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Royal Caribbean retires mobile app for iOS

In:
18 May 2017
By: 
Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean sent an update to users that its current smartphone app for iOS devices is being retired.

The app was updated in the iTunes App Store on May 17, 2017, with the notice, "Unfortunately, this Royal Caribbean App is being retired and will no longer be supported. Make sure to visit our mobile experience on RoyalCaribbean.com to book your next adventure and stay informed when you're on the go."

The official Royal Caribbean app was rarely updated, with just one update in all of 2016 and a few updates in 2015.

While not confirmed, it is believed retiring the current Royal Caribbean app may be the precursor to the release of the new smart phone app that Royal Caribbean is actively developing. According to Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Chairman and CEO Richard Fain, the new smart phone app should be out sometime this summer.

Thanks to Jason Percival Sr. and Marc Schwartz for alerting us to this app change.

Live blogging from Oasis of the Seas - Preamble

In:
17 May 2017
By: 
Michael Poole

Hi Royal Caribbean Blog readers, Michael Poole here with another live blog. This time I'm sailing on Oasis of the Seas, this Sunday May 21st out of Port Canaveral, Florida. If you recall 118 days ago, I brought you a live blog on Majesty of the Seas. And yes, I've been counting the days down. I've had many friends, including Matt (twice) go on cruises and I've been in what I call “dry dock.” Needless to say, I'm very excited to bring this live blog to you from Oasis of the Seas.

Why I booked this sailing

To be honest, it's quite a long story, but I'm going to do my best to summarize it so I don't put you to sleep.

Many months ago, Royal Caribbean announced they were sailing to Cuba on Empress of the Seas.I decided to book that cruise, May 20th sailing, as prices peaked throughout the day. A month later, we invited my girlfriend's parents with us on their first Royal Caribbean cruise (trying to steal them away from another line).

Well, as the months passed, I started thinking about how I kept sharing the “wow-factor” of Royal Caribbean and all my stories were from Oasis Class ships. Her parents kept talking about much they enjoyed eating breakfast on their balcony. On our Empress sailing we all had inside cabins.) Final payment was quickly approaching and I saw Oasis of the Seas, May 21st sailing balcony cabins for less than our Empress 5 night cruise, so I immediately made the switch.

Here's how I see it; I benefit because the sailing is cheaper, two days longer, an ocean balcony and you the readers now have two live blogs this week! That's right, Billy from Cruisehabit.com is going to be on the May 20th Empress of the Seas sailing and live blogging. For the first time ever, we will have two live blogs going during the same week!

Itinerary and plans

We start our cruise off with two sea days, as we head to St. Maarten.

On my sea days, I plan to relax poolside and eat at Sabor as much as possible. But I promise to make the live blog post more interesting than that. Day 3 while we are in St. Maarten, we plan on exploring the whole island. (More to come on that day). Day 4 we are in San Juan from 7am-3pm. I plan to actually get off this time, as I missed it last summer on Allure. Our last stop is in Matt's favorite place Labadee, and I've got some planned activities there that I'm excited to share. We will wrap the cruise up with one more sea day before headed back to Port Canaveral, Florida, so I'll try and eat at Sabor twice this day!

Cabin type

When I switched my reservation over from Empress of the Seas, I went into a neighborhood balcony guarantee cabin. With that cabin type, you are guaranteed any balcony cabin within Central Park or Boardwalk.

Well as I kept checking prices, many times a day, I came across an Ocean Balcony Guarantee for less than my neighborhood. I quickly contacted my travel agent to make the switch and hours later that deal was gone for good. Moral to the story, it pays to check prices as often as you can since price drops do happen. Only downside to booking a guarantee is you don't get to pick the cabin, and in this case, I don't love my cabin placement. I was placed on deck 14 forward, D5 – 14144, right by the kids adventure area.

Dining, Entertainment, Drink Package, & VOOM

A few weeks ago, the entertainment opened up in the online cruise planner, so I reserved all my shows. It's become a little tradition of mine on Oasis class ships, to see the Aqua show on night one. I started it many years ago, and it just kind of stuck; now it's how I wrap up my first day on board. I've seen the Aqua show, Oasis of Dreams twice before but it's my favorite of the three ships.

For dining I've purchased my first dining package. I went with the 4-night package and will likely dine at Giovanni's Table, 150 Central Park, & Chops twice on the package. The cost for the 4-night was $100 per person, so $25 per meal. However, since I have a dining package, no reservations can be made until on board.

I had thought about passing on the drink package, hey I should get points for just thinking about it right? Well after thinking about my three sea days, plus Labadee, & San Juan being a short day, I decided I must have it. One day the cruise planner ran a 24-hour sale called, “Sip & Stream” that gives you VOOM Internet for free during the week.

So for $392 I got the drink package & Internet for the week.

I hope to bring you a fun and informative live blog from Oasis of the Seas. If you have any questions about the ship, feel free to comment below and I'll respond. If you are on Periscope, I'll be doing live daily scopes from on board, so be sure to follow me @mpoole3!

Royal Caribbean offering kids sail free deal through end of May

In:
17 May 2017
By: 
Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean is now offering a kids sail free promotion on top of their current Maycation sales event.

Kids Sail Free is valid on cruises booked between May 17 - 31, 2017.

Offer includes

  • 30% off the standard cruise fare for all guests in a stateroom; all stateroom categories. Applies to sailings on or after June 17, 2017.
  • Kids Sail Free offer
    • Free cruise fare of third and higher guests who are 12 years or younger as of cruise departure date, booked in the same stateroom as the first two qualifying guests in a triple or quad occupancy stateroom on 5 nights or longer sailings that depart between Sep. 1, 2017 - Dec. 14, 2017 across Bahamas, Caribbean, North East Caribbean, Bermuda, Coastal and Canada itineraries.
    • Valid on Vision of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, Brilliance of the Seas, Rhapsody of the Seas, Adventure of the Seas, Jewel of the Seas, Freedom of the Seas, Empress of the Seas, Navigator of the Seas, Serenade of the Seas, Independence of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas, Anthem of the Seas, Grandeur of the Seas and Explorer of the Seas.
    • Kids Sail Free excludes sailings departing on or between 11/16/17 – 11/26/17.
  • Oasis Class Sale
    • Valid on cruises booked May 17, 2017 7:00AM EST to May 24, 2017 6:59am EST on sailings that depart on or after June 17, 2017.
    • Dollars off on Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas and Harmony of the Seas sailings departing on or after June 17, 2017 determined by stateroom category booked:
      • $50 off per stateroom for interior and oceanview
      • $150 off per stateroom for balcony
      • $300 off per stateroom for suite

30% Savings is combinable with Crown & Anchor discounts, Shareholders Benefits and NextCruise offers. 30% Savings is not combinable with any other offer or promotion, including but not limited to, restricted rates. All offers are not combinable with any other offer or promotion.

Dollars Off is not combinable with Crown & Anchor discounts or Shareholder Benefits. Maycation 30% and Dollars Off are not combinable with any other offer or promotion, including but not limited to, restricted rates (for example, Seniors, Residents, and Military), Standard Group, Interline, Travel Agent, Travel Agent Friends and Family, Weekly Sales Events, and Net Rates.

Offer open to residents of U.S. or Canada.

5 ways to save hundreds of dollars on your next Royal Caribbean cruise

In:
17 May 2017
By: 
Matt Hochberg

A Royal Caribbean cruise is a top choice for many families that want to enjoy a great vacation, but there are some important strategies for saving (a lot of) money off the total cost of the cruise.

Bargain hunters should be aware there are some definite ways to bring that total cruise cost down.  Here are five ways we have found to consistently save hundreds of dollars on cruise vacations.

Book your cruise early

If there is one tried-and-true strategy for getting the lowest price on a Royal Caribbean cruise, it is to book the sailing as early as possible.  If you can book your sailing 12, 18 or even 24 months in advance, you will very likely pay much less than someone that waits to book their sailing just a few months before the cruise.

The simple reason why booking early gets you the lowest price is that when a sailing is put on sale, all the staterooms are available to book, and thus, demand is at its lowest.  As guests start to book rooms, supply goes down, which inversely drives prices up.  Over time, we typically see prices for a sailing go up.

Moreover, if you live in a country that allows re-booking prior to final payment date (United States, Canada, Australia, etc), you can always take advantage of price drops, if they were to occur, and get the new lowest price.  If you book early enough, you may find regardless of the deal or promotion Royal Caribbean publicizes, the rate you had booked early on is still a better deal.

Cruise close to home

If you can manage to go on a cruise without having to fly, or take another expensive means of transportation, you will reap a ton of savings.

In addition to the traditional cruise homeports in Florida, Royal Caribbean also offers year-round and seasonal cruises from New York, Baltimore, New Orleans, Galveston and San Juan.  This means a great deal of convenient embarkation ports that can be driveable. 

By not having to include an airline ticket in your vacation budget, you will save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Of course, there still will be a transportation cost to get to the port, but very likely the savings in not buying an airline ticket will outweigh gas, tolls and even a hotel stay.

Buy a dining or drink package

If you are the sort of person that will indulge in specialty dining or alcoholic beverages onboard your Royal Caribbean cruise, a dining or drink package can save you a lot of money.

Royal Caribbean's dining packages allow guests to enjoy meals at a variety of specialty restaurants for one low price.  There are many packages available, but taking advantage of these dining packages will save money compared to eating at those same restaurants, but paying the walk-up price without a package. When you figure multiple people investing in a dining package, the savings stack up quickly.

Likewise, a Royal Caribbean drink package can save you money, provided you drink enough every day of your cruise to make it worthwhile. Guests pay a flat cost to enjoy unlimited beverages that are included in the package they select.  Be sure to get a discount on a Royal Caribbean drink package prior to your cruise to increase your total savings.

It is worth noting that a drink or dining package may not inherently save everyone money.  The cost savings depend on how much you will actually consume on a cruise.  It is important to sit down before your cruise and think about how many drinks you might have, factor in time off the ship in foreign ports of call, and determine if a drink package is right for you.  Dining packages are a bit easier to figure out if they are a worthwhile investment, because you can look at your Cruise Planner and determine what looks of interest and plan accordingly.

Book your next cruise onboard

Royal Caribbean will reward you if you book another Royal Caribbean cruise, while still onboard your current sailing.  These rewards come in the form of onboard credit, which can stack up into the hundreds of dollars quite quickly.

Dubbed NextCruise, Royal Caribbean has changed up some of the rules lately for how the program works, especially if deposits are refundable or not.  It is important to be aware of all the rules on canceling or changing sailings prior to booking. 

However, if you are certain of the sailing you want to take, booking onboard will garner significant savings, especially on longer sailings (7 nights or more) and/or balcony and suite staterooms. The NextCruise program is one of the easiest ways to earn money towards your next sailing.

Be flexible with your cruise dates

If the dates you can take a Royal Caribbean cruise are somewhat open, you can shave off hundreds of dollars from your cruise fare. 

Just like the entire travel industry, cruises have peak and off-peak seasons.  Booking a cruise over Christmas week will see a much higher cost than if you opt for that same cruise two weeks earlier or later. Those that can cruise when many families are stuck following a school or work holiday calendar, will find rock bottom prices for cruise fares.

Finding the lowest fares typically has more to do with when you are actually going on your cruise. In general, you will find lower fares if you are willing to cruise during the "shoulder seasons" and/or when school is usually in session.

This includes

  • January (minus New Years holiday)
  • Most of February
  • May
  • September
  • October
  • First two weeks of November
  • First two weeks of December

Picking Royal Caribbean cruises that sail during these times of year often net the lowest fares because it is when less people have the opportunity or inclination to cruise.

Interview with Puzzle Break's Nate Martin on Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast

In:
17 May 2017
By: 
Matt Hochberg

Our newest podcast episode is out to help give you a quick "audio escape" to a Royal Caribbean cruise!

Episode 198 is available for downloading, which features an interview with Puzzle Break's CEO, Nate Martin.

Nate Martin and his team are responsible for bringing the incredible escape room games to Royal Caribbean ships.  Nate shares what it took to create these interactive experiences, and gives us a peek into what we can expect to see in the future on other Royal Caribbean ships.

Here’s the podcast page for Episode 198. And don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast via RSSStitcher or on iTunes!

Take a listen and as always, let us know what you think! Please rate and review the podcast on iTunes and leave your comments below!

Live blogging from Empress of the Seas - Preamble

In:
16 May 2017
By: 
Billy Hirsch

This Saturday we're setting sail on Royal Caribbean's Empress of the Seas, and while we're excited to sail on Royal's smallest ship in the fleet, we're even more exited about our itinerary which takes us to Havana, Cuba! We'll also be visiting Key West and Cozumel, places we really enjoy, so this should be a treat. During our five night sailing we'll be blogging at EmpressOfTheSeas.live, for RoyalCaribbeanBlog.com. Be sure to follow along on the site, and stay tuned in on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and of course Periscope. Oh, and make sure to catch Michael Poole's live blog from Oasis of the Seas going on at the same time as mine. Mine is sure to be superior in every way, though if you dig photos of anything that happens before 9:00am you'll want to check with Michael's posts. Now, let's start of by looking at our itinerary, the ship, and why we picked this particular sailing.

Our Itinerary - Before & During the Cruise

This sailing is round-trip from Tampa, FL, and in fact, it is the first 5 night Tampa sailing to visit Havana, having recently reallocated from sailing out of Miami. Some of the times in port are a bit different than what we're used to and I'm not sure how much of this is because we're coming from Tampa, the routes were taking, or simply what port times were available. Either way it'll be neat to be in Key West and Cozumel a bit later than normal, even it the total amount of time in port isn't any different.

Because we're sailing from Tampa, but we live in the Fort Lauderdale area, we're going to come into town the day before. We're staying at the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel and Marina, which is steps away from the port. This will keep us in the area to enjoy an evening of catching up with some friends and should make for a much less stressful embarkation day.

For Key West I'd imagine we'll again leverage Old Town Trolley, which I really enjoy as it's a cheap way to get around town easily with narration. We've been here a number of times so I don't know we'll have any big goals on our visit, aside from going to Peppers of Key West and stocking up. The sun is scheduled to set at 8:07pm, so we won't quite get Key West at night, but the sail-away should be beautiful (let's hope for the cruise pier, not the Navy pier).

In Havana we're taking a tour through Royal Caribbean called "Hemingway's Havana". The tour says we'll, "Explore the literary connections between Cuba and the late American novelist Ernest Hemingway on a dynamic four-hour tour that offers the chance to see where he lived, fished, dined and sipped his favorite cocktails." I'm going to assume this means drinks will be served - right? The four hour tour will have us up earlier than normal but we'll want to take advantage of every moment we have in Cuba, so it'll be worth it. After this we're going to meet with a friend's relative who lives in Havana.

Cozumel has become a very familiar port to us over the years, and in a weird way it feels like a second home. We're on a first name basis with some restaurateurs, know where to find what we want in the supermarket, etc. No real plan here, but you can be you'll find us at Coz Coffee at some point.

DayPort of CallArrivalDeparture
Saturday, May 20, 2017Tampa, FL--4:00 pm
Sunday, May 21, 2017Key West, FL12:30 pm7:00 pm
Monday, May 22, 2017Havana, Cuba7:00 am4:00 pm
Tuesday, May 23, 2017Cozumel, Mexico1:00 pm9:00 pm
Wednesday, May 24, 2017Sea Day----
Thursday, May 25, 2017Tampa, FL7:00 am--

The Ship - Empress of the Seas Excites Me

Empress of the Seas used to be called the Nordic Empress, and she's actually Royal's oldest ship, originally sailing in 1989. She left to sister-company Pullmantur some years ago, but was completely redone in 2016 and brought back to Royal Caribbean specifically to sail to Cuba. She's also Royal's smallest ship, at just 48,500 gross tons, carrying a maximum of 1,840 passengers (with all berths full, including uppers/bunks) and 668 crew. In contrast, Harmony of the Seas is 227,000 gross tons and carries a maximum of 6,780 passengers and 2,300 crew.

Empress with her Pullmantur livery
Empress with her Pullmantur livery

If you're a frequent reader/viewer/listener or receiver of my telepathic signals, you'll know that I'm partial to what we now consider smaller ships. Have I enjoyed my time on Voyage, Freedom, and even Oasis class ships? Of course - they have so much to offer! I like knowing I'm at sea though, and this can be tricky on mega ships (though I'm hopeful that this is changing with newer designs). Beyond this, there is just something about the intimacy of these ships that I love - something we got spoiled with when we sailed Oceania's 30,000 gross ton Regatta to Alaska in 2015. Take a smaller ship, which we've not sailed but has been recently refurbished, and send it to a port we've been waiting to visit and you bet we chose Empress of the Seas.

Why This Sailing

Obviously Cuba is the influencing factor for this trip, but why this particular sailing? When Royal Caribbean opened up it's Cuba sailings and I saw the prices I knew they were going to climb quickly, so I booked right away - and I'm glad I did. In fact, about a month before we leave, the cost of our same stateroom category had doubled. Remember to book early and re-price often. Further, we looked the Norwegian Sky, as she too goes to Cuba, but the prices were much higher than we we snagged on Royal Caribbean this time. I did have several to chose from though, and while it would have been nice to sail from Miami (much closer to home), this sailing was a bit cheaper than those leaving from Miami, and we needed to sail over the weekend to save vacation time (gotta reserve it for more cruises, of course).

Several months ago Royal Caribbean did release some more itineraries where Empress was overnighting in Havana, and this sounded amazing. The prices weren't bad, but every one of these sailings was Monday through Friday, and to be honest, I can't get myself to take five days off work for a five night cruise when I could take five nights off for a seven night cruise.

Oh, there was one more consideration - the Tampa sail-away. I've seen many great videos of cruisers leaving the Port of Tampa and sailing under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, it looks beautiful. So beautiful that we booked a sailing out of Tampa before we knew we'd be taking this cruise - just so we could enjoy that sail-away. We've since changed that other sailing, scheduled for early 2018 so sail the Celebrity Equinox instead.

Wrap Up

As you can tell we've got some special reasons to be excited about this sailing, and hopefully it will be the first of many cruises to Cuba for us. If you're planning a cruise to this island nation however, know that there are some additional considerations in terms of changing money, keeping in touch, travel restrictions, etc. Check out CruiseHabit.com's Cruising Cuba series to get clarity on these topics and reach out if you have any questions. We'll see you in a few days from Empress of the Seas!

Have questions? Have you cruised to Cuba and have any tips to offer up? Let us know in the comments below!

Symphony of the Seas May 16, 2017 construction photo update

In:
16 May 2017
By: 
Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas is under construction at STX France shipyard, and we have a new batch of photos to share.

Thanks to our friends at Saint Nazaire, une ville à la mer, we are able to share photos that were taken on May 16, 2017.

© Hervé GLAIS

Symphony of the Seas will be Royal Caribbean's fourth Oasis Class cruise ship and is set to debut in Spring 2018.  She will offer Mediterranean sailings in her first summer, prior to arriving in Miami, Florida at her new homeport in November 2018.

Oasis Class AquaTheater Vinfographic

In:
16 May 2017
By: 
Matt Hochberg

The theatrical possibilities of the AquaTheater, the distinct high diving, acrobatic performance space introduced by Royal Caribbean with the Oasis class of ships, have breathtaking limits. Two 10-meter high platforms and the hydraulic-floored pool, the largest and deepest freshwater pool at sea, below will serve as podiums for high-diving, hair-raising aerobatics that AquaTheater audiences have come to love.

Izumi on Navigator of the Seas restaurant review

In:
15 May 2017
By: 
Matt Hochberg

Izumi has developed a reputation across Royal Caribbean's fleet of offering top-notch Japanese cuisine, namely sushi.  While sushi is a popular choice for many guests, there are other great menu options to consider.

On Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas, Izumi's theme fuses and function for a restaurant that has a sleek, modern look to it.  Located on deck fourteen in a rather small area, the restaurant makes the best utilitarian use of their limited space. There are tables throughout the restaurant that provide views of the ocean, along with a sushi bar that has ample seating as well. 

We dined at Izumi on a number of occasions while onboard Navigator of the Seas and one thing worth noting about Izumi is the level of service.  Based on our interactions with numerous the servers at Izumi, I am confident in saying that the service is top notch. The crew members were attentive, stead-fast in their service and made themselves available to answer questions or assist throughout the meal.

Often we hear from readers who tend to avoid Izumi because they, "don't eat sushi."  In fact, my wife is one of those people that does not eat sushi (no one is perfect), but Izumi's menu offers a good variety of choices that go beyond just sushi.  So while I indulged in a steady serving of underwater goodness, my wife and friends who joined us, were able to take advantage of the land-based foods.

Izumi is priced a la carte, which means there is cover charge and you pay for only what you order.  What I love about Izumi is the option to drop in for soup and a roll, or untighten my belt and dare the sushi chefs to do their worst best .  In fact, there is a takeout sushi option that I regularly took advantage of, and brought a roll or two back to my stateroom balcony.

Every meal at Izumi includes an edamame appetizer, which is perfect for sharing. It is topped lightly with salt, and a great start to our meal. 

Personally, I always order miso soup to accompany my meal.  There is something about having miso soup that makes the meal complete.  Plus, it is light and has great flavor.

For guests who prefer not to eat sushi, the best choice on the menu are the hot rocks (Ishiyake), which are literally slabs of rock that are heated to 575°F.  Your food is served raw on the side, and you then place the food on the hot rock and cook it in front of you. 

There are four varieties of ishiyake to choose from, and all are served with vegetables and steamed white or fried rice:

  • Mixed seafood (scallop, shrimp, lobster, salmon)
  • Chicken breast
  • Chicken and beef skewer
  • Beef tenderloin

All hot rocks come with lemon ginger vinaigrette, teriyaki sauce and Thai sweet chili dipping sauces. Cooking the food is as fun as actually eating it.  Our waiter made himself available to assisting in the cooking process, which we took advantage of to avoid any concerns that our food might be undercooked. While Navigator of the Seas (and most other ships in Royal Caribbean's fleet) lack a hibachi option, this is the next best thing.  For anyone that has no desire to eat sushi, this is a solid alternative.

Being the sushi maven of the group, I opted to try freshwater eel (unagi) sashimi, along with DX Sushi combo.  The eel sashimi had terrific flavor, and worked on its own or as a "topper" to one of the sushi rolls in my combo.

A friend went for the rainbow roll, which is a classic sushi choice.

For dessert, we ordered a round of assorted Mochi ice cream.  After the typically salt-infused foods earlier, having something sweet in the form of Japanese ice cream was the perfect way to finish the meal.

Overall, Izumi earns high marks for its reasonably priced, yet all around terrific, menu. Offering relatively mild options and more adventurous fare makes it a restaurant that most people will enjoy if they give it a chance. With the advent of Royal Caribbean's specialty dining packages, having $30 per person to spend at Izumi will likely result in a very filling meal. 

Looking around Izumi, it always seems like everyone dining in Izumi is satisfied with their choices. I have been dining at Izumi since it was a small outpost at the very top of Oasis of the Seas, and in the years since, Izumi has become a great choice that is unlikely to disappoint.

Royal Caribbean pushes back opening 2018-2019 Australia cruises to June

In:
15 May 2017
By: 
Matt Hochberg

It appears guests looking to book a 2018-2019 Royal Caribbean cruise from Australia will have to wait a few more weeks.

Royal Caribbean informed travel agents that its 2018/2019 summer cruises, which were supposed to become available today, will now go on sale in "early June."

Royal Caribbean explained that these new sailings "are not quite ready to go on sale just yet."

Thanks to Pippa for sharing this update with us.