First Time Cruisers

Video: Alaska cruise mistakes to avoid!

In:
07Feb2019

Are you planning a Royal Caribbean cruise to Alaska and looking to avoid some easy pitfalls? After taking our first cruise to Alaska, we have a few of the things we wish we did differently.

A cruise to Alaska should be at the top of any cruisers' must-do list, and we loved our time visiting the Last Frontier, but we definitely learned a few lessons from our first Alaskan cruise. For our next cruise, we will definitely change things up and we are sharing our lessons learned in this brand new Royal Caribbean Blog video!

And if you love this video, we have lots of other great cruise videos to watch on our Royal Caribbean Blog YouTube Channel!

By the way, have you subscribed yet? Be sure to subscribe to our channel and never miss a single episode!

If you have cruised to Alaska, what mistakes would you avoid the next time? Share your ideas in our comments!

Video: 7 things that surprise people about Royal Caribbean

In:
29Jan2019

We have a brand new RoyalCaribbeanBlog video to share today, which features seven things that surprise people about a Royal Caribbean cruise.

A little planning can go a long way… and now more than ever that is true when it comes to planning a trip on Royal Caribbean! That is why we are sharing seven things that some guests find surprising about going on Royal Caribbean so you can know those things ahead of time to make the absolute most of your vacation!

And if you love this video, we have lots of other great cruise videos to watch on our Royal Caribbean Blog YouTube Channel!

By the way, have you subscribed yet? Be sure to subscribe to our channel and never miss a single episode!

So check out the video and then let us know: What did you find most surprising the first time you cruised on Royal Caribbean?

First time cruisers: What clothing to pack

In:
08Jan2019

Packing for your first Royal Caribbean cruise can feel like a daunting task, as there is a lot to consider. You have to take into account where your cruise is going, the shore excursions you want to book and dress codes onboard.

In a way, it is difficult to blame anyone for over packing because the longer the cruise, the harder it is to figure out just what clothing you will need. Your luggage will have vastly different clothing in it if you cruise heads to the Mediterranean versus Caribbean or Australia.

We have some tips to share for what to pack for your first cruise.

Cruise destinations

Even though Royal Caribbean has the word "Caribbean" in its name, Royal Caribbean ships serve a variety of ports around the world, so where you go can make things easier or harder on your packing.  

Caribbean and other warm water port destinations usually require a lot of t-shirts, shorts, and other light clothing.  But if your cruise is visiting cold water ports such as Alaska, New England or Northern Europe, you're going to need clothing that will feel comfortable outdoors as well as clothing that is comfortable inside the ship.

Based on where your cruise is going, you'll have a better idea of how much you will need and it's important to figure out a rough idea of what your schedule will be in terms of ports.  If you're only planning on leaving the ship at one or two ports, you may not need as much clothing than if you're planning on leaving the ship all the time.

First day packing

Embarkation day requires its own special packing strategy, because you will need a carry-on bag with certain items that you need to have on you until the rest of your luggage is delivered to your stateroom later in the day.

Pack your bathing suit in a carry on bag and then change in one of the public restrooms.  Towels will be provided in the pool area for your use.  By bringing bathing suits with you to change into on embarkation day, you will be able to enjoy the pools and hot tubs without the crowds that will soon arrive for the rest of the cruise.

You should also plan to pack anything you will need to have access to between when you arrive at the cruise terminal through the evening of the first day. This can include things such as medications, electronics, passport, credit card/cash, change of clothes and toiletries.

Royal Caribbean dress codes

The phrase "dress code" often strikes fear into the hearts of first time cruisers out of concern that they will feel out of place or break a rule. The reality is dress codes are merely dress suggestions for the main dining room, and dress on Royal Caribbean is far more casual than you might think.

Royal Caribbean has three main dress codes onboard its ships:

  • Casual
    • Most times of the cruise, Casual is the defacto dress code.  You will find it for breakfast, lunch and some dinners. 
    • Some good ideas for casual nights are jeans, polos, sundresses, blouses, and generally comfortable clothing. 
  • Smart Casual
    • Think of Smart Casual as a step up from Casual dress code, so plan on something a bit nicer than you might wear on Casual.  In practice, you could easily dress for Smart Casual the same as Casual.
    • Smart Casual dress suggestions include collared shirts, slacks, nicer dresses or skirts.
  • Formal
    • Formal Night is when guests can enjoy their evening best.  Nothing is too fancy for formal night, but keep in mind that you do not have to recreate your Senior Prom either.
    • You will find men wearing suits and even tuxedos.  Ladies may opt for cocktail dresses or evening gown.
    • If all this sounds too fussy, a simple collared shirt and pair of slacks for men or jeans, skirt or dress for women will suffice.
    • Formal nights are optional (though recommended) and will only take place one to three times per cruise. As always, there are plenty of casual restaurant options available on those nights too.

Packing for fun

Beyond what you will wear for meals, the bulk of your packing will entail what you need to wear around the ship or in town on excursions. 

For all the activities onboard, you may need a workout outfit or two for the fitness center.  You will also need athletic wear to tackle the rock-climbing wall, sports court or zip line. If you are cruising on Voyager, Freedom or Oasis Class ships and want to visit the ice-skating rink, be sure to pack socks and long pants. Likewise, the zip line requires closed toe shoes.

If there is one aspect of cruise packing that may be the most obvious, it would be for the pool deck. You will need swimsuits for the pool, hot tubs and waterslides.

Cruise packing tips

Here are some more packing tips to consider for your first cruise!

  • Do a Google search for "cruise packing list".  There's a lot of packing lists out there and most contain a lot of stuff you don't need, but they are good resources for remembering those "oh yea!" things. Our friends at CruiseHabit came up with a great list.
  • When possible, re-use clothing.  Odds are no one is tracking if you wore the same pair of jeans or shorts on day 2 and day 6 of your cruise.  Pants are the easiest to reuse, as they really don't get "dirty" after just one use.  
  • For men, if you want to pack less dress shirts, try packing one shirt and tie with your suit to wear, and then on a different formal night, just wear shirt without jacket or tie.
  • Another tip for men, try finding reversible belts that go with a "black" or "brown" outfit.  One less thing to pack!
  • Have one bag, preferably something easily portable like a backpack, full of essentials you need but wont check in, such as passports, money, cruise documents, phones, etc.
  • I find two bathing suits are usually enough for almost any cruise.  Short of you or someone literally spending all their time in the pools, you can usually operate with one swimsuit drying somewhere in your cabin with the other ready for use.
  • While this article is all about trying to avoiding over packing, it's definitely better to over pack than under pack!
  • Self-service laundry isn’t available on the ship, but dry cleaning and laundry services are offered for each stateroom at an additional fee. Nominal fees are worth it if it means packing less clothing.

More packing information

Now that we have covered packing basics, here are some additional articles to help more!

First time cruisers: Do you need a passport for a cruise?

In:
20Aug2018

Many first timer cruisers want to know if you need a passport to take a cruise and the answer depends on a few factors.  

There is also a fine line in answering this question that goes beyond the word "need" and essentially talks about if you "should" get a passport.  More on that coming up!

The exact travel documentation required depends on what citizenship you hold, as well as where your cruise is sailing from and to.  It is critical to understand the proper documentation needed for a cruise, as no refunds are provided for guests who fail to bring proper documentation.  Be sure to refer to Royal Caribbean's Travel Documentation page for specifics.

When you do not need a passport

If you are a U.S. citizen and cruising out of the United States (meaning your cruise begins and ends in the United States), then you do not need a passport.  U.S. citizens on closed-loop cruises (cruises that begin and end at the same port in the U.S.) will be able to enter or depart the country with proof of citizenship, such as a government-issued birth certificate and laminated government issued picture ID, denoting photo, name and date of birth.

A U.S. citizen under the age of 16 will be able to present either an original, notarized or certified copy of his or her birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad issues by DOS, or Certificate of Naturalization issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. 

Royal Caribbean emphasizes that Baptismal papers and hospital certificates of birth are not acceptable. Voter registration cards or Social Security cards are not considered proof of citizenship.

You should check the passport requirements for any port you are visiting, as sometimes there can be a port that requires a passport to visit even if you do not need a passport to return to the United States.

When you do need a passport

Many countries outside of North America do require a passport and visas are even required where they apply.  This includes countries in Europe, Asia, Central and South America.

All cruises to Cuba require a Passport book (no passport cards or other forms of I.D. will be accepted) valid for at least 6 months after the sailing date, for all guests including minors.

International sailings (cruises that begin outside the United States), U.S. citizens require a valid Passport and the corresponding visa required for entry and exit from the country.

For additional passport information, visit www.travel.state.gov.

Canada & Non-U.S. Citizens

Non-U.S. Citizens will need a valid passport and, in some cases, a visa. If you live in the U.S., you will also need the original copy of your Alien Registration Card (ARC or "Green Card") and any other documentation the countries on your itinerary require due to your alien status. 

All Canadian Landed Immigrants (inclusive of those who are citizens of the British Commonwealth countries) who reside in Canada must have valid passports and US visas. Also required is the original copy of your Permanent Resident Card (PR Card) formally the IMM 1000 or with respect to any country on the itinerary any other travel documentation required because of alien status. 

Why everyone should get a passport

Regardless of what the minimum requirements are for travel, we highly recommend everyone get a passport. Passports do have an additional cost to them (especially for children), but we feel the advantages of having a passport far outweigh the cost and work required to get one.

Simply put, having a passport makes traveling significantly easier and simpler. Having a passport on a cruise means not just an easier embarkation and disembarkation process, but it protects you against an unexpected situation that may occur during the course of a cruise, such as:

  • Fly out of the United States to meet a ship at the next available port should they miss the scheduled embarkation in a U.S. port
  • Entering the U.S. at the end of a cruise
  • Needing to fly to the U.S. before their cruise ends, because of medical, family, personal or business emergencies, missing a ship's departure from a port of call, involuntary disembarkation from a ship due to misconduct, or other reasons.

Certainly many guests will cruise without a passport and likely not run into any issues.  The concern without having a passport is if an emergency occurs, only an official passport will allow you to easily and quickly fly from a foreign port to another port and/or back home.  Not having a passport means you will need to travel to a U.S. embassy or consulate in a foreign country to apply for a temporary visa to re-enter the country.  Not all embassies/consulates are located near the cruise ports and moreover, the time it takes for the entire process to occur is not quick.

What about the passport card?

The passport card is an option the United States government provides that is a lower cost alternative to the passport book.  It is for travelers who are not going to leave the country by airplane, and plan to only leave the United States via land or sea.

In a nutshell, a passport card is a plastic card that can fit into a wallet and are accepted for land and sea border crossings between  the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean. Passport cards cannot be used on cruises from international homeports.

While the passport card may protect you against certain scenarios and is superior to not having a passport at all, getting a passport book not only provides more coverage (such as flying internationally), but it allows you to travel beyond simply cruises.  A passport book can get you to so many more places internationally, and in the case of an emergency on a cruise, having a passport book allows you to make unexpected travel arrangements significantly easier.

Video: 8 Things Royal Caribbean Pros Do, and You Should Too!

In:
16Jul2018

Hello, friends! We are back with another Royal Caribbean Blog video today, and we are sharing 8 things that Royal Caribbean pros do, and you should too!

The famous saying, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do" is a great approach to cruising, because there are a lot of great tips and advice new cruisers can pick up from veteran Royal Caribbean cruisers.  This will will share how cruise pros book their cruises, strategies for saving money, how they learn everything about Royal Caribbean, and a whole lot more!

And if you love this video, there’s plenty more for you to enjoy over on our Royal Caribbean Blog YouTube Channel!

By the way, have you subscribed yet? Be sure to subscribe to our channel and never miss a single episode!

Video: Rookie Royal Caribbean mistakes to avoid

In:
19Jun2018

We hope your week is off to a great start.  We have a brand new Royal Caribbean Blog video to share with you, featuring 10 rookie mistakes to avoid on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

If you are planning your first Royal Caribbean cruise, we think we have some tips that will help you save some time and money to make the most of your vacation. We also included some trip planning strategies to consider when sitting down to plan out your cruise.

Of course, even if you have taken a few Royal Caribbean cruises already, this video could still help you out and better yet, you might be able to share your own planning pitfall to avoid.

And if you love this video, there’s plenty more for you to enjoy over on our Royal Caribbean Blog YouTube Channel!

By the way, have you subscribed yet? Be sure to subscribe to our channel and never miss a single episode!

First time cruisers: Getting ready for your first Royal Caribbean cruise

In:
14Jun2018

After you book your first Royal Caribbean cruise, you may realize that sail away is not too far away and you would like to be prepared for an awesome first cruise experience. There are a few easy steps you can take in the weeks and months leading up to your cruise to ensure it starts off quite well.

Gather your documentation

In order to go on your Royal Caribbean cruise, you will need to have the proper documentation to actually board the ship.  Depending on which country your cruise begins and ends in, the exact documentation will vary.

A good starting point is to make certain you know exactly where everyone's passport, birth certificate and/or state issued identification is located.  Moreover, check expiration dates of these documents and verify that they will not be expiring anytime soon.  Keep in mind that some countries require passports not to expire within six months of visiting (such as Cuba). 

If you are wondering if you need a passport or visa to cruise, here is what you need to know.  U.S. citizens on closed-loop cruises (cruises that begin and end at the same port in the U.S.) will be able to enter or depart the country with proof of citizenship, such as a government-issued birth certificate and laminated government issued picture ID, denoting photo, name and date of birth. A U.S. citizen under the age of 16 will be able to present either an original, notarized or certified copy of his or her birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad issues by DOS, or Certificate of Naturalization issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

If you're flying to a port overseas, a passport is almost always needed.

Regardless of the rules, we recommend everyone (including U.S. residents on cruises from the United States) get a passport.  It is simpler and safer, and a fantastic investment for any traveler.

Online check-in

At ninety days prior to your cruise, you can log into Royal Caribbean's web site and complete the online check in.  

The online check in will save you a lot of time at the pier, as well as provide you with the necessary paperwork to expedite your cruise boarding procedure.

You will need a copy of everyone's documentation (passport or birth certificate), travel plans and a credit card to store for incidental charges.

You do not need to do this immediately at 90 days prior to your sailing, but make sure you complete this at least 3 days prior to your sailing.

Pre-cruise purchases

Royal Caribbean allows guests to purchase drink packages, spa appointments, shore excursions, internet packages and more prior to your cruise. In fact, on Oasis and Quantum Class ships, you can even pre-book select entertainment on your ship.

It is a really good idea to purchase anything you can prior to the cruise for two basic reasons: it is often cheaper to book these options before the cruise (instead of onboard) and it helps break up the total cost of the cruise. 

In many cases, Royal Caribbean promises a discount on select pre-cruise purchases compared to the price onboard.  Periodically, Royal Caribbean will run sales on its pre-cruise purchases, which can yield higher savings. The discounted savings can vary, with the price of drink and internet packages varying from ship to ship and sailing to sailing. 

When you purchase anything before your cruise via the Cruise Planner site, you will be required to pay for it at the time of purchase.  This provides the ability to break up the total cost of the cruise.

When you make purchases onboard your cruise, at the end of the cruise you get a final bill with all of the charges tallied up.  By pre-purchasing certain items, you can pay off parts of the cruise months or years in advance, allowing you to reduce the cruise bill at the conclusion of your cruise.

An intangible benefit to pre-purchasing anything is it saves you time onboard from doing the exact same thing, which means more vacation time back to you.

Taking the time to purchase anything onboard does not take very much time, but every little bit helps, and some purchases on the first day of the cruise can require waiting in a line, such as drink packages.

Packing

Packing for your cruise vacation is something some folks really enjoy and others lament.  Regardless, we all have to do it.

Where your cruise sails to will determine what exactly you need to pack, so it may be a good idea to research the weather in the ports you will be visiting, as well as figuring out if there will be any formal nights or themed nights on your sailing (more on formal nights and themed nights later).

This is also a good opportunity to check your luggage is good to go (i.e. no holes or rips).

In addition, you should start thinking about what clothing and outfits you want to bring with you.  This may trigger a memory that you wanted to replace a suit or shirt or get new shoes.

If you are looking for a good packing list, we recommend one from Cruise Habit or Cruise Tips TV.

What am I not allowed to bring?

You should definitely be aware of the kind of items you are prohibited from bringing on your Royal Caribbean cruise.  Some are pretty obvious (no baseball bats), while others are surprising (no surge protectors or clothing irons).

Refer to Royal Caribbean's list of prohibited item list, as their list changes from time to time.

We should mention a really common question we get asked about bringing and that is drinks and alcohol.

You cannot bring beer, spirits, alcohol, booze, liquor, moonshine or anything else of that ilk on your Royal Caribbean cruise. However, you can bring up to two bottles of wine per stateroom onboard on embarkation day only.

In terms of soda and bottled water, this is where things get a bit confusing.  Royal Caribbean lists that guests may not  bring soft drinks or bottled water on their cruise, however, it has been our experience that they tend to look the other way when it comes to guests bringing soda or water onboard.  If you would like to bring soda or bottled water, put it in your carry-on luggage (not the luggage you give to the porters) and do not mention it unless someone asks about it.  Admittedly, this is a gray area of the rules but it does work.

Making special requests

If you have dietary, dining, special needs or other requests, be sure to make it in the weeks and months before your cruise to be certain they are on record and taken care of prior to your cruise.  A common mistake we see is guests waiting to make these requests onboard the ship.

Dietary requests

For any and all dietary requests, contact your travel agent or Certified Vacation Planner and request that the remark be noted in your reservation details. If you made your reservation online at royalcaribbean.com you may add your request to the "update personal information." section. You may also send an e-mail request to special_needs@rccl.com; please include in the e-mail the guests' names, booking number, ship name and sail date. E-mails will receive an automated response.

Main dining room table requests

If you prefer to dine alone, you can also email Royal Caribbean your table request. Send an email 3 to 4 weeks prior to your cruise to rcldining@rccl.com.

Special needs

If you have a special need, such as wheelchair assistance, service dog, difficulty going up or down steps, hearing troubles, sign language interpretation and more, be sure to fill out the Guest Special Needs form on Royal Caribbean's website. 

Royal Caribbean recommends you do this no later than 30 days prior to your sailing, except for sign language interpreting requests which must be submitted 60 days prior to sailing.

Cribs or pack and plays

Don't worry about bringing a Pack 'n Play, Royal Caribbean provides one for your child to sleep in, free of charge .

While the pack 'n play does come with a mattress, we've found it more comfortable for our child to take a comforter and fold it up to place on top of the mattress to act as a small mattress topper.  The difference was quickly evident in how much longer our daughter would stay asleep versus the mattress alone.

Make sure you or your travel agent reserve a Pack 'n Play in advance so it is waiting in your stateroom when you embark on the first day.

Read a past Cruise Compass

Earlier in this post, we talked about packing for themed nights and formal nights. You might be wondering how to know exactly what to expect, and the simpler answer is there is no definitive way to know.  However, veteran Royal Caribbean cruisers will tell you a great strategy is to read a past Cruise Compass from the ship and itinerary you are sailing on to get a ballpark idea of what to expect onboard your cruise.

Royal Caribbean does not post or publish Cruise Compasses for upcoming sailings in advance. Nor do they publish their entertainment schedules prior to a cruise. There is no way to know in absolute terms what your upcoming Royal Caribbean cruise will or will not offer, but Royal Caribbean insiders will consult past Cruise Compass' to see what was available on those similar sailings to get an idea of what to expect.

Generally speaking, Royal Caribbean sailings on a particular ship do not change that much from week to week in terms of the activities or entertainment offered.  There will be some discrepancies, but an old Cruise Compass can give you a good ballpark of expectations to plan around.

By reading an old Cruise Compass, you can prepare yourself for activities and events that you might want to participate in, such as themed dance parties, sporting events and anything in-between.

You can reference our Cruise Compass archive for a listing of past Cruise Compasses that we have found.

Consider travel insurance

Insurance is one of things that you do not think of until you need it and then it is worth every penny.  The thing is, not everyone needs travel insurance but you should look into what travel insurance offers and if you are at an elevated risk and would benefit from it.

Royal Caribbean offers travel insurance, as well as many third party companies.  Read exactly what the insurance covers and the scenarios in which you can make a claim.  It is important to be aware that travel insurance does not cover every scenario, but issues such as personal illness, death of a family member, airline delays, lost baggage and more are common times when insurance will be of great benefit.

There is no easy way to determine who does and who does not need travel insurance, but you should at least consider the option now to safeguard yourself in the future.  Consider your risk tolerance, health concerns, and of course look at policies and prices to see if it makes sense for you.

Book pre-cruise transportation and lodging

Planning is the key to a fabulous vacation, but despite all your best efforts, there are just some factors that no one has any control over: weather, car break downs, flat tires, etc. If you ask seasoned travelers how they get around these obstacles, the answer is often to give yourself more time.  Instead of arriving to your departure city on the day of your cruise, get in early!

By planning to arrive to your departure port at least one day early, you assure yourself that a travel delay will not impact your ability to get on your cruise. Having an extra day or two provides a buffer to account for travel delays.  You really do not want to be that person in the airport losing their mind because the latest delay means the entire vacation is in jeopardy.

As an added bonus, by arriving to your embarkation port at least a day early, that means you get to start your vacation sooner!  And in many cases, the port you are departing from has its own cultural and historical attractions that you can explore.

More planning resources

In the grand scheme of planning and preparing for your first Royal Caribbean cruise, there are more things you can do to be ready for a great first cruise.  Here are a few more resources to check out:

Your thoughts

Did we miss any critical steps to complete prior to a cruise? Any other tips? Any questions? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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