Royal Caribbean cruises to Cuba

By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean offers regular cruise sailings to the island of Cuba, where guests can enjoy the Cuban culture, history and cuisine that has been a signature of the country for centuries.  Vibrant culture. Iconic music. Storied architecture — there really is nowhere in the world quite like Cuba. 

Royal Caribbean visits three one-of-a-kind ports around the island, with two ships that sail to Cuba regularly.  Many itineraries offer overnight stays in the capital of Cuba, Havana.

Royal Caribbean ships sailing to Cuba

Two Royal Caribbean ships can currently visit Cuba.  The Cuban port infrastructure is limited, so only smaller cruise ships can fit into the docking facilities.

Empress of the  Seas

Royal Caribbean brought back Empress of the Seas into the fleet specifically to offer cruises to Cuba.  Empress of the Seas offers cruises  to Cuba from Miami, Florida on a refurbished 1,602 passenger vessel.         

Guests sailing on Empress of the Seas will enjoy curated people-to-people experiences designed to immerse them in the country’s architecture, cuisine, music, art and natural beauty. They’ll explore Old Havana—a UNESCO World Heritage site—as well as a rum museum, Hemingway’s former residence, a local artisan market, and more. 

Onboard, Empress will have a range of activities designed to bring the spirit of the island to life for the duration of the journey. Look for cortaditos and café con leche in Café Royal, along with live salsa music alongside signature amenities like a rock-climbing wall, new pools and whirlpools, an adults-only Solarium, a Vitality Spa and a complimentary Adventure Ocean youth program.

Majesty of the Seas

With the popularity of cruising to Cuba, Royal Caribbean added Majesty of the Seas to the roster of cruise ships sailing to Cuba.  Majesty of the Seas began offering cruises to Cuba in 2018.

Sailings to Cuba on Majesty of the Seas leave from either Tampa or Fort Lauderdale to Havana, and includes stops elsewhere in the Caribbean such as Cozumel, Key West or Nassau.

Majesty of the Seas underwent a dry dock in 2016 that added new upgrades and received new onboard amenities.  Guests on Majesty of the Seas can enjoy Voom high speed internet to stay connected, brag about their vacation to friends and family, stream their favorite movies and music, and enjoy popular online video gaming. Splashaway Bay, an interactive aqua park for kids, features  a vibrant waterscape for kids and toddlers with sea creature water cannons, winding slides, a gigantic drench bucket and a multi-platform jungle-gym. In addition, the pool deck was revamped to include a new expanded bar area, family-friendly Jacuzzis and a poolside movie screen. 

Ports of call in Cuba

Royal Caribbean sails to three incredible destinations in Cuba.


The capital of Cuba is home to unforgettable sights of the place where yesterday lives today. Guests can ride along the historic Malecón in a classic car guided by a local. Or experience one of the famed Cabaret Tropicana’s folklore-laden musical extravaganzas. In Havana, timeless sights and sounds await around every corner.

Santiago de Cuba

From castles to cathedrals, quiet parks to towering landmarks, Santiago de Cuba offers endless discoveries. Guests can learn about Cuba’s spiritual heritage at the El Cobre cathedral. Discover how cigars are hand-rolled by locals at La Casa del Habano. And learn some Danzón steps from a local during one of the city’s many colorful carnivals.


For a taste of Cuban culture that few get to savor, Cienfuegos is the place to be. Spot stalagmites in Martin Infierno Cave, explore forest trails in Parque El Nicho and soak up the city’s French-colonial history as you stroll past centuries old buildings. In Cienfuegos, paths lead to new discoveries.

Important Cuba cruise tips

Before you cruise to Cuba on Royal Caribbean, here are some helpful things to know about Cuba cruises.


To enter Cuba, American citizens need to meet certain standards for at least one of the 12 categories of travel approved by the U.S. Treasury Department. Royal Caribbean will take care of providing each guest with a Cuban visa.  The cost of a visa is $75 per person, and will be processed by the cruise line and will be waiting for you when you board the ship.  You just need to sign an affidavit certifying participation in one of the ship’s excursions or ensure that you qualify for another category.

In order to satisfy United States law, you will need to to fulfill on one of the allowed reasons for visiting, but that’s easy too. You just need to book a shore excursion that complies with U.S. requirements (this includes any Royal Caribbean shore excursion).  Just be sure to know that a day tour must be booked; night tours alone won’t meet the requirement.

The Cuban government requires all U.S. visitors to have health insurance coverage during their time discovering the island nation. Chances are, your current insurance will not cover you while in Cuba, but no worries: Royal Caribbean also has this covered for you, so there’s no extra work needed on your end. The cruise fare also includes a local health insurance fee should any medical attention onshore be required. 


Guests need their actual passport book — passport cards, birth certificates and driver’s licenses will not be accepted to go on-shore.

Note: Make sure your passport is valid for six months past your sailing date.


There are two main currencies in Cuba  — the Cuban Peso (used by locals) and Cuban Convertible Peso (used by tourists).

Most businesses accept cash-only, and small U.S. bills can be exchanged at the cruise terminal, in banks and exchange offices (ask for a “CADECA”), and in hotels.

Like U.S.-based mobile phone service, credit card service can be equally limited on the island. Restrictions on U.S. credit cards have been lifted but banks and merchants are still working out what’s needed to support them. Your best bet is to carry cash while in Cuba.


For the most part tourists are free to purchase goods to bring back and enjoy in the U.S. — even the world-renowned cigars and rum. Just make sure they’re bought from authorized sellers.

Internet & Connectivity

In general, internet connectivity in Cuba is nearly non-existent, so do not expect to find WiFi access while on shore. Your best bet is to rely on your cruise ship's Voom high speed internet signal, which will work while the ship is docked in Cuba.

Your U.S.-based cell phone might work in Cuba, but it’s safer to bet it won’t. Some carriers currently offer roaming service in the country, but like much of the tourism infrastructure, many providers are working on rolling out services to the island. Check with your carrier prior to sailing to Cuba to avoid any pricey fees.


Wheelchair users should note that accessibility is limited in Cuba. There is a lack of curb cuts, ramps, accessible vehicles and elevators. Doors may not be as wide and grab bars unavailable

More Cruises to Cuba

Video: Royal Caribbean Battle for Planet Z Laser Tag

By: Matt Hochberg

Introducing Royal Caribbean’s glow-in-the-dark laser tag experience, Battle for Planet Z has families, friends and strangers go head to head for control of the galaxy’s last planet. Guests of all ages can gear up for a stellar time on board with this total intergalactic adventure, complete with state-of-the-art technology and special effects.

Excursion Focus: Craigdarroch Castle and Butchart Garden

By: Matt Hochberg

If you take a Royal Caribbean cruise to Alaska, there is a good chance your cruise will make a stop at Victoria, Canada, and the two most popular cultural tourist attractions are available to see in one tour via the cruise line.

If you do even a minimal amount of research into what to do in Victoria, you will find that Craigdarroch Castle and Butchart Garden are at the top of many lists.  As a result, we thought it would make sense to take a tour to bring us to both.


The Craigdarroch Castle and Butchart Garden shore excursion is a bus tour that will take you from the cruise ship area and visit the two most popular spots in Victoria.

The tour bus waits just outside the area where your ship docks, although be forewarned it is a rather long walk from the ship to the buses and delays getting off the ship is not unusual.

Once on the bus, we took a guided tour to our first stop.  Throughout the bus ride, our guide provides a narration of the history of Victoria, as well as pointing out significant spots along the way.  

Our first stop was Craigdarroch Castle, which is a 19th century home built by industrialist Robert Dunsmuir in 1890, with antique furnishings and gorgeous glass fixtures. 

As you arrive, your group is greeted by one of the castle's employees who talks about the history of the home, as well as sharing some rules.  One of the more unusual rules is you cannot wear backpacks into the castle.  If you have a backpack, you must wear it on your front as a means of avoiding accidentally running into things in the house.

As you enter Craigdarroch Castle, you will walk through much of the house in a path that will take you floor by floor, upstairs and then across the home and down stairs until you exit.  Keep in mind that backtracking is difficult, so do not leave a floor until you are satisfied with what you have seen.

The home is kept in a state that is representative of what it looked like back in the late 1800s.  

Beyond the inherit beauty and grandeur of the home, Craigdarroch Castle provides a glimpse into what life was like during this era. The house features a collection of residential stained and leaded glass, period furnishings, wood paneling and carvings.

After everyone visits the castle, it is time to hop back on the bus and onto the next stop at Butchart Garden.

Upon arrival to Butchart Garden, you essentially have an hour and a half to walk the grounds and explore on your own.  

Butchart Gardens is massive, encompassing a 55-acre site that originated as a turn-of-the-century quarry site that turned into a beautification project.

There are many trails and paths to see, with the Sunken Garden being a well-known highlight.

This tour does not provide nearly enough time to see the entire breadth of the Gardens, so be prepared to prioritize what you want to see.

Once time at the Gardens is up, you re-board the bus to take you back to the port area.  On our tour, they offered to drop guests off in downtown Victoria as well.


The Craigdarroch Castle and Butchart Garden bus tour covers exactly what it promised, and gives just enough time to get a sense of what each attraction offers.

The time spent at Craigdarroch Castle is sufficient to see all the rooms and get a good feel for the history and opulence of the home.  There are other tours and groups visiting at the same time you will be, so do not expect a private viewing.

As noted earlier, Butchart Garden is so massive an area that there is simply not enough time to "see it all" in the window of time you have on this tour.  The goal of this excursion is really for guests to get a sense of what Butchart Garden is all about, without committing most of the day to seeing it.  A friend was on a multi-hour tour of just Butchart Garden and remarked that he still did not have enough time to see it all.

The bus driver provides narration throughout your visit, and it is a good way of learning about the history and lifestyle of Victoria.  The narration can also serve as a means of making mental notes for places to visit on your own later in the day.

Ultimately, we booked this tour because we wanted to see both attractions without spending a bundle of time at either one.  This was our first visit to Victoria, so we wanted a "taste" of what the area has to offer.  If you are looking for an opportunity to see both Craigdarroch Castle and Butchart Garden but not necessarily in-depth, this is a great tour for you.  There were a few hours left over for touring Victoria on our own, including grabbing lunch downtown.

Cost: $129 per adult, $89 per child.

First time cruisers: Do you need a passport for a cruise?

By: Matt Hochberg

Many first timer cruisers want to know if you need a passport to take a cruise and the answer depends on a few factors.  

There is also a fine line in answering this question that goes beyond the word "need" and essentially talks about if you "should" get a passport.  More on that coming up!

The exact travel documentation required depends on what citizenship you hold, as well as where your cruise is sailing from and to.  It is critical to understand the proper documentation needed for a cruise, as no refunds are provided for guests who fail to bring proper documentation.  Be sure to refer to Royal Caribbean's Travel Documentation page for specifics.

When you do not need a passport

If you are a U.S. citizen and cruising out of the United States (meaning your cruise begins and ends in the United States), then you do not need a passport.  U.S. citizens on closed-loop cruises (cruises that begin and end at the same port in the U.S.) will be able to enter or depart the country with proof of citizenship, such as a government-issued birth certificate and laminated government issued picture ID, denoting photo, name and date of birth.

A U.S. citizen under the age of 16 will be able to present either an original, notarized or certified copy of his or her birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad issues by DOS, or Certificate of Naturalization issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. 

Royal Caribbean emphasizes that Baptismal papers and hospital certificates of birth are not acceptable. Voter registration cards or Social Security cards are not considered proof of citizenship.

You should check the passport requirements for any port you are visiting, as sometimes there can be a port that requires a passport to visit even if you do not need a passport to return to the United States.

When you do need a passport

Many countries outside of North America do require a passport and visas are even required where they apply.  This includes countries in Europe, Asia, Central and South America.

All cruises to Cuba require a Passport book (no passport cards or other forms of I.D. will be accepted) valid for at least 6 months after the sailing date, for all guests including minors.

International sailings (cruises that begin outside the United States), U.S. citizens require a valid Passport and the corresponding visa required for entry and exit from the country.

For additional passport information, visit

Canada & Non-U.S. Citizens

Non-U.S. Citizens will need a valid passport and, in some cases, a visa. If you live in the U.S., you will also need the original copy of your Alien Registration Card (ARC or "Green Card") and any other documentation the countries on your itinerary require due to your alien status. 

All Canadian Landed Immigrants (inclusive of those who are citizens of the British Commonwealth countries) who reside in Canada must have valid passports and US visas. Also required is the original copy of your Permanent Resident Card (PR Card) formally the IMM 1000 or with respect to any country on the itinerary any other travel documentation required because of alien status. 

Why everyone should get a passport

Regardless of what the minimum requirements are for travel, we highly recommend everyone get a passport. Passports do have an additional cost to them (especially for children), but we feel the advantages of having a passport far outweigh the cost and work required to get one.

Simply put, having a passport makes traveling significantly easier and simpler. Having a passport on a cruise means not just an easier embarkation and disembarkation process, but it protects you against an unexpected situation that may occur during the course of a cruise, such as:

  • Fly out of the United States to meet a ship at the next available port should they miss the scheduled embarkation in a U.S. port
  • Entering the U.S. at the end of a cruise
  • Needing to fly to the U.S. before their cruise ends, because of medical, family, personal or business emergencies, missing a ship's departure from a port of call, involuntary disembarkation from a ship due to misconduct, or other reasons.

Certainly many guests will cruise without a passport and likely not run into any issues.  The concern without having a passport is if an emergency occurs, only an official passport will allow you to easily and quickly fly from a foreign port to another port and/or back home.  Not having a passport means you will need to travel to a U.S. embassy or consulate in a foreign country to apply for a temporary visa to re-enter the country.  Not all embassies/consulates are located near the cruise ports and moreover, the time it takes for the entire process to occur is not quick.

What about the passport card?

The passport card is an option the United States government provides that is a lower cost alternative to the passport book.  It is for travelers who are not going to leave the country by airplane, and plan to only leave the United States via land or sea.

In a nutshell, a passport card is a plastic card that can fit into a wallet and are accepted for land and sea border crossings between  the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean. Passport cards cannot be used on cruises from international homeports.

While the passport card may protect you against certain scenarios and is superior to not having a passport at all, getting a passport book not only provides more coverage (such as flying internationally), but it allows you to travel beyond simply cruises.  A passport book can get you to so many more places internationally, and in the case of an emergency on a cruise, having a passport book allows you to make unexpected travel arrangements significantly easier.

Royal Caribbean Post Round-Up: August 19, 2018

By: Matt Hochberg

Welcome to this week's edition of the Royal Caribbean post round-up, where we summarize all of the Royal Caribbean news and information from this week into one handy-dandy post! There is plenty of great content to enjoy, so sit back, relax, and enjoy this week's round-up!

The big news this week was Royal Caribbean's announcement that it is banning emotional support animals from its cruise ships.

The cruise said they were updating its policy to differentiate emotional support animals from service animals that are trained to perform a function for a person with a disability.  

Moving forward, emotional support animals cannot be added to existing or new reservations.  Confirmed guests who already have emotional support animals noted in their reservation will be permitted to bring the animal.

Royal Caribbean News

Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast

The 263rd episode of the Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast is now available, where we take an in-depth look at wheelchair accessibility on Royal Caribbean cruises.

If you or someone you know is going on a Royal Caribbean cruise and is in need of a wheelchair, this week's episode is full of tips and advice for having a hassle-free cruise experience.  

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

Cruise 1st wrote all about cruise line dress codes.

Riviera Maya News reports that new security x-ray machines will be installed at Cozumel.

Eat Sleep Cruise reviewed their recent sailing on Mariner of the Seas.

Binny's Food & Travel Diaries reviewed their day on Independence of the Seas.

Los Angeles Times wrote about Royal Caribbean's video-making tool that uses AI.

Friday Photos

By: Matt Hochberg

The weekend is here and every Friday, we share our readers' favorite Royal Caribbean photos so that we can all enjoy a quick "virtual trip" back on a cruise.  If you want to share your Royal Caribbean photos, use this form to send them in!

Cathy Drew sent in this photo from her balcony as her ship entered Marlborough Sound, Picton New Zealand.

Henry Greenfield sent in this photo of sunset over Miami.

Wayne D. Stephens shared this photo of the theater on Vision of the Seas.

Vania Guillot took this photo of sunset from her baclony on Anthem of the Seas.

Jeanne Fulton took this photo of Mendenhall Glacier while on Explorer of the Seas.

Cruisin' Susan had to share this photo of hier "big winnings" in the casino on Harmony of the Seas.

Our final photo this week is from Vivian, and it is of Explorer of the Seas just off the island of Lifou in the South Pacific. 

Thank you to everyone that sent in their Royal Caribbean photos and if you want your photos featured here, be sure to send us your favorite photos with this form!

Royal Caribbean offering bonus instant savings on cruises booked this weekend

By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean is offering bonus instant savings on cruises booked this weekend during its Adventure Sale.

The Adventure Sale applies to select sailings booked between 8/17/18 - 8/21/18 and applies to sailings departing on or after 9/17/18.

The offer includes:

  • 50% off cruise fare of second guest booked in the same stateroom as first full-fare paying guest.
  • 25% off cruise fare for third guests and higher booked in the same stateroom as the first two qualified guests.
  • Instant savings up to $100 per stateroom 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, $75 for Ocean View and Balconies and $100 for Suites

Offer open to residents of US, Canada, Puerto Rico and select countries in the Caribbean. 

Why you should be excited about Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas arrival in the United States

By: Matt Hochberg

In just about three months, Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas will be arriving at her new home port of PortMiami, Florida, and it will mark her debut in the United States.

Symphony of the Seas is not only the largest cruise ship in the world, but also marks a significant moment for many Royal Caribbean fans because this brand new cruise ship offers so many enticing options.

In anticipation of Symphony of the Seas' arrival, we are counting down the top reasons you ought to be excited to welcome Symphony of the Seas "home".

New terminal

Coinciding with Symphony of the Seas' arrival will be the opening of a brand new cruise terminal at PortMiami, colloquially known as, "The Crown of Miami".

The new state-of-the-art terminal at PortMiami will be home to Allure of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas. Terminal A will house an angular glass center and a parking garage with about 1,000 parking spaces at the northeastern side of the port, designed by England-based global architecture firm Broadway Malyan. 

The 170,000-square-foot terminal is nicknamed the ‘Crown of Miami’ because of its distinct shape. The design evokes the points of the symbolic headgear when viewed from the water; the ‘M’ of Miami when viewed from the east or western approaches; and a sense of waves rising or ships passing when viewed from the terminal side. 

New dining venues

I really love the specialty restaurants Royal Caribbean offers, especially on its newer ships.  When a new restaurant concept is added, it definitely gets our attention and Symphony of the Seas has a couple of new additions.

Hooked is Royal Caribbean's new seafood restaurant that features fresh seafood and a robust raw bar complete with oysters shucked to order. While other restaurants have had seafood items on their menus, having a dedicated restaurant to offer these type of dishes is a welcome addition.

Hooked is described as, "This is the ultimate catch if you’re angling for the freshest seafood. It’s a real taste of New England in a casual atmosphere — and it’s a brand-new addition on our newest ship, Symphony of the Seas. Introducing Hooked Seafood — taste bud-tempting fare to satisfy every seafood craving, including raw bar favorites, a variety of crab claws and a selection of just-shucked East Coast oysters. Plus enjoy classic apps, clam chowder, lobster and fresh caught local fish. It’s reel fresh, real good."

While Hooked brings a new sit down experience to Symphony of the Seas, there is also a brand new venue for hanging out and enjoying sports, drinks and games at Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade.

As a fan of the various incarnations of pubs on Royal Caribbean ships, Playmakers follows in that tradition of offering great drinks combined with plenty to see, watch and play. Located in the iconic Boardwalk neighborhood, this massive new venue is all about beer, chicken wings, skeeball, sports and hanging out.

Return of Hairspray

Symphony of the Seas will see the first Broadway revival at sea, with the Tony Award-winning show, Hairspray, headlining the main theater .

Hairspray was first offered on Oasis of the Seas and was the first Broadway show to be offered on a cruise ship.  Not only is Hairspray a favorite Broadway show, it features classic Broadway songs and a heartwarming story. 

Hairspray is set in Baltimore in 1962 where Tracy Turnblad, a big girl with big hair, only has one passion – to dance. After winning a spot on the local TV dance program “The Corny Collins Show”, she is transformed from outsider to irrepressible teen celebrity. As a trendsetter in dance and fashion she goes up against the program’s reigning princess, wins the heart of heartthrob Link Larkin and plays a major role in the integration of the television show. Welcome to the 60’s!

Lots of WOWs

Building the largest cruise ship in the world is more than just about how large the ship is, because Royal Caribbean has packed Symphony of the Seas with so many exciting activities for the entire family to enjoy.

Symphony of the Seas will offer guests a wide variety of activities, dining options and places to relax.

There is no way to list all of the fun things to do on Symphony of the Seas in just one post, but here are the ones not tmiss:

  • Glow-in-the-dark laser tag
  • Ultimate Abyss slide (10 stories high!)
  • Waterslides
  • Two FlowRider surf simulators
  • Escape room game
  • AquaTheatre shows
  • Solarium Big Wonder art installation

Biggest ship in the world

At the end of the day, Symphony of the Seas' arrival is going to be an exciting moment because she is the largest cruise ship in the world and that alone signifies a big change (no pun intended).

In addition to the key features highlighted in this post, there is lots more to see and do to the point you will have to return a few more times to be able to "do it all."

Royal Caribbean designed its Oasis-class ships to be a floating hub of dining, entertainment and activities, and Symphony of the Seas is included in that mold of amazing cruise ships.

What are you most excited about to experience on Symphony of the Seas? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Perfect Day at CocoCay construction progress photo report

By: Matt Hochberg

We have a quick look at the progress Royal Caribbean is transforming its private destination in the Bahamas from CocoCay to Perfect Day at CocoCay.

Royal Caribbean Blog reader Lovetocruise2002 took these photos on August 15, while on a Mariner of the Seas cruise to the island.

Royal Caribbean's website indicates Perfect Day at CocoCay will open in phases (with dates subject to change depending on the progress of construction):

  • Up, Up and Away helium balloon, Chill Island, and Oasis Lagoon freshwater pool will open in December 2018.
  • The new pier will open in January 2019.
  • Thrill Waterpark, Splashaway Bay aqua park, the Zip Line, Captain Jack ’s Galleon, Captain Jack ’s dining and Skipper’s Grill dining will open in May 2019.
  • South Beach, Coco Beach Club and the overwater cabanas will open in December 2019.

Spectrum of the Seas construction photo update

By: Matt Hochberg

The shipyard that is building Royal Caribbean's Spectrum of the Seas released a batch of photos to show off the progress being made on Royal Caribbean's first Quantum Ultra Class cruise ship.

The photos were posted to the shipyard's Facebook page, and shows off that the bridge block was added to Spectrum of the Seas, weighing 750 tons.  In fact, the bridge block was barely light enough for the largest crane in Meyer Werft's yard to handle (the crane can handle up to 800 tons).

Spectrum of the Seas will be the first in the Quantum Ultra class of ships, and will boast the cruise line’s first private enclave for suite guests, new stateroom categories, innovative dining concepts, and stunning features and experiences – many of which have never before been seen at sea. Spectrum will be the largest and most expensive ship in Asia when she sails from Shanghai starting in June 2019.