Planning

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

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11Jan2020

If you want the best price for a cruise, is it best to book a cruise many months in advance, or wait for a last minute deal?

Booking too early and you might be paying too much, while waiting for the last minute may leave you without the ship or cabin you want. Here is the lowdown on what you need to know about when to book a cruise.

How early can you book a cruise?

Royal Caribbean will open up its bookings as early as two years or more prior to the sail date.

Typically, they release new sailings for guests to book at regular periods during the year. There are new sailings released in November/December, and others in the Spring around March or April.

Once a sailing is open for booking, you may reserve a cabin at any point all the way until the week of the sailing.  Of course, capacity is limited and options will dwindle while prices rise over time.

A word on last minute deals

Waiting until the final weeks before a sailing to book a cruise has its benefits and drawbacks that you should be aware of before booking anything.

Booking a cruise at the last minute is like rolling the dice, with the hope a ship, itinerary and stateroom will be available at a cost you are comfortable with.  Moreover, because Royal Caribbean cruises have become more and more popular, last minute deals are fewer and fewer between.

Yes, there can be some decent prices for a cruise in the final six to eight weeks before a cruise sails, but they tend to be during slower times of the year, such as when school is in session or it is hurricane season.

If you are flying to a cruise, quite often any last minute cruise savings may be negated by high airfare prices.

I would be remiss if I did not mention there can, on occasion, be some great last minute prices.  Cruise prices can be volatile at times, and snagging a last minute deal is possible.  However, the risks associated with waiting to book at the last minute outweigh the chances of a great last minute deal for most families.

How far in advance should I book a cruise to get the best deal?

The key to getting the best price is to book your cruise as soon as you know you want to go on the sailing and lock in the cabin you prefer.

The ideal strategy for booking a Royal Caribbean cruise is if you live in a country where you can reprice your cruise up until final payment date. Residents of the United States, Canada and select other countries are able to contact Royal Caribbean if there is a price drop and take advantage of the lower price.

By booking 12, 18 or even 24 months in advance, you have the luxury of watching the price and making a price adjustment if there is a lower price offered. You can do this unlimited amount of times until the final payment date at 90 days prior to sailing. 

Booking a cruise one to two years in advance is not practical for many families, so a great time to book a cruise is between six and 12 months before sailing.

In addition to the lower prices, booking well in-advance of a cruise assures you of the ship and stateroom you want to reserve. Suites and some of the higher in-demand cabins are the first to be reserved, and waiting to book usually results in far fewer choices. Moreover, my observation is the price for a suite on Royal Caribbean tends to only go up over time at a greater rate than standard cabins.

Since booking many months in advance comes at the risk of guessing your own personal schedule and hoping for no surprises, I always recommend booking refundable cruise fare to avoid penalties if an unexpected reason to cancel a cruise occurs.

Is it cheaper to book a cruise through a travel agent?

The short answer is, not always, but you should always book with a travel agent.

In the 21st century, it is not difficult to reserve a cruise for your family, but travel agents provide a great deal of service and expertise that goes beyond simply placing a reservation.

A good travel agent has knowledge of all the ways they can save you money on a cruise. There are a variety of discounts offered by the cruise line that are not often apparent to someone browsing Royal Caribbean's homepage. Moreover, travel agents can have access to group pricing and special promotions only available to their agency and partners.

Beyond saving money, a good travel agent is your advocate during the entire vacation, from booking to cruise and beyond.  If an issue arises, or a billing discrepancy occurs, having a travel agent is worth it every time because they are the ones dealing with the cruise line instead of you. 

Most importantly, a good travel agent should cost you absolutely nothing extra to use their services. The cruise line pays the travel agent a commission for their services, and the price is the same for you whether you use an agent or not. So you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by using a good travel agent.

There are many wonderful travel agents that specialize in Royal Caribbean.  If you have read other posts on the blog, you might be aware that I use MEI-Travel for booking all of my Royal Caribbean cruises, and I can personally attest that they are fantastic!

Video: What's coming to Royal Caribbean in 2020

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07Jan2020

Happy 2020! We are celebrating the new year with a new Royal Caribbean Blog video, previewing what will be new in 2020 on Royal Caribbean.

There are a lot of big changes coming to Royal Caribbean this year and there is bound to be a lot of excitement about a new ship, big upgrades to the fleet, Coco Beach Club's opening and more.  Take a look ahead with us in our latest YouTube video!

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

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

What is the best time to cruise to Alaska?

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21Dec2019

Finding the cheapest time for an Alaska cruise will depend on your vacation budget, how much time you can dedicate to the cruise and weather considerations. To help pick the best time of year to cruise, we have a comprehensive look at what you need to know about taking a cruise to Alaska.

The Alaska cruise season spans the months of May through September. Nearly all of Royal Caribbean's cruises are seven nights sailings, although there are land tours you can tack onto the cruise to expand the adventure.

May

 

May is the early part of the Alaska cruise season, and it is the time of year when things begin to truly thaw in Alaska after winter. The average high temperature in Juneau in May is 56°F. May is also one of the driest months of the Alaska cruise season, which means less of a chance of being rained on during your shore excursion.

May is also one the best values for cruising to Alaska, with the lowest fares of the season. In fact, May is part of the "shoulder season" because of the lower temperatures and the fact school is still in session, so bargain hunters will want to target this month. To that point, you will generally find lower crowds in Alaska during this month.

June & July

  

The summer cruise season is during the months of June and July, and is one of the most popular times of the year to go on a cruise to Alaska. You will find the most daylight hours (14 to 18) during this time of year. The average temperatures range between 62°F - 65°F in June and July. The weather can still be a little drier in early June, but that will change by July.

July is the warmest month of the Alaska cruise season, with average highs around 65°F. Predicting the weather in July is difficult, as you can experience rain, hot temperatures and everything inbetween. 

In terms of crowds, you will find peak cruising season begin in mid-June, and extend through much of August. In short, this is peak cruising season, so deals and low fares are few and far between.  Bargains can still be found in early June, but the closer you get to July, the higher those prices.

If wildlife is of interest, then early June is a great time for whale watching because this is around the time of year where whales reach Alaska waters and active near or at the surface.

It is also worth noting that peak Mosquito season is from mid June though about the end of July. The good news for cruisers is that mosquitoes are not seagoing and they do not like wind at all. Moreover, mosquitoes tend to be worst in Northern Alaska, so it is less of a concern for cruise ship guests.

August

August is another busy time of year for cruises to Alaska, but it also represents the tail end of the peak cruise season. The closer to the end of the month, the better prices you will find on cruises. In general, prices in August tend to be lower than June or July, making it a more affordable time of year to cruise.

August averages about 16 hours of daylight, so this means daylight hours are at their peak. Most of the month is still quite busy from a crowds standpoint. Rainfall is at its highest in August, with around half the days in August experiencing rain.

The Alaska berry picking season is anywhere from late August to late September. In addition, bears are quite active in August due to the great salmon spawn. Whales are also active in August, as they start their migration south.

September

September culminates with the end of the Alaska cruise season, and it is a shoulder season for sailings. As a result, you can find some of the best deals of the year for Alaska.

Autumn arrives early in Alaska, and that means leaves changing colors and cooler weather. Temperatures are usually closer to the beginning of the cruise season. The average rainfall is still rather high.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game says moose, caribou and muskoxen all mate during this time, so they are active in open areas while they search for a mate or spar for dominance within the herd. Bears, however, tend to begin their hibernation during this month.

Which month to choose

To pick the right time of year to cruise for you, you will have to weigh cruise costs, weather, and what you are most interested in seeing. Alaska cruise prices are lowest in May or September. The least amount of rain is typically in May or early June. June, July and August offer the warmest temperatures and some of the most active wildlife spotting opportunities.

  • Best value: May or September
  • Best time for whale watching: June or July
  • Best time for bears, moose and other animals: August

The bottom line is a cruise to Alaska is rarely disappointing. Regardless of which month you choose, Alaska is a fantastic place to explore and each month provides some intriguing benefits.

Six big changes coming to Royal Caribbean in 2020

In:
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16Dec2019

With the new year just days away, that means a brand new year of Royal Caribbean cruises to enjoy and with it, some changes.  I have picked out six of the most significant changes that guests going on a cruise in 2020 are likely to notice.

Coco Beach Club opening 

Royal Caribbean estimated the Coco Beach Club and the floating cabanas are slated to open on January 31, 2020.

The Coco Beach Club is a exclusive area of Perfect Day at CocoCay that offers an oceanfront infinity pool, upgraded cuisine and the only floating cabanas in the Bahamas. Plus, there is a complimentary restaurant at Coco Beach Club featuring lobster, snapper, and steak— plus a buffet of soups, salads, and starters. 

The Coco Beach Club will offer the first and only floating cabanas in The Bahamas that seeks to offer guests with an additional level of luxury.

Allure of the Seas amplification & summer in Europe

In summer 2020, Allure of the Seas will get her turn for a massive $165 million amplification that  will add new features, including the Ultimate Abyss, the tallest slide at sea; The Perfect Storm trio of waterslides, completely redesigned Adventure Ocean kids and teens spaces, the first Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar, and Quantum Class original Music Hall.

After the work is completed, Allure will offer 7-night Western Mediterranean cruises sailing roundtrip from Barcelona during the summer 2020 season.

In November 2020, Allure will make its way coast to coast to Miami for the winter season.

Odyssey of the Seas launch

Anytime a new cruise ship launches, that is a big deal, and the second Quantum Ultra Class ship will make her debut in November 2020.

Odyssey of the Seas will be the first Quantum Ultra Class ship to arrive in North America, and will feature a two-level pool deck, as well as a collection of restaurant choices to enjoy.

Odyssey's inaugural year will kick off with 8- and 6-night itineraries from Fort Lauderdale, FL. She will then sail to her homeport of Rome in May 2021 and become the first Quantum Ultra Class ship to cruise Europe for the summer. 

End of neighborhood balcony perks

When the calendar changes from 2019 to 2020, the neighborhood balcony perks on Oasis Class ships will cease to be offered.  Royal Caribbean announced in September 2019 that it would end the program on all sailings departing on or after January 1, 2020.

The Dine, Drink & Discover program offered extra benefits to guests who booked Boardwalk Balcony and Central Park Balcony staterooms on Oasis Class ships. 

If you had a neighborhood balcony room booked before September 18, 2019, then you will be grandfathered in for any sailing departing on-or-after January 1st, 2020. 

Royal Caribbean returns to New Orleans

Royal Caribbean will mark its return to offering cruises from the Big Easy, with Majesty of the Seas being homeported from New Orleans.

Majesty of the Seas will sail 7 night sailings primarily to the Bahamas and Perfect Day at CocoCay, with some Western Caribbean itineraries too.

Explorer of the Seas & Freedom of the Seas amplifications

In addition to the upgrades for Allure of the Seas, the Royal Amplified program will also enhance Explorer of the Seas and Freedom of the Seas.

Freedom of the Seas will be first up for changes in March 2020, with a $116 million amplification that will add the Perfect Storm duo of waterslides, a redesigned Adventure Ocean, a Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade and a reimagined pool deck that will feature Splashaway Bay, El Loco Fresh and The Lime & Coconut.

Beginning in May 2020, Explorer of the Seas will be reimagined with a $110 million amplification that will add the Perfect Storm racer waterslides, Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen; a redesigned, resort-style poolscape with signature poolside bar The Lime & Coconut; and transformed kids and teens spaces. 

Which Royal Caribbean change are you most excited about for 2020? Tell us in the comments!

What is the cheapest month to go on a cruise?

In:
14Dec2019

Finding the best time of the year to go on a cruise and get the cheapest price is all about timing.  Regardless of which ship, itinerary or stateroom type you are interested in, the key is about when you elect to go and when you book the cruise.

Go when others cannot

All cruise cost factors being equal, the cheapest time to go on a cruise is when most others are busy or unwilling to go on that same sailing.

Most cruisers make a decision to go on a particular cruise based on their schedule at home, primarily related to their work or school schedule. Cruises that sail during times of the year when most kids are in school, or employers typically do not provide time off to their employees are the perfect time to snag a great deal on a cruise.

I will share good times of the year to consider cruises for many itineraries, but the common theme you will find among all of them is they are during times of the year when most families are not interested in cruising.

The other key factor to getting a deal is going on a cruise in what is known as the "shoulder season".  These are the weeks or months at the very beginning or very end of a ship's time in a particular region when factors such as weather, fauna or flora are not at their optimal levels. That is not to say cruising in the shoulder season would be a disappointment, but rather, not when conditions will be absolutely perfect.

Alaska 

May or September

The very beginning and very end of the Alaska cruise season typically sees the lowest prices for Alaska cruises. Generally speaking, May and September have the coldest temperatures of the Alaska cruise season, and it is also the time of year when school is still in session.

Beyond time of year, you will likely find lower prices on open jaw sailings (cruises that begin in one port and conclude in a different port) than roundtrip sailings. Of course, airfare prices may negate any savings from choosing an open jaw sailing.

Australia & New Zealand

April or November

If you are cruising down under, the busy months are around December and January because that is Australia's summer and also the most expensive prices.

Royal Caribbean concludes its cruise season in April or May, so if you can snag a cruise then, you will find some great deals. In addition, November is typically a less in-demand month.

Bermuda

May or September - October

The month of May is the beginning of the Bermuda cruise season, and prices will be lower due to it being the shoulder season.

September and October has two reasons why prices can be lower: school is in session and it is hurricane season.  While hurricanes do not typically impact Bermuda as much as the Caribbean islands, storms will usually pass by Bermuda at least once per year. 

Canada & New England

May or October

The weather is all about why you might want to cruise to Canada or Bermuda, and the months of May or October are not typically the most popular type of weather.

In both months, the weather is usually the coldest of the cruise season, with late October being especially cooler. New England can be still moderately warm during these months, but Canadian cities cool down quicker due to their latitude.

Caribbean

January, May, September, October or early December

The Caribbean cruise season is year-round, and there are some peaks and valleys in terms of demand and pricing throughout the year.

In terms of temperatures, it remains warm throughout most of the year, so there is almost always sun and warm enough temperatures to swim and be outdoors. November through February can see an occasional cold front pushing through to make things feel a bit chilly, but they are short lived and the exception.

When it comes to getting the lowest price on a Caribbean sailing, it is about cruising when school is in session or during hurricane season (June 1 through November 30).

The cheapest times of the year to cruise the Caribbean will be....

  • January (minus New Years week) [School in session]
  • First two weeks of February [School in session]
  • May [School in session]
  • September [Hurricane season]
  • October [Hurricane season]
  • First two weeks of December [School in session]

Mediterranean

March, April or November

Cruising to Europe is a very popular choice, and the Mediterranean is among the most popular places to cruise outside the Caribbean. Royal Caribbean begins its cruise season in March or April, and you will find most families still in school and the least crowds in the Mediterranean.

Temperatures can still be warm in the Mediterranean, but not as oppressively warm as the summer months.  Moreover, November usually sees the lowest prices of the year for Mediterranean cruises.

Northern Europe

May or October

Northern Europe cruises that visit the Baltics, Norway or the British Isles have a shorter cruise season than the Mediterranean, but pricing follows the same basic pricing principles of anywhere in Europe. Going during the shoulder season while temperatures and demand are lower will get you the lowest prices of the season.

Your thoughts

Do you agree with my picks for the cheapest months of the year to go on a cruise? Are there any months you think are better or worse than listed? Any specific times of the year that you think are ideal for going on a cruise and saving money? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

How to get excited for your Royal Caribbean cruise

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07Nov2019

You have a Royal Caribbean cruise booked, and if you are like me, then you probably have that warm, fuzzy feeling in anticipating of a brand new vacation adventure.

In the weeks and months leading up until your cruise, here is how to keep that fun feeling going until it is time to board.

Plan your onboard activities

Once you book your cruise, the next logical thing is to start planning what you're going to do on the cruise.  It's the next best thing to booking the cruise!

Figuring out which shore excursions you will take or which specialty restaurants you will eat at is always fun and it usually takes up a lot of time with the necessary research.  Don't forget about add-ons for your cruise like the unlimited beverage packages, stateroom decor and maybe even a surprise for your loved one.

You can also read a past Cruise Compass to get a better idea of what activities, events, and timing of everything on your sailing. We keep an archive of past Cruise Compasses to help everyone easily find one.

Meet people on your sailing

A fun way to make friends on the ship before you step foot onboard is to join a Facebook group for your sailing.

If you go on Facebook and search for your ship name and sail date, there is very likely a group set up for it.  It is free to join these groups, and often groups will set up special events, or simply provide a means of sharing in the pre-cruise planning excitement.

Every group is different, and depending on how many people have joined the Facebook Group, as well as everyone's level of participation in the group, you can get to know folks before the cruise. Plus it's just fun to find others who are as excited as you about your cruise (instead of annoying your friends).

Go cruise shopping

Our family has a running joke that when we book a cruise, we always end up at the mall buying a bunch of new clothes and other cruise related purchases that we simply "must" get. Clothes, gadgets, luggage and more always seem to be things we buy quite often once a cruise starts getting near.

The truth is, purchasing a new outfit or toy for the cruise is always a fun exercise and buying new duds helps keep the cruise in focus.  In addition, you can take advantage of off-season sales to stock up on things you will need in the warm Caribbean (or wherever your cruise is going).

Watch Royal Caribbean TV shows

Over the years, various travel shows have featured Royal Caribbean cruises in their episodes and thanks to the Internet, there's plenty of them around.

You can start on YouTube and search for phrases like "royal caribbean episode" or "royal caribbean tv" or "royal caribbean travel channel".  Google searches with the same phrases will also turn up results elsewhere.

If you don't mind paying for it, there are also some other TV show episodes available on iTunes or Amazon you can purchase for just a few dollars.

The great thing about these tv shows is they focus on life onboard the cruise and it helps me take a mental escape to my upcoming cruise.

Of course, I feel obligated to shamelessly plug the Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast, which is an audio show that is free and full of Royal Caribbean fun!

Watch YouTube videos

To get a good visual of what you can expect for your Royal Caribbean, there are no shortage of videos on YouTube to check out.

Search for your ship name and odds are you will find hundreds of videos to watch.  Some are tours, some are family vacation videos and others explain aspects of the cruise.  Regardless, it's a fun way to see what you can expect on your cruise and add ideas to your little list.

While you are on YouTube, be sure to check out our channel of helpful trip planning videos.

Read trip reports/photo reports from others on same cruise

Speaking of mental escapes, I really find reading other people's trip reports and looking at their photos to be a great way to get excited for my own cruise.  After all, it's helpful to see what others found useful or a waste.

Once again message boards are a great place for this, such as the live blog area.  This is where cruisers share details of their cruise, as it happens.

Besides being entertaining, reading these reports helps with the first idea I posted about planning the cruise.  If someone reports a fun excursion or restaurant to try, I will note it in my cruise planning spreadsheet (yes, I have a cruise planning spreadsheet) for reference later.

Watch web cams

Catching a glimpse of the ship you are booked on in real-time is always a highlight. 

There are port webcams that on select days you can see Royal Caribbean ships in port and admire them for their beauty.   By far seeing them leave port in the evening is the highlight because it gives you a great view of these ships. PTZtv has a network of cams across North America and there's usually a couple of cams with Royal Caribbean ships to see.

Play music that reminds you of a cruise

There's a lot of great music out there that reminds me of a cruise.  It's the sort of music I'd hear on a cruise ship and for me, that can help get me through a day of work.

We posted earlier a cruise music mix but there's plenty of other music out there.  You can always tune into Radio Margaritaville for Jimmy Buffet music, which is all about warm islands with boat drinks.

Regardless of what music reminds you of being a cruise, I find it a great way to help me cope with not being on a cruise and getting excited for my upcoming cruise too.

How do you get excited for your upcoming cruise? Share your favorite ways in the comments below!

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