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Royal Caribbean Secrets: Helipad on Freedom of the Seas

In:
03 Sep 2013

We love to share with our readers different tricks, secrets and other lesser known tidbits about cruising on Royal Caribbean so you can take advantage of them on your next cruise.  Today, we've got a great spot to go to for sail away on Freedom of the Seas that will get you a great view without a lot of people around.

The helipad on Freedom of the Seas is located on the bow (front) of the ship and during sailaway, Royal Caribbean permits guests access to the helipad.  This is a great spot to see the port as you leave, especially for those that do not have a balcony stateroom or simply want something a little different.

Photo by Andrew Quested

You can get to this special spot by walking all the way forward on deck 4 outside. There will be stairs that go up to the next deck, and farther forward is the helipad.  Once there, you will find benches to sit on but the best spots are as far forward as you can get.

In addition to sailaway, the helipad is usually open most of the day, but it can close at any time for safety reasons (usually high winds).

In addition to Freedom of the Seas, you should expect this secret to work on her sister ships Independence of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas.  Guests may access the helipad on all Freedom, Voyager and Radiance Class ships.

Royal Caribbean Classic: Escargot

In:
13 Aug 2013
By: 
Matt Hochberg

There's something about a Royal Caribbean cruise that compels people to try new things.  Some may tackle trying to stand up on the Flowrider, others may try to get into the Love and Marriage game show.  Personally, I like to try new foods and it's because of a Royal Caribbean cruise that I joined so many others in indulging (and liking) the escargot.

Escargot, better known as cooked snails, is a delicacy that sounds down right awful but escargot on Royal Caribbean has become a real staple appetizer in the main dining room.  I think a lot of people order it as a goof (it doesn't cost anything extra to try) and after the giggles supside, these same people coming away actually enjoying it.  

The menu describes the escargots bourguignonne as, "tender snails drenched in melted garlic-herb butter."  Drenched is the right word because they come in a serving plate soaked in the salty butter sauce.  There's so much butter and it's so salty that it's hard to really taste the actual snail.  And if you eat it with bread, well, you probably won't even feel the texture.

Escargot has become a staple appetizer that I order everytime I can, although in the last 6-9 months, there's been a "world wide shortage" of escargot so scallops have been offered instead.  However, if you happen to see escargot as an option on your next Royal Caribbean cruise, laugh all you want but you really should order it for a high-class tasty snack!

Escargot Recipe

Garlic Butter

2 TBS Chopped fresh parsley
2 cloves Garlic, finely minced
1/2 tea Dijon Mustard
Freshly Ground White Pepper To Taste
1 1/2 Sticks Unsalted Butter, softened 
1/2 tea Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 tea Cognac

Escargots

24 Cannned snails, drained
1 Medium Shallot finely chopped 
1 TBS Dry Sherry 
Salt to taste
French Baguette Slices

1. For the garlic butter: in a food processor, combine the parsley, garlic, and mustard. Season with white pepper. Process for 1 minute. Add a stick butter, the worcestershire sauce and cognac, and process for 2 minutes. Transfer the butter mixture to a small bowl and set aside. 

2. For the snails, rinse the snails in a small colander under cold running water. Drain and pat dry with paper towels. In a saute pan, heat the remaining 1/2 stick butter ove medium heat. Add Shallot and cook, stirring until softened, and translucent. Add the snails and saute until completely heated through about one minute. Stir in the sherry and season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and let cool. 

3. Preheat the oven to 400F. Transfer the snails to shells or to snail plates (if using the shells, divide them among 4 ovenproof dishes). Cover each snail completely with the reserved butter mixture. 

4. Bake for a few minutes, or just until the snails are hot and the butter is completely melted and brown on top (do not overbake or the flavor of the butter will be compromised). Serve immediatley with the slices of the French baguette for dipping.

What to wear to dinner on your Royal Caribbean cruise

In:
29 Jul 2013
By: 
Matt Hochberg

What to wear on your Royal Caribbean cruise is a source of controversy among fans and a never-ending source of debate. Nonetheless, dinner time on a Royal Caribbean cruise comes with suggested dress attire and for first-time cruisers, what you should and should not wear can be confusing.

The good news is cruising these days is a far cry from the "old days" in the last century when it was ball gowns and tuxedos with tails and top hats.

Royal Caribbean is pretty open about what you can wear throughout the cruise but at dinner time, there are still a few elements of formality left to consider. And for those who don't want to dress up beyond t-shirts and shorts, Royal Caribbean has options for you as well.

Casual

Matt in the MDR

The casual dress code is defined by Royal Caribbean as, "Sport shirts and slacks for men, sundresses or pants for women." 

This basically means its clothing that is a step up from what you might wear around the ship during the day. Often during the day, guests will wear shorts, t-shirts, and other pool-friendly clothing. The casual dress code means it should be nicer than that, with the suggestions we see above.

In our experience, we see men wearing long pants with polo shirts with khakis or "nice jeans" (no holes) and a collared shirt. 

For women, we often spot sundresses or just a nice blouse. The best way I can describe it is what you would probably wear to visit your grandmother on a holiday.

Main dining room family

Casual night dress code is the most common dress code you will find on your cruise and it's the easiest to pack for.

Also, Royal Caribbean states, "Please keep swimwear to the pool deck. Shorts are welcome for breakfast and lunch. Bare feet are not allowed at any venue. Tank tops are not permitted."

Smart Casual

Main dining room

The smart casual dress code is the next step up from casual. Royal Caribbean defines it as, "Jackets and ties for men, dresses or pantsuits for women."

For men, you can swap out the polo shirts for collared shirts and add a jacket with a tie. 

Royal Caribbean states, "Jackets, sports coats, and blazers are snazzy and welcome."

For women, this can be dresses, skirts, blouses, and pantsuits.

Smart casual clothing is the sort of clothing you might wear on a religious holiday to a place of worship. 

Formal Nights

Family in dining room

The formal night dress code is the most stringent in terms of formality (hence the name) and Royal Caribbean defines formal clothing as, "Suits and ties or tuxedos for men, cocktail dresses for women."

Formal night clothing is what you would probably wear to a traditional wedding and should be a step up from any other night's clothing. You may see some men wearing tuxedos, but a vast majority of men on Royal Caribbean cruises these days opt for a two or three-piece suit.

For women, it's an opportunity to dress up as much as possible, with evening gowns, cocktail dresses, and lots of accessories. 

Read more: Royal Caribbean formal night: What to wear

How often formal nights are offered depends on the length of your cruise and the itinerary. This also differs from ship to ship. Generally, it follows this pattern:

  • 3-5 nights: 1 formal night
  • 6-7 nights: 2 formal nights
  • 8-10 nights: 2 formal nights
  • 11-14 nights: 3 formal nights
  • 15+ nights: 3 or 4 formal nights

Chef's Table enforces a formal dress code policy.

What about kids?

Kids

Children are expected to follow the evening's dress code just as closely as adults. There may be a little more leeway in terms of the degree of formality for children's clothing, but at the same time, children are expected to be dressed up more than what they would wear during the daytime. 

For boys, polo shirts and nice pants will suffice for most evenings and girls can wear dresses, skirts, and sweaters.

Specialty Restaurants

Family eating at Chops Grille

The specialty restaurants onboard have their own dress code each evening, which supersedes what the main dining room dress code may be. Of course, you can always overdress for these restaurants by wearing more formal attire, but that's up to you.

A trick some veteran cruisers will try is booking specialty restaurants on formal nights of their cruise with the rationale that if you have to dress up anyway for the specialty restaurant, then you may as well do it on a formal night and "kill two birds with one stone."

What are the theme nights?

Couple in main dining room

On a typical Royal Caribbean cruise, you will find in the Cruise Compass there is a certain dress code in the Main Dining Room every night. Here are some examples of theme nights you will see:

  • Casual: Jeans, polo shirts, golf or Bermuda shorts, t-shirts, blouses
  • Dress To Impress/Dress Your Best/Formal: Suits, sports coats, cocktail dresses, gowns
  • Caribbean/Tropical: Tropical prints, pastel colors, linen shirts, Bermuda shorts, sundresses
  • White Night: Casual attire, but white!
  • 70s/80s Night: Bell-bottom jeans, polyester suits, wide lapel shirts, maxi dresses, mini skirts, knee-high boots, platform shoes
  • Country: Flannel tops, jeans, cowboy boots, cowboy hats

What if I do not want to get dressed up?

Matt on Freedom of the Seas

The fact is you do not have to dress up at all for dinner on your cruise. 

Royal Caribbean gives you the option of dining in your stateroom (room service is complimentary), at the Windjammer buffet, or at another casual restaurant onboard like Sorrento's or Playmakers.

In either case, you can wear anything other than swimsuits (with shoes) to dinner and it will be perfectly acceptable.

Read more: What to wear on a cruise that works for all dress codes

Is the dress code enforced?

Matt dining solo in the Main Dining Room

Officially Royal Caribbean states they will enforce the dress code every night, however, the reality is the staff cannot screen everyone and what they are wearing.

There are plenty of cruisers out there that will tell you about people they have seen at a restaurant wearing shorts or a tank top. Moreover, people may cite what others are wearing isn't formal enough for the suggested dress code of the evening. Inevitably, it's a decision the Royal Caribbean staff will make depending on the situation.

The dress codes offer suggestions but they are starting points for what to wear. Because Royal Caribbean does not explicitly list everything that you may not wear, there's room for interpretation by passengers. Nearly every description of dress codes for Royal Caribbean cruises mentions passengers should not wear shorts, but you will likely see someone on your cruise wearing shorts in the restaurants.

Cruise outfits for dinner on a Royal Caribbean cruise

Excursion Focus: Le Galion Beach

In:
07 Mar 2013

The hurricanes of 2017 damaged the beach. We do not recommend going here until it is rebuilt.

The island of St. Martin is known for its beautiful beaches but one of its lesser known beaches is a great choice if you're looking for a very calm ocean experience that is perfect for young children. On our recent cruise to the Eastern Caribbean, we tried Le Galion beach on the French side of St. Martin.

Description

Le Galion beach is a small cove that has a reef/sandbar that breaks any waves well off shore so it's basically a beach that is more like a pond. In addition, the depth of the water barely exceeds a foot or so for a good few yards.  All of this makes for perfect conditions for young children who want to be in the water but cannot swim or are not strong swimmers.

The beach is horseshoe shaped and is free to access, although if you want to use the chairs and/or umbrellas that are set up, it will cost a small fee (2 chairs and an umbrella cost $15).  One half of the beach has soft white sand while the other half has rocks and coral for those that want to do a little snorkeling.  The water tends to be very clear and it's just the perfect environment for kids to play in.  It's also serene enough for adults to enjoy for the quiet ambiance that a beach like this provides.

There's a small restaurant and bar on one end of the beach that has your basic beach bar food as well as a full array of drinks.  There is no waiter service but the beach is small enough that walking to it is not a problem.  Le Galion tends not to be as crowded as other beaches so that usually means no vendors walking up and down the beach trying to sell stuff to you.

Comments

Le Galion beach is perfect for families who have kids that want to play in the water but most beaches have too rough a surf for it to be safe.  Our two year old who cannot swim had no problem playing in the first few feet of water, that barely went up to her thighs when standing up.  

For adults, le Galion is great if you just want a no-frills, calm beach experience.  We saw plenty of adults without kids enjoying the beach on their own.  Given the relative lack of surf, this is not a beach that you will find lots to do in the water but there are 2 floating docks that anyone can swim to.  The first dock is relatively close to shore and a good option for kids but the other dock is further out and best suited for adults.  Otherwise, there are no other water toys available. 

What I love about le Galion is how simple and serene everything is.  For my daughter, it was heaven because of the no waves.  For the adults, we enjoyed sitting on our chairs and enjoying a few adult beverages while taking everything in.  The restaurant/bar is somewhat expensive, depending on what you order.  Drinks are average in price, although it's still cheaper to drink here than your cruise ship.

I do need to mention le Galion is a clothing optional beach, and on our visit we did see about 4 women bathing topless.  During our time, the sunbathers kept to one side of the beach while the families seemed to be on the other.  It was not a big deal for us and unless you're looking for it, the nudity is easy to miss.  

Location: e Galion Beach Rd., Quartier D'Orleans, St-Martin / St Maarten

Cost: Beach access is free. Chairs and umbrellas available for rent.

Restaurant Review: Chops Grille with menu

In:
05 Mar 2013
By: 
Matt Hochberg

One of the oldest specialty restaurants on Royal Caribbean ships is Chops Grille, their steakhouse restaurant and fan favorite

Chops Grille entrance

Chops Grille is featured on all of its cruise ships, and it offers patrons a steak lunch or dinner that costs extra.

While the restaurant has a cover charge to dine there, it's a great choice for a special night out.

You might be wondering if it's worth it to eat at Chops Grille, and there's a few factors to consider.

Chops Grill menu

Chops Grille menu
Chops Grille menu
Chops Grille kids menu

Atmosphere

freedom-chops

Being a specialty restaurant, Chops Grille typically has an elegant, steakhouse look to it.  Many ships feature dark woods, with light beige accents throughout the restaurant. 

Given the restaurant's smart casual attire, dining here definitely has the look of an upscale appearance.

The exact look and size of the room will vary from ship to ship, but it's usually one of the larger specialty restaurants.  The Oasis and Icon Class cruise ships have their Chops Grille located in the Central Park neighborhood, with outdoor seating available.

Chops Grille on all other ships feature large windows with a view of the ocean, usually located near the Windjammer marketplace.

Chops is open for dinner on all nights, and lunch on select days.  It's often open for lunch on embarkation day too. You will want to make reservations whenever possible.

Chops Grille on Freedom of the Seas

Royal Caribbean wants to evoke a classic steakhouse vibe, so there isn't much here to surprise in its aesthetics if you've ever been to a similar restaurant on land.

Many restaurants have a view into the kitchen, where you can see the chef preparing the steaks and of course plenty of tantalizing smells too.

Chops Grille food

Chops Grille

Chops Grille offers a fairly simple menu of appetizers, entrees and sides.  The appetizers and entrees are served individually, but the sides are served family style. Given the serving size of the sides, it makes sense to share them although it does require some planning to ensure you don't over order.

After you are seated, a selection of breads and butter will be brought to your table to try. The pretzel bread rolls in particular are really good. 

Pretzel bread

For our appetizers, we went with the Asian-Inspired tuna tartare and crispy goat cheese salad.  In Chops, you can order more than one appetizer or side if you choose. They do limit you to one entree per person.

Chops goat cheese salad

The fried goat cheese alone is worth ordering this entree, and it's something we order on every visit.

Tuna tartare

Equally good was the tuna. I love ahi tuna, and the small cubes along with avocado are a great choice for anyone that enjoys sushi-grade tuna.

mushroom soup

Another very popular appetizer is the wild mushroom soup. It has a good flavor to it, and seems to be such a good fit when having a steak dinner.

Filet mignon

Of course, the steaks are the star attraction at Chops Grille.

The Chops menu has a few different steaks to choose from, and all are included with your cruise fare. It's really a matter of personal preference as to which cut of steak is best for you: filet mignon, New York strip, or a ribeye.

Chops filet

I generally go with the filet mignon since it's usually regarded as the best cut of steak.  If you prefer a richer flavor, the ribeye is the way to go.

If you're new to steaks or just not sure what to order, it's hard to go wrong with filet mignon because of how soft and flavorful it is. 

Your waiter will ask what temperature you like to have the steak cooked.

In any case, the steaks are usually very consistent in flavor across the fleet.  

Chops Grille also offers for all their steaks various sauces to try including classic bearnaise, chimichurri sauce, green peppercorn sauce and cabernet reduction.  

Personally, I'm of the opinion a steak should taste good on its own, but I did try the chimichurri sauce on the side.  I thought it was a nice change, but I think steak lovers will prefer their steaks to remain au natural.  You can, however, ask for the sauces on the side to try.

If you don't want a steak, you can also order chicken breast, lamb, or even a filet of salmon.

Having sampled each of these alternatives, they're all quite good, but I'm not sure I would book a reservation at Chops just for those dishes. I've found the non-steak dishes are satisfactory, but nothing special.

Sides at Chops Grille

Sides include cheese tater tots, jumbo asparagus, mashed potatoes, French fries and more.

Sides come in small pots that you can serve yourself with from the table.  Your waiter will give you the choice of ordering individually or sharing with your tablemates.

We just had to try the desserts and I went with the red velvet cake and my wife chose the chocolate mud pie.  These desserts were very rich and very good. I ordered the red velvet cake simply to have a taste but before I knew it, I had eaten half the slice.  Saving room for either of these is a must-do.

Overall

You can expect to pay $69.99 per adult to eat at Chops Grille for dinner on an Oasis Class ship, and $24.99 per adult for lunch. Kids will pay $14. Children under the age of 6 are free.

Dinner at Chops Grille is not cheap, but it's designed to offer an alternative choice for a special night out, or simply somewhere to get steak every day of the cruise.

You can knock down the price by purchasing an unlimited dining package, and if you plan to eat at more than 2 specialty restaurants, this can be a great saving.

Quality wise, their steaks are good, but maybe not the best I've ever had.  Certainly if you want a good steak onboard the ship, this is as good as it gets and when you try for the beef filets they have in the main dining room, Chops' steaks will seem like divine intervention.  The rest of the food (appetizers, desserts and sides) are good choices and all met or exceeded our expectations.

The bottom line is I enjoyed eating at Chops Grille for its good food, but I have reservations about the cost.  For a special night out, Chops is a good choice especially for people that really like steaks.  

Freedom of the Seas Video Blog - Introduction

In:
08 Jan 2013
By: 
Matt Hochberg

We're very excited to kick off our first video blog episode that will take you through planning a Royal Caribbean cruise.  This new video series will take you from start to finish how we're planning our upcoming cruise aboard Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas that is sailing an eastern Caribbean itinerary. 

Let us know how you liked the video and any suggestions you have for our cruise!

For more videos, subscribe to our Royal Caribbean Blog channel on YouTube.

Royal Caribbean recognized by Port of Seattle for environmental achievement

In:
20 Feb 2012

Royal Caribbean was among the winners of this year's Green Gateway Partners Award by the Port of Seattle for its "comprehensive environmental achievements".

The Green Gateway Partners Awards set as a minimum requirement participation in the Port’s At-Berth Clean Fuels programme or use of shore power.

These and other environmental activities are assigned point values. Depending on the number of points earned, Green Gateway Partners can achieve one of three recognition levels – gold, silver or bronze. The awards and scoring system were done by a third party.

“These maritime operators demonstrate by their actions every day that you can be good environmental stewards while contributing to our economy,” said Tay Yoshitani, CEO of the Port of Seattle. “We look forward to honouring more of our customers in the future.”

Excursion Focus: Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa Day Pass

In:
15 Sep 2011
By: 
Matt Hochberg

With Royal Caribbean now making regular stops on its Western Caribbean itineraries in Falmouth, Jamaica, many cruisers are looking for good excursion ideas for this port.  On our recent cruise aboard Freedom of the Seas, we tried out the Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa Day Pass. (Link contains affiliate link, which means I get paid a finders fee, but no additional cost to you)

Description

The Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa Day Pass is an excursion that is available from Resortforaday.  The day pass offers passengers access to the  Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa, about 30 minutes from the Falmouth port.  There, guests have full access to the facilities including the pool, beach, food, beverages, chairs and more.

The resort is located directly on the beach and offers fantastic views and access to the ocean.  The sandy beach has lots of room with beach chairs right on the water.  There is also two pool facilities available for use.  The first pool is your generic swimming pool located near the beach and offers a fantastic view.  The Hilton recently opened a new pool facility, called the Sugar Mill Falls Water Park, which offers a pool, swim up bar, lazy river and a few water slides.

In addition, your day pass includes towels, non-motorized water sports including snorkeling, windsurfing, kayaking, sailing, volleyball, aerobics, and tennis.  There is also an optional transportation package that includes transfer to and from the port.

Comments

The Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa is a beautiful resort that is great for those looking for a beach/pool getaway while in Falmouth.  After a quick ride (25 minutes or so), you arrive at the resort where you pay the remainder of your balance (the company we booked with required only a deposit to book the package) and then you're given quick access.  We were happy to see the staff working quickly to get us onto the resort to enjoy the day.

The beach is quite nice and among all of our beach days on our Western Caribbean cruise, this beach was by far the nicest.  It was the least rocky with clear blue water and serene atmosphere.  If your idea of a beach day is enjoying a calm, picturesque view, then this is the beach for you.  There aren't any docks or water toys in the ocean, but that's okay because the nearby water park makes up for it.

The Sugar Mill Falls Water Park is really a glorified pool facility.  To call it a water park is a bit of a stretch, but it's more than just another pool.  It's one of the nicest pools we've been to and frankly, we spent most of our time here.  The pool opens up to a swim up bar, which you can get drinks for free.  There's a lazy river as well, although we found it quite difficult to navigate the lazy river while staying in your group.  There's also one large water slide and two smaller slides.  The Sugar Mill Falls Water Park really compliments the resort well and combined with the ocean access, make the perfect aquatic excursion for families.  If you want serene and calm, you have the ocean.  If you want to burn off energy and have fun, Sugar Mill Falls Water Park is for you.

Included in the price of admission is unlimited alcoholic drinks and food.  The drinks aren't top shelf liquor, but they were quite good and we found the bartenders to be rather liberal with their pouring. The staff was also quite nice and really made our stay here feel welcome.  The food wasn't anything special, however.  We found the food to be rather generic resort food and nothing great.  If you were staying here for a week, I'd be concerned but since you really only eat lunch, it's not a deal breaker but it is something to be aware of.

With the cost of the package (we paid $75 per adult), it's a little on the pricey side but acceptable.  All-inclusive beaches in Mexico are somewhat cheaper, but for Jamaica it's in line with other all-inclusive beaches we've been to at other ports.  Like any all-inclusive, the cost makes more sense if you're looking to have a lot to drink.  But even with people in our group that didn't drink, we really enjoyed our time at the resort and if you consider you'll spend about five hours or so at the resort, the price per hour is cheaper than most excursions you can find.

Location: P.O. Box 999 Montego Bay, Jamaica

Website: Resortforaday

Cost: $75 per adult or $55 per child (Age 4-17).  Optional transfer included increases price to $90 & $70 respectively.