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Things I've done that I'll never do again on a Royal Caribbean cruise

In:
04 Jan 2021

Royal Caribbean has no shortage of fun things to do on a cruise, and a few of them I have no intention of ever doing again.

Don't get me wrong, more often than not, I find some really enjoyable things to try on a cruise. But just like anything in life, some things do not jive with me.

Some are not to my liking, and other plans backfired after giving it a try.  The good news is I have since learned from these experiences and wanted to share what I came up against to help you decide what to do on your sailing.

Here are the top things I will never do again on a Royal Caribbean cruise in hopes it may save you the trouble as well.

Skip buying travel insurance

When I first started to cruise, I never bought travel insurance because I thought it was a waste of money.  Why should I spend money to prepare for a scenario that will very likely never happen?

I was in good health, relatively young, and had my own health insurance and coverages provided by credit cards. 

It was not until years later when we were on a cruise and my wife did not feel well, that the decision not to buy travel insurance came back to haunt me.  As my wife lay in bed feeling awful, we wrestled with should we seek onboard medical care that will cost us a lot of out pocket, or save money and risk my wife's health.

That choice did not sit well with me, and so I decided to invest in travel insurance from that point forward.

The peace of mind travel insurance offers is worth it to know that if something unforeseen minor or major occurs, your first thought will not be, "can I afford this?".

Travel insurance does not cover everything (be sure to read the policy carefully), but it is something I will never cruise without again.

Read moreWhy you should get travel insurance for your cruise

Cruise without the drink package

When Royal Caribbean introduced the drink package a number of years ago, I never thought it would make financial sense to me.

Ultimately what changed my mind is a drink package makes it so easy to budget for a cruise.

Somewhat similar to the travel insurance example, when I do not have a drink package I torment myself mentally with the question of do I need a drink, or can I go longer and save money without it?

I found getting a drink package reduced that sort of mental anguish, and allows me to do what I love to do on a cruise: relax and enjoy my time onboard.

Moreover, the convenience of the drink package and value it provides by including not just alcoholic drinks makes it a slam dunk decision going forward.

By pre-purchasing and taking advantage of drink package sales, I have found a drink package to be a worthwhile investment every time.

Read moreIs the drink package worth it on Royal Caribbean?

Skip pre-paying gratuities

The bill at the end of the cruise that has all of our onboard charges is never something I look forward to seeing, and the option to pre-pay gratuities really helps keep these costs down.

Royal Caribbean gives guests the choice of pre-paying gratuities before the cruise, or having them accrue each evening while onboard.

I never used to mind the daily charges, but they add up and I greatly value the opportunity to make spread out the overall cost of my cruise.  

By pre-paying, there are two benefits: I get to avoid a larger onboard spending bill and I also lock in my gratuity rate.  Royal Caribbean promises to lock in the gratuity rate at the time you pre-pay, which means if the cruise line raises the rate later, you still pay the lower amount.

Read moreShould you prepay gratuities for a Royal Caribbean cruise?

Ripcord by iFly

File this under "things Matt personally does not have the talent to do".

When Royal Caribbean announced there would be a sky diving simulator on Quantum of the Seas, I was excited to finally try sky diving without having to jump out of an airplane.  Real sky diving is something I will absolutely, positively never do because it seems entirely too frightening.

When I sailed on Quantum of the Seas, I had my opportunity to see what it was like in a safe environment.  I was so excited that I even volunteered to go first in my group.

Unfortunately, I failed miserably at it and somehow ended up inverted and on the bottom, and I was as disappointed in myself as I was embarrassed.

While I have many talents, coordination is not one of them, and I have written off Ripcord by iFly as one of those "been there, done that" experiences. 

I would never tell someone else not to do it. I just know I will not be with them in line for it.

Plan to be the first person off the ship when the cruise is over

It seems easy enough when planning a cruise to squeeze it in by ensuring I will be among the first off the ship to make a flight home, or drive back in time to get to work.

The reality is getting up early enough to be among the first off the ship is anything but enjoyable.

Not only is waking up early unpleasant, a lot of other people have the exact same idea.  You still end up standing in a line to disembark the ship, and it always seems no matter what early time I get out of my room to get in that line, there are always way more people waiting before me than I expect.

On top of all of that, I end up groggy and tired for the rest of the day, with a nap later in the day to recuperate. 

Instead, I strive to make plans that do not require me to be off the ship quite so early (when possible) to avoid making the last morning quite so miserable.

Stay in the same cabin as my kids

I learned this lesson at an early stage with my children: I love them, but I do not love sleeping in the same room as them.

Just like at home, my kids have different sleeping habits than I do, and I prefer them go to bed at a certain time is not necessarily the same time as me.

In addition, having four of us in one room is usually a tight fit.  There are plenty of cabins for 4 people, but there is not usually a lot of space.  Rooms that do have more living space for a family of four tend to be suites, and those prices do not fit in our budget.

Instead, we book two connecting rooms so that we have a common inside door between my wife and I and the kids.  This way, the kids have their own space, their own beds, and their own sleep schedule.  We turn off the lights, wish them a good night and close the common door.  

Moreover, two rooms means two full bathrooms.  As my daughters get older, this investment is worth every penny.

Getting two rooms is not as expensive as it sounds, and even if we have to move down from a balcony for four people to two inside connecting rooms, the added space is worth it every time.

Read moreRoyal Caribbean adds connecting room feature to website search

Try to "wing it" in St. Thomas

I have generally had good luck in ports with walking off the ship and figuring things out as I go, but St. Thomas recently became the exception to that rule.

Due to the location of where your ship docks, a taxi is a must-have and if you want to go somewhere most others do not, getting a taxi became an exercise in futility.

On a cruise in 2019, I wanted to go to a part of St. Thomas no other cruise guests wanted to go. The taxi drivers were unwilling to take me because they could make more money going to higher demand tourist areas.

The result was I abandoned my plans to go there, and in the future, I will make arrangements ahead of time to avoid this issue.

Read moreGuide to visiting St. John on a Royal Caribbean cruise

Sleep in when visiting Perfect Day at CocoCay

If you think Royal Caribbean's private island is another beach day that you can sleep in before going, think again.

Perfect Day at CocoCay is an amazing destination that offers so much now, and the best strategy for getting a great spot and avoid lines is to wake up and get off the ship early.

If you are visiting the water park, being among the first off the ship is an absolute must-do so that you can avoid lines for slides later.

Being off the ship early also allows you to pick the best spots near the pool, beach, or bar.  This is especially important at Oasis Lagoon.

Read moreDo's & Don'ts of Perfect Day at CocoCay

Not bring cash with me to private islands

Labadee and CocoCay are Royal Caribbean's private islands and the cruise line allows you to use your SeaPass card to pay for drinks, excursions and other incidentals.

However, the people working on the island that are not cruise line employees cannot take payment with a SeaPass card.

A few times I completely forgot to bring any cash, since it was a cruise line destination, and ended up having to go back to the ship to get cash for tips.

You will find locals working certain excursions, cabana attendants, tram drivers and more. Tipping is customary in some situations, so having a little bit of cash is a must-do from now on.

What about you?

As you can tell, this list is very subjective to my experiences and I am willing to bet many others have their own set of "never again" things.

On the RoyalCaribbeanBlog message boards, our readers shared some of their top picks for things they will never do again on a cruise:

  • Sell expert lecture - Traveler
  • Walk to a beach - melmar02
  • Take the cruise line shuttle to the airport instead of a taxi - dawnelda
  • Snorkeling in Alaska - wstephensi
  • Pay cruise line prices for medication - Psycho and Barb
  • Get off the ship without a porter - coneyraven

Be sure to share your own experiences in the comments below!

The best time to take an Alaska cruise

In:
16 Dec 2020

Want to know when is the best time to go on an Alaska cruise for great weather, low prices, or fewer crowds?

While the short-term future of cruises is still murky at best, eventually cruise ships will be heading back out to Alaska and the beautiful natural scenery to enjoy in Alaska is simply unparalleled.

It is hard to top the majesty beauty of rugged glaciers, plethora of unique animal sightings, or huge mountains. Going on a cruise to Alaska is an extremely popular kind of cruise, because it offers an easy way to see so much in a compact amount of time.

While it is impossible to see and do it all over the course of a one week cruise, Alaska has the power to enchant even brief visitors.  So while you are stuck at home, this may be the perfect time to start planning a cruise to The Last Frontier.

Here is your guide for figuring out the best times to visit for your first (or 50th) Alaska cruise.

The best time for an Alaska cruise to avoid crowds

The Alaska cruise season runs between May and September, but there are definite ebbs and flows to demand and crowds in the ports you will visit.

If you are looking for the months with the lowest crowds in Alaska, try for May or September.  These are the "shoulder season" months, which is when the season begins and ends, and is when you will find less people vying for a cruise. 

Moreover, going during May or September is also when most kids are still in school, which means families are unable to cruise during this period.

The downside to these months is the weather tends to be the most unpredictable, and that can be an issue with possibly impacting your shore excursions.  Most notably helicopter and boat excursions are the most at risk.

Read moreWhat is the best time to cruise to Alaska?

The best months for an Alaska cruise for good weather

The weather in Alaska can, and will, change multiple times per day, but you will find the warmest months to be June, July and August.

The median months will see higher temperatures and longer days for touring, and it represents the limited summer that Alaska enjoys. However, July and August tend to also have higher levels of precipitation.

If you do book a cruise during summer, be sure to plan your shore excursions well in advance to avoid tours selling out.

If you are willing to trade warmth for less precipitation, then go for May. In fact, the end of May and the beginning of June offers some of the best weather in the region throughout the year.

If you want to see snow on the ground, May is the best month for that.

Read moreComparing the Royal Caribbean ships sailing in Alaska 2021

The best months for an Alaska cruise for low prices

Alaska is not a cheap cruise, but if you want to save money on your cruise fare, then your best bet is May or September.

For the same reasons May and September feature lower crowds, these months see most often the lowest prices for a cruise because of the combination of colder temperatures and the school calendar.

Read moreWhat is the cheapest month to go on a cruise?

The best time to see the Northern Lights on an Alaska cruise

Few places allow for viewing of the aurora borealis, and the best time see the Northern Lights is in September.

September is the time of year when the sun sets earlier during the cruise season, which means the sky gets darker and makes for the most ideal viewing conditions.

Of course, temperatures during September will be lower than other times of the year, but the opportunity to see the Northern Lights is a real treat.

As mentioned in this article, not only does September provide the opportunity to see the Northern Lights, but you will also enjoy less crowds and likely lower prices on a cruise.

Read moreTop 10 tips for planning your Alaska cruise

The best time to see wildlife on an Alaska cruise

You will see plenty of wildlife during your Alaska cruise throughout the cruise season. The best months to catch a glimpse of the amazing fauna that call Alaska home are the months of June and July. 

  • Moose: Moose give birth around June.
  • Caribou: June is the best month to see herds of caribou
  • Humpback Whales:  June and July is when the humpback whales migrate through Alaska's Inside Passage.
  • Black bears: Spring is ideal because the new vegetation lures back in sheep, mountain goats and black bears. July is also good because that is when salmon runs start to get busy.
  • King Salmon: King salmon runs start in late May.
  • Bird watching: June is when you have the best change to see unusual birds migrating.

Read moreWhat Is an Alaska Inside Passage Cruise?

10 mistakes travel agents see people make going on a cruise ship

In:
08 Dec 2020

Everyone makes mistakes, and no one sees more of them than travel agents.

Whether these mistakes are being made by first time cruisers, or someone that has been on a few sailings, travel agents often triage the fallout of these problems and work to make things right.

I reached out to my friends at MEI Travel to see what sort of rookie mistakes they see more often from guests, so that everyone can learn to avoid them.

Booking non-refundable deposit

Everyone wants to save money where they can, but booking non-refundable cruise deposit and regretting it later is a common mistake travel agents see all the time.

Royal Caribbean offers two types of deposits: refundable and non-refundable.

Non-refundable deposits mean a little extra savings, but you incur change fees if you want to change the reservation to another ship or sailing, or if you want to cancel.

As is often the case, guests want to book the non-refundable to save money up front, but run into trouble when plans change and they incur the penalties.

My advice is to always book refundable cruise fare for the flexibility it provides.

Minimum bids for RoyalUp

A relatively new way to get a cabin upgrade for less than the post rate is to place a bid with the RoyalUp program, but how much you bid is a major factor.

RoyalUp is a blind bidding process, where close to your cruise you can place a bid for how much you would be willing to pay to move up a higher category stateroom.

Sharla Manglass said the minimum bid amount often sets the wrong expectation because people bid the minimum and expect to get the upgrade.

Ms. Manglass says guests should place their bid, and then check with a travel agent to see what the price is for an upgrade because sometimes you can find a good deal by upgrading the old fashioned way.

Read moreHow to upgrade your cabin on Royal Caribbean

Not asking their travel agent for more help

I love using travel agent to book my cruises because of the services they provide, but all too often people book with travel agents and never take advantage of their expertise.

Asking a travel agent for help beyond the booking is something you should absolutely be doing, because it is part of what makes a travel advisor so useful.

Travel agents can provide advice on which shore excursions to book, the best dining times and answer questions along the way.

"I'm not just there to price check," Ms. Manglass said. "I can help out every step of the way."

Read more10 Secrets Royal Caribbean travel agents wish you knew

Not booking travel under their legal name

Attention Bob, Becky, Matt, Mike, Vicky and Jen: be sure to book your cruises under your legal name and not your nicknames.

Not booking travel under your legal name can lead to a problem at check-in when the names do not match up.

From a legal standpoint, the ship manifest has to match your name on your legal documents, such as passport or birth certificate.

Double check you are providing your legal names when booking to avoid a mess at the pier.

Read moreDo you need a passport for a cruise?

Overlooking purchasing travel insurance

Another common mistake is to not understand why you might need travel insurance.

Travel insurance plans cover a wide variety of scenarios, from lost luggage to travel delays to injuries.

Michelle Cunningham thinks travel insurance has never been more important to consider than for cruises now, "Nowadays, its more about sickness or injury, or needing to be life-flighted somewhere Insurance I think will become mandatory for some places."

Read moreWhy you should get travel insurance for your cruise

Waiting to book at the last minute

While last minute cruise deals are not impossible, they are extremely rare and you are less likely to save money relying on this strategy.

Cruise pricing close to the sail date tends to become quite volatile, and quite often travel agents see prices go up rather than go down.

"This only works for some cruises but we have seen cruise rates jump a lot so honestly booking farther out is a better options," Ms. Cunningham said.

What you want to do instead is book your cruise as early as you can to lock in the best rates.  Typically, the lower prices are many months before the cruise sails.

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

Not having proper or expired documentation

You will need certain government issued documents in order to go on your cruise, so do not wait until the last minute to verify you have them.

Moreover, double check your passport will not be expired by the time your cruise vacation occurs. All too often, people look at their passport expiration date today, and do not take into account the passport expiration date relative to their cruise travel.

If your passport expires, you cannot use it to check in for the cruise.

Ms. Cunningham always reminds her clients to check their passports at final payment date, it is a good idea to check even earlier, "clients sometimes do not pull out their passport until the week of the cruise, then its too late to do anything."

Read moreChoosing between the passport card vs book

Not understanding how gratuities work

Gratuities on a Royal Caribbean cruise can trip up first timers because it is not built into the cruise fare price, but it is still expected as part of the overall vacation.

Jennifer Kelln told me some cruisers are not aware that gratuities are automatically charged once the cruise begins.

A way to avoid the surprise later is to pre-pay your gratuities before the cruise.

Read moreShould you prepay gratuities for a Royal Caribbean cruise?

Waiting to book excursions on the ship

Researching what there is to do in each port and finding the right shore excursion is often overlooked in the vacation planning process.

Not doing any research on what there is to do in each port your ship visits leaves you at a disadvantage by trying to "wing it". Plus, you risk tours selling out or paying more for the same tours on the ship.

You can avoid this problem by doing a little bit of research before your cruise (don't forget to ask your travel agent for advice), as well as price shop. Royal Caribbean often runs sales on shore excursions before the cruise begins.

Read moreHow to save money on cruise excursions

Flying the same day the cruise departs

A major faux pas is to book your flights the same day your cruise departs because you are putting you entire vacation in jeopardy if there is any kind of travel delay.

Travel delays are all too common: cancelled flights, snow storms, flat tires, etc. If your flight gets you in later than scheduled, you might end up missing the cruise ship all together.

Instead, plan to arrive to your departure port at least one day early so that you can protect yourself against a travel delay impacting your ability to get on your cruise. 

As an added bonus, by arriving to your embarkation port at least a day early, that means you get to start your vacation sooner!  And in many cases, the port you are departing from has its own cultural and historical attractions that you can explore.

Read moreWhy you shouldn't fly to your cruise the same day it begins

Top 5 unique 2022 Royal Caribbean cruises you can book now

In:
05 Dec 2020

Royal Caribbean has released its first batch of summer 2022 cruises, and I hand picked five itineraries that stood out as something different or intriguing.

Every year Royal Caribbean will offer a full compliment of cruises, and many of these sailings are tried-and-true itineraries that guests love.  In addition, a few new or somewhat different sailings get added in and many cruise fans love to look for something distinctive.

I went through each of the releases for summer 2022 in Caribbean, Alaska and Europe to find the top 5 Royal Caribbean cruises worth taking a look at if you want something special from the rest of the cruises.

Bermuda cruises from Florida

Traditionally, if you wanted to go on a cruise to Bermuda, you had to sail from the Northeast United States.  In summer 2022, Royal Caribbean will offer cruises to Bermuda from Florida.

Select sailings of Mariner of the Seas from Port Canaveral will offer 8-night sailings to Bermuda, which include two days in Kings Wharf, before heading to Nassau for a late night stay and then a full day at Perfect Day at CocoCay.

There are six of these Bermuda cruises available to book between May and October 2022.

Read moreRoyal Caribbean will finally offer cruises to Bermuda from Florida

Double glacier sailings

Serenade of the Seas is no stranger to offering cruises to Alaska, but in 2022 she will offer a 7-night Multi Glacier Experience cruise.

Basically, Royal Caribbean is introducing new itineraries that showcase twice the glaciers for one sailing.

Serenade of the Seas will sail roundtrip cruises from Vancouver with an itinerary that features both the Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier, and the Hubbard Glacier, the largest tidewater glacier in North America.

If that is not enough Alaska for you, you can always extend your stay with Royal Caribbean’s signature CruiseTours, a series of 2- to 6-night pre- or post-cruise land tours led by local experts.

Read moreHow to choose the right Alaska cruise itinerary

12-night Arctic Circle sailing

If you are looking for the combination of different sort of cruise and a European getaway, then check out the Arctic Circle cruises on Jewel of the Seas.

In June 2022, Jewel of the Seas will offer a pair of 12-night cruises to as far north as Royal Caribbean typically goes.  These sailings sail up the coast of Norway and proceed briefly into the Arctic Circle.

Read moreRoyal Caribbean releases new Europe summer 2022 cruises to book

Holy land cruises

Cruises to Israel are a rarity for Royal Caribbean, and in 2022 you can visit holy sites and experience Israeli culture with new Odyssey of the Seas cruises to the middle east.

Odyssey of the Seas will return to Rome in summer 2022 to offer 12-night Holy Land sailings.

These cruises will visit Haifa and Jerusalem, Israel. New in 2022, Holy Land itineraries will call on Limassol, Crete, a bustling city designated in its entirety as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Read more7 tips for a great Mediterranean cruise

Oasis of the Seas sailing from the northeast

While Oasis of the Seas highly anticipated arrival for summer cruises never materialized in 2020, she will give it another try in 2022.

During summer 2022, Oasis of the Seas will offer 7-night cruise vacations to Florida and The Bahamas from Cape Liberty in Bayonne, New Jersey.

Nearly every sailing on Oasis from the Big Apple will include a stop at Perfect Day at CocoCay.

For residents of the Northeast, having an Oasis Class ship sail from New Jersey makes for a very convenient option in their backyard.

Read moreRoyal Caribbean releases 2022 7-Night or Longer Caribbean sailings

7 things I wish more cruisers knew about going on a cruise

In:
04 Dec 2020

Cruisers come in all manners, from first timers, to once a year cruisers, to top tier "once a month is not enough" cruisers. There is nothing wrong if you cannot tell your port from starboard, or do not recall the name of every single Royal Caribbean ship that ever existed.

Regardless of your experience, going on a cruise should be a fun, relaxing, and enjoyable vacation that delivers the "wow" that Royal Caribbean is so fond of marketing.

Here are 7 suggestions I have for anyone going on a cruise that wants to enjoy their cruise to its fullest.

New doesn't always means better

Royal Caribbean's newest cruise ships are amazing pieces of engineering and entertainment.  New ships captivate our attention with all of the "I can't believe they put it on a cruise ship" features, along with beautiful designs.

While new ships look amazing, they are not the end-all be-all of what makes for a good cruise ship, and you should not force yourself to book only new ships.

Existing ships offer a ton of great things to do onboard (after all, they used to be the new ship too).  More importantly, they offer a great cruise at a much lower cost than a brand new ship. 

Even a ship that is a few years old is going likely cost less than the newest ship.

In addition, the existing Freedom, Voyager or Radiance Class ships offer a different kind of cruise experience than the newest ships on the block. Cruising is more than just how many thrill attractions you can squeeze into one sailing. Royal Caribbean has always done a good job of mixing innovation with classics, and you will not be bored on older ships.

The key is to figure out what you are looking for in a cruise, and what features you must have onboard and then choose the right vessel for your vacation. Looking only for the newest ship will not necessarily guarantee anything but a higher price tag.

Read moreWhy you shouldn't avoid older and smaller cruise ships

How much time a good travel agent can save

Outside of cruises, the role of travel agents has diminished, but they are still so useful when booking a cruise.

First and foremost, not all travel agents are the same and there is a clear distinction between a travel agent and a good travel agent. Rely on others to provide recommendations, but embrace the good agents for all the time and money they will save you.

After someone realizes travel agents still exist, the next thing they will likely want to know is why they cannot just book a cruise directly with the cruise line.

Using a good travel agent is more than just putting your credit card down for a booking.  It is about being your advocate all along the way, from figuring out the best sailing and stateroom option, to finding the lowest price, to being available when changes or a problem occur.

Anyone that is new to cruising will find travel agents very helpful in answering questions and figuring out the best choices. Established cruisers will save so much time with a travel agent that helps them out when issues occur.

The bottom line is finding and using a good travel agent will free you up to do other things and cost you nothing extra. 

Read moreTop things you didn't know travel agents can do for your cruise vacation

You should get a passport

Americans can cruise from the United States on a closed-loop cruise without a passport, but you absolutely should get one.

Yes, a passport will cost you money and require some time to fill out the application, get a photo, and get it processed, but it makes cruising easier and more reliable.

Having a passport means the cruise check-in and disembarkation process significantly easier and will speed up both.

Moreover, if you were ever stuck outside the country, having a passport makes getting home as simple as buying a plane ticket. Being stranded outside the country without a passport is a trying process, at best.

Do yourself a favor and get a passport before your cruise to ensure as smooth a process as possible.

Read moreDo you need a passport for a cruise?

Say something if there's a problem

A really common mistake I see is someone on a cruise runs into some sort of a problem that impacts their enjoyment of the cruise and does not say something to a crew member about it.

Whether it is a malfunction in the cabin, accident onboard, disagreement with a crew member, or anything else that stops you in your tracks, problems should be addressed onboard and not after the cruise.

I know that feeling of not wanting be a bother, but Royal Caribbean wants you to have a great experience, and problems should be identified so they can be fixed.

A classic example is slow service in a dining room, where a waiter may be handling too many tables or a kitchen delay slows everything down. Asking to speak to the head waiter to alert them that there is a problem is a helpful way to get the situation resolved quicker.

If you have a billing discrepancy on your bill, speak to Guest Relations on the ship. If something is not working properly in your cabin, alert your stateroom attendant.

Read moreThe top crew members to find if you have a problem onboard your cruise

Be as flexible as possible during a cruise

Sometimes things do not go your way, and bad luck can be experienced even on a cruise ship.

Getting frustrated, or even having a meltdown in front of family and strangers, happens to the best of us.  We are all humans, and we all have our tipping point, so occasionally something occurs that triggers someone and that leads to a few minutes we regret later.

One of the best pieces of cruise advice is to try to be as flexible as possible. You cannot control everything that occurs, and sometimes you just run into bad luck.

The key is not letting this incident ruin the rest of your day or cruise. We all experience frustration, but try to remember the classic mantra of don't worry, be happy.

Read moreHow to plan a cruise vacation with maximum flexibility

Always book refundable cruise fare

No matter which cruise you book, be sure to choose a refundable deposit instead of a non-refundable deposit.

While you may save some money with a non-refundable deposit, the inflexibility and change fees that come with those fares make it undesirable.

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.

Read moreFive lessons I've learned from all these cancelled cruises

Change is not a bad thing

In general, humans do not love change because it disrupts what we are accustomed to, however, change in the cruise industry is inevitable and we should embrace it.

Royal Caribbean cruises have been evolving since the company began operations more than 50 years ago. Whether it was introducing the first mega ship, adding a rock wall to a cruise ship, building the largest ships in the world, or changing the size of the ship name on the side of a vessel, change always irks some in the beginning, but we get used to it.

As cruise fans, we began cruising because of how cruises were, and the changes that have come since are attempts to build upon and improve the experience. One person's "wow" is another person's "why did they change it". 

Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain talked earlier this year about how change is always happening, and it served as a good reminder that nothing in cruises ever stays the same forever, "The only constant is change. We don't know how the future is going to unfold."

"When we design our ships, we talk about a design formula of one third tradition, one third evolution and one third revolution. That formula's worked pretty well for us...It doesn't stick us in the past, but it isn't a new normal."

While there is the occasional change that ends up being a mistake, most of the time Royal Caribbean gets it right and embracing the change makes for a smoother and more enjoyable journey.

Read moreThe most important changes you should know about Royal Caribbean's new health protocols

Six big questions Royal Caribbean has not answered yet

In:
19 Nov 2020

There is plenty of uncertainty about Royal Caribbean cruises and their restart plans, but besides when cruises might resume, there are some questions cruise fans have been asking for a while without any clear answers.

Of course everyone wants to know when cruises will be able to restart, but an explanation of some other major concerns is among the most frequently asked questions.

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

What are all the new rules for cruises in North America and Europe?

Before Royal Caribbean can restart cruises, they have to announce all the new rules and protocols we can expect for cruises sailing from North America or Europe.

There are new rules announced for Quantum of the Seas cruises from Singapore, but the cruise line has not yet announced changes for other markets.

Just yesterday, Royal Caribbean's Public Health & Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Calvin Johnson said the cruise line is still working on converting the Healthy Sail Panel recommendations into rules.

"The way that we at a Royal Caribbean group have moved to operationalize those has been through creating very, very specific and detailed operational protocols, how we will do things as a cruise line in order to make sure that we're focusing on those safe aspects and those elements that will help make cruising safer."

Dr. Johnson said Royal Caribbean came up with 122 specific protocols and almost 300 specific policies, but the public is curious what all of these changes will be exactly.

How will Royal Caribbean select volunteers for test cruises?

Ever since Royal Caribbean began taking sign ups for volunteers for its test cruises, the most frequently asked question is how volunteers will be picked.

In just over a week, Royal Caribbean has gotten over 100,000 people sign up to help test out the cruise line's new rules, but there has been absolutely no indication how volunteers will be chosen.

The only requirement listed when signing up was you had to be 18 years old.

Royal Caribbean's Senior Vice President, Sales, Trade Support and Service, Vicki Freed, said that test sailings will be conducted with a combination of Royal Caribbean employees and volunteers, although they are not sure how volunteers will be picked yet.

What  is the status of delayed ship upgrades and new Perfect Day islands?

The combination of the voluntary cruise shutdown and billion dollar loses each of the last few quarters meant Royal Caribbean had to cut out capital spending, which has left many questions surrounding the status of these projects.

Scheduled upgrades to four Royal Caribbean ships remaining in the Royal Amplified program, as well as the future of Perfect Day at Lelepa and upgrades to Labadee remain ambiguous at best.

Royal Caribbean has not said much about these projects since announcing it could cut capital spending projects.

Prior to the shutdown, Royal Caribbean had announced a new Perfect Day island in the South Pacific, confirmed upgrades to Labadee, and announced new port projects in Antigua, Freeport and Nassau.

Which ships will sail first?

No one knows when cruises will restart, and Royal Caribbean has not even divulged which cruise ships will start first.

The cruise line has confirmed whenever cruises do start up again, the entire fleet will not begin at once.  Rather, a few ships will begin sailing and other ships will come back into service at a later time when it is practical.

Royal Caribbean has not announced which ships might start up first, only hinting "Deployment of spring is expected to be highly focused on short sailings from key drive markets in both the U.S. and Asia-Pacific regions."

Will future cruise credits be extended?

As the cruise shutdown drags on, the window of opportunity to redeem a future cruise credit becomes smaller and smaller.

Every future cruise credit has an expiration date, and as of this week, all Future Cruise Credits will expire no sooner than December 31, 2021

What happens if this shutdown goes continues on? What about newly announced 2022 cruises? Will Royal Caribbean extend FCCs to provide more time to use them?

Will cruises still be fun after all of these changes?

This may seem like a silly question, but there is merit in wondering how all of the changes will impact the onboard experience.

Objectively speaking, new protocols and rules will change aspects of the cruise.  That does not mean every change is a bad change, but cruising will not be the same when it restarts as it was before cruises shutdown.

The answer to this question will vary from person to person, and it is not specifically a concern Royal Caribbean can answer to everyone's satisfaction. 

Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain said during a conference call with investors in August. "We will not rush to return to service until we are confident that we have figured out the changes that we must make to offer our guests and crew strong health and safety protocols with the enjoyable experience that they rightly expect."

What are you still wondering?

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

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

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

Top 10 things you should never do on a cruise

In:
07 Nov 2020

Going on a cruise vacation offers plenty of fun things to do, but there are a lot of common mistakes to avoid as well.

Cruise lines make the experience as easy as possible, but rookie mistakes are still possible, so here are some easy pitfalls to avoid.

Whether you are going on your first cruise or have cruised plenty of times, be aware of these common missteps I see happen all too often.

Throw anything overboard

In the same way you should not throw garbage out of your car window, throwing anything into the ocean is not cool either.

Not only is littering in the ocean strictly prohibited by Royal Caribbean as a rule, it is also a violation of maritime law to do so.

More importantly, throwing trash in the ocean hurts the environment and sea life that call the ocean home. There are plenty of trash recepticles on your ship, including ash trays.

Read moreTop 9 bad mistakes to make on a Royal Caribbean cruise

Book your cruise based on price

We all have vacation budgets, but picking which cruise to go on purely based on price is a big mistake.

Just like how hotels can vary dramatically, cruise ships each offer their own amenties and signature features that make them stand out.

A common mistake is to assume all Royal Caribbean ships are the same, especially if certain features are important to you.

Before you book, be sure to look at what the ship offers to do onboard (as well as what it does not offer), and then decide if it is a good choice for you.

Read moreWhat is the cheapest month to go on a cruise?

Fly to your cruise the day of departure

You are playing with fire if you try to fly the same day your cruise is scheduled to depart.

Travel delays are an all-too-common occurence and the last thing you want to do is put your entire cruise vacation in jeopardy because your airline is waiting on another flight attendant, or bad weather cancelled your flight.

While paying for a hotel the night before your cruise does add to your vacation cost, the flexibility and peace of mind it provides is well worth it.

Book a flight that gets you to your departure port at least one day ahead of time. As an added bonus, you get to start your vacation earlier!

Read moreThe most important advice I give my family after they book a cruise

Be a chair hog

Just because everyone else is doing it does not mean you should reserve chairs for your family when you are not actually using them.

One of the most common annoyances among guests are the people that go up to the pool deck early in the morning, throw towels on a bunch of chairs, and then do not return to use the chairs for a few hours.

Pool deck chairs are limited, and on sea days a lot of people want to enjoy time at the pool.

The courteous thing to do is not reserve pool chairs, unless your family is actually at the pool to use them.

Read more8 things some cruisers do that annoy everyone else

Ignore your SeaPass account

Just like your credit card bills at home, it is a good idea to periodically check your onboard spending.

Keeping tabs on how much you have spent has two benefits: you can verify there are no erroneous charges, as well as ensuring you are not blowing through your vacation budget.

Royal Caribbean provides a lot of opportunities to spend extra on your cruise, from alcoholic beverages, to shore excursions, to specialty dining and more.

You can always request a copy of your bill from Guest Services, or check it anytime from the Royal Caribbean app.

Checking the SeaPass account early ensures you are not standing in line on the last day of your cruise like everyone else to fix billing issues.

Read more: All about Royal Caribbean's SeaPass account

Limit yourself to free food

There is nothing wrong with the terrific complimentary food available on a Royal Caribbean ship, but it is worth spending a little bit extra on the specialty dining.

Whether you like sushi, steak, Italian or any other indulgence, Royal Caribbean's extra-cost dining choices are really good.

It is a good idea to sprinkle in some specialty dining costs as a way of supplementing the great food in the main dining room.

Read moreRoyal Caribbean dining questions I get asked all the time!

Ignore the possibility of getting seasick

The chance of getting seasick on a cruise is minimal, but you should be prepared in case it does happen.

First-time cruisers may not know exactly how their body will react to be on a cruise, and everyone handles the slight motion of a cruise ship differently.

Royal Caribbean ships are specially designed to offer as smooth a sailing as possible, but some motion in the ocean is not uncommon.

Just to be safe, pack over the counter medications or homeopathic treatments to mitigate the effects quickly.

Read moreHow To Avoid Getting Sick on a Cruise

Wait until the last minute to book a shore excursion

Shore excurions are a very popular activity in the ports of call your cruise ship will visit, so do not wait to book them.

Quite often, certain tours will sell out and that can leave you compromising on which activity you want to do.

Moreover, you can usually get a better price if you pre-purchase it before your cruise on Royal Caribbean's website.

In addition, it is expected for an indeterminite amount of time that you will be limited to booking shore excursions through the cruise line while the global health crisis requires new health protocols to be implemented.

Read moreHow to save money on cruise excursions

Wait until you get home to resolve problems

If there is a problem on your cruise, be sure to get any concerns resolved onboard.

Whether there is a billing issue, mechanical problem in your stateroom, disagreement with a crew member or anything else, your best bet is to get it handled while you are onboard the ship.

Your best chance at a equitable resolution is to let the ship staff assist in resolving it.  The shoreside team is helpful, but there is so much back and forth once you get home that it makes things much more difficult.

If you encounter any issue, speak with Guest Services onboard to get it taken care of, especially if it is something that once you leave the ship, it would be difficult for Royal Caribbean to verify.

Read moreThe top crew members to find if you have a problem onboard your cruise

Pack essential items you will need on the first day

The first hours you board your cruise are a great time to begin enjoying your cruise, but make sure you have what you need with you prior to your luggage being delivered.

The luggage you give the porters at the cruise terminal to be delivered to your room will take hours to get to your room. 

You will want to keep with you in a carry-on bag your travel documentation (passports or birth cerificate), money, important prescription medicine, sunglasses, stuff for the kids, or toiletries.

Read moreThe worst cruise packing mistakes to avoid

Why you shouldn't avoid older and smaller cruise ships

In:
24 Oct 2020

The newest cruise ships will offer the latest and greatest developments that a cruise line has, but older and smaller ships in the fleet should not be overlooked as a great choice.

If you see a Royal Caribbean  television commercial, it probably shows off the newest amazing things you can do on one of its newest ships. While they do look amazing, other ships in the fleet that are a bit older are still a great choice for a cruise vacation.

Royal Caribbean sails 26 ships, and while new cruise ships will always get the most attention, here are some important reasons to not skip out on older and smaller cruise ships.

Upgrades

Just because you do not book the newest cruise ship does not mean you have to compromise on what there is to do onboard.

Royal Caribbean recognizes that a lot of cruisers look for the fun new activities and things to do on a cruise ship.  And if a certain feature or activity does really well on a new ship, it makes a lot of sense to add that to other ships.

Over the years, Royal Caribbean has systematically upgraded and enhanced their older ships with new features, including water slides, new restaurants, escape rooms and more.

Even ships that are 15-20 years old offer many more things to do than when those vessels first entered service.

A smaller ship does not mean there is nothing to do or it will feel dated.  Royal Caribbean does a fantastic job at maintaining their cruise ships and keeping them relevant.

Read moreWhat was added to each Royal Caribbean ship during its Royal Amplified refurbishment

Exotic itineraries

If you want to cruise to some of the more distant ports of call, you will probably be doing so on a smaller cruise ship.

Certain itineraries are always going to be relegated to smaller cruise ships, and being able to visit far-off ports of call that are not just another cruise port is something you cannot do on the big ships.

Cruises to places like Venice, Key West, Iceland, Bora Bora and others are usually only serviced by smaller cruise ships.

Read moreBest Royal Caribbean ships and cruise guide

More relaxing pace

While new ships are packed with so many things to do, it can often lead to "FOMO" (fear of missing out) and that can lead to a faster pace of cruising in order to work it all in.

Older ships still have plenty of luster to them, but you will not feel like you are missing out on as many signature activities if you decide to sleep in, spend the day at the pool, or read a good book.

Smaller cruise ships offer a more "classic cruise experience", which means it is less about going from one whizz-bang feature to another. Rather, you feel more at liberty to do more relaxing and enjoying time at the pool deck and enjoying the cruise ship atmosphere.

As stated earlier, do not confuse a relaxing pace with nothing to do. Those upgrades over the years that were mentioned earlier still offer plenty to do after you finish napping.

Read moreEverything you wanted to know about Royal Caribbean's pools

Easier to get a last-minute cruise

New cruise ships attract so much attention that their sailings tend to sell out much faster than older ships.

If you are looking to book a cruise at the last minute (less than 120-90 days before sailing), you will find better prices and options with older cruise ships.

Essentially, anyone in the market for a last-minute cruise is likely to find a great stateroom on older ships simply because they do not sell out as quickly as new ones.

Read moreLast minute Royal Caribbean cruise trip planning

Lower price

The best reason to cruise on a smaller and older ship is the lower price.

Newer ships come with a premium price tag, but you can find fantastic values in the older ships.

Sometimes, the rates are between 30 and 40 percent cheaper than for new-builds, depending on the itinerary and season. 

Similar to how a used car is sold at a significant savings compared to a new car, new cruise ships command the higher prices and every new ship that joins the fleet tends to drive down the price of existing ships.

If you compare the price per-night on a new ship versus an older ship, it is usually significant. Moreover, these savings can mean moving up to a higher stateroom category.  Instead of a balcony on an Oasis Class ship, maybe you can afford a suite on a Voyager Class ship.

Read moreHow to cruise on the cheap

Old ships or new ships?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with sailing on an Oasis or Quantum class ship, but consider every class in the fleet for your next Royal Caribbean cruise.

You should not disregard a certain cruise ship simply because of its size or age. New ships are often larger and offer so many things to do, but they can also be expensive and not nearly as intimate an experience.

Older ships are not forgotten by the cruise line, and outfitted with modern amenities and popular attractions that keep them relevant.

If you have only cruised on the newest and biggest ships, trying a Radiance or Voyager Class ship means you can experience something new.

The value these older ships provide make them a compelling choice for just about anyone.

Read moreWhich is the best Royal Caribbean cruise ship?

Why you should skip the elevator on your cruise

In:
19 Oct 2020

Every cruise ship has a couple sets of elevators, but if you are able-bodied, there are some good reasons to skip the elevator.

Elevators are a convenient means of traversing many decks of your ship, but between the realities of cruising and new health protocols, skipping that elevator ride may make more sense.

As an alternative, you will find stairs near any elevator bank, usually in the middle of the ship and towards the back.

Here are a few good reasons to bypass the elevators on your next cruise and take the stairs instead.

Wasting time waiting for them

Elevators seem like a great idea, until you stand around waiting for one to not only arrive on your deck, but have room for you.

Unfortunately, elevators tend to take a while to get to your deck (especially during meals or on port days) and the time you stand around waiting for an elevator exceeds the time it would have taken you to just take the stairs.

Even when the elevator does arrive, they are often crowded and all too often it stops at every floor, taking forever.

Makes room for those that really need it

As I previously stated, if you are able-bodied and can take the stairs, it has an added benefit of freeing up the elevators for other guests who must rely on the elevator.

Shipmates with strollers or wheelchairs have no choice but to use the elevator, and your decision to bypass the elevators means more opportunity for them.

Healthier to take stairs

One of the best reasons to bypass the elevator and take the stairs is the opportunity to burn off a few extra calories.

By taking the stairs, you will not only get to your destination just as quickly as waiting for the elevator, but it you will help burn off all those extra calories you had earlier in the cruise.

Walking up and down the stairs is great for your body and you can burn off that cake from dessert without having to hit the ship's gym.

New health protocols will make elevators more difficult to get one

Another reason to use the stairs may be going on a cruise means the elevator will be very limited once cruises restart.

Royal Caribbean's new set of protocols that encourage social distancing stipulates that elevators are limited to four people at a time or your travel group only. 

Stairs are available as usual and railings are cleaned frequently.

Tip: Pick a room near a popular area

In order to reduce your dependency on an elevator, you might consider picking a stateroom near a popular area of the ship.

If you plan to spend a lot of time on the pool deck, perhaps book a cabin towards the top of the ship so you only have to go up a deck or two to reach the pool.  Plus, the Windjammer buffet and Adventure Ocean kids club tends to also be on the same deck as the pool.

Or you, might consider booking a cabin as close to the Royal Promenade to not only be accessible to the many events there, but only a few decks down to the dining rooms or gangway on port days.

Choosing a stateroom in close proximity to an area of the ship you may spend more time at can make the decision to use the stairs much easier.

Is it worth it to book a short 3-night cruise?

In:
17 Oct 2020

Should you book a 3-night cruise, or are you better off spending your money on a longer sailing?

Weighing value versus opportunity is something a lot of cruisers consider when planning their next cruise vacation, and short sailings have certain advantages and disadvantages to them.

If you are debating booking a short cruise versus a longer one, here is what you should know about booking a 3-night cruise vacation.

Why you should book a short cruise

Here are the top reasons a weekend cruise makes a lot of sense.

Cheaper upfront cost

The best reason to book a short cruise it will cost you less than a longer sailing.

In terms of the overall cost of the cruise, a 3-night cruise will almost always cost less than a week-long cruise vacation, which is perfect for anyone on a limited budget.

While the per-night cost of a short cruise will likely be higher than a 7-night cruise, your cruise fare will probably come out less than a longer cruise.

Many people that book short cruises tend to want an inexpensive getaway, rather than an extravagant voyage.

Short cruises are convenient

Cruise lines (including Royal Caribbean) schedule 3-night cruises over weekends, and that means it is easier to get away from work or school for these sort of trips.

A 3-night cruise that departs on a Friday will get back on Monday morning, meaning the amount of vacation time you need is quite minimal.

If you happen to live near the cruise port where the ship sails from, it is almost as easy to hop on a weekend 3-night cruise as it is to go to the beach for the same amount of time and stay in a hotel.

Great introduction to cruising

Three night cruises are a popular choice among first time cruisers because it requires the least commitment to cruises, but still allows them to "dip their toes" into the proverbial cruising waters.

A common concern among first-time cruisers is they are worried they might not like a cruise vacation, so as a result, they book a short cruise to give it a try.

While I recommend first time cruisers book longer cruises for their first sailing, a short cruise remains a less-expensive way for them to "test out" what a cruise is all about.

The drawbacks of a short cruise

Cruise is over before you know it

A short cruise also means that your voyage will conclude just as quickly as it began.

Just like any weekend, a 3-night cruise leaves very little time to do a lot onboard and you will quickly find that a short sailing leaves limited opportunity to "do it all" onboard.

Royal Caribbean packs its ships with a lot of fun things to do, and then there are the ports of call you will visit that also offer exciting tours. All of this means your opportunity to experience everything on the ship in minimal.

One of the primary regrets anyone that books a short cruise usually has is they did not have enough time during the cruise.

Flight costs can be more than the cruise

If you are traveling to the cruise from somewhere that requires you to fly, often the cost of the flight dilutes any value of the cheap cruise fare.

Travel costs associated with getting to the cruise port makes 3-night cruises a better value for anyone that can drive to the port, rather than a family vacation where you fly the day before the cruise begins, stay in a hotel and rack up other related charges.

The newest ships do not offer 3-night cruises

If you watched a Royal Caribbean commercial and saw the amazing things you can do on an Oasis or Quantum Class ship, unfortunately those vessels do not offer 3-night cruises.

While Royal Caribbean's Voyager Class ships offer a lot of fun activities onboard (and were recently upgraded), they still are not on the same level of offering incredible amenities as the newest and biggest ships.

Many first-time cruisers are attracted by the glimmer of the latest and greatest cruise ships, but keep in mind a 3-night cruise means going on a slightly older ship that does not offer quite the same experience as the bigger ships.

Read moreWhich is the best Royal Caribbean cruise ship?

Hope you like the Bahamas

One other consideration that may or may not impact you is a 3-night cruise rarely have any itinerary variation.

In the case of North America, 3-night cruises almost always visit the exact same ports in The Bahamas.  While there The Bahamas are lovely, they lack the exotic appeal that other Caribbean ports offer.

Elsewhere, weekend cruises from California go to Baja Mexico and four-nighters from Galveston go to Cozumel.

While the fact 3-night cruises from Florida only visit the Bahamas is listed under a negative, I freely admit only visiting Perfect Day at CocoCay is absolutely worth it!

Should you book a short cruise?

Ultimately, the decision to book a short cruise or not depends on how strongly you feel about the lower cruise cost versus how much time you will have to enjoy the vacation.

A 3-night cruise will be an affordable and fun experience that may mean limited activities onboard and a busy schedule of activities and port adventures.

If you have the time and money, a longer cruise (6-7 nights) can offer a larger cruise ship with more to see and do, as well as a greater variety of places to visit.

Basically, short cruises are a great idea for a weekend getaway, so be sure to savor every minute of it.

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