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Cruising 101: Ports of Call

In:
13Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

One of the major reasons to go on a cruise is your cruise ship brings you to a few ports of call in many different countries to visit.  Royal Caribbean ships visit ports of call on continents around the world and it can be a very exciting experience. Getting off your cruise ship to visit a port is as much a part of your cruise as the onboard entertainment or the food served daily on your ship.  Here are some guidelines for successful port touring.

Research your ports in advance

Before you ever set foot on your cruise ship, you should read about the ports of call you will be visiting and do some research into the port itself as well as what you're interested in doing.  You don't want to be that family that gets off the ship and has the argument about what to do.  Each port you visit has different options and it's hard to generalize any of them.  There are ports that have a lot of beaches, some that are urban and others that are a mix of the two.  It's your job to learn more about them before you get there.

You will want to first learn about the port you're visiting.  Before you know what you're going to do, you're going to need to know what the port is best known for.  Think of it like going to a steak house restaurant and ordering the salad.  Sure, you can do that but if you're going to a steak house, you should probably stick with what they are best known for...steaks!  So if a port is best known for its beaches, you may want to focus on that.  Likewise, if a port is known for its shopping or cultural heritage, you'd be best served sticking with that.  It isn't to say you couldn't have a good time going shopping on an island best known for its beaches, but it's just a best practice.

Getting off the ship

Each ship disembarks differently, but you will go to the assigned deck that the gangway is located on (usually a low deck, like deck 2).  Once at the gangway, generally speaking you will need your SeaPass card and it's smart to also bring photo identification.  There are differing opinions on this, but I personally recommend bringing your passport with you to any port you visit.  The reason for this recommendation is simple: if for some reason you get stuck on the island and miss the cruise ship, without a passport, it will be quite difficult to get back to your home country.  However, if you have a passport, all you need is to buy transportation back home and your passport will easily get you back.

When disembarking on Royal Caribbean, you will swipe your SeaPass card at a kiosk where a Royal Caribbean crew member will confirm your identity.  Think of this like checking out a book at the library, only this time, you're checking yourself out of the ship.  Make a note of what time you need to return to the ship by (and ensure you are back well before that time). 

Getting to port

There are two ways to get to the port and they are by a dock or by tenders.  A dock is simple enough, the ship docks and you walk off the gangway to a dock and you walk right into the port.  If your ship uses a tender, you will board small boats that will ferry you to the dock.

Docking is ideal because it makes for the easiest and most convenient means of getting to and from the ship.  Tenders are slower and will require more time to fully load and unload each time and there is usually a good amount of waiting,  especially during peak times.

Navigating around the port

Each port is different and offers different amenities to get you where you're going.  If you have an excursion booked, often you will meet in a pre-arranged area near the port dock and there's usually a lot of signs to indicate where and when to meet.  If you're doing something by yourself, some ports allow easy walking access to the area, while others may require taxis or rental cars to get around.

Having your research done in advance will assist in making the transition from ship to port as seamless as possible, as locals in many of the ports can be pushy with offering their services.  Be sure to know what you want to do in advance so there's no confusion about what to do.  

The people: Good and bad

One last word about the ports and that's the people you will encounter a wide variety of locals in each port you visit.  Some are pushy and some aren't.  When we say "pushy", we mean there are varying degrees of sales pitches to you for their goods or services.  Most often, a simple "no thank you" will suffice in ending their conversation, but some ports do have locals that will spend more time trying to convince you to spend your money.  It's hard to generalize about any port or people, so do your research to know if the port you are visiting will have locals that can be more aggressive than others.

Explorer of the Seas passenger arrested for possessing marijuana

In:
12Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

A Royal Caribbean passenger from Explorer of the Seas was arrested for possessing marijuana yesterday in Bermuda. Patrick Gallo, 27, of New York, pleaded guilty to charges of importing and possessing the drug.

Authorities discovered the drug after security officers on the Explorer of the Seas were walking outside Gallo's cabin on Saturday when they smelt cannabis and decided to initiate a search. After searching the cabin, they found Gallo holding a partially burned hand-rolled cigarette. They also found a second partially smoked cigarette and another bag with plant like material.  A total of 2.5 grams of cannabis were found in his cabin.

According to police, Gallo admitted it was his drugs.  He was sentenced to pay a $1,500 fine.

Guest blog entry: What’s New with Royal Caribbean?

In:
12Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

Friend of the blog, Melissa DiCato of Possible Vacations has graciously taken some time to write this guest blog entry!  Today, she looks at what Royal Caribbean is doing to keep things new and fresh across their fleet of ships.  Take it away Melissa!

Royal Caribbean is doing all they can to ensure all of their clients’ needs are being well taken care of.  Oasis of the Seas has been such a huge success for Royal, they are starting to take the ideas that were only implemented on Oasis of the Seas and place them on the rest of their fleet.  Below you will find a breakdown of what you can soon find onboard Royal Caribbean Ships.

Liberty & Freedom of Seas

  • Broadway Shows
  • Nursery
  • Outdoor Screens
  • Cupcake Cupboard
  • Vintages
  • Way Finder (currently only on the Oasis of the Seas, this device is located next to all elevators to help clients find their way around the ship)

Fleetwide

  • Family Library
  • Royal Bedtime stories
  • Sitters @ Sea (Sitters will come to your stateroom and watch your children while you enjoy the night with your loved one)
  • Nintendo Wii

Family programming – Royal Babies & Royal Kids

  • Fisher-Price toy lending program
  • Crayola beginning workshops
  • Babies 2 Go! (pre-order service for parent to order baby food and diapers)
  • Stroll & Roll

Dinning

  • My time dinning
  • Exclusive food experiences
  • My family time dining (for family with children ages 3-17)
  • Expedited service
  • Adventure Ocean pick-up (youth counselors will come and pick up your children and take them to their kids clubs)
  • Leisure dinner for parents

Suite Enhancements (Grand Suites & Higher)

  • Distinct Seapass cards
  • Luggage Valet
  • Complimentary Dry Cleaning
  • Cocktail Reception in Captains Quarter
  • Reserved seating in shows
  • Upgraded suite amenities
  • Breakfast & Lunch in specialty restaurants

If you are looking to take a Royal Caribbean Cruise, these enhancements will be sure to delight any family at sea.  Every cruise ship will offer you something a little unique and different which is why people cruise time and time again.  Most families enjoy taking cruises because they can just sit back and relax while everything around them is taken care of, including their most precious cargo…their children.  Something to consider is taking a Royal Caribbean themed cruise such as Romance, Music, Cruise4Haiti amongst many others.

Thanks again to Melissa for her great blog entry.  You can find Melissa on Twitter as well as on her own blog, Possible Vacations: Friends sharing travel stories.

Is a drop in European demand cause for concern?

In:
12Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

If there's one cruise company that has placed the most resources in the idea that European cruise demand is what will drive profits, it's been Royal Caribbean.  Over the past couple of years, Royal Caribbean has been moving more and more of their ships to Europe to meet the perceived demand for cruise ships as well as the strong Euro.  Yesterday, cruise stock prices fell on the New York Stock Exchange on concerns about demand in Europe and on a drop in the broader stock market.

Royal Caribbean stock dropped 4.9 percent to $26.74 after trading on Wednesday and competitor cruise line stocks followed as well. The reason for the drop in price was a day earlier, Europe's biggest travel company, TUI Travel, said strong booking patterns seen in early May were not sustained during the early summer period.

"TUI Travel (Plc's) cautionary comments coupled (with) recent comments from European-based consumer staple companies of slowing demand cannot be dismissed and will bear ongoing close monitoring," Wells Fargo analyst Timothy Conder said in a research note Wednesday.

All isn't lost quite yet, as Wells Fargo Analyst Timothy Conder also said that booking and pricing trends for European-based cruises remained "encouraging."

Royal Caribbean adopts cage-free eggs for dining

In:
11Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean has joined some other cruise lines in adopting policies to incorporate cage-free eggs into their dining operations.  Royal Caribbean worked with the Humane Society of the United States when they created their new policy.

Royal Caribbean will go from 3.2 million eggs to cage-free immediately, and will increase to 6.8 million within one year. The Human Society estimates this change will spare nearly 30,000 hens each year from being crammed inside tiny cages.

"Many vacationers take their concern for animals, food safety and sustainability with them when they travel, and we applaud Royal Caribbean and Carnival for taking those concerns seriously by reducing their reliance on eggs from caged hens," said Matthew Prescott, corporate outreach director of The HSUS' factory farming campaign.

Star-Tribune reporter takes a cruise on Freedom of the Seas

In:
11Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

Neil Clarridge of the Star-Tribune, a Virginia newspaper, chronicled his recent cruise aboard Freedom of the Seas.  In part one of a three part series, Clarridge embarked on the cruise as a graduation gift for his oldest daughter.  Clarridge chose the cruise over the traditional beach vacation to avoid the "most disturbing teenage debauchery accessible to high school graduates in our area" and off they went.

Clarridge seemed to enjoy his time on the ship, and tried a few different venues on the first night of their cruise.  Here are some of his thoughts...

  • Balcony stateroom: After supper we retired to our stateroom until the show began at 9. Since we had a balcony in our stateroom, we sat outside and watched the ocean go by.  There was nothing but blue water as far as the eye could see. Luxury surrounded by beautiful desolation.
  • Entertainment for the night: The show was very entertaining. The singers could sing, the dancers could dance, and the comedians were funny.
  • Windjammer: Deck 11 was home to the Windjammer caf/. The quality and quantity of the food was superlative.  We went to the Windjammer for breakfast and lunch.

Cruise Lines International Association spent $529K on 2Q lobbying

In:
10Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

The Cruise Lines International Association, a lobbying group that represents cruise lines including Royal Caribbean, spent $529,134 in the second quarter lobbying federal officials on immigration, seaport inspections and other matters, according to a recent report.

If the number seems large, it's actually down from the first quarter, when the CLIA spent $696,000.  This quarter's spending is also down from one year ago, when they spent $728,216 last year's second quarter.

The trade group, which represents cruise companies such as Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Carnival Corp., also lobbied the federal government on legislation related to vessel sanitation, crew and passenger health issues, vessel waste and port security, among other topics.

The CLIA also lobbied the Department ofHomeland Security, State Department, Customs and Border Patrol and the U.S. Coast Guard, among other agencies in the April through June period.

Interview with Maureen Brandt, new chef at 150 Central Park on Allure of the Seas

In:
10Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

Today we have the exclusive opportunity to interview Maureen Brandt, who just won the Allure of the Seas Culinary Challenge, and is the new Chef de Cuisine for 150 Central Park onboard the soon to launch Allure of the Seas.  Maureen was generous enough to give us some of her time and offer us a look into how she managed to win this highly touted contest.

How did you find out about the Allure of the Seas Culinary Challenge and why did you feel compelled to enter it?
I received an email from The Culinary Institute Alumni Association announcing the challenge as the job of a lifetime.  Who can pass that up?  I love my business Cook In The Kitchen (catering and personal chef) but I've wanted to run a fine dining establishment for a while.  What a perfect opportunity!  My grandparents owned a travel agency, and my mom is a travel agent that has been on 55+ cruises and so it kind of runs in my blood.  I have no other real attachments aside from my black lab Stella so it seemed like a great idea.  How fabulous that I now get to design my own menu and be the chef of 150 Central Park with the most innovative cruise line in the world.
 
Prior to the Culinary Challenge, how much cruising had you done, if any?  If you had cruised before, what were your thoughts on cruising in general?
As I mentioned it kind of runs in my blood.  I have had the opportunity to cruise 5 or 6 times (can't remember right now.)  I've enjoyed each trip thoroughly.  It's so pleasant to unpack once but enjoy several different ports of call.  You really get the most bang for your buck out of any vacation of ever taken. 
 
To enter the contest, you had to include a dish that you can cook for the restaurant.  Tell us our readers what your choice was as well as why you chose that particular dish.  Was it because you thought it was your best dish that you make or was it something you thought would win over the judges?
The rabbit dish was something I developed when I was taking a continuing education course on culinary competition.  I ended up winning an American Culinary Federation sponsored competition with that dish, as well as working with a PR firm after cooking that for them.  It's my lucky rabbit's foot.  There wasn't much time to put together the video so I decided that would be the most logical choice because it was well developed, refined, and it looks beautiful.  I know it's somewhat controversial and not necessarily what everyone would choose.  After looking at the menu for 150 Central Park onboard Oasis I knew that I would have to make something else for the competition.  Royal Caribbean caters to a very international clientele and I needed to come up with something else using a little more mainstream proteins.  The final decision for the three courses was 
 
Chilled Lobster, Fennel, Carrots, Citrus, Caviar, and Tempura Battered Lobster Mitt
Provencal Lamb Loin, Dijon Potato Puree, Ratatouille, Pattypan Squash, and Olive Tapenade
Pistachio Cake, Whipped Rosewater Creme Fraiche, Carbonated Raspberries
 
The first portion of the contest involved voting from people all over the world where they viewed your video as well as the other contestants and voted on who they liked best.  Tell us a little about what that was like and if you did anything special to garner a few extra votes for yourself from friends and family.
Well having my own business has been an education in itself.  I learned how to market at a very basic level, and then outsourced.  I'm fond of saying that I'm an idiot-savant of sorts.  I can cook very well, but when it comes to writing, or design, or anything else I hire the best I can find and they make me look great!  For the actual voting period I posted on facebook like a fiend, and also emailed people nearly daily, much to their chagrin!  I also utilized the designer, writer, and photographer (Angela Ferraro-Fanning of 13ThirtyOne Design, Lindsay Berger of Inkwell Marketing, and Verna Pitts of Verna Pitts Photography respectively) that I used for my website to come up with a voting flier that I passed out absolutely everywhere, and for a press release that was sent to every news media in MN that I could think of.  Obviously that all helped!!
 
How did it feel to win the fan vote?
Spectacular!  I think I screamed like a teenage girl that just saw Justin Bieber!  I was cooking for an event that day and it was very difficult to concentrate following that.  It's amazing I didn't cut or burn myself!
 
After the fan vote, it was onto the cooking challenge last week.  Walk us through that experience and what it was like to put everything you had worked for on the line.
I didn't sleep well, for about a week.  In fact the night before I left for New York I was up sick all night!  I spent the day before writing out lists and packing very carefully.  I brought all of my own plates, so that was somewhat nerve-wracking as well.  I brought a few extra just in case any of them broke.  In the weeks preceding I hosted a few practice dinners where friends and clients could come and eat what I was going to prepare for the judges.  I just asked for a donation to cover the food cost.  That was a HUGE benefit.  Not only did it give me the chance to practice actually making the food and the timing, I could refine my plating, take some criticism, take photos for my assistant, and eat everything myself to make sure that I liked how it all worked together.
I worked as a teaching assistant at the Culinary Institute of America so being back was so much fun.  I got to see so many of the chefs and administrators that I spent a lot of time with and they all had pearls of wisdom for me.  I'm not going to lie though, it was very stressful!  The waiting was the hardest.  When I was in the kitchen prepping the first day, and cooking the second I was fine.  I was focused and ready.  I had mise en place lists for myself and my assistants, as well as the photos of the actual dish.  I had already labeled containers and was as organized as possible.  Which was a good thing because I used every second they gave me!  I can't thank my assistants enough, particularly Viraj Borkar.  I knew we were going to be okay when he told me about his personal kitchen experience and when he walked around the corner before we started and he had his headphones on listening to music to get focused just like me!
 
The judges named you the winner and you're now the next chef at 150 Central Park on Allure of the Seas.  What does that mean to you?
Well you can't wipe the smile off my face that's for sure! It was so gratifying to hear them call my name because it affirms every decision I have made about my career up to this point.  Cooking really isn't glamorous, it is hard physical labor and the pay is peanuts!  You do it for love of the game, but eventually you hope all of your hard work will pay off and that you will get to run the show someday.  I'm just so excited that all of the hours I've put in, and all of the research that I do has not gone un-noticed.  I know that this is just the beginning and that Royal Caribbean hired me specifically because of that work ethic and that I'm ready to put my best foot forward for them.  The real work is about to begin, but I appreciate the recognition along the way.
 
Let's get to know you a little bit more...
  • Favorite food cuisine (Mexican, Italian, chinese, etc)
    I'm not sure I have one.  I call myself a human garbage can because I'll eat anything.  But I really do like bold flavors so I'm a fan of Mexican, Indian, and Thai.
  • Favorite drink to have on a cruise (either one you've had or one you think would be great on a cruise)
    Corona's in the sunshine, wine pairings at dinner, and a specialty cocktail in a lounge.  I take the same unbiased approach to drinking as I do to eating.  I like it all! Dark beer, light beer, clear liquor, brown liquor, bubbles, white, and red wine.  No I am not an alcoholic!  I think the drink I most often order is a Manhattan on the rocks just like my dad! 
  • Favorite port of call to visit 
    Monte Carlo.  I loved the luxury of it, seeing the palace and the casino, and driving the roads!  How fabulous! Plus it's just a hop skip and a jump to France and Italy.
  • Favorite song on the radio/iPod today
    Somewhat embarrassing, but I'll give.  Right before I walked in to the kitchen before the finals I listened to Dynamite from Taio Cruz 3 times as loud as possible. There's a line in it where he sings that he'll be the last one standing, I just took that and ran with it!

You can visit Maureen's company, Cook in the Kitchen, as well as follow her on Facebook and Twitter. Congratulations Maureen!

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