Planning

Planning a Royal Caribbean cruise: Belize City

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Category: 
23Dec2013

As part of my next Royal Caribbean cruise, I want to take you along for the planning process as we make decisions and plan our Royal Caribbean vacation.  I hope this will give you some insight into my thought process and perhaps this will assist you for planning your next Royal Caribbean cruise too.

Today we are going to look at excursion ideas for one of the stops on our Navigator of the Seas 7-night cruise, Belize City.

Photo by afagen

Background

Belize City is one of three stops on our cruise itinerary and I knew very little about this port prior to researching it.  

Part of the reason I was attracted to this cruise was the fact we were going to go to Belize and Roatan (Honduras) because they are ports I have never been to before.  The other reason I liked the idea of going to Belize is I'm a big fan of visiting Central American countries for their great food, beautiful beaches and great value for the dollar.

Quickly into my research across message boards and travel web sites I discovered a few key facts that gave me pause.  First, Belize City is a tender port, which isn't ideal but what struck me is many people reported that the tender ride from ship to shore (and vice versa) is roughly 20 minutes.  That's a long tender ride.  

This long tender ride evidently leads to long lines trying to leave the ship in the morning or return to the ship in the afternoon.  The lines are such a problem that others have suggested you need to book a Royal Caribbean excursion because those people get priority to leave first.

The other issue with Belize City is the port itself, which outside of the port gates is described by many as being less than welcoming.  I've read the area looks rather run down and many that ventured out felt out of place very quickly. As someone that enjoys exploring the ports of call I visit, it was another concern.

The Options

After careful research I came up with these four excursion ideas.

Bannister Island

Royal Caribbean offers an excursion called the "Private Island Beach Break" that is your basic beach excursion to this very small island.  My research revealed this to be Bannister Island and is a basic, no frills beach getaway.  Water, sand and optional food and beverage are there and not much else.

Photo by zqvol

Reviews I found ranged from good/very good to mediocre/overrated.  I also read the sand is the kind of sand that has a lot of crushed sea shells so not exactly softest in the world.  The other big problem is the cost, at $128 for the three of us and that does not include any food or drinks.

The benefit of this excursion is the excursion departs directly from the ship, so I'd get priority disembarkation and I wouldn't even have to go to the port area.  A back and forth trip that appears to be seamless with nearly everyone reporting how easy it was to get to and from the island.  The other good thing is it's about 4 hours long, so we ought to be able to get back to Navigator of the Seas in time for lunch and a nap.

Pros: Conveniece getting on/off the ship; Ship-sponsored excursion; Not a big time commitment

Cons: Expensive; Beach reviews are less than glowing; Not really seeing Belize City at all

Goff's Caye

The first excursion outside of what Royal Caribbean offered that sounded interesting is Goff's Caye, a small island off the shore of Belize City. Like Bannister island, it's tiny but offers the sort of beach experience I'm looking for.

Photo by RWayne

Reviews for Goff's Caye fared better than Bannister island, with people saying the experience getting to and from the island from the port simple.  Photos I've found from others that have went look to be very beautiful and my overall sense is Goff's Caye is a better beach than Bannister Island.

The downside seems to be I have to first get to Belize City and deal with the mess that is disembarking Navigator of the Seas. Some reports you read of people who tried to go on their own in Belize results in crazy lines and late arrivals.  And while I know there's always going to people with negative experiences, there's enough of these long line reports to concern me.

Pros: Beach looks best; Price is cheaper

Cons: Getting to excursion pick up on time will be a challenge

Find a local in port

My tried and true strategy for most ports I visit is to wander into town, past the kitchy cruise stuff and find a local to drive us around.  It's often a good value and I feel like actually get a sense of the city I'm visiting.  I like to try the local food and go places most tourists don't.  

Photo by ShellyLeit

Lots of what I read online points to a port city that looks run down with a lot of pushy locals who make the toursits feel uneasy.  Not to mention many people recommend to have something planned before getting into Belize to avoid all this.  

I've searched online for drivers others have found, which has been a strategy that has served me well in other ports, but with no luck.  Regardless, you never know what your experience will be like and what one person finds "scary", I might find the kind of authentic experience I savor.

Given that this is my first time in Belize City, I really want to be able to say I got a sense of what the port was beyond a beach and what I could see from my ship that is 20 miles out to sea.

Pros: Sense of adventure; Chance to try local cuisine; Potentially money saving experience

Cons: Reviews of port area are concerning; Not many attractions/restaurants/things to do near port area

Stay on the ship

Of course, there's always the option to not bother going to Belize City and enjoying having Navigator of the Seas to myself.

Photo by Christoffer Löfhjelm

Staying onboard in a port is cool from the standpoint of many venues are emptier than usual and this means a good chance to enjoy the pool, restaurants and other areas.  Staying onboard will also mean a longer and more controlled nap time for my daughter.

I'll be honest, staying onboard considering this is my first time in Belize City will eat at me.  I relish exploring the ports I visit and having never been and staying onboard would be like someone baking a cake and leaving it in front of a cake lover who tries not to eat it.  Torture!

The other reason not to stay onboard is the cruise has 3 sea days so getting off the ship will be preferred.

Pros: Cheapest option; Zero hassle of trying to get off the ship; Pool time without crowds; Rested daughter = happy dad

Cons: Personality clash; Extra time onboard

The Decision

After considering our options, we ended up choosing.... Goff's Caye.

The reason basically came down to ultimately it was what we wanted to do that would be relatively simple but something we thought would be fun.  

Bannister Island seemed like too much of a compromise in terms of how we'd be spending the day and the other options were just too "out there" for us.  

The biggest concern about Goff's Caye is getting there on time, so we are planning on waking up early and ordering room service breakfast the night before to minimize the time spent getting ready to go.  

Royal Caribbean stateroom options for larger families

In:
Category: 
05Dec2013

Going on a Royal Caribbean cruise with four people or less is pretty easy in terms of picking out staterooms, with the only difficult question being how much can you afford.  But what about those families with five or six or even more people in a family?

There are a few different options available to your family to consider, each with advantages and drawbacks.  Not every option may be available on every cruise, but you should be able to find something that works for you.

Family Oceanview Stateroom

If you'd like to have everyone in one stateroom, the Family Oceanview Stateroom can be a great choice.  It boasts room for six people and anywhere from 265 to 328 square feet of space, there's a lot of room here.

The stateroom has a king size bed with additional bunk beds in separate area and separate sitting area with sofa bed.  

Royal Caribbean requires a minimum of five people for this stateroom, so it doesn't sell out that quickly although they will open it up to less people if the room is still vacant close to its sailing.

The chief drawback to this stateroom is its location, which is all the way forward.  Staterooms in the very front (or rear) of the ship are subject to feeling more motion of the ship.

Royal Caribbean ship classes available: Radiance, Voyager, Freedom, Oasis (as well as Vision of the Seas, Rhapsody of the Seas, and Enchantment of the Seas)

Family Interior Stateroom

The most inexpensive stateroom for up to six guests will be the Family Interior Stateroom.  This inside stateroom offers no view but can accomodate larger families.

It features two twin beds that convert to a Royal King along with a sofa that converts to a double bed, two Pullman beds, private bathroom and sitting area.

Royal Caribbean ship classes available: Freedom, Oasis

Family Promenade Stateroom

Photo by APDMOM

Like the Family Oceanview Stateroom, the Family Promenade Stateroom offers a lot of space (327 square feet) with a view of the Royal Promenade.

These staterooms accommodate six guests in its twin beds, sofa or pullman beds and sitting area.

The advantage of this stateroom is that it's in a better location (closer to mid-ship).

Royal Caribbean ship classes available: Freedom

Royal Family Suite

If you have more money to spend, take a good look at the Royal Family Suite, which boasts 560-580 square feet of space along with a private balcony.

This family room can accomodate up to eight guests and is perfect for those who want the most space for their families. 

Each stateroom has a Royal King,one room with third and fourth Pullman beds, two bathrooms (one with a tub) and living area with double sofa bed. 

Needless to say, this stateroom can be expensive and out of many families' price ranges.  But if you can afford it, there's no better way to stay in one stateroom with a lot of people.

Royal Caribbean ship classes available: Voyager, Freedom, Oasis, Quantum

Family Connected Junior Suite with Balcony

New for the Quantum-class, is the Family Connected Junior Suite that has 575 square feet of space along with a private balcony.

What makes this room type unique is it features three different categories of staterooms, connected through a vestibule to form a special layout that provides 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms and a balcony for all your family needs. Sleeps 8 to 10 guests.

Royal Caribbean ship classes available:  Quantum

If all else fails: Two staterooms

Photo by Wendy Perrin

If no other option will do, booking two staterooms is always an option.  Often, the cost of two staterooms can be cheaper than some of the family staterooms and can offer more seperation between family members (a plus for families with teenagers).

Booking two staterooms also allows for connecting staterooms, in which there is a door between the staterooms that allows for easy flow between them.  This can be convenient during the day to keep the doors open, essentially creating a two room stateroom.

Royal Caribbean ship classes available:  All ships

Cruising 101: Cruise Documents

In:
05Dec2013

When you pay off your Royal Caribbean cruise and get close to your sailing, there's one important thing you need to do and that's fill out your cruise documents so you can get checked into your Royal Caribbean cruise without delay.

What are cruise documents?

Cruise documents are a set of paperwork that guests in the same stateroom (regardless of last name) will need to have filled out prior to your cruise.  They come in paper and electronic forms (eDoc), with the paper forms costing $35 per document and the electronic form free.  

The documents are a checklist of things you need to do, a list of other services and activities you can pre-purchase, important safety and rules that you can review and a few other notable things.  

What cruise documents are not

Cruise documents are not a boarding pass.  Rather, they are a pre-cruise planner that gives you information about services available to you, waivers to sign and more.

When will I recieve my cruise documents?

If you choose to receive them electronically, you will receive an e-mail with downloading instructions when your documents are ready. If you choose to receive your documents by mail, they will be printed and sent to the address you provided and a $35 printed document fee will be added to your reservation. If you reserve your cruise with a travel agent or a Certified Vacation Planner, your cruise documents are sent to you (or your travel agent) 20-50 days prior to sailing, assuming your reservation is finalized and your payments have been made.

If your cruise documents are available, you can access them through your reservation dashboard in your My Cruises Account on RoyalCaribbean.com. If your documents are not yet available, check back soon. You should also receive an e-mail with downloading instructions when your documents are ready.

Generally speaking, cruise documents will be available to fill out about 30 days prior to your sail date.

What you need to do

First and foremost, you need to fill out the cruise documents and answer all of the required fields.  This will give Royal Caribbean information on who is sailing and provide necessary legal information.  After you are done filling the documents out, you have the option of printing them out.

You should bring a copy of the filled out cruise documents with you to your cruise as a matter of good practice.  Be sure to keep this copy with you in your carry on luggage; Do not pack it in your checked luggage!

In additio to forms to fill out, there are printable luggage tags in your cruise documents that you can print out right away and affix to your luggage once you start packing.  You can print as many luggage tags as you need, and we even like to use luggage tag holders to protect them.  

Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines encourage early booking

In:
28Jun2010

The cruise industry as a whole wants you to book your next cruise vacation early, rather than later.  At the recent annual UK Cruise Convention, cruise lines including Royal Caribbean held a summit regarding cruise pricing and defended their pricing strategies.  Royal Caribbean General Manager Jo Rzymowska felt that the value of cruising should be more important than the pricing structure, "What ships offer today is phenomenal, we just don't focus on it".

The recent trend has been to have some great deals for last minute bookings but some in the cruise industry want the industry to give more incentive to book early rather than wait for a last minute deal.  Furthermore, the cruise industry needs to give customers reason to book early.  Cruise experts claim that booking early allows for better deals on airfare as well.

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