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Excursion Focus: Discover Scuba Diving in St. Thomas

In:
21 Jan 2022
By: 
Jenna DeLaurentis

When Harmony of the Seas docked in St. Thomas yesterday, I was more than excited for the day ahead. Not only were we able to dock in Charlotte Amalie after originally thinking we could not, but I had a completely new experience booked for the day.

Photo credit: Underwater Adventure

I reserved the Discover Scuba Diving excursion offered by Royal Caribbean, which takes guests on a 4-hour beginner scuba diving experience with an instructor. This is available for all guests over the age of 12 and you do not need a scuba certification to participate.

Overview

With the Discover Scuba Diving excursion, you will learn the fundamentals of scuba diving and go on your first dive all within a few hours. 

The group met on the pier and began a 30-minute boat ride to Buck Island, a small wildlife refuge located just south of St. Thomas. 

On the way to Buck Island, our instructor gave us a detailed overview of scuba diving basics. We learned which hand signals to use while diving, when to use each piece of equipment, and how to breathe underwater. The instructor quizzed us on the content to make sure we were confident before beginning the dive.

When we arrived at Buck Island, we anchored the boat in Shipwreck Cove and it was time to put our knowledge to the test underwater. Our group of ten was split into two groups. One group would dive while the other was free to snorkel, swim, or relax on the boat.

The staff helped us put on our scuba gear and guide us on how to best jump into the ocean from the boat. Falling into the ocean and taking my first breath underwater was exhilarating, albeit feeling unnatural.

Photo credit: Underwater Adventure

Once our group was all in the water, we descended slowly into the water for a one-on-one knowledge test with the instructor, where we practiced the skills we had learned on the boat while becoming more comfortable with our gear and breathing technique.

After everyone proved their skills, we held onto the ropes attached to the boat and descended deeper into the ocean slowly until we reached the bottom. Lying at the bottom of the cove was the shipwreck of the Cartanza Senora, a 190 foot freighter that was abandoned and sunk in the 1970s.

Photo credit: Underwater Adventure

We let go of the ropes and our instructor led us on a swim around the shipwreck where we encountered colorful coral, numerous species of fish, and even an eel! On some days there are turtles, stingrays, and nurse sharks around the shipwreck, although we did not encounter any on our dive.

Once back to the surface, the other group took their turn to dive and we spent the rest of the time snorkeling in Shipwreck Cove before taking the boat back to the port.

The Discover Scuba Diving tour is operated locally by Underwater Adventure: Adventure Scuba & School. The excursion can be booked through Royal Caribbean and was $109 per guest when paying in advance. Wetsuit rentals are also available, although the water near the shipwreck was warm so they are not totally necessary.

Comments

I would 100% recommend the Discover Scuba tour for anyone interested in exploring the ocean beyond what you can see while snorkeling. It is the perfect way to test out scuba diving prior to getting certified, and this was one of my favorite excursions I have ever done.

The location of the diving was perfect for a first experience. Not only was the shipwreck much larger than I pictured beforehand, but it attracted sea life and vegetation. Being able to dive with the fish right around you as opposed to viewing them from above while snorkeling made me feel very connected to the ocean and environment around me.

The staff was also really patient and helpful throughout the day, which helped put me at ease when trying something I had never done before. I also appreciated that the tour group was quite small as it led to more personalized attention throughout the dive.

Keeping track of time was difficult to do when 45 feet underwater, so I’m not sure how long we were actually diving. However, I felt that the time underwater was the ideal amount for a first-time experience.

You do need to be a fairly good swimmer for this excursion. The scuba gear includes a lifejacket, which I found very helpful during the times we were learning and reviewing safety tips above water. If you can swim confidently while snorkeling or treading in a pool, you will be fine.

You should be aware that even though you book the scuba excursion, not everyone is always able to succeed in diving. Two members in our group found the ear pressure to be too intense to dive all the way to the shipwreck. However, the majority of the group was able to successfully reach the bottom and dive around the wreck, so it is definitely still worth a try if you are interested.

In addition, if you are prone to seasickness, you may want to bring medication or other remedies with you. The ride to Buck Island was a little choppy at times.

Overall, I am extremely happy I decided to book the Discover Scuba Diving excursion and I think I have found a new hobby! I can’t wait to get my scuba diving certification soon so I can explore more of the diverse underwater ecosystem in the Caribbean and around the world.

 

Omicron variant forces Royal Caribbean to extend stricter face mask rules again

In:
20 Jan 2022
By: 
Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean will keep its Omicron variant-induced face mask rules for its cruise ships through at least mid-February.

5 recommendations for wearing masks on cruise ships by the Healthy Sail Panel | Royal Caribbean Blog

The cruise line informed passengers with cruises coming up that the new mask rules will remain in effect through February 14, 2022.

Since mid-December 2021, Royal Caribbean tightened its face mask rules due to the Omicron variant.

What it's like to go on a cruise with Royal Caribbean's stricter mask rules | Royal Caribbean Blog

In an email, Royal Caribbean once again attributed the extension of the mask rules to Omicron, "With the recent uptick of COVID-19 in the world and added Omicron variant concerns, we feel it prudent to temporarily tighten our onboard health protocols to require masks indoors at all times, unless actively eating or drinking while seated."

Read moreWhat it's like to go on a cruise with Royal Caribbean's stricter mask rules

The policy requires cruise ship passengers to wear face masks while indoors, regardless of vaccination status except while eating or drinking. 

In addition to the stricter mask rules, smoking in the casino will also remain prohibited through February 14, 2022.

Would you cruise if wearing a mask is mandatory? | Royal Caribbean Blog

"We're sorry for any disappointment that this may cause," Royal Caribbean told passengers with a cruise coming up, "but hope you understand that health and safety come first.

"Despite the new requirement, we know you will still have a great time onboard."

At the end of the email, Royal Caribbean said, " If you prefer to not sail as a result of this change or would like to reschedule your cruise, we are glad to assist. Looking forward to seeing you onboard!"

This is the second time Royal Caribbean has extended the stricter mask rules since it was first implemented.

Masks are NOT required to be worn:

  • In open-air areas of the ship, unless you are in a crowded setting.
  • In the pool or any activity where they may become wet.
  • In your stateroom when you are with your traveling party.
  • While visiting our private destination, Perfect Day at CocoCay, unless you are in a crowded setting.
  • By any guest under the age of 2.

Coast Guard wont fine you for not wearing a mask on a cruise ship, but you will get kicked off | Royal Caribbean Blog

Masks ARE required to be worn:

  • While indoors in public areas of the ship, unless seated and actively eating or drinking.
  • While visiting public ports of call, where local regulations may require them.

Read moreFace masks on Royal Caribbean: What you need to know

Mask rule matches other lines

Carnival announces agreements with Port Canaveral, Miami & Galveston to restart cruises | Royal Caribbean Blog

Other cruise lines have added similar rules to combat the rise in Omicron variant Covid cases.

Carnival Cruise Line requires its passengers to use masks on all sailings until at least the end of January 2022. Carnival also banned smoking in its casinos until further notice.

Holland America matched Carnival's stricter mask rules and indoor smoking policy.

Norwegian Cruise Line also added a face mask rule for sailings through the end of January.

Royal Caribbean updates: Cruise planner update, Spectrum of the Seas cancellations & more!

In:
20 Jan 2022
By: 
Matt Hochberg

Another week of Royal Caribbean news is here to share, with a look at some recent changes worth noting.

Since there's so much happening these days, sometimes it's easier to provide a more concise update from across the fleet of changes, interesting options and more good to know information.

If you ever have a news tip, feel free to email it to [email protected] for possible inclusion in a future update!

Royal Caribbean will cruise from Cyprus again in 2022 and 2023

Rhapsody of the Seas | Royal Caribbean Blog

Cyprus welcomed cruise ships in summer 2021, and Royal Caribbean will homeport a ship there again for the next two summer seasons.

Rhapsody of the Seas will sail from Limassol, Cyprus, in 2022 and 2023, where she will offer itineraries that visit ports in the Mediterranean and Middle East.

Jewel of the Seas will sail from Cyprus in July | Royal Caribbean Blog

There are 7-night Greek Isles cruises that sail roundtrip from Limassol in August and September 2022.

In May-August 2023, Rhapsody will return to the city to set sail on new 7-night Israel and Egypt cruises as well as Greece and Turkey itineraries. Afterwards, Rhapsody moves to Haifa as a homeport in early November 2023 to offer a mix of 2- to 7-night itineraries to Greece, the Greek Isles and Cyprus.

Hong Kong forces Royal Caribbean to cancel Spectrum of the Seas sailings

Spectrum of the Seas will restart cruises from Hong Kong on July 30 | Royal Caribbean Blog

Royal Caribbean was forced to cancel all of its January 2022 cruises from Hong Kong on Spectrum of the Seas due to a short-term government ban on cruises.

The Spectrum of the Seas sailings scheduled for January 21, 23, 26, 28, and January 31, 2022 are now cancelled.

In a statement, the sailings were cancelled in an effort by Hong Kong officials to contain Covid-19, "The sailings were canceled following an update to local COVID-19 prevention policies by local authorities on January 14, which requires a 14-day suspension of all cruise operations; details can be found on the official government website."

"Royal Caribbean will continue to monitor the evolving situation and work closely with relevant local authorities on our return to service. We fully expect to welcome back our guests onboard Spectrum’s February 4 cruise."

More ships upgraded to new Cruise Planner

Royal Caribbean begins to roll out My Royal Cruise cruise planner upgrade | Royal Caribbean Blog

Royal Caribbean is slowly phasing in a new look to its Cruise Planner website, which allows guests to pre-book packages, dining, entertainment and more before the sailing.

Here is the dates when the new look will appear for each ship:

  • Symphony of the Seas departing January 22,2022
  • Odyssey of the Seas departing January 15, 2022
  • Oasis of the Seas departing February 13, 2022
  • Harmony of the Seas departing February 27, 2022
  • Navigator of the Seas departing March 7, 2022
  • Anthem of the Seas departing March 27, 2022
  • Freedom of the Seas departing April 4, 2022
  • Adventure of the Seas departing April 11, 2022
  • Independence of the Seas departing April 15, 2022
  • Liberty of the Seas departing April 17, 2022
  • Allure of the Seas departing April 30, 2022
  • Ovation of the Seas departing May 5, 2022
  • Quantum of the Seas® departing May 16, 2022

If you're booked before these dates, you will continue to see the old Cruise Planner interface.

Royal Caribbean says it plans to steadily expand My Royal Cruise to additional ships and sailing windows at a later date. 

A Royal Caribbean to-do list after you board a cruise ship

In:
20 Jan 2022
By: 
Matt Hochberg

It's the first day of your cruise and you just got onboard for a full week fun exploring, enjoying, and relaxing.  So what should you do first?

Embarkation day is a busy day because there's a lot happening and it's your opportunity to set yourself up for a great sailing to come. 

What should you do once you get onboard to ensure everything goes smoothly?

Here's a to-do list for once you get onboard your cruise ship for a fun and productive first few hours.

Do the muster drill first

Royal Caribbean requires all passengers to complete its safety drill, and since you board the ship on the same deck (or close) your muster station is located, it's a good idea to take care of it quickly.

There's two steps to the safety drill: first, watch the safety video and listen to the emergency alarm in Royal Caribbean's app.

Read moreRoyal Caribbean app walkthrough and tips

The next step is to visit your muster station so you know where it is. Here, your kids can get their muster bracelet that they wear for the entire cruise in the event they become separated from their party (or are in Adventure Ocean) during an emergency.

Eat lunch

Everything I ate on Royal Caribbean's Odyssey of the Seas | Royal Caribbean Blog

If you arrive before 1pm, go to the Windjammer and grab lunch. If it's after 1pm, skip down to "Check if your stateroom is ready".

You will find less of a crowd in the back of the Windjammer.

Another good tip is while you're sitting down to eat, take your phone back out and go through the Royal Caribbean app to book entertainment for your cruise. Just connect to the WiFi and the ability to book shows should become available.

Read moreWhere can I eat on the first day of my Royal Caribbean cruise?

Book specialty dining

Japanese hibachi restaurant confirmed for Wonder of the Seas cruise ship | Royal Caribbean Blog

If you have a dining package, now is a good time to make reservations at specialty restaurants.

You can go to any specialty restaurant and they can book you a time at any other specialty restaurant for you.

If you don't have a dining package, you can easily book reservations via the app or by stopping at the restaurant.

Keep an eye out on embarkation day for roaming waiters that are looking to book passengers for specialty dining. They can make individual reservations whether you have a dining package or not, and can be more convenient option to reserve a time rather than walking to a restaurant.

Check if your stateroom is ready

Cruise FAQ: Cabins | Royal Caribbean Blog

After 1pm, check to see if your cabin is ready.

You will find your SeaPass cards wedged in the stateroom number sign. If it's ready, collect your SeaPass cards, explore your stateroom, drop off your bags.

The Entertainment Schedule will be in your room as well. Work with your family to know which shows you want to see together. Also use this time to quickly scroll through the Daily Planner on the Royal app on Days 2 and 3 to identify activities you want to do together as a family. Both of these will impact which times you reserve for Adventure Ocean.

Register your kids for Adventure Ocean

Six things to know about Royal Caribbean's Adventure Ocean | Royal Caribbean Blog

After 2pm, Adventure Ocean will open up for an open house and registration.

Registering your kids on the first day is a major priority for two reasons: registering now saves time later, and this is the best time to get a reservation slot for later.

Proceed up to Adventure Ocean, which is usually located on Deck 12 on most ships. 

Cruising with kids on Royal Caribbean | Royal Caribbean Blog

When you arrive, you will register your children first so that you can provide important information about each child to the staff.

Once that is complete, ask to sign up for time slots in advance. Adventure Ocean typically has 3-hour blocks during the day (unless it's a port day, then check for times on those days): 

  • 9am - 12pm
  • 2pm - 5pm
  • 7pm - 10pm

First Timers' Guide to Oasis of the Seas | Royal Caribbean Blog

Depending on your sailing, the staff will either give you a certain amount of hours/sessions you can pre-book, or instruct you on what reservations they are offering.

As a result of Covid-19, Royal Caribbean is operating Adventure Ocean with a very limited capacity.

If you can book sessions in advance, I would recommend front loading reservations early in the cruise and specifically for evenings. Evening sessions always have the most demand because there's more to do for adults during this time.

Navigator of the Seas Tips & Best Things To Do | Royal Caribbean Blog

By booking sessions early in the sailing (day 1, 2 or 3), you can also allow your kids some time to gauge their interest in Adventure Ocean and if you want to book additional time slots later.

If you child is less than 36 months old, she/he can be registered for the Nursery. The Nursery will also allow parents to reserve some time in advance, so be sure to review what to expect when booking nursery time.

Get a drink!

Brilliance of the Seas Live Blog - Day 1 - Embarkation Day | Royal Caribbean Blog

Take a break from running around, and enjoy a welcome aboard cocktail.

Getting a drink on the pool deck is a great spot, so head up to the pool bar and order one to kick off your vacation.

If you want to get a drink earlier than this but don't have your SeaPass card yet, you can just let the waiter/bartender know your cabin number. They can look you up, and verify if you have a drink package or not.

Try a top deck activity

Royal Caribbean Blog - Unofficial blog about Royal Caribbean cruises

The first day of the cruise is the best time to check out the most popular activities on a cruise ship, such as water slides, hot tubs, the pool, or bumper cars.

Ideally, keep a bathing suit with you in your carry-on luggage and change back in your cabin or in one of the public restrooms on the pool deck.

Why your teens (and you) will love a cruise vacation | Royal Caribbean Blog

The reason why lines are shorter for these activities on the first day is most people are just getting the bearings, and they likely packed their bathing suit in the luggage that will be delivered to their cabin onboard.

Take advantage of these less-crowded times to enjoy high-demand activities.

Check your dining room table assignment

The afternoon is also a good time to verify your dinner assignment, especially if you have traditional dining.

Take a look at your SeaPass card and find your Main Dining Room and table number. You can walk into the dining room and check exactly where your table is to verify its location and that it has enough seats for everyone in your party.

If there is an issue, look for the head waiter (likely at the entrance of the main dining room) to speak to about a change.

Collect your luggage and unpack

Oceanview vs Balcony staterooms on a Royal Caribbean cruise | Royal Caribbean Blog

Crew members will begin delivering luggage to staterooms in the early afternoon, so it might be worthwhile to see if your luggage has arrived yet.

Bags will be left outside your room door. If your bag is not there yet, don't sweat it. It will be delivered later on, although you could walk down the hall to see if it's in a staging area ready to be delivered. If so, you can feel free to grab it and bring it to your cabin instead.

Once you get luggage, now is a good time to unpack.

More information

Want to learn more about your Royal Caribbean cruise? Check out these articles:

Excursion Focus: Cycling in St. Maarten

In:
20 Jan 2022
By: 
Jenna DeLaurentis

One of the most challenging parts of planning a cruise is figuring out what to do while in port. What activity should I choose? Which beach should I go to? Should I book an excursion offered by Royal Caribbean or explore on my own?

While planning days in port for my 7-night sailing on Harmony of the Seas last week, I kept asking myself these questions. Our original itinerary was switched, leaving me with little time to plan my day in St. Maarten. I wanted to make the most of the day as I had never been there before.

My solution? Go for a bike ride! Not just any bike ride, though. My plan was to loop the entire island on a bicycle to learn more about the island’s landscapes, cultures, and people. I felt prepared from a fitness standpoint as I cycle a lot at home, but I had no idea what my day on a bicycle in St. Maarten would entail.

Spoiler alert: it was one of the best days ever.

Rental

I rented my bike from Tri-Sport SXM, which is the main cycling company and bicycle tour operator on the island. I originally requested a road bike, but they suggested getting an ebike so I could explore more of the island and have some assistance in climbing steep hills.

I met JP from Tri-Sport at the port and he gave me a helpful overview of my bicycle and his recommended route. The total cost of the ebike rental was $55 for the day. The rental came with the ebike, a bike pump, helmet, and a lock.

The Route

I had an ambitious plan. My goal was to loop St. Maarten counterclockwise, starting and ending in Philipsburg. In doing so, I would cycle between two countries, visit both busy and secluded beaches, and explore the island’s culture.

I started the bike ride by cycling north out of Philipsburg and toward the eastern side of the island. This was definitely my favorite section of the ride. Once I got outside Philipsburg, the road heading north was not overly busy and led to some beautiful lookout spots. Crossing the border of the Dutch and French side was fascinating and required some photos.

I passed through the small French town of Quarter of Orleans before continuing to Orient Beach. This is one of the most popular beaches on the island, but is quite long, so it’s easy to find a secluded spot on the beach. There are also many restaurants, bars, and beach clubs open during the day as well.

I continued to the north of the island, grabbing a fresh fruit smoothie in the town of Hope Estate before cycling toward Cul-de-Sac. From here you can take a ferry to the nearby island of Isla de Pinel, where hiking, kayaking, and snorkeling opportunities are plentiful.

Because I kept stopping to take pictures, I was a bit behind schedule. The next section of road was fairly flat, so I quickly bolted toward the northwest of the island. The road was a bit too busy for my liking, though, so I took a detour to Friar’s Bay Beach.

This beach was unbelievably beautiful and not very crowded. As the weather was quite hot, I replenished my water supply, had a quick snack, and relaxed in the shade for a half hour or so.

I wanted to avoid the busy road, so I attempted to find a detour to Marigot. The “road” on Google Maps was the steepest section I had seen all day and was the only point at which I had to briefly walk my bike up the hill!

Whereas most riding so far had been a paved road or a well-maintained dirt path, this section was a mix of cobblestone, grass, and dirt! As I struggled up the hill, I chatted with a few locals who were very curious as to how I found myself on this “road”. 

Regardless, I was able to avoid the busy road, so I’d take that as a win in my books.

After the “road” I cycled to Marigot, the capital of the French side of the island. I found the French-influenced town to be quite cute and enjoyed wandering through the narrow streets on my bike.

In Marigot I stumbled upon Chez Fernand la French Bakery, which offers a variety of french specialties including patisserie, breads, savory snacks, and ice cream. Having already ridden my bike halfway around the island, I was feeling pretty hungry and French delicacies really hit the spot.

After fueling up in Marigot, I left the main part of the island and started my loop of the laguna. Originally I thought this would be a calm section of road, but it actually ended up being one of the busiest sections of the ride! All drivers were cautious of my biking, though, and the road was fairly flat, so it went by quickly.

I took a detour down a dirt path to Cupecoy Beach, which has an area with many small inlets surrounded by limestone. I found several empty or nearly-empty beaches here, and it almost felt like a secret hideway on the island.

My last stop was Maho Beach, which is arguably the most well-known beach on St. Maarten. This beach is located right across from Princess Juliana International Airport in St. Maarten, and planes fly right over you as they land on the runway. Tourists flock here to marvel at the close proximity of airplanes and catch gusts of the powerful wind created when a plane takes off.

I thought it was a unique beach, although unfortunately no planes were landing when I was there! I would not recommend spending an entire day at the beach, though, as it was really crowded and not as nice as other beaches I had seen on my bike ride.

As it was now late afternoon, I began heading back to the cruise port. So did everyone else, apparently, because this section of the ride was the busiest of the day! I enjoyed taking in my final views of St. Maarten from my bicycle before a mellow ride through historical Philipsburg.

As I returned my bike and walked back to the ship, I could not believe how much fun I had cycling around the entire island. The total ride was around 34 miles up, down, and around hilly terrain, countless beaches, and historical towns. And while I certainly felt tired once I was back onboard, I don’t think there could have been a better way to see all that St. Maarten has to offer in a single day!

Safety

When I googled “renting a bike in St. Maarten,” I was shocked by the search results. Many people suggested not renting a bike on the island and saying it would be way too dangerous. Potholes, cars, and distracted drivers would be everywhere!

I decided to take this information with a grain of salt. As there was a reputable bicycle company on the island and St. Maarten has European roots, I figured it would not be as dangerous as the internet implied.

As I started cycling, I realized I was right. I did not encounter one aggressive driver passing me and found that drivers were courteous and patient, even waiting behind me as I struggled on the steepest of climbs. In addition, while there were some potholes on the road, I did not find the road conditions to be any worse than roads I have cycled on at home (with the French side having slightly better road conditions than the Dutch).

The locals on both sides of the island were friendly and helpful. I stopped to take pictures several times and many locals, spotting my bike on the side of the road, stopped to ask me if everything was okay. This definitely added to my feeling of security while cycling solo.

However, I would not recommend renting a bike and exploring on your own to beginner cyclists. While the ride on an ebike is doable for anyone with an average level of fitness, cycling in St. Maarten does require a high level of confidence on busy roads. The main roads are often unavoidable to get around the island, so you may find way more cars on the road than you are used to.

Therefore, the biggest consideration you should make before renting a bike in St. Maarten is your comfort level on busy roads. If you have never biked on a main road before, you may feel uncomfortable with the amount of cars passing you. There is little to no shoulder on the roads, so you have to stay as close to the right curb as possible to allow cars to safely pass.

What made me feel safer throughout the day were the attentive drivers behind me and the fact that all roads were just one lane on each side instead of multi-lane highways.

Guided Tours

There are two ways to go for a bike ride in St. Maarten: renting a bicycle or booking a guided tour. Many guests may opt for a guided tour, but what options do you have?

Royal Caribbean works with Tri-Sport SXM, and they offer a variety of guided tours, some of which are directly listed as Royal Caribbean excursions in the Cruise Planner.

The most popular tour offered is the Historical Philipsburg by Bicycle and Beach tour, which is a 6-mile guided ride through the Dutch-influenced capital of Philipsburg. This ride is suitable for beginners and families and will give a lesson into the history and culture of the city.

You may also choose to book a guided bicycle tour directly with Tri-Sport, as they offer more challenging rides that you cannot book as a Royal Caribbean shore excursion. One of the rides offered is the Tour de Lagoon, which takes you around the lagoon on the western side of the island with a stop at Maho Beach. These tours must have a minimum of two cyclists booking it, but offer a way to see more of the island in a smaller group.

If you are traveling with kids, I highly recommend booking a guided tour as opposed to riding on your own.

Pros and cons of renting a bike vs. choosing a guided tour

The pros of renting a bike instead of booking a tour are plentiful. Cycling on your own gives you the ultimate freedom to choose where you want to go. If you see something interesting, you are able to stop or switch your route in order to discover it more thoroughly. It also gives you the chance to cycle at your own fitness level, making the ride as challenging or relaxed as you want. I also felt that I was able to interact with locals in St. Maarten very easily as a solo cyclist, as they were generally curious about me, thus giving me a deeper insight into the island.

There are a few cons of renting a bike yourself, though. First, you will not have a local with you to help navigate your way around the island or fix your bicycle if something goes wrong. Second, you will attract less attention from cars on busy roads compared to a larger group. That being said, I did not find either of these problems to be an issue (and I never had a single problem with my bike).

Likewise, there are pros and cons to choosing a guided bike tour. The biggest pro is that everything is taken care of for you. There is no need to map out a route yourself and ask for directions whenever you get lost. You also stand out much more on the roads when with a group. A car that may try to quickly pass one cyclist will likely hold back on passing a group of twenty cyclists.

The biggest con I saw with a guided tour were the crowds. Cycling in a group means, of course, that you are with many other people, so you will not get as relaxing of an experience as in a smaller group or by yourself. Plus, many of the popular tours visit the most touristy spots on the island, such as Maho Beach and downtown Philipsburg. This means that not only are there more crowds in the destination you are visiting, but likely there is a busier road to get there in the first place.

Whether you select a tour or not, be sure to research the average temperature during the time of year you will be in St Maarten. I did this ride in mid-January and it was around 83 degrees. It was definitely doable, but I had to drink a lot of water and take occasional breaks in the shade. The good thing about riding a bike, though, is that you get a nice breeze as you ride which helps to cool you down. Plus, you can always take a break in the ocean! There are tons of markets and restaurants throughout the entire ride, so you do not have to pack much water with you on the bike.

Final thoughts

Cycling around St. Maarten put into perspective just how diverse the small island is, and being on a bike allowed me to travel at just the right pace. It was fascinating to see a mix of Caribbean, French, and Dutch influence in the island's cuisine, architecture, and lifestyle.

I've never been more intrigued by the linguistic diversity of a particular place. Not having done much research ahead of time, you can imagine my confusion when I arrived in St. Maarten and heard many locals speaking Spanish instead of Dutch, and that only a small minority of locals speak French.

I will definitely ride a bike again in St. Maarten and would recommend exploring via bike for any guest interested, whether with a guided tour or on your own.

Royal Caribbean reveals restaurants and bars coming to Wonder of the Seas

In:
19 Jan 2022
By: 
Matt Hochberg

Foodies and anyone that just enjoys good eats are sure to love what Royal Caribbean has in store for its next new cruise ship.

Royal Caribbean takes delivery of new world's largest cruise ship as it departs shipyard | Royal Caribbean Blog

Royal Caribbean revealed the dining options passengers can look forward to on Wonder of the Seas.

The fifth Oasis Class cruise ship will have more than 20 dining venues when she launches, including the debut of The Mason Jar Southern Restaurant & Bar.

Royal Caribbean describes this new concept as a place where "southern comfort food meets Royal Caribbean's hospitality".

"The Mason Jar invites guests to share a meal, drinks and memories in a warm, casual setting. Every detail serves up southern charm in the new specialty restaurant, and setting the scene is farmhouse-style and rustic decor, live country music, even a cozy porch decked out with a swing for lounging and a great photo op, and a dedicated bar at the center of it all."

Guests will be able to sample a variety of classic American food for brunch, dinner, and late-night.

Brunch favorites range from savory johnnycakes topped with barbeque pulled pork to the Sweet-Tooth Cinnamon Roll. At suppertime, highlights include fried green tomatoes, authentic southern fried chicken, crab beignets served with lump crab dip, and shrimp and grits. And for a sweet ending, there’s everything from traditional pies to spiked floats and shakes. 

The bar menu has also been sourced from the southland, with more than a dozen American whiskeys and a lineup of southern libations, such as the classic mint julep dusted tableside with powdered sugar and the Mississippi Moonlight – made with blackberry moonshine, blackberries and lemonade, and served in a chilled mason jar. 

Here's a look at all the dining venues and bars you can look forward to visiting while on Wonder.

  • Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar
  • Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade
  • Hooked Seafood
  • El Loco Fresh and Cantina Fresca
  • The Lime & Coconut 
  • Izumi
  • Wonderland
  • 150 Central Park
  • Johnny Rockets
  • Starbucks
  • Sugar Beach
  • Chops Grille

Wonder of the Seas debut

Wonder of the Seas will set sail in March 2022 from Fort Lauderdale, Florida and offer cruises in March and April 2022 before moving to Europe.

She will then sail from Barcelona, Spain and Rome between April and October 2022.

Wonder of the Seas will return to Port Canaveral, Florida beginning in November, where she will be based year-round.

Royal Caribbean will offer southern food restaurant on Wonder of the Seas

In:
19 Jan 2022
By: 
Matt Hochberg

One of the many new amenities coming to Royal Caribbean's newest cruise ship will be the cruise line's first southern American food restaurant.

Wonder of the Seas will feature a new restaurant, known as The Mason Jar.

According to Royal Caribbean, The Mason Jar is all about food from the southern part of the United States.

Mason Jar was one of the trademarks Royal Caribbean filed back in October 2021 that seemed to point to a new dining concept based on Southern food.

In a newsletter update to travel agents, Royal Caribbean confirmed the existence of this new restaurant concept, "In the South, food is meant to soothe the soul."

"Enter The Mason Jar, reinventing Low Country classics, Bayou staples, and bold BBQ."

Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley also confirmed the news via his Facebook page.

The new restaurant will offer comfort food, such as creole-style Lobster ’n Crawfish Gumbo and Gran’s Fried Chicken.

There will also be a brunch menu that offers breakfast dishes, such as Sweet-Tooth Cinnamon Roll or southern Chicken ’n Waffles.

If you're thirsty, you'll find spiked peach tea or a decadent shake made with peanut butter, banana and bourbon.

Naturally, country music will be played as well.

While not confirmed, it is expected The Mason Jar will be a specialty restaurant location that has an additional fee to dine there.

Why Mason Jar?

Given the restaurant serves south food, it makes sense to call it The Mason Jar.

Mason jars are widely used in the south, and used for canning, preserving, or storing food. In fact, southerners commonly refer to any glass storage vessel used for these purposes generically as a Mason jar.

Other names Royal Caribbean considered included Savannah's Table and Palmetto Room.

Where will it be located?

According to the deck plans, it will be on Deck 15 near the Windjammer.

Mason Jar menu

In zooming in on the concept art for the Mason Jar, it's clear to see a menu.  Whether or not the menu is accurate remains to be seen.

Here's what it lists:

Fresh buttermilk biscuits & jalapeno cornbread (served with cajun and whipped honey butter)

Smidges to Start (Appetizers)

  • Pimento Cheese
  • Lobster 'n Crawfish Gumbo
  • Smoky Deviled Eggs
  • Fried Green Tomatoes
  • Blueberry Johnnycakes
  • Crab Beignets
  • Caesar Salad
  • Charred Watermelon Salad

Heaping Helpings (main courses)

  • Shrimp 'n Grits
  • Blackened cajun catfish
  • Chicken pot pie
  • Classic po'boy
  • Crispy chicken sandwich
  • Southern burger

The Meat Up

Pick from one protein, fixins and two signature BBQ sauces

  • St. Louis-Style Rib
  • Beef Brisket
  • Gran's Fried Chicken (regular or Nashville hot)

Sides:

  • Coleslaw
  • Sweet potato fries
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Mac 'n Cheese
  • Collard Greens

Q&A: What is it like to sail on Harmony of the Seas this week?

In:
19 Jan 2022
By: 
Jenna DeLaurentis

Going on a cruise right now can be a little unpredictable. Protocols, entertainment, and dining options are subject to change from sailing to sailing.

I am onboard Harmony of the Seas this week for a 7-night Eastern Caribbean and Perfect Day cruise, and I wanted to share what the experience is like by answering questions people might have.

We asked our followers on Facebook what questions they had about sailing on Harmony of the Seas this week, and here are our most requested answers:

How many guests are onboard?

Guest Services told me there were around 2500 passengers onboard.

Harmony of the Seas has a capacity of 5,479 guests at double occupancy, so the ship is a little under 50% capacity this week.

What is the entertainment this week? Is anything canceled?

Due to the omicron surge, there has been an influx of changes in entertainment offerings onboard Royal Caribbean ships. When I boarded the cruise on Sunday, I wasn’t sure what, if anything, would be offered in terms of headliner entertainment on Harmony of the Seas.

There have been several changes in entertainment:

  • Grease: The Musical is not being performed this week
  • Big Daddy’s Hideaway Heist is being performed in the Aquatheater, but the other show, The Fine Line, is not.
  • 1887: A Journey in Time and iSkate Showcase are being performed in Studio B.
  • Entertainment in the Royal Theater includes headliner vocalists, comedians, and game shows

While some entertainment offerings have been canceled or modified, there is still no shortage of things to do this week. Whether live music, comedy shows, dance classes, or signature activities, it’s easy to keep yourself busy onboard.

How is Adventure Ocean operating?

Adventure Ocean is currently operating at limited capacity with around 15-20 kids per room. Reservations are required and the amount of time slots a child gets in Adventure Ocean depends on the amount of children on a particular sailing. There will be more reservations available per child on a sailing with less kids onboard.

Walk-ins are available throughout the week, too, but are not guaranteed. However, I was told that parents have usually been able to drop their child off at Adventure Ocean on a walk-in during this cruise.

The teen clubs are open as normal throughout the day and there are still specific times for teens available at onboard activities like the Flowrider and Ultimate Abyss.

What restaurants are open for dinner?

The following restaurants and venues are open for dinner:

  • Main Dining Room
  • Windjammer
  • Izumi
  • Jamie’s Italian
  • 150 Central Park
  • Chops Grill
  • Coastal Kitchen
  • Wonderland

A few other dining changes to note:

  • Johnny Rockets is only open for lunch from 11:30AM - 4PM on this sailing
  • Sabor is not open for food, although the bar is open
  • Solarium Bistro is not open for any meal

How did the testing go?

Royal Caribbean now accepts CDC-approved at-home COVID-19 tests | Royal Caribbean Blog

I tested before my cruise with the Abbott BinaxNOW Ag Card home test and I cannot recommend it enough! With the at-home test, you do not have to worry about finding a Covid test appointment and you can complete the test at whatever time works best for you.

Ordering a pack of these tests makes fulfilling the testing requirements a breeze. Each time I have done it so far, I have been completely done with the test in the same amount of time it would have taken me to drive to an appointment at CVS.

How was boarding the ship?

I had purchased The Key before my cruise, so I had priority boarding. With The Key, I was able to go through the priority boarding lane and got on the ship within 10-15 minutes total. The normal line to board seemed to be moving fairly quickly too.

Does this sailing offer any themed nightly activities?

There is the “Totally Awesome ‘90’s Party” and “Country & Western Line Dance Party” which are located in Studio B on days 3 and 4. On day 5 is the “70’s Disco Inferno Party” at the Aquatheater.

There are a variety of DJs and nightclub experiences throughout the week as well.

What are the port stops this week?

Our scheduled port stops this week were St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Perfect Day at CocoCay. When I booked the cruise we were originally supposed to go to Antigua, which was then replaced by San Juan… which was then replaced by St. Maarten!

Unfortunately, today it was announced that we will be unable to visit St. Thomas. I predicted this would happen because St. Thomas has been denying ships recently, but it is still a bummer! Having four sea days and only two ports is not the most ideal scenario. As it was known in advance that it was unlikely we would go to St. Thomas anyway, I do wish something else could have been planned.

Regardless, it is important to be flexible these days when going on a cruise.

Are you going to Labadee?

Harmony of the Seas Live Blog - Matt's Day 3 - Labadee | Royal Caribbean Blog

Our itinerary does not go to Labadee for this cruise, but next week’s sailing on Harmony of the Seas is scheduled to stop at Labadee. Labadee has not reopened since cruises restarted in June 2021, but it appears that Harmony of the Seas may actually be going there next week.

We have a full article about the possibility of Labadee reopening here.

Are they still doing “The Quest”?

They are not doing The Quest on this sailing. The Quest has also not been offered on the previous five cruises I have been on since the restart.

What are the best and worst specialty restaurants onboard?

This question is highly subjective, of course, and what is the “best” for one person might be the “worst” for another. In my opinion, the best specialty restaurants onboard Harmony of the Seas are Jamie’s Italian and Izumi Hibachi.

That being said, a restaurant like Wonderland is a dining experience that you should definitely try. I have also not had the chance to try Sabor or 150 Central Park yet!

How is the masking?

Royal Caribbean extends stricter face mask protocols until January 31, 2022 | Royal Caribbean Blog

Last month, Royal Caribbean changed its mask protocols to require masks worn at all times indoors except when eating or drinking. Previously, masks were not required in vaccinated-only venues onboard.

This change has not been an issue for me personally. On my sailings before the protocol change, I would often wear my mask in crowded indoor spaces anyway. Plus, I live in a state with an indoor mask mandate so I hardly even notice. In addition, for a lot of the cruise experience, you are either outside or sitting indoors while eating or drinking, so often the mask is only used when walking from place to place.

I have not noticed anyone purposefully disregarding the masking rules on the ship. The only protocol not being followed well is the capacity per elevator. There are often way too many people in the elevator!

Why didn’t you invite all of us?

Sorry about that!

Be sure to check out the Royal Caribbean Blog group cruises here and join the party! Our two upcoming group cruises are an 8-night sailing on Mariner of the Seas in July and a 7-night sailing on Wonder of the Seas in December.

Do the free Covid tests the U.S. government is giving away work for a Royal Caribbean cruise?

In:
18 Jan 2022
By: 
Matt Hochberg

Beginning today, the U.S. government is giving away free Covid-19 tests, so naturally people want to know if these tests are acceptable for a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Beginning on Tuesday, the Biden administration soft launched the free at-home Covid tests that you can order directly from the U.S. Postal service

People can order four at-home tests per residential address, and they represent an easy and very affordable way to get a Covid test.

Royal Caribbean requires all passengers to take a pre-cruise Covid-19 test to bring with them to the cruise terminal.

  • Vaccinated guests must show a negative COVID-19 test result for a PCR or antigen test taken no more than 2 days before boarding day. NOTE: Kids age 5 to 11 who have been vaccinated may present proof of full vaccination and follow the testing protocols for vaccinated guests.
  • Unvaccinated kids age 2 to 11 must show a negative test result for a PCR test (not antigen) taken no more than 3 days before boarding day.
  • Unvaccinated kids’ pre-cruise test cannot be taken on boarding day, because that may affect the sample taken during the kids’ test at the terminal.

Royal Caribbean does accept an at-home test, which can be conducted pretty much anywhere that you have a good Wi-Fi connection - hotel room, airport, vacation home - as long as it meets this criteria:

  • You are fully vaccinated
  • The test must have Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. FDA.
  • The self-test process must happen under live supervision on a video call with a telehealth representative.
  • The telehealth provider must issue you a result document that includes all the necessary information.
  • International guests sailing from the U.S. are able to complete their testing using telehealth test kits, providing the kit has been authorized for use by the U.S. FDA.
    • Telehealth test kits obtained internationally that do not meet this requirement will not be accepted. 

So can you use these tests for your pre-cruise test? Probably not.

The third bullet point is the key factor, because the free rapid tests the government is distributing are generally not the type that are proctored.

As of right now, the only at-home test Royal Caribbean accepts is Abbott's BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card Home Test (not to be confused with the Abbott’s BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Self Test).

Read moreI tried the at-home Covid-19 test that Royal Caribbean accepts

I tried the at-home Covid-19 test that Royal Caribbean accepts | Royal Caribbean Blog

When ordering the free tests from COVIDTests.gov, there is no indication which test you will actually receive.

For now, your best bet is to order the tests anyway because they are free and sooner or later having access to rapid Covid-19 tests is going to be something you will likely benefit from having around.  If they are the BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card Home Test, you're set, but if not, you can plan to buy those seperately.

You can purchase the BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card Home Test from eMed.com or Optum. eMed sells a six pack for $150 for six Covid tests, or $25 apiece.

The good news is part of the initiative by the Biden administration to provide easier testing accessibility is you can save the receipt to get reimbursed by your health insurance company later.

Who is Royal Caribbean Group's new CEO Jason Liberty

In:
18 Jan 2022
By: 
Allie Hubers

Royal Caribbean Group has a new CEO, Jason Liberty, but who is he and how did he get to be the new head of the cruise giant?

Just a few weeks ago, Royal Caribbean Group began the year with a new CEO, following the departure of former CEO Richard Fain. The company announced in 2021 that Richard Fain would be stepping down from his CEO role and would be promoting Jason Liberty to Chief Executive Officer and President. 

According to Royal Caribbean’s website, Jason Liberty, 46, will be the President and CEO of the company’s three global cruise brands: Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Silversea cruises.

In addition, Liberty will oversee TUI Cruises and Hapag-Lloyd cruises, which it is a 50% owner in a joint venture. Liberty will also oversee the Group’s strategy, technology, supply chain, port operations and legal functions. 

Royal Caribbean parent company officially renames itself Royal Caribbean Group | Royal Caribbean Blog

Stepping into this role, Liberty will oversee the company’s 60 ships that carry more than 7.5 million passengers to ports around the world, including all 7 continents. 

Fain’s departure from Royal Caribbean Group came as a surprise to some, as he was the third-longest serving CEO among current S&P 500 leaders. When it comes to contributions, Fain was an instrumental leader for the Royal Caribbean Group. He introduced new ship categories and helped transform Royal Caribbean’s classes of ships from Sovereign, Voyager and Oasis ships to Celebrity’s Solstice and Edge classes.

Fain most recently was a leader for the company through the unprecedented nature of the pandemic’s shutdown on the cruise industry. Many have praised his role and involvement as CEO during the cruise shutdown, including his visionary leadership and creation of Royal Caribbean's Healthy Sail Panel. 

History with Royal Caribbean

Jason Liberty | Royal Caribbean Blog

Liberty is not a new name to the Royal Caribbean Group, as the new CEO joined the company back in 2005. With more than 16 years of experience under his belt, Liberty has held many positions with Royal Caribbean Group. 

Liberty joined Royal Caribbean Group as a Vice President of Audit and Advisory Services before moving into Corporate Strategy, Revenue and Planning.  In 2012, Liberty transitioned into his role as Senior Vice President of Finance and Strategy. The following year, he was promoted to Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. Liberty held those positions for 8 years before his current promotion to President and Chief Executive Officer. 

Royal Caribbean Group announces new $700 million loan | Royal Caribbean Blog

Prior to his positions at Royal Caribbean Group, Liberty worked for the account firm KPMG LLP as a senior manager. According to LinkedIn, Liberty held this position for 8 years before transitioning to Royal Caribbean Group. 

Throughout his many roles with the Royal Caribbean Group, Liberty has been heavily involved in the company’s biggest strategic initiatives. He’s also been praised for his leadership during the pandemic, an especially difficult time for the cruise industry. 

Education

Jason Liberty is a graduate from the University of Miami School of Business, where he holds a bachelor's degree in accounting. Liberty also attended Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, where he earned a second bachelor’s degree in finance. 

In addition to his bachelor’s degrees, Liberty attended University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagar Business School in Chapel Hill to earn his Master of Business Administration. He currently serves on the board of directors of WNS Limited, which is a business process management company. 

A New Chapter

Richard Fain announces he is stepping down as Royal Caribbean Group CEO | Royal Caribbean Blog

With help from the board, Fain has stated that he had carefully planned a succession process for when the time was right for him to step down. After seeing most of the company’s ships return to service, Fain felt it was the right time for Liberty to take over as CEO and President.

On the topic of Liberty’s new role, Fain stated, “He is a highly versatile and strategic leader, who has been integral to all aspects of the company’s accomplishments and performance.” Fain expressed, “I couldn't be happier to have such a superbly qualified and principled leader succeed me as CEO. Jason will lead the Group to new heights.”

Royal Caribbean Group CEO talks about vaccine and Florida's vaccine passport ban | Royal Caribbean Blog

Additionally, Fain praised how Liberty has played a crucial role with organizing over $12 billion of financing during the pandemic cruise shutdown. Because of Liberty’s ‘methodical manner’, Fain is confident that the company will be well served for many years to come. 

In his new position, Liberty will also join the board, which Fain will continue to chair. In addition, Fain will continue to be involved in the company’s ship construction program

‘Humbled and Honored’

Top 10 Royal Caribbean questions people are asking Google | Royal Caribbean Blog

Liberty will be stepping into his role as CEO as a very qualified and principled leader. With culture at the forefront of the Royal Caribbean Group’s business success, Liberty will be embodying the company’s values through his leadership. 

In reference to his new role, Liberty shared that he is both honored and humbled to become CEO for the Royal Caribbean Group. He stated, “Our incredible people and culture, combined with our leading brands and the most innovative fleet in the world are what make our organization so successful."

"I'm grateful to both the board for selecting me, and to Richard, for his friendship, mentoring and guidance. I look forward to building upon the company's remarkable record in the years ahead."