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First Time Cruisers

Cruise FAQ: Saving Money

In:
23Mar2021

Whether you're on a strict vacation planning budget or have unlimited funds, it's great to feel like you've scored the most bang for your buck.

We've noted your burning questions about saving money on cruises. Check out the answers below, and find out how to hold on to more of your hard-earned cash.

How can I save money on a cruise?

The easiest thing you can do is familiarize yourself with standard cruise pricing across the industry so you'll know a good deal when you see one. If you need help, sign up for price drop alerts -- Cruise Critic, Cruise Watch, Cruiseline and Cruise Fish offer them -- that will tell you when fares have decreased.

You can also sign up for cruise line newsletters that will alert you to special deals and promotions on that voyage you've been eyeing.

Additionally, if you live near a cruise port and have a flexible schedule, be on the lookout for last-minute resident rates.

Another trick, partiuclarly if you don't anticipate spending much time in your room, is to book a less-swanky cabin. Choose an inside or oceanview stateroom instead of a balcony, for example.

For further savings after you're already onboard, you can book your next sailing while you're still on the present one. Most cruise ships have a future cruise desk, where cruise line representatives will almost always try to entice you to make a new reservation by reducing or waiving deposits or throwing in extras like dining, drink packages or onboard credit.

You can also seek to save a few bucks by reserving shore excursions that are independent of the cruise line. If spa treatments are your thing, ask about discounts for booking more than one, or make an appointment for a service on a port day, when services are often cheaper because most cruisers are ashore.

Working with a travel agent is another great way to increase value for money....

Can a travel agent save you money on a cruise?

Although travel agents can't offer discounts on cruise fares below what the cruise lines themselves are offering, they can toss in perks like onboard credit, free alternative dining, or beverage or Wi-Fi packages.

You won't see a reduction in the amount you pay for your cabin, but you will be receiving more value for your money. This is also true in terms of peace of mind. If something goes wrong your sailing, you have a professional point person to handle the mess on your behalf.

Read more10 Secrets Royal Caribbean travel agents wish you knew

What should you not buy on a cruise?

  • Duty-free items: Sometimes duty-free purchases are a bargain, but often you're better off buying alcohol, jewelry and other pricey items at home instead, especially if they're brands that are easy to find elsewhere. On Europe sailings, for example, you won't pay duty, but you will pay VAT, which generally wipes out any savings you might have earned via a duty-free transaction.
  • Drink of the day glasses: Sure, drinks of the day are yummy, but did you know you can often save a couple of dollars if you ask for the same beverage without the souvenir glass? (Trust us: You won't use it again, probably because it will break in your luggage on the way home.)
  • For more, check out our longer list of other items not to buy on a cruise.

Is it better to book directly with a cruise line?

Although booking with your cruise line will eliminate the middle man, you won't get a cheaper price, and it's not always the best idea in terms of value.

Travel agents cannot discount fares further than what the cruise line is offering, but they can make sure you get the same price and help you to score extras -- like onboard credit or free alcohol -- that will add value to what you get for your money.

Read moreTop things you didn't know travel agents can do for your cruise vacation

Can you negotiate cruise prices?

No, cruise lines don't negotiate. However, prices often fluctuate with demand, seasonality and other variables, so the best way for you to find the lowest fares is to monitor pricing over several months before booking anything.

Some cruise lines do allow passengers to bid on cabin upgrades if there are unsold rooms available as the sailing date approaches. If you are offered the chance to bid, you can enter a dollar amount that you think the upgrade is worth, but there's no guarantee you'll get it for that price if it's too low or if someone else outbids you.

Read moreHow to get cheap cruise deals

Is it cheaper to prepay gratuities on a cruise?

No. Each cruise line has a set per-person, per-day amount that it will charge to each cruiser's onboard account, based on the type of cabin in which they're staying. That amount doesn't increase or decrease based on when the gratuities are paid.

However, you can often find cruise deals that include gratuities in the fares, which means you'll see a bit more value from the booking.

Read moreShould you prepay gratuities for a Royal Caribbean cruise?

What happens if I book a cruise and the price goes down?

If you haven't yet reached the end of the final payment window, you can call your travel agent or cruise line to ask for a price adjustment. Generally they will oblige.

If you've already paid for your cruise in full, you can work with your cruise line to see if, given the circumstances, they might offer you an upgrade.

If that doesn't work, you could book the sailing at the new, lower price and cancel the original booking. However, if you've already made final payment, you'll lose a portion of your money, so the key is to make sure the savings on your new booking will outweigh the money you lose when you cancel the original one.

Also be sure to check that you won't be losing any value adds or promotions -- onboard credit, included gratuities, etc. -- that might have been associated with the original reservation, as there's no guarantee they'll still be available for the new one.

Read moreHow Royal Caribbean will let you take advantage of a price drop up until 48 hours before your cruise

What is the cheapest month to take a cruise?

The cheapest time to cruise is during hurricane season, the period of time between June and November when hurricanes are most likely to occur in the Atlantic.

If you book a cruise to the Bahamas or Caribbean during that timeframe, be aware that itineraries can and will be altered if bad weather poses a threat to passenger safety, and passengers are not entitled to compensation if that happens.

Read moreWhat is the cheapest month to go on a cruise?

Do cruises get cheaper closer to departure?

Yes, but it won't be widely publicized. This is particularly true for higher-end cabins, so if you have your heart set on a suite or balcony stateroom, don't bank on finding a deal a month before sailing.

The best way to find out about discounts on unsold rooms is to ask your travel agent to let you know of any deals they spot, sign up for price drop alerts, and be on the lookout for last-minute resident deals if you live near a cruise port.

Read moreHow far in advance should I book a cruise to get the best price?

How much cash should you bring on a cruise?

The payment system on modern cruise ships is cashless. Before you embark, you'll either tie a set amount of cash or a credit card to your onboard account. You will then be given a room key that also functions as your onboard charge card.

However, you should still bring some small bills for tipping luggage porters at embarkation, crew members who deliver your bags and room service to your cabin, and tour guides and transportation operators you think have done a particularly good job during any shore excursions you take.

Although daily gratuities are automatically added to your onboard account, you might also choose to tip extra in cash to crew members who have been particularly helpful. These amounts are totally at your discretion.

Finally, cash is useful in port if you're hoping to buy souvenirs. If you're going somewhere that takes U.S. dollars, withdraw money before you board, as ship ATMs are notorious for exorbitant surcharges. If you're cruising someplace (like Europe) that won't take USD, wait until you get there, and find an ATM in port that will dispense local currency at a much better exchange rate than the airport kiosks.

Cruise FAQ: Dining

In:
20Mar2021

Let's face it: Dining is as essential to the cruise experience as the ocean itself. Despite the ubiquitous nature of food on cruise ships, passengers have plenty of questions about the logistics of it all.

Here, for your reading pleasure, is a compilation of the most frequently asked questions about dining on cruises.

How does dining work on a cruise?

All major cruise lines' ships include three types of dining in their cruise fares.

First, travelers looking for something quick and casual can enjoy breakfast, lunch, dinner and between-meal snacks at the self-serve onboard buffet. It's free and generally includes several stations with a selection of cuisines. This option affords a ton of choice, making it great for picky eaters or cruisers with dietary restrictions.

Second, each ship will also have at least one main dining room (MDR), which offers less-casual waiter-served meals from a set menu each day.

The MDR is always open for dinner, and depending on the cruise line, passengers will have their choice of set seating or anytime dining (an assigned dining time at the same table with the same waiter each night, versus dining any time between set hours at the first available table). If you choose the former, you might also end up sharing a table with other cruisers.

Third, room service is available nearly around the clock on most ships. While most charge for deliveries between certain hours, breakfast is usually included in the price of your cruise.

You can order it by filling out the order form in your cabin and hanging it outside your cabin door before you go to sleep. (It's a nice service on port days when you might be crunched for time before early-morning excursions.) Keep a few small bills handy for delivery tips.

Just about every ship also has a number of alternative eateries onboard. The larger the ship, the more options you'll have. Although some are gratis, most come with additional costs. 

The culinary staffs on most mainstream cruise lines' ships are adept at catering to special dietary requirements. If you're a vegan or vegetarian, you've got food allergies, you keep kosher or you're on a special diabetic or low-sodium diet, simply let your cruise line know when you book your sailing, and the onboard chefs will work with you to come up with some tasty options.

Read moreTop Ten Royal Caribbean Dining Tips

Is dining free on a cruise?

As mentioned above, dining is free at the buffet and in the main dining room. Room service breakfast is also complimentary on most vessels.

Nearly all ships feature a selection of alternative restaurants, as well. While some are included in the price, others levy either a set per-person fee or a la carte charges. Check with your cruise line for more details and pricing.

Read moreWhat's included in your Royal Caribbean cruise fare

Do I have to dress up for dinner on a cruise?

Each cruise line's dress code is different. Sailings used to be luxurious vacations where passengers yearned to dress to the nines, but that's often no longer the case. As such, many brands' formal nights have been made optional or downgraded to, simply, "elegant."

Usually voyages of a week or less in length will host one dress-up night, when passengers can feel free to wear anything from a sun dress or nice slacks with button-down shirts to ball gowns and full tuxedos. Longer sailings may have additional opportunities to get dolled up.

A standard rule of thumb is to avoid jeans on these nights, or you might be asked to dine in the buffet instead.

Otherwise, resort casual attire (including nice jeans) is acceptable. Most lines just ask that passengers refrain from wearing shorts, T-shirts, flip-flops, swimwear and baseball caps to dinner at any time.

Read moreTen Royal Caribbean dining mistakes

Can I wear jeans to dinner on a cruise?

Yes, you can wear nice jeans (no holes) as long as it's not formal or elegant night. On those nights, jeans are not allowed in the main dining rooms on most ships.

Can you eat whenever you want on a cruise?

For the most part, food is available around the clock on most ships. Even in the middle of the night, you can order room service (for a fee) or pick up free late-night nibbles at the buffet or from the 24-hour pizza shops found on many vessels.

With the number of alternative restaurants available onboard and readily available cafe baked goods and soft-serve ice cream machines, there's almost always something to help you feel less peckish between meals.

For dinner, you'll be assigned to a specific time if you select set seating and choose to eat in the main dining room. Otherwise, you can make reservations at alternative restaurants for times that best suit you or roll up to the buffet or poolside barbecue whenever you'd like (during their hours of operation, of course).

Read moreHow to eat healthy while on a Royal Caribbean cruise

What happens to leftover food on cruise ships?

The people responsible for provisioning cruise ships have the logistics down to a science, so there's little waste.

Ships are equipped with extensive below-deck areas for dry storage, as well as freezers and refrigerators that keep everything at the appropriate temperatures so nothing spoils. Food ingredients left over from one sailing are simply used on the next one.

Leftover prepared food is disposed of in several ways, which include incineration, offloading in port as compost or fertilizer, and grinding it until it's liquefied enough to be released into the ocean (far away from land) as fish food.

Are drinks free on a cruise?

Basic beverages -- tap water, iced and hot tea, drip coffee, lemonade and some juices (with breakfast) -- are included in the price of your cruise.

Soda, bottled water, specialty coffees, smoothies, milkshakes, most juices, energy drinks and alcohol cost extra. If you plan to drink a lot of these, cruise lines sell beverage packages for a set per-person daily charge that can offer a cost savings if you drink enough.

You'll have to do the math to determine whether purchasing a package would be worth the money.

Read moreWhat drinks are included with your Royal Caribbean cruise?

Do cruises have room service?

Yes, all mainstream oceangoing cruise lines feature some sort of room service. Most offer basic breakfast items for free, but you might have to pay extra for fare from the expanded breakfast and all-day menus. Most late-night orders also incur nominal fees.

Although not required, it's polite (and appreciated) to tip a dollar or two to the person who delivers your order.

Read more25 must-read Royal Caribbean dining secrets

Cruise FAQ: Weather

In:
18Mar2021

Few things can put a damper on a cruise like bad weather. At their best, poor conditions can mean that your fun day in port is rained out; at their worst, your itinerary could be heavily altered or canceled completely.

When it comes to weather, you've got questions, and we've got the answers. Read on to find out what to expect. 

Will a cruise line cancel a cruise due to weather?

The safety of passengers and crew is always the top priority, so if weather conditions are severe enough to warrant it, yes, cruise lines will cancel sailings. If that happens before you set sail, you will be given a full refund.

However, because cancellations result in unhappy passengers and a logistical nightmare -- not to mention a financial hit -- for cruise lines, ships will most often attempt to reroute if bad weather is on the way.

That could mean something as simple as swapping the order of ports on the itinerary, canceling certain calls altogether or switching the sailing region completely from, say, a Caribbean voyage to one that instead visits Canada and New England.

It's crucial for passengers to understand that they should prepare to roll with the changes.

Alterations made to the planned cruise schedule because of weather are beyond cruise line control and, therefore, affected travelers are not entitled to compensation. (This is one of many solid reasons to purchase travel insurance.)

Can cruise ships withstand storms?

Modern cruise ships are equipped with the latest technology to help them anticipate storms. Officers on the bridge carefully track and monitor any systems that creep up, allowing them to quickly maneuver their vessels out of the way.

Additionally, some lines have their very own shoreside meteorologists (such as Royal Caribbean's James Van Fleet) and command centers to assist with weather predictions and relay important information to all ships that are sailing in the area. 

Should a ship be caught in a storm, there are several safety mechanisms in place to help it stay afloat.

Cruise ships are built to include stabilizers, which minimize the rolling (side-to-side leaning) passengers feel in choppy seas. Vessels are also constructed with water-tight bulkheads that seal off areas where unwanted water might enter, as well as water expulsion systems that allow H2O to be pumped out of the vessel to make it more buoyant or from one side of the ship to the other to further minimize rolling.

Ultimately, most ships would have to list more than 60 degrees to either side in order to be in danger of sinking -- something that, to date, hasn't ever happened to a modern cruise ship as a result of weather conditions.

Read moreThings not to worry about on a Royal Caribbean cruise

What happens if it rains on a cruise?

Unfortunately, cruise lines can't control the weather, and rain happens. You're entitled to pout, but what you're not entitled to is compensation for bad weather, so don't expect a refund for your sailing -- even a partial one.

When it does precipitate, crew do their best to swab the decks and put down non-slip mats to reduce the risk of passengers' falling.

If conditions are bad enough, some outdoor attractions like surf simulators and rock climbing walls may be shut down until the rain stops and the crew deems them safe to use again. But don't worry -- you'll find plenty of onboard activities taking place inside, so you won't be bored on sea days.

On port days, excursions might be canceled. If that's the case and you booked your tour through your cruise line, your money will be refunded. If you booked independently through a third party or directly through your tour operator, you'll have to check with them to ask about cancellations and refund policies.

If you haven't booked an excursion and don't feel like traipsing around with an umbrella all day, you can either seek out something fun to do inside, such as a museum tour or shopping, or you can simply elect to stay onboard and take advantage of a less crowded ship (and, often, spa discounts).

Read more: Help! It's supposed to rain my entire cruise!

Do you feel waves on a cruise ship?

Some cruisers are more sensitive to ship movement than others, but you're sure to feel at least some minor movement while cruising. Ocean conditions are almost always the determining factor when it comes to the amount of movement you'll experience.

Although some movement is inevitable, mainstream cruise vessels are built and operated with travelers' comfort in mind. Passenger vessels are equipped with stabilizers that extend off the ships' sides to reduce the amount of rolling.

If you suffer from seasickness, book a cabin with a view on a lower deck and near the middle of the ship. Invest in an ear patch or a motion sickness bracelet, or pack some Bonine or Dramamine pills

Read moreHow To Avoid Getting Sick on a Cruise

Do cruise ships get cold at night?

This depends entirely on where you're sailing and where you spend your time indoors in the evenings.

If you're out on deck at night in Alaska, chances are it will be cold. In the Caribbean, it can be chilly after the sun goes down, thanks to the ocean breezes, but chances are good that you won't ever need a down parka to stay warm.

When it comes to the ship's climate control, each cabin has its own settings, which are controlled by the passengers staying in them. That means you dictate the temperature in your own room.

However, ships tend to keep public areas, such as restaurants and theaters, at cooler temperatures to offset the humid sea air and warmth from the crowds of people who tend to gather there.

Regardless, we recommend packing a blazer, cardigan or pashmina to wear at night, just in case you find yourself suffering from a case of goosebumps.

Read moreYes, it does sometimes snow on cruise ships

What is hurricane season on a cruise?

Hurricane season is the span of time between June and November when hurricanes are most likely to form in the Atlantic Ocean.

Caribbean, Bahamas, Bermuda and Mexican Riviera cruise fares are generally the least expensive during this time because passengers have to be more flexible, knowing that a storm could force an itinerary change at any time.

Keep in mind that the safest place for a ship during a hurricane is at sea, where it can steer well clear of the storm. Ships that are docked are at greater risk when severe weather hits because they have less room to move and are in proximity of other vessels, piers and the shore, which all create the potential for collisions.

So, if your ship has to change course due to a weather event, relax, enjoy the fact that you're still on vacation, and trust that your ship's officers will do all they can to keep you out of harm's way.

Read moreWhat to know about cruising during hurricane season in the Caribbean

Cruise FAQ: Cabins

In:
17Mar2021

Choosing a cruise cabin isn't easy. In fact, with so many options, it can be downright confusing.

We've already broken down Royal Caribbean's cabin types for you, but below, we'll explore some of the most common questions we're asked about staterooms.

What do cruise ship cabins look like?

Cruise ship cabins look a lot like hotel rooms in many ways, albeit smaller in most cases. They're outfitted with carpeting, decorative lighting and wall art, along with plush duvets and throw pillows. Whether or not your stateroom has a view or a balcony with outdoor furniture will depend on the type you book.

Although layouts for special cabin types can vary by ship, rooms on all mainstream cruise lines' vessels include a bed that can be configured as a queen or two twins, at least one night stand, a vanity with a chair, and a coffee table.

Many also include a larger chair and/or a sofa, which may or may not convert into a bed. Some staterooms also provide bunks that pull down from the ceiling to sleep third and fourth passengers.

In each cabin is a bathroom with a shower (rarely a bathtub), sink, toilet mirror and storage shelves, as well as towels and in-shower dispensers for basic toiletries.

Staterooms generally also come with interactive TVs that allow you to watch a limited number of channels, rent movies and check the ship's position and your onboard bill; a phone with the capability to call other cabins on the ship (shoreside calls cost a pretty penny); a hair dryer; reading lamps; and outlets for charging devices.

Each cabin will also have some sort of closet space with shelving, drawers and bars for hanging clothes. Additionally, the closet is where you'll find life jackets, robes and slippers (higher-level staterooms), forms for requesting dry-cleaning and laundry services, and a safe for storing small valuables.

How big are cruise ship cabins?

The size of your room will depend on the cabin type you book. As a rule, the larger the cabin, the higher the cruise fare. In general, the larger your view, the more interior space you'll have, as well.

Although sizes vary by ship across the cruise industry, insides (no view) generally start around 150 square feet, with outsides (porthole or fixed window view) offering just slightly more space. Veranda accommodations (with balconies) usually start around 175 square feet, not including the balcony.

Suites, on the other hand, offer significantly more living area. One of the largest afloat includes the Regent Suite on luxury brand Regent Seven Seas' Seven Seas Splendor. The stateroom encompasses more than 4,400 square feet of space -- more than most large houses on land.

For questions about specific measurements for a cabin you're considering, check with your cruise line or travel agent.

What is the best deck to be on for a cruise?

The best place to book a cabin on your ship depends on several factors.

If you're someone who is prone to motion sickness, you'll want to reserve a room on a lower deck, as close to the middle of the ship as possible. Make sure it's at least an ocean view cabin, as gazing at the horizon -- where the water line meets the skyline -- can help to alleviate symptoms.

Looking for peace and quiet on your sailing? Avoid staterooms that are above, below or next to crew areas such as the galley, and noisy public spaces like the theater, pool deck or kids club. Your travel agent or cruise line representative can help. If all else fails, Google deck plans for your ship.

However, if breathtaking vistas are what's most important to you, we highly recommend staying in one of your ship's coveted forward- or aft-facing cabins. These are often pricey suites that are positioned on higher decks, but the wake and captain's-eye views they afford are worth every cent.

Is it worth paying extra for a balcony on a cruise?

It all depends. If you're someone who plans to go ashore in every port and squeeze as many onboard activities as possible into each day, you probably don't need a balcony because you won't be in your room except to shower and sleep.

There are also plenty of outdoor public spaces with railings where you can enjoy sea views if you don't want to miss out while respecting your vacation budget.

However, if your goal is to have some alone time or romantic time with your significant other, if you plan to enjoy your morning coffee with a view in your bathrobe, or if you're someone who feels claustrophobic in small spaces, we highly recommend balcony accommodations.

What do cruises do with unsold cabins?

They sell them at a discount. Cruise lines strive to fill ships completely, so if any are left unbooked one to two months prior to the embarkation date, you could snag a sailing for a steal if you're flexible. (Generally, that means being able to pay in full at the last minute and not being too picky about cabin type.)

Because it's less of a kick in the teeth for lines to discount their lower-end cabins, they will often try to coax already-booked passengers into upgrades from lower- to higher-tiered staterooms for a small added cost. That ensures balconies and suites are filled, and the vacated insides and oceanviews can then be offered at discounted rates.

The discounted rates are usually offered through large travel agencies and marketed to people who live near the ship's embarkation port.

How do you choose a room on a cruise ship?

Picking a cabin can be difficult, particularly with the large number of types available on any given ship. Your best bet is to consider the following before making a decision:

  • Preferences: Do you need a room with a view? If so, does your view need to come with outdoor space?
  • Travel party: With whom are you traveling? Do you need space and beds for more than two people? Are you cruising alone? Do you need connecting rooms?
  • Location: If you're prone to seasickness, book low and middle. If you're a light sleeper, book away from noisy public spaces.
  • Price: Does the type of cabin you want fit into your budget? Sign up for price drops, and ask your travel agent about deals and discounts.
  • Status: Are bragging rights or high-level loyalty status important to you? If so, you'll want to book swankier digs.

The top 7 cruise ship things you're still saying wrong

In:
15Mar2021

No matter how many cruises you have been on, there are still a few things you are calling the wrong name.

Like so many things in spoken language, people tend to gravitate towards easier to remember terms or phrases and getting your brain to remember the proper phrase is never simple.

The classic example is when a highway or bridge is renamed, many people tend to still call it by the old name.  In other cases, it can be a simple case of not realizing the thing you are talking about is actually referred to as something else.

No one is perfect (especially me), so I wanted to share a few common terms, things, and policies that you might have been calling the wrong thing.

1. Jones Act

Let's start off with a timely mistake, and that is calling the cabotage laws that cruise ships adhere to in the United States as the Jones Act.

The rules that require foreign-flagged cruise ships to sail from the United States and stop somewhere outside of the country before returning back has become a major sticking point for cruise lines following Canada's ban of cruise ships.

Lots of people call this the Jones Act, but the Jones Act refers to cargo and cruise ships actually fall under a different law.

It is not the Jones Act (Merchant Marine Act of 1920), it is the PVSA (Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886) that prohibits foreign flagged ships from doing closed-loop voyages that do not visit a foreign port.  

2. Boat

The cruising equivalent of nails on a chalkboard has to be when someone refers to a cruise ship as "a boat".

This has to do with the nautical terms that differentiate vessels between a boat and a ship.

Calling a cruise ship a boat is demeaning because there are major differences between a boat and a ship.

  • A ship is much larger than a boat
  • Ships are built to travel the open ocean, while boats are relegated to shore areas
  • A ship can carry a boat, but a boat can’t carry a ship

3. RCCL

Another incredibly common mistake is to call Royal Caribbean International "RCCL" or "Royal Caribbean Cruise Line".

Yes, that used to be the name of the cruise line, but Royal Caribbean changed its name from "Royal Caribbean Cruise Line" after they purchased Celebrity Cruises.

The company decided to keep the two cruise line brands separate after the merger, so "Royal Caribbean Cruise Line" became "Royal Caribbean International" and a new parent company, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., was created.

Since then, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. changed its name to Royal Caribbean Group in 2020.

The bottom line is, it has been over 20 years since the cruise line we know and love was called RCCL.

4. Mustard drill

My kids are as guilty as anyone for mispronouncing this as anyone, but one is the safety drill and the other is a condiment.

I am certain there is a technical phrase in speech about when you call something by a name you think you heard it as, but the safety drill on cruise ships is the muster drill, and has nothing to do with the stuff you put on burgers.

As a new cruiser, it is easy to mistake the name after hearing someone say "muster drill", but it is definitely not mustard.

5. Cay or Key?

The proper pronunciation of Royal Caribbean's private island in the Bahamas has recently become a major source of debate among cruisers.

When Royal Caribbean transformed CocoCay into Perfect Day at CocoCay, there was a decision to call the island by the same pronunciation that the Bahamians prefer, which is "key".

Since many of us were so used to pronouncing it "cay", it drummed up a lot of discussion which is appropriate.  Many cruise fans pointed out "cay" rhymes with "Perfect Day", thus, it must be the case.  I have always seen that as a coincidence, since Perfect Day at Lelepa was announced and definitely does not rhyme.

The truth is both pronunciations are acceptable, but "key" is more proper.

6. Confusing sail away time with all aboard time

Of all the things on this list, I probably would not stop and correct someone on a cruise ship out of respect for them and not wanting to look like a know-it-all....except for this one.

When your cruise ship visits a port, you will see the times listed of when the ship is in port. However, these times are not what times you can actually get on or off the ship.

The ship has two times guest need to take heed of: what time the ship departs, and what time you need to be back onboard.

The all aboard time is the cut off for when you must be back onboard the ship.  This is to ensure there is enough time for everyone to get back on the ship, and prepare the ship to set sail.

So when you are planning your day in any port, you want to ensure you are back onboard well before the all aboard time.

7. Anytime Dining

Royal Caribbean's flexible main dining room dinner program is called My Time Dining, but there are a lot of other names people call it.

Lots of guests will call it "anytime dining" or even worse, "freestyle dining".  

Freestyle Dining is the trademarked name of Norwegian Cruise Line's bold initiative to shake up cruise ship dinner.

Cruise FAQ: Picking a Cruise Line and Ship

In:
15Mar2021

Picking a cruise ship isn't as simple as just booking the vessel with the cheapest price or pulling a destination out of a hat. If you take that approach, your at-sea vacation is likely to leave you feeling disappointed.

Here, we'll answer some common questions so you can choose a ship that caters to your definition of the ideal cruise.

How do you pick a cruise for the first time?

Are you asking yourself "How do I find the right cruise for me?" If you're a cruise newbie and you truly want to take the stress out of planning a sailing, the easiest and most foolproof way is to book through a travel agent.

Not only can he or she help to narrow down your search for the perfect voyage, but you might also snag some extras, such as free Champagne, complimentary dinner in one of the alternative restaurants or even onboard credit to spend however you want.

Plus, if something goes wrong during your trip, you'll have a point of contact to handle all of the details.

If you're determined to go it alone, however, there are 10 key things to evaluate before you make a final selection.

  • Price: How much will the cruise cost, and is it in your budget? Don't forget to include expenses under Dining, Extras, Logistics and Packing below.
  • Destination: Where do you want to go, and is it feasible?
  • Length: How much time can you spend away from home? Do you have work or other commitments that might keep you from taking a longer sailing?
  • Line and Ship: Which cruise line and specific ship best fit your travel style? Do you prefer adrenaline-pumping activities, or would you rather relax by the pool with a drink?
  • Cabin: What type of room do you need? Are you traveling alone, with kids or with a group? Do you want a view? Which location on the ship is best for you?
  • Dining and Drinks: Are there enough options to keep your inner foodie happy? How many of them are free? Do you prefer set seating or anytime dining?
  • Activities: What is there to do onboard? Does it cost extra?
  • Extras: Do you plan to gamble, buy a Wi-Fi package or book spa treatments or excursions? They come with a cost, and pre-booking is recommended for the latter.
  • Logistics: Do you have to book a flight or pre- or post-cruise hotel? How will you get to port to embark?
  • Packing: How much will you take with you; will you have to check bags? Will you need to purchase weather-appropriate clothing, gear or new luggage?

How do you pick a cruise line?

Since you've found your way here, we assume that you're leaning heavily toward Royal Caribbean, but regardless of the cruise line you choose, it's important to understand that experiences can vary widely from cruise line to cruise line (and even ship to ship).

Each line caters to its own niche, and the options can be head-spinning. For a rundown of which brands are best for which travel styles, read our guide to the best cruise lines.

How do you pick a cruise ship?

Most lines divide their vessels into classes, with ships in the same class featuring nearly identical offerings, from dining and amenities to cabins and public spaces. Doing a bit of homework to familiarize yourself with the fleet before booking can help you to learn more about each type of ship, where it sails and what you can expect onboard, particularly in the way of don't-miss activities.

For the mainstream lines, generally the smaller the ship, the older it is and the fewer amenities it offers. Older vessels often specialize in shorter sailings to tried-and-true locales, such as the Caribbean or Bahamas, and fares usually cost less per night than they do on newer ships.

For Royal Caribbean, this list of the line's ship classes is a good place to start your research.

Ships in the line's Voyager, Radiance and Vision Classes are the smallest and provide a more intimate experience with fewer passengers and fewer bells and whistles. Although they all offer free food, comfortable accommodations and extras like rock climbing walls, outdoor movies, mini-golf and ice skating, they're best for anyone who's content to simply relax in the sun with a drink.

If you're a go-go-go cruiser who prefers to pack the day with adrenaline-pumping pastimes, ships in the newer Freedom, Oasis and Quantum Classes are best. Passengers on many of those ships can enjoy ziplining, carousel rides, water slides, simulated surfing and skydiving, escape rooms, bumper cars and other diversions.

The newest ships also offer a staggering host of bars and restaurants from which to choose. If you're a foodie who likes a larger variety of cuisines and doesn't mind shelling out a little extra money for alternative dining, vessels in the Freedom, Oasis and Quantum Classes provide considerably more choice.

Similarly, the newer, larger ships house a larger number of cabin types, meaning that you won't have trouble finding exactly what you need -- inside, ocean view, balcony, mini-suite, suite, solo cabin, connecting cabin, accessible cabin or something that's family-friendly.

Why the cliche about cruise ships is totally wrong

In:
25Jan2021

Have you ever heard this cliché about cruise ships: "Cruises are for the newly wed and nearly dead"?

I have too, and it is completely wrong.

This line is often repeated as reason enough not to go on a cruise, because it infers why would you want to be associated with something that only those types of people do.

Unfortunately, clichés like this tend to permeate in our society because they are catchy and work well to quickly label something we are unfamiliar with.

That vision of what a cruise is, is very much incorrect, because a great multitude of people enjoy cruise vacations.  Here is why that cliché is totally wrong.

If you asked someone who went on a Royal Caribbean cruise what sort of people are onboard, they would tell you there are families, seniors, college kids, baby boomers and more.

The saying that cruises are filled with retirees and young couples simply is not true.

According to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Global Passenger Report, the average age of cruise passenger was 46.7 years old in 2019.

That average does not mean cruises are filled with just people in their 40s either.  The wide range of ages, skewed by children and senior citizens means you get a good mix of ages onboard.

During the peak summer season, Royal Caribbean can have as many as 1,000 kids onboard a given sailing.

In addition, Royal Caribbean designs its cruise ships to have a wide appeal so that it does not skew heavily in one direction.

Each new ship has more space dedicated to children's programming, with expansive Adventure Ocean programs that feature supervised childcare.

Then you have mini-golf, water slides, rock climbing walls, bumper cars and more to attract, just about anyone.

Cruise ships have night clubs, Broadway shows, and comedians that ensure there is great evening entertainment.

Will I be bored?

Maybe the prospect of going on a cruise ship with retirees does not bother you as much as the fear you might not have enough to do and feel trapped and bored? Likely not.

Cruises are way more than sitting around all day in a lounge chair inbetween trips to the buffet.

At the heart of a cruise vacation is the opportunity to visit some amazing places around the world. Don't forget that your ship will stop at different ports of call, where you can get off the ship and explore. That could be a beach day, visiting a cultural site, going shopping, or taking a scenic tour.

Back onboard, Royal Caribbean offers onboard surfing, ice skating, sky diving, climbing, and golfing. 

Every evening there are live musical acts, including piano singers, guitarists, classical groups and more. Don't forget about the comedy shows, musical revues, and featured acts that Royal Caribbean regularly mixes in.

Each day of your cruise you get a daily newspaper, known as a Cruise Compass, which lists all of the activities. If you are concerned there is not enough to do, read a past Cruise Compass to see just how much is going on onboard.

Cruises are too structured

Someone who has never been on a cruise may think that the experience is more like a military operation, with designated times and rules that everyone must follow.

Cruises have changed from the "old days" of sailing.  While there are still set dining times, shows, and even dress codes, all of those are optional, and Royal Caribbean provides a great deal of alternative options to consider.

Every Royal Caribbean ship has a variety of dining choices that are in addition to the main dining room. 

The dress codes you hear about apply to the main dining room, and if you want to stay in your bathing suit and grab food at the Windjammer buffet before hanging out with your friends, you can do that.

Read moreWhy is there formal night on a Royal Caribbean cruise?

Even if you do decide to go to the main dining room, you absolutely do not need to wear a tuxedo or ballgown. Royal Caribbean's dress codes are quite vague and relaxed, so you can wear something more appropriate for a nice evening out at home, rather than a scene from Titanic.

The unwritten rules of going on a cruise

In:
21Jan2021

From sports, to your workplace, to school, there are always unwritten rules that everyone kind of knows about and should follow.

The same is true about going on a cruise ship, and these rules are not necessarily written down anywhere, but they are the social norms many guests follow.

Many of these rules are based on "common sense" or courtesies extended through much of society these days.

If you are going on a cruise, these unspoken rules are things you should definitely be aware of before doing something you might regret later.

Don't cut the buffet line

The Windjammer buffet does not have defined lanes, or entry and exit points.  But that does not mean you can drop in ahead of others as you see fit.

When you approach a buffet station, the courteous thing to do is start at one of the ends and let others who are there before you pick their food first.

The key is not interrupting the flow of the line, and being respectful of other guests who have been waiting for their food too.

Speaking of the buffet, always get a new plate whenever you go back up.

Don't save a pool chair indefinitely

The pool deck tends to be more of a "wild west" in terms of reserving space, but the right thing to do is not hoard chairs if you are not using them.

A contentious issue is how long one can reserve a deck chair near the pool while it is unoccupied. 

You may hear the term "chair hogs" thrown around, which refers to people who throw their belongings on a chair in order to reserve it for the day.  While that may not sound bad, often someone will get up early in the morning to do this, many hours before the people who they reserved the chairs for actually show up.

It is easy to fall into, "if I don't do what they're doing, I won't get a chair either" mentality, but I prefer to not contribute to the problem.

The respectful thing to do is reserve chairs as long as they are actively needed. Certainly everyone steps away now and again, but locking up chairs for the day hours before they will be needed is a faux-pas.

Remember your neighbor can probably hear you

Stateroom cabins are not soundproof, so it is important to be respectful of noise levels from your room.

Whether you are playing the television too loud, yelling at your kids, or "frolicking" with a loved one, keep in mind there is a good chance the people on either side of your room can hear it.

This applies to balconies as well, as noise can easily bleed over into other people's balconies and even rooms.

You should tip the crew

While gratuity is technically optional in the academic sense of the word, it is compulsory on Royal Caribbean cruises.

Just like dining at a restaurant, the crew members work on tips and your cruise fare does not cover their services.

Royal Caribbean charges an automatic gratuity that covers your stateroom attendant and waiters. This is a daily charge you can pre-pay or have take out on each night of the cruise.

Royal Caribbean allows guests to remove the automatic gratuity if they would rather pay these same crew members in cash, and not as a cost savings mechanism.

Be punctual with shore excursions

They say, "punctuality is the politeness of kings" and it applies to shore excursions too.

Often tours you go on will have time to explore on your own, and if you are late, you are holding up the entire group.

Be mindful of your time and do your best to ensure you are back when everyone agrees to return.

Don't use your hands to pick up food

There are salad tongs at each buffet station for a reason, so don't use your hands.

Not only is using your hands to pick up food bad manners, it is putting others health at risk when it comes to cross contamination. Germs can easily be spread from hands to food surfaces.

I know those bread rolls are hard to grab with the tongs, but it is still a must do.

Let people out of an elevator first

When you are waiting for an elevator, let people who are in the elevator get out before trying to get in.

If you don't, you are going to cause a log jam in the elevator doors between trying to get in while others try to get out.

Not only is letting others out of the elevator first courteous, it also speeds things up all around.

Be kind to crew members

The crew members work on the ship, but that does not mean they are your servants.

Show the crew courtesy and listen to their instructions.  It is easy sometimes to get caught up in frustrations or aggravation while on vacation, but it is crucial for guests to always remember that crew are there to help, not to get yelled at.

Being kind means following their directions, thanking them for little things, and even pausing to talk to them about where they are from or what they love about their job. Most crew members are happy to chat and share things with guests, and being polite to them usually helps make their days great.

No cursing

Regardless of where you are from, or who you are with, you should always watch your language and avoid profanity.

Royal Caribbean is a family cruise line, and you should avoid any cursing, inappropriate comments, or insulting words out of respect for your fellow cruisers.

9 Questions you should always ask on a Royal Caribbean cruise

In:
07Jan2021

No matter how many cruises you have been on, maximizing your cruise experience is important to everyone.

In order to have the best time possible, there are some important times you should speak to a travel agent, crew member, or even your own family to talk about an issue that can either improve your cruise, or prevent a problem from occurring.

One of the biggest mistakes someone on a cruise ship will make is not saying something if they encounter a problem.  No one wants to be a bother, but the crew members are there to make your vacation as seamless as possible.

1. Can I have my food without that?

Whether you have a food allergy or simply do not like a particular ingredient, always ask the crew member if you can have your meal made without it.

Crew members in the main dining room, Windjammer buffet, or any other dining venue are happy to adjust ingredients to make sure it is to your liking. Food allergies are a major reason many people need a dish adjusted, but you can also ask for changes out of personal preference.

If you want extra cheese, no onions, or sauce on the side, you should absolutely let the crew member taking your order know how you like your food.

It is a good idea if you have a food allergy to speak to the head waiter on the first day of the cruise to ensure the chef can prepare your meal exactly the way you need it, without a delay. 

Once you speak with him or her, you can convey any special requests you may have and get it in place for the rest of your cruise.

You can also send an e-mail request to [email protected]; please include in the e-mail the guests' names, booking number, ship name and sail date.  It's best to make requests like this at least 90 days in advance of your sailing.

Read more25 must-read Royal Caribbean dining secrets

2. Is there a better price?

Just because you booked your cruise, shore excursion or drink package does not mean you are done getting the best price out there.

Prices change, and Royal Caribbean allows a great deal of flexibility in rebooking under the lower price.

Whenever a new sale is announced, it is a good idea to ask your travel agent if the cruise you have booked is any cheaper.  In most countries, you can rebook your cruise at the lower price with no penalty up until final payment date.

Under the Cruise with Confidence program, Royal Caribbean has extended the ability to re-price cruises even after final payment with an expanded Best Price Guarantee program. For the time being, you can reprice your cruise all the way up to 48 hours before it sails if there is a price drop.

The prices of cruise add-ons, like ship wifi, beverage packages, excursions, and specialty dining packages can vary quite a lot.  You can easily cancel the purchase and then re-purchase the same item if you find a better price later.

Read moreHow far in advance should I book a cruise to get the best price?

3. What else is open right now?

When it is time to eat any meal, do not assume your choices are only the main dining room or Windjammer.

Royal Caribbean's cruise ships offer a lot of dining choices, and you should always look at the full breadth of choices for where you can dine at for any meal.

Embarkation day is the perfect time to put this plan into action.  Nearly everyone goes to the Windjammer after they get on the cruise ship, but you can also get food at places like Park Cafe, Cafe Promenade or even a specialty restaurant.

If your ship has Solarium Bistro, this is a vastly underrated complimentary restaurant available for all meals on Oasis and Quantum Class ships.

Johnny Rockets is complimentary for breakfast on Oasis Class ships, and has a fee for lunch and dinner on all ships.

Consult the Cruise Compass for a list of which restaurants are open before you head to the "usual spot".  You can save time and maybe even find something else equally good to enjoy.

Read moreThe 25 BEST Royal Caribbean tips, tricks & hidden secrets!

4. Can I come back later?

No one likes waiting in line, so if you run into a line of people, you should determine if you really need to wait right now.

Sometimes you have no choice to wait in line, such as for a show, but if you run into a line of people waiting for the main dining room, guest services, water slides, or ordering drinks at a bar, you might want to reconsider.

Just like deciding where to eat, you may find it advantageous to come back again later when the line is shorter, or to a different venue entirely.

If you are a suite guest, avoid lines at Guest Services by speaking to the suite concierge.

Long line for the dining room? Grab a drink at a nearby bar until the line diminishes.

Water slide line backed up? Come back closer to dinner time or right when they open in the morning.

Waiting in a line is not completely avoidable, but there are many times when lines can be circumvented by thinking about alternate options.

Read moreHow to avoid the most irritating lines on a Royal Caribbean cruise

5. Am I wasting money right now?

No one wants to waste money on vacation, so it is important to think about what you are buying to ensure you are staying within your budget.

Royal Caribbean is a business after all, and they have some well-thought out ways to get you to spend more money.  When you purchase an unlimited dining package, The Key, or a drink package, you want to make sure you are getting your money's worth out of them.

Before you purchase an add-on, consider your habits and realistically how you think you will take advantage of it. Does it make more sense to buy a 3-night dining package instead of the unlimited dining package? Would you be better off checking your email at free/low cost wifi spots in the islands you are visiting rather than a wifi package?

If you do go ahead with the purchase, think about how to best maximize the value.  Don't skip meals with the dining packages, visit the concierge lounge each night if you are staying in a suite, go to all the limited access opportunities if you bought The Key.

Not fully taking advantage of what you are paying for will end up costing you in the long run, so be certain you are getting all the value from what you spent.

Read moreHow to maximize the value of a cruise ship suite

6. Do I have all the documentation for this cruise?

A common rookie mistake is not checking that you have all the right documentation for a cruise.

If you don't have a passport, be sure to get one. If you do have a passport, double check the expiration date that it will not expire before your cruise ends.

Make sure you booked the cruise under your legal name, which matches what your passport has listed.

Not only should you ask this question, but ask it well in advance of your cruise. All too often, people dig out their passports or birth certificates only to realize it is too late to change things.

Read moreDo you need a passport for a cruise?

7. Will we enjoy this shore excursion?

You might already be in the practice of asking this question, especially if you’ve got kids. When you book a shore excursion, think about everyone in your group and if they will actually enjoy the tour you are going to book.

If someone has mobility issues, will this tour be an issue for that person to get around? Does the excursion you booked that includes lunch have something your children will actually eat? Is your fear of heights going to prevent you from enjoying the zip line?

There are a lot of great tours to choose from, so be sure to double check that it is truly a good fit and you and your family are up to the challenges or demands it may have.

This is especially true of younger children, where there are age restrictions. Just because your child is old enough, does not mean they are necessarily ready to tackle the tour and the last thing you want to do is have a meltdown or crying fit. Some tours could be too intimidating, or physically demanding for the kids, so be realistic about what you book.

A good strategy might be to look for a YouTube video of that tour (or something similar) before your trip to get a sense of if it will be a good fit. You do not want to try to push them to try something that could ruin both of your experiences.

Read moreA complete guide to picking the perfect shore excursions

8. Can you help me with this problem?

Perhaps the most important question you can ask onboard is how to get a problem you are encountering fixed.

If something is disappointing you, or not as expected, you should seek out a crew member to remedy the problem.

Whether it is a broken fixture in your stateroom, another guest causing a problem, or a medical concern, don't just suck it up and let it ruin your cruise.

Instead, speak up and ask a crew member politely how they can assist in getting this problem resolved. 

Crew members are there to make your cruise fantastic, and they will do what they can to address your concerns. Even if you think there probably is no chance they can do something, you never know the lengths crew will go to enhance your trip.

Read moreThe top crew members to find if you have a problem onboard your cruise

9. How are you?

This may seem trivial, but you should absolutely feel free to strike up a conversation with a crew member.

Crew members work very hard, and they are also very friendly and great to talk to (provided they are not super busy with their duties at the moment).

If you are at a bar, or walking out of your stateroom, or at dinner, ask the crew member nearby who is your waiter, attendant or officer about themselves and how long they have worked for the cruise line.  Perhaps ask them for advice on what they like to do in the ports you will be visiting on a cruise.  Crew members are knowledgeable, helpful, and can be a great resource.

Asking someone how they are doing is not limited to crew members, so be sure to also be as friendly to your fellow guests. You never know what new friends you can make on a cruise.

Read more10 of our favorite Royal Caribbean crew members

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