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Why you shouldn't book the cheapest cruise you can find

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31Aug2020

So you want to book a cruise and start off by sorting prices by lowest first?

Big mistake.

It may seem like a logical starting place for a first time cruiser to try to find the absolute lowest price for a cruise, but looking only at price to determine which cruise to take is likely to set you up for disappointment later.

The lowest price ignores other important choices

Royal Caribbean has 26 ships in its fleet and they are anything but identical. If you find the lowest price and book based on that, you are overlooking a lot of important factors that can make or break a great vacation.

Royal Caribbean prices its cruises based on the time of year, how new or updated a ship is and the itinerary it sails. Newer ships command higher prices, while older ships tend to offer lower prices. The great variety of activities, things to do, stateroom choices, and itineraries means there is so much that you may want on your ship that price alone cannot control.

It seems a lot of first time cruisers will see a television commercial or a video online that shows off the amazing things you can do on Royal Caribbean, but will not realize not every ship has water slides, a Central Park neighborhood, certain specialty restaurants, or Broadway shows.

The biggest regret I hear from someone going on their first cruise is they wish they knew their ship had (or did not have) a certain feature or thing to do. 

While how much a cruise costs is going to be important to a lot of people, it should not be the primary consideration.

Lower prices and the weather

You might have done your homework and researched to find the best Royal Caribbean ship for you, and now feel confident to find the cheapest possible price for that cruise. That still could be a mistake.

After Royal Caribbean determines its cruise pricing between each ship in the fleet, the next major consideration is time of year, and that has more to do than just when kids are in school or not.

While the school calendar does impact cruise ship pricing (cruises tend to cost more when school on vacation since more families drive up demand), the weather plays an important role too.

Specifically, when the weather is less-than-ideal, prices will dip lower to make up for the weaker demand.

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.

There is never a guarantee that you be able to book any cruise and get perfect weather, certain times of the year will be cheaper because it is rains more, is colder, or even susceptible to hurricanes.

It is very important you recognize why a cruise one particular week or month is cheaper than another, and be okay with the trade offs.

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Bottom line

When it comes to picking a cruise, look for a ship that offers the fun things to do you absolutely want to have on a ship, sails to the places you want to go, and is not compromising too badly on the weather.

Everyone has a budget, and we all want to get the best value possible from our vacation, but paying a little bit more for the kind of awesome cruise vacation you expect based on reviews, commercials, and experiences from friends is worth it to avoid the wrong sailing.

Royal Caribbean's variety of ships and sailings is both a tremendous benefit (lots to choose from), but also a potential pitfall if not properly considered.

If you are worried that you might be setting yourself up for a mistake, be sure to consult with a good travel agent.  Travel agents should cost you nothing extra to use (the cruise line pays them), and they can be a wonderful resource in recommending the perfect ship for your family.

Save money where you can, but look beyond the price to find a great Royal Caribbean cruise.

Should I take a short or a long cruise?

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28Aug2020

Does it make more sense to go on a short cruise or is your money better spent on a longer sailing?

Royal Caribbean offers cruises of various lengths, with short 3 or 4 night sailings all the way up to cruises that exceed 14 days.  Which is the right choice for you and what are the differences between these cruises?

Here is a breakdown of why you might want to take a short or a long cruise.

Price

How much your cruise costs is a major factor in picking any vacation, so not surprising it should be the first consideration when debating a short cruise or a longer cruise.

In general, short cruises tend to have a lower overall cruise fare cost compared to longer cruises. A cruise that only goes a couple of days is going to be fairly affordable for most, and provides an inexpensive entry into the world of cruising.

Longer cruises may cost more overall, but their price per-night may actually be cheaper than some short cruises. Of course, multiplied out over sailings that can double or triple the length of a short sailing, and you will still pay more overall.

In general, I believe it is a mistake to book cruises purely based on price, but it is important to not only consider the bottom line price. Look at how much you would be paying for each night of the cruise to see which is a better value.

Places you will visit

Going on a cruise means visiting various ports of call around the world, and you will absolutely see more of them on a longer sailing.

Short sailings might have one or two ports to visit, while longer sailings can visit significantly more ports during their voyage.

Moreover, longer sailings means your ship has the ability to visit more exotic destinations. The more nights of a sailing, the further out your ship can potentially sail. 

If you are interested in visiting places out of the ordinary, a longer sailing will get you there.  

Shorter sailings do have an advantage of being generally close enough to very popular ports of call, including a cruise line's private destination. Nearly all of Royal Caribbean's short sailings visit Perfect Day at CocoCay in The Bahamas.

How much importance you place on the ports your cruise will visit may play a significant role in picking a short or long cruise.

Relaxing or party cruise?

Another generalization between short vs. long cruises is the atmosphere onboard.

Longer sailings are going to provide more time onboard the ship, which means more time to relax while onboard. Longer cruises tend to have more sea days, and that can mean more relaxing.  

Of course, Royal Caribbean cruise ships are known for packing plenty to do onboard, so a cruise over 7 nights does not mean there is not always something going on or parties each night.

Short sailings tend to attract younger guests who are looking to get away for a long weekend, especially during times of the year when school is out of session.  

Royal Caribbean is a family cruise line that has a good mix of guests of all ages, regardless of the cruise length, so 3 or 4-night cruises are not exclusively kids, while 7-night or longer cruises are not filled with just baby boomers. You may just find different attitudes toward why they booked the cruise.

Objectively, a shorter sailing means you have less time onboard to experience everything your ship has to offer. Royal Caribbean's ships are designed to be destinations in and of themselves, and that means there is a lot of fun things to do onboard. On a short cruise, you will be hard pressed to find time to work it all in, which may simply be a good reason to book another short cruise later.

Ship age

If you want to cruise on Royal Caribbean's newest cruise ships, you will almost certainly have to book a longer sailing.

In order to maximize the earnings potential of a new cruise ship, Royal Caribbean will schedule its newest ships to offer sailings of 7-nights or longer. 

The age of a ship is not the be-all and end-all of what makes a "good ship" or a "bad ship",  but if you want to check out the latest and greatest Royal Caribbean has to offer, a longer sailing is likely what you will have to book.

That is not to say a short sailing has to be on a floating relic. Royal Caribbean spends millions of dollars investing in their fleet, and ensuring their ships have more in common than different.

In fact, some ships offering short cruises to The Bahamas have some of the most impressive recent refurbishments. This means while they may be older, they still offer a lot of fun (and at a lower price).

Is a short or longer cruise better?

Ultimately, the decision to do a short or longer cruise depends on what you want from the vacation.

Short cruises are budget friendly, offer a fun atmosphere, and will fit nicely into a long weekend.  

Longer sailings will mean more time to explore the ship, more exotic destinations and potentially cheaper per-night costs.

Depending on what factors are important to you, there can be clear decisions for either type of cruise.

In general, I advocate longer cruises simply as a means to enjoy a longer vacation. Short cruises seem to go by in a flash, and while they are better than no cruise at all, all things being equal, a longer sailing feels more fulfilling.

How to plan a cruise vacation with maximum flexibility

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25Aug2020

If you are like a lot of other cruise fans, you are trying to balance your desire to book a new cruise to make up for 2020, while being as financially responsible as possible.

One major lesson from all of these cancelled Royal Caribbean cruises this year has been predicting exactly what to expect and how it will impact our cruise plans is impossible.

So while there are a lot of challenges facing the cruise lines to restart operations, you can still plan a cruise vacation for 2021 without blindly committing yourself to costly penalties. With a few extra safeguards, you can book a cruise that if or when plans change, you will not lose money.

Book refundable cruise fare

No matter which cruise you book, be sure to put a refundable deposit down, and not a non-refundable deposit.

While a non-refundable deposit will save you some money, those savings are offset by the inflexibility and change fees it comes with.

If you want the easiest way to cancel and get your money back (not just a future cruise credit), then a refundable cruise deposit is the way to go. While some categories of rooms do not offer refundable deposits (i.e. suites), the vast majority of rooms available to book will have the choice of refundable or non-refundable cruise fare.

I always thought refundable cruise fare was the right choice in the past, but with so much uncertainty, refundable cruise fares are now a must-do.

Do not count on travel insurance for everything

Travel insurance is a smart investment for many people because it covers you when you go on your vacation and some calamity were to happen, but travel insurance is not a catch-all for vacation plan changes prior to the start of vacation.

The insurance companies almost always have clauses that exempt coverage for things like pandemics or "unforeseeable events". So while a broken bone is covered, a lot of the issues that can pop up due to the global health crisis are not.

The key is to be crystal clear on what your travel insurance plan covers and does not cover.  It can still be a good idea to get a travel insurance plan in case something happens, but do not assume that plan will be your fallback if you want to change plans later.

Consider waiting longer to book a cruise

If you want to have the most latitude in changing your mind later, waiting to a little bit longer to book your cruise might not be a bad idea.

In the past, booking a cruise as early as you can has always been the best strategy to get the lower prices, but that was before everything changed in 2020.

While waiting to book your cruise might mean not getting the most rock bottom prices, demand is still soft enough that you can afford to wait a little bit closer to your cruise to pull the trigger on putting down a deposit.

Talk with a good travel agent about prices, and if you see prices starting to creep up, consider putting down a deposit or see if prices drop again.

Book airfare with refundable options

The same logic about booking cruises applies to airfare. Normal demand for these forms of travel is not nearly what it used to be, so keep an eye on prices, and keep in mind there is no rush to plop down a deposit.

In addition, pay very close attention to what the airline is offering in terms of change or cancellation terms.

While the airlines have generally adopted far more flexible change policies, such as no fees on changed bookings during the pandemic, getting your money back is an entirely different issue.

Before you book a flight, consider if you ought to wait a little bit longer to ensure your cruise plans are firmed up, as well as what will happen if you book a flight and then want to change your mind.

If you are okay with a credit instead of a refund, most airlines seem to be offering this option.  Getting your money back is an entirely different issue, so choose your refundable or non-refundable airfare wisely.  

If you are fine with a voucher for the airfare credit, make sure you book your flight with an airline that offers many routes from your area to ensure you can actually use that credit before it expires.

Bottom line

Planning ahead is always a good idea in general, but these days you need to be extra careful about what and when you book.

The good news is the travel industry has adopted a great deal of new flexible terms, but waiting a little longer or choosing refundable deposits is the best means to avoid costly changes later.

Top 5 things to do on Royal Caribbean for adults

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24Aug2020

A cruise is appealing to guests of all ages, and while Royal Caribbean is a family-friendly cruise line, there are certain things to do that are perfect for just the adults.

Whether you are taking a break from the kids after dropping them off in Adventure Ocean, or cruising without kids, there are a few good spots and activities to look for where children will be far from view.

As a parent, it is nice to have time now and then away from the kids to relax, and here are the top five things you can do on a Royal Caribbean cruise without kids!

Solarium

The top spot for any adult looking to spend time without children around is to head to the Solarium pool area.

The Solarium is an adults only pool on all Royal Caribbean ships where children under 16 years old are prohibited from lounging.

This adult only retreat is a very popular choice for its relaxing lounge chairs and poolscape, along with whirlpools and nearby bar staff.

Adults only excursions

You can find in the myriad of Royal Caribbean shore excursions a few that cater only to adults.

Usually these tours are offered to resorts or beaches that do not allow children in, either due to the inclusion of alcohol or other prohibitions.

If you want to enjoy some time on shore without kids, look for excursions that do not allow kids to be booked.

Spa

The Vitality spa and fitness center is another kids-free enclave on Royal Caribbean, where you can go for relaxation or a great workout.

The spa area offers massages, facials, a salon and many more services to enjoy.  The Vitality Spa presents as relaxing an atmosphere as possible, and the fact it is kid-free is an added bonus.

If you want to get your workout in, the various weights, machines and fitness classes are another spot to not have to contend with children.

Night club

Each evening, there is at least one late-night party happening onboard and Royal Caribbean enforces a strict age policy to prevent kids from getting in.

While there are family-friendly parties and shows put on earlier in the evening, once the night club scene pops up, the cruise line security team will check ages of anyone who tries to get into the club.

Casino

Perhaps no other area is as synonymous with adults only as Casino Royale, where gambling laws prohibit kids from being around.

Keep in mind that the bar area and nearby seating in the casino are open to any adults, even if you are not gambling.  Moreover, the casino bar tends to be the first bar to open in the day and the last to close, so it is a safe bet for when you want to get away.

Of course, the casino offers slots and table games to try your luck at, if you want to combine your kids-free time with (hopefully) winning money.

Top untrue myths about a Royal Caribbean cruise

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29Jul2020

What is it like to be on a Royal Caribbean cruise?

Despite Royal Caribbean being rated as one of the top cruise lines in the world, there are still some myths that perpetuate, despite a ton of evidence to the contrary.

This confusion leads to misconceptions about what a Royal Caribbean cruise (and in many cases, all cruises) are really like.  Here is a look at some of the most common cruise myths out there, and why they are plain wrong.

Cabin is small

Even the smallest staterooms are still probably larger than you think.

Royal Caribbean offers staterooms of various sizes that run the gamut of price ranges and amenities.

If your concern is being in too small of a room for your liking, try a balcony room or even a suite.  Balcony rooms tend to be very popular choices and not cost nearly as much more to move up to those than you might think.

Suites offer the most living space, but as the name implies, it comes at a price. If you can afford them, suites offer an incredible amount of living space onboard.

Regardless of which room you choose, the rooms tend to be larger than you think, and you will spend significantly less time in a cruise ship stateroom compared to a hotel room.

I will get sea sick

Perhaps no other concern of a first time cruiser can rival that of fear of getting sea sick on a cruise.

While getting seasick is a possibility (especially for those prone to motion sickness), there are so many easy remedies out there to combat it, that you should not be overly concerned.

There is over-the-counter medication you can purchase (Bonine), acupressure bracelets, and even a prescription patch you put behind your ear.

There are also a variety of homeopathic treatments, such as eating green apples, peppermint or something containing ginger.

If you are truly concerned, your best bet is to take either the over-the-counter pills before the cruise begins and every day thereafter.  Or, talk to your doctor about getting a prescription medication.

You have to get dressed up

While there are some classic films and television shows set on cruise ships, they all tend to show people wearing tuxedos and ball gowns and it gives the sense that a cruise is a 7-night senior prom sailing.

Cruising on Royal Caribbean is very relaxed, and while there are dress codes, they only apply to dinner in the main dining room and they are very basic in nature.

First and foremost, you can skip formal night by not dining in the main dining room for dinner.

Even if you do want to dine there, keep in mind the required dress code is nothing close to fancy. Collared shirt and slacks for men (tie or suit optional), and a cocktail dress or pant suit for ladies. There is no one inspecting your clothing as you enter to check the regality of your attire.

On non-formal nights, the required attire is nothing fancy at all. Jeans are acceptable every night, along with polo shirts, blouses or nearly anything else without holes in them.

In addition, there are plenty of alternative dining spots on your Royal Caribbean ship that have casual dress attire requirements.

Royal Caribbean isn't the best cruise line for young children

When people look to vacation with younger children (under 10 years old), Royal Caribbean tends to be in their blind spot out of concern there are better choices out there.

Royal Caribbean offers a well-rounded approach to their children's programming, and there is a lot to do for kids of all ages onboard.

Children 6 - 36 months old are able to spend time in the ship's nursery, which is available in nearly all ships now. The nursery is an extra-cost venue that offers supervised child care during the daytime and night, and is staffed by crew members with backgrounds in child care.

Adventure Ocean is the award-winning children's programming available on all ships that encompasses ages 3 years old up to 17 years old. Adventure Ocean is broken down by ages to ensure programming is appropriate for each group, and kids can enjoy a great variety of supervised activities, including games, drawing, story time, crafts, video games, scavenger hunts and more.

Royal Caribbean recently revamped its Adventure Ocean programming on Oasis of the Seas and Freedom of the Seas with an all-new approach that will eventually make it to the rest of the fleet. This update to Adventure Ocean combines new learning methods with technology and more opportunities for the kids to choose the sort of fun they want to engage in.

The ships are crowded

The modern cruise ships Royal Caribbean sails are designed to help spread out crowds to ensure better traffic flow, as well as prevent the log jam of people that some think are always on a cruise.

Just like in any land-based casino, hotel or theme park, there can be occasions where crowds come together, such as when a show ends or returning to the ship from a shore excursion, but you will not go on Royal Caribbean feeling like you are surrounded by people all the time.

Ironically, the largest cruise ships (Oasis and Quantum Class ships) are the best at spreading guests out to prevent crowding.  Royal Caribbean knew when they designed those ships that they needed to ensure there was plenty of space for everyone, and they offer the most deck space, bars, clubs and restaurants to accommodate everyone.

People fall overboard

This myth is rooted in news reports that often involve poorly written headlines.

While there have been relatively speaking very few people that have ended up in the ocean following being on a cruise ship, they are all cases of jumping off the ship , victims of being thrown off by someone else, or being somewhere they should not be in the first place.

The notion you can be minding your own business, slip or bump into something and fall backwards over a railing into the ocean is simply not true.

Royal Caribbean designs its ships with high balcony railings, plenty of warning signs, and partitions to keep guests safe. 

You will be bored

Every so often I will hear from someone that has never cruised that they refuse to go on a cruise because they imagine being "stuck" on the ship and being bored.

Royal Caribbean cruise ships are packed with tons of activities, entertainment and things to do, in addition to the fun places around the world your ship will visit.

Depending on the ship, you can enjoy rock climbing, water slides, zip lining, ice skating, laser tag, dance parties, play trivia games and much more.

The best way to convey just how much there is to do on a Royal Caribbean cruise is to read a past Cruise Compass. These are the daily activity sheets distributed to all guests onboard.  You will quickly see there is a plethora of things to do onboard that will leave you anything but bored.

I have to eat with random people

Some people are concerned they will be forced to dine with people they do not know, which is/was a cruise tradition rooted in the past.

While dinner in the main dining room does still offer this option, there are alternatives that offer more flexible options.

First and foremost, it is quite easy to request a main dining room table for just your family.

Royal Caribbean also offers My Time Dining, which is a flexible dining option that does not have assigned dinner times and seating.  Instead, when you arrive, you are seated with just your family.

In addition, you can opt to skip the main dining room and dine at specialty restaurants, where seating is always just for your party.  There are complimentary casual venues that offer plenty of seating that you can pick out.

The older and smaller ships are not as fun

If you watch a Royal Caribbean television commercial, you will spot plenty of b-roll that feature Royal Caribbean's newest cruise ships, leading some to question why anyone would sail the older ships.

Royal Caribbean recognized that their newer ships offered a big advantage and engaged in a series of upgrades and enhancements to bring some of the popular features from the big ships to their existing fleet.

Not only has programs like Royal Amplified and Oasis-sizing added new dining locations, entertainment and activities to older ships, these ships are also priced extremely well compared to their newer sister vessels.

Royal Caribbean's fleet of ships are not like when you buy a car and let it languish with the same features as when you bought it. They are always looking for opportunities to bring great choices to these ships, and you will still find plenty to do onboard.

It's a floating Petri dish

This notion is the single most infuriating and downright incorrect summary of a cruise ship. 

No doubt you have read headlines that make cruise ships seem like they are the single greatest source of spreading disease, especially during the current global health crisis.

While cruise ships do carry a risk of spreading any germ or disease (just like any public venue in the world), they are not the super germ incubators the media has made them out to be.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that only 1% of Norovirus (a gastrointestinal illness) cases come from cruise ships, while nearly all the cases come from restaurants, nursing homes, schools and prisons.

Royal Caribbean takes the health of its passengers seriously, and continuously works on new policies and procedures to keep everyone safe. Hand sanitizer stations and enhanced onboard sanitization are just some of the tools often employed by the cruise line to greatly reduce the risk.

In light of the current pandemic, Royal Caribbean is working on crafting a solution to allow its ships to sail while minimizing the risk to guest and crew.

The cruise line just hired its first Public Health and Chief Medical Officer, and has put together a blue ribbon panel of scientists and health experts to create a strategy of new policies and procedures for once cruises resume.

The bottom line is the vast majority of people who go on a cruise do not get sick.

Top things that are totally worth spending extra for on a Royal Caribbean cruise

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20Jul2020

There are plenty of choices to make in a cruise vacation that will cost you extra, but there are a few that stand out as being worth the extra cost because of the benefits they provide.

Any upgrade or splurge will mean more money you will have to shell out, so it is always important to determine which ones are nice to have versus which ones are smart choices.

Here is a list of my favorite extras that I do not mind (as much) paying out of pocket because I think it is worth it.

Renting a cabana

Whether your cruise will visit Perfect Day at CocoCay or Labadee, if you want to spend money on an upgrade, I always book a cabana for my family when we visit either of these private destinations.

Renting a cabana gets you extra privacy and comfort for your day at the beach, and I love the flexibility they provide.

Personalized service from the cabana attendants, shade and a fan to keep everyone cool, comfortable accommodations and floating mats are just a few of the many perks they provide.

For families, it is so nice to have a "home base" where the kids can easily go to and from, take a break, and hang out during the day.

Cabana rental prices will vary, and they are not the cheapest excursion you can buy, but I find it offers some intangible benefits that make for a more enjoyable day at the beach.

Upgrading to a balcony cabin

When you decide which stateroom to get, certainly an inside cabin will be fine and save you some money along the way, but I think it is worth it to look to spend a bit more for a balcony.

The private balcony space you get and on-demand views of the ocean make the cruise experience so much better, because it is always available when you want it.

It is so rewarding to be able to go out on your balcony any time of day or night to enjoy the view, have a sip of your coffee, or simply enjoy the passing sea breeze.

In addition, moving up to a balcony room means more living space. The cabin itself will be larger, and of course the balcony provides additional room to move around compared to less expensive stateroom options.

Stay an extra day before/after your cruise

One of my top tips for anyone who is flying to their cruise is to ensure they come in at least a day before the cruise departs in order to prevent a travel delay impacting their ability to get to the cruise ship.

Travel delays occur with great frequency, and the last thing you want to do is put your cruise vacation in jeopardy because of a flight delay or traffic.

Coming in a day early, as well as staying an extra day or two after your cruise, is not only a smart travel decision, but it also extends your vacation.

Dine at a specialty restaurant

While I think the complimentary food in Royal Caribbean's complimentary restaurants are fantastic, I think mixing it up and having a dinner at one specialty restaurant on a cruise is well-worth it.

Specialty restaurants have gone from something else to try, to a major focus of the cruise line. It is more than just somewhere to get different food, the cruise line has placed a great deal of effort into delivering some very impressive meals.

Everyone has different tastes, but my favorite specialty restaurants to dine at each and every time are as follows:

  • Izumi Hibachi: Always a satisfying meal, my family loves to dine here for the combination of great food and great entertainment.
  • Portside BBQ: Only available on Oasis of the Seas currently, the quality of food is simply impressive. I am not even a "bbq guy", but it is really good.
  • Wonderland: For something truly different, I recommend a meal at Wonderland. It is departure from the usual specialty dining, and still delivers great food and experience.

Whether you are looking to celebrate a special occasion or just a special night out, these three choices are perfect and will leave you satisfied with the experience (and the cost).

Escape Rooms

In just a few short years, Royal Caribbean has added a number of escape rooms to its cruise ships and they are really a lot of fun.

Escape rooms are timed challenges, where you and a group of other guests try to solve a series of puzzles and clues that "unlocks" a sequence before time runs out.

Each escape room added to a Royal Caribbean ship is a brand new challenge, so even if you did an escape room on one ship, it does not mean you cannot find an all new puzzle to tackle on another.

These are great sea day activities, and win or lose, it is a fun brain teaser.

What are your favorite extras?

What do you think is worth the extra cost on a Royal Caribbean cruise? Share your list with us in the comments!

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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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

In:
Category: 
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.

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