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What you need to know before taking a Royal Caribbean cruise to Cuba

12 Dec 2016
Matt Hochberg

You might have heard that Royal Caribbean is now offering cruises to Cuba, but before you step foot in Havana, here are some important bits of information to know.

Who can travel to Cuba?

It is true Royal Caribbean now offers cruises to Cuba, but there are still United States regulations in place that allow for certain types of travel by U.S. persons to Cuba.

Permitted travel is generally classified into 12 categories. If a trip to Cuba meets all of the requirements of one of these 12 categories, you are authorized by OFAC to travel under a “general license,” meaning that you may travel without any additional government approvals.

The general license categories include:

  • Educational activities, including people-to-people travel
  • Humanitarian projects
  • Religious activities
  • Professional research and meetings
  • Family visits
  • Official government business
  • Journalism
  • Public performances, clinics, workshops, exhibitions and athletic competitions
  • “Support for the Cuban people”
  • Activities of private foundations or research for educational institutes
  • Exporting or importing information or “information materials”
  • Travel related to some authorized export transactions

All guests traveling to Cuba must meet the requirements of one of the 12 categories of permitted travel authorized by the United States government. 

People-to-people tours are education-based trips designed to promote interactions between travelers and the Cuban people. People-to-people travel allows for little, if any, free time, as your time will be spent experiencing Cuba at its most authentic, through visits to Cuba’s most sought after destinations.

What about international guests not from the United States?

All guests regardless of country of residence will be required to meet one of the twelve general license categories while onshore in Cuba.

How will I certify I have met one of these requirements?

In accordance with U.S. law, all guests (including children) traveling to Cuba will be required to complete a travel affidavit identifying the category of travel under which they are visiting. This must be completed prior to boarding the vessel.

For ease of completion, Royal Caribbean has arranged the affidavit Into 3 parts:

  • Part A: Guests exclusively participating in the Royal Caribbean tour program should select Part A and complete the identification information in the last section.
  • Part B: Guests traveling on a self-guided people-to- people exchange program should select Part B and complete the identification information in the last section. Part B does allow for guests to split their full-day schedule between tours purchased from Royal Caribbean and activities organized on their own.
  • Part C – Guests that have not certified in Part A and B, including those passengers who plan to split their schedule between people-to-people activities offered by Royal Caribbean and activities otherwise meeting the requirements of one of the 12 general licenses, should select Part C and complete the identification information in the last section. 

You will need a Visa to enter Cuba

Guests are required to purchase a visa to travel to Cuba. Royal Caribbean will facilitate this for our guests at a cost of $75 per person.

This fee will be added to your onboard account on Day 1 of the cruise. Each guest will receive their Visa during embarkation in Miami and will be responsible for providing their Visa to the Cuban authorities upon arrival in Cuba.

If a guest loses their Visa, they will be able to purchase a new Visa onboard at an additional cost of $75.

Do I need a passport to visit Cuba?

A passport will be required for all guests sailing to Cuba with us. Guest passports must be valid for six months after their travel date to Cuba.

In order to travel to Cuba, all guests, including children, will be required to have a passport. U.S. Customs and Border Protection will not allow U.S. guests to travel to Cuba with a driver’s license and birth certificate. Guest passports must be valid for six months after their travel to Cuba.

Can Cuban-Americans cruise to Cuba on Royal Caribbean?

Yes. Cuban-American persons born in Cuba are permitted to arrive in Cuba by vessel. However, if you are a Cuban-born traveler, you may need additional documentation.

Those who left Cuba prior to January 1, 1971, must travel to Cuba with their U.S. passports. But unlike U.S. born Americans, they will need a special type of visa; an H1 visa, which they need to apply for prior to travel. The visa application process can take up to 90 days. Cuban-born citizens who came to the U.S. after January 1, 1971, must travel to Cuba using their Cuban passports. They do not need a visa. They do however need to complete a One-Page Entry Request Application.

To learn more, you can visit the Cuban Embassy website ( 

What is it like in Cuba and what can I bring home?

Here is Royal Caribbean's description of Cuba: You will be among the first to explore Cuba with Royal Caribbean. Infrastructure is at a minimum and authenticity is at a premium. The food is rich in culture, but potentially unfamiliar. Walking surfaces may be uneven, and depending on the time of year, the intensity of the heat can be significant.

Guests are generally authorized to bring into the United States merchandise acquired in Cuba for personal use as accompanied baggage.

Any additional tips for visiting Cuba?

  • Drink only bottled water
  • Due to the tropical climate, wear loose fitting airy clothes, comfortable shoes and a hat
  • Only a few places are air conditioned; bring a fan and/or mister
  • Purchase items only from authorized sellers o Exchange money only at CADECAs (Currency exchange houses) or hotels
  • Carry with you
    • Passport
    • Visa
    • SeaPass card
    • Cash

Royal Caribbean Post Round-Up: December 11, 2016

11 Dec 2016
Matt Hochberg

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

It was a busy Royal Caribbean news week, with Royal Caribbean finally getting permission to offer cruises to Cuba.

On Thursday, Royal Caribbean revealed it had received permission from the Cuban government to offer cruises, which resulted in the company promising cruises would become available soon.

The very next day, Royal Caribbean posted its first batch of Cuba cruises available for booking.  As expected, Empress of the Seas was the ship to take Royal Caribbean guests to Cuba, although Royal Caribbean added bonus news, when it was revealed Empress of the Seas will spend the 2017 summer season in Tampa, Florida.

Empress of the Seas will homeport in Tampa for the 2017 summer season offering a series of 4- and 5-night sailings, including port calls to destinations in Cuba.

Royal Caribbean News

Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast

The 175th episode of the Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast is now available and this week, Matt and Billy discuss the last day of a Royal Caribbean cruise.

The final hours of a cruise can be busy with a lot going on, so this week, we go through what is involved on disembarkation day.

Please feel free to subscribe via iTunes or RSS, and head over to rate and review the podcast on iTunes if you can! We’d appreciate it.

Royal Caribbean Around the Internet

Royal Caribbean has a guest blogger review of their first cruise.

Cruise Habit looks at if the new Mobile Passport app will save you time.

WLRN interviewed Royal Caribbean CEO Michael Bayley.

Cruise Critic has 9 reasons to pack duct tape for your upcoming cruise.

Royal Caribbean offering Green Monday sale with reduced deposit and instant savings

10 Dec 2016
Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean is kicking off its Green Monday Savings Sale with a weekend of reduced deposit and instant savings.

The Green Monday Savings Sale is available on cruises booked December 10 - 12, 2016 and valid on all sailings departing on or after January 8, 2017 (excluding China).

Guests that book a qualifiying cruise will recieve

  • 1•2• Free – Every Third Night is Free
    • 3-5 night cruises
      • Includes 1 nights free
    • 6-8 night cruises
      • Includes 2 nights free
    • 9-11 night cruises
      • Includes 3 nights free
    • 12-14 night cruises
      • Includes 4 nights free
    • 15-17 night cruises
      • Includes 5 nights free
    • 17-20 night cruises
      • Includes 6 nights free
    • 21-23 night cruises
      • Includes 7 nights free
    • 24 night cruise
      • Includes 8 nights free
  • 50% reduced deposit
  • Up to $100 instant savings
    • 5 nights or less: $50 savings per stateroom
    • 6 nights or longer: $100 savings per stateroom

In addition, the Green Monday deal is combinable with the free upgrade from Ocean view to balcony on Anthem of the Seas sailings.

Additionally, the Green Monday offer provides for 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 Offer qualifying guests in a triple or quad occupancy stateroom on a 5 nights sailings that depart Jan. 5, 2017-Feb 15, 2018 excluding sailings departing on or between 2/16/17-2/23/17, 3/10/17-3/20/17, 4/6/17-4/16/17, 5/16/17-9/4/2017, 11/16/17-11/26/17, 12/15/17-1/05/18 as well as China, Cuba and Alaska cruises and Harmony of the Seas sailings.

1-2-Free Offer is combinable with adjoining Instant Savings, Kids Sail Free, Anthem Upgrade, Crown & Anchor discounts and rates, Next Cruise offers, and Shareholders benefits. Offer is not combinable with restricted rates (for example, Senior Rates, Resident Rates, Military Rates) or any other offer or promotion, including, but not limited to, prior promotions, Standard Group, Interline, Travel Agent, Travel Agent Friends and Family, weekly Sales Events, Net Rates.

Offer available to residents of the United States and Canada.

If you are wondering, Green Monday is an online retail industry term similar to Cyber Monday. The term was coined by eBay to describe its best sales day in December, usually the second Monday of December.

Spotted: Christmas Coca-Cola souvenir cups on Royal Caribbean

10 Dec 2016
Matt Hochberg

Just in time for the holidays, Royal Caribbean is offering guests who purchase an unlimited drink package new souvenir Coca-Cola cups that have a Christmas design to them.

Over the year, we have seen a number of cup designs that coincide with certain holidays and events, and this batch is ready for Christmas.

Photos by Jerel Donovan

Photos by Earl McGrath

The cups prominently feature Santa Claus on them, and say "Share a Coke this holiday".

These souvenir cups are compatible with the self-serve soda machines on the pool deck as well as the Coca-Cola Freestyle machines. The Coca-Cola souvenir cup has a special chip in it which activates the machine.

Friday Photos

09 Dec 2016
Matt Hochberg

This week's batch of beautiful Royal Caribbean photos is here and it's always fun to share with all of you the great photos our readers take while on their cruise vacation.

The photos we have to show this week are fun and of course anyone can send us their Royal Caribbean photos to use as well!


Our first photo this week is from Tracy and it is of Independence of the Seas and Harmony of the Seas in Port Everglades.  Great shot of two lovely ships.

Ken shared this photo of a busy in St. Maarten, complete with two Royal Caribbean ships in port  Great assortment of cruise ships in one place!

We have yet another photo of Harmony of the Seas, this one from Michael Poole while Harmony was docked in Nassau.  Considering I was on the ship when this photo was taken, it holds a special place in my heart.

Check out this photo from Beci Mahnken of a beautiful sunset, as seen from Oasis of the Seas as she sailed away from Port Canaveral.  Beautiful!

Speaking of Oasis of the Seas, here is a photo of Oasis and Navigator of the Seas in Cozumel.  Scott Shaffer took this photo, and I can almost smell the amazing Mexican food eminating from nearby!

Jose Pena shared this photo of Navigator of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas docked side by side in San Juan.  I love how easy it is to spot the cruise ships from many areas of Old San Juan.

Lastly, we have this photo of Adventure of the Seas in St. Kitts, taken by Bharat. 

Do you have Royal Caribbean photos that you want to share?  We'd love to feature them so send them in by using our nifty submission form and maybe your photos will show up in next week's edition!

Royal Caribbean puts first Cuba sailings on sale

09 Dec 2016
Matt Hochberg

Just days after receiving approval by the Cuban government to offer cruises, Royal Caribbean has put its first ever cruises to Cuba on sale to the public.

As expected, Empress of the Seas is offering a few different itineraries, from Miami and Tampa, Florida.

The first sailing is scheduled for April 19, 2017 and is a 5-night cruise from Miami to Costa Maya, Mexico and Havana Cuba.

There are two more sailings currently available for booking:

  • April 30 from Tampa: 7-night cruise to Cozumel, Belize City and Havana
  • May 20 from Tampa: 7-night cruise to Key West, Havana and Cozumel

Empress of the Seas will homeport in Tampa for the 2017 summer season offering a series of 4- and 5-night sailings, including port calls to destinations in Cuba. The largest ship to sail to Cuba from the United States, Empress will provide vacationers with the opportunity to discover the timeless sights, sounds and culture of this island nation. Details of the summer itineraries will be released at a later date. All cruises will be designed in accordance with current U.S. to Cuba travel regulations.

"Royal Caribbean is the world’s most exciting adventure company, and we’re thrilled to introduce culture-seeking travelers to Cuba. As the unrivaled innovators of the cruise experience, no company is better positioned to help adventurers explore and experience this culturally rich destination," said Michael Bayley, President and CEO, Royal Caribbean International.

Will you be booking any of these cruises? Tell us in the comments!

Six big changes coming to Royal Caribbean in 2017

08 Dec 2016
Matt Hochberg

The start of 2017 is just a few weeks away, and the new year brings with it some changes to Royal Caribbean.

There are many changes coming that we know about already for 2017, and here are the top changes that you will want to keep your eye on.

1. Cruises to Cuba

After months of waiting, Royal Caribbean will finally offer cruises to Cuba.

Royal Caribbean made the big announcement yesterday, although we do not have any itineraries or sailing details yet.  Nonetheless, Royal Caribbean will be revealing its plans for Cuba, which will undoubtedly include sailings to Cuba at some point in 2017.

Royal Caribbean brought Empress of the Seas back into the fleet in 2016, and subsequently underwent an extensive refurbishment back in the spring of 2016. Royal Caribbean has confirmed Empress of the Seas will be the first Royal Caribbean ship to offer cruises to Cuba.

2. 5 ship refurbishments

Royal Caribbean is always looking at ways to improve the ships in its fleet, and five vessels are scheduled to have refurbishments in 2017.

The five ships on the schedule include

  • Mariner of the Seas
  • Legend of the Seas
  • Grandeur of the Seas
  • Serenade of the Seas
  • Enchantment of the Seas

If you are wondering what work will be done exactly, those details have not been revealed yet for any ship.

3. Legend of the Seas will leave the fleet

In the spring of 2017, we will say goodbye to Legend of the Seas.

Royal Caribbean announced in June 2016 that it was selling Legend of the Seas to Thomson Cruises. Legend of the Seas' final sailing will be on March 13, 2017, with the officers and crew remaining with Royal Caribbean.

4. No new ships in 2017

Believe it or not, there are no new Royal Caribbean ships joining the fleet in 2017.  Given the rapid pace of ship building we have enjoyed over the last few years, that makes 2017 a bit of an oddity.

However, there will be a new Royal Caribbean ship every year following 2017, so fans of the "latest and greatest" will have plenty to look forward to well into the next decade.

For those keeping score at home, the next new Royal Caribbean ship to debut will be Oasis 4, with a delivery sometime in 2018. In fact, we can expect plenty of Oasis 4 news to be coming our way in 2017, with the reveal of the ship's name, home port, itineraries and more coming at some point in 2017.

5. New fleet-wide main dining room menu

While onboard Harmony of the Seas, we spoke to Royal Caribbean's Director of Culinary Operations, Michael Gilligan, and he confirmed that a new main dining room menu is coming to the fleet.

Royal Caribbean has been experimenting with this new menu on Oasis of the Seas for a few months, and recently expanded the menu to Anthem of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas. Gilligan expects the new menu to be fleet wide sometime in the second quarter of 2017.

6. Vision of the Seas arrives in Galveston

Royal Caribbean fans who enjoy cruises out of Galveston will have a new ship to try, in addition to Liberty of the Seas.

Beginning in November 2017, Vision of the Seas will begin offering cruises from Galveston, Texas and include 4- and 5-night cruises to destinations in the Western Caribbean, such as Costa Maya and Cozumel.

Which Royal Caribbean change are you most excited about for 2017? Tell us in the comments!

Royal Caribbean receives approval to offer cruises to Cuba

07 Dec 2016
Matt Hochberg

Multiple media outlets are reporting that Royal Caribbean has received permission by Cuban authorities to offer cruises to Cuba.

USA Today and The Miami Herald report that Royal Caribbean will begin offering itineraries to Cuba, "soon."

"Our guests have expressed real interest in having the opportunity to experience Cuba, and we look forward to bringing them there," said Richard D. Fain, chairman and chief executive officer of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. "Our discussions with our travel partners indicate that Cuba is a destination that appeals to a new generation of travelers.

Royal Caribbean has been preparing for this opportunity for many months, having brought back Empress of the Seas into the fleet to offer cruises to Cuba. Royal Caribbean engaged in a lengthy refurbishment to the ship and has had it prepared to offer cruises to Cuba as soon as the company had permission.

UPDATE 2:36PM: Royal Caribbean will announce its first Florida-Cuba itineraries, "in the near future."

The cruise itineraries will comply with U.S. Department of Treasury rules that permit travel companies to transport approved travelers to Cuba to engage in people-to-people activities as defined by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

Disembarkation Day on Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast

07 Dec 2016
Matt Hochberg

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

Episode 175 is available for downloading, which offers tips and advice about the final day onboard your Royal Caribbean cruise.

In this episode, Matt and Billy discuss the disembarkation day and what to expect in those final hours.  While the last day of a cruise is never a day anyone looks forward to, it is important to be aware of what to expect to ensure the process is as smooth as possible.

Here’s the podcast page for Episode 175. 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!

Video: 150 Central Park on Royal Caribbean Ships Introduces New Multi-Course Menu

06 Dec 2016
Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean International, in partnership with James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schwartz, has introduced a new menu highlighting artisanal ingredients at 150 Central Park onboard Harmony of the Seas, Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas. Guests can enjoy Schwartz’s simple, elegant approach to American dining with a variety of appetizers, entrées and dessert including tableside service for guests.