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Royal Caribbean building new Innovation Lab with virtual reality simulator

In:
11 Aug 2016
By: 
Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean announced it is building a new Innovation Lab facility at PortMiami, adjacent to its corporate headquarters.

Royal Caribbean is being touted as a first-of-its-kind facility built entirely designed to promote the “relentless innovation” that powers the cruiseline, the building will house unique collaborative spaces where new ideas can tested and tweaked.

Much of the first floor will be open space large enough to allow the construction of full-size mockups of shipboard spaces and the things that fill them – "real" reality rather than virtual – for trials, tests and aesthetics. he rest of the building will contain "ignition hubs" where people from different departments and vendors will gather to spend hours, days or weeks talking through problems and projects.

The new 20,000-square-foot, two-story lab, is intended to be as functional as it is architecturally stunning. Royal Caribbean vice president of architectural design, Kelly Gonzalez, is very excited about the the lab as an idea mill where most of the moving parts are human, "Innovation is nothing new for us. Our daily existence here is thriving off of always wanting to raise the bar a little higher. And go a little further."

"Imagine a large conference room that eight to 10 people would walk into. Now imagine the floor is one seamless sheet of glass and there’s rear projection underneath it."

"The whole room is Virtual Reality," Gonzalez continues. "But when you put the glasses on, you and the people you’re with are all sharing the same experience in that room."

Completion date for the lab is the end of January.

 

Food on a Royal Caribbean cruise

In:
08 Aug 2016
By: 
Matt Hochberg

There is no question that dining on a Royal Caribbean cruise has become a major aspect of the cruise experience.  The food available onboard ranges from simple and classic to extravagant and contemporary.  In short, there are a lot of great dining choices available on Royal Caribbean.

With so many choices, often guests preparing for their cruise have many questions about what is included, which options are available and how it all works.  What follows is our guide to understanding better the basics of dining on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Complimentary food

Simply put, there is plenty of great food included in the cost of your Royal Caribbean cruise.   One can easily go an entire food and enjoy nothing but food that has no additional cost from morning to night. After all, that is what the concept of a cruise has been for a long time.

Royal Caribbean ships have different names and venues for its dining options, but you will find some basic characteristics among them all to prepare you for what to expect.

Main dining room

The main dining room is the stalwart and institution upon which cruise ship dining was established.  It has changed over the years, but the principles remain the same and is available on all Royal Caribbean ships.

Guests may dine in the main dining room for dinner every night and breakfast every morning. Lunch is served in the main dining room on sea days only. The basics of the main dining room are it is a large, sit-down restaurant with waiter service that is included in your cruise fare.

For dinner, Royal Caribbean offers a traditional set time with assigned seating, or an alternative first-come, first-served option (My Time Dining).  Both offer the same menu, which changes every night and in both cases, there is the possibility that you will be seated with other guests.

Dinner is the most popular and common time to dine in the main dining room, when the main dining room offers appetizers, entrees and desserts to choose from each night and you may order as much (or as little) as you like and it's nearly all complimentary.  The exception for food that is not complimentary in the main dining room are a few premium dishes that have an additional surcharge and premium beverages, such as soda, alcohol and specialty coffee.

Breakfast and lunch is less formal than dinner, with guests seated as they arrive, with posted hours of when the dining room is open. In both cases, the meals are served to you at your table.  The breakfast menu does not change, but the lunch menu does.

On Empress of the Seas, breakfast is sometimes replaced by a brunch option.

The main dining room has a dress code.  Dinner has a dress code that changes each day, while breakfast and lunch have a more casual dress code requirement. When guests hear the word, "dress code," that often causes a lot of concern about what to wear.  The reality is on most nights, guests can easily wear what would be defined as "resort casual," which can mean a sundress or skirt for women and a collared shirt and slacks for men.  "Nice" jeans are appropriate for both men and women too.  On formal nights, the suggested attire gets a bit fancier, with cocktail dresses or gowns for women and suits for men.

Windjammer Cafe

First time cruisers often imagine a large buffet when they think of eating on a cruise, and the Windjammer is the closest thing to that concept.  

The Windjammer Cafe is a buffet restaurant that is included in your cruise, which serves meals throughout the day.  Most are not open all the time, but have long enough hours to cover nearly all the times guests would like something to eat.

The Windjammer has lots of seating and even more food variety than anywhere else on the ship. You will find burgers, soups, sandwiches, ethnic dishes, salads, pastas and much more every day. Guests will find the greatest variety of food at the Windjammer compared to any other dining location on the ship, complimentary or paid.

Guests serve themselves from the buffet and then bring their food to a table in the area. Guests are also free to take their food elsewhere on the ship, like the pool deck.  There are wait staff who will clear plates, clean tables and bring you drinks.  

Unlike the main dining room, the dress code for the Windjammer is casual.

The Windjammer is a great alternative to any sit down restaurant, including the main dining room.  Some guests opt to eat exclusively at the Windjammer for dinner instead of the main dining room for a variety of reasons.

Quick service restaurants

The bulk of complimentary food on a Royal Caribbean cruise is available from quick service restaurants, which offers prepared and short-cooked food to guests.  The sort of food you find here are sandwiches, snacks, pizza and everything between.  Each Royal Caribbean ship will offer a number of these locations around your ship, so you are never too far away.

There is usually limited  seating available at these locations, but most guests go into get the food and then bring it somewhere else on the ship to eat, such as their stateroom or by the pool.  It is designed for guests that want something quickly to eat on their way to somewhere else.

Room Service

Room service is available 24 hours per day on your Royal Caribbean charge.

Since March 27, 2017, Royal Caribbean charges a $7.95 per order fee for room service. This means, whether you order one item or ten items, a $7.95 fee per room service order will be levied.  A complimentary continental breakfast option remains complimentary and will not incur the $7.95 fee.

Just like room service at a hotel, you can call room service and place an order to have a crew member deliver the food to your room.  Royal Caribbean has also added a room service ordering option via the stateroom television, which simplifies the ordering process.

The room service menu does not change and is limited in scope.

Specialty dining

In addition to all the food that is included in your cruise fare are specialty dining options, that carry with it an extra cost to enjoy the food there. The exact amount extra will vary from restaurant to restaurant, and ship to ship.  

In most cases, the specialty dining options offer a greater variety of food choices than what is available at complimentary dining locations. Royal Caribbean has designed its specialty restaurants around themes or cuisines (Italian, steakhouse, sushi, etc).

Royal Caribbean recommends making a reservation in advance for its specialty restaurants to ensure there is a seating available, but there is usually walk-up availability although there is a greater risk of waiting to be seated.  Unlike the main dining room, you will not be seated with other guests with the exception of the Izumi Hibachi experience.

Specialty restaurants are priced in one of two manners: cover charge or a la carte pricing.  With a cover charge, there is one price for all the food on the menu (except for beverages).  There can also be a surcharge for ordering more than one entree, although this rule varies based on the specialty restaurant you happen to be dining at.  A la carte dining charges you just for what you order, and is similar to how food is billed at a conventional land-based restaurant.

Specialty dining can be booked prior to a cruise via Royal Caribbean's web site or once onboard the cruise.  Reservations made online for a specialty restaurant with a cover charge will charge that amount at the time of booking.  Reservations made for specialty dining onboard your ship will not be charged to your SeaPass account until you dine at the restaurant.

Specialty restaurant costs

The cost of specialty dining varies considerably and we even see different pricing across the fleet.

Most specialty dining has a flat-fee surcharge, ranging from $6.95 (Johnny Rockets) or $25 (Giovanni's Table) to $85 (Chef's Table).  Most specialty dining restaurant cover charges fall into the $20 to $45 range.

The a la carte priced restaurants will have item prices of just a few dollars to around $20.  

Specialty restaurant hours

All Royal Caribbean specialty restaurants are open for dinner, with some open during breakfast and/or lunch.

Lunch meals at specialty restaurants usually are priced a bit lower and only on sea days.  Breakfast is quite rare to be offered at Royal Caribbean specialty restaurants. Some specialty venues, like Johnny Rockets on Oasis-class ships and Chops Grille, transform to offer breakfast for no additional fee.

For breakfast or lunch, advanced reservations are not usually available nor required.

Kids at specialty restaurants

Royal Caribbean welcomes children that are 13 years old or younger to its specialty restaurants (when accompanied by an adult) and even offers them special pricing.

Kids ages 6-12 can dine at specialty restaurants for a $8 cover charge. Kids 5 years old and under eat free.

In fact, some specialty restaurants have a special kids menu, which kids can order off that offers kid-friendly favorites from the regular menu.  Children under the age of 5 will have a menu similar to the kids menu from the main dining room.

Royal Caribbean does recommend, but does not restrict, Wonderland Imaginative Cuisine, 150 Central Park, and Chef's Table are best enjoyed by children 13 years or older.

Dietary restrictions and special requests

Royal Caribbean is very accommodating when it comes to guests who have special dietary needs. The cruise line can handle a number of requests, such as food allergies, Gluten-free, Kosher, Low-fat, and Low-sodium.

Vegetarian Meals (including Indian-style vegetarian) are available on all menus in the Dining Room and Windjammer Cafe every day. Guests do not need to make a special request for these meals.

Lactose-free/soy milk, Ensure, and kosher meals are available no extra charge. All you have to do is notify Royal Caribbean at least 45 days prior to sailing (90 days for European/South American Itineraries).

For any and all dietary requests, contact your travel agent or Certified Vacation Planner and request that the remark be noted in your reservation details. If you made your reservation online at royalcaribbean.com you may add your request to the "update personal information." section. You may also send an e-mail request to [email protected]; please include in the e-mail the guests' names, booking number, ship name and sail date. E-mails will receive an automated response. 

More Royal Caribbean food info

This blog post is just the beginning of the many options, choices and tips about dining on a Royal Caribbean cruise.  Here are a few more resources that will help you better understand what to expect once onboard:

Choosing a cabin for your cruise

In:
29 Jul 2016
By: 
Matt Hochberg

One of the first considerations when booking a Royal Caribbean cruise is the cabin you will select that will be your home for the duration of the cruise.  

On any given Royal Caribbean cruise, there are plenty of cabins to consider across a number of stateroom categories.  There are many considerations to take into account, but choosing the right cabin for you should not be a daunting task.

Staterooms come in different sizes, layouts, views and even benefits.  What is important to one person might not be as important to someone else.  There really is no wrong cabin to pick, but there are definitely rooms you can choose that will enhance your cruise experience.

When considering the right stateroom for you, it is important to consider the differences between the various categories. 

Cabin categories

Inside cabins

The most basic and smallest of the staterooms are inside staterooms.  Inside staterooms are distinguished from other rooms primarily because they offer no natural view of outside the ship.

Inside staterooms typically have no windows and no balconies.  

The compelling reason to book an inside stateroom is for the value, since they are often the least-expensive rooms you can book and that means it is the lowest entry point to getting on the cruise.  The exact size of the room will vary depending on the class of ship you are sailing on, but inside rooms will offer the least amount of space at the least price.

Over the years, Royal Caribbean has introduced new kinds of inside staterooms that retain the basic qualities of an inside stateroom, but with a new twist.

Promenade view: Promenade view staterooms are inside staterooms that feature a bay window that overlooks the Royal Promenade.  While the room has no view outside the ship, it does provide something to look at, with great opportunities for people watching as well as a great vantage point for events on the Royal Promenade.

Another added benefit of this room category is the bowed windows offer more square footage compared to standard inside staterooms.

The exact size of Promenade stateroom varies depending on the class of ships. Voyager and Freedom class ships Promenade staterooms are 160 square feet, whereas on Oasis class ships they are 193 square feet.

Virtual Balcony: One of the newest innovations to the inside stateroom is the virtual balcony stateroom, which takes a conventional inside stateroom and adds an 80-inch LED high-definition television that provides live views around the ship.

The screens are 4K ultra high definition capable screens that stretch from floor to ceiling and receive a video feed from the ship's cameras that are mounted at the stem and stern of the ship.

With virtual balcony staterooms, guests can enjoy a balcony experience without the balcony price.

Virtual balcony staterooms are available on Symphony of the Seas, Spectrum of the Seas, Navigator of the Seas, Quantum of the Seas, Anthem of the Seas, Ovation of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas, Voyager of the Seas and Explorer of the Seas.

Oceanview cabins

The next category up from inside staterooms are oceanview staterooms, which are slightly larger rooms that have a porthole or window to the ocean.

Much like the inside staterooms, oceanview cabins are on the inexpensive side and provide guests with an affordable means of being on the ship and still have a view.  Natural light is important to many guests, and the ocean view provides that.   Essentially, oceanview rooms are slightly larger inside rooms with a window.

The reason to consider an oceanview room is if a view is important to you, but the price of a higher-category stateroom is not possible. Alternatively, sometimes the price difference between an inside room and an oceanview is not too large, and someone may want to upgrade their room option at not a lot of extra cost.

There is one variation on the oceanview stateroom, which offers even more of a windowed view without the balcony.

Panoramic oceanview: Panoramic Ocean View Stateroom gives much more of a view than a traditional oceanview room, with a floor to ceiling wrap around panoramic window that is 76 inches high by 103-321 inches wide.  That is a big window.

As you might imagine, the reason to book a stateroom like this is for the amazing views without the balcony view price.  

Panoramic ocean view staterooms are found on Navigator of the Seas, Freedom of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, Enchantment of the Seas, Explorer of the Seas and Voyager of the Seas.

Balcony cabins

One of the most sought-after stateroom categories are the balcony cabins.  Balcony rooms offer the same kind of living space the previous categories did, but with a private balcony space.

Having your own balcony means you have a special spot on the ship just for you to enjoy, that provides views all around the ship, as well as that terrific ocean breeze. Many cruise fans swear by a balcony for the added space, private area and ambiance that only a balcony room can provide.

As you move up the categories of Royal Caribbean staterooms, balcony staterooms come with more space compared to interior staterooms.  As anyone that has cruised before will tell you, every square foot matters!

When you book a balcony stateroom, you get more inside as well as the space from your balcony.  It all adds up to more room for everyone to maneuver in and makes the entire experience less crowded.  Having a balcony means you have a great spot for sail away, enjoying the ocean passing by, or seeing the port you are docked in from the comfort of your stateroom.

There are a few variations on the traditional oceanview balcony cabin available on Royal Caribbean ships.  These are all the same balcony experience, but with a different vantage point.

Central Park balconies: On Oasis-class ships, Central Park balcony staterooms are available that instead of offering a balcony that overlooks the ocean, this stateroom category offers a view of the Central Park neighborhood.

The Central Park balconies offer the same fresh air and light that ocean view balconies do but with the opportunity to enjoy the ambiance of Central Park along with the people watching aspect. In addition, Central Park view balcony staterooms are often slightly cheaper than ocean balconies.

The exact size of a Central Park view stateroom with balcony is 182 square feet with a 50 square foot balcony.

Central Park balcony staterooms are available on Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas.

Boardwalk balconies: Just like the Central Park balcony staterooms, the Boardwalk balcony staterooms trade the oceanview of a traditional balcony for a view of the Boardwalk neighborhood.

In addition to the view of the Boardwalk fun, some Boardwalk balconies can offer views of the ocean and/or the AquaTheater, depending on where your room is located.  Boardwalk balcony rooms are also usually priced less than ocean balconies.

A Boardwalk balcony room offers 182 square feet of living space, with a private balcony between 47 and 52 square feet.

Boardwalk balcony staterooms are available on Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas.

Suites

At the high-end of Royal Caribbean's stateroom options are the suite cabins, which offer the most luxurious and largest of all the staterooms.  As you might imagine, suites are also the most expensive.

The reason to book a suite is simple: you want to indulge on your cruise and splurge for something a bit more than the norm.  Suites offer a tremendous amount of personal space, higher-end amenities, special bonuses and exclusive access.

From Junior Suites to Presidential Suites, there are a number of options to choose from. Suites offer access to a concierge lounge and even a butler. Cabin suites usually consist of more than one room in your cabin and have the most space of any cabin.  It is difficult to convey just how much larger some of the suites really are, with balconies that exceed the size of some staterooms.

In addition to the impressive rooms, suite guests typically enjoy double Crown and Anchor Society points for each night of their cruise, concierge planning assistance, complimentary drinks and a private lounge, reserved seating by the pool and shows, and a whole lot more.

On Royal Caribbean's Oasis and Quantum class cruise ships, the benefits program has been refreshed and is dubbed, the Royal Suite Class.  Suites on these ships offer the most benefits and highest level of service, split across three tiers of benefits. 

Cabin amenities

All Royal Caribbean staterooms come with private bathrooms that are equipped with showers.  Suites have bath tubs in addition to showers, so if you need a tub, be sure to look for that as an option.

Not all staterooms have the same level of amenities, depending on ship class, but there are some basics that all have:

  • Television
  • Private bathroom
  • Safe
  • Minibar
  • Sitting area

Be sure to refer to each ship's layout for specific accommodations and amenities.

Read moreWhat is the best room on a cruise ship?

Cabin location

Where your cabin is located can be just as important a consideration as the type of room you select.  Royal Caribbean's cruise ships are massive, and picking your room location means you have to take into account access and convenience to a number of public areas on the ship.

It is important to note that there is no bad location on a cruise ship, it is just a matter of personal preference in terms of which location means more to you.  It is difficult to make generalizations about cabin locations because it can be a very subjective decision but here are some basic guidelines.

In general, the most sought after location for a stateroom is midship, simply because it is centrally located relative to all the amenities and spaces on the ship.  This is true of all cruise ships, and depending on your preferences and itinerary, this may or may not be important to you.  

In addition, being centrally located is what most guests who are sensitive to motion on the ocean choose, because the center of the ship tends to have the least sensations of movement.  Those that can become easily sea sick, may want to take special consideration.

When it comes to picking a stateroom location, arguably the most important criteria can be how close (or far) your cabin is from certain onboard facilities.  Some guests prefer to be close to the pool deck, others like easy access to the Royal Promenade and others want to be in close proximity to elevators.  

As they say, it is all relative, but consider your cabin's proximity to public spaces near, above and below your room when selecting it.  On the larger ships, the time it takes to walk from one point to another is far more pronounced than on smaller ships, but no ship's walking distance is too great to truly be a concern (provided you suffer from no mobility issues).

Speaking of location, you may also want to consult deck plans before choosing a room to look at how close your room is to public areas that tend to generate a lot of noise.  If you are a light sleeper, some rooms that are above or below a night club, restaurant, pool or some other public area can suffer from noise bleed. How much noise and how bad of an issue can vary from cruise to cruise and person to person.

If you're at all concerned about this, choose a cabin that has at least two decks above and below it and the nearest public area to assure quietness.

There is also the choice of having your room on the port (left) or starboard (right) side of the ship.  In my years of cruising, I have found this to be among the least important considerations, since you never know what you will be facing when, and both sides of the ship offer something to see and getting to the opposite side of the ship is quite easy.

Read moreWhat is the best location on a cruise ship?

Your cruising group

Much of the decision surrounding which stateroom to pick may have to do with whom you are cruising with. A couple cruising will have different needs than someone cruising with kids.

If you are cruising alone, keep in mind most staterooms come with a single supplement fee, which means you will pay extra to subsidize the lack of another passenger.  There are some staterooms that are specifically designed for solo cruisers, but they are rare and only on a handful of ships.

Families are at the heart of what Royal Caribbean offers, and those sailing with children may want to consider two additional alternatives to a typical room.  Family sized staterooms are extra large versions of regular staterooms that are designed with larger groups in mind.  They offer much more space without the typically higher prices that come with a room of that size. Family sized staterooms may not be available to see on Royal Caribbean's web site at all time and tend to have a minimum amount of guests in the room to become available.  Check with a travel agent for exact rates on these rooms.

Families should also consider two adjacent or connecting rooms.  Having multiple rooms may sound expensive, but often it is not that much more and the added space and extra bathroom (!) make this a very attractive alternative.  Families with younger children will want to get connecting rooms to ensure easy access between the rooms, while older kids can probably be fine in a nearby room.  Regardless, a second room is an option to consider for larger groups that need more space.

Couples will find the most options to choose from, since staterooms are mostly designed for two guests per room. Nearly all rooms have twin beds that can be separated or combined to form a queen-size bed. You can request either configuration from your stateroom attendant.

Cruising with friends is another common choice, and like couples, bed configurations can be altered as needed.  In addition, some cabins have 3rd and 4th berths, which means options like sofa beds and Pullman beds (beds that pull-down from the ceiling) can fit everyone comfortably.

More help picking a cruise cabin

Your thoughts

What cabin category do you usually book on a Royal Caribbean cruise?  Do you agree or disagree with our assessment of each category? Share any questions, tips, or additional thoughts you have in the comments!

How to stay in touch with someone on your Royal Caribbean cruise

In:
27 Jul 2016
By: 
Matt Hochberg

We get a lot of questions about taking a Royal Caribbean cruise, and there is one question that gets asked a lot about how to stay in touch with those on the same ship as them.  Often, the question goes something like this, "I am cruising with several groups of people. How do you recommend we stay connected on the ship besides the room phone?"

Royal Caribbean cruise ships range in a guest capacity of about 2,000 to 6,500, so finding one person onboard is not always a simple task.  If you are also wondering the best way to get a hold of someone you are cruising with, here are some helpful means of doing so.  Each has its advantages or disadvantages, and price will vary as well.

Thanks to Billy Hirsch for contributing a lot to the writing of this blog post!

Royal Caribbean's phones

Utilizing Royal Caribbean's in-room phones and phones in common areas is a simple way to communicate with guests onboard your ship and onshore.

If you are trying to reach a guest onboard the ship, you can make a call to their stateroom and optionally leave a message.  Use of the phones for calls to a guest's stateroom is complimentary.  Of course, it requires the guest to be in the room to answer the call and/or check the voicemail.  This can result in "phone tag," where it seems like you are always missing each other.

If you want to get in contact with someone on land, there are two options.

Calls made from land to your Royal Caribbean cruise (shore to ship) can be achieved by calling (888) 724-7447/(321) 953-9003 to reach passengers.  The cost of this service is $7.95 per minute, and is chargeable to a Visa or MasterCard credit card.

Calls made from your Royal Caribbean ship to somewhere on land (ship to shore) can be made from your stateroom phone and also costs $7.95 per minute, billed to your SeaPass account.

Using your cell phone service

These days, almost everyone has a cell phone with them and your cell phone will function while on a cruise, although the cost of doing so will vary greatly.

Phone calls made while at sea and using Royal Caribbean's cell phone service will come with a hefty cost, depending on your cell phone plan.  Usually, calls cost $6-8 per minute depending on your carrier.

Text messaging, however, is far less expensive. Once again, rates will vary, but most SMS messages that are sent will cost anywhere from 25 cents to $1 per message, with incoming messages free or up to 50 cents per message.  

Using your cell phone's data plan can be prohibitively expensive, with costs of $1 per MB or more.  You are better off skipping this option and looking at Voom options (scroll down to see more about this).

Some cell phone providers offer a special international plan for use on a cruise ship.  For example, AT&T has a partnership with Royal Caribbean, where you can pre-purchase a plan that provides an allotment of phone usage at sea.

For $120 per month, this plan provides

  • 50 minutes of voice calls, with $1 per minute over.
  • 100 SMS messages, with $0.50 per message sent over.
  • 100 MB of data, with $10 per 10 MB over.

Voom for data services

Royal Caribbean's high-speed internet option it offers to its guests on all ships is known as Voom, and it provides an affordable means of using internet data to stay in touch with friends and family.

There are two Voom plans offered:

  • Voom Surf
    • This offers basic web browsing, with no streaming services allowed
    • Starts at $15.99 per day for 1 device
      • The price gets cheaper as more devices are added to the plan
      • Most guests can get a 20% pre-cruise discount via the Cruise Planner site
      • There is also a Crown & Anchor Society discount once onboard
  • Voom Surf + Stream
    • Full internet access, including streaming services
    • Starts at $19.99 per day for 1 device
      • The price gets cheaper as more devices are added to the plan
      • Most guests can get a 20% pre-cruise discount via the Cruise Planner site
      • There is also a Crown & Anchor Society discount once onboard

Use Voom Surf + Stream to make calls

Royal Caribbean's top-tier internet option not only can allow for web browsing, but also provides the ability for savvy users to make phone calls while onboard your cruise for significantly less than the other means listed earlier in this blog post.

WiFi calling

The easiest option is to use WiFi calling through your carrier.  Most major cell phone carriers these days provide a means of making phone calls via an internet connection instead of relying on a cell phone connection. 

WiFi calling has no additional cost and works just like you are at home and supports voice calls, text messaging (SMS and MMS).  It works with most newer devices, including iPhone 5C and later, Android and Blackberry devices.  Check with your carrier for exact devices that are supported.

At last check, these carriers supported WiFi calling

  • Verizon
  • AT&T
  • T-Mobile
  • Sprint
  • GoogleFi

To make a phone call over WiFi, put your device into airplane mode and connect to Voom via WiFi.  If set up correctly on your phone, your calls, texts will be routed through Voom.

Free/low cost VoIP Services

There are many applications for your smart phone, computer or tablets that allow for free or low cost phone calls as well. There are a number popular applications we recommend using.

With all of these solutions, we highly recommend testing them out before your Royal Caribbean cruise to ensure you understand how it works and is set up correctly.

Skype

Skype is quite easy to use and offers voice, video and texting between Skype accounts for free.  All you need to do is install Skype on your device and have the person you are communicating with do the same.

Skype users can also make voice calls and text message between Skype and a phone for a low cost.  There is no contract or commitment to use this service, just load up your Skype account with Skype credit.

Google Hangouts

Google's messaging application, Google Hangouts, is completely free and supports free outbound domestic phone calls. Unfortunately, there are no inbound calls possible in most cases.

Google Hangout also allows for free messaging to anyone else with a Google account (which is everyone these days), as well as video chat.

WhatsApp

Another popular messaging application for smart phones is WhatsApp, which supports easy communicating.

Before your cruise, set up an account (you will need to verify your account via SMS messaging).  Once set up, WhatsApp users can message between WhatsApp users, conduct video chat and make calls to and from WhatsApp users.

Facebook Messenger

Another free option is to use Facebook Messenger.  This is totally free, and allows for messaging between Facebook users, as well as video chat.

Facebook Messenger also supports calls to and from Facebook users.

Your Thoughts

Which means of communicating with friends and family on your ship and at sea do you find to be the best option? Did we miss one you know about? Share your comments and suggestions in the comments!

How to use your cell phone on a Royal Caribbean cruise (and not come home to a big bill)

In:
30 Jun 2016
By: 
Matt Hochberg

Nearly everyone that goes on a Royal Caribbean cruise will have a cell phone with them.  These days, most adults and plenty of older children have a phone and odds are, they are bringing it with them on their Royal Caribbean cruise. With all of those phones on the ship, the last thing you want to do is come home with an unexpectedly large cell phone bill.

The nature of cell phones these days is they are constantly using their cellular connection to determine where the phone is, get updates, and update apps.  When you are at home or work, that is quite useful and functional, but on a cruise, it has the potential to cause a major headache when all that use leads to costly roaming charges.

Before we get into how to avoid a big bill, it is important to understand how and why an unexpected large bill can occur.

Understanding roaming

Before we can discuss strategies for avoiding big bills, we have to explain why these big bills can occur.

It is probably not a surprise to hear that your cell phone functions by communicating with cell phone towers that are set up and powered by the cell phone provider company that you pay each month.  When you are in your home country, your service plan allows for regular use of their network, under the service you signed up.

On a Royal Caribbean ship, you are outside your cell phone company's service area and that is what the cell phone industry refers to as "roaming."  Instead of using your cell provider's network, you use someone else's cell phone tower and network.  Royal Caribbean partners with Maritime Telecommunications Network (MTN) to provide a cell phone signal at sea known as "Cellular at Sea."  MTN provides the ability to place and receive calls, text messaging and (slow) data at a relatively high cost.  

Even if you were to go on a cruise with your phone and never use it, most modern smart phones still use their cellular signal when not in active use to keep its apps up to date. Of course, if you actively use your phone to make a call, check an app or otherwise use your phone's cellular signal to do something, then you will likely have an expensive bill because of all that roaming.

Airplane mode

In order to avoid having your phone try to use its cellular connection, all modern phones have an ability to turn off its cellular signal by enabling something called, "airplane mode."  This refers to a function that was originally intended for people going on airplanes when phone use was prohibited.  

By enabling airplane mode, your phone is incapable of using its cellular antenna.  It can, however, still use its WiFi and Bluetooth connections to stay connected, if you so choose.

Airplane mode is a mode that can be easily turned on and off, so it is important to ensure it remains in airplane mode while you do not want your phone communicating with any cellular towers.

The advantage to using airplane mode is it is a kind of "master switch," which makes it very simple to know if your phone can or cannot accept a cell signal.

How to enable airplane mode depends on your phone model, but a quick Google search should be easy, such as, "How do I enable airplane mode on an iPhone" or "How do I enable airplane mode on a Samsung Galaxy", etc.

You will want to enable airplane mode as soon as you get onboard the ship on your first day.  A very common mistake is guests forget to do it until later.

Data roaming

There are additional ways to ensure your phone will not rack up extra charges and one of them is to disable data roaming.

Your phone roaming on another network is something that can happen nearly anywhere.  It can happen in foreign countries or even somewhere in your home country that your primary provider does not offer service.

Most modern phones have an option to enable or disable data roaming.  This is important, because while most folks know enough not to make phone calls or text while roaming, they may not be aware that their phone is using data even when the phone is not being used by them.

As we mentioned earlier, smart phones perform a variety of maintenance functions, even when the phone is not in active use.  Phones will check for app updates, grab local data and try to determine its location.  This is normal for smart phones, but if you are on a cruise ship, it can lead to unintentional data use.

A smart safe guard against your phone ever using its data connection while not on your primary cell phone provider is to disable data roaming. Just like airplane mode, it is a setting in your phone that you can toggle. Just do a quick Google search for the exact instructions for your phone model.

Voom

Royal Caribbean's high-speed internet, known as Voom, is available on all ships across the fleet and it is the key to staying connected without the big bills.

To use Royal Caribbean's Wi-Fi without endangering your financial future, here are the basic steps:

  1. Put your phone into airplane mode prior to your ship leaving your embarkation port
  2. Connect to the "royal-wifi" network
  3. Sign up for the Voom plan you prefer
  4. Keep your plane in airplane mode for the duration of the cruise while using Voom

Regardless of which Voom service you choose, this method is the simplest and most reliable way to avoid using your cellular antenna.

How to make phone calls

If you want to make a phone call while at sea, there are a few options.

  • Sign up for an international plan with your cell phone company. These tend to be expensive, but cheaper than trying to make calls without a plan.
  • Use an app: Many apps will allow you to make phone calls using the internet, instead of over a cell signal.  Skype is a common solution.
  • Wi-Fi calling: Some carriers (AT&TT-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon) support making phone calls over a data connection. In order to use Wi-Fi Calling, customers just need a compatible device with iOS 9 installed, a postpaid wireless account set-up for HD Voice and a Wi-Fi Internet connection.

How to send & receive text messages

If you happen to have an iPhone, you probably can send and receive texts quite easily using Apple's iMessage capability.  iMessage is a feature Apple offers that allows messages to be sent via data instead of the usual SMS text messaging service.  Since iMessage uses data, and not a cellular signal, you can easily use Voom to make it work.

If you do not have an iPhone, there are other popular (and free) apps that can help. WhatsApp, Google Voice, Viber and a host of other solutions exist that use data-only and will allow you to message from your phone. 

Other strategies

There are other ways to avoid a big cell phone bill without having to use Royal Caribbean's onboard internet.  We think Voom is the simplest and most convenient option, but other options do exist.

  • You can use the internet while on land via free or low-cost Wi-Fi hot spots.  Nearly every port you visit will have internet options, and many include the service if you buy something at the store/restaurant.  A good strategy for finding good Wi-Fi connections on land is to ask a crew member, since they are visiting these ports on a regular basis.
  • Buying a SIM card for your phone and using that in the various countries is another option.  It is difficult to do in the Caribbean, but in Europe and other regions were cell phone carriers allow use between countries, it can be a good strategy for staying connected.
  • Turn off the phone completely and disconnect for your cruise.  Some people enjoy this low-tech strategy for avoiding a big bill.  While we cannot argue with the results, we do enjoy sharing the vacation experience with family and friends.

Interior vs Balcony staterooms on a Royal Caribbean cruise

In:
28 Jun 2016
By: 
Matt Hochberg

A common question for guests planning a Royal Caribbean cruise is whether they should save money by staying in an inside stateroom or pay a bit more for the amenities, size and view in a balcony stateroom. Is it worth it to pay extra for a balcony cabin on a cruise? Do I really need a room with a balcony?

Like almost every hypothetical question posed by this blog, the answer is, "it depends."  I hope this post will be helpful in analyzing the most important features of each stateroom category to see which category has advantages.

Price

Guide to balcony staterooms on Royal Caribbean | Royal Caribbean Blog

It should come as no surprise that inside or ocean view staterooms are usually cheaper than balcony staterooms.  The added room size, balcony and view of a balcony come with a higher cost.  The thing is, how much extra can vary.

The price gap between an interior stateroom and a balcony will vary from ship to ship and sailing to sailing.  Sometimes it is measured in the thousands of dollars, and other times it is just a few hundred (or less).

When considering the price difference, one should look at the nightly price and what that gets you.  Nearly everyone that books a Royal Caribbean cruise is on some sort of budget, so even if they want to book a balcony stateroom, it may not be financially viable.  It is important to at least consider the options because there are many scenarios in which the difference in price is quite low.

Independence of the Seas Category D3 Balcony Stateroom photo tour | Royal Caribbean Blog

Read moreOceanview vs Balcony staterooms on a Royal Caribbean cruise

Often inside staterooms are the least expensive option, which means guests can spend less money on their cruise vacation or have more money to spend during the cruise on things like drinks, shore excursions, specialty restaurants or anything else for sale.

The difference in price will depend on factors like itinerary (balconies on Alaska itineraries are more expensive than Caribbean itineraries), time of year (peak vs low season) and ship class (newer ships have more balconies, so more supply).

Advantage: Interior staterooms

Living space

Balcony staterooms are significantly larger than interior staterooms. As an example, on Allure of the Seas a standard interior stateroom offers 150-172 square feet of space, whereas a Superior Ocean View Stateroom with Balcony comes in at 182 square feet, plus a 53 square foot balcony.

Room size is hard to quantify in a blog post, but every extra foot you have of living space does make a difference and it becomes noticeable quickly. It all adds up to more room for everyone to maneuver in and makes the entire experience less crowded.

What are the differences between Royal Caribbean's 1D, 2D, 4D, etc balcony rooms? | Royal Caribbean Blog

Beyond the size difference, balcony staterooms have natural light, which makes the room feel less dark and gloomy.  You also get fantastic views of the ocean and ports you are visiting.  

Even the most ardent interior stateroom fan will be hard-pressed to debate the virtues of an interior stateroom over a balcony.  Personally, I think the best part of an interior room is the fact it can get pitch dark, which makes for excellent sleeping conditions.

Advantage: Balcony staterooms

Your vacation plans

Everyone vacations differently, and what you plan on doing (or not doing) may dictate which stateroom category makes the most sense for you.

Are you the kind of person that gets up at dawn, is doing every activity in the Cruise Compass and returns to their room only to shower and sleep?  Or are you someone that likes to take it easy and sleep in, or read a book?  

Many guests that pick an interior stateroom will tell you that they do not spend a lot of time in their room, so why should they pay for amenities they will not use.  It is a good point, although in my experience, I think the stateroom you book dictates to some extent what you end up doing.  

Photo tour of Category 5D Ocean View Stateroom with Balcony on Brilliance of the Seas | Royal Caribbean Blog

If I book an inside room, I definitely do not spend as much time there as I do when I book a balcony. Having a balcony means I go there for sailaways and I bring food back to the room to eat.  The room can be the deciding factor in how you vacation in some cases.

Where you are sailing to also can be part of the decision.  Certain itineraries favor balcony staterooms over other itineraries.  In the Caribbean, it is not nearly as compelling to get a balcony stateroom over an interior stateroom compared to the Mediterranean or Alaska itineraries. That is not to say guests in an inside stateroom completely miss out on the natural beauty to behold, but they just have to do more to experience it.  

Advantage: Varies

Cruise Length

The duration of your cruise can be a major factor in deciding which stateroom category makes more sense.

Longer cruises, 7-nights or more, may offer more incentive to get a balcony so you can have your own outdoor space to relax.  Quick three- and four-night cruises may not necessitate spending money on a balcony since your time is limited and you may not spend as much time in your room.

One of the advantages of booking a balcony stateroom on a shorter cruise is the total price will not be as high as a longer cruise.  And some of the longer cruises (repositioning cruises) can offer great deals on all rooms, including balconies, because they are harder sailings to fill.

Generally speaking, the longer the cruise, the more advantageous a balcony stateroom, although the price factor that we spoke of earlier may supersede even the cruise length consideration.

Advantage: Balcony

Alternative choices

We would be remiss if we did not mention certain categories of staterooms that bend, blend or otherwise are a hybrid of the two categories.  Cruising has changed over the last few years, and Royal Caribbean has started offering new stateroom options that cater to different tastes and budgets.

One of our favorite room categories is a virtual balcony room, which is an inside stateroom with a 80-inch LED television that provides live high-definition views from outside the cruise ship, right into your stateroom.

There are balcony staterooms that do not face the ocean, but instead offer views of the Boardwalk and Central Park neighborhoods. These balcony staterooms have the same balcony experience of ocean-facing balconies, but often at a discounted price and perfect for people watching.

Royal Caribbean eliminates complimentary perks for Oasis Class neighborhood balcony staterooms | Royal Caribbean Blog

Speaking of people watching, Promenade view rooms offer a bay window view of the Royal Promenade, which provides the perfect vantage point for people watching and checking out what is happening on the Royal Promenade. It doubles as the perfect spot to view the parade!

Panoramic ocean view staterooms offer a floor to ceiling wrap around panoramic window that is 76 inches high by 103-321 inches wide.  That is a big window and you get amazing views without the balcony view price.

All of these stateroom categories offer guests the option of having a view without paying for the full balcony price.  Granted, none are exactly the same as having your own private balcony and the amount of living space is still more limited.  But for many guests, it is a "happy medium" between that balcony price and a standard inside stateroom.

Other

"Other" is not really a definable characteristic of any stateroom. Instead, this is a bit of a catch-call for other important features and amenities that do not fit in the above categories.  In addition to the critical categories above, another category that may be important is lifestyle. Being able to enjoy a glass of wine on your private balcony or have the ocean breeze enter your room are things that cannot be qualified objectively, but is important to some.

Likewise, sleeping in a pitch-black room of an interior stateroom can lead to some of the best sleep you have since college.  Many of us go on vacation to catch up on sleep and the notion of "quality of sleep" really means something when you avoid getting woken up by natural light entering the room.

How about romance? It seems like every cruise commercial out there that harps on romance on the sea has at least one shot of a couple enjoying the sunset on their balcony.  

Verdict

Guide to balcony staterooms on Royal Caribbean | Royal Caribbean Blog

Whether it is worth it to you to pay more for a balcony stateroom depends upon your preferences, budget, and how much time you will be spending in your room.  If you like having extra space with views, balcony staterooms score points.  If money is an issue, the cost-savings of an interior stateroom will make you happy.  Plus, that is more money you can spend elsewhere on the cruise, like in a good specialty restaurant.

For us, balcony staterooms make a lot of sense for the extra space, private balcony and ambiance...provided the price is right.  We have a budget for every cruise we take, and the price difference between a balcony and interior stateroom is often a major deciding factor.  There is no question that when we have a balcony room booked, we spend more time in there than if we have an inside room.

For inside room fans, there are plenty of public places onboard to enjoy views anytime of the day or night.  The promenade deck, helipad (on select ships) and pool decks give us plenty of outdoor space when we need to "get out."

The interior staterooms are not for everyone, but we have nothing against them.  If it is the difference between going on a cruise or not, we will gladly book an interior stateroom.  A balcony is great, but not worth breaking the bank for it either.

Your thoughts

Is it worth it to you to stay in a balcony stateroom? Or, do you just save as much as money as possible by staying in an inside stateroom? Share where you normally choose to stay (and why!) in the comments!

16 Great Alaska Royal Caribbean Cruise Tips

In:
23 Jun 2016
By: 
Matt Hochberg

When going on a Royal Caribbean cruise to Alaska, there are lot of things that can save you time and money, or improve the quality of your vacation.  

Here are 16 random tips based upon our readers' experiences in taking cruises to Alaska. Some of them are simple and easy to understand tips. Other tips require a bit more effort, but will make your cruise more enjoyable.  

Not all of these tips may be applicable to everyone, but there should be a few "nuggets of information" that everyone can use.  Whether you are a first time planner or a weathered veteran, there are tips for you here.

With these tips in hand, you can get the most out of your Royal Caribbean vacation.  

Make sure to also read the additional reader tips in the comments, as some of you readers have some great tips of your own that are really helpful. If you have some good tips, be sure to add them there, too. The more, the merrier!

Plan early!

Even if you are “just considering options”, book a reservation as early as possible to get the best price. Alaska is definitely a destination where rates tend to increase the closer you get to sail date. 

Cheapest time to cruise to Alaska

For best value, consider shoulder season sailing (May or September). There are fewer children on board in May and September due to school.

Shoulder seasons can also be less-expensive.  It has also been reported that in September at the end of season, port shops have fantastic “everything must go” sales.

Royal Caribbean Will Not Yet Cancel Alaska Sailings Following Canada Cruise Ban | Royal Caribbean Blog

Don't overlook the Radiance Class

There are options for ship classes when sailing Alaska. Radiance-class was built for Alaskan type cruising with onboard viewing opportunities from everywhere, which in Alaska is important when you hear someone yell “whale” because you will want to see it too!

If you select Radiance, generally this will mean choosing either a north bound or south bound 7-night journey. 

Look at airfare before booking a cruise

If you choose a north bound or south bound sailing, you will be arriving at one port and departing from another, so when booking airfare, be sure to compare pricing for “open leg” versus two “1- ways”; we sometimes find it cheaper to actually book two independent 1-way tickets.

6 mistakes & 3 things we did right on our Royal Caribbean cruise to Alaska | Royal Caribbean Blog

Balcony rooms are the way to go

Go Balcony! In Alaska, you can actually sit on the balcony and see everything! – or at least look out while waking up in the morning or changing.

Look for an aft balcony room

Speaking of balconies, if you book early enough, grab one of the huge aft balcony rooms at regular balcony prices!

The balconies on the aft of Radiance class are 4 to 5 times the size of side facing balconies; more than enough room for two lounge chairs, and two regular chairs and a small table. 

Royal Caribbean announces 2017-2018 Alaska sailings | Royal Caribbean Blog

Keep an eye on the ocean at all times

Always be looking at the water when on board. You may see whales, dolphins, seals, otters, and other sea life right from your cruise ship!

Near shorelines, you will often see bald eagles and maybe even a bear at water’s edge. Think of it like a kind of “free” excursion.

Alaska Senator introduces bill to permanently allow cruise ships to sail to Alaska without stopping in Canada | Royal Caribbean Blog

Don't rely on the weather forecasts

Weather forecasts don’t always match reality. Be prepared for changing weather daily. Be prepared with varying clothing options (i.e. wear layers). 

And when it does rain, just give it a few minutes, it generally doesn’t last long. Take it all in. And remember, many excursions go rain or shine!

Speaking of excursions … excursions will likely account for a large portion of your budget – plan accordingly.  Some excursions costs hundreds of dollars per person … but this will likely be a once-in-a-life journey for many … so don’t pass up anything you really want to do. 

Ovation of the Seas 2021 Live Blog - Preview | Royal Caribbean Blog

How to pick a great excursion

To save on excursions, consider third party providers.  There are many options.  And many are rated by other travelers on TripAdvisor, Cruise Critic, and elsewhere.  Use the internet for your research … it’s actually part of the fun of the trip and it helps you learn more about Alaska prior to arrival!  

Check pricing with both Royal Caribbean and vendors. Over the past few years, Royal Caribbean pricing has become much more competitive and comparable with direct vendor booking and in one example this year, we found that Royal Caribbean’s price was actually cheaper than direct booking with the vendor; albeit for the most expensive tours like helicopters you can still save significantly by direct booking with vendors. Be sure to read and understand cancellation policies when booking direct with vendors.

Nearly all will refund if the ship misses the port or there is an unplanned ship schedule change – but be sure to check.

Alaska Governor threatens to sue US over cruise ship ban | Royal Caribbean Blog

Free excursions

Check out the many hiking trails in each port town.

If you have an extra day at the Seward end of travel, check out the hand tram on Winner Creek trail in Alyeska in Girdwood, or hike to Exit Glacier near Seward.

Use the internet to search for trails in each port. Many of the trails are well traveled, nicely groomed, and clearly marked. Walking is free, and often the best sights are seen from wooded trails. This year we saw moose, bears, dear, and bald eagles.

Two Cruise Lines Offering Alaska Land Vacations This Year!! - Royal Caribbean News and Rumors - Royal Caribbean Blog

Make transportation an excursion!

If you are planning on a Radiance of the Seas sailing, you will have to get from Seward to Anchorage for your flight.  Take the Alaskan Railroad Coastal Classic Train!

It costs only a little more than the bus ride or rental car. The Train travels a path where no other vehicles can get too. And upgrade your seat on the train to Gold Star – that will include a meal, a few drinks, more personal space, private outside viewing area, and will ensure excellent viewing from your seat with glass ceilings and glass wall all-round.

You might even want to request the first row in the first car for the very best viewing opportunities! Specific requests can be made by contacting Alaska Railroad direct. 

Excursion Focus: Alaska Sled Dogs & Musher's Camp in Juneau, Alaska | Royal Caribbean Blog

Get off the ship!

No matter the weather, get off the ship at every port – even if you don’t have an excursion planned.

Sometimes the piers are a little longer in Alaska but the port towns are pretty small and easily walkable making them nice for self-guided tours. The trinket shops are pretty similar in each port, but each port will feature specialty items; Ketchikan will have more focus on totem poles, for example.

Radiance of the Seas, Alaska Southbound 8/31/18 - Page 4 - Live Blogs - Royal Caribbean Blog

Day light is plentiful

The sun will rise early and set late. But unlike Caribbean cruises, nightlife is less significant on board an Alaskan cruise – the ship still offers many night activities, but in our experience, late night activities are not well attended.

People hit the sack earlier in Alaska, and rise much earlier than customary in the Caribbean. It’s all part of the early bird and worm syndrome … port calls are typically early morning and people are up and ready for excursions at the crack of dawn, literally.

Oh, not to worry, Radiance is outfitted with blackout curtains.

Your phones work in Alaska

Americans will find cell phone service included in their coverage while in Alaska.  In fact, it tends to work quite well.

Video: Why Take a Cruise to Alaska | Royal Caribbean Blog

Icy Straight Point tips

In Icy Straight Point, numerous eagles, whales and sea lions can be spotted either sitting at the Duck Point Restaurant or walking along the path to the Icy Strait Point Cannery or into Hoonah.

Have fun and go with the flow! Enjoy the beauty and bounty that is Alaska! 

If you want even more great advice and tips about Alaska, listen to our two recent podcast episodes all about Royal Caribbean cruises to Alaska!

Your thoughts

If you have solid tips that are not mentioned here, please post them below! If you have any other comments or questions, please feel free to post those, too.

Aerial photos of Royal Caribbean's Harmony of the Seas

In:
22 Jun 2016
By: 
Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean released new aerial photos of Harmony of the Seas, this time in the Mediterranean.

Harmony of the Seas is the world's largest cruise ship and it is the company's third Oasis-class cruise ship. She is currently sailing in the Mediterranean for the summer season, and will head to Port Everglades, Florida in November to her new homeport.

This is the second batch of aerial photos released, with the first batch posted in early June.