4:45 am alarm goes off. 5:00, maybe 5:20, stumble to coffee. 5:30 am blink and look at computer to figure out where I left off the prior day with work. Oh, that alarm – yeah, that’s my damn body alarm.
When you wake up early (way early) and do a ton of reading about cruise stuff, you realize that writing up your own personal experience from start to finish is a cool way to document your vacation. Reading all the blogs tends to get you excited. You start thinking, yeah, cool, I can do this. No problem. Oh yeah, it was my sister that was the English major (#InsertExplicit). That just means I hope she never finds this thing. My grammar probably isn’t that good, but it’s communicable.
Countdown started a long time ago, but now we are exactly 2-weeks from boarding. Let’s push the rewind button and see how we got here.
April 2016, after taking a financial break from cruising (our last cruise was 2012 #ugh) to ‘fund’ our home renovations and finish our Master’s degree, we realized it was time to take a real vacation and celebrate a few things. One of our big celebrations was wanted to take the kids, my mother-in-law (MiL) and sister-in-law (SiL) on their first ever cruise. My SiL turned 50 and my MiL turned 70 – sshhh – ok, so those are big milestones, #meh, they won’t care. We needed a cruise that would accommodate all of us for a reasonable price. Many spreadsheets later and seeing as how we would ‘split’ the MiL’s cruise fare with my SiL, we landed on the Oasis of the Seas, A1-8330 Aquatheater Suite w/ Balcony. It was the 7-night Eastern Caribbean on May 28, 2017. Oh yeah, and it was our first time to experience Star Class (SC). #Ruined While on the 2017 cruise, there was a lot of discussion about when / where / how / etc would we do the next cruise. Well, we didn’t sign up on Oasis in 2017 for the next one because we just hadn’t figured out all the logistics. Maybe I’ll try and remember to write up something about that cruise later, but for now … need to fast forward a few months to the current cruise.
There were months of research, discussion, pricing and justification before we finally landed on something. Let’s play from here.
In January 2018 we confirmed the cruise ship, route and room. #MonthlyPaymentsStarted During all of our researching and planning, we laid out plans for the next 6 years of cruising vacations. This includes starting plans for the kid’s graduation cruises, one in 2023 to Italy and one in 2025 to Ireland. Plus, SC cruises in 2020 and 2021. We'll probably have to skip 2022 and 2024 to accommodate a 2-week vacation / cruise in 2023 and the other in 2025. More on those later.
One of our cruise goals is to try all the new ships coming out for RCL. We prefer the larger ships with all the cool activities and shows. Finding the 9-night Bermuda cruise on Anthem was an awesome find. While we are still working for #TheMan, our vacation and cruise budget limits us to about one cruise a year. We booked the Owner’s Loft Suite 8720, which falls into the Star Class. I can blame the kids for wanting to only cruise in SC now. #Damnit #BadDad Oh, and since we found the Coastal Kitchen, we are now ‘required’ to book something that gives us access. #Spoiled
Planning for this cruise is pretty much a weekly discussion over the weekend mornings while drinking coffee and scanning cruise ‘stuff’.
We booked our flight on 12/12/18 (about 25 weeks out) on Southwest. Flight on 5/5/19 and returning on 5/15/19. Since we are in Nashville, Southwest is our preferred carrier. Over the past few years, I’ve flown for work and we have taken a couple of Vegas trips, all on Southwest. So, those points FINALLY paid off. Rather than paying close to $1200+ to fly all four of us up to Newark, NJ, we paid about $50. I cashed in all my points for me and kids. There was almost enough left to pickup my DW’s ticket (I’m guessing this acronym means Dear Wife 😊 ) so, we paid the transfer fee to have her points transferred to my account to give me enough to get her ‘freeish’ ticket. Thus the $50ish buck was for the transfer and taxes. Not bad, fly all four of us roundtrip for $50ish 😊 #KeepCasinoBudget
When cruising, we always fly in the night before just to make sure if there are any travel issues there is time to deal with it before getting on the cruise. I give credit to my dad for teaching me this. I’ve been cruising since early 2000’s and have always made sure to fly in the day before. Plus, we can start our vacation a day early. My better half did a lot of research on hotels around the port Bayonne in NY. She found a nice hotel, forget what it was, but really wanted to stay in something a little nicer. We talked about the Hyatt Regency Jersey City on the Hudson, but it was about $300 more for the night than what she originally booked. She really wanted to stay there because it looked really cool and is right across from the NY skyline. I felt bad because that really wasn’t in our budget. But wait, lookie what I found. We have some ‘cash-back’ rewards on one of our credit cards. Let’s us that to upgrade to the Hyatt and use our rewards to pay the difference. Done. Booked. Confirmed on March 5th.
We’ll get to the hotel earlier enough that we are planning to go see the 911 Memorial and take the ferry over to the statue. Was hoping to be able to see the statue from the North Star as we left, but after a few postings and great information, that doesn’t seem to be an option.
The only other pre-cruise travel stuff we did was book a spot to drop the car off. More than likely, we’ll grab us an Uber to get around everywhere else and to take us to the port on the morning of our cruise. Right now, we are planning to leave the hotel about 9:30 to give us an hour or so to make sure we are at the port and in the right spot by the Star Class to meet Yen. I’m the type of person that wants to be early to almost everything – I would rather wait than to have someone waiting for us to show up. #IsThatOCD
We got our first RoyalUp email on April 26, about 6 weeks before our cruise date. This was the first time we ever received one of these. We talked about attempting to upgrade, but couldn’t justify an additional $2400 IF we sent in the lowest bid of $1200 pp. I mean, we ‘could’ have swung it but that would have taken away from our casino budget – yeah, we quickly shot it down. Now, if we could have bid maybe $500-$750/pp – that we would have considered a little more.
Just to note, they would only charge us for the first two guests – so, technically, it was like upgrading with the kids sail free. Yeah, only way kids sail free is if we put them to work on the ship cleaning dishes or something. They are 12 and 14 now, so I’m SURE that would go over just peachy. Anyway, I guess we didn’t pay enough for this SC cruise so RCL was trying to get us to pay a little more. I’m not going to post what we paid but let’s just say I booked this thing about 16 months prior so I could make monthly budgeted payments. Yes – we actually have a cruise budget 😊. We did reprice a few times over the course of time that saved us a little extra. A second email to upgrade came in about 2 weeks later on 5/7/19. I guess the second one was meant for @Lovetocruise2002, since she’s never gotten one. Lol
Evidently, they wanted us to upgrade to the Royal Loft Suite which looks amazing, but, hey, we are happy to stay where we are at. There weren’t any other suites included with this email.
Side note. We got the RCL credit card a long time ago on one of our past cruises. Yeah, the perks aren’t as good as other cards, but we designate this card for pretty much cruise only related stuff. Over the years, we obtained some of those MyCruise Points that we were able to use for some nice OBC. #BonusCasinoFunds We get double points by putting the cruise payments on this card, which can add up to some decent OBC. Plus, it keeps our cruise finances separate from our normal daily financials.
Star Class Notes
Our first welcome aboard email from the SC came in on 4/13/19. What’s this, about 8ish weeks or so before our cruise. It was just a generic welcome to the royal genie program where you can fill out a questionnaire.
On 5/8/19 we got our first email from Yen Lee, our genie for this cruise. We are excited to have her and have heard great things, especially from @WAAAYTOOO.
Here’s a snippet from her initial email:
“Once I hear back from you, I’ll reach out again to confirm all the exciting details. From this point on, any questions or requests can be sent my way. I’m looking forward to seeing you onboard soon Please allow me to provide you with directions to the STAR Class arrival area and guarantee a VIP boarding. Kindly be advised that your drop-off point at Cape Liberty Cruise Terminal will be Zone 6. There is a large purple banner, which says Star Class, at the location. Please do not get off at any other zone. Once at Zone 6, kindly identify yourself as a Star Class guest and the assigned pier staff will ensure that your luggage is loaded onto a cart and will be sent directly to the suite while you go through the check-in and security screening process.
Due to the nature of the Star Class program, you would understand the services and amenities listed in this email are exclusive and limited to guests residing in these suites. We appreciate your understanding when it comes to the exclusivity of these privileges. I would like to offer you Expedited Boarding services and I would also like to give you my undivided attention. May I suggest arriving at the terminal at 10:30 AM? I have 3 Star Class Families in total and I want to personally escort you inside the Ship. “
We are not the type of family to require a ton of assistance or demands on things, as we want to do all of our own planning and organization. But when cruising SC we allow some of our obsessive planning nature to be done by our genie. After coming up with a list of ‘must-do’ activities on the boat, we sent that over to Yen to allow her to plan the best times. Being in SC does have its perks – two of the main ones we enjoy is the ability to have someone help make sure we can enjoy ALL/ANY activity on board. This is really something that the kids enjoy. The second is the up-front reserved seating for all the shows. Of course, there a lot more benefits, but we can elaborate on those later.
Over the past few weeks, we have been communicating with Yen to have her send us the dinner menus for the Coastal Kitchen #teamCK and the other specialty restaurants. I have 11 PDF files of these, so might load those in a follow-up to this opening blog. These will include Izumie, Jamie’s, Chops and Wonderland. We asked for the cruise planner, but haven’t gotten it at this time.
Now being two weeks out, this weekend is dedicated to cruise shopping. We all need a few new things for the cruise like some new clothing, shoes and other misc. items. Our new suitcases came in last week, so those are setup in the living room to get ready to start packing. My DW wouldn’t really allow us to start packing any earlier. We don’t have a spare bedroom for a staging area, so have to use the living room. Oh well.
Being in SC, we pretty much get most everything available in the CP, with the exception of the excursions and a few other items (the photo package comes to mind). We did a lot of discussion around the excursions and talked with the kids to see what they wanted to do. For the most part, they just want to swim / snorkel the entire time. Paying some of the prices for the excursions was something we had a hard time justifying. On a prior cruise, my DW and I did a kayak, hike and snorkel excursion in St. Maarten but was pretty disappointed. Paying a few hundred for that excursion didn’t help us want to pay for another one, when we could potentially just walk somewhere and snorkel or walk and tour on our own.
However, in 2017, we (all 6 of us, including my 70 yr old mother in law) did the Loterie Farm Zipline. Now, that was well worth the cost. So much so, that we booked it again for this cruise. This is our only purchased excursion in the CP. They did get hit really hard by the hurricane later in 2017, but from their recent pictures looks like they have rebuilt. We are happy to support them by taking this tour again.
I’m going to pause for now but will pick up later as we get a little closer. I will also be attempting to do a few live periscopes as @CruisingHobby with #rcperiscopers and will also post more here during the cruise.