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Royal Caribbean adding giant name to side of Wonder of the Seas

27 Nov 2021
Matt Hochberg

It appears Royal Caribbean is going to increase the size of the name on the side of it's newest cruise ship.

While docked in Marseilles, France, Wonder of the Seas is getting some painting done on her hull to increase the size of her name.

When the ship departed the Chantiers de l'Atlantique shipyard, Wonder of the Seas' name was painted like nearly all ships have in the fleet. Now, it appears Wonder's name will move to a large size that is similar to Odyssey of the Seas' name.

The Ready for Cruise Facebook page noticed the change in a video posted by Instagram user victoriabalabaeva, where the outline for the new name can be easily seen.

The new name is positioned lower on the hull compared to other Oasis Class ships so that the larger size letters can fit better.

In the case of Odyssey of the Seas, the "O" alone measures 11.2 meters (36 feet) in height.

When Wonder of the Seas debuts next year, she will become the new largest cruise ship in the world.

The inaugural sailing of Wonder of the Seas is scheduled for March 2022, when Wonder of the Seas departs from Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

She will then transition to the Mediterranean, beginning May 2022.

Harmony of the Seas Live Blog - Day 6 - Sea Day

27 Nov 2021
Matt Hochberg

Our last sea day on Harmony of the Seas isn't our last day onboard, but it does give us a nice break after two port stops in a row.

While part of my wishes I could have spent the day sleeping in and lounging, there was plenty of fun in store.

I started off my morning with breakfast in the main dining room, where I ran into two crew members that were on Adventure of the Seas earlier this summer.  It was great to see these two again, and both on the same ship again.

Just like yesterday, the ship was still rocking quite a bit due to the ocean swells. The crew even deployed the vomit bags in stairwells.

Luckily, the motion would calm as the day progressed.

After breakfast, I grabbed Starbucks coffee and went to Dazzles for our first group meet of the day: a Royal Caribbean Blog podcast recording.

In this episode that will air next week, we listed our favorite things we really like on Harmony of the Seas.

After the recording was complete, I went back to my suite to enjoy lunch arranged by my genie.

The other day I was talking about favorite foods with him, and he heard that I really like Indian food, so he sent up a few different types of curry to sample.

Since the weather was so comfortable out, we had lunch on the balcony and it was a wonderful break.

After lunch was over, we spent some time in the cabin before our genie's next wish was granted.

Bertie had the idea to have an ice cream sundae cart brought to the room. I think my kids thought it would be two or three flavors of ice cream, but there were a half dozen flavors and just about every topping they could want.

Little things like this are a fun part of what makes staying in a Star Class suite so much fun.

While my kids burned off all that ice cream energy, I went back to Dazzles for another group cruise meetup to play the card game Moniker.

Moniker is a game where two teams compete in a cross between charades and Scattegories, where you take turns trying to describe people or things listed on the card. 

As afternoon turned into evening, we spent a little bit of time on the Boardwalk before getting changed for dinner.

Dinner tonight was back in Izumi for another round of hibachi.

We had the same chef as earlier this week, and it was another tasty meal.

We rounded out our evening with music before calling it a night.

Tomorrow is our last day on Harmony, and we will be visiting Perfect Day at CocoCay.

Harmony of the Seas Live Blog - Day 5 - St. Thomas

26 Nov 2021
Matt Hochberg

Happy Thanksgiving!

Our next stop is St. Thomas, where we get to enjoy a port day along with celebrating Thanksgiving.

I had booked a snorkel and beach excursion to take us to St. John. The last time I tried to get to St. John, I failed when I could not get a taxi.  This time, I booked a tour through Royal Caribbean so there would be no problems.

I was a little surprised when I noticed our meet time for the tour was 6:45am, which as you might imagine is very, very early.

Everyone met in the Royal Theater before heading off the ship to board a bus. 

The bus ride took about a half hour to get us to the marina on the east side of the island, where our catamaran was waiting.

We boarded the Stars and Stripes catamaran, where Captain Matt (great name, but not me) and First Mate Paul took us out.

Almost as soon as the boat departed the marina, it began to rain. While the rain was unwelcome, luckily it only rained for the duration of the trip out to St. John.

After about a half hour, we reached Honeymoon Beach on St. John. Almost immediately the rain stopped, which allowed us to enjoy time outside and in the water. In fact, the weather continuously improved as the morning went on.

Guests had the choice of snorkeling around or taking a dinghy to shore. My oldest went snorkeling while we went to the beach. 

In terms of snorkeling, there was an area between the beach and our catamaran where there was sea grass that was home to many types of marine life, including sea turtles.

Over on the beach, you could sit on the sand as you saw fit. There was a vendor renting chairs, but I did not inquire how much they were.

According to Captain Matt, we had 90 minutes of time once we arrived in St. John to be in or around the water.

What I love about St. John is the beautiful water colors and clarity, and today did not disappoint. While it would have looked better if the sun was shining, the clouds kept the temperatures comfortable and it felt great just wading in ocean.

All too quickly, our time came to an end and we took the dinghy back to the catamaran for our ride back.

On the return journey, complimentary snacks, drinks, champagne, and rum punch was served.

The tour was fun, and my kids really liked the beach time.  In fact, my oldest now wants to snorkel again as soon as possible. 

I wish we had more time at St. John, but that's a problem to consider for my next visit.

Upon returning to the ship, we grabbed lunch at the Windjammer.

By now the early morning wake up and beach time caught up with all of us, and it was time for a nap.

Our ship departed Harmony of the Seas around 3, but I was still sleeping when that happened. I woke up to a beautiful ride out of St. Thomas.

Almost as soon as we departed, the motion in the ocean returned.  In fact, all night the ship was rocking quite a bit.  The notion that Oasis Class ships don't really feel motion has been quickly dispensed.

Being Thanksgiving, we got changed for dinner to enjoy a family meal together. Rather than feeding the kids first and then dropping them off at Adventure Ocean, we opted to have a family Thanksgiving dinner together.

You may be wondering what Thanksgiving on a cruise ship is like, and there were all sorts of special add-ons. There were decorations around the ship, arts and crafts activities, and a special Thanksgiving menu.

Our group enjoyed a celebratory drink together at Dazzles, before heading to dinner.

This evening, we went to Coastal Kitchen for dinner. In addition to their regular menu, they also had Thanksgiving offerings.

This was my first time eating at Coastal Kitchen for dinner. It's a lovely location on deck 17, although I prefer the Coastal Kitchen set up on Quantum Class ships because it does not share a space with the Suite Lounge.

After dinner, I went down to the pub for live music.  A good time was had by all.

Tomorrow is a sea day.

Harmony of the Seas Live Blog - Day 4 - St. Kitts

25 Nov 2021
Matt Hochberg

Our first port stop is in St. Kitts.

Originally, we were supposed to go to Antigua, but Royal Caribbean informed us that work on dredging the port will not be complete in time. As a result, Royal Caribbean swapped out Antigua for St. Kitts.

Our tour was not until 11:45am, so we had time to sleep in and take things easy.

I would have slept in longer, but my phone jumped ahead an hour to match local time, so my alarm went off an hour early. Oh well.

Our Genie delivered Starbucks coffee to the room, and then after the kids managed to get up, we went up to the Windjammer for breakfast.

We then took a short walk around the Boardwalk before heading back to the room to get ready for our plans ashore.

I booked the Safari Island Drive tour, which is a 3 hour tour in an open-air truck around the entire island. 

Once the tour got underway, we drove up one side of the island, and made three stops along the way.

Our guide narrated the entire journey and pointed out various points of interest. There were lots of goats, chickens, cows, and horses to see, in addition to beautiful flora and very scenic views.

Our first stop was at an estate where we got to walk the grounds and do some light shopping.

We then made our way to the point where the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea meet.

There was even time to grab a beer at a shop.

Our final stop was near Frigate Bay, where you got a fantastic view of St. Kitts and Nevis.

I enjoyed the ride, and it was just long enough to see the countryside without feeling too long. Luckily there was a nice breeze for most of the ride, which made it comfortable. I'm not sure how comfortable it would be in July, but our weather was great.

Once we got back to the pier, we got onboard the ship to relax and recuperate before our evening plans.

Our Genie had chips, salsa, and guacamole from Sabor waiting for us in the cabin when we got back.  Since we didn't eat lunch during the tour (only water was provided), it was a welcome surprise.

After relaxing in the cabin, we headed out for dinner.

This evening, we went to 150 Central Park for dinner. 

As usual, the assortment of modern American fare did not disappoint. Between the various dishes, it had a sort of Thanksgiving feel to it all, with the mashed potatoes, pumpkin bisque, and various vegetables.

We decided to call it an early night because we have to wake up super early for our excursion tomorrow in St. Thomas.

8 things you might not know about Royal Caribbean’s CEO

24 Nov 2021
Chantal McPhee

A successful business leader heading up Royal Caribbean International, Michael Bayley manages a cruise line with over 78,000 employees, and a total of 24 ships visiting 270 locations. No doubt a considerable task.  

Bayley has seen a lot during his 40-year career with the company and he clearly loves his job. He shares many stories on social media profiling employees, featuring great passenger stories, engaging with cruisers, and breaking the latest news.

Digging a little deeper, we found some unexpected things you might not know about the man at the helm of Royal Caribbean.  

He comes from Wales

Bayley is a native of Cardiff, Wales. A small country bordering England, it has a population of just over three million people. It is characterized by its ancient roots, rugged coastlines, and strong Celtic culture. A sharp contrast to his current home in sunny Miami, Florida.

Upon finishing school, Bayley ventured to England for university, graduating from the University of Bournemouth with a degree in business.

After a friend told him about a cruise line hiring in the United States, he took his first ever flight and trip to the United States for the job.  His career in the cruise industry has taken him all over the world including some of his favorite places such as Rio de Janeiro, Shanghai, Rome, New York City, and Morocco. Quite a journey

He started as an Assistant Purser

Photo by Michael Bayley

Bayley’s first position at Royal Caribbean was assistant purser on the Nordic Prince.

As he described it, he was at the front desk dealing with lots of people.  He talks fondly of that time on the ship, interacting with crew and passengers. He especially loved the sirloin steak and french fries served for dinner on Saturday nights, exclaiming that it was one of his all time favorite cruise meals.

Setting sail in 1971, The Nordic Prince was the second ship built for Royal Caribbean, with a passenger capacity of 741, just over 550 feet in length, and sailed mostly in the Caribbean.

For those fans of the 80s classic cruise show “The Love Boat” they will remember that the loveable character Gopher was also a purser. His career did not seem to keep pace with that of Bayley’s though.

He’s a foodie

One of the great things about traveling on a Royal Caribbean ship, especially with the Oasis class, is the abundance of food options. All a good thing, as it is evident that Bayley is a foodie.

When recently asked about his favorite restaurants in the world, he listed a diverse selection of places. His top three include The Tree restaurant in Sao Paulo (which is actually covered by a century old tree), he then followed up with a giant leap across the world to the Cantonese restaurant in the Intercontinental in Hong Kong, and finished with My Mommy’s Kitchen In Buenos Aires, Argentina. He gets around.

He can also be seen trying his hand as a Teppanyaki chef, or frequently posting polls about great good options to choose from at the Portside BBQ or lamb and seafood options at Jamie’s Italian.

His son claims his enchiladas are the best things he cooks.

Dad jokes are his thing

Bayley loves to tell Dad jokes, often posting videos of his informal comedy routines. Captain Shawn seems to be a popular co-star in his video posts, and as a test audience, he doesn’t always seem to find the jokes that humorous.

His dog Thunder appears equally ambivalent about this joke telling skills seemingly preferring to nap.

A sampling of some of the highlights:

How does the penguin build his house? … he igloos it together.

Why did the coach go to the bank? … to get his quarter back.

He used to be President of CEO of Celebrity Cruises

Prior to his current position, Bayley was the head of Celebrity Cruises, moving there after being promoted from his position of Executive Vice President for International Operations at Royal Caribbean.

At Celebrity he was tasked with improving profitability with a focus on the premium segment. In his short time at Celebrity, he produced strong results and quickly switched back to Royal Caribbean to his current role of President and CEO.

Celebrity is a sister company to Royal Caribbean International, both owned by the broader parent company of Royal Caribbean Group. Celebrity targets a different segment, with a smaller fleet, and is known for its sophisticated ambiance, including food and service.

He once drove a lifeboat into a ship

Empress of the Seas | Royal Caribbean Blog

In another memorable video titled “A special gift from Captain Shawn”. Bayley is presented with the original ship log from the Empress of the Seas. It was found while cleaning things up prior to the ship’s sale in 2020.

When handed the log, Bayley began to reminisce about his days aboard the ship. One particular event that stands out was a fun night out in Freeport after a long 10 day cruise. Unexpectedly they had to do a drill, and while acting as a Lifeboat Commander he drove the lifeboat right into the ship.  

As he recalls, the captain was none too pleased, surely an experience Bayley will never forget.

Favorite job

Bayley has had a number of jobs during his 40 years with the Royal Caribbean Group including work as a printer, payroll department, and hotel manager to more senior positions.  Beyond his current position, he says that the role of Chief Purser on the Sovereign of the Seas was one he truly loved. The days of fun, travel, and camaraderie made it so special.

The Sovereign of the Seas started sailing in 1988 from the port of Miami. With a passenger capacity of 2278, it was dubbed the world’s first mega-ship, although is now considered small in comparison to more modern ships.

Under Bayley's leadership, Royal Caribbean will launch the Wonder of the Seas with a capacity nearing 7000 in early 2022.

He has his own TikTok channel

Mr. Bayley is not one to shy away from almost anything, including TikTok.

His username is captaincruiseguy, and it's where he shares all kinds of videos from onboard the ships, at his home, and from many other places in his travels.

CEO's are not often known for sharing their fun side, but Mr. Baley does not hold back to share his personal side with fellow cruise fans.

Harmony of the Seas Live Blog - Day 3 - Sea Day

24 Nov 2021
Matt Hochberg

Another day on Harmony of the Seas, another sea day to enjoy.

We started off our day with our first group cruise event: water slides!

Our group rented out the Perfect Storm water slides for an hour in the morning, meaning only our group could ride the slides as many times as we wanted.

Having the water slides to ourselves meant minimal waits to try each of the slides.  I found the champagne bowl slide to be much faster than I remembered.

After the slides, we transitioned over to the pool for some time to relax. The weather was great today, and very comfortable to be outdoors.

For lunch, we decided to go to Izumi for sushi.

While the Izumi hibachi is for vaccinated guests only, the sushi side is available to all guests.

After lunch, a few of us in the group went down to the casino for a few rounds of blackjack.

While lady luck did not shine upon any of us for this go-around, we did have a good time trying our best.  Plus, having a table at the casino just for our group made it far more enjoyable to lose our money.

Our other group event today was the bar crawl, where we try a number of bars around the ship.

We managed to visit 4 bars along the way:

  1. Bionic Bar
  2. Schooner Bar
  3. Wipeout Bar
  4. Ride down Ultimate Abyss
  5. Sabor

The real fun in any bar crawl is getting to know everyone in the group as you go from bar to bar and share a drink together.

Tonight is formal night, so it was back to the room to change and get ready.

Dinner took us to Jamie's Italian, where our genie, Berty, was waiting for us.

Jamie's Italian rarely disappoints, and while I prefer the updated Giovanni's Italian Kitchen menu, I did not leave Jamie's disappointed.

After dinner, we went down to the comedy show. Once again, Berty had reserved seats for us.  I was happy they were not in the first row so that I could avoid becoming part of the show.

After the comedy show wrapped up, I had a couple drinks in the pub before calling it a night.

Tomorrow is our first port stop in St. Kitts.

Harmony of the Seas Live Blog - Day 2 - Sea Day

23 Nov 2021
Matt Hochberg

Our first full day on Harmony of the Seas is a sea day, which means an opportunity on an Oasis Class ship to knock out a few favorites.

We slept in a bit, but I was too excited to stay in bed for long. After getting the family up and going, we headed down to Park Cafe for a quick breakfast.

After bagels for breakfast, it was over to the Boardwalk to stop by Starbucks for coffee.

Starbucks drinks (but not food) is included with Star Class. There are few things not included with Star Class, in terms of places you can spend money. The arcade is another area where Star Class does not cover the charges there.

Speaking of Star Class, so far it's been a bit of a different experience than I thought it would be.  Our genie is great, but the onus is on the guest to reach out and make requests.  While the genie can sometimes surprise you with things based on conversations they've had with you, ultimately it is up to you to ask for things.

I think the "learning curve" behind Star Class just means to not assume as much and simply ask. It has become a quick lesson for me so far.

Our first group cruise event today was a Royal Caribbean version of the classic game show, "Match Game".

As an example, here is one of the questions. Please share your best answers in the comments below: "Michael just invented a talking scale. After going on a 9 night cruise it yells, '_____!'"

My kids wanted to do the Ultimate Abyss, so we headed to try it. My youngest was too short last time to try it, so we had a chance to all do it.

This time, I actually scraped my knee on the side of the slide on the way down as I tried to avoid rolling over. Luckily the scrape was not too bad, although I haven't tried swimming yet.

For lunch, we decided to go to the main dining room since sea day lunches there are always so nice.

After lunch, I took my oldest daughter ice skating during an open skate session. 

Another nice Star Class perk is our genie was able to sign us up for a session without having to wait in line for it. Saving a few minutes here or there is a major source of value for what the genie provides.

Ice skating went well, although the bottom of my feet always hurt me after a bit. 

Being a sea day, I decided to enjoy a time-honored cruise tradition: an afternoon nap.

After my wonderful nap, it was time for our welcome aboard party in Dazzles.

We rented out Dazzles for an hour to serve everyone drinks while getting a chance to officially say hello and thank you for cruising with us.

This is an event we typically do on every group cruise because day one can be a bit rushed, but by this point on the second day, everyone is ready to get to know each other.

Dinner this evening is in Izumi hibachi, to enjoy one of my favorite meals on every ship.

I love teppanyaki because of the combination of great food and entertainment.

We wrapped up our evening with a few rounds at the roulette table, followed by music at the pub.

Tomorrow is a sea day.

Stray Observations

The ocean conditions steadily improved throughout the day. It was still fairly rocky in the morning, but the movement onboard seemed to subside as the day progressed.

I spotted the stowaway piano player onboard Harmony.

Royal Caribbean's Black Friday sale includes up to $550 in savings

23 Nov 2021
Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean has revealed its Black Friday sale details ahead of the major shopping holiday.

Anyone looking to book a cruise between Black Friday and Cyber Monday can save up to $550 in savings when you combine the Cyber Week sale with the month-long kicker of up to $150 instant savings.

The new offer includes 30 percent off every guest and instant savings on cruises departing in 2022.  

Royal Caribbean will change the name of the promotion between Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, but the promotion is exactly the same.

Beginning on Tuesday, Crown & Anchor Society members can take advantage of the Cyber Week promotion. Then on Wednesday, it opens up to the general public.

This offer is in addition to the sale that begins on November 23 for drink packages, wifi and other add-ons.

Here's the details for Royal Caribbean's 2021 Black Friday offer:

The Cyber Week sale is valid on new bookings made between November 24 – 30, 2021.

Up to $400 off Cyber Monday Extension Sale provides instant savings of up to $400 USD per stateroom on select sailings departing on or after December 23, 2021.

Savings amount varies by category booked and sailing length:

  • Sailings 5 nights or less, $75 savings for Interior and Ocean View, $100 for Balconies and $200 for Suites
  • Sailings 6 nights or longer, $100 savings for Interior and Ocean View, $150 for Balconies and $400 for Suites

2022 Kicker applies to new bookings made between November 2 – 30, 2021.

2022 Kicker provides instant savings of up to $150 USD per stateroom on select sailings departing between January 1 – December 31, 2022.

Savings amount determined by category booked and sailing length:

  • Sailings 5 nights or less, $25 savings for Interior and Ocean View, $50 for Balconies and $75 for Suites
  • Sailings 6 nights or longer, $50 savings for Interior and Ocean View, $75 for Balconies, and $150 for Suites

Combinability: 30% Off Every Guest and 2022 Kicker are combinable with each other as well as promotional OBCs, Next Cruise offers, instant savings, restricted discounts (for example, Seniors, Residents, Military), Promo Code driven offers, Free Upgrades, Crown and Anchor discounts and Shareholder Benefits. Up to $400 off Cyber Monday Extension Sale is combinable with 30% Off Every Guest and 2022 Kicker as well as with promotional OBCs, Next Cruise offers, Instant Savings, restricted discounts (for example, Seniors, Residents, Military), Promo Code driven offers, Free Upgrades, Shareholder Benefits, but not combinable with Ultimate World Cruise and Crown and Anchor discounts.

Offer available to residents of United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, and select countries in the Caribbean. 

How to check if the price is lower

The most straight forward method for seeing if there is a price drop is to go to Royal Caribbean's website and do a mock booking. 

Be sure to go through as much of the checkout process as you can to ensure you are comparing exactly what you have booked, as things like cruise fare (refundable vs non-refundable), gratuities, taxes and other fees may not be levied until later in the checkout.

Another option is to let you travel agent handle this for you.  Some travel agents (the really good ones) will take it upon themselves to check for lower prices on behalf of their clients.

I recommend this travel agency for booking a Royal Caribbean cruise, and they will reprice for you during sales like this. If you are not convinced using a free travel agency right for you, read this post discussing the benefits travel agents offer.

Royal Caribbean’s The Key review

22 Nov 2021
Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean's VIP-access program, The Key, is being offered again on cruise ships and you might be wondering if it's worth it.

The Key advertises as offering guests that purchase special perks and access while onboard that would otherwise not be available to them.

Internet access, early check-in, special times at signature attractions and more are included with The Key.

Does this extra cost amenity make sense to get for your family? I tried The Key out again on an Odyssey of the Seas cruise in 2021 to get a sense of what to expect for anyone sailing in 2022 and beyond.

What is The Key?

The Key is an optional add-on anyone can purchase for their Royal Caribbean cruise that includes special access and perks.

Think of it like a way to pay extra to get VIP treatment, faster access, or otherwise nice to have extras.

Royal Caribbean offered The Key for a few years, but then suspended it as cruise ships began restart in 2021.  The cruise line has brought back The Key for sailings, albeit with some notable changes.

Guests need to purchase The Key before the cruise begins on Royal Caribbean's Cruise Planner website.

Here is a list of the benefits you get with The Key:

  • Early access at the terminal.
  • Drop off your carry-on luggage in the Main Dining Room on Deck 3 by 2:00 PM - your carry-on luggage will be hand delivered to your stateroom.
  • Exclusive welcome lunch in the Main Dining Room featuring the Chops Grille menu (open from 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM). Royal Caribbean recommends arriving to the terminal no later than 11:30 AM for you to have enough time to enjoy lunch with us!
  • Complimentary room service for your entire cruise, along with 25% off all onboard dining purchases
  • Private time at some of our onboard activities such as rock climbing, FlowRider, etc.
  • Priority departure from ship-to-shore at tender ports.
  • Early access at shows in the Main Theater on Deck 4, however a reservation is needed so don't forget to book once you're onboard.
  • VOOM Surf & Stream package, now including high speed internet, for one device (1 package per guest).
  • On debarkation day, enjoy a private á la carte breakfast and choice departure.

The early check-in is between 11:00 AM - 11:30 AM. If guests are not able to make the early access window, Royal Caribbean says they should arrive within their appointment time and will receive priority access into the terminal.

A full list of benefits will be given to you once you board the ship with ship-specific benefits.

How much is The Key?

The price of The Key varies, and starts at $25.99 per day, per person, although there can be discounts available to bring that price down.

All guests over the age of 6 in the same room must purchase The Key.

When you get to the cruise terminal, and subsequently onboard the ship, there will be special signs to indicate where guests with The Key can go.  In addition, your SeaPass card will have a special sticker to easily identify yourself as having The Key.

Is The Key worth it?

Here's what 'The Key' is (and why some cruisers like it) | Royal Caribbean Blog

The Key certainly sounds like a good investment for a lot of cruises, especially those new to Royal Caribbean, because it offers benefits and access that might not otherwise be available to them at all.

In my experience, I found the benefits sound a lot better on the surface than they really are.

The things I haven't done on a Royal Caribbean cruise yet | Royal Caribbean Blog

Many benefits can be obtained in a different way, but without having to spend extra for it. Or the benefits are simply not as lucrative as it sounds. Here are some examples:

  • Getting an early check-in time is easy (and free) if you just watch the Royal Caribbean app for when check-in windows will become available to book, and then book a time as soon as possible.
  • Welcome lunch with Chops Grille menu can be bought separately at the restaurant or at a different restaurant.  Dining packages offer a good discount on how much lunch will cost.
  • Private time at onboard activities tends to be very few (just two times on our Odyssey of the Seas cruise), and at less than ideal times.
  • Reservations for shows can be made on your own via the Royal Caribbean app

The only perk that is truly unobtainable on your own is the ability to drop off your carry-on luggage on embarkation day.  Of course, this benefit lasts just 2 hours on the first day of the cruise, so the value is quite limited.

Spotted: Royal Caribbean brings back early check-in and welcome lunch to The Key | Royal Caribbean Blog

Unfortunately, the private times at attractions were limited and at inconvenient times.  A 9am Flowrider time and a 4pm rock wall session are both times of the day where competition for these venues is less to begin with.

I would also argue both attractions on Odyssey of the Seas with special times for guests with The Key have a limited appeal than other activities where it would be far more useful. 

Free room service is indeed a very nice benefit, but I question how often anyone will order room service to truly take advantage of it.  Breakfast room service is likely the most beneficial time to use room service, but there are so many easy grab and go breakfast options that I think in general, the idea of having room service is better than the actual thing.

The priority for tendering is largely useless since Royal Caribbean ships rarely ever tender, thanks to more and more ports having piers.

Royal Caribbean announces entertainment for Spectrum of the Seas | Royal Caribbean Blog

The Key could be better in certain situations, such as when sailing on Oasis or Quantum Class ships, which have more entertainment venues where the Key can help with seating.  Then again, Royal Caribbean wants you to arrive 45 minutes early to the theater, which seems to negate the point of having a reserved seat, in my opinion. That is a very long time to wait for a show.

While the check-in time advantage could be helpful to ensure you are among the first to board, Royal Caribbean says if you miss the 30 minute window of arrival right at the beginning, you will not be able to use this benefit.

The Key includes Voom Surf and Stream access for each person, which arguably makes up the bulk of the daily cost. Internet access on Royal Caribbean is not cheap, and if you were already going to buy a wifi package, sometimes the additional cost to get The Key is not much more. Other times, it is notably higher. In addition, with multi-device internet plans, the Key doesn't scale to families or larger groups if internet is always purchased. 

Voom | Royal Caribbean Blog

The Key may be a good choice for someone who is going to buy internet access no matter what, and is sailing on a ship with a lot of shows they want to see.

But having tried The Key before and after the cruise industry shutdown of 2020/2021, I do not think it is worthwhile for most people simply because the benefits look better on paper than they are in practice.

If you are Diamond or higher in Royal Caribbean's Crown and Anchor Society and/or a suite guest, some benefits overlap with The Key, further reducing The Key's value.

Don't forget you have to buy The Key for all guests in the room over the age of 6, whether they will use all the benefits or not.

I think with a little bit of footwork, you can get similar results on your own and save money on your cruise vacation. Skip The Key, and instead focus on how to get an early check-in time, buy a dining package, pre-purchase wifi, and I think you will find yourself still having a great time onboard.

Harmony of the Seas Live Blog - Day 1 - Embarkation Day

22 Nov 2021
Matt Hochberg

I'm back on Harmony of the Seas for a Thanksgiving cruise, and our first group cruise since the shutdown.

Not only is it our first time back on Harmony of the Seas, but this is my first time trying out Star Class. Star Class is the top-tier of Royal Caribbean's suite class offerings, and I'm excited to try it all out.

Harmony is sailing on a 7-night Eastern Caribbean cruise from Port Canaveral, and will visit St. Kitts, St. Thomas, and Perfect Day at CocoCay.

We stayed at the Country Inn and Suites last night, which was a nice hotel for the night. They offer a shuttle to the cruise port, but we had our own car, so we drove.

In the weeks leading up to the cruise, our Genie contacted us via email with an introduction and opportunity to convey different requests. We were able to book specialty restaurants, arrange for drinks and food to be waiting in our suite when we arrived, and even booked times for the kids at Adventure Ocean. Leading up to the cruise, I was impressed with the level of service we had before even stepping foot onboard.

We booked Star Class this time around because when we booked many years ago, the price was reasonable. Prices can really run the gamut for Star Class, but I found this sailing to be a great deal.

Our Genie told us to arrive a bit earlier than our boarding time because our kids needed to be tested at the terminal, since they are unvaccinated.

There is a special check-in area at Port Canaveral for Star Class guests. Instead of giving porters your luggage and it being delivered to your room later, the bags are brought up to your cabin right away.

The testing at the terminal went smoothly, and took about 45 minutes to get the results. This is our last time having to do a test at the terminal since our kids will be fully vaccinated before our next sailing.

After the test results arrived via email, we completed the check-in process and our Genie, Berty, met us in the terminal.

Our cabins were not quite ready yet, so we decided to take the kids to the Boardwalk to start exploring.

The carousel was not running yet, so it was up to the Windjammer for lunch. They had a wide selection of food, including lobster tails.

I got the message from Berty that our room was ready, so we went up to the cabin. The Genie can message you via the WhatsApp app.

We have a two-bedroom AquaTheater suite for this sailing, which is on deck 9.

AquaTheater suite are located at the very back of the ship, and offer fantastic views of the AquaTheater, Boardwalk, and ocean. 

There are two bedrooms, along with a nice living room.  It is not the largest cabin on the ship, but the wrap-around balcony is massive. 

We did a little bit of exploring in the afternoon, starting in Central Park and then moving down to the Royal Promenade.

Of course, we completed our muster drill by doing most of the steps in the app, and then visiting our muster station.

While Berty had signed the kids up for time slots in Adventure Ocean, we still had to register them.

Registration was held in what used to be the open play area for younger kids. Royal Caribbean removed the toys due to Covid protocols, and now is where the staff meets you to sign kids up.

We had a our first meetup of the cruise at Boleros to celebrate the start of the sailing.

There are about 112 friends sailing with us on this group cruise, and we have a few special events planned throughout the sailing.

Harmony of the Seas departed around 5:30pm. There were a few other ships, so we left last.

While it was cloudy enough to block sunset, the weather could not have been more comfortable. Temperatures in the mid 70s, low humidity, and a brisk breeze.

I generally do not get that wrapped up in sail away, but I had to go to our balcony to watch sail away because of the amazing views our balcony offers.

Our kids got room service for dinner: pizza and steak. Another benefit of Star Class is you can order off the specialty restaurant menus and have it delivered to the room. 

For my kids, this is perfect because they can to eat dinner nonchalantly, and then be ready for Adventure Ocean later.

With evening upon us, it was time to shower, change, and get ready for dinner.

We dropped the kids off at Adventure Ocean and then headed to Sabor for our first dinner onboard.

Sabor has been one of my favorite restaurants on a Royal Caribbean ship ever since it first debuted years ago.

As we were seated, guacamole and salsa were served. The salsa was just as good as I remember, but unfortunately the guacamole was a little too watery.

The ceviche appetizer and cohiba tacos were very good, and I enjoyed being back at Sabor one more time.

After dinner, we headed to the Boot & Bonnet pub to enjoy some live music with our evening drinks .

Tomorrow is a sea day.

Stray Observations

Yes, the check-in times matter for when you arrive to the cruise terminal.

I've heard there are around 4,500 guests onboard this sailing. Waiting to check with Guest Relations after we sail.

From almost as soon as we left Port Canaveral, there was quite a bit of movement in the ocean. Enough motion to stagger a bit while walking now and then. Probably the rockiest I've experienced since cruises restarted.

The evening performance of Big Daddy's Hideaway Heist in the AquaTheater was cancelled due to the motion in the ocean.