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Review: Day Pass at Margaritaville Beach Resort in Nassau

In:
22 Dec 2021

A mere half mile from where the cruise ships dock in Nassau, Bahamas, Margaritaville opened its newest resort in July 2021. 

The resort offers day passes that cruise passengers can purchase to experience some of the resorts amenities. 

What does a Margaritaville Beach Resort day pass include, and how is the experience? Marcy visited the resort on a December 2021 cruise to check it out.

What’s included?

The day pass includes:

  • The “Fins Up” Water Park admission
  • $25 food and beverage credit
  • Private beach access (chairs first come, first serve)
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi.

Cost and Cancellation policy

The current price for the day pass is $115 per adult, $45 for children 3-12 and under 3 years old is free.

You can cancel your pass up until 11:59 p.m. the day before your arrival on their website, however, you can cancel by email up until 10 a.m. the day of your arrival. 

That’s great flexibility if the weather happens to be bad.

My experience

I booked the day pass online via the third-party website resortpass.com. 

While Margaritaville doesn’t give an exact number, it is stated on their website that they will limit the number of passes sold per day.  I received my confirmation email that stated I had to check in at the front desk with a valid photo ID.

We went to the resort on Sunday, December 19th while our Royal Caribbean cruise ship was docked in port for the day.

We decided to do the half mile walk from the ship to the resort, which took fifteen minutes (six of which was just getting out of the port). The walk between the ship and Margaritaville is relatively flat.

We arrived at the resort and headed inside to check in.  We were stopped and told the policy had changed and were directed around the corner to the water parks ticket booth.  We provided our names and were given a wristband and our $25 per person food and/or drink coupons.

The Fins Up Water Park

The water park opened at 10 am, and we were there right at opening.

The first thing I noticed was how clean it was. The park features one pool, a lazy river, a kids slide, three larger slides for all ages, one hot tub and a flow rider type ride that is a scaled down version of the ones on Royal Caribbean’s ships. 

There is also a ledge 10 feet up that you can jump off of into the 11 ft. deep pool.  That was something I had never seen before at a water park.

The pools are not heated, so being December, it was a bit chilly. However, it was a sunny day so the water felt nice. 

There’s a rock climbing wall however, it was not staffed nor did we see anyone climbing it.

Lounge chairs and beach towels are complimentary. There were also lockers located near the restroom & changing rooms. I wanted to get one so my husband and I could store our valuables and enjoy the lazy river together but we were told they were just installed and were not in use as of yet.

The complimentary WIFI was easy to access.  After signing in, a pop up message said the WIFI would only be active for a one hour window.  Ours ended up working the entire four hours we were there so I’m not really sure what the actual rule is.

The overall atmosphere was enjoyable.  There were jumbo screens on the hotel itself that played every genre of music you can think of. 

We heard everything from Bruno Mars to U2, country music, 1960’s blues, 1980’s classic rock, Christmas music from the Monkees to Mariah Carey and of course plenty of Jimmy Buffet.  The volume of the music was perfect.  It was raised but not loud to the point where you couldn’t hold a conversation.

Food and drinks

This is the area that needs the most help, especially if you want to enjoy some cocktails, or any beverage at all. 

There are two areas to get drinks while visiting. The one by the food window was closed, so there was only the main bar that had one bartender the whole time we were there.

It’s obvious they have a bit of a staffing issue.  In fact, on their website, they mention that they offer poolside food and beverage service which we did not experience.  

Make sure to bring your wallet because the food is expensive, and this is coming from someone that frequents Walt Disney World ,so I’m used to overpriced food.

We ordered a chicken wrap and a burger (both included fries) and two beverages with alcohol that totaled $85.  Remember we did have two $25 food credits so that brought it down to $35 but that just seemed very overpriced to me. 

Gratuity and VAT taxes were automatically added.  They only accepted credit cards, no cash. 

I really did enjoy my chicken wrap.  It was made to order so even though it took about 15 minutes to get the food, it was fresh and delicious.  My husband wasn’t impressed with his burger though.  It was overcooked and bland.  The drinks were very good. 

Final thoughts

Overall, I really enjoyed the day. It wasn’t crowded, I assume because not many people are aware of the day pass offer.

I love a lazy river so I could have just floated around in there all day.  My husband’s favorite activity was the ten foot jump, he said it was the best thing there.   

Would I do it again?  Maybe. It was a great day but the way I look at it, I could get a full day at CocoCay’s water park, which offers more activities for a cheaper price that also includes food.

However, if you’re looking for something new to do in Nassau, or you’re a fan of Jimmy Buffet and the Margaritaville brand, then the day pass is definitely for you. 

St Maarten Ultimate Explorer Cruise & Island Tour shore excursion review

In:
07 Dec 2021

On our port day in Sint Maarten, we decided to take a full tour of the island. This was our second visit to Sint Maarten, but the first time we had just walked around the port. We were excited to really see everything.

We were surprised that the tour didn’t start until 12:30! Normally long tours start in the morning, so we had lots of time to kill. We had ordered room service, so enjoyed that on our balcony, and people watched for a little bit, but it was hot. We got off and walked around the little port area, then we just moseyed around the ship until tour time. 

Our meet up point was right outside the ship, and then we had to walk from the pier through the little marketplace, to the bus depot. It’s about a quarter mile walk, but it is hot, so prepare yourself for that. The good news is, that’s the longest walk you will take on this tour.

All other movement is by bus or boat. Our group was big enough to need two full size tour buses, so we split up.

We really lucked out with an amazingly knowledgeable and hilarious guide:  Dominic. She kept us thoroughly entertained through the two hour bus ride around both Dutch and French sides of the island!

When we booked the tour, we did not realize the whole tour would be on the bus with no stops, but it was quite enjoyable, and we saw more of Sint Maarten than we expected. Dominic pointed out different neighborhoods, talked about the school systems, popular hangouts, etc. I loved learning about the everyday people and history of the island, and not just famous tourist spots. We also learned the differences between the two countries:  laws, currencies, languages, etc. It was so interesting!

Once we circled back around to the Dutch Side, we backed into a tiny lot in an area full of restaurants.

Now that we were stuffed full of Sint Maarten knowledge, it was time to kick back and relax on Simpson’s Bay! Both buses unloaded onto a double decker catamaran, which puttered slowly into the bay.

It was a bit windy, but we enjoyed complementary rum punch, beer, and chips while dancing to Caribbean-Remixed Adele and admiring the big shiny yachts at anchor. The guide pointed out the biggest on the bay, decked out in chrome--once owned by Steve Jobs.

While we were having a great time, it was, unfortunately, impossible to miss all of the wrecked and abandoned boats floating (some barely so) in the bay. There were a few wreckage crew out retrieving scrap metal and breaking down the boats that needed to be taken out.

It was strangely beautiful, but very sad to know that they are still collecting boats 4 years later, and that there are this many left. 

Eventually, the catamaran pulled back into the marina, and we loaded back up the buses to head back to the ship. Dominic pointed out a few more things on our way home, and then we all trudged slowly back to the pier.

We were worn out! Funny how riding in a bus makes you sleepy. I’ll include the details at the bottom of this post for your review. It’s not wheelchair accessible, but if you can get by with a walker or other mobility assist, and get up the steps of a bus and onto a boat platform, you’ll be ok. The only major walking is to and from the ship. Make sure you bring sunscreen! And eat some lunch before you go--a snack bag of Doritos does not make much of a meal.

This tour is definitely one I would recommend to newcomers to Sint Maarten, and we were very glad we chose this excursion.

Not only did we learn so much about the island, we got to see more of it than we expected, and we didn’t have to do it in separate trips. And the boat ride at the end of the day was just an absolute treat.

British Colonial Hilton day pass review

In:
06 Dec 2021

Before the global health crisis, the British Colonial Hilton was a popular shore excursion choice for many cruisers, so is the resort still a good choice now?

Nassau, Bahamas is one of those ports of call where planning ahead is important to ensure you have a good day ashore, and many readers want to know recommendations for a good tour option.

Having been to the British Colonial Hilton in the past, I wanted to know how it held up as an option to visit since the cruise industry restarted operations in 2021.

I purchased a day pass to the British Colonial Hilton for a visit in November 2021 while sailing on Odyssey of the Seas.

Overview

I bought a pass to the British Colonial Hilton through the third-party website, ResortForADay.com, which sells the day passes. You put a deposit down at the time of purchase, and pay the remainder balance upon arrival at the resort.

The price I paid was $85 per adult ($40 per kid), which is not cheap for a non-all-inclusive resort. However, that price does get you a $40 food and beverage credit per person for the adults ($20 for the kids).

Getting to the resort from the ship is super easy, because you can walk there. It is a short 10 minute walk out of the port area and along the water to the resort. It is essentially adjacent to Senor Frogs. You could take a taxi if you wanted, but the walk is pretty short.

The British Colonial Hilton advertises itself as offering the only private, white sand beach in downtown Nassau. There is also a pool you can use as well.

Day pass admission gets you:

  • Beach access
  • Beachfront swimming pool
  • Lounge chairs, umbrellas & towels
  • Non-motorized water sports: kayaks, snorkeling gear

When you arrive at the hotel, you walk into the lobby to check in.  You will need a printout of your reservation, form of identification, and a way to pay the remainder balance.  

Once check-in is complete, you are given a wristband and voucher for your food and beverage credits.

As advertised, you have access to sit wherever you like at the beach or pool.

The pool is rather large, although it lacks nearly any shade.

The beach area is wide, and there are chairs and palapas available.  Since this is a resort, hotel guests will be around and depending on the time of year, there may be more demand for chairs and umbrellas than other times.

Your food and beverage credit entitles you choice of food and drink off the menu, which helps offset the admission cost considerably. There are two issues with the food and drinks: first, the bar wasn't open at all. Instead, the towel attendant took food and drink orders, but it required you to go to his shack to place orders. He would deliver the food once it arrived. 

I can't say that is always the case these days, as I went on what seemed to be a slow afternoon in November.

In addition, the menu is not cheap. Most entrees are around $20 and a cocktail is around $15, which means that $40 credit goes very quickly.

Comments

Finding a great shore excursion in Nassau is tough right now with the port construction projects going on and the downtown area struggling to fully re-open since Covid. So a day at the British Colonial Hilton means a safe bet as to what you can do, which means something right now.

The day pass is not cheap, but in the grand scheme of Nassau excursions it comes in right in the median of tour prices, especially when you factor in the food and drink stipend you receive.

Considering the Atlantis resort is not accepting day pass guests until further notice, there is not much else that compares for families. Other Nassau resorts offering day passes all have minimum ages that preclude anyone travelling with younger kids.

The beach is great, and I thought the sand was quite soft and powdery, especially compared to the sand at CocoCay

If you are at all concerned a day at the British Colonial Hilton has changed or degraded at all since cruises restarted, the answer is no. I found my visit to be very much inline with past trips here, and it delivered on a conveniently located beach and pool day.

The two issues I have with the British Colonial Hilton is the lack of shade by the pool, and the high prices for food and drink. 

I got around these problems by grabbing a seat near the shuttered pool bar, which had shade, and only ordering enough food to use up my credits.

The food was pretty good, but overpriced.

If you want a beach and/or pool day while your cruise ship is in Nassau, Bahamas, the British Colonial Hilton remains a good choice, especially for families.

Cost: $85 per adult, $40 per child (ages 6-12. Children 5 and under are free).

What to do if Royal Caribbean's shore excursions are sold out

In:
11 Nov 2021

One of the impactful changes to going on a cruise due to Covid-19 are the rules related to shore excursions, which can mean limited options for those traveling with unvaccinated passengers.

St. Kitts | Royal Caribbean Blog

As of now, Royal Caribbean requires anyone getting off a ship in a port of call to be on a tour booked with the cruise line if they have someone unvaccinated in the group. This means families with unvaccinated children cannot book their own tours, or wander around the port area.

Hopefully this rule gets rolled back soon, but in the meantime it can lead to an issue of trying to find a shore excursion when there are limited options that easily sell out among what Royal Caribbean offers.

Here are some alternatives and tips for what to do if you find yourself with many Royal Caribbean shore excursions sold out.

Leave the kids onboard the ship

Photos: Voyager of the Seas completes $97 million renovation | Royal Caribbean Blog

Not all families will be able or interested in doing this, but you can leave your children on the ship with Adventure Ocean.

Adventure Ocean is always open any hours your Royal Caribbean ship is in port. In fact, they will even open up early if you have a Royal Caribbean tour booked that requires an early morning departure.

By leaving your kids in Adventure Ocean, the vaccinated people in your group can explore on your own via a private tour or just walking around.

Another option is to leave the unvaccinated kids onboard under the supervision of an adult in the group. Perhaps that person is not interested in disembarking, or is simply doing a favor for everyone else.

Book a tour on your own

First and foremost, if the tours Royal Caribbean is offering are either sold out or not to your liking, going on your own is the natural next option.

Fully vaccinated passengers can choose between a tour on their own or a Royal Caribbean excursion, so booking something on your own (or even just walking around and exploring at your leisure without an organized tour) is a good option.

The key to finding a reputable and fun tour to do through a third party is to do research ahead of time before your cruise departs.

Read moreHow to book third party excursions

Book a tour with Private Journeys

A relatively new and lesser-known option is Private Journeys, which offers private tours that are organized by Royal Caribbean.

Private Journeys is a shore excursion option offered directly by Royal Caribbean, where guests can create a completely customized shore excursion in any port your ship visits.  You provide Private Journeys with an idea or basis of what you want to do, and then they work with local tour guides to come up with an excursion.

In the weeks and months leading up to your cruise, you and your Private Journeys representative will custom craft a tour for you and your family.  Just like a group tour, these tour operators are vetted and organized by the cruise line.  All you have to do, is show up.

I have tried Private Journeys twice (in Belize and Curacao), and think it is a great choice for anyone that wants to tour at their own pace, and like the benefits of what Royal Caribbean provides.

Check back later

The premise of this post is about what to do if the shore excursion you want is sold out already, but you should check back periodically to see if it becomes available.

People cancel tours all the time, so if someone were to cancel their excursion, the option to book it would be re-enabled again for anyone to book.

In addition, Royal Caribbean may add additional inventory online or on the ship. There is no way to know with certainty what to expect, but you should keep an eye to see if the tour comes back as a bookable option online.

If all else fails, consider going to the Shore Excursion desk to see if there is any additional space, or to be put on a waitlist.

Read more7 things worth checking again on a Royal Caribbean cruise

Excursion Focus: Chacchoben Ruins in Costa Maya

In:
16 Sep 2021

If your next cruise docks in Costa Maya, Mexico, don’t hesitate to book an excursion to the Chacchoben Ruins. Located about an hour’s drive from the cruise port, Chacchoben is an archaeological site estimated to have been settled around 200 B.C. On the site are three excavated pyramids kept in excellent condition, as well as various smaller ruins to explore.

On my recent Western Caribbean sailing, I was torn between a beach day at Maya Chan or heading inland to the Chacchoben ruins. Ultimately, since I would be spending the following day at the Nachi Cocom Beach Club in Cozumel, I decided to book an excursion to Chacchoben.

I had never heard of the archeological site before and was not sure what to expect. However, I left the site extremely impressed by this fascinating look at Mayan history. Here’s what you can expect on a visit to Chacchoben.

Overview

The Chacchoben ruins are part of an ancient Mayan city, with structures dating around 700 A.D. Chacchoben remained a ceremonial site for Mayans until 1847, at which point the Caste War began, leading to the eventual abandonment of the site. Forgotten for decades, the ruins were re-discovered in 1942 by a local farmer who built his home on the site.

The ruins have since been excavated and opened to the public. Today, visitors can walk around the beautiful jungle path at Chacchoben and encounter the pyramids, ancient plazas, and the tropical flora and fauna in the region. Our guide informed us that jaguars live nearby, but luckily we did not encounter any!

There are also several hills and mounds on the site covered in vegetation. These are presumed to be pyramids or other structures, and it was fascinating to see first-hand how the ruins were once hidden under the jungle.

Climbing to the top of the pyramids is not allowed, although there are certain areas where visitors can take photos on the pyramids. There is also a tall set of ancient steps visitors climb to reach two of the pyramids on the site.

Comments

I booked my tour through a Royal Caribbean shore excursion, making my time in port stress-free. The tour lasted a total of four hours. After checking in with the guide at the shore excursions tent, our group got on an air-conditioned bus and began the drive through rural Mexico to the Chacchoben.

We had an excellent local guide who informed us about Mayan culture and history in the region. While you could technically visit the site on your own, having a guide provided a more in-depth look at the ruins and he was able to answer any questions I had. Interestingly enough, his first language was a Mayan dialect and he even taught our group a few phrases!

Our tour group consisted of a wide range of age groups and each group seemed to thoroughly enjoy the excursion. While a historical tour might not seem as appealing to kids as a water park or beach, the kids in our group seemed captivated by the ruins. They particularly seemed to enjoy climbing up and down the stairs and searching for monkeys in the trees.

I was impressed with the condition and size of the pyramids. I also appreciated that visitors were not allowed to climb to the top of the pyramids, as this shows that an importance is placed on maintaining the site’s condition.

Much of the site is covered in lush rainforest which (thankfully) blocks the sun. The walking paths around the site were gorgeous, and our guide pointed out unique trees and plants the Mayans used for medicine and wellness. Food was not provided on this tour, but snacks and refreshments were available at the entrance to Chacchoben. Water was provided to all guests.

Overall, I was happy with my decision to book a Royal Caribbean shore excursion to the Chacchoben ruins. At $89 a person, I appreciated that all logistics were taken care of, including providing a knowledgeable guide. And as our time in Costa Maya was short (11AM - 6PM), I felt comfortable knowing the ship would wait for us if we ran into anything unexpected along the way.

And, while short, my time in Costa Maya was beautiful and historically enriching. I am already looking forward to returning and exploring more of what the port has to offer.

Nachi Cocom 2021 Cozumel excursion review

In:
14 Sep 2021

One of the most popular all-inclusive beach resorts in Cozumel for cruise ship passengers is Nachi Cocom Beach Club, but how does the resort hold up following the cruise industry shutdown?

For years, the resort was one of the best and highly recommended spots for cruisers who wanted to enjoy a beach day that included all the food and drink they could want, with the added bonus of having a limited capacity. Unlike other beach resorts in Cozumel, Nachi promised a hard cap of 130 guests per day.

I wanted to see if Nachi is still as good as I remember it, and if many months without cruise ship guests impacted the experience at all. 

I visited Nachi Cocom in September 2021 while sailing on Odyssey of the Seas to check it out for myself.

Overview

Nachi Cocom Beach Club is about a 15 minute taxi ride away from where Royal Caribbean docks its ships, and it has among the best reputations for an all-inclusive beach day. For a group of 5, it cost $23 each way via taxi.

Guests can choose between the beach, pool and hot tub, while enjoying unlimited food and beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic).

The facilities include:

  • ocean view swimming pool with swim-up bar
  • Large Jacuzzi
  • Beach chairs with your own palapa
  • Large restaurant area if you prefer to dine there
  • Beach bar
  • Restrooms
  • Hammocks
  • Fresh water showers
  • Wifi internet

When you arrive at Nachi, you take a group photo that can be purchased later if you wish, and then you check-in. Reservations are highly recommended because the resort can easily sell out. You can make a deposit online and pay the remainder when you arrive.

At the time of review, the cost of admission was:

  • Adult (16 years old and over): $59 per person
  • Child 12-15 years old: $45 per person
  • Child 04-11 years old: $19 per person
  • Infant 3 and under: $0

After being checked-in, you will be escorted to a palapa of your choice along the beach. 

As is the custom with almost every all-inclusive resort in Cozumel I have been to, there is a waiter assigned to you that can handle all of your requests for food and drink.

The beach is pristine and has soft sand.  There is a large water front that is mostly free of any large rocks, so getting in and out of the water was easy. 

The water clarity and color was not as good as previous trips, but that has more to do with the weather and you can expect likely better conditions when you visit.

One thing Nachi does not have is any sort of inflatable water toys that other beach resorts in Cozumel offer.

Nachi does not offer activities, but they do partner with a third-party company that offers beach massages, water sport rentals, parasailing and more.  The representatives for this company can be found roaming the beach, if you so choose.

There is a large pool you can go to at any time as well. Seating outside the pool is limited, with a few tables that offer little shade.

There are two bars at Nachi: the beach bar and the pool bar.

Your waiter can bring you anything you want to your beach chair, but some people like to sit at the bar.

You will find a menu of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks to enjoy throughout the day, such as beers, cocktails, mixed drinks and more.

Comments

The only questions I had coming into my visit to Nachi Cocom was is it still as good as I recall from previous visits, and were there any noticeable changes following cruise ships returning again.

The answer is I did not see anything out of the ordinary, and I was pleasantly surprised how similar things are to before the shutdown.

Guests were instructed to keep their face masks on when they initially walked in and while being checked in.  After that, masks could be removed.

Nachi delivers on two basic promises: unlimited food and drink and a hard capacity on how many guests can be there. On the day I visited, there were quite a few people at the resort, although most seemed to be there from the Carnival Cruise Line ship that was in Cozumel that day as well.  After lunch, most guests had departed.

Anyone looking for a relaxing place to enjoy unlimited food and drink at the beach will find Nachi among the best choices. Their pool is larger than I remembered, but not nearly as large as Paradise Beach.

The food was great and had a mix of American and Mexican dishes. The Mexican food was freshly prepared, and while not the most authentic Mexican fare, it was certainly better than anything I run across back in the United States.

If you had to find fault with Nachi, it would be it lacks the inflatable toys many families look for in a beach day.  If that is important to you, Mr. Sanchos or Paradise Beach would be better options.

In short, Nachi Cocom is still a great choice for anyone that wants to enjoy a beach day with as much to eat and drink as they like. The price for adults remains a great value, especially if you will have a few drinks during your stay.

Grand Lucayan resort day pass in Freeport

In:
13 Jul 2021

One of the highest rated places to spend a day while your cruise is I. Freeport, Grand Bahama Island is the Grand Lucayan resort. What is it like spending your day there, and is it worth it?

Royal Caribbean is in negotiations to purchase this resort as the centerpiece for a massive new project, but in the meantime the resort is in a state of limbo as most of it remains shutdown. 

Nonetheless, the Grand Lucayan is a compelling choice for a shore excursion for families looking to spend the day by the beach or pool. 

Overview

The Grand Lucayan resort has a long history as the premier hotel on Grand Bahama Island, but lapses in ownership combined with hurricane damage have left the resort in a less than ideal situation. The resort is owned by the Bahamian government at the moment, although Royal Caribbean has intentions to purchase the resort and transform it into a new world-class destination with a one-of-a-kind hotel, convention center, water adventure park and more.

In the meantime, the Grand Lucayan is split among two resorts: The Grand Lucayan and Lighthouse Pointe at Grand Lucayan.  Currently, only Lighthouse Pointe is open.

Cruise ship passengers can purchase an all-inclusive day pass to the resort by calling the resort directly. At the time we visited, the day pass rate is $75 per adult, and $65 for kids.

The all inclusive option includes food and drinks at all the restaurants at Lighthouse Pointe, house wines by the glass, local beers, and bottled beers and some premium liquors.

Perrier Water, Vitamin water, Gatorade, Wine by the bottle, and top shelf brands are not included.

You also have to pay for a taxi to get to or from the resort, which costs about $35 each way.

Like most hotels that offer a day pass, you check-in at the front desk and are given wristbands for use during the day.

The two big things that the Grand Lucayan offers is a large infinity pool and sprawling beach.

There is also a lap pool and hot tub you can use. Kids are not allowed in the hot tub.

The beach was manicured and groomed, with little debris around. While it was overcast on the day we visited, the ocean was lovely and the sand at the beach was powdery soft.

There are lots of chairs and umbrellas near the pool, and a few chairs under palapas at the beach. On the day we visited, there was no waiter service, but there is a nearby bar that opened at 11am to get drinks and food.

The pool bar has a menu of burgers, wings, fish and salads to choose from.  I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food.

All the food and drinks we ordered were included with the all inclusive option, so it was just a matter of signing off for what we ordered for the pool bar's record keeping.

Comments

Being a day guest, the resort delivered exactly what it advertised: a relaxing day by the pool or beach with food and drinks to enjoy.

Clearly the resort is in need of upkeep, and in the case of the other side of the resort, a major gutting and rework.  It sounds like if Royal Caribbean completes the deal to purchase the resort, that will be in the plan.

On our visit, it was quite strange that there were barely any other guests around at all. For the first hour or two, we did not see anyone else at the beach or pool.

By the time we departed the resort, we saw perhaps 10 other guests in total. That is not a bad thing, as we got to enjoy the facilities without any crowds, chair hogs, or large groups.  But if you are looking for a lively party atmosphere, it was not there.

Like any all inclusive option, the question comes up of getting your money's worth.  I enjoyed the facilities, but I am quite certain we did not break even on the food or drink included.

Overall, I was happy with our time hanging by the pool, and walking by the ocean. Our ship's time in port (7:00am to 3:30pm) made for a short visit, but it was a nice day.

Why shore excursions are the big change to cruises you aren't thinking about

In:
09 Nov 2020

The cruise industry is undergoing a lot of changes that will fundamentally change how we approach cruises, and how we plan and book shore excursions is going to be among the most impactful.

While Royal Caribbean has not divulged its full list of new rules guests can expect when cruises resume in North America, limitations on shore excursions are a likely component to the cruise that could see big changes.

There are two compelling reasons to believe changes to how guests book and take shore excursions are coming, and what you should be doing now to prepare for it.

Healthy Sail Panel recommendations

The basis for the entire cruise industry's approach to a safe return to cruising are the 74 recommendations by the Healthy Sail Panel.

Over the summer, Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings created the Healthy Sail Panel of health experts to create a framework for cruises to operate safely.

Five of the recommendations deal specifically with shore excursions, and a limitation on what tours guests can do is a major part of panel's recommendations.

Once guests get on a cruise, if the multi-layered approach to mitigating the spread of the virus does its job, that means the only real way to potentially introduce the virus on the ship is during port calls.

The panel recommends "during the initial return to sailing", any cruise line only allow guests to get off of a cruise ship if they, "participate in cruise line-sponsored or verified excursions as a way of limiting potential exposures in the destinations they visit."

Not only that, the Panel recommends should even go to the length of offering indoor excursions only if physical distancing, use of masks, and other recommended protective measures can be implemented.

What this all means is there are going to be limited shore excursions during the initial restart of cruises, and more competition among guests for tickets for tours.

It should be noted that Royal Caribbean has not yet formalized these Healthy Sail Panel recommendations into cruise line rules, but considering how heavily the cruise industry is leaning on the Healthy Sail Panel recommendations as their basis for being allowed to restart cruises, it is more likely (than unlikely) that these will become rules.

European cruises

The other big reason why you should expect a change in shore excursions is based on the first cruises that restarted in Europe.

MSC Cruises was the early champion of limiting tours to cruise line sponsored tours only, even going as far as to not allow one family back onboard the ship after they deviated from a tour.

Similar to the Healthy Sail Panel, MSC Cruises laid out a series of new rules and protocols aimed to keep guests safe onboard the ships, as well as prevent the spread of COVID-19. This includes requiring guests only go ashore as part of an organized MSC Cruises’ excursion.

Just last month, Carnival Corporation brand AIDA Cruises prohibited a guest from returning from a shore excursion while in Catania, Italy because he left the organized tour group.

Both of these examples are important because the European cruises that have restarted sailing have largely been viewed as a success, due to the stringent new rules.

What you can do now

Shore excursions have always been a major part of the overall cruise experience, and in the next few months, how you approach planning tours is likely to change.

First and foremost, I would recommend not booking any shore excursions through a third party company until Royal Caribbean clearly specifies its plans for shore excursions.  If you feel compelled to still book a tour, be sure you can cancel for a full refund.

Next, you will want to keep an eye on the Cruise Planner site, where you can pre-book shore excursions prior to the sailing beginning.  If guests are going to be limited to cruise line tours, demand for them is sure to rise and that means excursions are likely to sell out faster than before.

Conversely, the other factor that may reduce the need to book tours as soon as possible is the fact Royal Caribbean will sail with a limited capacity initially.

Each ship will have its own capacity (which has not been divulged by the cruise line), but less people on a ship means less competition than what we may be used to with shore excursion bookings.

Nonetheless, it is a good idea to plan ahead more than ever for shore excursions. Not only will it allow you to guard against a tour selling out, you will also be able to take advantage of pre-cruise sales that discount the shore excursion's onboard price.

The first sailings back will visit Perfect Day at CocoCay only, but eventually cruises will stop at other ports of call, and this strategy will be important.

Limited tours are not forever

If you are reading all of this and upset at the changes, take solace in the fact these protocols are not intended to be in place indefinitely.

Royal Caribbean and the Healthy Sail Panel have said many of the new protocols are intended to be temporary, and when conditions around the world improve, these protocols can be relaxed and/or removed entirely.

The Healthy Sail Panel was sure to note the limitation in shore excursions was only meant for the initial return to sailing.

Universal Studios Orlando set to re-open on June 5

In:
22 May 2020

Universal Studios Orlando announced it will officially re-open to the public on June 5, 2020.

 

The popular Orlando theme park is a partner of Royal Caribbean International, with many vacation packages and shore excursions offered by the cruise line.

Universal Orlando released a statement on Friday that Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, and Universal’s Volcano Bay will open to the public on June 5th.

The theme park reopening was approved by Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

With the announcement comes new protocols, as well as a reminder for all guests to adhere to CDC guidelines and the guidance of health officials.  Specifically,  guests and team members must wear face coverings and undergo temperature checks. Those with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or greater will not be able to enter.

Other protocols include:

  • Staggered parking in the parking garage.
  • Daily limit on park attendance, as well as limit on people on each attraction.
    • Virtual lines will be available for select attractions.
  • Social distancing will be enforced throughout the parks including within attraction queues and at restaurants. Increased cleaning and disinfection of food locations, ride vehicles, and other “touch points.”
  • Cashless payments and “no touch” policies where possible.

Is it better to book excursions through the cruise ship?

In:
26 Feb 2020

Should you book your shore excursions through Royal Caribbean, or should you book tours on your own? There are advantages to both strategies, as well as important considerations to be aware of as well.

There is a good argument to be made for doing either one, so here is what you need to know about booking shore excursions and if you are better off going through the cruise line.

Why you should book an excursion through Royal Caribbean

Booking your shore excursion through the cruise line provides the safety net of knowing a few important facts about any tour you choose.

Tours are vetted

Royal Caribbean stands behind the excursions they offer, which means they have certified the tour operator provides the proper equipment, performs the tour in a safe environment with proper gear, as well as providing an authentic experience.

If you are doing a tour that involves boats, airplanes or helicopters, the knowledge that Royal Caribbean stands behind this tour provides some guests with the good feeling that the operator has been properly vetted for safety.

Moreover, Royal Caribbean has actively been working with tour operators to be sustainable operations, which align with international standards for sustainability developed by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC).

Basically, the tours offered by Royal Caribbean are reputable and well-run.

Read: How to book a Royal Caribbean shore excursion

You will not be left behind

Perhaps the most compelling reason to book a shore excursion through the cruise ship is the promise if the tour runs late or is delayed, Royal Caribbean will get you back on the ship.

Royal Caribbean coordinates with the tour operators around the ship's schedule to minimize any risk of the ship needing to leave for the next destination without you onboard.

When you book a shore excursion through Royal Caribbean, they guarantee that if your tour is delayed, the ship will wait for you. In the unlikely event that your tour is significantly delayed, and the ship cannot wait, Royal Caribbean will make all the arrangements for you to return to the ship at no expense to you.

If you tour on your own, the ship will not wait, as it is your responsibility to be onboard before the ship's scheduled departure time.

Convenience

Booking a shore excursion through Royal Caribbean is super simple, with a one-stop shop for browsing tours via the Cruise Planner site.

You can view all the options in one place, and compare tour options before booking.  You can even apply onboard credit towards a particular excursion!

As a consumer, it is very nice to have one place to see all the options presented in an easy-to-understand manner.

Why you should book excursions independently or tour on your own

Greater variety of choices

No matter what Royal Caribbean does, they can never match the amount of options you can consider by booking a tour independently or booking a shore excursion on your own.

In every port you visit, there are a multitude of tour operators available beyond what the cruise line can offer. Moreover, you may simply want to walk around on your own and forgo an organized tour. Either way, you will find more options and combinations if you book on your own than through the cruise line.

In the Caribbean, one of my favorite family excursions is to book an all-inclusive resort day pass [link contains affiliate link, which costs you nothing extra!]. Not only are most of these unavailable through Royal Caribbean, they are great values and a lot of fun.

Lower prices

In general, you may be able to save money by booking similar tours to what the cruise line offers because there is "middle man".  Royal Caribbean sells these tours, but they are operated by someone else, and that means Royal Caribbean is getting a cut of the profits.  

With so many tour operators competing to offer similar excursions, booking a shore excursion through a third party means you may be able to find a lower price for the same trek.

As long as you research the company you are working with, and provide yourself enough time to get back to the ship on time, it can make a lot of sense to book an independent shore excursion that would otherwise cost you more money onboard.

Read: How to save money on cruise excursions

Smaller groups

Shore excursions sold by the cruise ship have a tendency to be large groups, which means you move at the group pace instead of your own.

By booking an independent tour, you may be able to find a tour with a smaller group or even a private tour all together. This means you may be able to see more, or at the very least get around at a faster pace.

Moreover, going with a private guide you can get more personalized information about where you are going, as well as catering to what you want.

It should be noted that Royal Caribbean does offer its own brand of private shore excursions, known as Private Journeys.

You prefer to walk around on your own

In some ports, getting around is very easy without any tour at all.

If your ship visits a city where you dock very close to the downtown area, it may be quite simple to bring a walking tour and explore on your own.  Not only will this be cheaper than any tour, it allows you to easily get around to visit shops, museums, cafes or historic monuments.

Not all ports may qualify for this, but places like San Francisco, Old San Juan or Barcelona are excellent ports of call to go the DIY route.

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