Photo of the Day: Explorer of the Seas

By: Matt Hochberg

Photo by Jillian Jasionowski

Cruising 101: Choosing Excursions

By: Matt Hochberg

Once you have your cruise booked, you're going to want to figure out what you want to do when your ship stops at various ports of call.  There's a multitude of options available with different costs.

Types of Excursions

There are many type of excursions.  Some are simple, such as transportation to and from a local beach.  Others are complex and can last many hours.  It's hard to generalize the various types of excursions that all ports can encompass but here are the most common types of excursions.

  • Beach trip
  • Animal interactions
  • Guided tour
  • Snorkeling/Scuba

Length of Excursion

Each excursion requires a set amount of time.  Some are short, others allow you to be flexible and some will consume the entire time you are in port.  It's important to figure out what your priority is.  If you'd like to do multiple things in port, like go to the beach, do some shopping and visit a local point of interest, you're best not picking an excursion that takes up multiple hours.  On the other hand, if the port doesn't interest you much, you could do fine with an excursion that last much of the day.


You can flip through a list of excursions easily enough and highlight a dozen or so that sound interesting but money isn't an unlimited resource for most of us, so you have to be picky.  The cost of an excursion can range from less than $20 per person to well over $100 per person.  

While not always the case, sometimes it can be cheaper to book an excursion by yourself rather than use the cruise line.  

Booking on your own vs. cruise line

The cruise you're on will provide a lengthy list of excursions to buy at all of the ports you are stopping at.  There are some advantages to booking with the cruise line...

  • Convenience: By booking with the cruise line, you can book it quite easily without much hassle.
  • No-dock refund: If for some reason your ship doesn't dock at a port, you aren't on the hook to pay for the excursion still.
  • Safety: Generally, excursions booked through the cruise ship are done with reputable third parties.  These operators are screened ahead of time by the cruise line and should be safe to use.

Booking an excursion on your own has its own set of benefits...

  • Price: Often, you can save money by booking an excursion on your own since you are cutting out the cruise line as the middle man. 
  • Wider selection: By booking on your own, you can find many more options of things to do at port.

Ultimately, the decision may come down to individual excursions and comparing your options.  What works for one person in one port may not work for another.  

Researching excursions

At first glance, all the excursions look like great options but you're smart to do your homework on them.  It's not to say you won't have a good time on them, but there could be a pitfall you aren't seeing or perhaps there are better options out there for you.

The best places to find information on excursions is from other people.  Popular sites like CruiseCritic have forums on ports of call where you can search through reports of other people's past experiences on excursions or post your own question.  Also, a Google search for the excursion can reveal more helpful information.

How to book

On Royal Caribbean, you can start booking shore excursions online up to 4 days before your sail date. Alaska Cruisetour land excursions can be reserved online up to 10 days prior to the start date of your Alaska Cruisetour.  After those time periods, you will have to book the excursion on the ship.  

Once you know what excursion you want to take, you should book it as soon as possible to ensure it does not sell out.

Five more tips for Freedom of the Seas

By: Matt Hochberg

Last week, Andy Mayer posted tips from his recent cruise aboard Freedom of the Seas and he's back this week with more tips to share.  As always, these tips are specific to Freedom of the Seas, but I believe they can be applied to nearly any Royal Caribbean sailing.

  1. Get up early if you want lounge chairs near the pool on the days at sea
  2. Book your own excursions
  3. Get private lessons on the Flowrider
  4. Get a “cabana chair” in Haiti
  5. Return to the ship earlier than normal in Grand Cayman
  6. Depart on your own term

Here's a good tip Andy posted about regarding the best place to rest in Labadee


Unfortunately, we found information lacking about RC’s private beach at Labadee, Haiti.  We checked for maps at guest services and asked around, but could learn almost nothing.  The head of the excursions desk on deck 5 knew zero!  I want to pass one thing on to you.
When you get off this ship, go straight and take the path almost as far as you can take it.  By walking straight and far, you come to a less rocky area, from which you can swim.  However, you will also find “cabana” chairs.  These are two normal chairs pushed under a half-moon, umbrella like cover that provides shade and a bit of privacy.  They are first-come, first-serve.  If you don’t care about swimming, then find some shade under a tree.  But, if you want to swim and want shade to relax, go directly for a cabana chair.

Royal Caribbean offering late checkout in Europe

By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean is testing out a new option on its European based ships.  For $35, you can opt for a "late departure".  Rather than hurry in the early morning to be off the ship, you can pay extra and stay onboard until the mid afternoon. If you opt into the program, you will be able to stay on the ship until 90 minutes prior to its next sailing.  The cost is $35 for adults and $17.50 for children.

Now available on all eight Royal Caribbean ships in Europe, the program allows passengers to stay aboard the vessels through lunchtime and into the afternoon on disembarkation day instead of a traditional early-morning departure. Passengers who sign up for the program can stay on their ship until 90 minutes prior to its next sailing.

Passengers who stay onboard later will have access to all the public areas on the ship as well as select restaurants but will need to be out of their stateroom by 9am.

Preview of entertainment on Allure of the Seas

By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean offered a glimpse into the entertainment options about the still under construction Allure of the Seas.

  • Chicago
    As you may or may not know, the Broadway musical Chicago is coming to Allure of the Seas.  This was announced a while ago but a rehearsal was put on for various members of the Allure team

    Jeremy Plummer, Director & Choreographer for Blue Planet, took us through this exciting original production. This show has scenes that are unreal! Highlights will be when a tree comes to life as a “living tree,” as well as an enormous mountain scenic unit with trampolines built into it, so you can just imagine the action and choreography that will take place! This show is a departure from any production show we have done, and takes us from the rain forest, to the desert, to the ocean, and then the mountains and brings together the music, aerial artistry and gymnastics together in a very surreal way.

  • New ice show: Ice Games
    This will be a new ice show that brings the board game Monopoly to life.  Things like rolling the dice and visiting various landmarks are displayed but "with a twist".

    we might land on Boardwalk, or Dazzles, or even go directly to Jail. This is definitely a very clever story line.

  • New ice show: How to Train Your Dragon
    Based on the hit 3D Dreamworks film of the same name, this 20-30 minute show is a family friendly show that is expected to be a great spectacle.

    While you typically wouldn’t find me using the word “magical,” for obvious reasons, it is truly the word that describes how we will bring to life the movie in this ice show. Our Co-Producer, Willy Bietak, said he has done projects for decades and this was one of his favorites ever.

Photos of Allure of the Seas emerge

By: Matt Hochberg

T-online, a German website, has posted photos of the still under construction Allure of the Seas.  She is currently under construction at the STX Europe shipyard in Turku, Finland.

Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines drop lawsuit against Alaska

By: Matt Hochberg

The Alaska Cruise Association, a group that Royal Caribbean is part of, has dropped its lawsuit against the state of Alaska over a cruise ship passenger tax.  The bill passed by Alaska lawmakers this past Friday cuts the head tax from $46 to $34.50 and allows deeper offsets for ships stopping in at least one of two ports. It was signed by Governor Sean Parnell last week, and hailed as both as a way to settle the litigation and attract more ships and tourists.

In addition, cruise lines will be reimbursed an additional amount each time a ship calls in Juneau, Ketchikan or both.

The cruise association had placed at least partial blame on the tax and Alaska's regulatory climate for an expected loss of ships, and about 140,000 passengers, this season.

The tax was voted into law by Alaska residents in 2006 and was highly unpopular among the cruise lines and even argued to be illegal as it discriminates against the larger ships that carry more than 250 passengers.  Experts blame much of the relocation of cruise ships away from Alaska stemming from the tax increase.  

Juneau's Cruise Ship Comeback

By: Matt Hochberg

The cruise market in Alaska is heating up as cruise lines are showing higher demand for the cruise location than in the recent past.  Royal Caribbean gave a positive assessment of the Alaska market in a report two months ago.  Daniel Hanrahan, president of Celebrity Cruises (Royal Caribbean operates Celebrity Cruises) said, "The Alaska product, where we are once again operating three ships, is also performing well and doing better than ... last year".  

Competitor Carnival reported that "Alaska and other exotic locations," are helping drive increased revenue in Carnival Cruise Line's North American brands.  In addition, Alaska has seen "significantly higher year-over-year pricing," according to David Bernstein, chief financial officer of Carnival Corp.

Last year one million cruise ship passengers came to Juneau, but this year only about 860,000 are expected after Carnival and others relocated ships to other destinations, citing the head tax as one reason for the decline.