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Top 5 things you can buy for a cruise that are totally not worth it

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14Jul2020

When it comes to planning a Royal Caribbean cruises, there are plenty of accessories and add-ons you can buy for a cruise vacation, including a few things that I think are simply not worth getting at all.

With so many different buying choices for a cruise, I wanted to highlight a few that I would never buy and explain why I do not think they are worth it.

RFID tags for luggage

One of the big trends in tech is leveraging Radio-frequency identification (RFID), which allows different devices to interact when in close proximity, and there is a new generation of RFID trackers created for luggage. (Affiliate link means I get commission. No extra cost to you)

The idea is you place a RFID tile in each luggage you have, and that way if your bags get lost in the transition from shore side to stateroom, you can track it down.

While this sounds like a neat idea, I feel it is ultimately unnecessary.  No one wants to lose luggage, but I think the chances are very, very low of that occurring and even when bags get delayed, they do eventually show up. 

Portable wireless hotspot

One of the most troublesome issues for families or large groups is how to communicate onboard. There are a variety of ways to stay connected while onboard, including some people that opt to buy a portable wireless hotspot to use your phone onboard.

The idea is this device allows you to connect your phone to these, and the device provides a less-expensive means of being able to place calls or use data wherever you go.

While mobile hot spots like this might work well in Europe, in the Caribbean, they are an expensive option that sporadically work with less than stellar performance.

Given the high price to get one initially (plus the per GB cost for data used), and the fact Royal Caribbean's WiFi is reasonably priced, I think this product is just not necessary.

Vacation clubs

Every so often, someone will mention to me saving money on booking cruises by buying into a vacation club.

Vacation clubs are similar to a timeshare, where you buy into the program with an initial price, and then pay dues for access to "discounts" on cruise vacations.

The saying "if it's too good to be true, it probably isn't" holds true with this situation, because cruise pricing is pretty standard across the board. The idea anyone can offer deep discounts beyond what the cruise line is offering is simply not reality. While sometimes group space can bring prices down a bit, you do not need to buy into a vacation club to net lower prices.

Travel routers

A travel router is a portable device you can buy to simplify the process of connecting and managing devices on public Wi-Fi networks. It means the router connects to the WiFi, and then all of your devices can connect more easily, as well as boosting the WiFi signal around your stateroom.

Unfortunately, travel routers on cruise ships are most often used to bypass the device restrictions that Royal Caribbean establishes when you purchase a WiFi plan. 

In addition, Royal Caribbean has greatly simplified its WiFi to make signing on super easy with customizable usernames and passwords (instead of long PIN codes to remember).

Concealable flasks

Concealable flasks, cruise runners, or whatever you want to call them are products meant to sneak alcohol on a Royal Caribbean cruise, and they are not only something I would never buy, but they are flagrantly against the rules.

The idea is you fill these up with booze, and then can more easily sneak them on the cruise because you wear them inside your clothes so they cannot be detected by X-ray machines.

It should go without saying these are morally wrong, and I will go one step further by saying if you can afford to book a cruise, you can afford to buy drinks (or a drink package).  If you want to keep costs down, take advantage of some great strategies for drinking on the cheap while on your cruise.

Your thoughts

Have you bought any of these items? Is there something you can buy for a cruise that you think is not worth the cost? Share your experiences in the comments!

Top 10 extra cruise costs that are not included

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Category: 
11Jul2020

A Royal Caribbean cruise vacation includes a lot of activities, dining, ports to visit, and things to do, but it is not an all-inclusive vacation.

Cruises offer a great deal of value, but there are extra costs to be aware of, so that you can budget around them.

In order to avoid sticker shock later, here are the top extra things on a cruise that will cost you extra, and how to reduce your out-of-pocket price.

Onboard photos

Cruise vacations are all about the memories you make onboard, and Royal Caribbean has plenty of photographers each evening to capture them.

These photo opportunities cost nothing to stop and take, but if you want a print or digital download, it will cost you extra.

A single 8x10 print will cost $19.99, although there are photo packages that will cost you less per print.

The best way to avoid this cost is to skip the photographers and take your own photos around the ship, or on shore. While you will not have access to their backdrops, there are lots of good alternatives. Staircases, balconies, the pool deck, and various spots around the Royal Promenade/Centrum make fantastic ad-hoc backgrounds for any photo.

Shore Excursions

Cruises are at their heart a means of which to visit different places around the world. Each day your ship whisks you away to a new port of call, where you have access to a slew of activities there.

The easiest and most straight-forward way to find something to do on shore is to book a shore excursion through Royal Caribbean. While the cruise line shore excursions are extremely convenient, they do come at a price.

You can save a few dollars if you book a shore excursion on your own through a third party service.  You could also bypass a tour or activity all together, and simply walk around the port on your own, or hop in a taxi and go to a pre-determined destination.

The best way to lower this cost is to research shore excursion options in advance, and figure out the most cost effective strategy for your day in port.

If you do explore on your own, ensure you are working with a trusted tour operator (meaning they have a good reputation online), and manage your time to ensure you get back to the ship well before you are required to return.

Alcohol

While Royal Caribbean does include some drinks with your cruise fare, alcohol is not one of them.

Enjoying a cocktail, beer or glass of wine on a cruise is a very popular option, that can add up quickly.  Royal Caribbean's drink prices for booze will often be in the $10-13 range before you add gratuity.

For anyone that wants more than just an occasional drink here or there, you have a few options to keep that bar tab lower.

The easiest strategy is to buy a Royal Caribbean drink package. These drink packages offer a one-time flat fee for unlimited drinks on your cruise. They are not cheap, but do offer a fixed budget option that can save you money, if you drink enough.

Perhaps the best money-saving tip for keeping your bar bill down is to drink off the ship. Quite often, the cost of alcoholic beverages in the ports you visit is substantially cheaper, especially in the Caribbean.

While not as convenient as drinking on the ship, you can often get far more value from drinking on land than onboard.

Back onboard the ship, keep an eye out for drink specials and even free drinks. The drink of the day offers a different discounted cocktail, while happy hour specials, complimentary champagne or alcohol tasting events can be found during the cruise.

Specialty Restaurants

One of the biggest trends in cruising today is specialty restaurants, which offer additional dining options at an extra cost.

Sushi, seafood, steaks, hibachi and more have become popular dining alternatives on Royal Caribbean ships, and most have a cover charge that will carry a per-person cost to dine there.

The easiest way to save money on these is not go at all. Royal Caribbean offers plenty of complimentary food on its ships in the main dining room, and other venues. Free food is available all day, every day and it is not bad at all.

If you really want to try a specialty restaurant, buy a dining package to cut down on the cost.

Gratuity

Royal Caribbean charges a daily gratuity to cover the wait staff and stateroom attendants and recognize great service aboard their cruise.

As of January 2, 2018, the daily gratuity amount is $14.50 per guest, per day for those guests in standard accommodations.  Guests in suites will pay $17.50 per person, per day in gratuities.  The daily gratuity amount is the same for all passengers, regardless of age.

While this gratuity is unavoidable, you should be aware of tipping that comes in other venues.

An automatic 18% gratuity gets added to most onboard purchases, including the spa, drink purchases and more.

There is not a way to avoid tipping, and it is well-deserved for the hard working crew members. What you ought to do is budget accordingly and be aware it is part of the overall cruise cost.

Souvenirs

No matter what type of vacation you go on, bringing home a souvenir to remind you of the trip is a near-constant.

Whether you elect to buy souvenirs on the ship or in the ports you visit, these gifts will cost you extra.

One good way to save on onboard purchases is to wait until the end of the cruise. Usually there are last-day sales at the shops onboard, including discounts on t-shirts.

You can also save money buying goods in the ports you visit, where local products and vendors may offer similar options at discounted prices.

Spa

It probably should come as a surprise to hear that the salon and spa cost extra, but they do exist and can be a tempting option for guests to splurge onboard.

The Vitality Spa and Salon offers massages, therapies, hair styling, and more, and it not inexpensive. Many massages or treatments will be in the ballpark of $150 - $400, plus an automatic gratuity.

If a visit to the spa sounds good, you can cut down the price by pre-purchasing services on Royal Caribbean's website, or asking about specials onboard. The best discount is usually a flat discount on embarkation day, since most people do not have the time to stop for a massage on the first day of the cruise.

You can also search on the internet for similar spa services on land, where the cost can be substantially lower.

WiFi

While the cost for onboard internet has come down quite a bit over the last few years, it is not free.

Royal Caribbean's wifi (known as Voom), offers reasonably fast internet access for a flat daily cost. There is a 24-hour option, but the unlimited internet for the duration of the cruise is a more popular choice.

To save on the cost of WiFi, pre-purchase a package before your cruise. There are discounts for WiFi packages almost all the time, and they really are much cheaper than on the ship.

Speaking of extra costs, do not use your phone's cellular connection for data, as you will be roaming and come home to a monster bill.

Kids costs

Any parent knows that children have a tendency to rack up extra costs, so here are the common ways your lovely children will cost more.

Adventure Ocean is complimentary during the day and most of the evening, but does carry an additional hourly charge after 10pm. The Nursery will always come with an hourly charge. The arcade costs extra as well.

While easier said than done, avoiding the arcade completely and picking up your kids before 10pm is one way to avoid the extra costs.

Royal Caribbean does offer pre-paid arcade credits on its website before the cruise, that carry a bonus (depending on how much you pre-pay).

Onboard activities

In addition to all the things to do on your cruise included, Royal Caribbean offers activities that cost extra.

Escape rooms, private Flowrider time, fitness classes, and the casino are just a few examples of things will cost you extra to enjoy.

The good news is there are lots of alternatives to keep you busy that cost nothing extra. Royal Caribbean's shows, live music, trivia, and many demonstrations are available at no additional cost. 

While these extra cost activities can be a lot of fun, you should keep in mind they are not necessary for a great vacation.

Your thoughts

Which extra cruise costs do you typically buy? Which do you always skip? Is there a money saving tip you want to share? Post your questions and suggestions in the comments!

What is the best time to cruise to the Caribbean?

In:
03Jun2020

There are ample cruises to choose from throughout the year that visit the Caribbean, so what is the best time to cruise there?

While the Caribbean is a year-round destination for cruises, there is a high season and low season, just like any other locale. They key is finding a time that combines the best weather with the lowest prices.

Best months to go on a Caribbean cruise

In terms of the best weather for a Caribbean cruise, the months of December through April will see the most comfortable weather.

During these winter and early spring months, there is the least amount of precipitation, as well as humidity. Moreover, this is the time of year that is not part of hurricane season.

In addition, cruising between December and April means an escape for many guests who are coming from colder locations further north.  It is a popular time for many to escape to warmer temperatures.

Cheapest months to go on a Caribbean cruise

If you are looking to get the lowest cost for a Caribbean cruise, late August through early November see some of the lowest prices of the year.

Cruises in this time period have two things in common: it is the peak of hurricane season and it is also when most families are unable to vacation due to the school calendar. The combined effect is lower demand for cruises, and thus, lower prices.

You can also find bargains during other times of the year when school is typically in session, such as mid-January to mid-February, mid-April through the end of May, and the first two weeks of December.

There are always exceptions, but the key to finding the best price on a Caribbean cruise is to try to go when most others cannot cruise. Avoiding religious holidays and the school vacation calendar is a good start.

Should I cruise in the Caribbean during hurricane season?

Cruising during hurricane season may sound scary, but it is not as crazy as it may seem.

Hurricane season runs between June 1 and November 30, and it is the time of year when we typically see tropical storms form in the Caribbean. Of course, that does not mean there is a hurricane every day, nor does it mean when there is one, the entire Caribbean is affected.

First and foremost, Royal Caribbean employs a Chief Meteorologist to track every disturbance and storm out there, and provide guidance to each cruise ship on how to best avoid the storm. 

Royal Caribbean will absolutely, positively, avoid the path of any hurricane. Itineraries will be flipped, swapped or completely changed to avoid going anywhere near the storm. The cruise line has said time and time again that the safety of its guests, crew and ships are vital, and they will not send their vessels near any hurricane.

In rare situations, entire sailings have been cancelled if the path of the storm rules out any possibility of a ship making it in or out of its homeport.

The top reason to cruise during hurricane season is it will cost you a lot less to cruise during this time of year, and the likelihood of a storm directly impacting your cruise is low.  Moreover, your ship will not go in or near any storm.

Repositioning cruises 2020, 2021 & 2022

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29May2020

From time to time, Royal Caribbean will offer repositioning cruises, where a ship will change homeports and offer a special sailing during the transit between ports.

Most repositioning cruises are done when a ship moves from one region of the world to another, such as North America to Australia, or Europe to North America.  They tend to happen seasonally, and occur with regular frequency.

In addition, there can be a repositioning sailing that is not a regular occurrence, and simply a way to get a ship to a new market.

In either case, Royal Caribbean offers these sailings to guests as an opportunity to experience a cruise ship with a very unique itinerary.

Why go on a repositioning cruise?

The best reason to book a repositioning cruise is to not only be on a certain ship, but enjoy extra sea days and even unique ports of call.

Many repositioning cruises involve an ocean crossing, where the ship moves from one region to another. This means many days at sea, and ample opportunity to see and experience everything onboard.  Moreover, it is a great way to get to know the crew members since your sailing is more than just a few days.

In order to drum up demand for repositioning sailings, Royal Caribbean often includes special port visits that are not regularly offered. This may mean a visit to a port not usually visited by Royal Caribbean, or a combination of ports on either end of the crossing.

On top of all of these reasons, repositioning cruises tend to be priced pretty favorably, with per-night costs substantially below other sailings.

Why you might not want to do a repositioning cruise

In order to get from one region to another, repositioning cruises tend to be significantly longer sailings, with lots of sea days inbetween. While all these extra days means more time to experience what is available onboard, many cruisers are concerned about the cruise getting dull or even boring.

In addition, it almost always requires you to fly to one port, and then fly home from another. The logistics and price of not doing a roundtrip flight can sometimes ruin any deal offered by the sailing.

Repositioning sailings that cross an ocean, especially the Atlantic Ocean, can sometimes be susceptible to rough weather, as they tend to sail at the very beginning and very end of the cruise season for a region. Certainly the cruise line makes every effort to find a path that involves the best weather, but sometimes grey skies and bigger waves are unavoidable.

It should also be noted that there are usually far less families onboard the ocean crossing sailings, due to a combination of the cruise length and the fact they almost always occur while school is in session. If you have kids, you may find significantly less other children for them to play with in Adventure Ocean or elsewhere.

How long is a repositioning cruise?

Most repositioning cruises tend to be longer sailings, often in the ballpark of 10-14 nights, or longer. The time it takes to not only cross the Atlantic or Pacific ocean is no quick journey, and there are usually port stops included on both sides of the ocean to add some variety.

Repositioning sailings that do not involve an ocean crossing are usually shorter, but they are less frequently offered.

How to find a repositioning cruise

Royal Caribbean offers a search filter on its website to specify just the repositioning cruises. In addition, a good travel agent can assist in locating the right cruise for you.

Each year when new cruises are announced, there is usually a smattering of repositioning cruises announced as well, as new deployments create opportunities for a repositioning.

It should be noted that not all ship movements necessarily include a repositioning cruise, but it is commonly offered as a way to generate revenue for a necessary operation.

The most common types of repositioning cruises offered by Royal Caribbean are:

  • Between North America and Europe
  • Between North America and Australia
  • Between Australia and Hawaii
  • Between Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest

Repositioning cruise tips

Take advantage of extra time on the ship

One of the best things about a repositioning cruise is all the extra sea days you have, so be certain to enjoy all the onboard activities and entertainment.

With traditional cruises, it is difficult to "see it all", but longer repo cruises allow for time to see all the shows, try the various restaurants, and otherwise work in everything on your must-do list.

Going on an ocean crossing on a new ship is an especially popular trick for veteran cruisers who want to enjoy everything a new ship can offer in one sailing.

Prepare to keep yourself busy

While Royal Caribbean will offer lots of activities each day of your cruise, inevitably you will find down time to "do your own thing" during the sailing.

Be sure to pack board games, books, cards, downloaded movies and more to keep yourself entertained during the long duration between port stops. This is especially important if the weather does not cooperate and being outdoors is not practical.

Pack for all weather

When packing for a transatlantic cruise, you should be prepared for all types of temperatures and sky conditions. Transatlantic crossings are especially notorious for a mix of sun, clouds, wind and rain. 

Be sure to bring clothing to keep you comfortable if the temperatures drop, the rain is extended, or the sun is heating everything up.  Similar to packing for an Alaska cruise, having layers to change in and out of might not be a bad idea. 

Research airfare before you commit

While repositioning cruise fare is often a pretty good deal, the flights may not be such a bargain.

Your best bet is to double-check airfare prices before you reach final payment date to ensure you are not going to lock yourself into a crazy high flight price.

Choosing between the passport card vs book

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27May2020

One of the best things any American can do when cruising, is to have a passport, but should you get a passport card or book?

The decision of which passport option to choose will depend on how and where you intend to travel.

There are two choices to consider when getting a passport in the United States: a passport book or a passport card. Each has different form factors, and purposes for using.  A traditional passport book comes with pages for stamps and important documents to be included, whereas a passport card resembles a driver's license and fits easily into a wallet.

So what is the difference between the passport book vs. passpord card? The answer lies in the sort of travel you intend to take.

Having a passport for U.S. citizens is optional for cruises that leave and return to the United States, and mandatory for cruises outside the country.  Both a passport card or a passport book is a valid form of identification for domestic cruises.

What is a passport card useful for?

The U.S. passport card is a less expensive passport option that looks similar to a drivers license, making them cheaper and more convenient. A passport card is valid for 10 years.

Passport cards are only for land or sea travel, which means you cannot use them for air travel.  In addition, you cannot use a passport card for cruises that depart from homeports outside the United States.

The inability to fly with a passport card makes certain scenarios a problem for the traveler.  If you were ever stuck in a country outside the United States, either due to being left behind on an excursion or an unexpected end to the cruise, it would be impossible to fly home with the passport card.

What is a passport book useful for?

A passport book allows international travel across air, sea and land. A passport book is valid for 10 years.

The best thing about a passport book is there are no restrictions with where you can travel to or from.

What is the difference between the passport card vs. book?

The appeal of the passport card is it is cheaper than the book, while providing a better option than relying on a birth certificate and state issued identification.

The reason why a passport book is a better idea is because it better protects you if you were ever stranded somewhere. Having a passport to protect against being stranded is a big reason why I recommend everyone get one.

Moreover, having a passport book means you can travel internationally via an airplane. Keeping in mind a passport is good for ten years for adults, you will have ample opportunity to recoup the investment of a passport book.

If you are looking to same money and do not want to carry the bulkier passport book, a passport card might be worth considering.  For most people, getting a passport book is a smarter choice.

Top 9 bad mistakes to make on a Royal Caribbean cruise

In:
26May2020

Going on a cruise vacation is a great choice, but you definitely want to avoid certain pitfalls and bad advice to ensure you do not have a terrible experience.

All too often, I hear from first time cruisers who make one of these rookie mistakes that costs them time, money or both. So prevent yourself from becoming "that guy" and heed this advice!

Booking a flight the same day your cruise leaves

Perhaps the most common mistake made by anyone is booking a flight that arrives to the city their cruise departs from on the same day the cruise is set to begin.

It may seem like the logical thing to do, especially if you are trying to balance your work commitments or save money on a hotel room. But flying in the same day means a flight delay/cancellation or lost luggage could ruin your entire vacation before it starts.

Instead, book a flight that gets you in at least a day before the cruise is scheduled to depart. You can book a hotel near the port or airport, and take advantage of not only an earlier start to your vacation, but an opportunity to explore the surrounding area.

Waiting to book shore excursions until on your cruise

The ports of call your cruise ship will visit offers plenty to see and do, but if you try to "wing it" and book something in the port or onboard your ship, you are denying yourself the opportunity to learn as much as possible about what is available to you.

Trying to figure out what to do on the ship or in port means less time to see all options, as well as price shop. You also risk the activity you really wanted to do selling out.

Take advantage of the weeks and months leading up to your cruise by learning about everything you can do online, and have it planned before you get on your cruise.

Intentionally break the rules

Perhaps the dumbest mistake to make is thinking the cruise ship rules do not apply to you and purposefully circumventing them.

Whether smoking on your balcony, skipping muster drill, sneaking in alcohol, or any other clearly stated rule that you choose to ignore out of spite or "for fun" is just plain wrong and puts others at risk, as well as has the potential to get you in trouble.

The rules are in place for a reason, and more importantly, you must abide by them while on Royal Caribbean's vessels. It is their way, or the highway (back home).

Not keeping track of your time while in port

While it may seem easy to think you have plenty of time to get back to your ship, you definitely do not want to forget the all-aboard time.

Royal Caribbean provides set hours for each port stop it makes, and you absolutely need to be keeping track of the local time, as well as how long it may take to get back to ensure you are back onboard before they pull up the gangway.

Keep in mind that the ship may be scheduled to leave at a certain time, but the all-aboard time is usually 30 minutes or more earlier. So if you are scheduled to be in port until 8pm, that means guests may have to be back by 7:30pm.

One more important tip, make sure you are on the same time as ship. A lot of times your ship will change timezones but may or may not adjust to local time, so make sure your watch/phone is in synch with the ship's onboard time.

Not putting your phone into airplane mode

Want to avoid coming home to a cell phone bill in the thousands of dollars? Make sure once you get on your ship on embarkation day, you put your phone into airplane mode.

Your phone connecting to the ship or island cell tower can mean huge roaming charges, since the local carriers will charge your carrier exorbitant prices for the privilege of using their network.

After getting onboard the ship on day one, be sure to switch your phone over to airplane mode to avoid it connecting to any cellular network. You can still use the ship's wifi while in airplane mode.

Looking at only price when picking a sailing

The cost of a cruise is a major factor to consider when picking the right vacation, but it should not be the only consideration. Looking purely at the price may mean you pick a cruise during a time of year that compromises on the weather.

Prices are typically low during the fall months because of hurricane season, as well as prices for Alaska cruises in May and September will be cheaper, but you may find significantly colder and/or wetter weather waiting for you.

While there is never a sailing that is guaranteed to have great/perfect weather, be sure to weigh the cheapest month to go on a cruise versus what you are giving up by going during those times.

Not considering travel insurance

Travel insurance is an optional add-on to consider, but completely ignoring it is a big mistake.

While not for everyone, travel insurance is something that if you ever need it, will feel like the best money you ever spent. People who have higher risk factors, such as chronic health issues or sensitivities, would be well suited to consider travel insurance.

While most have health insurance, that coverage may not extend to situations outside your home country, especially on cruise ships.

In addition to the health issues, travel insurance can protect you in case of any other type of catastrophe, including cancellation, a missed connection, lost or delayed baggage, or a dental or legal problem.

Not leaving clothes out for the last morning

When your cruise is nearly over, you will need to pack everything up and place your luggage outside your door the night before the cruise ends so that it can be delivered to the cruise terminal to pick up later. Be very certain to leave one last outfit out to wear off the ship!

Inevitably, there is always someone who just packs everything up and then realizes the next morning that they have nothing to wear.  

Avoid the walking off the ship in your PJs by ensuring you leave something else out to wear on that last morning.

Wait until your kids are older to cruise

One bit of advice that I always disagree with is that your kids should be a certain age before taking them on a cruise.

Royal Caribbean allows children as young as six months old to go on a cruise, and I do not believe there is any age too young to start taking them onboard with you.

The cruise line offers tremendous child care programs and activities for families to enjoy on a cruise. It is far from an adults-only experience, and many ship offerings were designed with kids in mind.

In addition, traveling together with children and enjoying a vacation together as a family is time well-spent, and positive experiences, even if the kids do not remember them precisely as adults later on, are worth having together.

How to plan your cruise vacation for when Royal Caribbean resumes sailing

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07May2020

While there are no Royal Caribbean cruises to go on currently, the day when they will sail again is coming, and now is a great opportunity to prepare for that vacation.

One of the best ways to ensure you have a fantastic vacation is to plan ahead, as I see too many cruisers that do little to no research into their vacation.

Make the most of your cruise with these top tips.

Learn everything about your ship from a past Cruise Compass

Royal Caribbean does not post or publish Cruise Compasses for upcoming sailings in advance.  Nor do they publish their entertainment schedules prior to a cruise. With that in mind, many veteran Royal Caribbean cruisers reference past Cruise Compasses to get an idea of what to expect on an upcoming sailing. 

There is no way to know in absolute terms what your upcoming Royal Caribbean cruise will or will not offer, but Royal Caribbean insiders will consult past Cruise Compass' to see what was available on those similar sailings to get an idea of what to expect.

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

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

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

Make sure you have proper documents

One of the most important things you need to get on any cruise ship is the proper travel documents.

Just like going on an airplane flight, you need to have the right paperwork, and depending on your nationality and where you are sailing from, this may vary.

The simplest answer is to have a passport. While Americans sailing from the United States do not need a passport, I advocate everyone sail with a passport.

If you have a passport, it is a good idea to check expiration dates and ensure your passport will be valid before and after your cruise sails.

Plan how you will get to the cruise ship

You will need to arrange transportation to get you and your family from your home to the cruise ship terminal, and that can involve taxis, buses, airplanes or more. 

Some options will be more economical than others, but here are a couple of tips you should be aware of to help get you there:

  • If you need to get from the airport to the cruise terminal, a Lyft or Uber ride is usually the simplest, and most economical option.
  • If you are flying to your cruise embarkation port, be sure to fly in at least one day early to avoid travel delays impacting your ability to make the cruise.
  • Royal Caribbean does offer transfers between the airport and the cruise terminal, but they come with an additional cost.

Find that perfect shore excursion

Shore excursions are a major part of any Royal Caribbean cruise because a large part of your overall vacation is exploring the ports of call you will visit.  You have just a few hours at each stop, but it should be enough to get a taste of the city you are visiting.

Before you even look at one shore excursion, you should research the most popular activities in each port. 

When looking at shore excursion options, you can book tours through Royal Caribbean or on your own. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks, so I advise to consult both.

The key is to determine which tours you want to book, and reserve it in advance. In some cases booking in advance will save you money, and everyone can benefit from having the luxury of time to consider all options.

Pre-purchase add-ons to save money

Everyone wants to save money, and one of my best tips is to pre-purchase as much as you can.

There are plenty of cruise costs out there, but you can save money by acting early. Royal Caribbean regularly discounts drink packages, shore excursions, wifi access and more if purchased before the cruise.

You can book these via Royal Caribbean's Cruise Planner site to take advantage of some big discounts.

Buy travel insurance

Now, more than ever, travel insurance is a good investment to consider.

Travel insurance is relatively inexpensive, and provides peace of mind that protects against trip interruption, cancellation, and even medical costs.

More than likely buying a travel insurance plan will be money spent that you end up not needing, however, the protection it includes feels a heck of a lot more important these days than ever before.

Start your vacation budget

The silver lining to a global pause in cruises is we have more time to save money for that upcoming vacation.

Saving for a vacation is often easier said than done, but with less money to spend on going to the movies or weekend trips, you might consider stashing away some of that cash for your vacation budget.

Whether you prefer a piggy bank, swear jar, or moving money around between checking accounts, putting away a few dollars now can help pay off cruise fun later.

Meet people online 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).

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.

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.

Top 5 reasons you should be booking airfare now for cruises later

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01May2020

There is a saying in the stock market of, "buy low" and airfare prices right now are one silver lining to the current global situation.  While there are no cruises sailing right now, it might not be a bad idea to buy flights for when sailings return in order to take advantage of some great pricing.

Just like the cruise lines, airlines have been scrambling to deal with a precipitous drop in demand and the result has been some pretty good airfare prices for later this year.

If you have a cruise planned in the second half of this year, or even next year, I have five reasons this might be a good time to snatch up an airline ticket.

Cheap prices for fall and winter 2020

Anecdotally, prices for cruises in the fall and winter are very low, even for usually high-demand holiday times.

With the airlines struggling to deal with very low demand to travel, there are some pretty good prices out there for flights, especially flights this year.

It seems many experts believe demand for flights will be low in the short-term, and that means airlines slashing prices in order to make up for the drop in demand.

Booking now is a good opportunity to take advantage of any flight deals for the months ahead, especially for the holidays. The general rule of thumb when booking flights to get the best deal has always been booking three weeks ahead of your departure—and six weeks ahead for most major holidays—booking now may put you ahead of the pack of people still cautious about travel.

Very flexible cancellation terms

If putting money down for a non-refundable flight sounds crazy right now, you should know most airlines have altered their change and cancellation policies to be incredibly flexible.

In order to convince the public to not wait to buy flights, many airlines are waving change fees for new bookings. The Points Guy has an ongoing list of airline policies for you to keep track of as you consider booking travel.

  • JetBlue: Fees are waived through June 30 if you cancel or change your flight before Jan. 4, 2021. If you cancel, you'll get a travel waiver to use within 24 months of when it was issued. If you rebook, you may have to pay the difference in fare costs.
  • Southwest: You can cancel or change your flight for no fee. If you have a nonrefundable ticket you'd like to cancel, you'll receive a travel credit. Unused travel funds are available until Sept. 7, 2022, but when you book, the standard expiration date -- 12 months -- will go into effect (even if it's before Sept. 7).
  • Delta: Change fees are waived on all flights through Sept. 30, 2020, and any tickets purchased from March 1 and May 31. If you book a new flight, you might have to pay the difference in fare costs. If your new flight is cheaper, you'll receive a credit for the difference.

Some airlines are even providing free cancellation on new bookings.

This provides a great deal comfort in knowing if more cruises are cancelled, or local travel restrictions are in place, you can get a refund or credit for the flight.

New cleaning and passenger safety policies added

Airplanes have never exactly been known as the least sanitized places to be, so the airlines are taking extra steps to keep their passengers healthy.

New cleaning procedures on planes that use electrically charged disinfectants sprayed throughout the cabin are an example of one new method.  JetBlue announced the airline will be the first in the U.S. to require all customers to wear face coverings while onboard a flight. 

On some airlines, including Alaska, American, Delta and Spirit, you’ll see empty middle seats in an effort to keep passengers apart.

Airports are also doing their part, with new social distancing procedures. At Orlando International Airport, enhanced cleaning procedures and social distancing measures were put in place last month.

Prices are expected to go up soon

There is no hard evidence, but many travel experts think as the public becomes more comfortable with flying (and traveling) again, prices will go up to match demand.

Airfare prices can change at any point, so with the lower prices now, it makes more sense to lock in the price. As mentioned earlier, the more flexible flight cancellation terms provide added comfort in booking now.

We asked our readers when they think Royal Caribbean cruises will resume

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27Apr2020

While Royal Caribbean's official stance is the cruise line plans to resume operations on June 12, but that seems to be a moving date and we are all wondering when exactly cruises will start up again.

While no one knows for certain when Royal Caribbean will be able to resume sailings, I was curious what cruise fans thought about the prospect of sailings beginning again.

There are plenty of obstacles and challenges to cruise ships sailing again, and it seems everyone has their opinions.

In a Facebook poll that ran over the weekend, 944 people responded to the question "When do you think Royal Caribbean cruises will resume?" and here are the results!

  • By June: 35
  • By July: 221
  • By August: 114
  • By September: 50
  • By October or later: 524

Comments in the poll varied from wishful thinking, to pesimistic predictions and everything in between.

By far, the majority of people thought cruises would resume October or later, and it seems like alot were emphasising the "later" part of that option.

"For the US, sadly I say late June, Early July. July 4th might be symbolic. It all depends on the CDC do not sail order. That's really the watermark."

"I’m guessing modified itineraries (that have not even been announced yet) may start this summer, as early as July. Simple FL to Caribbean itineraries will dominate to start. And, initial cruises may be the 3, 4, and 5 night itineraries to make sure people are on and off board quickly; in essence preventing incubation on board."

"I hoped for May, but July seems logical for the East coast US. Other locations may differ based on destinations and origins."

I found it interesting to see what people thought, given the worldwide impact of the current situation. It seems at the very least, the further out you go, the more optimisim there is for cruises to resume.

When do you expect Royal Caribbean cruises to resume? Share your predictions in the comments!

Six big questions Royal Caribbean still has not answered

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24Apr2020

The uncertainty surrounding when Royal Caribbean will resume sailings dominates the conversation among many cruisers, but beyond when cruises start up again, a number of other questions remain unanswered.

While these questions may not be as singularly important as when cruises will start again, plenty of cruisers are looking for clarification what to expect in the near future, and only the cruise line can provide answers.

Here are the top six questions we are all waiting on Royal Caribbean to answer.

What screening rules can guests expect when arriving to the cruise terminal?

Just before Royal Caribbean voluntarily suspended all of its sailings around the world, new health screening procedures were added to the cruise check-in process, including mandatory temperature screenings and prohibiting guests 70 years or older

Many expect more preemptive steps to prevent someone sick from boarding a Royal Caribbean ship, so what will the cruise check-in process look like once sailings resume?

Will boarding times be enforced? Will lines in terminals be handled differently? What other prohibitions or checks can we expect when arriving to the cruise port?

Will changes be made to buffet dining on Royal Caribbean?

One area of the onboard experience that seems likely to change is dining on Royal Caribbean. So what changes can we expect for the Windjammer buffet?

In cases where Norovirus outbreaks occurred, the Windjammer would temporarily switch over to crew members serving guests, instead of guests doing it themselves. Would such a policy become standard?

During peak times, the Windjammer can get especially crowded (i.e. breakfast and embarkation day lunch), so will be there less guests admitted into the Windjammer to dine than in the past in order to allow for more spacing between people?

When will Allure and Explorer of the Seas get their Royal Amplifications?

One of the early casualties of the current crisis was the scheduled upgrade work on Allure of the Seas and Explorer of the Seas was temporarily put on hold.

This was not a decision Royal Caribbean made unilateral, as Spain has shut down entry for cruise ships to its ports, where the upgrade work was to take place.

This question is more than just "when will the water slides be added?" There are new staterooms that were to be added that are not there, and that could lead to guests with reservations for non-existent rooms.

Of course, some people booked these ships based on the understanding of which onboard amenities were to be offered.

Royal Caribbean has said they are, "reviewing all options to bring Explorer and Allure into dry dock this year," but there has been no timeline shared yet.

Will there be any social distancing rules implemented onboard the ships?

Almost everyone expects a "new normal" when it comes to going on a cruise in the future, and that leads to the question of what sort of policies, procedures and plans can guests expect once cruising resumes?

There have been plenty of ideas speculated on, but Royal Caribbean has not provided any sort of indication what we can expect.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd Chairman and CEO Richard Fain indicated the cruise line is working on how to best keep guests safe:

"At Royal Caribbean, we're using this time of the suspension to learn as much as we can about this disease, and how to contain it. We're using this time to consult with experts in the field. We're trying to understand the science. We're using this develop new ways of doing things to protect the health of our guests, and our crew. Our objective is to make our ships not just good enough, but the best they can be."

Is Odyssey of the Seas still on schedule?

Royal Caribbean's next new cruise ship, Odyssey of the Seas, is scheduled to debut in November 2020, but with all the changes and turmoil, is that still the plan?

There has been very little said about Odyssey, or any new ship scheduled for construction, since this all began.

While the Meyer Werft shipyard webcam continues to show progress being made, there has been no mention of the brand new ship from Royal Caribbean.

Certainly Royal Caribbean has had plenty on its plate recently that promoting a new ship may not seem like a top priority, but new ships usually dominate the cruise line's conversation leading up to its debut.

To be clear, there is no indication from Royal Caribbean we should expect any change in Odyssey's schedule, but the current situation leads many to believe everything is now subject to change.

Will any ships be moved somewhere else if ports remain closed?

Looking a little further down the timeline, cruises will likely resume with select ships and itineraries beginning before others. Certain other areas of the world seem less and less likely to offer cruises this year, so will Royal Caribbean move ships around if they know there is no chance of a cruise season in 2020?

Whether talking about cruises to Alaska, Europe or even out of Bayonne, some guests are wondering if cruises resume from Florida first, will Royal Caribbean move ships around in order to get them sailing again elsewhere?

While I believe the logistics in moving ships (and their embarkation ports) around with little lead time is not practical, enough readers have voiced this concern that it is a valid concern to be addressed.

What are you still wondering?

There are plenty of unanswered questions, and I will certainly do my best to share answers here as soon as I get them.  

It is important to note that Royal Caribbean is not ignoring these concerns. This is uncharted territory, and they are taking things one day at a time in order to best deal with the changing landscape of the cruise business.

Do you have questions about the short-term future that Royal Caribbean has not answered? Ask them in the comments!

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