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7 Best cruise ports in the Caribbean

In:
04 Dec 2023
By: 
Matt Hochberg

When you pick a Caribbean cruise, the islands you visit are probably just as important a consideration as the ship or cabin you choose.

St John beach

Caribbean cruises have been a popular choice for decades, due to in large part the beautiful ports you can visit.

Royal Caribbean's internal research shows the top two reasons people go on a cruise are for the food and destination, and that may lead you to wonder where are the best cruise ports in the Caribbean.

It can be difficult to choose a cruise because of how many different ports are available to visit.

St. John Beach

In considering all the Caribbean ports our team has been to, I wanted to help narrow down the choices if you are looking for the top cruise ports on a Caribbean cruise.

1. Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel coast with restaurants and bars

Of all the cruise ports in Eastern Mexico, Cozumel is the top choice given the breadth of choices available and beautiful beaches.

Cozumel is an island just off the coast of the Yucatan peninsula, and it has just about everything someone might want to do in a Caribbean cruise port.

There are beaches, historical sights, a city to explore, and plenty of great food too. It became famous thanks to a documentary by Jacques Cousteau, and it's only become more popular ever since.

Given the natural beauty of Cozumel, it's one of the most authentic ports of call you'll find in the Caribbean.  Sure, it has plenty of touristy spots, but you can easily find untouched areas of the island too.

What I really enjoy about Cozumel is how much variety of activities there are along with excellent food.  Mexican food is so popular to begin with, and when you get the real thing while visiting, it makes just about any tour that much better.

2. San Juan, Puerto Rico

When you combine hundreds of years of history along with a vibrant culture, you get San Juan.

Cruise ships come right into the heart of Old San Juan, making exploring the city super easy. And there's quite a lot to explore.

Puerto Rico's history goes back to the earliest European settlements in North America, and between the history, culture, and natural beauty the island possesses, you get lots to do on a visit here.

San Juan Street

You can visit Spanish fortifications, sample local cuisine, or head to one of the many lovely beaches.

The other thing that makes exploring Puerto Rico easier is that it's part of the United States, so there's a certain familiarity that comes with it.

You don't find many large cities in the Caribbean like you do in Europe, but San Juan is the exception.

3. Philipsburg, St. Maarten

st-maarten

St. Maarten is split in two: a Dutch side and French side, and the result is a dichotomy of choice.

Both sides of the island offer a beautiful beach day, along with a touch of Europe.

The Dutch side is within walking distance of your cruise ship, and it has a lovely boardwalk along the water and lots of shopping. Front Street in Philipsburg is a great place to stroll.

Orient Beach

If you venture to the French side, you'll find the capital of Marigot and Grand Case, and it's similar to traveling in Europe on a smaller scale.

The beaches are really lovely as well, with Mullet Bay, Orient Beach, and Friar's Bay Beach well known for their stunning beauty.

Read moreTop things to do in St. Maarten on your Royal Caribbean cruise

4. Oranjestad, Aruba

Beach sunset

The Southern Caribbean is truly remarkable when contrasted against other islands in the region.  Aruba wasn't worthy of becoming a lyric in a Beach Boys song for no reason, when you see it, you'll understand why.

A desert island, Aruba is just 20 miles large, but you'll find beach after beach that you'll not want to leave. Palm Beach and Eagle Beach are the idyllic places that draw tourists back time and and time again.

Aruba beach

The beach is likely the top draw in Aruba, and its bright blue waters are exactly what you'd look for in a day here.

In Oranjestad, you'll find lots of cultures intermingled together. Aruba’s traditions are influenced by the cultures of other countries, such as Holland, Venezuela, America, and other Caribbean islands.

Sasakiweg Street has many shops to explore on your way back to the ship.

5. St. John's, Antigua

Valley Church Beach in Antigua

At one time, Royal Caribbean had plans to open a beach club in Antigua, and it's not hard to see why.

Antigua boasts it has 365 beaches, one for each day of the year, and while that might be a good marketing slogan, it's indicative of how beautiful this island is.

When you measure Caribbean island beaches, you're essentially talking about how much more beautiful one is from the other.  Antigua has the white sand and clear ocean water that you imagine with a Caribbean cruise.

There's hidden coves, and coral reefs bustling with tropical fish to see as well.

If you'd like to do something beyond the beach, Antigua has historical attractions you can see. Shirley Heights Lookout the Nelson's Dockyard (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) or the Betty’s Hope sugar plantation are a must see.

6. Willemstad, Curacao

curacao

Curacao may be another Southern Caribbean island to make this list, but it differs from Aruba in a few notable ways.

Of course, Curacao has beautiful beaches to visit, but it's more than just beaches. You'll find cliffs, the desert, and a vibrant city scene.

Walking around Willemstad is easy, and a short walk from the cruise ship. Similar to San Juan, your ship docks nearby to the downtown area that are filled with shops, markets, and restaurants.  When you add in the Dutch architecture, you find a very intriguing city to explore.

Knip Beach, Curacao

Curacao has 38 beaches, many of which are secluded.

Shete Boka Park is known for being a rocky inlet where waves crash into underground caverns to create a profound natural effect.

If nature is your thing, be sure to walk, hike, or bike into Christoffel Park National Curacao.

7. St. John (via St. Thomas)

Trunk Bay

Of all the islands I've visited in the Caribbean, St. John is my favorite and it's not even an island your ship docks at.

St. John is a short ferry ride away from St. Thomas.  Both islands are part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and it's perfect for cruise ships to come into St. Thomas for the day and hop over to St. John.

St. John is almost entirely a national park, and it has the prettiest beaches I've ever seen. 

St. John beach

Between the white sand and clear turquoise blue water, it's the perfect beach every time I visit. Cruz Bay, Trunk Bay, and Cinnamon Beach are just a few of the stunning white sand beaches to explore.

Because it's so uncrowded and underdeveloped, St. John feels like you've discovered an untouched oasis.

Video shows look around Royal Caribbean's new adults-only beach

In:
04 Dec 2023
By: 
Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean's new adults-only beach expansion at its private island is still under construction, but a new video from inside the park has our first look at how it's progressing.

Hideaway Beach construction update

Hideaway Beach is the adults-only beach Royal Caribbean is adding to Perfect Day at CocoCay in The Bahamas that is still being finished.

The new area will be open to guests 18-years-old or older and feature an infinity pool with swim-up bar and DJ music.  There will also be a sports bar, cabanas to rent, and dining venues.

Read more41 Perfect Day at CocoCay tips, tricks and secrets

Hideaway Beach Club render

The new area will open in January 2024 in time for Icon of the Seas to start sailing.

Royal Caribbean Director of Design Marissa Abreu posted a video update showing off how much has been done already.

The first video shows the pool area at the cabanas, known as The Hideout.

Hideaway Beach construction

The Hideout is an exclusive area you can get access to if you rent a cabana here. This is where you'll find poolside cabana with in-water loungers, outdoor shower access, Bluetooth speaker, floating beach mats, resort-style seating, a cooler, sink, mini fridge, charging outlets, ceiling fans, and private lockable storage space.

The video then pans to the right and shows more of the Hideout pool, along with a view in the background of the cove that will become the beach.

Hideaway Beach construction

The beach area is more than acre in size and has loungers and umbrellas, and there will be in-the-water hammocks and swings in the water.

The entire Hideaway Beach area will be over eight acres in size, bringing the total size of Perfect Day at CocoCay to 65 acres.

Hideaway Beach construction

As the video continues to pan to the right, you can see more of The Hideout and more of the cabanas being worked on.

It appears each cabana will have a heated plunge pool at the front of each cabana, with deeper water that connects all the cabanas running in front.

The cabana attendants will not only bring you food and drinks, but Royal Caribbean is working on bottle service.

Hideaway Beach construction

A still photo shows some of the work being done in the main pool, showing one of the dining venues in the background.

Hideaway Pool will have a swim-up bar that has an infinity edge facing the beach. 

Hideaway Beach construction

Another look at the pool shows the infinity edge facing the ocean, and an island in the middle of the pool.

This could be where the DJ will be located, as Royal Caribbean said the DJ will play music from an island in the middle of the pool to keep the party atmosphere going.

The Hideaway pool will be the massive freshwater pool where you'll find the DJ located near a swim-up bar.

Hideaway Beach construction

The final still photo shows a sunset view of the pool with the pool's lights on.

It's a pretty photo of the pool glowing at dusk, and it also shows the beach area that is still being worked on.

Throughout all the photos you can see plenty of palm trees that have been added.

A new kind of experience

Hideaway Beach Club render

Hideaway Beach will offer an extra-cost add-on to consider for adults who want to enjoy a lively atmosphere and no kids, and it's gotten a lot of interest from cruisers who are looking for something more than CocoCay had in the past.

While the Coco Beach Club is a high end experience and the rest of the island caters to families, Hideaway Beach is meant to be an enclave for adults seeking something else.

Based on guest feedback, Royal Caribbean came up with a place to have a drink in hand, to listen, to live music and to have incredible views. Think Las Vegas pool party vibes, DJ dancing, drinks, grab and go food options, and adults only.

Hideaway Beach Club render

The beach is located on the northwest part of the island, and Royal Caribbean purposefully wanted it away from everything else happening on the island to give it a sense of seclusion.

The new area has a capacity of around 1500 to 2000 guests. The Hideaway pool will be heated to 82 degrees year round for guest comfort.

Royal Caribbean News Round-up December 3, 2023

In:
03 Dec 2023
By: 
Calista Kiper

Happy December! We cannot believe that we are already one full week into the month – there is so much going on with holiday preparation and shopping and baking!

The second Icon Class cruise ship is coming to Port Canaveral.

Star of the Seas coming to Port Canaveral

Royal Caribbean announced Star of the Seas will sail from Port Canaveral when the new ship launches in 2025.

The sister ship to Icon of the Seas, Star's first batch of sailings will go on sale on December 6, 2023.

Royal Caribbean News

Video: I took my first Celebrity Cruise and it was not what I expected!

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After spending decades taking more than 70 Royal Caribbean cruises and reaching Pinnacle status, Matt felt ready to try a cruise on the sister brand, Celebrity Cruises.

Over Thanksgiving, he chose a cruise on the new Celebrity Apex, and was surprised by his experience!

Have you subscribed to the Royal Caribbean Blog YouTube Channel? We share some great videos there regularly, all about taking a Royal Caribbean cruise!

Check out the link to view our latest video: I took my first Celebrity Cruise and it was not what I expected!

Royal Caribbean takes ownership of the world’s biggest cruise ship

Icon of the Seas delivery

After seven years of preparation, the world’s largest cruise ship is ready to make its debut.

Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas was delivered at the Meyer Turku shipyard in Finland, signifying its transfer of ownership.

Icon of the Seas boasts the capacity for 7,600 guests and 2,350 crew members. She is 1,198 feet long and 20 decks tall. 

First time cruise tips for Royal Caribbean

Aquadome on Icon of the Seas

Are you preparing to take your first Royal Caribbean cruise? Or are you even anticipating your first cruise ever? Every cruise line is different, so it’s important to do your research, get prepared, and know what to expect!

We have some new and updated tips to make your first experience a great one.

From proper documentation to prohibited items, here are our top first-time tips for Royal Caribbean cruises

5 things I hope Royal Caribbean steals from Celebrity Ascent (and one they shouldn't)

Oceanview Cafe

After sailing a combined number of nine nights on Celebrity Cruise ships, Matt now has identified some great features from the Celebrity Ascent that Royal Caribbean should consider adopting.

This new, Edge Class ship was just launched in 2023, and boasts 16 decks, all packed with top-class amenities and entertainment.

However, there is one aspect Royal Caribbean should stay away from: the All Included program. Read about Matt’s experience and inspired ideas for Royal Caribbean and more in his article. 

I stayed in the cheapest, smallest cabin on Enchantment of the Seas for $210 per night

Calista spent only $210 per night to stay in the smallest, cheapest room on Enchantment of the Seas.

She used the guarantee cabin process to receive the cheapest cabin, and was assigned a small, windowless inside stateroom spanning just 142 square feet.

Despite the wear and tear on this older ship, this cabin was no smaller than any of the other cheap, guarantee staterooms she has stayed in on other, newer Royal Caribbean ships. Take a look inside this Vision Class, 1996 cruise cabin. 

Paradise Beach all-inclusive beach pass review

Paradise Beach

Going to an all-inclusive beach resort is the perfect way to take advantage of a stop in Cozumel, Mexico. In this article, we outline what you can expect from a visit to Paradise Beach.

The resort has three major areas: the pool, the beach, and various amenities, such as restrooms and bars. Including attentive service and great food and drinks, you can pay one price for access to all of these amenities.

The variety of activities and reasonable price make Paradise Beach a great option for couples, families, and groups looking for a fun day with quality service. 

Royal Caribbean Group CEO talks how cruise ships will handle anti-tourism

In:
02 Dec 2023
By: 
Matt Hochberg

Travel has its challenges, and a rising anti-tourism sentiment is one of them that is affecting cruise ships just as much as land tourists.

Rhapsody of the Seas in Venice

As more people than ever are choosing to travel around the world, some popular destinations are pushing back on encouraging more tourists.

Whether it's limiting the amount of cruise ships that can visit in a day, or banning ships from city centers, anti-tourism is one of the top concerns for Royal Caribbean Group CEO Jason Liberty.

Celebrity Ascent

While speaking aboard Celebrity Ascent, Mr. Liberty was asked what he thought was the biggest threat to the cruise industry.

"There are parts of the world that the volume of passengers going to those locations create a local sentiment of anti tourism movement," is what he responded with first.

He was also quick to point out that it's not necessarily cruise ships that evoke that reaction.  He mentioned Airbnb as an example of something else causing elevated tourist numbers.

View of Venice

European cities such as Amsterdam, Barcelona and Venice have recently moved to get rid of cruise ships from their city centers.

Venice banned cruise ships in 2021 and has went as far as to introduce an entrance fee of €3 to €10 to access the city and its islands to reduce the number of visitors.

In Amsterdam, they voted to ban cruise ships from coming into the city after instituting a "discouragement campaign," that did things such as ban outdoor marijuana smoking in the red-light district and put posters around the city that told young British men to "stay away."

Serenade of the Seas in Amsterdam

Regarding cruise ships, Amsterdam officials argued cruise ships in the city, "do not fit in with the task of combating mass tourism and are not in line with the sustainable ambitions of the city."

A prediction by the World Tourism Organization is by the end of this decade, the flow of international tourists will exceed two billion.

Serenade of the Seas in Venice

To address it, Mr. Liberty sees a changing gameplan, "we need to be sensitive to make sure that we continue to diversify our destinations. We need to continue to build incredible concepts like the Perfect Days and beach clubs, et cetera across our brands."

He also said the company needs to keep its ear to the ground, "make sure that we're really good listeners in our community, and we build up our communities that support us."

Reducing their carbon footprint

The other threat that Mr. Liberty sees is an environmental one.

"The second thing, which I think is just we all, you know, we're all trying to figure it out, which is how do we decarbonize or how do we get to a net zero emissions basis," he went on to say in his response to the initial question.

Companies around the world are looking for solutions to getting to carbon neutral, and Royal Caribbean Group is no stranger to this task, "we spend hours around the clock trying to figure out how do we solution that. And so we need to make sure that we're set on a path to prepare ourselves to take on alternative fuels as they become available."

Net Zero

The company already has a plan in place to be carbon neutral by 2050, known as "Destination Net Zero".

Announced in 2021, it has two primary goals: get to net zero emissions by 2050 and take delivery of a net zero emissions cruise ship by 2035.

To achieve this, there isn't one thing to do, but a series of steps. As an example, the company has experimented with using biofuels on some of its ships.

LNG Tank prep

Royal Caribbean Group said it plans to continue to use alternative lower carbon fuel as part of its overall plan.

In addition to biofuels, Royal Caribbean Group is building ships that can leverage liquefied natural gas, or LNG, to reduce emissions.

Incredible tailwinds

Family at entrance to CocoCay

While those issues that Mr. Liberty brought up are challenges, he sees a very positive outlook for cruising.

He sees a lot of demand for a cruise vacation, "the tailwinds for cruise on the demographic standpoint, secular trend standpoint, population standpoint is really exceptional compared to other forms of travel and other and other forms of where people spend their consumer discretionary dollars."

"The propensity to cruise is at all time highs," he explained.

"As the younger generations come in, as people started having more and more families and multigenerational families, as people have more time, whether that's through retirement, more discretionary funds, and most of all, as we kind of came through Covid, we all really appreciated what we have."

How long does it take to board a cruise ship?

In:
02 Dec 2023
By: 
Matt Hochberg

Boarding a cruise ship has become very easy, and while it might have similarities with an airplane, it's not as complicated.

Gangway to cruise ship

The first day of a cruise is busy with important things to do during the embarkation process, along with a lot of excitement, anticipation, and plenty of exploring along the way.

Those new to cruising might be concerned about how long it will all take, and what to expect when you're welcomed aboard.

This will serve as a guide for what to expect so you know the important steps along the way.

The basics of checking-in

Allure of the Seas in Galveston cruise terminal

There three basic components to the cruise check-in process: pre-cruise, checking-in, and boarding.

Prior to the cruise beginning, you can complete the online check-in from the Royal Caribbean app.

Download the app and sign into your Royal Caribbean account. If you don't have one, you can create it very easily and then link your reservation to your account.

RC app

At 45 days before sailing, you can check-in.  It's a really good idea to do the online check-in because it will save you a lot of time later at the cruise terminal. If you do all the steps, you'll breeze through it later.  In my opinion, it's better to take time at home rather than when your vacation is beginning.

To do online check-in, you'll need your travel documents, a credit card, and be able to take a selfie photo.

If you skip any of the steps, you're just going to have to do it later anyway.

Equally important is to select a check-in time.

Royal Caribbean requires guests to have a check-in time as the window to arrive at the cruise terminal. The earliest times will go fast, so try to get a time as soon as check-in opens 45 days before your cruise sail date.

Ready to check in

There's one more step of the check-in process, the health questionnaire, but you cannot complete it until 24 hours before the cruise.  So make a reminder to do that the night before the cruise.

Read moreRoyal Caribbean check-in process

When to arrive

Tampa sign for Radiance

If you're wondering what time to arrive to the cruise terminal, refer to the time window you picked at the check-in process.

This is the time you can check-in, not the time you'll board.  

When you arrive, the port agents may ask you what check-in time you have.  If you arrive too early, you may be directed to wait in an area until it's closer to your time.

Port Canaveral check-in line

The check-in time is an estimate, so don't sweat it if you're late. Royal Caribbean will still admit you, but do your best to pick a time that works for your schedule.

If you arrive on time for your window, it should just be a matter of parking your car and getting in line at the terminal.

What you need to bring to check-in

Passport

There's plenty you should bring on a cruise with you, but only a few items that are critical for the check-in process.

You can refer to our packing list for what you should pack overall, but you will need a few things in hand on embarkation day:

  • Passport or other travel documentation
  • Royal Caribbean app or a printed boarding pass
  • Luggage tags printed and attached to your luggage
  • A credit card

Be sure to keep these items with you in your carry-on bag, rather than the bags you provide to the porters to be delivered to the ship.

Checking-in

Port of Tampa

The second step now that it's embarkation day is to actually check-in for the cruise.

As you walk in, a port agent will verify you have what you need and a valid boarding pass.  This isn't when you actually check-in, but a step to ensure if you don't belong there not to waste any more time. It should be less than a minute to verify you're in the right place.

Passing through security is next and this is just like going through airport security.

Boston terminal

You'll put your carry-on bags on the screening machine belt, and remove any metal from your pockets.  Don't worry, you can leave your shoes and belt on and it's okay bring liquids. Just make sure not to try to bring any prohibited items, or security will confiscate it.

Read more: What not to bring on a cruise

Going through security could be a few seconds or a few minutes, depending on how long the line is. Security lines rarely exceed a five minute wait.

At this point, you're ready to actually check-in.  Most terminals Royal Caribbean operates from have agents with tablets that will process you, rather than having to walk up to a counter.

Matt checking in

The agent will scan your SetSail pass on your app (or paper if you printed it). If you did the pre-cruise check-in earlier, than this is a matter of verifying everything you entered is correct.

Otherwise, the agent will enter the information for you.

If you did everything pre-cruise, this step should take a minute. If you didn't, it could take 5-10 minutes depending on how many people are in your party.

Boarding the Ship

Gangway

This final phase of boarding a cruise has the widest possible time because of how many factors are in play.

If the ship is ready to board passengers, you could be directed to immediately board. Sometimes they will still send you to be seated so that groups can go up and board as not to overwhelm the gangway.

If the ship has not been cleared to start boarding, then you'll be sent to sit and wait.

Waiting area

A ship might not be ready for boarding to begin for a number of reasons:

  • All the passengers from the last sailing have not disembarked yet
  • Local authorities have not cleared the ship
  • A technical issue preventing boarding

Unfortunately, there's no to know precisely what time a ship will begin boarding. It could vary from sailing to sailing.

If you check-in for your cruise in the late morning or early afternoon, it's probable the ship will have already been boarding passengers prior to your arrival. But a later check-in time means less time onboard on the first day, and likely a more crowded cruise terminal.

Freedom-Terminal-A-Miami

Getting to the terminal too early and you might be trading waiting in your hotel for the terminal.

Once it's your turn to board, you'll have to verify your sailing credentials one more time and then you can proceed aboard.

Usually there's an optional photo opportunity to stop at, but you can bypass it if you wish.

Allure of the Seas at the gangway

The time to get on is very short, and involves walking through a gangway to get there.  Think of it like a longer airport jetway.

Total time could be 10 minutes or up to an hour.

How long will it take to board a cruise ship?

Terminal A gangways

Depending on how much you do pre-cruise and how efficiently the process is running overall, you could go from curb to ship in as little as 10 minutes.  Or it might be closer to an hour.

If you arrive before the ship has started boarding, you can expect at least a half hour. If other travelers aren't prepared or the system is wonky, expect that time window to grow to as much as 45-60 minutes.

In practice, Royal Caribbean has a very efficient boarding process, and it's been our team's collective experience that 10-20 minutes is the norm once you arrive at the terminal.  The key is to complete all the steps in the app pre-cruise to expedite everything.

Embarkation split

Royal Caribbean's newest terminals are efficient enough to be able to handle 2,000 passengers an hour at peak times. The cruise line has a goal of getting passengers, 10 minutes from car to bar".

This is largely done thanks to facial recognition software that processes passengers quicker by eliminating paperwork and additional screening time. 

5 things I hope Royal Caribbean steals from Celebrity Ascent (and one they shouldn't)

In:
01 Dec 2023
By: 
Matt Hochberg

They say imitation is highest form of flattery, so I really hope Celebrity Cruises ends up feeling very flattered in the near future.

Celebrity Ascent

I just sailed on a two-night preview sailing on the Celebrity Ascent.

This is the fourth Edge Class cruise ship, and it has a few notable tweaks and additions.  I enjoyed my time exploring Ascent, especially after just sailing on Celebrity Apex and being able to contrast both ships.

Having spent a combined 9 nights across two of Celebrity's best new cruise ships, I couldn't help but swoon over a few things these ships have that you can't find on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.

ascent-martini-bar

In a combination of jealousy and inspiration, I came up with a list of things from these ships that I think Royal Caribbean should really consider using on their ships. Call it copying, taking inspiration from, or borrowing, I just think they would be a hit on Royal Caribbean.

Disclaimer: Celebrity Cruises invited me to sail on Celebrity Ascent for a quick two-night preview cruise that was open to travel agents and members of the press. I did not pay for this sailing.

Theater stage

Celebrity Ascent theater

Celebrity Ascent has a beautiful protruding stage with a stunning 4K screen behind it, and I think it's such a beautiful way to put on the impressive shows that Royal Caribbean is known for.

The stage comes out into the audience. It's not quite a theater in the round, but it brings the audience so much closer to the singers and dancers.

The screen behind it is my favorite part, because it's so dynamic and helps convey the story being told.

Celebrity Ascent theater

The problem with this type of stage is if you want to put on a traditional musical or play, but Royal Caribbean has not bought the rights to a musical for the last three new cruise ships.  So if they're moving away from that model, why not go for a stage that allows them more creative license?

Bluetooth in sports bar

Craft Social bar

I wasn't aware of this feature until Celebrity Cruises President Laura Hodges Bethge mentioned it in a townhall event onboard.

In the Craft Social bar, there are many television screens to watch a few different sporting events. It's the de facto sports bar on Celebrity Ascent, and it draws plenty of guests who want to watch their favorite team.

The problem with any sports bar is you can only have one audio feed playing at a time, which means if your team isn't in that game, you can't hear it.

Craft Social bar

With Ascent, Celebrity has added a new piece of tech to get around the problem.

"We can only have sound in the bar with one game happening, but that might not be the game you want to watch," Ms.Hodges Bethge explained.

"So on the other TVs, we can have the other games going on. And then if you have your own smartphone, your own headphones, you can hook it up to that TV. And so you can listen to the game that you want to listen to."

Playmakers SOTS

After hearing this, I immediately thought of Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade because that space is such a home run with guests, but has the same sound problem.

While it might not prevent Philly fans from chanting "Fly, Eagles Fly" after a touchdown, it would mean I could focus on the games I care about.

Late night eats at Oceanview Cafe

Oceanview Cafe

Sometimes I want more than pizza as a late night snack.

On Celebrity, they keep the Oceanview Cafe buffet open past the time when dinner service is over.  It has pizza, but it also has a few items to select from too.

Oceanview Cafe

You can find salads, pasta, cheeses, and some bread to peruse in addition to pizza.

It was so refreshing having something else to pick from at night, so I wish the Windjammer would adopt this model. Keep one or two stations open so guests have a bit more variety.

Non-smoking casino

Casino on Celebrity Apex

Royal Caribbean has experimented with a non-smoking casino in the past, but I really would love for them to go the same route as Celebrity.

The casino Celebrity Ascent is 100% non-smoking, and it makes it so much more enjoyable in and outside of the casino.

Without the residual smell of smoke, I enjoyed my time in the casino much more (even if I pretty much lost any money I gambled in there).  Plus, no smoking in the casino means the smell doesn't creep to surrounding areas, as it inevitably does on Royal Caribbean ships.

Celebrity casino

The primary reason Royal Caribbean has not made the change is because of revenue concerns.

Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley said in 2022, "Every, I would say every couple of years, we do test this and we take one or two or three ships we ban smoking in the casino. And the result is less people go in the casino and that that's the reality of it."

I don't have access to the numbers, but if Celebrity's bottom line can support a non-smoking casino, I'd love for Royal Caribbean to do the same.

Annex

Annex

Celebrity Ascent is the first ship to have a new venue where you can rent it out to watch the big game, sing karaoke, or play virtual sport games with just you and your friends.

The Annex is a private room that you get for two and a half hours at a time.  It's stocked with food and drink, and you have the choice of using it for any sort of activity:

  • Golf, baseball, football, and soccer simulator
  • Personal karaoke party
  • Game day streaming
  • Movie night

It's big enough to accommodate up to 15 people and costs $200 - $350 depending if you're in port or not and which activity you want.

The Annex

Royal Caribbean has private karaoke rooms you can rent on a few of its ships in On Air Karaoke, but the dynamic nature of the Annex is a step above.

I think this will be a popular space on Ascent, and would be a hit on Royal Caribbean as well. I know I would love to use it with my family and friends!

Don't copy: All Included

Concierge Class cards

It's not all roses and rainbows with things different between the two cruise lines, and I hope Royal Caribbean doesn't follow Celebrity's lead with their All Included program.

All Included bundles a base drink package and base WiFi package into the cruise fare. It used to include gratuities too, but Celebrity dropped it because, "it wasn't what they [customers] perceived as the highest value for them in actually selecting Celebrity."

Nonetheless, I was disappointed with the program because of the reality it created.

Drink on Apex

Because everyone on the ship had a drink package, it seemed the price of individual drinks went up so ensure only those with an extra cost Premium Package could get the higher shelf selections.  

The result was I found drink prices cost more on Celebrity than on Royal Caribbean.  An $11 Michelob Ultra price tag is a great example of this.

With the WiFi, you get a very limited and slow connection included.  That's fine if all you're going to do is text, but I think the reality is people end up wanting to do more. So the result is you're probably going to spend extra to get the higher tier internet package too.

I loved the concept of All Included, but it's implementation left me less impressed and I don't think it's a good fit for Royal Caribbean.

Paradise Beach, Cozumel all-inclusive beach pass review

In:
01 Dec 2023
By: 
Matt Hochberg

If your cruise ship is visiting Cozumel, Mexico than there's a good chance you're interested in visiting Paradise Beach.

Paradise Beach

For over a decade, Paradise Beach was one of my top spots to visit while in Cozumel because it offered a white sand beach and pool, at a good price. 

I think most people that are looking for a beach day in any port want somewhere that has good amenities, conveniently located, and is priced reasonably.

There are dozens of beach resorts you can visit in Cozumel, and each has their pros and cons.  It can be overwhelming to find the right one for your family.

Paradise Beach

When Paradise Beach approached me to partner with this site, I jumped at the chance to go back to a favorite spot and re-visit it to see how it stacks up today and what the all-inclusive access program is all about.

Paradise Beach is a private beach resort that you book on your own (it's not available through Royal Caribbean).

Disclaimer: Paradise Beach invited me to visit on their behalf and provided complimentary access to their beach.  I've been to Paradise Beach around 10 times or more on my own, and my opinions remain my own.

Admission types

Entrance to Paradise Beach

Paradise Beach has two ways to enjoy your day there: a la carte or all-inclusive.

The all-inclusive is their most popular option where you pay one price for unlimited food, drink, and pool and beach access.  

The cost of a Paradise Beach all-inclusive pass are:

  • Adults: $67 per person
  • Teens (12-17): $47 per person
  • Kids (5-11): $41 per person
  • Infants (0-4): Free

Alternatively, there's an a la carte day pass that costs $10 per person with a minimum consumption of $10 US per person to use our facilities.

Paradise Beach sign

Prior to this visit, I had always done the a la carte option because of the flexibility it provided in that my kids rarely "break even" on any all-inclusive pass I've been to in the Caribbean.  Moreover, I like the idea of exploring Cozumel and then when it gets too hot, taking a taxi to Paradise Beach for a beach day to cool off in the afternoon.

However, the all-inclusive option makes it simple and it's clearly what a lot of cruisers are looking for in their visit to Cozumel. 

Paradise Beach

In addition to both fare types, there are extra add-ons you can purchase: beach bed cabanas, hair braiding, spa massages, and a $18 fun pass that includes all the water inflatables, trampolines, beach floats, and more.

Paradise Beach has offered a special rate just for Royal Caribbean Blog readers!

If you use the promo code RCBLOG, you can save 10% off new bookings made through May 31, 2024 on any trip through December 31, 2024.

What you can do in Paradise Beach

Paradise Beach

Paradise Beach is comprised of three major areas.

When you check-in, you'll be guided to your chairs for the day.  You'll have the choice of whichever chairs are available on a first-come, first-claimed basis. You'll have two waiters assigned to you, who can take any food or drink orders you like.

You can go between the pool and beach as you like, but your assigned waiters are who can assist you.

Paradise Beach pool

As you walk in, you'll see the pool first.  The pool at Paradise Beach is massive, and it's also heated.  These are two things you won't find at other Cozumel beach resorts.

Paradise Beach pool

The size of the pool is a welcome perk, as there's more than enough space even on the busiest of days. 

There's shallow seating, deeper water, and in-water loungers.

Paradise Beach pool loungers

Beyond the pool is the sprawling beach. Lots of sand, loungers, and sea water to enjoy.

Paradise Beach chairs

Paradise Beach has a reputation for offering many amenities beyond just the beach, and I think the beach inflatables are the most well-known.

These inflatables are a challenge and thrill for guests of all ages, but I think kids tend to gravitate towards them the most.  

Inflatables at Paradise Beach

It costs $18 per person extra to access the inflatables. When I took my kids one on visit it's when I quickly realized I'm not as limber as I used to be.  Nonetheless, the kids loved climbing, jumping, splashing, and then doing it all over again.

Bar at Paradise Beach

You'll also find a couple of bars around the resort.  While there is not a swim-up bar, there's a bar near the pool, as well as bars with swings at the beach.

Paradise Beach

There's also bathrooms that the resort prides itself on being clean, as well as changing rooms, and lockers you can rent ($4 each).

Paradise Beach amenities

  • Beach access
  • Pool access
  • Lounge chairs and umbrellas
  • All you can eat and drink
  • Free high-speed WiFi
  • Restrooms
  • Changing rooms

Food and drinks at Paradise Beach

Margarita

I have a pet peeve about going to Mexico and not getting better Mexican food than I can get at home.  So I expect any beach resort in Mexico to have great good choices.

Paradise Beach has a large menu, which means you're going to find a wide selection of Mexican fare.

Tacos

Tacos, burritos, fajitas, and quesadillas, there's plenty and it was all cooked freshly.

Fajitas

The guacamole was clearly made that day (and not out of a jar), along with salsa that had a good amount of spice to it.

We tried burritos, tacos, fajitas and more.  By far, I think their tacos are the best food item they have.  In fact, there's a taco truck between the pool and beach that cook up fantastic tacos you can order from your waiter or right from the truck.

Drinks at Paradise Beach

Paradise Beach also prides itself on its top shelf liquor. You'll find name brand liquors, as well as Mexican beers and more. 

I've been to a number of beach pass resorts in Cozumel where well alcohol is served, and it can best be described as "gasoline" in terms of its smoothness.  No such problem at Paradise Beach!

Comments

Pool entrance

I've tried a lot of beach resorts in Cozumel, but Paradise Beach remains at the top of my recommended list because of the variety of options and value offered.

First and foremost, I love their giant pool because of how nice it is and the fact it's heated.  Nearly every other beach resort in Cozumel has a small pool that can be downright frigid in the winter months. 

The pool at Paradise Beach is heated, and I can always find a spot to hang.  The staff will bring you drinks right to the pool's edge, and it's my favorite spot.  Admittedly, I prefer the pool over the beach.

Beach and chairs

The beach is large enough that you can find a spot for your family, and the sand is quite soft.

I've also recommended Paradise Beach because of their a la carte option, where you can drop in for just a few hours. It's also really nice if you're not a big drinker and can't "break even" on the all-inclusive price.

The downside to the a la carte option is you can't make a reservation, so you have to hope there's room for you.

Beach bed rental

If there's a downside to visiting here, it's that it's no secret that Paradise Beach exists and it can be busy.  Paradise Beach has a maximum capacity of around 800, and while it may not get close to that number on the day you visit, it certainly won't be a private retreat for your family.

Nonetheless, I think the variety of activities and reasonable price for its all-inclusive option make it a great choice for couples, families, and groups looking for a fun day with great service.

Parrot

In fact, the waiter service is very good with some waiters having been working at Paradise Beach for many years. The owner has been there since the beginning, and it's clear they want their customers to return over and over again.

Ultimately, I like the variety of ways to spend your day at a reasonable price. Their food quality and drink menu stand out, and the beach's close proximity to where Royal Caribbean's cruise ships dock is convenient.

How does Paradise Beach compare to other popular Cozumel beach passes

Paradise Beach sign

Inevitably, everyone wants to know how Paradise Beach compares to the beach days you can find elsewhere on Cozumel.

It's a subjective question, but having been to the top ones, here's how I would rank each versus Paradise Beach.

Nachi Cocom

Nachi Cocom has a far lower limited capacity, which is it's best feature.

However, Nachi's pool is tiny and cold, and their liquor selection limited compared to Paradise.

There's also no floats or other kid-friendly amenities in the ocean that may leave families with less to do.

Mr. Sanchos

Mr. Sanchos has ocean floats and multiple pools with swim-up bars.

On my last visit, their WiFi did not work at all, and I found their food to be subpar. 

How to get to Paradise Beach

Paradise Beach

It is a short drive from where Royal Caribbean cruise ships dock in Cozumel, perhaps 10 minutes by taxi.

When you exit the Cozumel port, look for the taxi stand and ask to go to Paradise Beach. 

There will be plenty of taxis waiting at Paradise Beach to take you back, and the staff are happy to call you a taxi should there not be on that meets your needs.

Royal Caribbean will homeport Star of the Seas in Port Canaveral

In:
30 Nov 2023
By: 
Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean's second Icon Class cruise ship will call Port Canaveral home.

Star of the Seas coming 2025

Star of the Seas will begin sailing in 2025 and offer cruises from the popular Central Florida port, located just an hour from Orlando.

The new bookings will go on sale on December 6, 2023.

Star of the Seas is schedule to debut in summer 2025, although its not clear yet exactly when. Royal Caribbean did not divulge when her first sailings will be.

Canaveral for Star of the Seas

Star of the Seas will be built around the same design as Icon of the Seas, so it will be approximately 250,800 gross tons and carry roughly 5,610 passengers at double occupancy (two passengers per cabin). With crew, the ship could sail with nearly 10,000 people on board.

Read more: Icon of the Seas guide and features

Following up on the already incredibly successful Icon of the Seas, Star of the Seas will be the second ship to launch and her position near Orlando is at the heart of Royal Caribbean's strategy to dominate the family vacation market.

Orlando, Florida on a map

Orlando is one of the top family vacation destinations in the world, and Royal Caribbean executives have said they intend to go after this lucrative market.

"The Icon product, along with Perfect Day, with the kind of experiences that we're offering, with the kind of new accommodations that we have on Icon and the experiences that we have for young families, older families and of course couples and singles and what have you, is really squarely standing shoulder to shoulder with Orlando and those kind of destinations," said Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley in 2022 call with investors.

Mr. Bayley sees the Royal Caribbean International brand being more "aggressive" with how it competes with the Orlando attractions, "And what we're beginning to see is us moving certainly the Royal brand into that space far more aggressively."

"We're really focusing on this target market, which is family and of course has many new neighborhoods, including a neighborhood called Surfside, which is absolutely focused on young families and those young families with children six and under travel all year round, because obviously parents can pull their kids out of pre-K."

A game changing ship

Icon of the Seas bow

Icon of the Seas hasn't started sailing yet, but the market has met it with eager anticipation.

Sales for Icon have blown past the cruise line's expectations, and it's selling faster than any new ship has in the past.

It's about 6% larger than the Oasis Class ships and has two more decks than them too.

Aquadome on Icon of the Seas

The vessel has a groundbreaking indoor AquaTheater beneath an expansive glass dome, a designated area specifically designed for young families, an increased selection of family-centric accommodations (including a unique three-story Ultimate Family Townhouse), a cantilevered infinity pool, and an onboard water park featuring six slides.

Additionally, passengers can enjoy a swim-up bar, an extended suite enclave, and a novel supper club, enhancing the overall experience on board.

It's likely Star of the Seas will have differences, given that Royal Caribbean usually enhances each new cruise ship with changes.  It could be new restaurants, different activities, and almost certainly different shows onboard.

Icon of the Seas aerial top

Construction of the new ship began in February 2023 when the keel was laid at the Meyer Turku shipyard in Finland.

Royal Caribbean has an order for a third Icon Class ship as well, which has a delivery date in 2026. All three of these ships were ordered and financed prior to 2020.

 

Is the front or back of cruise ship better?

In:
30 Nov 2023
By: 
Matt Hochberg

Does it matter if you pick a cabin on a cruise ship towards the front or back of the ship?

Anthem of the Seas

Every ship has many choices of where to pick a cabin, and as you get closer to the sail date, it's likely the rooms mid-ship will sell out first.  Mid-ship cabins tend to be more popular because they're more centrally located and tend to be a better choice for someone who is worried about getting seasick.

Read moreHow to beat seasickness on a cruise ship

If given the choice, you might be wondering better off with a cabin more forward or more aft.

What part of ship is best for cruises?

Wonder of the Seas aerial rear night

It's a matter of opinion, but there are advantages to picking a cabin in certain parts of the ship.

Cruise ship cabins usually fall into one of three categories: forward, mid, and aft. 

All things being equal, conventional advice is to pick a cruise ship cabin mid-ship so you're equidistant from everything onboard so the distance to get around is minimal.

In addition, mid-ship cabins are ideal for new cruisers because it's the best location to be to minimize the sensation of movement that could make you feel seasick. In addition, having a low cabin helps so you don't feel as much sway.

You may also find a price difference if your cabin is forward, aft, or mid-ship.  Depending on the ship, sometimes the more desirable rooms mid-ship or aft can cost more.

Read moreThe 5 best cabin locations on a cruise ship

Is the back of a cruise ship a good location?

Allure of the Seas aft

The primary advantage of picking a cabin at the back of a cruise ship is the view you can get.

If you pick a cabin at the very back of the ship, you can enjoy a view of the ship's wake, and these tend to be quite popular with cruise fans.  Not only is it a pretty view, but the balcony can be bigger on the back.

Some special cabins at the very rear corners of a ship might even feature a balcony that wrap around the vessel in an L-shape, giving you views on two sides.

Enjoying a view from the ship's aft can be almost hypnotic because of how alluring the ocean looks when you have nothing in front of you blocking it.

Speaking of views, when your ship is leaving port, having an aft view gives you the best perspective.

Royal Caribbean has caught onto this this trend and announced pricing changes related to aft rooms. Aft facing balconies and Junior Suites are now going to be separated out as new categories.

However, if your room doesn't face backwards and is just a standard room towards the back, you may just end up with the same room as a mid-ship cabin, but with a longer walk.

Movement at the aft is a bit less drastic than a room forward, but still isn’t the most stable place for those who are prone to seasickness.

What are the benefits of being in the front of the cruise ship?

Bow of cruise ship

Rooms towards the front tend to be cheaper than other rooms largely because there's less demand for a cabin at the front.

Just like rooms towards the back, it's a longer walk towards the front and most of the signature activities and public areas are further away. 

Plus, the front of the ship gets the most movement of any area. The higher the deck, the more noticeable that rolling and swaying motion tends to feel. That makes it less desirable if someone is worried about motion sickness.

Family oceanview on Brilliance

The reason why you might feel more movement at the front is because the front of the ship faces the most wind and direct hits from rolling waves, translating to lots of motion and sea spray. 

Besides a cheaper price, rooms at the very front have a unique perspective.  On many Royal Caribbean ships, you'll find family oceanview cabins at the front that offer significantly more living space without the price of a suite.

Another nice benefit of a front room is it can feel more secluded because there's far less foot traffic.

7 things new and different to love about Celebrity Ascent

In:
29 Nov 2023
By: 
Matt Hochberg

Celebrity Ascent is the newest cruise ship to debut in the Edge class of ships, and it's name implies it's in a position to move up the ranks of the ships the preceded it.

Celebrity Ascent

The fourth in a series of five ships, Ascent is a bit bigger than the first two Edge Class ships (Celebrity Edge and Celebrity Apex).  She's 20 meters longer and a deck taller.

There are 179 more cabins on Ascent than on Edge or Apex.  At double occupancy, Celebrity Ascent has a capacity of 3,260 passengers. The original Edge Class ships had a capacity of 2,918 passengers.

That extra space means the ship has more room to expand certain venues, such as The Retreat suites-only section of the ship and a larger Sunset Bar at the back of the vessel.

Grand Plaza

There's other touches as well, and, I was curious to know what makes this ship stand out from the rest.  Having just sailed on Celebrity Apex last week, comparing the two ships so closely together was an intriguing opportunity.

Celebrity Ascent will sail to the Caribbean out of Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale.

Pool on Celebrity Ascent

Disclaimer: Celebrity Cruises invited me to sail on Celebrity Ascent for a quick two-night preview cruise that was open to travel agents and members of the press. I did not pay for this sailing.

Grand Plaza

Grand Plaza

As soon as you board Celebrity Ascent, you're going to notice the central hub of activity looks totally different.

The Grand Plaza is the epicenter of everything happening on the ship.  Since the first Edge Class ship, the Grand Plaza has been a focal point for the ship, and with Celebrity Beyond and Ascent, you get a different layout.

Grand Plaza

The LED chandelier is is more central, which really opens up the space and surrounds the deck with a beautiful glow.

If you loved the martini bar before, the new one is expanded is fully circular too.

Grand Plaza

Celebrity says it's "loftier" and "airier" and I think I was struck by how much different the layout makes in the feel of the venue compared to Apex.

Another nice change is the addition of World Class Bar to the atrium.

World Class Bar

This bar is a fan favorite on other Celebrity ships, and has been included on both Celebrity Beyond and Celebrity Ascent. It serves up "bespoke cocktails" with great views of the Grand Plaza.

The Annex

The Annex

When I boarded Ascent, the Annex wasn't even on my radar, but I think this is the sleeper hit of this new ship.

Brand new to Celebrity, the Annex is a private room you can rent for your family to enjoy.  It's multi-purpose, and allows you to customize the entertainment to your needs.

It has the choice of:

  • Golf simulator
  • Celebration Lounge
  • Personal karaoke party
  • Game day streaming
  • Movie night deluxe

Essentially, it's a place you can rent to have a special enclave for a party, celebration, or retreat.

The Annex

The cost depends if you're renting it on a sea day or port day, and which private event theme you pick.  Celebrity says it will cost around $200 - $350 for the private event.

When I cruise with family or friends, I love any opportunity to have a special area for just us, and this seems like a great addition.

Sunset Bar

Sunset Bar

When I went on Celebrity Apex, everyone told me to check out the Sunset Bar. Clearly that message got back to the cruise line, because the Sunset Bar is larger and beautiful.

Views of the ship's wake have always been a favorite of cruisers, and this Sunset Bar doubles down on those views. This is the bar to go to on a sea day to enjoy a view of the ship's wake, the sun rising and setting, and the ocean breeze inbetween.

Sunset Bar

The theme is labeled as "international beach club ambiance", but I was getting some Spanish Mediterranean vibes sitting here. 

Sunset Bar

The extra space really makes it feel like a destination, rather than another bar. I love how much more seating there is, and how the bar doesn't dominate the entire space.

Rooftop Garden area

Rooftop Garden

If I think of Celebrity cruise ship, I usually think of their lawn and garden top decks, and Ascent has an expanded area to enjoy.

You'll find more seating, new private nooks, and two new floating pools that are cantilevered over the side of the ship.

Rooftop Garden
Rooftop Garden

When there's not an event happening here, it's a great spot for "I want to be outside without being at the pool". It's serene, pretty, and I like how the area is arranged.

Rooftop Garden Grill has also been re-arranged, thanks to Ascent being a bit longer. It's less protruding into the garden area, and is the perfect sea day dinner.

The Retreat

The Retreat

If you're lucky enough to stay in a suite, Celebrity has greatly expanded its private suite area.

Known as The Retreat, the indoor space is 25% bigger than on Celebrity Edge or Apex.

The Retreat

Think of The Retreat as a suite neighborhood on an Oasis Class ship multiplied to threefold. 

The indoor space features au d'oeuvres, drinks, and plenty of seating. And it's open 24/7!

The Retreat concierge

The personal concierge team is there to assist those in suites that don't have butler service.  The concierge team is split among four hosts.

The Retreat

Outside is more reserved seating for suite guests than I've ever seen on any Royal Caribbean ship.

The Retreat seating encompasses multiple decks, and has plenty of quiet nooks and crannies. Plus, there's a hot tub too.

The Retreat

You don't need to book a suite to have a great cruise, but it sure is nice to have this space if you do!

The Club

The Club

I spent less time in The Club than I would have liked on Celebrity Apex, but I think this space is vastly underrated.

As a Royal Caribbean fan, it reminds me a lot of Music Hall on the Oasis Class ships, but on Celebrity it feels much more open.

New for Ascent is "Smoke and Ivories", which is a musical event that is themed to a 1950s cabaret. It features a piano, hand-to-hand fights, tap solos, passionate duets, and aerial performances.

The Club

There was also a really neat augmented reality retro video game where people act as the player in the game in the center of the space to play arcade games like Breakout.

The space may not have a snazzy name, but I like the layout a lot.

Cosmopolitan restaurant

Cosmopolitan restaurant

It's a small change, but the Cosmopolitan Main Dining Room restaurant has been re-themed.

Celebrity's Edge Class ships have four different Main Dining Rooms, with each having a unique theme. The core menu is the same across all four, but each restaurant has a few appetizers and entrees that are special to that venue.

Cosmopolitan restaurant

On Apex, I enjoyed my dinners in Normandie, and this new space looks equally beautiful.

There's a lot of great specialty dining on Celebrity Ascent that gets a lot of attention, but don't overlook the Main Dining Rooms either.

Other notable changes to Celebrity Ascent

I noticed a few other changes Celebrity made with its fourth Edge Class ship.

Le Voyage

The intimate and upscale restaurant Le Voyage has been redesigned, and it features a menu created by Chef Daniel Boulud. 

Fine Cut Steakhouse

Fine Cut Steakhouse has an expanded seating space, which is larger than on previous Edge Class ships.

This means the restaurant has been expanded to the edge of the ship so that the restaurant has floor-to-ceiling windows on one side.