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From a former cruise kid: Why you should go on a cruise ship with your kids

In:
18 Oct 2021

From unlimited ice cream on the pool deck to the teen clubs and lucrative loyalty perks, there are plenty of reasons to bring your kids on your next Royal Caribbean cruise. 

As a former cruise kid myself, I am a huge advocate for cruising as a family. The fun is endless onboard for kids, and the quality family time can’t be matched. Also, adding a 3rd or 4th person to a reservation is usually heavily discounted, making it very affordable to cruise as a family.  

While there’s certainly a time and place for childless vacations, taking your kids on a cruise can have a lasting impact on their lives. 

Lifetime Crown & Anchor Status

7 things Royal Caribbean veterans always do (and you should too) | Royal Caribbean Blog

One of the biggest reasons I would encourage you to take your kids on a cruise is to take advantage of Royal Caribbean’s Crown & Anchor program. This is a lifetime loyalty program that can have huge benefits for your kids down the road. 

When we started to cruise with Royal Caribbean in 2006, my sister and I inherited our parents’ Gold Crown and Anchor status. Taking a family cruise became a yearly tradition for us, one that I eagerly looked forward to each year. My sister and I continued to earn loyalty points for each night at sea, allowing us to slowly work our way through each tier. 

Once we turned 18, we each retained our earned Diamond status. Effectively, we earned this through a combination of inheriting points from our parents and continuing to cruise as a family. 

We still loved to cruise even as my sister and I went to college, which allowed us to earn Diamond+ status in our early 20s. This is something we will carry with us for the rest of our lives!

My Diamond Plus status also transferred to my husband after we got married in 2018. With one phone call to Royal Caribbean, they joined our accounts together.

Moving forward, our C&A points are tied; so even if we cruise without the other, our statuses will always be the same. This has been a huge benefit for us, as the Diamond+ drink vouchers alone save us $800 on a 7 day cruise!

Similar to my experience, I believe our future children would also inherit our Diamond Plus status, creating 3 generations of Crown and Anchor loyalty with Royal Caribbean.

Make Lifelong Friends

Aside from loyalty perks, Royal Caribbean truly creates an awesome environment for kids of all ages. Onboard activities are plentiful, from insane waterslides to ship-wide scavenger hunts. 

There is also a unique opportunity to meet other kids through the Teen Program and Adventure Ocean. This program is an excellent resource to keep your kids entertained throughout your cruise.

As a young cruiser, Royal Caribbean’s Teen Program totally transformed cruising for me. I made friends from all over the world, which was such a unique experience to have as a teenager. I would spend the day with my family and then meet up with my new friends after dinner. On the sea days, we would spend the whole day exploring the ship and having the best time. 

More than 12 years later, I still keep in touch with friends that I met through the teen program. Luckily, social media makes it easy to stay connected through all these years. I’ve actually met up with one friend multiple times since we first met onboard the Explorer of the Seas in 2008. 

Exposure to New Foods and Experiences

Cruising as a kid also offers the opportunity to try many new foods and experiences. 

My parents would encourage us to try something new each night at dinner. In fact, this was the first time I tried caesar salads and steak! My parents emphasized that I could always order something different if I didn’t like what I tried. My sister, who was notoriously picky, expanded her palette immensely because of cruising. 

At a young age, I also started to develop a worldly perspective by experiencing different cultures. We were exposed to so much at a young age by visiting different ports of call. 

Locals and tour guides in each of the ports were always excited to share their culture with us. My parents loved to chat with our wait staff each night at dinner, asking about their families and home countries. I didn’t really experience this type of diversity back home in South Dakota. 

In high school, we started to take cruises with more interesting itineraries. We found that cruising around Europe was a great way to visit numerous new countries without worrying about logistics. Not only did we have really cool experiences in the ports, but we also met so many nice cruisers from all over the world onboard.   

A Lasting Impact 

Cruising played an instrumental role throughout my childhood and into my adult life. I have no doubt that cruising at a young age instilled within me a deep appreciation for travel.

My love for being at sea has followed me through life. In college, I jumped at the opportunity to study abroad by enrolling in a program called Semester at Sea. I spent 105 days traveling the world on a ship, visiting 12 countries and 4 continents. We took classes during sea days and spent 4-6 days in each port. To this day, it’s been the most rewarding and extraordinary experience of my life. 

Some of my biggest life moments have also happened while cruising.

At the ripe age of 16, my lifelong travel dream came true when we cruised around Northern Europe. Our ship docked in Le Havre, France, which is the closest port to Paris. We spent the day touring the City of Love, cruising down the River Seine and gawking all day at the Eiffel Tower. It was just as magical as the movies!

After graduating college, my now-husband and I got engaged on a bridge in Venice while cruising the Mediterranean with both of our families. We went back the following year to visit the bridge again and cruise from Venice to Croatia and Greece for our honeymoon. 

Just this summer, we celebrated my MBA graduation and my husband’s military pilot training completion on an Alaskan cruise. It’s been so special to commemorate these life events at sea. 

I’ve also continued to cruise with my family. In July 2019, we cruised around Japan from China. We have 2 cruises planned for 2022 (fingers crossed!). Even as my sister and I have become adults on our own, we still love to cruise as a family and appreciate the time we can all spend together at sea. 

I’m forever thankful that my parents valued the opportunity for me to travel, learn and experience different cultures throughout my childhood.

Traveling on a budget? Why you should skip hostels and go on a cruise instead

In:
04 Oct 2021

When you think of budget travel, cruising might not be the first thing that comes to your mind. Budget travel can often be associated with sleeping on overnight trains and lugging around an oversized backpack from one hostel to the next. However, cruising can be a hidden gem for those looking to travel on a budget.

Cruises offer an incredible travel experience with an easy, all-inclusive vacation style that cuts out nearly all of the typical logistics of traveling. Each morning you’ll wake up with a new view of a different country or city without even needing to repack your bags.

Here's a break down of how cruising with Royal Caribbean can not only ease your travels, but also offer a very affordable vacation.

Cruising isn't what you think

Time is limited on vacation, and it’s understandable you want to squeeze in as much experience and culture as possible.

Unlike land-based vacations, cruises give you the ability to easily see multiple countries on a single voyage without worrying about any logistics or coordination. Lucky for Royal Caribbean cruisers, there’s so much to see both on and off the ship that you’ll undoubtedly get the most bang for your buck.

Most travelers might not consider cruising because of a preconceived notion that it’s too expensive or doesn’t cater to a younger demographic. While some cruise lines still market towards older travelers, Royal Caribbean has continued to both innovate and renovate its ships to appeal to younger travelers.

Royal Caribbean is an excellent choice for younger travelers looking to spend their hard-earned money on memorable travel experiences - without sacrificing cultural experiences!

Most itineraries allow for 8-12 hours in each city if you’re looking to optimize port stays. Some cruises even offer multiple nights in one port to allow extra time for exploration.

More affordable than you might think

Royal Caribbean announces new Gulf Coast cruises in 2018 | Royal Caribbean Blog

Take a note from Millennial travelers - you don’t need to skimp on luxury to enjoy an affordable vacation. Millennials have actually been lowering the average age of cruisers within previous years. Gone are the days where budget travel means staying in a hostel and backpacking between cities.

While hostels can certainly be affordable, there could be multiple strangers sleeping in close quarters and sharing your bathroom. You might be paying for train tickets, taxi rides, airline tickets and bus fares to travel between cities. Buying 3 meals a day can also add up quickly unless you prefer living off granola bars or skipping meals.

In this way, cruises can end up being more affordable when adding together daily travel expenses - from food each day to transportation costs and accommodations. Also, the time you typically spend traveling between cities is now spent as extra time relaxing onboard or exploring the port.

See the world in a more reasonable way

Cruising is so efficient that you’ll be shocked how much you can squeeze into your travel days.

Picture this: you spent all day exploring the ancient temple of Kek Lok Si in Penang, Malaysia. You hiked up so many steps to visit the temple and enjoyed some local shopping along the way. Lunch was enjoyed at a Malaysian food-court where you tried the coolest shaved-ice dessert concoction. You learned all about the history of the city from your local guide.

It was a great day immersing yourself in the culture and sights of the city; however, you’re sweaty and sticky from exploring in the scorching heat of Southeast Asia.

Instead of heading to your hostel or budget accommodation, you head back to your ship docked in the city. You’re welcomed back to your air conditioned cabin, which has been meticulously cleaned by your stateroom attendant.

Photo tour of 2 Bedroom Grand Suite on Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas | Royal Caribbean Blog

After taking a much-needed shower, you head to dinner for a delicious 3-course meal in the dining room.

The evening ends with a Broadway-style musical onboard in the theatre. While you loved trying the local delicacies at lunch, relaxing with a familiar meal at the end of the day is just what you needed. Tomorrow you’ll be arriving in Phuket, Thailand for another full day of exploring, so it’s time for bed in your cozy, clean cabin.

This scenario is a great example of why you should consider cruising - you can have elements of luxury and vacation while still immersing yourself in different cultures. Visiting different ports and exploring the world is exhilarating, while coming back to the ship is both comforting and relaxing.

Cheap cruise deals are there for you to find

The ship is a safe and comfortable home base to return to each night. Not having to worry about logistics and travel coordination is also a huge benefit of cruising that will definitely put your mind (and wallet!) at ease.

When it comes to pricing, cruise fares cover lodging, transportation and food all in one price and place. If you’re flexible with your travel schedule, off-season itineraries and dates can offer very low fares.

Repositioning cruises and last-minute sailings can also offer very low rates if your schedule allows. For an inside cabin, plenty of Royal Caribbean cruises can cost less than $100/day. You can even find some cruises for half that price depending on the sailing date.

Royal Caribbean moves summer 2021 cruises from Venice to Ravenna | Royal Caribbean Blog

For example, you could cruise on the Rhapsody of the Seas from Venice and visit Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Rome and Florence for 7 nights in June 2022 for $75/day. One repositioning cruise in November 2022 sails from Barbados to Spain with stops in Portugal, France and The Azores. This sailing costs only $49/day for an inside cabin.

Another affordable option includes a 7 night cruise to Russia, Sweden, Finland and Estonia for only $88 a day on the Voyager of the Seas in July 2022. These are just a few examples of affordable and culturally immersive itineraries offered by Royal Caribbean.

Rhapsody of the Seas | Royal Caribbean Blog

While you could easily spend more on your sailing, it’s not difficult to stick to your prepaid cruise fare throughout your trip. Independent exploration while in port can cut down extensively on costs, along with enjoying meals on the ship whenever it fits your schedule.

With some planning and flexibility, cruising gives you the opportunity to see the world while traveling in luxury, even on a budget.

Why I went from hostels to cruise ships

When I first started to travel in my early 20s, I was all about budget accommodations, including hostels, cheap motels and sketchy Airbnbs. I wanted to be as cheap as possible, even if it meant sacrificing comfort. I’d pack a protein bar to get me through lunch, meaning I only had to buy 1-2 meals a day.

I learned quickly that these accommodations were not worth the savings. I ended up having elevated anxiety when traveling. I was constantly worried about my belongings getting stolen, especially my passport or money.

I also didn’t love the idea of sharing a room with a stranger or staying in a private room of an Airbnb host.

Once I started doing the math, I realized that cruising was essentially the same price when I added in all my travel costs.

Staying on the ship also offered safety, reliability, and comfort that I couldn’t find with other budget accommodations.

I started to cruise because I wanted to see the world on a budget – and I never returned to the hostel life.

5 Reasons Cruising Isn’t Just for Older Travelers - From Ship to Shore!

In:
25 Sep 2021

From the time of its inception, cruising was immediately stereotyped as an exclusive type of vacation geared towards older travelers.

Within the last decade, many cruise lines have opted to innovate ships and experiences to attract a younger generation of cruisers. Ships are tossing out classic cruising protocol to create a more relaxed and adventure-packed atmosphere at sea. Cruise lines have shifted marketing efforts to attract thrill-seekers, foodies and world travelers alike.

From ship to shore, below are 5 reasons that young travelers should consider cruising for their next adventure.

Exotic Locations

Thailand

When you think of cruising, the Caribbean likely comes to mind. Although Royal Caribbean loves to focus its itineraries on ports throughout the Caribbean, there are plenty of itineraries that feature exotic ports of call.

These itineraries often appeal to those looking for a more unique experience, one that packs multiple countries and cultures into one voyage. Some of these cool locations include: the Arctic Circle, the Holy Land, Japan and China, Southeast Asia, British Isles, South Pacific, the Canary Islands and Russian Baltic cruises. 

Bucket List Adventures

Dubrovnik Croatia

So you’ve always wanted to climb the Great Wall of China in Beijing or cliff jump into the Adriatic Sea in Croatia? Maybe you’ve dreamed of sipping wine in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris or gorging on authentic pasta in ancient Rome. You may not realize that you can actually visit all of these bucket-list locations by cruising!

Other incredible experiences include visiting the Church of Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg, walking around the floating villages of Thailand, crossing the famous Shibuya Scramble in Tokyo, watching a gorgeous sunset in Santorini, riding a gondola in Venice, and seeing the Northern Lights in Norway.

Onboard Trendy Entertainment

Grease Broadway musical on Royal Caribbean cruise ship

70's discos and casino night not your thing? No worries!

Cruise ships have all kinds of high-quality and trendy entertainment for your enjoyment. Full-length Broadway shows, including Mamma Mia, Grease and Hairspray, are widely available on Royal’s ships (likely to be found on Oasis and Quantum-class ships).

Other premium entertainment options include world-class acrobats, Olympic figure skaters, famous comedians, talented vocalists and crazy jugglers.

Ship Thrills

Royal Caribbean has been actively building and renovating ships that scream ‘thrill-seeking’. Ice skating and rock climbing have been classic thrills offered by the cruise line for years.

Recently, the thrills have been amplified for onboard activities. The North Star on Quantum-class ships allows travelers to board a glass-enclosed pod that lifts above the ship to provide 360-degree views. The SkyPad trampoline park gives cruisers virtual-reality glasses to take their jumping to the next level.

Ultimate Abyss rider

For newer ships, huge waterslides and the 10-story Ultimate Abyss slide will surely have you smiling from ear to ear. Oasis-class ships featured the first zip-line at sea, giving cruisers the opportunity to fly over the ship’s Central Park with stunning views of the sea. Your adventurous heart will run out of time to partake in all the onboard thrills!

Freestyle Dining for Foodies

Main dining room

One of the best features of cruising is all of the amazing food available! Nearly all the food onboard is included in your cruise fare, making the ship a foodie’s paradise.

For many years, dining onboard felt stuffy, formal and too-structured. Royal Caribbean introduced My Time Dining to offer cruisers flexibility each day to choose their dining time. Food is from the moment you wake up until your bed hits the pillow each night. Quantum-class ships offer 15 different restaurants for cruisers to choose from.

Izumi food

Specialty dining also offers luxurious food options, such as Izumi for sushi and Jame’s Italian by Chef Jamie Oliver. 

What I wish I did differently on my first cruise

In:
07 Sep 2021

Ten days ago, my first cruise came to an end as I disembarked Mariner of the Seas in Port Canaveral.

Before my sailing, I wrote about what I thought I should do on a Royal Caribbean cruise. Having worked as the video editor for the Royal Caribbean Blog YouTube channel for the past year, I felt adequately prepared for my first cruise experience.

Inevitably, though, I found myself saying “I wish I had done that!” several times during and after the cruise. Things like booking a shore excursion, packing differently, and pre-planning in the Cruise Planner would have made my cruise experience smoother.

And while I don’t have any major regrets about my first cruise experience, here are a few things I wish I did differently.

Planned my day in Nassau better

Nassau | Royal Caribbean Blog

Looking back, I wish I had planned my day in Nassau better. I was originally considering booking a shore excursion through Royal Caribbean but ultimately decided against it. As a newbie, I figured that I could easily go with the flow in Nassau, but this was not necessarily the case.

Nassau is still fairly quiet following the cruise industry shutdown. As I walked off the pier, many shops were still closed and the port area was slightly eerie. After asking some locals where to go, my sister and I decided to walk to Junkanoo Beach. We weren't that impressed with Junkanoo, so we decided to taxi to Atlantis. When we got to Atlantis, we realized we needed a day pass to explore the resort, but it was really pricey. Therefore, we decided to taxi to Cabbage Beach, a free beach nearby.

Finally, we arrived in paradise! Cabbage Beach is very clean, with turquoise water and soft white sand. However, at nearly the exact moment we laid down, it started to thunderstorm.

Needless to say, we decided to taxi back to the ship and call it a day.

Since Nassau is such a popular port for cruises, I thought that it would be much easier to navigate and figure out what to do once I got off the ship. I didn't find this to be the case, though, and I would recommend doing more research beforehand if your cruise stops in Nassau.

Purchase the coffee card

Spotted: Cafe Select Coffee Card offers specialty coffee beverages | Royal Caribbean Blog

The coffee card is something I did not know about before my cruise but wish I had!

Royal Caribbean offers a "Cafe Select Coffee Card" available on the Cruise Planner website. By purchasing the card, you can enjoy up to 15 specialty espresso-based beverages during your cruise, such as lattes, macchiatos, and iced coffees.

I wrote in my last post how I did not regret not buying the drink package because I didn't think I would have gotten the value out of it. At $71 per day, I would have to drink 5-7 drinks to meet the daily price, which I personally don't think I would have been able to do.

Cafe Promenade coffee menu on Navigator of the Seas | Royal Caribbean Blog

A few days during my cruise, though, I purchased a latte from Cafe Promenade. It was nice to sip a coffee while people watching at the Promenade, or take the latte back to my balcony and watch the waves go by. At around $5 each, though, these added up quickly. 

For my upcoming sailing next week, I purchased the Cafe Select Coffee Card for $31 on the Cruise Planner website. Since I can get up to 15 espresso-based beverages with the card, the price works out to around $2 per drink instead of $5.

However, after searching for information about the coffee card on the Royal Caribbean Blog message boards, it seems that there may be different rules depending on the ship. Some guests mentioned that “15 espresso-based beverages” actually means 15 shots of espresso, so if you were to order a large size, it may count as two punches on the card. This is something to keep in mind if your usual coffee order consists of two or three shots of espresso!

Brought better hair products

In each stateroom, Royal Caribbean provides a combination hair and body wash which is on the wall in the shower. Matt neglected to tell my sister and I that he refers to this as “mystery liquid” until the last day of our cruise. Needless to say, mystery liquid is probably a great description for it.

I am used to staying in hotels, where fairly good quality shampoo and conditioner are complimentary. I assumed this would also be the case on Mariner of the Seas. By the second day of using the provided hair/body wash, though, my hair felt dry, hard, and was extremely tangled.

On my next cruise, I will definitely be packing my own quality shampoo and conditioner to bring onboard. 

Packed more dress clothes

Mariner of the Seas Test Cruise Live Blog - Day 1 | Royal Caribbean Blog

Before my cruise, I knew that people often dressed up onboard. I made sure to pack a few nicer outfits like sundresses and skirts, but I didn't pack anything too dressy. I thought the days of being dressed to the nines on a cruise ship was something in the past.

And while I wouldn’t say guests were, in fact, “dressed to the nines,” many guests were dressed in formal wear one notch up than what I had packed. 

And since I ended up eating at most of the specialty restaurants onboard, such as Chop’s Grill and Jamie’s Italian, I found myself wishing I brought more outfits I would wear to a wedding and less outfits I would wear to a semi-casual dinner with friends. 

Then again, some guests wore shorts, sneakers, and tank tops to the Main Dining Room, so you don’t necessarily have to dress up. 

Bought the fitness class package

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

I know it might seem crazy to go to the gym multiple times on vacation, but Royal Caribbean has excellent fitness facilities and I was eager to workout onboard. The fitness center offers a variety of classes such as yoga, pilates, bootcamp, and spinning.

While browsing Royal Caribbean’s Cruise Planner website prior to my sailing, I saw that there was an option to pre-purchase a fitness class package. On my four night sailing, I could have purchased an unlimited class package for around $40. And since each fitness class was $20 onboard, it was a great deal. I decided not to purchase it, though, as I thought I would mainly use the free equipment.

Once onboard, though, I decided to sign up for a spinning class and I had a blast! The instructor was very encouraging and it was a nice way to get a strenuous workout on a sea day. I immediately wished I had purchased the class package so I could have attended more classes at a lower price.

Did more activities on the sports deck

Inevitably, with so many activities to do onboard, I was not able to do everything I wanted to on my cruise.

While boarding Mariner of the Seas, I looked up at the sports deck and pictured myself riding the Flowrider, flipping on the Skypad, and blasting down the waterslides.

Yet how many of those things did I do? None of them!

For whatever reason, I went into full relaxation mode the minute I stepped foot on the pool deck. Suddenly, the thought of falling on my face on the Flowrider or having to go back to my room to change out of my bathing suit for the Skypad didn’t seem as intriguing. What did sound nice was continuing to sip my Aperol spritz on the pool chair.

Following my cruise, I found myself wishing I tried more of the activities on the sports deck. After all, how many opportunities do I have to try a surfing simulator or ride a waterslide that goes over the side of a ship? 

I guess now I have an excuse to book another cruise and try these activities.

Overall, my first cruise experience was unforgettable and I’ll never forget that feeling of being out in the open water for the first time. While I do wish I did a few things differently, I ultimately enjoyed every day of my time on Mariner of the Seas and am already looking forward to my next cruise... which is this week!

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Royal Caribbean Blog YouTube channel to see brand new videos coming out soon from our sailing on Mariner of the Seas.

8 Things I learned on my first Royal Caribbean cruise

In:
30 Aug 2021

I have officially finished my first cruise EVER, and I am hooked!

Last week, I wrote a post here on Royal Caribbean Blog about what I thought I should do on my first cruise. I was about to board Mariner of the Seas’ first revenue sailing, a 4-night itinerary to CocoCay and Nassau leaving from Port Canaveral.

The primary reason for this cruise was to create new videos for the Royal Caribbean Blog YouTube channel. With a camera in hand and my sister tagging along as my guest, I boarded Mariner of the Seas ready to experience all that a cruise has to offer.

And in what seemed like a split second, the cruise came to an end. While I researched a lot ahead of time to prepare, it is a whole different ball game when you experience something first hand.

After experiencing it for myself, I wanted to share 8 things I learned on my first Royal Caribbean cruise.

The crew is extremely friendly

One aspect of my cruise that I was consistently impressed with was the friendliness of the crew. It is clear that the crew are excited that guests are back onboard, and I have never seen such a high level of customer service in any other form of travel. From the second I arrived at the terminal, Royal Caribbean’s crew was helpful, sociable, and especially joyful.

I lost count of the amount of times I was told “Good morning!” while on my way to breakfast. If I got lost or had a question, I knew I could ask any crew member and they would point me in the right direction.

I really enjoyed sitting at Cafe Promenade with a coffee in the morning and getting to know the crew members who were equally as eager to learn more about the guests onboard. 

My sister and I kept saying “Everyone is so nice!” over and over throughout the entire cruise and the crew made our experience that much better.

Read moreThe top questions people want to know about crew members on a cruise ship

Specialty dining is delicious

Thanks to Royal Caribbean’s Best Price Guarantee program, I started my cruise with a lot of onboard credit (around $530 to be exact). So after boarding, I had a big task at hand: figuring out how to best spend my onboard credit. It was a great task to have.

I took advantage of this by trying out a few specialty restaurants onboard. As you can read on Matt’s live blog from the sailing, we ate at Playmakers, Chop’s Grill, Izumi, and Jamie’s Italian. Yes, it was an enormous amount of food. And yes, I was impressed by all of the restaurants.

From the quality of the ingredients and unique menu items to the level of service we received at each meal, specialty restaurants added a more elevated dining experience to the cruise. A few of my favorite menu items were the warm sesame balls for dessert at Izumi, fresh penne pasta at Jamie’s, and loaded nachos at Playmakers.

I would say it is worth it to try a couple specialty restaurants onboard. Even though the food included in your cruise fare is excellent, trying the diverse cuisine available in specialty dining is a nice addition to the normal dining options.

Read moreRoyal Caribbean specialty dining packages guide

Perfect Day at CocoCay lives up to the hype

While Perfect Day at CocoCay looked incredible in all of Royal Caribbean’s marketing materials, I was curious to check out the island in person. Would it be crowded? Were the beaches as nice as they looked in pictures? Was it going to seem like a theme park instead of a secluded, tropical island?

Perfect Day at CocoCay exceeded all of my expectations and then some! Because I was filming a full tour of CocoCay for an upcoming video on the Royal Caribbean Blog YouTube channel, I explored every inch of the private island.

The beaches on CocoCay are exceptionally clean and crystal clear, which is excellent for snorkeling, kayaking, or simply floating on a raft with a drink in hand.

I was impressed by the amount of free things to do as well. You can easily spend a day on the island without spending any extra money and still have a “perfect day” at CocoCay. My favorite complimentary experience would have to be the Oasis Lagoon. The swim-up bar is magnificent.

The island is easy to navigate and has shuttles going around the island all day. There are way too many activities to do in a single day on the island, soI am looking forward to visiting CocoCay again.

Read more40 Perfect Day at CocoCay tips, tricks and secrets

Don’t miss the Indian food

Hot take here… the Indian food at the Windjammer is some of the best food on the ship. I know what you’re thinking… is the buffet food that good? But I’m serious! It is delicious.

A significant number of Royal Caribbean’s employees come from India, and you will see their cultural influence at the Windjammer. During each meal on my sailing, several options of Indian curry and flatbreads were available in the buffet. I love Indian food at home, so I made sure to try some each time I ate in the Windjammer and I was never disappointed.

Even if you don’t usually eat Indian food at home, a cruise is a great place to try new cuisines. Plus, the staff from India were always happy to see me enjoying food from their culture!

Read moreHow to request your favorite foods be prepared in the main dining room on your Royal Caribbean cruise

Choose an itinerary with a sea day

Our itinerary on Mariner of the Seas included one sea day, the last day of the cruise. For first time cruisers, I think it can be tempting to book a cruise that visits as many destinations as possible in the shortest amount of time. However, I would recommend making sure you have at least one sea day in your itinerary.

A sea day is the ultimate relaxation mode. Port days tend to be busy, as you will want to experience as much of the destination as you can.

On a sea day, though, there are no obligations. You can wake up on your own time, enjoy a late breakfast in the Main Dining Room, and spend the rest of the day exploring the ship. A sea day is also a good time to try out activities on the sports deck and attend events at different venues onboard.

Sitting on the pool deck on the sea day and looking at the ocean around me was mesmerizing. I’ll definitely be looking at itineraries with sea days for my future cruises.

Read moreTop things to do on a sea day on a Royal Caribbean cruise

You might not spend too much time on your balcony

I was thrilled to have a balcony room for my first cruise, and I’m not going to lie… I think booking a balcony is totally worth the extra cost. Being able to have your own area to relax outside and watch the waves go by is a huge benefit. Plus, having room service breakfast on the balcony was nothing short of awesome.

That being said, I don’t think a balcony is 100% necessary, especially for a first-time cruiser. I spent the majority of my days experiencing all that Mariner of the Seas had to offer outside of my room. I also loved heading up to the pool deck as it gives a 360° view of the ocean.

My advice would be to book a balcony if the price is within your budget (or splurge a little!). If you can’t, though, and opt for an inside or ocean view stateroom, that’s okay too. You probably won’t be spending too much time there anyway!

Read moreInterior vs Balcony staterooms on a Royal Caribbean cruise

The drink package isn’t always necessary

I did not end up purchasing a drink package for my cruise and I don’t regret it. 

Before my cruise, I kept going back and forth about whether to purchase a drink package or not. In the end, though, I did not think I would be able to get the value out of the drink package, so I decided to just purchase drinks individually as I wanted.

This worked out well for me. I found myself satisfied with the complimentary drink options onboard like fruit juice, coffee, lemonade, and tea. Outside of these complimentary drinks, I averaged two alcoholic drinks per day. With a cost of around $11-14 per drink, I did not spend nearly as much money as I would have spent on a drink package.

I was also consuming so much food throughout the cruise (which was well worth it), so I found myself too stuffed to order drinks all day.

If your primary reason for going on a cruise is to relax at the pool with a drink in hand, though, I’d say you should surely purchase the drink package ahead of your sailing.

Be sure to try my favorite drink onboard, the Banana Colada, in the Bamboo Room.

Read moreThe best reasons to get a Royal Caribbean drink package on your cruise

You won’t have time to do everything

I love how Royal Caribbean turns a ship into a destination. Mariner of the Seas isn’t even close to being Royal’s largest ship, and it was still unbelievable to me how there was so much to do onboard. Whether watching an ice show in Studio B, flipping around on the Skypad, or listening to live music at Boleros, I did not have a second to be bored.

An important thing to note, though, is that because there are so many activities offered, you likely will not have time to do everything you want to do. I ran out of time to try many of the activities on the sports deck, visit the spa, and go to several events in the evening that I originally planned to attend.

My takeaway from my first cruise is to not get too caught up in trying to see and do everything on the ship. Sometimes the best moments of cruising are when you are looking at the sunset on the horizon and doing nothing at all.

Read more15 Free Things to Do on Mariner of the Seas

In the end, my first Royal Caribbean cruise was certainly an experience to remember and I am already looking forward to cruising again. It’s funny how my browser just somehow seems to open up to Royal Caribbean’s booking page…

Be sure to subscribe and turn on notifications to the Royal Caribbean Blog YouTube channel, as we will be sharing new videos from our Mariner of the Seas cruise in the upcoming weeks.

I’m going on my first cruise: Here’s what I think I should do

In:
19 Aug 2021

One year ago, I knew next to nothing about cruising. Three days from now, I will be boarding my first ever cruise!

Over the past year, I’ve edited around 100 videos for the Royal Caribbean Blog YouTube Channel. When I started working with Royal Caribbean Blog, I’ll admit that I was quite clueless about the cruise industry and thought that most of these cruise stereotypes were true.

Having been to twenty countries on five continents, it’s not like I hadn’t traveled before. However, a cruise seemed like a whole new ball game. Are cruises boring? Do I have to dress up? Is a cruise only for “old people”? I was very uninformed about the cruise industry.

Needless to say, after my first week working with Royal Caribbean Blog, my views on cruising completely changed! I soon found myself browsing Royal Caribbean’s website and daydreaming of tropical cocktails at Perfect Day at CocoCay.

So when Matt asked me to join him on Mariner of the Seas’ first revenue sailing, I immediately said yes and began preparing for my cruise.

After my research, here’s what I think I should do to ensure a successful and unforgettable first cruise experience:

Research protocols in advance

Traveling during the pandemic is almost always unpredictable, but Royal Caribbean is putting forth a great effort in order to ensure that travelers are prepared for their upcoming cruise.

There is a list of updated protocols on the Royal Caribbean website where you can learn about what is required of you before and during the cruise in order to keep everyone onboard safe.

One of the latest protocols is that Royal Caribbean requires proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken within three days of sailing. I scheduled my test at CVS about two weeks in advance in order to ensure I could get tested without any added stress.

Fly in the day before my cruise

One of the biggest pieces of advice I’ve read about cruising is to fly in the day before your cruise departs.

While it might be tempting to reserve an early morning flight that should get you to the cruise terminal in time, the truth is that this is way too risky due to the uncertainty of cancellations and delays.

Therefore, I’ll be flying to Florida the day before my cruise departs so that I can leave a little buffer room in the case of any travel mishaps. And hey, I get to extend my vacation by one day, so how can I complain?

Read moreWhy you shouldn't fly to your cruise the same day it begins

Pack wisely

If there’s one thing I absolutely dread about going on vacation, it’s packing.

On a regular vacation, I can always stop into a local store and purchase anything I forgot. On a cruise ship, though, I don’t think it will be that easy since I’ll be in the middle of the Caribbean!

Luckily, there is a ton of advice online that is helping me create a packing list better suited to a cruise. A couple things I am packing that I usually don’t pack for a land vacation are motion sickness medication and a USB hub so I can charge several devices at once. I’m also packing a few dressier outfits in case I run across any dress codes onboard.

Read moreThe worst cruise packing mistakes to avoid

Look at the Cruise Compass

Royal Caribbean provides a Cruise Compass on every sailing that gives a detailed look at everything happening onboard. And while I am generally someone who goes with the flow while on vacation, I want to make sure I don’t miss out on any fun events happening on the ship.

I browsed a few past Cruise Compasses and I am very impressed with the amount of activities and events that Royal Caribbean offers each day. I can’t wait to get onboard and see what’s in store for my sailing!

Use the Royal Caribbean App

I have the Royal Caribbean app installed on my phone and it is already proving to be immensely helpful.

On the app, I can look at deck maps, dining information, activity locations and times, my daily calendar, and much more. I think the app will also prove to be useful during the check-in process, since I can use it to show my SetSail pass at the terminal, complete the required wellness check, and do the e-Muster drill.

Ask for the special menus in the Main Dining Room

From what I’ve researched, Royal Caribbean has excellent options when it comes to dietary restrictions, whether Kosher, gluten free, and even vegan! Apparently Royal Caribbean even has a special Indian cuisine menu in the Main Dining Room.

I eat primarily a vegetarian or pescatarian diet, and while there are many options onboard, I may also ask for a special menu to see what other options are available. It’s important to note, though, that some dietary restrictions may require a 90-day notice so Royal Caribbean can ensure that they can accommodate you.

Bring workout clothes

If there’s one thing I can guarantee about my upcoming cruise, it’s that I’ll probably be eating a lot. Whether endless soft serve ice cream on the pool deck, unlimited pizza at Sorrento’s, or an extra helping of garlic bread at dinner, I’d say I’m pretty excited about trying all of the delicious cuisine onboard.

However, I’ll definitely be packing some workout clothes so I can hit the gym and work (some) of it off. Now… will I actually get off the pool chair and go to the gym? I guess we’ll see.

Carry a small amount of cash

From what I understand, I’ll be making any extra purchases onboard using my SeaPass card, but I plan to bring around $100 in USD for any “extra” purchases that may arise while on my cruise.

I paid my gratuities in advance, but I want to keep some cash on hand for extra tips or purchases I make on land. Tipping protocol seems to be a little confusing, so I’ll be reviewing some tipping and gratuity advice before my cruise to make sure I don’t mess this up!

Even though I’m a cruising newbie, I think I have a pretty good idea of what to expect onboard a Royal Caribbean ship and am excited to set sail in just a few days. Be sure to subscribe to the Royal Caribbean Blog YouTube channel to stay up to date with live broadcasts and brand new video content from Mariner of the Seas!

25 things you need to know for your first day on a cruise ship

In:
19 Aug 2021

If you are planning your first cruise, you are in store for a great vacation experience with lots of activities, fun places to visit, and lots of great food to try.

Cruise ships offer lots to do for people of all ages, and it can be an attractive vacation choice for families because how much there is to do for everyone. But like anything you try for the first time, there are definitely a few things you need to know in advance.

The wealth of choice in activities means plenty of options, and prioritizing what you should (or shouldn't do) is always a question new cruisers have.

In an effort to provide the most important information you should know, here is a breakdown of what to expect on a cruise during the first day onboard.

1. Online check-in is super important

While you could show up to the cruise terminal on the first day and check-in, that would be a mistake.

You really ought to complete the online check-in via Royal Caribbean's free app in the weeks leading up to your cruise.

Not only is it easy, but online check-in will save you so much time at the cruise terminal. Filling out the paperwork at home means not having to do it later.

Equally important is your check-in time is provided via the online check-in. Royal Caribbean enforces their check-in times, so to get the earliest time possible, you will need to do online check-in.

2. You probably won't do everything onboard, and that's okay

Royal Caribbean packs so much to do onboard that it may seem overwhelming to try to work in every activity, so don't sweat it.

Water slides, specialty restaurants, escape rooms, bingo, trivia and more are waiting to do every day, but if you do not get a chance to experience it all, you can always come back on another cruise to do them.  Stressing about trying to "do it all" just leads to frustration.

Instead, prioritize what things you really want to do, and book another cruise to see the rest.

3. Yes, your check-in time matters

Before 2021, check-in times were suggestions, but these days Royal Caribbean is enforcing them.

Whatever time you get from online check-in to arrive to the cruise terminal, make sure you arrive right around that time. If you come in before that time, you will find yourself waiting around outside the cruise terminal.

If you have time to burn before your check-in, consider asking for a later check-out at your hotel, or have lunch at a local restaurant. Malls and even a movie theater are good ways to also spend some extra time.

4. There will be lunch provided

Yes, there will food provided for lunch once you get onboard the ship.

Depending on which ship you are boarding, the options can vary, but in general the Windjammer buffet will be your go-to spot for an embarkation day lunch.

Other good alternatives include Cafe Promenade or Park Cafe. There may even be a specialty restaurant or two open embarkation day that you could pay to eat at.

To get an idea of which venues will be open for lunch, read a past Cruise Compass from the ship you are sailing on before you board.

5. Food is a big deal

Cruise ships and food seemingly go hand in hand, and you will find lots of options where to dine onboard.

Royal Caribbean includes enough food every day of your cruise that you do not need to spend anything extra to be really well fed. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are all included in your cruise fare, along with snacks inbetween.

Of course, there are some venues and options that have an additional cost to dine there if you choose. In fact, some of these specialty dining choices are truly spectacular, and offer cuisines and cooking styles not otherwise available onboard.

It is a good idea to look up which restaurants are on your ship, and decide if any extra-cost restaurants are of interest.  If so, go ahead and book a reservation.

Once on the ship, you could stop by a specialty restaurant to inquire about reservations as well.

Keep in mind the first day of the cruise is the best day to book a reservation, as reservations go quickly. Many other guests book specialty restaurants for dinner, and dining packages make affording to eat at a specialty restaurant much more than once easy.

6. Meet your stateroom attendant

When you get in your stateroom on the first day, more than likely your attendant will be somewhere nearby to meet.

Not only is it nice to put a face to who will be taking care of your cabin for your sailing, but this is the time to make special requests.

Extra towels, a bucket of ice, separating or putting the beds together, or even opening up balcony dividers are all common requests guests have that your stateroom attendant can provide.

7. Inspect your stateroom

Once your stateroom is ready, be sure to go inside and make sure everything is working and that everything that should be there is there.

Test out the air conditioning, check to see if the crib you requested is present and that things like the television and toilet are functioning properly.

Be also certain to test your in-room safe, as this is your dedicated spot to store valuables and you want to make sure this is working correctly and you know how to operate it.  Take a few minutes to understand how to open and lock your safe, and make sure it functions as it should. If it does not, you will want to let Guest Services know as soon as possible.

If anything is broken, put in a request with maintenance (via your stateroom telephone) now while the ship has extra maintenance crew members onboard.

8. Make phone calls or text messages before the ship leaves

Odds are you are sailing to a foreign port of call and more than likely using your cell phone in those countries will cost you a lot of money in roaming charges.  The best strategy is to use your phone to make calls or send text messages, and then place it into airplane mode to ensure you do not encounter roaming fees.

Your phone will work normally while your Royal Caribbean ship is docked, and will even continue working a few hours after sailaway.  Refer to our guide for using your cell phone while on a Royal Caribbean cruise to ensure you do not come home to unexpectedly large bills.

9. Sign up for exercise classes

While you are touring the spa, the fitness center is in the same area, and this is the time to put your name down for a spot in any of the fitness classes offered.

Royal Caribbean offers a good variety of fitness classes, with some complimentary and others having a small cost associated with them.  If you have any desire to be included in a class, you will definitely want to sign up for them early.  All too often guests wait too long to sign up, or try to walk in for a class only to find the limited spots are filled.

There will be a table with sign up sheets near the entrance to the fitness center where you can sign up.  There is no obligation, so you can sign up and only be charged if you make it to the class.

10. Take a spa tour

The Vitality Spa offers complimentary tours of the spa and fitness centers and while it is a sales pitch, it's fun to see the facilities available and something fun for the whole family to do.  

If you want to book a treatment for a particular day and time, you will want to make an appointment early before things start to book up.  

There's also a raffle that you can sign up for and perhaps win a free treatment.

11. Walk around to the ship to get your bearings

It is a really good idea to explore your ship on the first day to get a sense of where everything is.

While you can learn a lot from looking at deck plans, or reading Cruise Compass, nothing compares to actually walking around the ship.

Getting acclimated with where everything will make your cruise easier since you will spend less time trying to locate everything. Plus, you may discover something onboard you did not know existed!

12. Sign your kids up at Adventure Ocean

If you have kids, you will definitely want to register them for Adventure Ocean or the Royal Babies and Tots Nursery on embarkation day.  This process is pretty quick, and allows the children time to explore the Adventure Ocean facilities, while providing the staff all the pertinent information on your child.

Registration times for Adventure Ocean will be posted in your Cruise Compass, as well as on the door to any Adventure Ocean room.  Once inside, kids can check things out while parents fill out a quick form.

Even if your kids are uncertain if they will go to Adventure Ocean, registering them is quick, and it makes for less time wasted later on in the cruise. You may also find an Adventure Ocean table set up elsewhere on the ship to provide details about what Adventure Ocean is, and offer documentation on what kind of activities will be offered.

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

13. Confirm dietary requests

Whether you have a dietary restriction or just a special request with your meals, you will want to go to the main dining room and speak to the head waiter on duty about making dietary requests.

There is usually a few hours on embarkation day where a head waiter is on duty to take requests. These requests can be for a table or dining rotation change, dietary request or anything else special you want to make certain is taken care of.  

This is also a good time to scope out which table you have been assigned to and if there are any issues with the table location or size of the table, speak to the waiter then.

14. Put away your stuff in your cabin

Whether you choose to unpack everything or live out of a suitcase, it is a good strategy to put some of the things in your room away so there is less clutter all around.  This has less to do with keeping your room clean, rather, it is about keeping things organized.

There is always something going on during your Royal Caribbean cruise, and knowing where the important things are makes your life easier. Plus, it seems like there is always some down time before the muster drill, so take the opportunity to unpack your toiletries, put nicer clothes on hangers and store luggage under your bed. 

You will be happy when you return to your room after an evening of dining, drinks and fun to not have to start putting away all of your stuff.

15. Do the e-muster safety drill

Royal Caribbean has greatly simplified the mandatory safety drill everyone has to do by integrating it into the app.

All you have to do is activate the safety drill option in your app, and watch a short safety video and listen to the emergency horn sound.

Once that is complete, you go to your muster station location to ensure you know where it is. Once there, a crew member will scan your SeaPass card and confirm you have completed the drill.

Do this early and get it out of the way so you don't have to worry about it later.

16. Find a spot for sailaway

When it is time for your Royal Caribbean ship to leave its embarkation port and begin the cruise, you will want to find a great spot to take it all in. 

A very common choice is the sailaway party, which is usually held at the pool deck. There will be music, dancing and a whole lot of celebrating with the ship's activities staff.  If you want something quieter, consider finding a spot near a railing that overlooks the port area.  A hidden spot available on many ships is the helipad, which offers a fabulous vantage point.

If you are staying in a stateroom that has a private balcony, it is hard to beat that kind of a spot for sailaway.  Grab some drinks from the bar and bring it down to your stateroom to enjoy on the balcony. After all, having a balcony stateroom means you do not have to compete with anyone for a spot (except perhaps your kids).

Read moreThe best spot for sailaway on every Royal Caribbean cruise ship

17. Drop off as much luggage as you can

When you arrive to the cruise terminal, there will be porters to take your luggage and check it so it can be delivered to your room on the ship.

Just like if you are flying on an airplane, the more luggage you check, the less stuff you have to carry around with you.

In my opinion, check as much of it as you can to make the time getting on the ship before your cabin is ready as easy as possible. All too often I see a family sherpaing all of their  luggage around the ship. It's just not worth it to try to haul it all onboard yourself.

Read moreShould you use the porters to take your luggage on your cruise ship?

18. Pack a carry-on bag for the day

While you should check as much luggage as you can when you get to the cruise terminal, hold back a day bag with some important things inside that you may need later.

You will want to pack a few key items in your carry-on bag including:

  • Important medication you need
  • Travel documents
  • Covid-19 vaccination cards and test results
  • Swimsuit to change into later

19. Pools and water slides are open on the first day

The best time to go down the water slides and splash in the pool without any lines is the first day of your cruise.

Most other guests packed their swimsuits in their checked luggage, leaving little demand for these popular attractions. Your best bet is to bring your swimsuit with you in your carry-on bag, and then check in a public restroom.

Don't worry, there are towels you can borrow on the pool deck.

20. Double check the health protocols for your ship

With cruise ships finally back in service again, there are changes to the health protocols onboard.

These new health and safety measures vary from ship to ship, and region to region. It is a good idea to be aware which venues are for fully vaccinated passengers only, and any other requirements before you arrive.

Royal Caribbean keeps a webpage for all of its published health protocols, based on where your ship is sailing from.

Keep in mind these protocols are for the departure port and month specified, so if you have a cruise coming up in the future, check back later when health protocols are announced for your sailing.

21. Dress comfortably for your first day

If you are wondering what to wear on the first day of the cruise, the key is to wear comfortable shoes and clothing.

As you go through the check-in process, there will be standing in line, so comfortable shoes are a good starting point.  In addition, you may find yourself outdoors often, so t-shirts and shorts are the most common type of clothing most guests wear on their first day.

Speaking of t-shirts, a lot of groups or families choose to wear matching t-shirts as a fun way to kick off your cruise.

As stated earlier in this post, it is a good idea to pack a swimsuit to be able to change into later if you choose.  Some people will wear a bathing suit under their clothes so they can more easily hop in the pool later.

22. When can I get into my cabin?

The exact time your stateroom will be open varies, but generally early afternoon.

You will know the rooms are not open yet because large fire doors will block access to the stateroom hallways.

Usually, Royal Caribbean opens its rooms for guests around 1 or 2pm. When the rooms are ready, an announcement will be made over the PA system to alert everyone the rooms are open.

23. Bars will be open

Pretty much all the bars will be open on the first day of your cruise, which means you can start using your drink package benefits immediately.

Not only can you get cocktails or beers, but specialty coffees and teas will be available to enjoy as well.

Of course, complimentary drinks will be available as well.  

24. Try to avoid guest services on the first day

If possible, wait to speak to someone at Guest Services until either the next day or after dinner begins.

Unfortunately, the line for Guest Services is always longest on embarkation day, because many guests have first-time cruise questions and end up there to get them resolved.

In my experience, most issues can wait until later. Unless it is something that needs immediate attention and/or cannot be remedied by your stateroom attendant, you should avoid the long Guest Services lines on embarkation day.

25. Have a cocktail!

Last, but not least, take some time to relax and savor the moment. You are officially on vacation, so grab a drink at a bar and toast the start to what should be a fantastic time at sea.

This may not sound like a big deal but getting things started off on the right foot is always a good idea and sets the tone for the rest of your vacation.

What to expect on your first cruise

In:
03 Aug 2021

So you have your first Royal Caribbean cruise booked (or are about to book one) and want to know what it's going to be like?

Cruise ships have been a popular vacation choice for decades because of how much variety and choices you have in making the trip your own. Relaxation, exploration, education, socialization... it's all up to you what you want to do.

With so many choices in what a cruise experience can be like, first time cruisers may be a little unsure of what to expect.

The good news is that Royal Caribbean designs its cruises to be as easy going as possible, and plenty of people go on them with little to no research in advance and have a good time.  But the more you learn about your sailing, the better prepared you will be to maximize your experience and avoid pitfalls later.

So if you have a cruise planned, here are the basics you should know before you sail for what is ahead of you.

You can do a lot of planning before the cruise

Before you every step foot onboard a ship, there is a lot you can and should do while at home.

Royal Caribbean provides a lot of options for its guests to pre-plan their cruises via the Cruise Planner site. This is where you can book shore excursions, internet, drink packages, spa appointments and more.

Booking these things before your cruise not only saves you time, but also money. In general, the prices you find online will be cheaper than if you waited to book them onboard.

Royal Caribbean's website is also where you can complete the online check-in for your cruise, which is something you should absolutely do before your sailing to save time later.

The more you can do at home, the less time you will spend in the cruise terminal later. This means you will bypass lines and get onboard sooner. Take advantage of this option and do as much of the check-in process early.

Don't forget

  • Create an account to manage your reservation on Royal Caribbean's website
  • Pre-book cruise add-ons to save money
  • Complete online check-in

Be prepared for changes

With the cruise industry getting back on its feet after the global health crisis, you should expect and be prepared for policy changes.

In short, there is no point leading up to your cruise where you are guaranteed not to get any more policy, itinerary, or protocol changes. Royal Caribbean is trying its best to "roll with the punches", as it is at the mercy of various local and federal government regulations. 

The cruise line does a good job of conveying changes to you and your travel agent as they happen. In addition, major changes are documented here on RoyalCaribbeanBlog.com.

Ignorance is no excuse, so do your best to keep up with what is happening and assume more changes could still happen.

Don't forget

  • Expect policy changes
  • Changes can happen at anytime

You can do as little or as much as you want

There is a misconception out there that cruises are like a giant summer camp where you have a schedule to follow, but that could not be further from the truth.

When you get onboard the ship, it is up to you how much you want to actually do. The cruise line provides lots of activities and things to do onboard, but it is up to you which ones you do and when.

If you want to sleep in, read in your room and then watch TV, you can do that.  But if you want to go up to the pool, climb the rock wall, go down a water slide, and partake in trivia, you can do all of that too.

Each day of the cruise there is a daily guide to what is happening onboard, known as the Cruise Compass. You will find a list of things to do with times they are operational, and you can elect to do any of these.

Most activities are complimentary, but some do carry an additional cost.  Anything you charge will go right onto your SeaPass account, which will be charged at the end of your cruise.

The bottom line is there is no pressure from the cruise line to participate or be part of anything. It is your vacation, enjoy it as you see fit.

Don't forget

  • Daily activities listed in the Cruise Compass
  • Some activities may cost extra
  • All activities are optional

More than one dining choice

Your cruise fare includes every meal and snack, and that means lots of choices of where to dine.

At the most basic level, you will find meals in the main dining room and Windjammer buffet to enjoy. Both of these locations carry no additional cost, and between the two, you can find food for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

There are also grab-and-go dining locations on the ship, where you can grab a slice of pizza, sandwich, or cookie.  Most of these tend to be complimentary as well.

Royal Caribbean also offers specialty dining choices, which are restaurants that have an additional cost to dine there. All specialty restaurants are open for dinner, and sometimes for lunch.

Why would you want to pay extra for food when you have food included in your cruise fare? Well, think of it like why would you pay to go to a restaurant at home versus eat at home: sometimes it is nice to pay more to enjoy something different.

Specialty restaurants offer food and cooking styles not otherwise available elsewhere on the ship.

Should you spend extra on food? There is no right or wrong answer, as you will find equally compelling choices in the included or extra cost restaurants. 

If you are brand new to cruising, it might not be a bad idea to try one specialty restaurant and see how it compares.  

Don't forget

  • There is a mix of included and extra cost dining options
  • Plenty of complimentary food
  • Specialty restaurants offer greater variety of food

What to do when your ship is in port

During your voyage, your cruise ship will periodically stop in various ports of call. 

In each port, the ship will usually dock (some ships anchor off the coast and run ferry boats to shore) and allow passengers to come and go as they please for a period of time.

In nearly all cases, you can disembark the ship on your own and walk around or take an organized tour.

If you booked a shore excursion through Royal Caribbean, there will be instructions provided to you where and when to meet your group.

You could also walk off the ship and explore the port area, hop in a cab, and otherwise do whatever exploration you see fit.

When it comes to exploring on your own, it is up to you to figure it all out and most importantly, get back to the ship on time. And yes, the ship will leave you behind if you are late, so manage your time wisely.

Booking an organized tour is the easiest option available, especially if you are unfamiliar with the port you are visiting.

You could book a tour through Royal Caribbean or an excursion on your own.  There are pros and cons to both approaches, so do research before your cruise to ensure you have a good sense of all options.

Don't forget

  • You can book tours through the cruise line or on your own
  • Research excursions before the cruise
  • You must be back onboard well before the all aboard time

Private islands

Royal Caribbean operates two private destinations, Perfect Day at CocoCay and Labadee.

Unlike other places your ship may stop, these private destinations are only open to cruise guests, so you will not find other tourists there.

Think of these places like walled gardens, where Royal Caribbean has designed the experience to be as relaxing as possible with add-ons you can book if you choose.

At their heart, both CocoCay and Labadee are beach days.  Both destinations have multiple beaches you can visit, and just like any other port of call, you can disembark the ship and walk around on your own for no additional cost.

Access to the beach, beach chairs, umbrellas, and lunch are all included with your cruise fare too.

There is much more you could do as well.  Labadee has a zip line, jet ski rentals, water slide, and even a few shore excursions to book. These all carry an additional cost.

Perfect Day at CocoCay offers a ton of other things to do, such as a water park, private beach club, excursions, jet ski rentals and more.

You will also find cabanas you can rent for the day at Labadee and CocoCay.

Just like any port, research what there is to do in either private destination to determine what your family wants to do. Keep in mind many guests simply walk off the ship and find a spot at the beach to relax, so do not feel you must book something that costs extra.

Don't forget

  • Admission to CocoCay or Labadee is included in your cruise fare
  • There are extras you can optionally book
  • Think of these stops as beach days

The last day

No one likes to think about their vacation coming to an end, but the last day of the cruise is a busy one.

Usually, your ship will return to port in the early morning hours. The exact time your ship docks and subsequently opens up the gangway for passengers to get off will vary on each sailing due to local authorities clearing the ship.

Sometimes getting approval to dock and disembark is super quick, and other times it can take much longer.  It all depends on what the maritime and/or federal agents determine as necessary in terms of inspections.

If you are flying home after the cruise, plan on booking a flight no earlier than 11am.  To be safe, a flight at noon or later will ensure you are not scrambling to get off the ship.

The night before the cruise, your room attendant will drop off luggage tags to affix to your bags you want delivered off the ship.  Place the packed suitcases with luggage tags outside your room the night before, and Royal Caribbean will take the bags for you and have them waiting for you in the cruise terminal after you disembark the next day.  Just be sure to leave an extra bag and change of clothes for that last morning.

When you wake up, there will be breakfast served in certain venues.  These are usually the Windjammer and main dining room.  Your departure instructions that come with the aforementioned luggage tags will list times and options.

Your luggage tag number corresponds to what time you may disembark the ship. They will call a number when it is clear for you to leave on the ship's PA system, as well as on a stateroom television channel that you can monitor.

Once you walk off the ship, you will enter the terminal building where you will pick up your luggage and go through the customs process. 

Don't forget

  • Put your luggage tags on your bags the night before the cruise ends
  • Leave yourself something to wear off the ship the last morning
  • There will be breakfast available on the last morning

More information

I wish this was all you need to know, but there is plenty more tips, tricks, and important things you should be aware of before you sail.

Here are a few helpful articles for planning your first (and likely not last) cruise vacation!

5 things people that cruise a lot would tell first time cruisers if they could

In:
22 Apr 2021

Have you ever thought you wish you knew then what you know now? This applies to going on a cruise as well, and experience teaches many lessons.

After you take a few cruises, you will start picking up on trends and nuances that as a first time cruiser you simply were not aware of.

Many of these lessons are generalizations, but they tend to be the opposite of what many who are new to cruises think about when they plan a vacation.

In the spirit of helping everyone have a better cruise, I wanted to share some of the major things I have noticed repeat cruisers do only after they cruise a lot.

Here are the top five things a veteran cruiser would tell someone new to cruising about the reality of going on a cruise.

You will be less picky in choosing a cruise to book

When you first start cruising, picking which ship and itinerary to sail on resembles the NFL draft in the complexity of weighing choices, but that process simplifies after you start sailing a lot.

People that cruise a lot look for pretty much any excuse to go back out to sea, so the decision on which ship or itinerary becomes less critical than it seemed early on.

Quite often, repeat cruisers need very little impetus to book something because their love of cruising compels them to book whatever is reasonable.  After all, a day on a cruise ship is better than any day on land.

Crew members are super important

When you first start cruising, it is easy to notice how helpful crew members are, but the more you cruise, the easier it is to notice the superstar crew members.

Because people that cruise a lot meet many different crew members, when they meet a waiter, concierge, hotel director or entertainer that truly stands out from the rest, they will recognize the crew's talents and often seek out that crew member.

Ask a veteran cruiser who their favorite crew members are, and many can rattle off a list of memorable cruise line employees they have had the pleasure of cruising with over the years. 

Some cruisers even go as far as to book a specific ship based on which concierge, host, or staff are working on a particular vessel.

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

You won't worry about getting seasick

First time cruisers are usually very concerned about if they will get sea sick on a cruise, because they are not sure what to expect on a cruise ship.  But the more you cruise, the less of a concern getting sea sick becomes.

It is kind of like when you go ice skating for the first time.  Your first time on the ice, your primary fear is if you will fall, and it dominates your thoughts.  But as you practice and get better, you know you might fall, but it is not really a major concern anymore.

The same is true about getting sea sick.  Sure, you might get sea sick on a cruise, but repeat cruisers know the symptoms are easily treatable, and as a result, does not matter as much.

Read moreHow To Avoid Getting Sick on a Cruise

Cruise prices are a game

How do you get the best price for a cruise? First time cruisers probably approach booking a cruise like other forms of travel, but repeat cruisers know there is an ebb and flow to prices, and have all sorts of strategies for locking in the lowest price.

The key is to book early, vigilantly check prices up until final payment date, and rebook if there is a lower price.

In addition, you shouldn't be afraid to walk away from a sailing if the pricing simply does not make sense.  Sometimes an itinerary or sailing looks really good, but the price just does not match what is practical, and repeat cruisers will know it is best to wait it out.  Perhaps the price will drop later, or it may not.  But there are plenty of other fun sailings to consider.

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

Special sailings are big events for cruise fans

There are certain types of cruises where you fill find lots of repeat cruisers love to go on.

Transatlantics, inaugural sailings and repositioning cruises are just some of these sailings. In short, veteran cruisers look at these sort of cruises as badges of honor.  These are cruises that different from the rest, and have a certain je ne sais quoi about them that make them desirable to book.

In addition, these cruises tend to be reunions of sorts, where a lot of repeat cruisers that know each other will book it so they can see friends from past sailings.

Cruise FAQ: Saving Money

In:
23 Mar 2021

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 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 during 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.

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