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Why you should be looking at booking a cruise for 2023 now

In:
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04Mar2021

Over the last few weeks, Royal Caribbean has been releasing new sailings in 2022-2023, and this is actually the best time to book new cruises.

It's difficult to plan any trip more than a year and half away, especially when we are still dealing with a cruise industry that is shutdown due to the global health crisis, but if you are looking for the best prices on a cruise vacation, planning early is the best strategy.

There is a lot of renewed optimism about the trajectory of where things are headed in terms of a cruise industry and societal recovery, and with that in mind, getting a jump start on your cruise planning now may save you money later.

The rule still applies

One of the best tried and true strategies for getting the lowest price on a cruise is booking as early as you can.

For years, expert cruisers knew to jump at the opportunity when new sailings are released to get the best prices, especially on high demand staterooms.

Prices for cruise fares tend to go up over time, so booking early ensures you get a good price now, and can reprice the cruise later if there is a sale or price drop.

With the cruise industry shut down and no window of time when they might restart, it seems as though perhaps this rule would not apply any more.

However, booking trends have not changed, and surprisingly, prices are still going up for cruises in the future.

Royal Caribbean Group executives have talked about the fact that prices for cruises in 2022 and beyond are rising compared to what they were in 2019.

So why are prices still going up year over year, despite a horrific year for cruises?

First, pricing has always tended to go up each year to match demand.

Second, demand is still very present despite the cruise industry's recent struggles, largely because of a lot of people are eager to move past the global health crisis and begin planning their lives going forward.

Royal Caribbean has referred to this as "pent-up demand", which comes from everyone essentially wanting to make up for the lost time of little to no vacation in 2020.

During Royal Caribbean Group's fourth quarter 2020 earnings call, bookings for 2022 were once again brought up as being very much in demand.

The increase in bookings point to a "pent-up demand for vacations," noted Chairman and CEO Richard Fain. "People are clamoring for opportunities to have experiences outside their home."

Bookings for future cruises increased 30% since the beginning of 2021 compared to November and December, when the global health crisis was getting worse.

The trends "are building confidence that we’re getting closer to the other side of this and people are beginning to realize that travel should be here sooner rather than later," said Jason Liberty, Royal Caribbean Group Chief Financial Officer.

The smart way to book cruises early

When Royal Caribbean releases new sailings, you want to take advantage of good prices, but not paint yourself into a corner either.

First and foremost, book refundable cruise fare whenever possible.  While suites require non-refundable fares, if you are booking anything else, the flexibility of refundable fares are a must-do.

Plans change all the time, and when trying to pick a sailing for 18-24 months from now, it is more likely that you will change your mind than not.  

While the potential savings of going with non-refundable cruise fare are attractive, your best bet is to book refundable just in case.

In addition, I always recommend anyone booking a cruise work with a good travel agent to ensure the booking process is smooth.

Moreover, there is a good chance you might have a future cruise credit laying around from all of these cancelled cruises, so a travel agent makes redeeming them very easy.

What to do if the price is lower later

Booking now is a solid strategy for locking in a good rate, but inevitably prices do fluctuate and sometimes do go down.

The good news is you can always reprice your cruise if there is a lower price later without penalty.

Traditionally, this option was limited to residents of North America and a few other countries.  However, one of the new policies added during the global health crisis has been an expanded and improved Best Price Guarantee program.

It allows everyone to take advantage of a better price up to 48 hours before your sail date, even residents of countries where this did not apply before, such as the U.K.

If there is a better price, you can contact your travel agent or Royal Caribbean and have the new price applied.

If there is a price drop and you re-price the cruise, you will receive the difference as a non-refundable onboard credit inside final payment or rate adjustment outside final payment.

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

Mailbag: What's worth paying extra for on a cruise?

In:
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03Feb2021

The four most important words for any consumer are "is it worth it", and that applies to cruise ships too.

Each week I answer questions our readers have sent to the RoyalCaribbeanBlog mailbag to answer for the benefit of everyone.

I just booked my first Royal Caribbean cruise, and there are so many tours, packages, and activities I can buy before my cruise begins. Which of these are absolutely worth paying extra for? - Laura S.

Royal Caribbean structures its cruise fare and overall experience to be very modular, and that leaves guests with plenty of addons to consider buying. 

Laura is right that there are lot of choices to consider paying extra for before and during your cruise.

Before your cruise, you can access the Cruise Planner site for the opportunity to purchase many cruise add-ons, which are broken down into a few key categories:

The question of which are "absolutely worth paying extra for" boils down to personal preferences in many cases. After all, an unlimited drink package, photo package, or wifi access will all save you money compared to paying for these items individually, but do you want/need all of it?

Generally speaking, purchasing any of these items before your cruise will save you money compared to waiting to buy it onboard.

In fact, the drink package, wifi and even some shore excursions will cost you more if you wait to book onboard the ship.  Some options, like The Key or select photo packages are not available to book on the ship.

Read moreIs it better to book excursions through the cruise ship?

Moreover, waiting to book onboard may run the risk of these options selling out.

At worst, nothing you pre-pay will cost you more compared to onboard. The spa treatments are mostly a wash in terms of saving money compared to booking onboard, but it does allow you to reserve a specific time.

What is definitely worth it to pay extra for?

Assuming you are interested in reaping the benefits, I wanted to share the Royal Caribbean add-ons that I believe will absolutely save you time or money by pre-purchasing, and are indeed worth it. 

Some of these items may not make sense for everyone, like an unlimited drink package if you do not like to drink that much liquor.

Here is a list of my go-to cruise add-ons that I will almost always pre-purchase myself because I think they are worthwhile.

Here is a list of things I think are worth buying once, but not every cruise

And here are two add-ons that I do not recommend purchasing

  • The Key - I don't think it as lucrative as it sounds, and there are ways to get a lot of similar benefits
  • Arcade credits - You will always end up with leftover credits, and thus, wasted money.

My list is not the end-all, be-all of what everyone should or should not purchase.  You have to decide for yourself which add-ons make sense based on the type of cruise you are on, who you are sailing with, and your preferences.

If you are cruising with a group of friends, a drink package may make more sense than if you are doing a getaway cruise over the weekend. Pre-purchasing shore excursions makes more sense in Alaska or Europe than it does in Nassau, Bahamas. A spa appointment is much more important to newlyweds or someone on their anniversary.

Aside from The Key and arcade credits, I think pretty much anything else you could purchase has the potential to save you money compared to buying it onboard the ship.  To me, that is the definition of being "worth it."  They better question is if you will take advantage of the purchase to get the value out of it.

More mailbag questions:

Mailbag: Should I make final payment for my cruise?

In:
Category: 
11Jan2021

Welcome to the inaugural edition of the RoyalCaribbeanBlog mailbag, in which I answer a question our readers ask about a Royal Caribbean cruise.

The final payment date is coming up for my cruise this spring, and I really don't think it will sail. Should I make final payment? - Maureen White

While Royal Caribbean has made a lot of changes to its policies to add a great deal of flexibility, one area that has not changed is the cruise line's final payment deadline.

The final payment date is the day a few months before your cruise (typically 90 days) where you must pay off the entire balance of your cruise or lose your reservation (and perhaps incur a penalty).

In a world where we still do not know when if any cruise (outside of Singapore) will actually sail, it can be a real gut check for some if they should make final payment for a cruise they are not certain will actually occur.

Certainly Royal Caribbean has issued refunds and future cruise credits once cruises are cancelled, and the turnaround time has been generally quick (although there are some outliers that wait months for a return).  Royal Caribbean's official stance is to expect a refund within 45 business days.

With spring break cruises coming up for final payment, a lot of cruisers (including myself) are faced with this dilemma.

Do you want to go on the cruise?

The best way to answer this question is to ask yourself if the cruise were to actually sail, would you want to go on it?

For me, I am still making final payments for my upcoming cruises because if they do actually sail, I want to go on them.

While the short term future of cruises being able to restart is murky at best, eventually one of these sailings is actually going to happen.

On the chance the cruise ship does sail, making final payment is what you will need to do in order to be onboard.

However, if the ambiguity of the whole situation right now, or even perhaps some of the potential changes onboard do not sit well with you, canceling before final payment would be the right course of action for you.

Keep in mind that if you cancel before Royal Caribbean cancels the cruise, you are not eligible for any compensation options offered to guests at that point, including 125% future cruise credit or a full cash refund.

Simply put, the decision to make final payment or not is based on your feelings about going on the cruise if it were to sail.

Your deposit type might force your hand

Something else to think about is what type of cruise fare you initially booked.

If you had booked non-refundable cruise fare and you want a full cash refund for money paid, making final payment and then waiting for Royal Caribbean to cancel the cruise is the only way to get all your money back.

Of course, you could get a 100% future cruise credit or Lift and Shift the reservation to another cruise next year.

By making the final payment, you are assured that when the cruise is officially cancelled by Royal Caribbean, you have the choice to get a full cash refund.

The danger with this strategy of calling the cruise line's bluff is that if the cruise actually sailed, you would then be committed to it (although the Cruise with Confidence program allows you to cancel and get a 100% future cruise credit up to 48 hours before your cruise sails).

My choice

I was facing this exact scenario a few weeks ago  that Maureen is facing today, as final payment for my family's spring break cruise in March on Harmony of the Seas arrived.

Ultimately, I chose to make final payment for the exact reason in this post: if the cruise were to sail, I would want to go on it.

There is lots of uncertainty in all of our lives right now, but I feel you have to make plans to live your life and adjust them when it becomes clear those plans are no longer practical.

It certainly helps I have other cruises that I can roll any future cruise credits forward to, but at the end of the day, I want to get back onboard and am willing to roll the dice on the possibility it may sail.

What would you do?

Share your advice for Maureen in the comments below!

How to avoid the 8 things everyone hates doing on a cruise ship

In:
Category: 
08Jan2021

Nothing is perfect, including going on a cruise. There are going to be pain points you encounter because you are not the only person on the ship and sometimes things happen that we have no control over.

The good news is with a little bit of knowledge and planning, you can reduce these potential problems into minute blips on the radar of fun, instead of a "my vacation is ruined" kind of occurrence.

Before you get on a cruise ship, here are 8 things we all deal with on a cruise and how to get around all of them.

Getting seasick

It is unlikely you will get seasick on your cruise, but it can happen to just about anyone.  

Royal Caribbean ships are massive vessels, equipped with precise GPS and stabilizing technology. Moreover, the Captain will regularly plot courses that take optimal routes for guest comfort.

The good news is that even if you do get seasick, feeling better quickly is very easy if you know what to do.  You can take over the counter medications or homeopathic treatments to combat the effects quickly.  Eating a green apple or something with ginger has also proven to be effective.

If you are truly concerned about getting seasick, talk to your physician about a prescription for a scopolamine patch that you wear behind your ear during the duration of the cruise.

Read moreHow To Avoid Getting Sick on a Cruise

Pushy spa selling

Upsells are something no one enjoys, but sales people wouldn't do them if they didn't work.

When you schedule a spa treatment onboard, it is typical to be at least told about certain products you can buy to bring home to help combat whatever ailment or life-improving scenario that you are facing.

If you prefer to avoid the upsell all together, politely inform the crew member giving you the spa treatment at the very beginning you are not interested in purchasing any products today.  

Read moreFirst time cruisers: Royal Caribbean's Vitality Spa

Sitting with strangers

There are some occasions on a cruise where you might have to sit with other cruisers that you do not know.

Sometimes, being seated with someone you do not know is not desirable, so if you want to avoid being seated with other guests, here are a few tricks to try.

The most common scenario for being seated with strangers is in the main dining room. Speak to the head waiter about arranging for a private table.  This is usually not a problem, but you may have to wait a bit longer to be seated.

You will not have to worry about being seated with other guests at any of the specialty restaurants, except for Izumi hibachi or Chef's Table.  The teppanyaki dining is at communal tables, so the only way around this problem would be to buy up the entire table.

Nearly all shore excursions are group tours, so the only way around the problem is a private tour.  If you prefer to arrange your tours through Royal Caribbean, check out the Private Journeys option.

Private Journeys is the cruise line's personalized shore excursion service where you can create a tour just for your group that does exactly what you want.

Read moreHow to not eat with strangers on a Royal Caribbean cruise

Stopping to do the safety drill

We all understand the importance of safety, but nothing puts a dent in your cruise fun faster than the safety drill.

Known as the muster drill, this is an obligatory drill required by maritime law where you learn about what to do in the event of an emergency onboard.

The good news is Royal Caribbean has completely changed the safety drill, so the days of going to an outer deck and lining up to hear about how to wear a life jacket are over.

The new eMuster option will be conducted via your smart device or stateroom television, and allow you to conduct the drill at your leisure on the first day of the sailing and then simply report to your muster station to complete the process.

This new approach to the safety drill is not only faster, but does not require the entire ship to stop in its tracks.

Read more6 really interesting facts about Royal Caribbean's new cruise safety drill

Chair hogs

If you are dreaming of grabbing a seat by the pool and enjoying a lovely day at sea, you may find the first step of that dream harder than you thought.

Commonly guests will wake up early to reserve chairs at the pool, only to return hours later to actually occupy them.

There are two ways around this problem: wake up earlier than them and get there first, or go elsewhere for a chair.

There are lots of deck chairs on your ship, and if you get up to the pool deck by mid-morning, you should have no issue getting a chair.

Another alternative is to look for chairs on other areas of the deck. You will find deck chairs away from the pool, but still offering plenty of sun and the ocean air at the forward and aft ends of the pool deck. Some ships even have hammocks and other comfortable seating in these areas.

Lines for activities

Water slides, stage shows, and even the main dining room all have one thing in common: a lot of people want to get in at the same time. The result are lines can develop.

The best advice for avoiding lines on your cruise is to either arrive earlier or later.

In the case of a line for the dining room, simply wait it out. Eventually the line will dissipate, and you could easily wait it out at a nearby bar until the line goes away.

Lines for a show at the theater can be avoided on Oasis or Quantum Class ships by reserving entertainment ahead of time.  If you are on a different ship, try to get to the theater 15-20 minutes before show time before the line develops.

Likewise, lines for signature activities are best avoided by getting there right when they open for the day, or in the late afternoon when a lot of people start getting ready for dinner.,

You can also find short lines for water slides, the Flowrider and more by trying them on the first day of your cruise or when your ship is in port and most other guests are on shore.

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

Packing on the last day

The only thing worse than the realization your cruise is coming to an end is remembering you have to pack everything up too.

While packing for a cruise vacation can be fun, packing to go home stinks.

The best advice I received is to leave a piece of luggage open in your closet and fold dirty laundry in there as you discard it.  If you do this everyday, you can reduce the amount you have to pack on the final day.

Read moreThe worst cruise packing mistakes to avoid

Gaining weight

We all may think we can avoid temptation of overindulging on a cruise, but more than likely it will happen anyway.

Whether you have a sweet tooth, or simply find a lot more food than usual to try, gaining weight on a cruise vacation is not unheard of at all.

Besides skipping some of these foods, there are a few good strategies to allow you to have your cake and eat it too.

Skipping the elevator and using the stairs will burn off a few extra calories, especially over the course of your cruise.

All Royal Caribbean ships have a fitness center that offer free weights, machines, and even fitness classes. Most of the gym is complimentary (the fitness classes usually cost extra), but you don't have to abandon your gym routine while on a cruise.  

There is also a jogging track on every ship, if you prefer some outdoor activity.

The main dining room menu will also notate certain options that are a healthier choice, to make choosing the right entree easier for you.

Read moreGuide to Royal Caribbean's gym and exercise programs

Is Royal Caribbean all inclusive?

In:
Category: 
07Jan2021

Royal Caribbean cruises include entertainment, dining, and will take you to different ports, but are they truly all-inclusive?

The idea of paying one price and then having your entire vacation taken care of is certainly appealing to a lot of people.

Alas, Royal Caribbean cruises are not all inclusive and have never been truly all-inclusive, but it does include a tremendous amount of value for what you pay. Royal Caribbean's pricing model has traditionally been to include a base experience, and allow guests to pay for add-ons they they want.

There are some luxury lines that are much closer to all-inclusive, but generally speaking, mass market cruise lines are rarely inclusive of everything.

Part of the rationale for keeping the experience not inclusive of everything is it helps keep the entry price lower, as well as not include things people don't want and is part of the price.

Despite the fact they are not all-inclusive, a Royal Caribbean cruise still packs a lot to enjoy, including:

  • Your stateroom
  • Complimentary meal service throughout the cruise for all meals and snacks
  • Activities and things to do onboard the ship
  • Supervised programming for children and teens
  • Fitness center
  • Sports activities
  • Pools and outdoor amenities
  • Royal Caribbean's app

The exact list of what is included depends on your ship and stateroom you choose, but you can absolutely go on a cruise and never spend another penny on extras.  

The reality is most people will opt to purchase some add-ons and extras that are not included with the cruise fare.  Here is what you can expect to find that will cost extra:

  • Gratuities
  • Gambling in the casino
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Specialty coffees and teas
  • Soft drinks
  • Shore excursions
  • WiFi access
  • Arcade games
  • Spa services
  • Specialty restaurants
  • Souvenirs
  • Phone calls onboard
  • Medical attention

Star Class

The closest thing Royal Caribbean has to all inclusive is for guests who stay in the most expensive suites on the newest ships.

Star Class suites on Oasis and Quantum Class ships include a lot of extras that would ordinarily cost extra, including beverages, specialty restaurants, wifi access and more.

Just like a traditional all inclusive resort, being in one of these suites does not include everything, as your gratuities, shore excursions, souvenirs and spa appoints still cost extra.

Of course, Star Class suites are not going to be an inexpensive option.

If your goal is to truly pay one price and have the most possible included with your cruise fare without buying extra add-ons, booking a Star Class suite is probably the closest you can get on Royal Caribbean.

Read more: What is Star Class?

How to make it all inclusive

While there is no option to turn your cruise into an all-inclusive option, you can purchase certain packages to get a lot closer to it.

Royal Caribbean offers a variety of add-ons that you can pre-purchase before your cruise begins in order to leave less costs for once you are onboard the ship.

Some can be purchased on the ship as well, but the cruise line generally discounts these packages if you buy them before the sailing begins.

Gratuities

Gratuities cover the services provided by your stateroom attendant and dining room staff, and it is an obligatory charge that is normally accrued every day of the cruise and charged per person in your group.

You have the choice of pre-paying gratuities before the cruise, or paying it on the ship.

By having your travel agent pre-pay gratuities, you can take care of that cost before you set sail.

Read moreShould you prepay gratuities?

Drink Packages

Your Royal Caribbean cruise includes some beverages, but if you want to enjoy beer, cocktails, sodas or lattes, you will have to pay for them as you go onboard.

Pay as you go is fine for an occasional drink here or there, but if you think you might consume more than one or two, or you simply want to enjoy unlimited beverages for a fixed price, then a Royal Caribbean drink package is for you.

Drink packages can be purchased before the cruise or once onboard, and include unlimited drinks for whichever package you buy.

  • Deluxe Beverage Package: Includes, beer, wine by the glass, cocktails, juices, soda, coffees, tea, bottled water.
  • Refreshment Package: Includes non-alcoholic beverages, juices, soda, coffees, tea, bottled water.
  • Classic Soda Package: Soft drinks only

Beverage packages are extremely popular because they work as advertised: pay a flat cost and enjoy unlimited drinks (although there are a few exceptions to what the drink packages include).

If you do want to buy a drink package, be sure to buy it before the cruise to get a discount.

Read moreIs the drink package worth it on Royal Caribbean?

WiFi

If you want internet access, you will have to pay for it while on your cruise ship.

Just like the drink package, there are unlimited wifi packages you can purchase for the duration of your sailing.

Internet packages are based on how many devices you want to use at one time. You can sign out and sign in with unlimited devices, but the package allows between 1 and 5 devices to be connected at the same time.

Read moreIs Royal Caribbean WiFi worth it?

Specialty dining

Specialty restaurants are very popular on Royal Caribbean, and you can either pre-book certain restaurants before your cruise or purchase a dining package.

The unlimited dining package would be the closest thing to get to all-inclusive, as it includes dinner every night and lunch on sea days in specialty restaurants.

The "catch" with any dining package is you must wait to make reservations until you are onboard.  As long as you make reservations on the first day, there is rarely an issue with getting a spot on any day of your cruise.

You could purchase individual restaurant reservations as well before the cruise in order to pre-pay that, but if you are going to eat at more than 2 specialty restaurants, a dining package makes more financial sense.

Read moreHow to know if you should buy a Royal Caribbean dining package

Photos

You will find many photo opportunties every day of your cruise, where ship photographers set up spots you and your family can pose for photos in front of backdrops or outdoors.

These photos will cost you extra, with each photo you want available for purchase in different sizes.

Royal Caribbean offers photo packages, including an unlimited photo package.

Things I've done that I'll never do again on a Royal Caribbean cruise

In:
Category: 
04Jan2021

Royal Caribbean has no shortage of fun things to do on a cruise, and a few them I have no intention of ever doing again.

Don't get me wrong, more often than not, I find some really enjoyable things to try on a cruise. But just like anything in life, some things do not jive with me.

Some are not to my liking, and other plans backfired after giving it a try.  The good news, is I have since learned from these experiences and wanted to share what I came up against to help you decide what to do on your sailing.

Here are the top things I will never do again on a Royal Caribbean cruise in hopes it may save you the trouble as well.

Skip buying travel insurance

When I first started to cruise, I never bought travel insurance because I thought it was a waste of money.  Why should I spend money to prepare for a scenario that will very likely never happen?

I was in good health, relatively young, and had my own health insurance and coverages provided by credit cards. 

It was not until years later when we were on a cruise and my wife did not feel well, that the decision not to buy travel insurance came back to haunt me.  As my wife lay in bed feeling awful, we wrestled with should we seek onboard medical care that will cost us a lot of out pocket, or save money and risk my wife's health.

That choice did not sit well with me, and so I decided to invest in travel insurance from that point forward.

The peace of mind travel insurance offers is worth it to know that if something unforeseen minor or major occurs, your first thought will not be, "can I afford this?".

Travel insurance does not cover everything (be sure to read the policy carefully), but it is something I will never cruise without again.

Read moreWhy you should get travel insurance for your cruise

Cruise without the drink package

When Royal Caribbean introduced the drink package a number of years ago, I never thought it would make financial sense to me.

Ultimately what changed my mind is a drink package makes it so easy to budget for a cruise.

Somewhat similar to the travel insurance example, when I do not have a drink package I torment myself mentally with the question of do I need a drink, or can I go longer and save money without it?

I found getting a drink package reduced that sort of mental anguish, and allows me to do what I love to do on a cruise: relax and enjoy my time onboard.

Moreover, the convenience of the drink package and value it provides by including not just alcoholic drinks makes it a slam dunk decision going forward.

By pre-purchasing and taking advantage of drink package sales, I have found a drink package to be a worthwhile investment every time.

Read moreIs the drink package worth it on Royal Caribbean?

Skip pre-paying gratuities

The bill at the end of the cruise that has all of our onboard charges is never something I look forward to seeing, and the option to pre-pay gratuities really helps keep these costs down.

Royal Caribbean gives guests the choice of pre-paying gratuities before the cruise, or having them accrue each evening while onboard.

I never used to mind the daily charges, but they add up and I greatly value the opportunity to make spread out the overall cost of my cruise.  

By pre-paying, there are two benefits: I get to avoid a larger onboard spending bill and I also lock in my gratuity rate.  Royal Caribbean promises to lock in the gratuity rate at the time you pre-pay, which means if the cruise line raises the rate later, you still pay the lower amount.

Read moreShould you prepay gratuities for a Royal Caribbean cruise?

Ripcord by iFly

File this under "things Matt personally does not have the talent to do".

When Royal Caribbean announced there would be a sky diving simulator on Quantum of the Seas, I was excited to finally try sky diving without having to jump out of an airplane.  Real sky diving is something I will absolutely, positively never do because it seems entirely too frightening.

When I sailed on Quantum of the Seas, I had my opportunity to see what it was like in a safe environment.  I was so excited that I even volunteered to go first in my group.

Unfortunately, I failed miserably at it and somehow ended up inverted and on the bottom, and I was as disappointed in myself as I was embarrassed.

While I have many talents, coordination is not one of them, and I have written off Ripcord by iFly as one of those "been there, done that" experiences. 

I would never tell someone else not to do it. I just know I will not be with them in line for it.

Plan to be the first person off the ship when the cruise is over

It seems easy enough when planning a cruise to squeeze it in by ensuring I will be among the first off the ship to make a flight home, or drive back in time to get to work.

The reality is getting up early enough to be among the first off the ship is anything but enjoyable.

Not only is waking up early unpleasant, a lot of other people have the exact same idea.  You still end up standing in a line to disembark the ship, and it always seems no matter what early time I get out of my room to get in that line, there are always way more people waiting before me than I expect.

On top of all of that, I end up groggy and tired for the rest of the day, with a nap later in the day to recuperate. 

Instead, I strive to make plans that do not require me to be off the ship quite so early (when possible) to avoid making the last morning quite so miserable.

Stay in the same cabin as my kids

I learned this lesson at an early stage with my children: I love them, but I do not love sleeping in the same room as them.

Just like at home, my kids have different sleeping habits than I do, and I prefer them go to bed at a certain time is not necessarily the same time as me.

In addition, having four of us in one room is usually a tight fit.  There are plenty of cabins for 4 people, but there is not usually a lot of space.  Rooms that do have more living space for a family of four tend to be suites, and those prices do not fit in our budget.

Instead, we book two connecting rooms so that we have a common inside door between my wife and I and the kids.  This way, the kids have their own space, their own beds, and their own sleep schedule.  We turn off the lights, wish them a good night and close the common door.  

Moreover, two rooms means two full bathrooms.  As my daughters get older, this investment is worth every penny.

Getting two rooms is not as expensive as it sounds, and even if we have to move down from a balcony for four people to two inside connecting rooms, the added space is worth it every time.

Read moreRoyal Caribbean adds connecting room feature to website search

Try to "wing it" in St. Thomas

I have generally had good luck in ports with walking off the ship and figuring things out as I go, but St. Thomas recently became the exception to that rule.

Due to the location of where your ship docks, a taxi is a must-have and if you want to go somewhere most others do not, getting a taxi became an exercise in futility.

On a cruise in 2019, I wanted to go to a part of St. Thomas no other cruise guests wanted to go. The taxi drivers were unwilling to take me because they could make more money going to higher demand tourist areas.

The result was I abandoned my plans to go there, and in the future, I will make arrangements ahead of time to avoid this issue.

Read moreGuide to visiting St. John on a Royal Caribbean cruise

Sleep in when visiting Perfect Day at CocoCay

If you think Royal Caribbean's private island is another beach day that you can sleep in before going, think again.

Perfect Day at CocoCay is an amazing destination that offers so much now, and the best strategy for getting a great spot and avoid lines is to wake up and get off the ship early.

If you are visiting the water park, being among the first off the ship is an absolute must-do so that you can avoid lines for slides later.

Being off the ship early also allows you to pick the best spots near the pool, beach, or bar.  This is especially important at Oasis Lagoon.

Read moreDo's & Don'ts of Perfect Day at CocoCay

Not bring cash with me to private islands

Labadee and CocoCay are Royal Caribbean's private islands and the cruise line allows you to use your SeaPass card to pay for drinks, excursions and other incidentals.

However, the people working on the island that are not cruise line employees cannot take payment with a SeaPass card.

A few times I completely forgot to bring any cash, since it was a cruise line destination, and ended up having to go back to the ship to get cash for tips.

You will find locals working certain excursions, cabana attendants, tram drivers and more. Tipping is customary in some situations, so having a little bit of cash is a must-do from now on.

What about you?

As you can tell, this list is very subjective to my experiences and I am willing to bet many others have their own set of "never again" things.

On the RoyalCaribbeanBlog message boards, our readers shared some of their top picks for things they will never do again on a cruise:

  • Sell expert lecture - Traveler
  • Walk to a beach - melmar02
  • Take the cruise line shuttle to the airport instead of a taxi - dawnelda
  • Snorkeling in Alaska - wstephensi
  • Pay cruise line prices for medication - Psycho and Barb
  • Get off the ship without a porter - coneyraven

Be sure to share your own experiences in the comments below!

2021 Royal Caribbean Cruise Planning Guide

In:
Category: 
30Dec2020

How do you plan for a cruise in 2021 with there not being any clear indication when cruises might restart?

Usually planning for a cruise in the coming year is a matter of following a pattern of tried-and-true strategies, but 2021 is going to be a mixed bag of cancellations, test cruises, and ever-changing rules.

If you have a cruise booked in 2021, or are trying to figure out when to book a cruise in 2021, I hope this guide provides some helpful guidelines for answering a few questions and help get you on the right track for a Royal Caribbean cruise.

If there is one mantra any cruise in 2021 will have, it is to expect changes. What we know in January versus March versus July is going to adjust greatly. The key is to be as flexible as possible when beginning the cruise planning process to ensure you are not caught in a tough spot.

If all the cancelled cruises of 2020 have taught us anything, it is important to be aware of Royal Caribbean's flexible cancellation policies, and keep tabs on what is happening with the cruise line getting government approval to sail again.

The good news is nearly every expert and industry observer expects there to be some level of cruise ship activity returning in 2021, and once cruises do restart, planning for a tangible cruise vacation is pretty easy once you are aware of the major pitfalls to avoid.

This page is a jumping off point to give you some background information on each aspect of the cruise, with a ton of links to other blog posts that offer much more detailed information.

When will cruises be able to restart?

No other question is as important (or daunting) as trying to figure out when cruises can actually resume sailing again.

In order to restart cruises, Royal Caribbean needs to get permission from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to sail again.  This involves demonstrating new health protocols are safe and effective to mitigating the spread of any virus onboard.

There is no public timeline on how soon that may occur, and all cruise lines will have to work with the CDC to conduct a series of simulated cruises that can prove ships are able to sail safely.

Read moreTop 14 things the CDC requires cruise ships do on test sailings

The other x-factor is the role of Covid-19 in the public sphere, and how quickly it can be contained and reduced in significance from a pandemic, to an epidemic, to localized health concerns. The advent of vaccines and their subsequent spread among the general public will aid that effort.

Most health experts seem to think the public health emergency will subside at some point in early to mid 2021, but how soon and quickly it occurs is yet another quandary.

If you are considering booking a Royal Caribbean cruise in 2021, you should be aware anything you book is questionable if it will actually sail, until the government restrictions have a clearer picture.

Read moreWhat does the Conditional Sailing Order mean for cruises to restart?

That isn't to say you should not plan a cruise. After all, no one can put their life on hold in order for there to be perfect conditions to have fun.

The key is if you are making plans, to ensure they are flexible in terms of being able to cancel and you are aware of the issues at hand.

What will be new for Royal Caribbean in 2021?

The biggest change for Royal Caribbean in 2021 will be arrival of its next new cruise ship, Odyssey of the Seas.

Odyssey is a big deal, because not only is she new a cruise ship, but she will be the first Quantum Ultra class ship to sail in the Western Hemisphere. The ship will have a two-level pool deck, as well as a collection of restaurant choices to enjoy.

Originally Odyssey of the Seas was going to start cruises in November 2020, but a combination of Royal Caribbean's financial turmoil and issues at the shipyard contributed to a delay.

Instead, she is scheduled to be delivered in Spring 2021, with her first sailings in May 2021 from Israel.

The other major change will be a variety of new health protocols, rules, and precautions to keep crew members and guests safe onboard.

Perhaps no other industry is taking as many precautions and adopting new rules in order to protect the health of its customers and workers than the cruise lines.

Some of the new changes you can expect are testing, the use of face coverings, and enhanced sanitation procedures on ships and in terminals. 

The entire cruise industry has adopted a broad new set of health protocols that exceed the rules and regulations imposed by other sectors of travel.

Read more5 ways cruise ships have tougher COVID-19 protocols than airplanes

The Healthy Sail Panel that created these new rules is chaired by Governor Mike Leavitt, former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The Healthy Sail Panel identified five areas of focus every cruise operator should address to improve health and safety for guests and crew, and reduce the risk of infection and spread of COVID-19 on cruise ships:

  • Testing, Screening and Exposure Reduction
  • Sanitation and Ventilation
  • Response, Contingency Planning and Execution
  • Destination and Excursion Planning
  • Mitigating Risks for Crew Members

What should you do differently when booking a 2021 cruise?

If you book a cruise in 2021, here are the most important things everyone should do before and after they book a cruise to ensure you do not run into problems later.

Read moreFive lessons I've learned from all these cancelled cruises

Book refundable cruise fare

In order to maximize your flexibility, always book refundable cruise fares instead of non-refundable fares.

While non-refundable cruise fare will save you a little bit of money, the ability to cancel before final payment and get cash back without penalties is something many cruisers later regret missing out on after booking non-refundable deposits.

While I usually booked refundable cruise fare even before the shutdown, I think now it is even more important to err on the side of caution and book refundable deposits whenever possible.

Work with a travel agent

I think using a travel agent has always been a good idea, but given how many changes there are, and the multitude of options for rebooking or dealing with cancelled cruises, using a travel agent is now a must-do.

All too often, I would see posts on social media from people upset about a variety of issues related to cancelled cruises. Refunds, future cruise credits, errors in reimbursement and trying to change dates were just some of the common areas where those without an agent were stuck on hold for hours to get a response.

While the old argument against using a travel agent of, "I prefer to manage it myself" may have been fine in the past, those managing it themselves were also dealing with relentless hold times and changing policies.

Keep track of when Cruise with Confidence program will expire

Royal Caribbean's Cruise with Confidence program is what has added so many flexible cancellation and rebooking options, but it will not be available forever.

The program has a lifespan, which has been regularly extended with each new batch of cancelled cruises. It is a really good idea to monitor when you have to take advantage of things like a full cancellation, Lift and Shift, or even the Best Price Guarantee.

Be aware of when the program will expire, and ensure that if Royal Caribbean decides not to extend it later on, you have ample time to decide if you want to cancel before the program ends or keep your reservation.

You don't have to decide immediately after a cruise is cancelled

When Royal Caribbean cancels cruises, a lot of people feel they have to instantly run to their phone or computer to make a decision as soon as possible, but the reality is you have plenty of time to decide.

Royal Caribbean gives guests three options for what to do about the cancelled cruise, but you also have a little bit of time to decide.

If you know with certainty what you want to do, that is great, but if you are uncertain you have some time to decide.  This is not like when a flight is cancelled and you are frantically trying to beat everyone else on the phone to find a new flight later that day.

How long should your cruise be?

Deciding on the duration of your cruise is a bit more simplified in 2021 than in previous years, thanks to government regulations and new protocols.

One of the rules the CDC has in place until at least November 2021 is cruises cannot be more than 7-nights. This rule applies to North American cruises, but it remains to be seen if longer cruises will be able to sail from other parts of the world.

For all intents and purposes, you will a choice of cruises between 3- and 7-nights to consider.

The length of the cruise you should take depends on what type of vacation you are considering.  Are you looking for a weekend escape, or do you want to get away from it all?

Short cruises (3-5 nights) go by so quickly and for someone new to cruising, it may not provide enough time on ship or on shore to really get a sense of it all. Moreover, on a per-night basis, the cost of a cruise tends to be cheaper the longer the sailing. 

Longer sailings (6-7 nights) tend to offer more of a balance between time on the ship and exploring the ports, but it does require more time off of work or school.  Plus, longer cruises will cost you more in their out-the-door price (even if it is a better per-night value).

Royal Caribbean ships are designed to be destinations rather than just a floating hotel room, so you will want more time to experience it all.  I typically find cruises closer to a week in length provide a great balance of value, time and opportunity. It is understandable if you are at the mercy of work or school calendars, which limit how much time your cruise can be.

How to pick a cruise ship

Royal Caribbean has dozens of cruise ships to pick from, so how do you know which one to book?

First and foremost, in addition to no one really knowing when cruises might restart in 2021, not every ship in the fleet will resume sailings at once. Instead, only a handful of ships may start sailing and more ships added later.

No one knows yet which ships will definitively start before others, so if being on a ship that has a higher likelihood of sailing first is important to you, then pick a ship offering short cruises from Florida.  Royal Caribbean has said these sort of sailings are the most likely candidates for returning to service first.

Cruise ships vary in size, offerings, and ports of call they will visit.  While Royal Caribbean's ships tend to be big, there is enough variation among the different classes of ships to offer everyone a good choice.

These ships are not just built to be big, rather, they are built to be large enough to house all the really cool adventures that await you.  Looking back to our first way Royal Caribbean differentiates itself, all those innovative activities need to go somewhere and so Royal Caribbean has built its ships bigger and bigger to offer more and more to its guests.

Read moreWhich is the best Royal Caribbean cruise ship?

In terms of those that are new to cruising, I recommend an Oasis- or Quantum-class cruise ship because they offer the most options and seem to match up well with what first time cruisers expect on a cruise ship.  Even if you have never taken a cruise before, these two classes of ships offer the kind of impressive features that many first timers read about being on the latest cruise ships.

Some of the best value these days are in the recently amplified ships that received major new upgrades, but still retain a lower average price than newer ships in the fleet. Mariner of the Seas, Navigator of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas and more that have gotten work done since the Royal Amplified program began are excellent choices as well.

How to book your cruise

When you are ready to make your Royal Caribbean cruise, you can certainly reserve your stateroom via RoyalCaribbean.com, which offers a simple, yet robust means of choosing your ship, stateroom and dining preferences.

The best way to find and book the right cruise for you is by using a travel agent. Imagine having someone with a wealth of knowledge about Royal Caribbean that can help you with your particular circumstances, preferences, and needs. That is what a good travel agent provides. It is a back-and-forth dialogue, and they are there to hold your hand and give you personalized advice.

If you go this route, look for a travel agent who primarily or exclusively does Royal Caribbean related bookings. Travel agents that specialize in Royal Caribbean are often fans of the cruise line too and enjoy planning their own trips and want to share their knowledge with others. When you seek out a travel agent, an agent with great knowledge of Royal Caribbean is critical to helping you have a better cruise experience. Royal Caribbean has spent an incredible amount of time and resources to help educate agents in what Royal Caribbean offers and it all ends up benefiting you.

Most travel agents specializing in Royal Caribbean are "no fee" agencies, which means it costs you absolutely nothing extra to book the cruise reservation from them (Royal Caribbean pays the travel agent a commission). Here is one such recommended travel agency that specializes in Royal Caribbean. If you are not convinced using a free travel agency that is recommended by Royal Caribbean is right for you, read our post discussing the benefits they offer.

Your Thoughts

Are you taking a Royal Caribbean cruise in 2021 or 2022? If you are a Royal Caribbean veteran, what tips would you add to this? If you’re a first-timer, is there anything else you’d like to know? We love hearing from readers, whether it be questions from newbies or tips from seasoned Royal Caribbean pros with tips of their own to add!

The best time to take an Alaska cruise

In:
Category: 
16Dec2020

Want to know when is the best time to go on an Alaska cruise for great weather, low prices, or fewer crowds?

While the short-term future of cruises is still murky at best, eventually cruise ships will be heading back out to Alaska and the beautiful natural scenery to enjoy in Alaska is simply unparalleled.

It is hard to top the majesty beauty of rugged glaciers, plethora of unique animal sightings, or huge mountains. Going on a cruise to Alaska is an extremely popular kind of cruise, because it offers an easy way to see so much in a compact amount of time.

While it is impossible to see and do it all over the course of a one week cruise, Alaska has the power to enchant even brief visitors.  So while you are stuck at home, this may be the perfect time to start planning a cruise to The Last Frontier.

Here is your guide for figuring out the best times to visit for your first (or 50th) Alaska cruise.

The best time for an Alaska cruise to avoid crowds

The Alaska cruise season runs between May and September, but there are definite ebbs and flows to demand and crowds in the ports you will visit.

If you are looking for the months with the lowest crowds in Alaska, try for May or September.  These are the "shoulder season" months, which is when the season begins and ends, and is when you will find less people vying for a cruise. 

Moreover, going during May or September is also when most kids are still in school, which means families are unable to cruise during this period.

The downside to these months is the weather tends to be the most unpredictable, and that can be an issue with possibly impacting your shore excursions.  Most notably helicopter and boat excursions are the most at risk.

Read moreWhat is the best time to cruise to Alaska?

The best months for an Alaska cruise for good weather

The weather in Alaska can, and will, change multiple times per day, but you will find the warmest months to be June, July and August.

The median months will see higher temperatures and longer days for touring, and it represents the limited summer that Alaska enjoys. However, July and August tend to also have higher levels of precipitation.

If you do book a cruise during summer, be sure to plan your shore excursions well in advance to avoid tours selling out.

If you are willing to trade warmth for less precipitation, then go for May. In fact, the end of May and the beginning of June offers some of the best weather in the region throughout the year.

If you want to see snow on the ground, May is the best month for that.

Read moreComparing the Royal Caribbean ships sailing in Alaska 2021

The best months for an Alaska cruise for low prices

Alaska is not a cheap cruise, but if you want to save money on your cruise fare, then your best bet is May or September.

For the same reasons May and September feature lower crowds, these months see most often the lowest prices for a cruise because of the combination of colder temperatures and the school calendar.

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

The best time to see the Northern Lights on an Alaska cruise

Few places allow for viewing of the aurora borealis, and the best time see the Northern Lights is in September.

September is the time of year when the sun sets earlier during the cruise season, which means the sky gets darker and makes for the most ideal viewing conditions.

Of course, temperatures during September will be lower than other times of the year, but the opportunity to see the Northern Lights is a real treat.

As mentioned in this article, not only does September provide the opportunity to see the Northern Lights, but you will also enjoy less crowds and likely lower prices on a cruise.

Read moreTop 10 tips for planning your Alaska cruise

The best time to see wildlife on an Alaska cruise

You will see plenty of wildlife during your Alaska cruise throughout the cruise season. The best months to catch a glimpse of the amazing fauna that call Alaska home are the months of June and July. 

  • Moose: Moose give birth around June.
  • Caribou: June is the best month to see herds of caribou
  • Humpback Whales:  June and July is when the humpback whales migrate through Alaska's Inside Passage.
  • Black bears: Spring is ideal because the new vegetation lures back in sheep, mountain goats and black bears. July is also good because that is when salmon runs start to get busy.
  • King Salmon: King salmon runs start in late May.
  • Bird watching: June is when you have the best change to see unusual birds migrating.

Read moreWhat Is an Alaska Inside Passage Cruise?

10 mistakes travel agents see people make going on a cruise ship

In:
Category: 
08Dec2020

Everyone makes mistakes, and no one sees more of them than travel agents.

Whether these mistakes are being made by first time cruisers, or someone that has been on a few sailings, travel agents often triage the fallout of these problems and work to make things right.

I reached out to my friends at MEI Travel to see what sort of rookie mistakes they see more often from guests, so that everyone can learn to avoid them.

Booking non-refundable deposit

Everyone wants to save money where they can, but booking non-refundable cruise deposit and regretting it later is a common mistake travel agents see all the time.

Royal Caribbean offers two types of deposits: refundable and non-refundable.

Non-refundable deposits mean a little extra savings, but you incur change fees if you want to change the reservation to another ship or sailing, or if you want to cancel.

As is often the case, guests want to book the non-refundable to save money up front, but run into trouble when plans change and they incur the penalties.

My advice is to always book refundable cruise fare for the flexibility it provides.

Minimum bids for RoyalUp

A relatively new way to get a cabin upgrade for less than the post rate is to place a bid with the RoyalUp program, but how much you bid is a major factor.

RoyalUp is a blind bidding process, where close to your cruise you can place a bid for how much you would be willing to pay to move up a higher category stateroom.

Sharla Manglass said the minimum bid amount often sets the wrong expectation because people bid the minimum and expect to get the upgrade.

Ms. Manglass says guests should place their bid, and then check with a travel agent to see what the price is for an upgrade because sometimes you can find a good deal by upgrading the old fashioned way.

Read moreHow to upgrade your cabin on Royal Caribbean

Not asking their travel agent for more help

I love using travel agent to book my cruises because of the services they provide, but all too often people book with travel agents and never take advantage of their expertise.

Asking a travel agent for help beyond the booking is something you should absolutely be doing, because it is part of what makes a travel advisor so useful.

Travel agents can provide advice on which shore excursions to book, the best dining times and answer questions along the way.

"I'm not just there to price check," Ms. Manglass said. "I can help out every step of the way."

Read more10 Secrets Royal Caribbean travel agents wish you knew

Not booking travel under their legal name

Attention Bob, Becky, Matt, Mike, Vicky and Jen: be sure to book your cruises under your legal name and not your nicknames.

Not booking travel under your legal name can lead to a problem at check-in when the names do not match up.

From a legal standpoint, the ship manifest has to match your name on your legal documents, such as passport or birth certificate.

Double check you are providing your legal names when booking to avoid a mess at the pier.

Read moreDo you need a passport for a cruise?

Overlooking purchasing travel insurance

Another common mistake is to not understand why you might need travel insurance.

Travel insurance plans cover a wide variety of scenarios, from lost luggage to travel delays to injuries.

Michelle Cunningham thinks travel insurance has never been more important to consider than for cruises now, "Nowadays, its more about sickness or injury, or needing to be life-flighted somewhere Insurance I think will become mandatory for some places."

Read moreWhy you should get travel insurance for your cruise

Waiting to book at the last minute

While last minute cruise deals are not impossible, they are extremely rare and you are less likely to save money relying on this strategy.

Cruise pricing close to the sail date tends to become quite volatile, and quite often travel agents see prices go up rather than go down.

"This only works for some cruises but we have seen cruise rates jump a lot so honestly booking farther out is a better options," Ms. Cunningham said.

What you want to do instead is book your cruise as early as you can to lock in the best rates.  Typically, the lower prices are many months before the cruise sails.

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

Not having proper or expired documentation

You will need certain government issued documents in order to go on your cruise, so do not wait until the last minute to verify you have them.

Moreover, double check your passport will not be expired by the time your cruise vacation occurs. All too often, people look at their passport expiration date today, and do not take into account the passport expiration date relative to their cruise travel.

If your passport expires, you cannot use it to check in for the cruise.

Ms. Cunningham always reminds her clients to check their passports at final payment date, it is a good idea to check even earlier, "clients sometimes do not pull out their passport until the week of the cruise, then its too late to do anything."

Read moreChoosing between the passport card vs book

Not understanding how gratuities work

Gratuities on a Royal Caribbean cruise can trip up first timers because it is not built into the cruise fare price, but it is still expected as part of the overall vacation.

Jennifer Kelln told me some cruisers are not aware that gratuities are automatically charged once the cruise begins.

A way to avoid the surprise later is to pre-pay your gratuities before the cruise.

Read moreShould you prepay gratuities for a Royal Caribbean cruise?

Waiting to book excursions on the ship

Researching what there is to do in each port and finding the right shore excursion is often overlooked in the vacation planning process.

Not doing any research on what there is to do in each port your ship visits leaves you at a disadvantage by trying to "wing it". Plus, you risk tours selling out or paying more for the same tours on the ship.

You can avoid this problem by doing a little bit of research before your cruise (don't forget to ask your travel agent for advice), as well as price shop. Royal Caribbean often runs sales on shore excursions before the cruise begins.

Read moreHow to save money on cruise excursions

Flying the same day the cruise departs

A major faux pas is to book your flights the same day your cruise departs because you are putting you entire vacation in jeopardy if there is any kind of travel delay.

Travel delays are all too common: cancelled flights, snow storms, flat tires, etc. If your flight gets you in later than scheduled, you might end up missing the cruise ship all together.

Instead, plan to arrive to your departure port at least one day early so that you can protect yourself against a travel delay impacting your ability to get on your cruise. 

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.

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

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