dusk photos are always special because you get the night lighting on while there is still some day light.

We have another night photo, this one of Allure of the Seas.

Christian Goulet took this photo of the top pool deck, along with Central Park lit up below.

Our final photo is by "cruise genius", and it is of Mariner of the Seas sailing away from Port Canaveral.

This photo was taken from nearby Jetty Park.

That wraps up this week's edition of Friday Photos. If you want your Royal Caribbean photo featured here, use this form to send them in!

Wonder of the Seas: Itinerary, features, and more

In:
16 Sep 2021
By: 
Matt Hochberg

Wonder of the Seas is Royal Caribbean's fifth Oasis Class cruise ship, and will bring some all new features to the already impressive class of ships.

While Wonder is not the first ship in the Oasis Class, she is far from a carbon copy of her sisters. In fact, Royal Caribbean will add certain activities and things to do not seen on any other ship in the fleet.

If you are thinking of booking Wonder of the Seas, or are planning for an upcoming cruise, there are quite a few things you should know about this new ship.

Here is a look at the most important things we know about Wonder of the Seas.

What's different about Wonder of the Seas?

Assuming you have been on another Oasis Class ship, you may be curious what makes Wonder of the Seas different from other ships.

Royal Caribbean has radically redesigned the top decks of the ship, as well as added a completely new neighborhood.

Here is a list of the major changes we know about so far:

  • Suite Neighborhood
  • The Vue, a cantilevered pool bar
  • Wonder Playscape, an interactive, open-air kids’ play area that has slides, climbing walls, games, puzzles, and an interactive mural activated by touch 
  • Pool deck experience, The Lime & Coconut
  • Only one FlowRider (other Oasis Class ships have two)

Suite Class Neighborhood

Royal Caribbean added an eighth neighborhood on Wonder of the Seas that is dedicated to guests staying in a suite.

Royal Suite Class guests an elevated Suite Sun Deck in a new location, complete with a plunge pool, bar and plenty of loungers and nooks to kick back; along with favorites such as Coastal Kitchen, the private restaurant, and the Suite Lounge.

Wonder of the Seas will also have the "grandest Ultimate Family Suite yet" for a family of 10.

Wonder of the Seas itineraries

The original plan was for Wonder of the Seas to be homeported in China, but Royal Caribbean decided to redeploy the ship to the United States instead.

In March 2022, Wonder of the Seas will begin offering 7-night Eastern/Western Caribbean & Perfect Day itineraries from Port Everglades, Florida.

The inaugural Wonder of the Seas sailing will be March 4, 2022.

  • Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Sea day; Labadee; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Sea day; Nasssau, Bahamas; Perfect Day at CocoCay
  • Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Sea day; Roatan, Honduras; Cozumel, Mexico; Costa Maya, Mexico; Sea day; Perfect Day at CocoCay
  • Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Sea day (2 nights); Phillipsburg, St. Maarten; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas; Sea day; Nasssau, Bahamas; Perfect Day at CocoCay
  • Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Sea day; Labadee; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas; Sea day; Perfect Day at CocoCay

Caribbean itineraries in March and April are available to book immediately.

In May 2022, Wonder of the Seas will head to Europe, where she will offer 7-night Western Mediterranean cruises from Barcelona and Rome. Wonder of the Seas will visit Palma de Mallorca, Spain and Capri, Italy and replace Allure of the Seas in the region.

European 2022 sailings will open for sale September 22.

Wonder of the Seas facts

Updated September 2021

  • Occupancy: 5,734 guests at double occupancy
  • 2,300 crew members
  • Tonnage: 236,857 GT
  • 210 feet wide
  • 1,188 feet long
  • 2,867 staterooms
  • 30 feet draft
  • 22 knots cruising speed
  • 18 total decks
  • 24 guest elevators
  • 4 bow thrusters, with 7,500 horse power each

Wonder of the Seas bars & restaurants

Complimentary

  • Boardwalk Dog House
  • Cafe Promenade
  • El Loco Fresh
  • Main Dining Room
  • Park Cafe
  • Solarium Bistro
  • Sorrento’s
  • Vitality Cafe
  • Windjammer

Specialty

  • 150 Central Park
  • Chops Grille
  • Coastal Kitchen
  • Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar
  • Hooked Seafood
  • Izumi
  • Johnny Rockets
  • Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade
  • Starbucks
  • Sugar Beach
  • Wonderland

Bars & Lounges

  • Bionic Bar
  • Boleros
  • Cantina Fresca
  • Cask & Clipper
  • Rising Tide Bar
  • Schooner Bar
  • Solarium Bar
  • The Attic
  • The Lime & Coconut
  • Trellis Bar
  • Wipeout Bar

Excursion Focus: Chacchoben Ruins in Costa Maya

In:
16 Sep 2021
By: 
Jenna DeLaurentis

If your next cruise docks in Costa Maya, Mexico, don’t hesitate to book an excursion to the Chacchoben Ruins. Located about an hour’s drive from the cruise port, Chacchoben is an archaeological site estimated to have been settled around 200 B.C. On the site are three excavated pyramids kept in excellent condition, as well as various smaller ruins to explore.

On my recent Western Caribbean sailing, I was torn between a beach day at Maya Chan or heading inland to the Chacchoben ruins. Ultimately, since I would be spending the following day at the Nachi Cocom Beach Club in Cozumel, I decided to book an excursion to Chacchoben.

I had never heard of the archeological site before and was not sure what to expect. However, I left the site extremely impressed by this fascinating look at Mayan history. Here’s what you can expect on a visit to Chacchoben.

Overview

The Chacchoben ruins are part of an ancient Mayan city, with structures dating around 700 A.D. Chacchoben remained a ceremonial site for Mayans until 1847, at which point the Caste War began, leading to the eventual abandonment of the site. Forgotten for decades, the ruins were re-discovered in 1942 by a local farmer who built his home on the site.

The ruins have since been excavated and opened to the public. Today, visitors can walk around the beautiful jungle path at Chacchoben and encounter the pyramids, ancient plazas, and the tropical flora and fauna in the region. Our guide informed us that jaguars live nearby, but luckily we did not encounter any!

There are also several hills and mounds on the site covered in vegetation. These are presumed to be pyramids or other structures, and it was fascinating to see first-hand how the ruins were once hidden under the jungle.

Climbing to the top of the pyramids is not allowed, although there are certain areas where visitors can take photos on the pyramids. There is also a tall set of ancient steps visitors climb to reach two of the pyramids on the site.

Comments

I booked my tour through a Royal Caribbean shore excursion, making my time in port stress-free. The tour lasted a total of four hours. After checking in with the guide at the shore excursions tent, our group got on an air-conditioned bus and began the drive through rural Mexico to the Chacchoben.

We had an excellent local guide who informed us about Mayan culture and history in the region. While you could technically visit the site on your own, having a guide provided a more in-depth look at the ruins and he was able to answer any questions I had. Interestingly enough, his first language was a Mayan dialect and he even taught our group a few phrases!

Our tour group consisted of a wide range of age groups and each group seemed to thoroughly enjoy the excursion. While a historical tour might not seem as appealing to kids as a water park or beach, the kids in our group seemed captivated by the ruins. They particularly seemed to enjoy climbing up and down the stairs and searching for monkeys in the trees.

I was impressed with the condition and size of the pyramids. I also appreciated that visitors were not allowed to climb to the top of the pyramids, as this shows that an importance is placed on maintaining the site’s condition.

Much of the site is covered in lush rainforest which (thankfully) blocks the sun. The walking paths around the site were gorgeous, and our guide pointed out unique trees and plants the Mayans used for medicine and wellness. Food was not provided on this tour, but snacks and refreshments were available at the entrance to Chacchoben. Water was provided to all guests.

Overall, I was happy with my decision to book a Royal Caribbean shore excursion to the Chacchoben ruins. At $89 a person, I appreciated that all logistics were taken care of, including providing a knowledgeable guide. And as our time in Costa Maya was short (11AM - 6PM), I felt comfortable knowing the ship would wait for us if we ran into anything unexpected along the way.

And, while short, my time in Costa Maya was beautiful and historically enriching. I am already looking forward to returning and exploring more of what the port has to offer.

Alaska Senator introduces bill to permanently allow cruise ships to sail to Alaska without stopping in Canada

In:
16 Sep 2021
By: 
Matt Hochberg

A new bill aims to permanently circumvent U.S. cabotage laws so that cruise ships can always visit Alaska without needing to stop in Canada.

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) announced on Wednesday she will introduce a new bill to Congress that would permanently allow foreign flagged cruise ships to sail to Alaska without having to stop in Canada by creating a permanent exemption from the Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA).

At the onset of the global health crisis, Canada banned cruise ships from its waters, and that meant in 2021 when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) began allowing cruise ships to sail again, cruises to Alaska were still not possible due to the PVSA.

Senator Murkowski wants this bill to become law to prevent the same situation that happened in 2020 and early 2021 from ever happening again, where Canada's ban on cruise ships greatly impacted Alaska's economy.

"While the PVSA is well-intentioned to protect American jobs and businesses, it had the unintended consequence of putting Alaskan businesses at the mercy of the Canadian government. It nearly wiped out Southeast Alaskan economies as we saw business after business ready to welcome visitors, but unable to because Canadians would not respond to our requests to allow foreign stops at their ports to meet the requirement of PVSA. We cannot let that happen again," said Senator Murkowski. 

Foreign flagged cruise ships (which are all of Royal Caribbean's ships) are required to make a stop in a foreign port when sailing roundtrip from the United States.

The law is part of the Passenger Vessel Service Act (PVSA) of 1886, and if left in place, cruises to Alaska from Seattle, Washington would not be able to legally sail.

The justification for both the PVSA is to protect the U.S. Merchant Marine (the licensed (officers) and documented (trades) personnel on the ships) and to protect U.S. shipyards that both build and repair the ships.

Senator Murkowski believes while the still serves its purpose in the Lower 48, it became readily apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic that Alaska needed an exemption due to Canada closing its borders. 

She will introduce the legislation next week, which would permanently exempt Alaskan cruises carrying more than 1,000 passengers from the PVSA.

"Bottom line, we need to reform the PVSA so that Alaskans’ ability to engage in commerce isn’t derailed by the government of another country."

This is not the first time a bill like this has become law.

Senator Murkowski along with Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) managed to get a bill passed earlier this year to provide temporary relief from the PVSA for just this year in the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act. That bill passed both houses of Congress and was signed into law by President Joe Biden in May 2021.

Royal Caribbean redeploys Wonder of the Seas to Fort Lauderdale instead of China

In:
15 Sep 2021
By: 
Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean has changed its mind where it will send the soon-to-be largest cruise ship in the world.

Instead of being based in China, Wonder of the Seas will call Fort Lauderdale, Florida home, and begin sailing from Port Everglades on March 4, 2022.

Wonder of the Seas will sail from Fort Lauderdale just in time for spring break in 2022 and in Europe, sail from Barcelona for summer vacations in the Western Mediterranean in May.

Back in October 2019, Royal Caribbean had originally announced Wonder of the Seas would be homeported in Shanghai, China year-round.

The impact of the global health crisis meant a delay in Wonder's construction, and perhaps even the impetus for changing her homeport.

Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley talked about the change, "The momentum taking off across bookings and our returning ships in the U.S. and Europe is significant. With half of our fleet sailing again, we are encouraged by what we’re seeing. These regions are in the position to welcome a brand-new, innovative ship like Wonder of the Seas."

"Wonder will shine bright as the world’s newest wonder in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. And what’s in store is the ultimate vacation experience that highlights the very best of Royal Caribbean, reimagines renowned favorites and introduces new adventures every guest, no matter their age, can enjoy."

Port Everglades was the original homeport for Royal Caribbean's Oasis Class ships, as Terminal 18 was built specifically for Oasis and Allure of the Seas when they first debuted.

Wonder of the Seas will become the largest cruise ship world, and can accommodate 6,800 passengers and 2,400 crew members. She has a length of 362 meters and a width of 66 meters for a weight of 230,000 tons and a draft of over 9 meters.

She is the fifth Oasis Class cruise ship in Royal Caribbean's fleet, and has 100 cabins more than Symphony of the Seas.

Another major different for Wonder of the Seas is the addition of an eighth neighborhood: the Suite Neighborhood. Neighborhoods are how the cruise ship is differentiated for easier navigation by guests.

Royal Caribbean describes this as an area exclusively for suite guests onboard:

"The new neighborhood provides a private experience like no other, featuring world-class dining, a new sun deck for unparalleled ocean views, a private lounge and restaurant and much more. Moreover, loved ones can make it the getaway of a lifetime when they book the expansive and beloved Ultimate Family Suite."

Based on released deck plans, it appears this neighborhood could be part of Decks 17 and 18.

The ship will also have a cantilevered pool bar named The Vue, and Wonder Playscape – an interactive, open-air kids’ play area.

Royal Caribbean says the Wonder Playscape will be, "an underwater world studded with slides, climbing walls and more."

Wonder of the Seas recently completed her sea trials, and is at the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard in Saint-Naizaire, France.

UPDATE: Wonder of the Seas will replace Allure of the Seas in Europe for summer 2022. Guests booked on Allure will get moved to Wonder.

Caribbean sailings are available to book immediately. European sailings will open for booking on September 22.