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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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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 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.

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