Planning

Trying to answer the most common Royal Caribbean question

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24Jul2018

One of the most common questions someone new to Royal Caribbean has is how good is a certain Royal Caribbean ship.  Or if a certain ship is too old/new/boring/outdated/flashy these days.  Or better yet, a question along the lines of, "I read a lot of negative reviews about ____ of the Seas, so should I not go on it?".

Based purely on the frequency of these types of questions, we wanted to tackle the general notion of trying to answer this question.  Interestingly enough, the answer is to question the inquiry itself.

Cruise ships are not like takeout diner

Arguably one of the best uses of the internet is the ability to research any venue, show, eatery, book and get instant feedback on how good or bad it is.  Websites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google and Rotten Tomatoes have all built their reputations on giving consumers the opportunity to share their experience and thoughts.  So when it comes to a cruise ship vacation, why not apply the same logic?

The reality is cruise ships offer such a varied and experiential vacation that it cannot be properly reviewed in its entirety based on a single experience.  Cruises are by their very design a "create your own adventure" experience.  You could sit at the pool every day of the cruise and never do one activity, whereas the guy next to you could be zip lining, crocheting, belly flopping and dancing the night away.  In short, we all cruise differently.

The age of a ship is equally irrelevant to determining how good or bad it is.  Cruise ships are not like the family car that you own.  In most cases, people buy a car, but never add significant new features after purchasing it.  Cruise ships undergo extensive refurbishments periodically and regular maintenance every few years.  While you could probably look at the corners of a room and see a piece of rust or inspect the upholstery of a chair for worn material, those aspects are superficial and irrelevant to the overall experience. 

...but I read bad things about that ship

Negative reviews have a powerful effect on everyone.  Think about a time someone shared a rotten experience involving a certain restaurant, movie, book or car repair shop and how quickly you probably abandoned any consideration of trying it yourself.

The thing to remember is one person's experience is not indicative of what yours will be.  Think about broccoli.  I could find hundreds of people who hate broccoli and never want to eat it ever again. I could find another few hundred people that love broccoli, and think it is really good.  Then of course you have people who have written negative reviews of Star Wars, chocolate, newborn babies and Alf.  All that proves is we have different tastes in things.

There was a great piece in the New York Times titled, "Why You Can’t Really Trust Negative Online Reviews" and it starts off with this wonderful fact:

"The Great Wall of China has more than 9,000 Google reviews, with an average of 4.2 stars. Not bad for one of the most astonishing achievements in human history."

One of the greatest feats of mankind left some people questioning how good it really was.  This is why those people that gave Anthem of the Seas a one star review is frankly ludicrous. The fact negative reviews exist about any Royal Caribbean ship is not a sign of a pitfall or disaster waiting to happen.  Rather, it just goes to show you that you cannot please everyone.

I really love this line from that Times article, which really sums up why online reviews are anything but a definitive way of booking a cruise, "Reviews are subjective, and the tiny subset of people who leave them aren’t average."

The answer is the always the same

Inevitably when someone asks what I think of a certain Royal Caribbean ship, or if they should avoid a certain ship, I always give the same answer because it applies to every single Royal Caribbean ship in the fleet.

They are all great ships and you can have a great time on any of them.

No ship in the fleet is inherently flawed, and no ship is a mistake to sail on.  Are some ships older than others? Of course, that is a chronological fact.  But age does not make a ship better or worse than another.

I firmly believe anyone can have a great time on any Royal Caribbean ship.  It just comes down to a few simple steps you need to take before stepping foot onboad, which are truths that can be applied to any sort of travel:

  1. Cruise with an open mind
  2. Be flexible
  3. Research before booking what the ship does and does not offer

What you should do instead of reading reviews

First and foremost, stop reading online reviews of these ships.  They are at best a quirky form of entertainment, and certainly not a proper barometer of what makes a ship great or not.

What you want to to do instead is look into what features, amenities and entertainment a ship offers and figure out if that is what you are interested in. You need to figure out what you are looking for in a cruise and then see which ship might be a better fit for you.

Some Royal Caribbean ships have water slides, and some do not.  Some have Broadway shows and some do not.  Some have FlowRider surf simulators and some do not.  Some have a multitude of specialty restaurants and some have just a couple. Which of these matters to you? 

The key to going on a great ship is going on a ship that offers the kind of experience that will appeal to you.

One story I like to tell is about a man at the Solarium pool on Brilliance of the Seas that I struck up a conversation with on a past cruise.  We talked about a few topics before he complained, "this ship is terrible.  We went on Oasis of the Seas last time and there was so much more to do."

Naturally I just smiled and went whatever he said to avoid an awkward exchange.  But deep down, I wanted to respond that of course Oasis of the Seas will offer much more to do than Brilliance.  Oasis of the Seas is more than double the size of Brilliance (225,000 GT compared to 90,000 GT).  More space equals more options to pack into the ship.  

Had this person done some research into Brilliance of the Seas, they would have realized that they clearly enjoy the type of experience Oasis of the Seas offers, and the Brilliance of the Seas does not have a number of the onboard activities and entertainment that Oasis of the Seas.  It does not make Brilliance of the Seas a bad ship, just a different one.

What you want to focus on

Now that you know what not to worry about (general reviews of ships), you should know that learning about a ship is still a great idea.  You ought to focus on figuring out what you want from the cruise and which ships offer things to do that appeal the most to you.

If you do not have kids, then picking a ship with a large Adventure Ocean space or DreamWorks Experience may not really matter much.  If you consider yourself a foodie, then a Royal Caribbean ship with lots of specialty dining options might be something to lean towards.

Essentially, you want to look at what the ship and itinerary offer, and determine which combination might be the best option for you.

Your thoughts

How much have online reviews played a role in determining which ship you do or do not cruise on?  Does the ships' age matter in your decision making? Please share your experiences when it comes to recommending one ship over another in our comments.

What we spent on our last Royal Caribbean cruise

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29May2018

Please welcome Kathy Constantine as our guest blogger today! She took a previous blog post we did and is providing her own look at the total cost of a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Inspired by Matt’s post sharing the cost of his sailing on the Brilliance earlier this year, I thought we would share with everyone the cost of sailing with four adults on a seven night cruise onboard Royal Caribbean's Adventure of the Seas.

Cruise Cost Summary

Adventure of the Seas May 18, 2018
Cruise length: 7 nights
Stateroom category: J3 Junior Suite 
Passengers: 4 adults
The travelers:  Myself, my husband, and our two college-aged sons.  My in-laws also joined us on the cruise. 

Cruise fare total (including pre-paid gratuities): $4282.88
Pre-cruise purchases:  $450 (bungalow, BCH dep, arcade, Voom, coffee card) 
Onboard spending: $390 (Izumi, drinks, clothes, pictures)
Cash spending onshore: $300 (BCH final, Grills)
Cash spending onboard: $110 (slot pull & additional gratuities)
Miscellaneous at port: $150 (parking & porter gratuities)
GRAND TOTAL: $5682.88

How did we spend that much? Outside of accommodations, we feel like really did not spend much at all.

Stateroom

Junior suite: worth it or not?  We originally had booked two connecting panoramic ocean view rooms for the four of us but on a whim decided to have our travel agent price a Junior Suite instead.  For approximately $100 less, we got to try out the bigger room and gained a coffee maker & kettle, big closet, and a bathtub. Oh, and double Crown & Anchor points.  All good, except did not love the bathroom. 

Prior to the cruise, our travel agent tried to request a cot but apparently our room category does not have room for one.  We asked onboard, and our stateroom attendant was happy to oblige.  There was more than enough room.  Only disadvantage was that the chairs from the seating area blocked the balcony door, and we have to wiggle them around to get out at night.

Onboard Expenses

Adult beverages: We wanted to see exactly how much we would spend on drinks without a drink package to gauge its worth to us.  We drank freely, ordering what we wanted when we wanted it, and quickly realized that a drink package was not a good fit for us as we could not justify the cost over seven days.

We waited patiently for a drink card to appear, and on day 3, the draft beer for $57.82 (including gratuity) showed up on one of the ad boards.  We grabbed one.  We did learn afterwards to ask what was on draft before purchasing, as there was only three options at the pub and two options in the Schooner Bar. While each option was tasty, we got tired of those choices by the time we reached the final punches. 

The full drink card did not appear until day 7 so at that point was not worth it.  Since we did not have a drink package, we also brought on two bottles of wine.  Looking at our statement, we spent about $67 on drinks, plus an additional $6 for the boys BOGO milkshakes.  

Prior to the cruise, we purchased a coffee card.  My family enjoys our Starbucks, and since Adventure has premium coffees available at Cafe Promenade on board, we decided to pick up this shareable item before the cruise. 

For the low price of $31 (plus gratuities) = $36.58 you get 15 punches on the card.  On this sailing (as it seems to vary by ship) you got one punch for a tall or grande, and two for a venti. Frozen drinks were two punches.  

Between three of us, we had a hard time using all 15 punches. Not sure we’d purchase again on a seven night sailing.

Sushi making class: $35 pp plus gratuity times three people = $123.90

My husband, Tony, participated in this class on Harmony of the Seas and loved it, so he wanted to do it again with our boys. The amount of sushi you get for the money is amazing, and none of them could eat it all.  In fact, the staff at Izumi encourage you to have family members join you afterwards to help eat.  My mother-in-law happily obliged and even with a fourth person they each left rolls on their plates. 

Arcade: $40 
Those two college-aged boys I mentioned earlier?  They each asked for arcade credit as you cannot be separated from video games.  In advance, I paid $20 each and they received $25 arcade credit.  They were not at all thrilled with the options and many of the games were never working.  There is also no way to know how much of your pre-paid credit you have used, without keeping a mental tally. It does not show up anywhere.  

Voom: 2 device Surf & Stream package = $186.06
Since I would be Periscoping during our voyage, and my college boys needed to keep in contact with the girlfriend and friends at home, a minimum of a two device package was required.  We purchased the Twangster-recommended travel router for the cabin but I did not include it in my costs, as it is for all cruising and not specific to this one.  Voom was very cooperative most of the trip, only a few times the connection was too poor to periscope, but we could easily get online. 

Slot pull: $60 in, $32 back out.  
Our Meet & Mingle group organized a slot pull.  Since my boys are legal to gamble on the ship (and not here in NJ) they wanted to participate too.  $15 each was the buy in, and we all got $8 back.  

The only other onboard purchases were a shirt each, Tony bought a hat, and family photos. $65

Shore Excursions

 

We had three stops on this sailing. Port Canaveral, CocoCay & Nassau.

In Port Canaveral, we met up with fellow Periscopers for drinks & apps at Grills. $53 for the four of us, drinks & food.

CocoCay was our next stop.  Since there was six of us, we rented a bungalow.  We secured a great price during a Cruise Planner sale of $209.  Includes four bottles of Evian water, two floating mats, transportation all around the island (they are a bit far from the main area) and towels so you don’t have to lug them off the ship. Also included is food brought to your bungalow so you don’t have to go to the main BBQ area.  Well worth the price for six.  

We had reserved ahead of time jet skis for our boys, but it was too windy so that got canceled.  

In Nassau, we made reservations for day passes at the British Colonial Hilton.  Based on recommendations from Matt & other cruisers we booked ahead of time using resortforaday.com, which offers discounted passes.  You pay a small deposit per person when booking, then the remainder by credit card when you arrive.  Our deposit was $17 per person then $62 per person upon arrival for a total of $79 each = $316. You got a $40 food & beverage credit as part of that, and we left about $4 on our account.

That’s about it.  Parking for the week was $140, and we gave the porter $10 tip on arrival for a grand total of $150 miscellaneous.  

So overall, we spent about $1,400 per person all-inclusive for a 7 night vacation.  When thinking back about how much food alone my own two boys consumed during that time...we got our money’s worth!  After putting this together I went back to compare what we spent to what Matt & his wife spent on their, four night cruise, and it looks about comparable.  $400 more per person for three extra nights.

Top things to do after booking a Royal Caribbean cruise

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03May2018

After you book a Royal Caribbean cruise, you are likely trying to figure out what are the important things to know and do prior to the day when it is your turn to set sail.

Cruise planning can be a very fun and satisfying experience, and we picked the most important things everyone should consider doing prior to their cruise departure.  

Transfer to a travel agent

You took our advice and booked your Royal Caribbean cruise through a travel agent, right? Right?

If you did not, you have up to 60 days after booking a Royal Caribbean cruise to transfer the reservation to a travel agent so that they can assist in ensuring your cruise vacation goes off without a hitch.

Not only is a good travel agent have no cost associated with it, travel agents provide a tremendous amount of service.  They are your sounding board when you need advice on things like upgrading, changing staterooms, itinerary details, etc.  If there is a problem with your reservation, they are your partner in getting things taken care of quickly and easily. And, travel agents are there to help you save money wherever possible, like in the case of a price drop.

Add your reservation to the Cruise Planner

Now that your cruise is booked, you likely want to start the pre-cruise planning process by looking over the shore excursions, drink packages, specialty dining choices and other fun activities you can reserve.  A majority of this can be done by linking your cruise reservation to your Royal Caribbean account.

You can access the Cruise Planner by filling out the necessary fields on Royal Caribbean's web site.  Alternatively, you can log into the site if you already have an account set up.

Once logged in, you will have access to every detail of your sailing, including shore excursions, beverage packages, entertainment, dining reservations and more.

Arrive to the departure port at least one day early


 

In the grand scheme of travel, there are certain aspects that you have little to no control over, such as mechanical breakdowns, bad weather or other types of delays.

The key to mitigating the effects of these kind of delays is to give yourself more time to get to the departure port area. 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.  The last thing you want to do is put your entire cruise vacation in jeopardy because of a delayed flight or flat tire.

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.

Arrive to the cruise terminal early

Nobody likes to wait in a line, so if you want to ensure a smooth and quick embarkation process, we advise getting to the cruise terminal early in the morning to get there before "everyone else" shows up. 

By arriving early, you will beat the big crowds that descend upon the cruise terminal later in the day, and you also get the added benefit of having some extra time onboard the ship.

Royal Caribbean may send you an email about boarding times, but those are mostly suggestions and not enforced at all. If you followed our previous advice about arriving to your port city early, then likely your hotel will have a check-out time in the early part of the morning, which is the perfect excuse to head to the cruise port.

If you are wondering what time we mean when we say, "early", we are talking about sometime between 10:30am and 11:30am. The earlier you arrive on embarkation day, the earlier you will board the ship. 

Research the ports you will be visiting

The ports of call you visit are an exciting aspect to any Royal Caribbean cruise, so it is important to educate yourself on what these ports of call offer and what type of activities are available before you leave your home.

You certainly can book shore excursions onboard the ship, but lines tend to develop at the shore excursion desk.  By researching excursions at home, you afford yourself more time to compare different options and learn about what each port is known for.

You can view all the shore excursions available by logging into Royal Caribbean's Cruise Planner and browsing the shore excursions by port.  Each excursion will list the price, details of the activity and any physical or age restrictions.

Royal Caribbean offers a lot of shore excursions in every port and on top of that, you can also consider shore excursions through third party groups to further expand your options.

Read a past Cruise Compass

After booking a Royal Caribbean cruise, you may have questions about themed nights, activities offered onboard, show times and more.

There is no way to know in absolute terms what your upcoming Royal Caribbean cruise will or will not offer, because Royal Caribbean does not publish its activities or entertainment in advance. What you can do to learn about what to expect on your sailing is to consult a past Cruise Compass to see what was available on those similar sailings.

A Cruise Compass is Royal Caribbean's daily newspaper that is distributed to guests on each day of the cruise.  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.

Your thoughts

Did we miss any critical things to do after booking a cruise? Any other tips? Any questions? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

5 Royal Caribbean cruise mistakes that are not really a mistake

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20Apr2018

If you are new to Royal Caribbean, there may be some aspects of the cruise experience that seem like they would be a mistake to do, but the reality is, it may be quite the opposite.

Here are five examples of ideas that may seem like a mistake, but are actually a good idea.

Cruising during hurricane season

The phrase, "hurricane season" seems to inflict the kind of fear into cruisers that makes it seem as though if you book a Royal Caribbean cruise between June 1 and November 30, you are asking for ocean conditions that rival that of a bathtub filled with an angry toddler.

The reality is, cruising during hurricane season is not nearly as dangerous or bad an experience as you may think.

Yes, there is a chance a hurricane may form and be directly in the path of where your cruise ship is scheduled to be, but if that were to occur, Royal Caribbean will re-schedule the ship to steer well-clear of the path of the storm.  Royal Caribbean actually has their own dedicated meteorologist who plans around storms and works to ensure guests, crew and ship are out of harms way.

Moreover, cruising during hurricane season can save you a lot of money.  If you book a cruise in September or October, you can often find some great deals on a Royal Caribbean cruise because this is a time of year many others cannot cruise.  

Using a porter

"I can carry my own luggage!"

Of course you can handle your own luggage, but why should you?  You are on vacation and lugging around luggage is the last thing you need to be bothered with doing.

The port you start and end your cruise with will have porters standing by to assist with your luggage.  Their services are free to use, but a tip is expected.  For a few dollars, you can avoid the hassle of grabbing your luggage. Carrying your own luggage should be a feat of strength, so spending a few dollars to let someone else do it makes it so much easier.

The best time to take advantage of the porters is on disembarkation day.  Not only are you tired from waking up early and depressed you have to leave the ship, but there is another good reason to use porters.  In many ports, there is a special line at Customs for porters, which means you may get through the Customs line quicker.

Arriving to the cruise terminal before your boarding time

You checked in for your Royal Caribbean cruise and see on your Set Sail pass a boarding time.  Believe it or not, that is a suggestion and not a requirement.

Royal Caribbean does not enforce boarding times.  They are just something they provide to give guests a ballpark idea of when to arrive.

While there is nothing wrong with adhering to the boarding time you are given, you should absolutely feel free to arrive earlier than the posted time so that you can get onboard sooner.  In fact, we think getting to the ship as early as possible is to your advantage to beat the crowds and start your vacation sooner.

Quite often, the cruise terminal opens many hours before your boarding time states, and boarding of the ship will commence shortly thereafter. In fact, the boarding process is largely predicated on a first-come, first boarded process.  So the earlier you check-in, the earlier you will board.

Ordering more than one entrée

When you dine at a Royal Caribbean restaurant (such as the main dining room), you can order multiple entrées.  In fact, it is encouraged!

When you dine at a restaurant on land, ordering multiple entrées is not only expensive, but seems glutenous and unnecessary.  On Royal Caribbean, ordering multiple entrées is actually a great idea.  The portion sizes of entrées in the main dining room are often smaller than you may think, and all the food in the main dining room is included in your cruise fare.  You can also order as many appetizers or desserts as well.

Another advantage of ordering multiple entrées is it is the perfect opportunity to try new foods.  Since there is no financial risk, give that escargot a try!

In Royal Caribbean's specialty restaurants, all will allow you order multiple appetizers and desserts, and with the exception of Chops Grille, you can order as many entrées there too.

Booking a shore excursion only (or never) with Royal Caribbean

No matter where your Royal Caribbean cruise takes you, it is a mistake to completely disregard or only consider a shore excursion bought through Royal Caribbean.

In our experience, it is best to consider all excursion options and not limit yourself to just Royal Caribbean excursions, or just third-party excursions.

When researching each port that you will be visiting, never assume going it on your own or through Royal Caribbean is an absolute must or mistake.  

Did we miss any?

Is there a commonly held thought when it comes to planning a Royal Caribbean cruise that you think is not a mistake?  Have you encountered one of these situations yourself? Share your experiences and thoughts in our comments!

What we spent on our last Royal Caribbean cruise

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05Feb2018

New cruisers are often curious to know how much does a Royal Caribbean cruise really cost, so we sought to share with everyone an example of the total cost of our 4-night Royal Caribbean cruise on Brilliance of the Seas. 

Our costs will obviously vary from many others, but I hope it provides helpful insight into budgeting for a cruise.

Cruise Cost Summary

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the various costs, I wanted to provide a ballpark picture of how much we spent.  This includes costs before and during the cruise.  

I prefer to break up the total cost of the cruise by making certain cruise purchases prior to when we sail, as it avoids having all the cruise costs in one billing cycle. Each of the costs will be broken down further in this post.

Cruise Fare

Cruise Legnth: 4-nights
Stateroom: Category E1 Balcony
Passengers: 2
Cruise fare total: $1193.46 (including gratuities)
Pre-Cruise purchases: $342.74
Onboard spending: $271.28
Cash spending (on shore): $100 (estimate)
Cash spending (onboard): $150 (estimate)

GRAND TOTAL: $2057.48

Specialty Dining

Before the cruise began, we pre-purchased the BOGO 2 Night Dining Package, along with a seperate reseration for Giovanni's Table.  I enjoy the main dining room, but my wife felt since it was just the two of us, we would be better off with specialty dining.  We have dined on many occasions in the main dining room, but it is an experience that we enjoy the most when we are dining with friends (or Billy).

I also write restaurant reviews for this blog, so the opportunity to try the dining package and re-visit some restaurants is something unique to my style of cruising.  

BOGO 2 Night Dining Package: $80 + $5 gratuity
Giovanni's Table reservation: $48
Izumi overage (from BOGO 2 night dining package): $23.80
Dinner at Izumi on night 3 (not included in dining package): $57.82
Sushi making class: $33.04

Spa

My wife puts up with a lot of nerdiness before, during, and after the cruise.  She often hears me say things like, "Honey, I need to go do a Facebook Live" and then disappear for an hour.  Thus, I try to ensure my wife has some reward for putting up with all of that, so we booked her a salon appointment before the cruise.  

I prebooked it during a Cruise Planner sale and I feel like the price was cheaper than if we had waited to book onboard.  The service included gratuity when I booked it, but my wife gave the stylist a small tip on top of that after the appointment. Suffice to say, I think she liked it.

Shampoo / Cut and Style Dry (Long Hair): $98.22 (including gratuity)

Internet

Since I live blog from the cruise, I always purchase an internet package.  I went with the two device plan to give my wife internet access as well.  

I was pleasantly surprised with the performance of the internet on Brilliance of the Seas.  I was able to browse and post on social media with ease, managed to do many live videos while onboard, and found it fast enough not to remind me of the "old days of cruising".  It was still not as responsive or reliable as the internet on an Oasis or Quantum class ship, but significantly better than when we were on Brilliance a few years ago.

2 VOOM Surf + STREAM Voyage Package - 2 Device: $121.52

Beverages

After much deliberation, we did not purchase any drink package before our cruise. Our strategy was to rely on drink specials at bars onboard, drink a lot in Cozumel, bring our own bottles of wine onboard, and hope for a drink card to appear.

In retrospect, everything worked out as we planned.  In fact, I was surprised how low the bar bill was for the two of us prior to the drink card showing up on day three. I would be curious to compare this to another cruise we may take in the future when the weather is nicer and the temperatures warmer, to see if that contributes any to our spending.

Drink Card: $88.50
Individual drink orders: $57.12

Excursions

We did not purchase an excursion through Royal Caribbean or through a third party.  We simply took a taxi to downtown Cozumel and walked around on our own.  We did a bit of shopping, and ate at a few different restaurants.  We even stopped at a grocery store on the way back to the ship to pick up tortilla chips to bring home.

I freely admit I did not keep receipts or track of what we paid, so I am making an educated guess on what we spend in Cozumel.  It may have been higher or lower than these numbers indicate, but it is close enough.

We also tipped the porter when we arrived to the Port of Tampa.  Since we took our own luggage off the ship when we returned, there was no porter service necessary.  If you are wondering about the cost to get to the port and parking, my father graciously drove us so we paid that back in love.

Taxi fare: $20 (with tips)
Drink and food around Cozumel: $70 (estimated)
Porter on embarktion day: $10

Casino

You can blame me for nearly all the spending in the casino, because I am drawn to it like a moth to the flame.  I know it is more likely we will lose than win, but I really enjoy playing for the thrill of it.  My wife rolls her eyes and tries to talk me out of it, but it is no use.

On this cruise, the casino gods were extremely unkind and I never lost my money so quickly.  We mostly played roulette and slots, although I did spend $10 on the quarter machine because there was so much motion in the ocean that I thought my odds were better.  

Alas, at the time I enjoyed the thrill of it, but recognize I could have spent that money elsewhere (like on more sushi from Izumi).

Estimated losses: $150

Guide to Royal Caribbean 2018 new cruise ships and refurbishments

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16Jan2018

It looks like 2018 will be a pretty big year for Royal Caribbean with a lot of changes, but no change is bigger than the anticipated arrival of a new cruise ship and refurbishment of quite a few others.

Each year, Royal Caribbean plans on changes to its fleet of ships and if you are considering a 2018 cruise, then you are certainly going to want to consider some of these ships that are getting new upgrades or are joining the fleet for the first time.

Here is what you need to know about the cruise ships joining Royal Caribbean's fleet and which ships will be upgraded this year.

New cruise ships in 2018

There is just one new ship joining Royal Caribbean's fleet in 2018, but it is going to be a big deal (emphasis on "big").

Symphony of the Seas

It is quite likely that of all the new ships to debut in 2018 across the cruise industry, very likely you will hear quite a bit about Symphony of the Seas.

Symphony of the Seas is the fourth Oasis class ship in the fleet and will become the largest cruise ship in the world, with 16 guest decks, encompassing more than 230,000 gross registered tons and carry 5,500 guests at double occupancy across 2,759 staterooms.

Symphony of the Seas will feature many of the amazing features that made her sister ships famous, as well as offer own unique features.  

Symphony of the Seas will call home a brand new cruise terminal in PortMiami, designed specifically for this ship. The new terminal will not only look impressive, it will feature something the cruise line calls, "frictionless arrival".  When guests arrive to the port, they can use their mobile phone to check-in and board the ship with just a security checkpoint between the curb and the ship. A redesigned check-in experience will eliminate lines and bypasses the counter. The new process will leverage a combination of facial recognition, bar codes and beacons to make boarding fast and frictionless.

Once onboard the ship, there will be some new dining options to try, like fresh New England style seafood at Hooked Seafood restaurant, game day favorites at Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade, or authentic Mexican fare at El Loco Fresh.

Symphony of the Seas will be the first Oasis Class ship to offer laser tag at sea in Studio B. An epic glow-in-the-dark laser tag experience. State-of-the-art technology and special effects will transform Studio B into the ultimate laser tag arena as family, friends and foes battle over the fate of the last planet in the galaxy.

Symphony of the Seas will also offer signature entertainment onboard that has distinguished the cruise line from all others.  The hit Broadway musical "Hairspray" is coming back to Royal Caribbean on Symphony of the Seas.  "Flight" is a brand new show in the Royal Theater that takes you through the history and future of flight. HiRo in the Aqua Theater is a new show that combines cutting-edge technology, future-forward choreography, unexpected stunts and highly innovative, physically extraordinary acrobatics.

There is plenty more to love about Symphony of the Seas, including The Perfect Storm trio of water slides, dancing robot bartenders at Bionic Bar, virtual balcony staterooms, Central Park and Boardwalk neighborhoods, and Voom high speed internet, just to name a few.

Symphony of the Seas will debut in April 2018 and offer an initial European season prior to coming to Miami in November 2018.

Cruise ship refurbishments in 2018

Royal Caribbean is always looking to add more value to their ships and in 2018, four Royal Caribbean ships are getting upgrades, refurbishments and some nice changes.

Here is a list of what you can expect to see changed in the coming year.

Allure of the Seas

Allure of the Seas is going into dry dock in about a week to get its propulsion fixed, which should rectify a problem that was first identified last summer.

The work being done is limited to fixing the propulsion, so while the ship is getting work done, there is nothing exciting to report on when the ship returns.  Of course, a fully operational propulsion system is always a good feature to have onboard.

Adventure of the Seas

Adventure of the Seas will undergo a 30-day refurbishment at the end of January to add new features and updates.

Royal Caribbean will add Izumi Japanese Cuisine, new inside and oceanview staterooms and a Suite Lounge to Adventure of the Seas as part of the work being done.

Majesty of the Seas

Adding to a busy January for ship work, Majesty of the Seas will also get some work done in January 2018. 

Royal Caribbean has not officially announced this refurbishment, but a number of sailings have been canceled to clear time for the work to be completed.

The work is to begin following the January 19, 2018 sailing and extend through all of February.  The first Majesty of the Seas sailing following the refurbishment will be March 5, 2018.

Royal Caribbean has not announced what work will be done.  There has been plenty of rumors floating about, but it is safe to bet the work will include some necessary maintenance, and perhaps adding of enhanced features.

Brilliance of the Seas

Brilliance of the Seas will undergo a dry dock for maintenance work in the second quarter of 2018.

There are no sailings scheduled between Friday April 20, 2018 and Tuesday, May 1, 2018. 

No word on what work will be done, but it is expected to be mostly a maintenance effort to keep the ship running in great condition.

Independence of the Seas

In April 2018, Royal Caribbean will send Independence of the Seas for an extensive refurbishment, where she will receive a number of upgrades and additions.

When Independence of the Seas returns to service, she will offer these new upgrades and features:

  • A larger interactive aqua park, Splashaway Bay, featuring wild waterslides, water cannons, fountains, pools and drench bucket
  • Addition of Izumi specialty restaurant (with table side Teppanyaki grills)
  • New lounges
  • Panoramic Ocean View staterooms to be added
  • Improved ice rink
  • Revamped Royal Theater
  • Trampoline Park
  • Escape room
  • Laser Tag

Mariner of the Seas

Mariner of the Seas will receive a massive majover this year that will see Royal Caribbean invest over $100 million in upgrades and changes.

The six-week drydock in Cadiz, Spain, will take place in May and June 2018. The updates will coincide with the June 2018 opening of the newly constructed dock at Coco Cay, Royal Caribbean's private destination, which will play a major role in the Mariner's itineraries.

If you are wondering what work will be done on Mariner of the Seas, so are we.  Royal Caribbean has not announced yet the scope of changes coming to Mariner of the Seas. 

Vision of the Seas

Vision of the Seas is scheduled for a dry dock in the fourth quarter of 2018. There appears to be a gap in sailings between November 1 and November 13, 2018.

No word on what work will be done.

Which ship addition or refurbishment are you most excited about? Tell us in the comments!

First time cruisers: What to know before booking a Royal Caribbean cruise

In:
03Jan2018

A Royal Caribbean cruise is a fantastic family vacation choice, but before you book, you should arm yourself with some knowledge to ensure your cruise is terrific.  The saying "you don't know what you don't know" is certainly true when it comes to cruising.  First time cruisers make a lot of mistakes and there are many things that are simply impossible to know until you go.

With that in mind, we have written this guide with some important things that first time cruisers ought to know before they actually book a cruise.  There is plenty of planning to be done after booking a cruise, but here are some good things to consider prior to picking a ship and sailing.

Use a travel agent

Whether this is your first cruise, or you have cruised a ton, I always recommend using a travel agent.  Simply put, travel agents work to make your vacation planning easier on you and they are paid by the cruise line (not you) for your business. You literally have nothing to lose by using a travel agent.

For first time cruisers, a good travel agent is a great resource of information on Royal Caribbean in general.  Moreover, they can answer the kind of personal questions that no blog can ever tackle.  Often, many first time cruisers have questions about their particular circumstances, and a good travel agent can leverage their own experience to provide the right answer for you.

In addition, travel agents are knowledgeable about the many discounts and offers available by Royal Caribbean. If there are pricing questions, or changes to be made to the reservation, they are the ones that call Royal Caribbean and sort out the details for you.  That frees you up to do something far more interesting and fun.  Essentially, a travel agent is your advocate for any concerns you may have, including when you are on the ship.  All too often, new cruisers try to do it themselves because they can, and it leads to time and effort that could have been saved by using a travel agent.

When considering which travel agent to use, ensure you pick one that is deeply knowledgeable about Royal Caribbean, and does not charge any fees to you for changes.  Talk to them before even committing to book with them and ask questions about their experience and level of service they provide so you can feel comfortable in how they will work with you.

Try to learn the lingo

If you have not been on a cruise before, you may quickly run across terms, options, and phrases that are unfamiliar to you.  Frankly, it can be a bit overwhelming.

Thankfully, we have taken precautions to help you adjust to a Royal Caribbean cruise in advance.  Our Royal Caribbean cruise ship term glossary will break down everything from Adventure Ocean to WOWband so that you understand everything in the cruise planning process.

Compare ship features

Royal Caribbean has 24 ships in its fleet, and while they share a core experience across them all, the ships in Royal Caribbean's fleet vary from class of ships and even between individual vessels.  This means, you need to be aware of what each ship offers, and which features each ship you are considering has and if it is important to you.

In short, Royal Caribbean breaks up its many ships into classes.  Ship classes are groupings of ships that share a common structure and layout.  Think of ship classes like types of cars: you have pickup trucks, sedans, minivans, etc.  Within each type of cars, you then have individual car models.  That is fairly similar to how Royal Caribbean categorizes its ships.

In addition to just size and tonnage, each ship class tends to include similar entertainment, activities and onboard amenities.  What you want to do is think about which features you want on your cruise ship, and then see if that class has what you want.  If water slides are important, then Oasis or Freedom Class ships would be a good pick.  If you want a nursery, then skip Majesty of the Seas.   Again, a good travel agent can greatly assist with narrowing down the choices for you.

You should also be aware that while ships within each class are similar, Royal Caribbean has added new features to some ships over the years that have differentiated them more than in the past.  Basically, do not assume one ship in the class is identical to another ship in the class (especially on the newer ships).

Book as early as you can

A very common question before you book a cruise is, "when is the best time to book a Royal Caribbean cruise" or "when should I book my Royal Caribbean cruise."  The simple answer is: as early as you can.

For years Royal Caribbean has urged its customers to book early. It is a mantra that used to be simply marketing, but these days, is absolute gospel. 

The best prices for cruises on Royal Caribbean are when the cruise line first starts taking bookings. Prices tend to rise as you get closer and closer to your sailing date, so waiting to book can actually cost you more money.

Why does the price increase as you get closer to the sail date? For one, it's a matter of supply and demand. The more people that book, the less supply there is and therefore, the price rises. In addition, Royal Caribbean wants people to book early so it can fill up their ships and by giving early birds financial incentive to book early, it helps Royal Caribbean accomplish that goal. These days, Royal Caribbean cruises are incredibly popular and ships sail full routinely.  So trying to wait for a "deal" is not advisable because it may never actually show up.

Time and time again, the lowest pricing for all sailings comes when they first go on sale.  

The caveat to this tip is you have to be prepared to book a cruise 1-2 years in advance.  For a lot of folks, that is not very practical since work and school calendars are rarely published that early.

Your best bet is to book something with just a deposit and have the flexibility to change it later.  Even if you book only 7 or 8 months in advance, that is still better than trying to book 4-5 months in advance.

Check airfare prices

Odds are that you may not live close enough to be able to drive to the cruise you will eventually book, so that means you will need to book a flight to get there.  Before booking a Royal Caribbean cruise, consider airfare costs because that may make or break your cruise plans.

Airfare prices are anything but predictable, so you will want to start looking into flight options to ensure the best possible price. Just like cruise fares, the best prices for airfare seem to favor those that book well in advance.

What you want to do is when considering different cruise choices, check on airfare for each cruise to ensure you are not picking a great sailing that will come with an expensive or impractical flight choice.

Be sure to also consider nearby airports that could save you a lot of money. As an example, if your cruise leaves from Port Everglades in Florida, nearby airports of Miami, Orlando, Tampa and West Palm Beach are close enough to be an easy car ride over, especially if that helps bring your total airfare price down.

Read an old Cruise Compass

When trying to pick the right ship and sailing for you, you will likely have questions about what there is to do onboard.  In fact, the available activities may play a major role in which ship you end up booking. 

There is no way to know in absolute terms what your upcoming Royal Caribbean cruise will or will not offer, because Royal Caribbean does not publish its activities or entertainment in advance. What you can do to learn about what to expect on your sailing is to consult a past Cruise Compass to see what was available on those similar sailings.

A Cruise Compass is Royal Caribbean's daily newspaper that is distributed to guests on each day of the cruise.  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.

Your thoughts

Are you looking to book a cruise and have a question or concern?  Have you taken many cruises and want to share something you wish you have known before your first cruise? Share what is on your mind in our comments!

Six big changes coming to Royal Caribbean in 2018

In:
Category: 
26Dec2017

With 2018 right around the corner, a new year of Royal Caribbean cruising is nearly upon us.  With the new year comes new changes to Royal Caribbean, and we picked out six of the most noticeable changes that guests will undoubtedly encounter.

Major tech rollout

In November 2017, Royal Caribbean announced an array of technological innovations coming to the fleet that have the goal of making things simpler and easier for guests.  In 2018, we will see roughly half the fleet enjoy the fruits of this new push.

It will take until the end of 2019 for the entire breadth of this new tech push to be deployed across the entire fleet, but 2018 should see a number of ships benefit from the new innovations.

There are many components to this tech push, but a new smartphone app and frictionless check-in are at the heart of this initiative.

Ship refurbishments

Three Royal Caribbean cruise ships will have noticeable work done to them in 2018. These ships jump out as worthy of paying close attention to, because they introduce something new onboard.

In the case of Allure of the Seas, the work being done is to repair the propulsion problem it has been hampered with since summer 2017.

Unlimited alcohol package rule change

Beginning in 2018, guests who want to purchase an unlimited alcohol package will be required to purchase an unlimited alcohol package for all adults in the same stateroom.

In an effort to thwart sharing of drink package benefits (which is strictly against the rules of the package), Royal Caribbean is adding this rule.  Similar rules exist among other cruise lines that offer an unlimited alcohol package.

Cruises from New Orleans

If you are one of the many cruise fans that have been clamoring for a return to New Orleans, 2018 is your year.  

After a three-year hiatus, Royal Caribbean will return to offering cruises from New Orleans, Louisiana with Vision of the Seas in the winter of 2018-2019. Beginning on December 15, 2018, Vision of the Seas will offer 7-night itineraries to the Bahamas and Yucatan Peninsula.

New cruise terminal in Miami

Taking a Royal Caribbean cruise from PortMiami is about to become a whole lot better in 2018 with the opening of its new cruise terminal in late 2018.

Terminal A will be completed in October 2018 and is anticipated that Royal Caribbean will generate at least 1.8 million travelers at PortMiami – representing no less than 30 percent of the port’s projected passenger traffic.

Terminal A at PortMiami will be the new home of the just announced Symphony of the Seas, as well as sister ship Allure of the Seas.

Symphony of the Seas launch

The biggest change in 2018 is the addition of the world's largest cruise ship, Symphony of the Seas.

Symphony will arrive in March 2018, and begin service by sailing the Mediterranean in Spring and Summer 2018. Symphony of the Seas will make stops at ports in Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Provence, Florence, Rome and Naples.

In Fall 2018, Symphony of the Seas will cross the Atlantic to her new home in at PortMiami in Miami, Florida. From Miami, she will sail from Royal Caribbean's brand new cruise terminal that it broke ground on this morning. Symphony of the Seas will offer seven-night eastern and western Caribbean itineraries.

Symphony of the Seas will be the largest cruise ship ever, coming in at 230,000 GRT. She will have 28 more staterooms than her sister ship, Harmony of the Seas, and be 215.5 feet wide and 1,188 feet long. This will make Symphony of the Seas just slightly larger than Harmony of the Seas.

Which Royal Caribbean change are you most excited about for 2018? Tell us in the comments!

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