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Why you should take a cruise to Bermuda

02 Dec 2021
Chantal McPhee

A green oasis alone in the Atlantic Ocean, Bermuda has been welcoming visitors for over 400 years. Its beautiful beaches, great outdoor activities, diverse food, and friendly people, make it a wonderful place to visit.  

With a variety of sailings from the northeast, it is a great option for cruisers. Most itineraries provide an overnight stay in Bermuda, leaving much more time to explore and get to know what makes the island so special.

An easy destination to wander around, it is a mix of English tradition with local culture. Its rich history, natural beauty, and geography make it unique among other islands.

Here are some great reasons why you should take a cruise to Bermuda.

East coast departures with overnight stays  

Friday Photos | Royal Caribbean Blog

Unlike most Caribbean sailings, the majority of cruises to Bermuda leave from ports in the northeast such as Maryland and Cape Liberty (New Jersey). This can be a great option for people who normally have to fly or drive a long way to catch a cruise.

Royal Caribbean’s current sailings range from 5-8 days, with most having an overnight and two days in port. This is a major plus that is not seen often on Caribbean itineraries.

Extra time in port allows guests to see more of the island, do lots of activities or spend an evening in port. Bermuda has a number of events throughout the year with many evening activities. Harbour Nights, a popular festival that runs from April to September takes place in Bermuda’s capital, Hamilton.  It features live performances, local foods, artisans, and crafts. A good opportunity to try the famous Rum Swizzle cocktail or legendary fish chowder.

Current itineraries

Boston Babe's Content - Royal Caribbean Blog

Royal Caribbean is offering a number of well priced sailings to Bermuda, running from April to October in 2022, a great time to travel. For example: 

  • A 5-night cruise leaving from Baltimore on the Enchantment of the Seas, with two days in port.
  • A 5-night cruise leaving from Cape Liberty New Jersey on the Adventure of the Seas with two days in Bermuda.
  •  An interesting 8-day cruise leaving from Port Canaveral visiting Coco Cay, Nassau, and Bermuda.

Explore with ease

Bermuda is a safe, English-speaking Island that accepts US dollars at par. This makes it easy to venture out on your own. The efficient bus and ferry system is a great cost-effective means of transportation that provides a scenic way to wander around the island. The ferry in particular provides panoramic water views. Both a bus and ferry terminal are located in the port area just a couple of minutes walk from the dock, convenient for cruisers.

Only 21 miles long, it is easy to traverse the full length of the island during a short stay. Cruisers can easily travel from the port at the Royal Naval Dockyard, all the way to the east end, home to St. George’s, Bermuda’s oldest settlement and a UNESCO site.

Bermudians are known for their welcoming nature and are helpful in assisting tourists. Bus drivers are great with guests, guiding them where to get off for attractions.  Cruisers can also rent scooters or 2 person electric vehicles for full freedom to explore and go a little more off the beat and path.

Unique geography and climate

Although often mistaken for being a Caribbean Island, Bermuda is not. It is technically an archipelago, 650 miles east of North Carolina. Despite its location far out in the North Atlantic, it possesses picturesque pink beaches with clear blue water and an abundance of coral reefs and marine life.

The island is warmed by the North Atlantic current giving it a sub-tropical climate. Spring to fall has an average high of 81 F which is perfect weather for touring around. August can feel warmer when humidity builds, a great time to enjoy the beaches.

Encircled by reefs, Bermuda is home to 300 + shipwrecks, making it a diver’s paradise. Tales of the Bermuda Triangle and all the myths and lore surrounding the numerous missing ships and planes are also of interest to many. The Ocean Discovery Centre at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute has a permanent exhibit that delves into the mystery, separating fact from fiction.

Cost effective

Bermuda is one of the most expensive places in the world to buy a home or car. It is on par with Geneva and New York City in terms of cost of living. Consequently, hotels and fine dining can be expensive. Traveling by cruise is a great way to get a taste of Bermuda without spending thousands on flights and hotels. 

As a tourist, many of the best amenities like the beaches are free. Great walking trails, historic venues, and many other activities are all easily accessible and affordable. The island’s well used bus and ferries serve major attractions. Information on routes and tokens are at the Visitor Centre in Dockyard, the island’s cruise ship port.  

There are many casual, local eateries, pubs, and festivals that provide an opportunity to try true Bermudian cuisine. Hamilton has many takeouts with meals at reasonable prices. In particular, the island’s grocery stores feature food to go, popular with its residents.

Endless activities

Royal Caribbean announces new Empress of the Seas sailings from Big Apple and Montreal in 2020 | Royal Caribbean Blog

There really is something for everyone’s tastes and preferences when visiting Bermuda ((insert link to previous article on what to do in Bermuda) Whether it be outside activities, exploring the local culture, or cuisine, the options are endless.

Its sandy beaches are a draw for many, and the island has plenty. Horseshoe Bay is its most famous beach with its withered volcanic rock framing its iconic ocean views. It is an easy way to spend an afternoon.

Diving among its shipwrecks, snorkeling along the reefs, fishing, sailing to name a few, are all popular water activities. Bermuda also has world-class golf courses, underground crystal caves, colonial age forts, museums, shopping, dining, which can easily occupy port days.

Royal Caribbean announces Hawaii cruises in 2023

01 Dec 2021
Matt Hochberg

Coinciding with Royal Caribbean's 2023 Alaska cruises, the cruise line also released new sailings to and from Hawaii in 2023.

While Royal Caribbean does not offer regular cruises around the Hawaiian islands, it does offer open-jaw sailings as part of the repositioning between North America and Australia.

An open-jaw sailing is when a ship begins the voyage in port, but ends in another.

In 2023, six cruises will be available that either begin or end in Hawaii, and include stops to various islands along the way.

The 2023 Hawaii cruises are as follows:

Quantum of the Seas will sail from Oahu on a 10-night Hawaii to Vancouver cruise on April 28, 2023 and visit Maui (Lahaina) & Kailua Kona, before ending in Vancouver.

Quantum of the Seas will return to Hawaii on an 8-night Hawaii Cruise from Vancouver on October 2, 2023 with stops in Maui (Lahaina), Kailua Kona, and ending in Oahu (Honolulu).

Ovation of the Seas will start off the season on May 2, 2023 with a 9-night cruise from Oahu (Honolulu), and making stops in Maui (Lahaina), and Kailua Kona, before ending in Vancouver.

Ovation will then return in the fall with a 9-night cruise from Vancouver on October 6, 2023 making stops in  Maui (Lahaina), Napali Coast (Cruising), and ending in Oahu (Honolulu).

Enchantment of the Seas will offer a 10-night cruise to Hawaii when she departs Vancouver on September 24, 2023 and visit Kauai (Nawiliwili), Hilo, Hawaii (Kailua Kona),&  Maui (Lahaina), before ending on Oahu.

Finally, Radiance of the Seas will have the longest cruise, with an 11-night voyage beginning from Oahu on April 30, 2023 and visit Maui (Lahaina), Hilo & Hawaii (Kailua Kona) before ending in Vancouver.

What to see in Hawaii

A cruise to Hawaii means an opportunity to see the turquoise waters and colorful sands that combine with a rich Polynesian heritage to explore.

You can see the history of Pearl Harbor on Oahu, where you can tour battleships and see the memorial to that fateful day in 1941.

Cruise to Hawaii and head to the Big Island to scale volcanoes like Mount Kilauea and chase waterfalls on the slopes of Mauna Kea. Or enjoy the sun and surf on the remote shores of Kauai and Maui. 

Read moreHawaii cruise on Royal Caribbean: Everything you need to know

Royal Caribbean pushes back when World Cruise segments will go on sale

01 Dec 2021
Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean's 274-night world cruise is selling so well that it will delay when it puts individual segments on sale.

Originally, Royal Caribbean planned to put shorter portions of the world cruise on sale so guests could join for part of the sailing.

However, Royal Caribbean told travel agents during a webinar that it would push that date back because of how popular the world cruise is currently.

In October, Royal Caribbean announced a new 274-night Ultimate World Cruise on Serenade of the Seas.

Brittany Briggs, Director of Revenue Strategy, Operations & Service, said those segments would now go on sale in February instead of December, "We did mention we are potentially going to open up these expeditions in December.

"But because the full world cruise has been performing so exceptionally well and we want you to continue to sell that to your clients, we have pushed the opening of the expedition to February of 2022."

Royal Caribbean wants to give guests more time to book the full sailing, "We do want to ensure that everybody that wants to stay on the world cruise has all of the availability to choose from."

From the beginning of when Royal Caribbean announced the world cruise, bookings were strong.

Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley told investors at the end of October that within the first few days, 70% of the of rooms were reserved.

"Within seven days we were 70 percent booked and the average price of a balcony room is $75000 for the balcony. The Royal Suite sold within a week at $760000, and all of these suites have booked with non-refundable deposit."

Mr. Bayley admitted they were surprised how well it sold, "Even we were taken aback by the unbelievable response of our royalty customers. The fact that within a week we were 70 percent booked on a ship that carries around 2,100 guests and is on a nine month world cruise was just remarkable, and I think that's indicative of what we're we're seeing."

This is the first ever world cruise for Royal Caribbean International, and it will visit more than 150 destinations in 65 countries and 11 great wonders of the world.

Serenade of the Seas will sail roundtrip from Miami on Dec. 10, 2023 and through Sept. 10, 2024.

Royal Caribbean releases new 2023 Alaska cruises to book

01 Dec 2021
Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean has released its Alaska cruises for 2023 season.

The cruise line will send four cruise ships to Alaska in 2023, matching the amount of ships it had scheduled for the region prior to the truncated 2021 season.

The new sailings are posted on Royal Caribbean's website.

New Alaska 2022 cruises are available to book between April and September 2022.

Compared to the 2022 lineup, the only change is Enchantment of the Seas will replace Serenade of the Seas.

Royal Caribbean releases new Enchantment of the Seas 2022-2023 sailings from Baltimore | Royal Caribbean Blog

Enchantment of the Seas will sail from Vancouver and offer 7-night cruises, including some multi-glacier cruises that visit Hubbard Glacier in addition to Dawes Glacier.

Ovation of the Seas will return to Alaska in 2023, offering 7- and 8-night Alaska glacier cruises from Seattle.

Likewise, Quantum of the Seas will sail to Alaska and offer 7-night cruises from Seattle.

Bill to allow cruise ships to sail to Alaska without stopping in Canada passes U.S. Senate | Royal Caribbean Blog

Both Quantum Class ships will visit scenic cities and towns along the Northwest coastline, including Victoria, British Columbia; Sitka, Skagway, Ketchikan and Juneau, Alaska.

Rounding out the foursome of ships is Radiance of the Seas, which will sail from Vancouver and offer  7-10 night Alaska cruises that can also combine with Land Tours to offer immersive visits to Alaska, including in-land destinations such as Denali. 

Sailing alternating, open-jaw itineraries between Vancouver and Seward.

Royal Caribbean releases health protocols for first Alaska cruise ship | Royal Caribbean Blog

Be sure to consult the Royal Caribbean website or your travel professional for further assistance with itinerary options and booking.

More about Alaska cruises

Celebrity Cruises adds requirement for kids 5 years and older to be fully vaccinated

30 Nov 2021
Matt Hochberg

Celebrity Cruises announced on Tuesday it will require children 5 years and older to be fully vaccinated in order to go on their cruise ships.

In an update to travel agents, Celebrity Cruises Senior Vice President of Sales and Trade Support & Service Dondra Ritzenthaler announced the policy change that affects guests between the age of 5 and 12.

Effective February 1, 2022 all guests 5 years of age and older must be fully vaccinated, at that time unvaccinated children between the ages of two and four years old will be required to bring a negative Antigen or PCR test conducted within three days of boarding. 

Previously, children between the ages of two and eleven years old were required to bring a negative Antigen or PCR test conducted within three days of boarding.

How is Celebrity Cruises different from Royal Caribbean? | Royal Caribbean Blog

There has been no change to the Royal Caribbean International vaccination policy.

"The COVID-19 global pandemic has not only changed the way we all do business, it has altered operating protocols and safety expectations in almost every aspect of the travel industry," Ms. Ritzenthaler explained in an email.

"Since the beginning of this crisis, Celebrity Cruises has kept one goal tantamount above all others: to offer the safest cruise vacation options in the industry. That's why we enlisted a panel of experts to advise up on adjusting our already exemplary health and safety protocols to new industry-leading standards. That's why we continually update our protocols to ensure we are staying ahead of global situations. It's all in an effort of leadership in safety, ensuring our guests and your clients will enjoy their bucket list vacation with zero worries. With these enhanced protocols, we've transported hundreds of thousands of guests across the globe safely."

Celebrity joins Disney Cruise Line in requiring kids to be vaccinated in order to cruise.

Disney Cruise Line gets approval to start test cruises | Royal Caribbean Blog

Starting on January 13, 2022 guests on Disney Cruise Line between the ages of 5-11 must be fully vaccinated to be eligible to cruise.

Celebrity was already requiring 95% of its passengers be fully vaccinated in order to sail, which is a step beyond what Royal Caribbean required.

Royal Caribbean did not require that many passengers to be vaccinated so that it could allow families to cruise with them.

In April 2021, the CDC gave cruise lines two choices: skip test cruises if 98% of crew and 95% of passengers are fully vaccinated, or conduct simulated sailings first.

Royal Caribbean decided to go with the simulated sailings because of its commitment to families.

Earlier this summer, Royal Caribbean International's senior vice president of Hotel Operations, Mark Tamis, said the decision to allow families to cruise was an easy one, "Once there were two clear paths, 95% or under 95%, it wasn’t even really a consideration."

According to Tamis, more than 1 million children sail on Royal Caribbean ships each year, "We're the largest family cruise brand in the world, so it was pretty obvious that we would just go down this path."

Will Royal Caribbean change their vaccine requirements?

CDC updates guidance to Royal Caribbean on banning mixed vaccines | Royal Caribbean Blog

No change has been announced by sister company Royal Caribbean International regarding their vaccine policy for kids.

As of right now, Royal Caribbean only requires guests age 12 and older must present proof of COVID-19 vaccination, with the final dose of their vaccine administered at least 14 days before sailing. Kids age 5 to 11 who have been vaccinated may present proof of full vaccination and follow the protocols for vaccinated guests.

Guests under age 12 who are not vaccinated will complete additional COVID-19 testing requirements depending on the length and departure port of their sailing.

Two weeks ago, Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley was asked about a policy change during a question and answer session.

"if and when we do make the changes, we need to give everybody time. So when we announce we give people obviously plenty of time."

"What we do know is that for 12 to 17, where we we do say that everybody has to be vaccinated, still in the United States, only 48 percent of 12 to 17 year olds have been vaccinated."

Royal Caribbean produces video where masks are required on Quantum of the Seas | Royal Caribbean Blog

"From 5 to 12, everything that we've learned and seen statistically is only currently thirty five percent of parents are going to get there five to 12 year old vaccinated, currently. We think that's going to change. So we want to move to five and up. We're just kind of looking at the data and we'll probably continue to look at the data for a little bit longer before we make the decision."

"We're watching it and as soon as we think we've got a sensible way forward, we'll obviously down everybody, you know, we'll give everybody time as well."

Royal Caribbean says kids may be able to cruise under CDC's 95% vaccinated restart plan | Royal Caribbean Blog

UPDATE: Royal Caribbean's Senior Vice President, Sales, Trade Support and Service, Vicki Freed, said on December 1 there is no update to Royal Caribbean's policy.

During a webinar, she reiterated that no change in policy has been made, "At this time, we have not made any decisions on the vaccine requirements for children 5 to 11."

"We are still just in a wait and see, we're evaluating decision has been made."

I tried the Taste of Royal lunch experience

30 Nov 2021
Matt Hochberg

Specialty dining is a popular option for cruise passengers who want to indulge in different cuisines, and Royal Caribbean offers a one-meal sampler package where you can try the best of many different restaurants.

Known as the Taste of Royal, it gives guests the chance to have various dishes from different Royal Caribbean specialty restaurants, even if those restaurants are not on the ship they are sailing aboard.

Whether the appeal is for someone to get a sampling of what specialty restaurants are all about, or to pick and choose an "all star selection" of the top rated foods, Taste of Royal sounds like an intriguing option.

I decided to sample Taste of Royal myself while sailing aboard Odyssey of the Seas. The meal was held in Wonderland.

What is Taste of Royal?

Royal Caribbean has quite a few specialty restaurants across its fleet of ships, and each is known for certain dishes. Over the years, each restaurant develops a reputation for a must-try dish or two.  So it looks like Royal Caribbean wanted to offer guests one meal that hits all of those high notes.

Taste of Royal is a fixed-price meal that consists of four courses.  Unlike a specialty restaurant where your meal begins when you arrive, Taste of Royal is more like the main dining room, where everyone that books the lunch shows up at the same time, and each course is served at the same time for everyone.  Not to worry, you are not seated with others.

When I sampled Taste of Royal on Odyssey of the Seas, it cost $34.99 per person.

There is also an optional add-on where you can tie in a wine flight for $19.99 per person. There is a 25% discount on the wine flight if you have a drink package.

Taste of Royal is not included in any dining packages.

Taste of Royal menu

The menu is fixed, which means if a course or two are not something you would order, there is not much leeway in terms of changing things.  They can modify dishes if you are allergic or prefer not to a certain part of it, but you are limited to the printed menu.

Speaking of the menu, it draws on a few different restaurants, including Hooked, Wonderland, Chops Grille, and 150 Central Park.

When I dined there, the menu consisted of:

Signature Cocktail from Hooked


Saint Peter's Spritzer
St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur. Aperol, fresh lemon juice, topped with prosecco 

First Course from Wonderland

Citrus Seas Tuna Tartare
Fresh spicy tuna, wasabi tobiko, yuzu mayonnaise, phyllo Parmesan crackers 

Second Course from Giovanni's Table

Mascarpone Cheese Risotto with Crab Meat
Carnaroli rice, crab meat, lemon, mascarpone, peas, aged Parmesan 

Third Course from Chops Grille

Filet Mignon and Spicy Jumbo Shrimp
Grilled asparagus, mashed potatoes, red pepper flakes, creamy garlic butter 

Fourth Course from 150 Central Park

Fried Cheesecake
Nutella, whipped cream, caramelized popcorn 

Is it worth it?

I think the appeal of Taste of Royal is two fold: getting to sample the best dishes from across different specialty restaurants if you are either brand new to specialty dining, or an aficionado that really enjoys the courses on the menu.

Royal Caribbean picked the most popular courses from across its restaurants, and delivers on the promise of a special meal that gives you the "best of" these selections.

If there is a course or two that you do not care for, the appeal of Taste of Royal could be diminished since it's a fixed menu offering. Picky eaters will almost certainly look elsewhere for lunch.

In terms of value, it is cheaper than most specialty restaurants to dine at, and you get to sample various dishes rather than just a single cuisine. For someone who will not buy a dining package, but wants to get some of the best options, this could be quite compelling.

I enjoyed my meal, and appreciated it for what it was: a quick lunch where I got to enjoy food from some of the top specialty restaurants on any Royal Caribbean ship. If the menu looks good to you, you're in store for a satisfying lunch.

7 cruise ship main dining room rules to follow — Plus 1 to break

29 Nov 2021
Matt Hochberg

Despite all of the changes over the years, the main dining room on any cruise ship is still an institution of the cruise experience.

What changes has Royal Caribbean made to eating on a cruise since restarting? | Royal Caribbean Blog

While the experience may not nearly be as formal as it once was, there are still plenty of faux pas' to avoid while dining there, and every guest should be aware of what they should or should not do while eating there.

Etiquette at the main dining room on a cruise ship is not all that different from a land-based restaurant, but there are a few nuances that first time cruisers may be unaware of before they step aboard.

Here is my list of 7 main dining room guidelines you should know, as well as one well-known supposed rule that I think you can disregard.

Dress appropriately

How to request your favorite foods be prepared in the main dining room on your Royal Caribbean cruise | Royal Caribbean Blog

Dress codes do exist for the main dining room, although they are far less regimented as you might think.

While Royal Caribbean is fairly ambiguous on if shorts are allowed, there are some basics related to the dress codes that are usually enforced.

Each evening, the dining room will have a dress code.  Usually it is either casual or formal.  On some longer sailings, they can work in smart casual, which I admit I have trouble distinguishing from regular casual.

99 days of Harmony: Main Dining Room | Royal Caribbean Blog

First and foremost, respect the fact there are dress codes and as a courtesy to your fellow guests, observe the spirit of the dress code.

On casual nights, a collared shirt and slacks/jeans for men will suffice. Ladies can wear jeans and a blouse, dress, skirt, or pretty much anything else you might wear to somewhere that is not the beach or pool.

When it's formal night, you want to step it up just a little bit.  While there will be some people wearing tuxedos and ball gowns, most guests wear something a little nicer than the other nights. Jackets and ties for men are optional. 

The major things to avoid are swim wear, tank tops, or bare feet.

Be on time

How to not eat with strangers on a Royal Caribbean cruise | Royal Caribbean Blog

If you are seated in traditional dining with an early or late seating, be on time for dinner.

The traditional dining rotations are prepared for guests to be on time and enjoy the same courses at roughly the same time so that the restaurant can turn over the tables for the next seating.

Not only does it delay ordering for others at your table if you're sharing one, but it also forces your waiters to rush you through your meal in order to get you in and out within the allotted timeframe.

If you booked My Time Dining, showing up at the wrong time from your reservation may mean you may not have a seat.

Avoid controversial topics with tablemates

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

If you are seated with other guests, you should feel free to strike up a conversation, but avoid the "third rail" of discussion: religion and politics.

Everyone has different viewpoints, and the last thing you want to do is get into a heated debate with people you don't know just to pass the time.

Instead, talk about what you did onboard that day, plans for the next day, the weather, favorite sport teams, and pretty much anything else that steers clear of an issue that could lead to yelling, anger, and awkward silences.

Be considerate to waiters

Odyssey of the Seas restaurants | Royal Caribbean Blog

This may seem obvious, but don't be rude to the wait staff.

Besides the general courtesy of learning to pronounce your waiter's name, keep in mind mistakes can happen. A forgotten drink, a missed ingredient, or even the wrong dish can happen. Waiters work long hours and have likely been serving other guests throughout the day.

If there is bigger issue that is not so easily overlooked, first try to take the issue politely up with the waiter. If that doesn't work, then ask to speak to the head waiter so they can address it.

The bottom line is you are far more likely to get any issue resolved while being polite, rather than being rude.

Be mindful of general table manners

Cruise FAQ: Dining | Royal Caribbean Blog

Good table manners are appropriate for all dining occasions, not just cruise ships.

Not only do good table manners reflect positively on you, it shows respect to your waiters and the people you dine with.

  • Don't eat with your hands
  • When ordering, it’s more gracious to say, “May I please have the…” rather than “Give me the…”
  • Don't talk with your mouth full
  • Don't twirl your napkin 

Take the after-dinner talk elsewhere

Mariner of the Seas Live Blog - Day 4 - Sea Day | Royal Caribbean Blog

This is something I think some may not think about, but the main dining room is on a schedule.  After you've had dessert, coffee, and anything else you ordered, you should work on moving away from the table so the wait staff can clear the table and prepare it for the next guests.

The easy clue to that dinner is over is after dessert when your waiter comes by to give you a rundown of what to expect the next day.

If you have a request for more food or drink, you should absolutely feel free to do so.  Just try not to linger while many other guests have already left the dining room. 

Going back to the idea of being courteous to the wait staff, they need to clear the table for the next meal.

Don't be wasteful

9 Questions you should always ask on a Royal Caribbean cruise | Royal Caribbean Blog

And that one rule you can feel free to break? It's okay to try foods if you have no intention of finishing it, just don't abuse the food you can order.

Nearly all the food in the main dining room is included with your cruise fare, and that means you can order more than one appetizer, entree, or dessert. However, that is not carte blanche for wasting food.

Food waste is about being responsible. So it's okay to order two different dishes, but don't order something you know you won't actually eat.

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

If you are too full for dessert, or just want to nibble on an appetizer, it's okay to say you want to skip a particular course.

However, I do think once in a while it is perfectly fine to order something with the intention of trying it out. I think sampling new foods on a cruise ship is a great way to expand your palate, so tell your waiter you want to order a dish to give it a go. In that scenario, taking a bite and then leaving the rest is fine. You just want to avoid leaving a lot of food on your plates because you ordered too much for a more foolish reason.

Counterpoint: why we love The Key

29 Nov 2021
Haley Mills

Is The Key worth it? Matt recently did an updated review of The Key, in our post-Covid cruising world. From his perspective, The Key is not worth it.

However, I’d like to present a counter argument, as Mr. Mills and I love The Key, and have purchased it on every cruise since it debuted!

Early Arrival

Royal Caribbean offering guest expedited arrival options to speed up check-in process | Royal Caribbean Blog

The first benefit is the early arrival, and we take full advantage of that.

We always fly in the night before, since we live in the Midwest, where weather is unpredictable. Since we can’t stay at our lodgings past morning anyway, we want to get on the ship as early as possible. With The Key, we are usually some of the first people on board.

This was especially helpful when, on our latest cruise, Symphony of the Seas, the check in lines were atrocious. We were on board by 11:15, but the regular guests stood in line for hours, as no one was paying attention to the assigned times. From what we heard later, it was one of the worst check-ins our fellow cruisers had experienced. We were very glad to not have to go through that!

Embarkation day lunch

Spotted: Chops Grille lunch on Harmony of the Seas | Royal Caribbean Blog

We also love the Chops Grille lunch in the Main Dining Room. Sure, there are other options, like the Windjammer and Park Cafe, but they are always so crowded

That sit down lunch, after a whirlwind of travel, gives us a chance to breathe and relax before moving on with the rest of our embarkation day to-do list.

And with only one exception, our room is always ready with luggage at the door when we are finished! That’s the only reason we don’t take advantage of the carry-on luggage drop off. We haven’t needed it yet!

Room service

Navigator of the Seas Live Blog - Day 2 - Ensenada | Royal Caribbean Blog

This most recent cruise was the first time we’ve taken advantage of the free room service, but it certainly won’t be the last. Like Matt, we’ve always been Windjammer folks in the morning--Mr. Mills is an early riser for his workouts, so we’d just get our own breakfast before whatever activity was planned for the day. But, since tables were tough to find this time, that room service came in handy!

And, it was so easy (as long as we remembered to put the request out the night before). I recommend the blueberry pancakes.


10 things to know about Sky Class suites on Royal Caribbean | Royal Caribbean Blog

The debarkation breakfast is nice for similar reasons to the Chops Grille lunch.

We can take our time in the morning, have one final relaxing meal before we are evicted, and we don’t have to stress about what order we are getting off the ship. Our luggage is also placed in one special Key area, so no hunting for our baggage. Just grab and go, straight through security.

Other benefits

10 free activities on Symphony of the Seas | Royal Caribbean Blog

One more benefit that we took advantage of this trip, was the added 25% off specialty dining.

This was originally added because the Chops lunch had been taken away due to Covid protocols. It was added back to our sailing, but they kept the 25% off too! I hope they keep that on the list for future Key benefits, as it was nice to get a little extra off of dinner. 

I will agree with Matt about the reserved seats for shows--there really aren’t any bad seats in the house, and having to show up so early kind of takes away the point. We aren’t big FlowRiders or Rock Climbers, either, so we haven’t taken advantage of those benefits. 

The Key | Royal Caribbean Blog

Since we aren’t top tier members yet, and we don’t stay in suites, we find that The Key just makes some things easier for us during the cruise.

We are going to pay for the internet anyway, so for the two of us, it isn’t much more expensive to upgrade.

Having The Key takes a lot of anxiety and stress away at the beginning and end of the cruise, especially, and for us, that makes the additional cost well worth it!

Symphony of the Seas 2021 cruise recap

28 Nov 2021
Haley Mills

Mr. Mills and I just returned from Symphony of the Seas, and boy do I have so much to share!

Symphony of the Seas Live Blog - Day Six - Nassau | Royal Caribbean Blog

Since it was our first one back post-COVID, we knew this cruise would be different, but we had no idea how special it would end up being. This trip will definitely be in our memories for a long time. 

Pre-cruise testing & covid protocols

Protocols for Independence out of Galveston - Royal Caribbean Discussion - Royal Caribbean Blog

As with any post-covid cruise, it must start with the test. We opted for CVS rapid antigen tests, and it was simple.

Not only did it cost us nothing, it took us almost no time at all. We have several CVS stores around us, and we both got online two weeks prior to our test, found a time for test day (2 days prior to Embarkation), and we were set.

CVS has you drive up and park in a designated spot, then they call you when ready. You walk into a little double sided booth (it reminded me of a confession stall). The technician takes some information, and then passes you the swab, and instructs you how to test yourself.

Royal Caribbean will now require passengers to get a Covid test no more than 2 days before their cruise | Royal Caribbean Blog

I had my results within an hour. It was very easy, painless, and though I was anxious about results--even though I had no reason to be--getting that negative result meant I was clear to cruise!

Onboard, we didn’t struggle too much with the covid protocols. I thought I’d struggle with wearing a mask everywhere since I work from home and don’t have to wear it all day normally, but it soon became second nature.

I did trade out the heavy cloth one I brought from home for a more athletic fit Royal Caribbean mask from the gift shop.  Royal Caribbean also provides a medical grade mask in your state room each day, if you’d rather wear one of those.

There are plenty of vaccinated only spots on the ship, where masks are not required, and if you’re sitting at a table with food and/or drink, you do not have to wear a mask there either.

Crew will serve you at almost everywhere that used to be self-serve:  ie the Windjammer, drink stations, condiment stations, etc. There are lots more hand sanitizing stations, and crew will remind you to use them! I think that was the toughest part, because I always had something in my hands. I’m going to have to find a better bag for onboard, but otherwise there really weren’t any changes I couldn’t handle.


Our cruise was just under 50% full, around 3200 people. This meant that though the Windjammer was open for breakfast and lunch, it was not open for dinner.

We were also told, by some folks that were doing a back to back into our week, that there had been a promotion announced prior, to try to get guests to stay on board. I didn’t see anything about that for our sailing, and they were expecting to open the Windjammer for dinner the next week, so they must have been expecting a larger capacity for the holiday.

We noticed that there were very few children on board, as well as a much lower volume of international guests. 

Dining reviews

We only ate at two specialty dining restaurants this time around:  Chops and Izumi. Chops was outstanding in service and quality. You really cannot go wrong there, and that’s why it is a must if you’re going to do one specialty restaurant. 

We actually had Izumi twice: once for dinner with our Chops +1 dining package. We had the option of doing this a la carte, with a $35 per person credit, or there is a new option of a pre-fixe menu.

I think this is a very good change, as it fits in more with the dining packages. You could choose 1 appetizer, two mains, and a dessert. Unfortunately, I was extremely seasick and did not get to enjoy this at all. 

Thankfully, Mr. Mills had booked a Sushi and Sake tasting for later in the week, which I very much enjoyed! I highly recommend doing this activity if you are a sushi fan. There were four courses each paired with a different sake, plus mochi dessert.  

Things new to you

This cruise was originally scheduled for the same week last year, but was cancelled due to Covid. We lifted and shifted to the exact same cruise for 2021, and so began the agonizing wait. Our itinerary changed from San Juan and Labadee to St. Maarten and St. Thomas.

Through it all, we chatted not so patiently with the fellow cruisers in the Facebook group created for our cruise week. We’ve joined such groups before, but this was the most active cruise group we’ve ever been a part of. Whether it was because we all had so much time to wait, or because we just all wanted to get back out to sea--we were already pretty close by the time embarkation day came around.

We’d planned a pub crawl for Day 2, which happened to be my birthday, and if you’ve ever had your birthday with a bunch of strangers--it was one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had.

Symphony of the Seas Live Blog - Day One - Embarkation Day | Royal Caribbean Blog

We started at the pub with shots, and it only got better from there. What a fantastical fun day! We were all fast friends by the end of the week, from the crawl, to the solarium cruise, bonding over lost luggage, and dancing the night away at Dazzles. I have no doubt we will be cruising with these folks again!

On the flipside, I don’t think I’ve ever been as seasick as I was on this trip. Normally, I’m a little nauseous on embarkation night as I find my sea legs. But I was sick almost every evening at dinner time. It was much windier than I’ve experienced in the Caribbean, and I’m not the only person who was feeling it--though it didn’t seem to affect Mr. Mills at all. It didn’t completely ruin my trip, but I also missed out on a lot of the after dinner activities we usually enjoy, like the piano singer in Schooner. 

Stray observations

Royal Caribbean wants your Bionic Bar drink recipe | Royal Caribbean Blog

The vaccinated areas were always busy, especially the Solarium. Even on sea days, the Solarium remained a peaceful place to go and relax, pre-covid. But on this cruise, it was as hopping as the regular pool deck, and pretty noisy. That didn't keep me from enjoying my time there, but it was certainly a different environment.

Also, the Bionic Bar has completely lost its novelty. I never saw the robots moving, and only one or two people the whole week had the Bionic Bar plastic cups. The area was mostly used as extra seating for those in the Promenade. From my observations, we've missed the personal interactions we receive with a human bartender, and while fun--a robot cannot give you that. I'll be interested to see if Royal continues to add this to their ships, or if they try another concept instead.

I’ve always been impressed with Royal Caribbean’s service, but the crew on Symphony of the Seas really was extraordinarily attentive. From the big stuff--like making sure guests were safe in an emergency--to all the little things Royal Caribbean is so good at--like remembering names, drinks, preferences. They really make a ship feel like a home away from home.

It took an eternity to make it back to sea, and like a flash it was over. Now I’m back in cold Indiana, dreaming of the next trip back out to the deep blue. Keep an eye out for more posts in the coming weeks, as I have much more to share! 

Harmony of the Seas Live Blog - Day 7 - Perfect Day at CocoCay

28 Nov 2021
Matt Hochberg

The last day of our cruise brings us to Perfect Day at CocoCay. 

Ideally, I prefer to have my last day onboard be a sea day, but I will never complain about spending time at CocoCay because of how much fun it is spending time there.

While this may have been my fourth time visiting CocoCay in two weeks, the weather last week was far from perfect, so today looked to be a way to end on a high note.

We did not arrive to CocoCay until almost 10am, which meant there would be a rush among guests to get off the ship at the same time. Moreover, we were sharing the island with Independence of the Seas.

What does two ships mean? There are 4100 passengers on Harmony and 3000 passengers on Independence, so while far from a full capacity day (CocoCay can handle 9-12,000 guests), it certainly would be busier than earlier this summer.

We started off with breakfast at Park Cafe, partially because I neglected to put a breakfast order in with my Genie the night before. I certainly don't mind a bagel and schmear to start my day.

By the time we finished eating, the gangway was open and we were on our way downstairs. 

Walking down the pier, it certainly looked like a great day. Not oppressively hot and low humidity meant a comfortable outdoor experience.

We had nothing reserved, so grabbed a chair near Oasis Lagoon and then hopped into the pool.  The pool was indeed very cold. We all braved the temperature and shivered a bit before getting used to it. 

Later in the afternoon, the sun came out more and that helped make being in the water a bit warmer.

The kids went to Splashaway Bay for some kiddy slide time. While not the CocoCay water park by any means, it got some energy out for the kids.

For lunch, I had to go to Snack Shack for my favorite complimentary food: mozzarella sticks and the "secret sandwich".

To my surprise, the line for Snack Shack was really long and moved slowly. I'm not sure if they were just overwhelmed with a lunch rush, or something else, but it was the longest line I've ever experienced there. Regardless, they got the line moving and I had my food soon enough.

The afternoon was spent at the pool, and it was an opportunity to hang out with friends from the group cruise one more time.

All aboard was 4:30, so we headed back to the ship in mid-afternoon. 

Since it was a 7-night cruise, unvaccinated kids needs to get a covid test done prior to disembarkation. Our genie escorted us in and got the tests complete quickly.

Back in the room, we showered, changed, and snuck in a quick nap.

Chips and dips from Sabor were waiting for us in the room, which was a nice pre-dinner snack.

We were not sure which restaurant to go to for dinner, but decided on going back to 150 Central Park.

I was glad we went back, because their entrees are really good. I really liked combining the halibut with cauliflower to combine flavor and texture.

After dinner, we said our goodbyes to friends in the pub before calling it a night.

Overall, it was a fantastic group cruise and it felt so good to see friends and make new ones along the way. After two other cancelled group cruises, this was an especially important sailing that I am glad happened without any incident.

If you'd like to join us for a group cruise in 2022, we have two more scheduled.

Thanks for reading this live blog. Our next live blog begins in a month when we fly to California to sail on Navigator of the Seas!