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Secrets, Tips and Tricks

5 Royal Caribbean things you had no idea existed

In:
02Nov2020

Royal Caribbean offers a wide variety of things to do, services, and benefits to all guests that it can be easy to overlook some of their lesser known options.

Even I forget about certain options that anyone can take advantage of as part of their cruise, so I wanted to share five things that commonly overlooked among most cruise guests.

Whether you simply forgot about these, or did not know about them at all, here are five Royal Caribbean things you had no idea existed.

Royal Caribbean offers a private shore excursion service

Did you know you can book your own private shore excursion through Royal Caribbean and take advantage of all the benefits of being on a cruise line tour without spending the day with other people on your ship?

Royal Caribbean introduced Private Journeys in 2016, and it is an easy and fully customizable way to come up with your own private tour.

While Royal Caribbean offers many different kind of shore excursions, some people prefer private tours, or want to customize the excursion to meet their preferences. 

Royal Caribbean decided to offer an option that would include the best benefits of booking through Royal Caribbean directly, and the diversity of choices that can be found when booking on your own. Private Journeys is a relatively new option by Royal Caribbean for guests to completely customize every aspect of what they want to do during a port stop, and make it the kind of experience that curtails to their family or group's needs.

You can earn onboard credit or a free cruise by playing games on your phone

There is a free game you can play on your computer or mobile device called MyVegas, which from time to time offers free cruises and onboard credit.

Playing MyVegas means choosing between different games, such as blackjack or slots, and winning points that go towards your profile.The games reward you for getting to the next level.

If you play the game regularly and earn enough points, you can actually cash out the points for special offers, including free cruises or onboard credits. MyVegas offers these kind of offers for other cruise lines as well, including MSC or Norwegian Cruise Line.

MLife benefits

Speaking of the casino, if you cruise with Royal Caribbean, you can achieve matched status on land when visiting a MGM casino.

Through the relationship between Royal Caribbean International based on your current tier status, Crown & Anchor Society members may receive a complimentary tier match into M life Rewards and associated Tier Benefits at all M life Rewards destinations Nationwide.

Crown & Anchor Society members must visit the M life Rewards desk to receive their tier match. 

You can ask for food not on the menu

Do not be afraid to ask your waiter for special requests that are not of the dietary need variety, but just something you really love.  Perhaps you like having a plate of vegetables to start your dinner off with or anything else that is not on the menu.  

Speak with your head waiter to make the request.  If the ship has the ingredients onboard to make it, odds are they will be happy to make it for you.

In general, I have found a 24 hour notice will ensure the dining room chefs can take care of the request for you.  

In addition, if tonight's menu features an ingredient you do not enjoy, feel free to ask your waiter if they can make the dish without it.  The dining staff are looking to make your main dining room experience as good as possible.

Royal Caribbean has its own airfare booking service

I sometimes forget this is a service, but you can book your flights to get you to and from your cruise through Royal Caribbean.

The Air2Sea program offers guests the option of not only reserving airfare, but also coverage in case there is an issue getting to your cruise.

You can purchase air accommodations in conjunction with your cruise reservation, and it comes with 24 hour support if there is an issue with your cruise or flight. Assured Arrival is the cruise line guarantee to assist when a guest encounters any flight disruptions that occur through no fault of their own.

Royal Caribbean has a team of Emergency Travel Specialists standing by that proactively monitor flights and act as a liaison between cruise ships and guests.

There is nominal service fee to use Air2Sea. Royal Caribbean International charges a service fee of $15 per person for travel within North America, and Canada, and $25 per person for International destinations.

Have you used any of these?

How many of these options were you aware of? Did I miss something really cool that should be on this list too? Share your thoughts in the comments.

8 things some cruisers do that annoy everyone else

In:
22Oct2020

Being respectful to other people on your cruise ship is something that should be automatic, and yet, there are plenty of times where cruise ship guests do things that make you shake your head.

Most of the time, people do the right thing, but occasionally you might witness someone breaking an unwritten rule of cruising. Whether it is poor etiquette, manners or selfish, these kinds of missteps are things no one wants to see.

In an effort to avoid any of these gaffes, here are the top commonly made annoyances you should avoid on your cruise

Grabbing food from the buffet with your hands

This might be a thing of the past when cruises actually resume (since buffets will change to full service for health reasons), but never grab food with your hands instead of using a tong.

While it may seem innocent enough to grab a roll, apple or strawberry as you pass by with your hands, doing this spreads germs more than you might think. Not to mention the fact if you touch something and then change your mind, no one wants to eat that.

The provided tongs are simple, so use them.

Chair hogs

People reserving chairs at the pool deck for the entire day is a major pain point for so many cruisers.

There is no issue with a family spending the day at the pool, but the people that get up at dawn to reserve chairs, then disappear for a few hours to arrive later on is something that has gotten out of control on many ships.

Of course everyone wants to have a chair near the pool, and obviously there are not enough chairs for everyone on the ship at once, so the considerate thing to do is only reserve the chair while you are there. If Aunt Beth is busy at the gym, getting her nails done, or sleeping in, reserving a chair for her for a few hours is also not cool.

Lead by example and regardless of what others do, only take chairs while you are actually there.

Not washing your hands

If the current global health crisis does nothing more than to force everyone to finally wash their hands after using the restrooms, then at least a little good came out of all of this.

If you go to the restroom, wash your hands upon leaving. 

You would be amazed how many people skip washing their hands after departing the restroom, or prior to entering a restaurant or buffet when there are crew members actively reminding everyone to wash.

For the benefit of everyone, keeping yourself as germ-free as possible is the right thing to do.

Removing gratuities to save money

Royal Caribbean allows guests to remove the automatic gratuity as a way to give crew members cash directly. It is not a mechanism for bypassing gratuities all together.

Like it or not, gratuity on a cruise is part of the overall cost.  Yes, technically they are listed as optional, but in practice, they are there to reward the hard working crew members that look after your every need. 

If you are removing the gratuity in order to make your vacation cheaper, you should reconsider a cruise vacation.

Bad elevator etiquette

This tip applies to not only cruise ships but elevators everywhere: when the elevator opens, let the people in the elevator out first.

Whether you are in a rush or just on your way, there is no reason not to let the people in the elevator out first. Letting them out speeds up the process for everyone, and it makes it clearer how much room there is for others to board the elevator.

Ignoring crew member instructions

When a crew member gives a guest an instruction, it is not a suggestion.

Crew members are not only present to serve, but also to maintain order and ensure safety protocols are being followed. So when a crew member tells you to do something, ignoring them or circumventing their instruction is a bad idea.

Not only is it disrespectful, but you may be putting yourself or others at risk by continuing to do whatever you were just told not to do. 

Flaunting your Crown and Anchor status

If you have cruised enough to get to the top tiers of Crown and Anchor Society, you should be proud of the fact you made it that far, but everyone else does not really care.

Royal Caribbean provides pins, lapels and even special events for its top cruisers as recognition for their loyalty. But being a top tier member does not mean everyone else on the ship needs to be constantly reminded of that fact.

Essentially, take the benefits Royal Caribbean provides for being a loyal cruiser, but conversations involving your Crown and Anchor tier are not necessary.

Getting in a fight

Not only is getting in a verbal or physical altercation really silly, it is against the cruise line rules and you will likely regret it later.

Think about any shouting match or fracas you may have been involved in, and then think about if you wish now that you avoided the whole thing.

If there is a problem with another guest, speak to a crew member so they can get involved. Even if it is one of the annoyances listed in this post, it is not your place to enforce the cruise line rules or even common courtesies. 

There is no winning when it comes to these sort of altercations, so move on or alert a crew member to take care of it.

8 Secret spots on Royal Caribbean cruise ships

In:
13Oct2020

Royal Caribbean ships are packed with so many fun venues, including a few areas you might not know about unless you really looked around.

One of my favorite things to do on any cruise ship is try to find an area of the ship most other guests overlook or never consider checking out.  After all, sometimes it is nice to get away from the crowds and enjoy some quiet time (especially if you do not have to compete with the chair hogs).

In looking over the fleet of Royal Caribbean ships, I have compiled a list of my favorite hidden spots so you can enjoy them on your next cruise.  It is up to you if you want to tell anyone else about these secrets.

Aft chairs on Oasis class ships

One of the best spots to relax without crowds and have a great view is the chairs on the aft (rear) of the Oasis Class cruise ships.

Each of Royal Caribbean's Oasis Class ships (Oasis, Allure, Harmony and Symphony) have a jogging track on deck 5 and if you take the track to the back of the ship, you will find a set of chairs that provide a great view of the ocean as you pass by.

This spot is rarely busy, and perfect for reading or just enjoying the scenery.

You can also access this area by going behind the AquaTheater and going down the stairs.

Symphony's piano stairs

The stairs leading up to Windjammer Marketplace on Symphony of the Seas plays musical notes and briefly light up when you step on them.

There is no sign or anything, so people are always taken by surprise

Play your own tune by walking up or down these stairs located toward the aft of the ship between decks 15 and 16, leading up to Windjammer. 

Helipad

On Radiance, Freedom, and Voyager class cruise ships, you can visit the helipad on the bow (front) of the ship anytime you want for amazing views.

Royal Caribbean permits guests access to the helipad, and it is a great spot to see the port as you leave, especially for those that do not have a balcony stateroom or simply want something a little different.

To access the helipad, just go to the promenade deck (usually deck 4 or 5) and walk all the way forward.

Once there, you will find benches to sit on but the best spots are as far forward as you can get.

In addition to sailaway, the helipad is usually open most of the day, but it can close at any time for safety reasons (usually high winds).

Bridge wings

Whether you want the best vantage point for a photo, or just want to get one of the most unubstructed views aboard, the bridge wings are a great choice.

Bridge wings are available on Quantum and Oasis class cruise ships.

 Located on deck 14, these viewing platforms extend out from the ship to provide the absolute best view of what is around.

To get to the wing viewing areas, go to the Solarium and proceed all the way forward

Peek-a-boo bridge

One of the best features of Royal Caribbean's Voyager Class ships has to be is the Peek-A-Boo bridge feature, where guests can peer into the bridge at almost any time.

The observation window allows guests to look down onto the bridge and observe what the officers are up to in their daily navigational duties.  

To reach the Peek-A-Boo bridge, head up to deck 11 and walk past the sliding doors that go forward of the Solarium and do not seem to lead anywhere.

Some Voyager Class ships have had this area removed with recent refurbishments, but not all ships.

Tucked away spots on jogging track

On Harmony of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas, you will find two usually deserted spots for gaming or relaxing.

Harmony of the Seas has a small seating area on both sides of the forward section on deck 5 of the ship to relax in with plenty of lounge chairs.

These areas do not have a name mentioned to reference them, but they are just off the running track on both sides.  Some runners choose to use these areas as a break point, while others simply bring their coffee or book to enjoy the view.

On Symphony of the Seas, you will find on each side of the forward jogging track two alcoves where you can enjoy the view of the ocean and even some lounge chairs.

One side of the deck has a shuffleboard court, and the other had ping pong tables. These alcoves are not only great spots to find seclusion, but they offer something to do with very likely no wait.

Playmaker's Owners Box

If your crew are looking for a great spot to chat and call your own, be sure to grab the Owner's Box.

On different ships that have a Playmaker's Sports Bar, there is usually a carved out space that is perfect for a group to chat, drink and eat in that provides a bit more privacy than anywhere in the bar.

You can still get drink and food service here, and there is no cost to sit in the Owner's Box. It is simply first come, first served.

Outdoor Windjammer tables

If you happen to be on a Radiance or Quantum Class ship, there is outdoor seating towards the rear of the Windjammer.  

Most guests simply grab their food and sit at one of the tables surrounding the buffet stations, but there is additional seating at the aft of the ship where you can enjoy the passing breeze, as well as the views around you.

After you get your food, keep walking towards the back through a set of doors to discover this usually not busy spot. There are coffee and water stations outside as well.

Your thoughts

Is there a secret spot on a Royal Caribbean ship that you think is worthy of this list? Have you been to any of these hidden gems? Share your thoughts in our comments!

Top 5 things Royal Caribbean had planned for 2020 that got delayed

In:
02Oct2020

The year 2020 will be known for a lot of things, including everyone's plans getting delayed or canceled, including Royal Caribbean.

At the start of the year, Royal Caribbean had some major plans lined up, and unfortunately most of them did not come to fruition.  Many were delayed, and some may never actually happen. 

While there are a couple of months left in the year. here are the top five things we can safely say are definitely not happening this year anymore.

Ship upgrades

One of the early casualties for Royal Caribbean fans this year were scheduled ship upgrades.

While Freedom of the Seas managed to get her Royal Amplification complete in the early part of the year, every other ship upgrade scheduled for this year (and next) is on hold until further notice.

Allure of the Seas and Explorer of the Seas were scheduled to get upgraded this summer, and those plans have been scrapped indefinitely. 

In addition, scheduled upgrades for Liberty of the Seas and Adventure of the Seas have also been put on hold.

Odyssey of the Seas debut

Few dates are as significant for a cruise line as the debut of a new cruise ship, but Royal Caribbean was forced to delay the debut of its next new cruise ship until next spring.

Odyssey of the Seas was scheduled to begin sailing in November 2020, but will now not sail until April 2021. All scheduled Odyssey of the Seas sailings between November 5, 2020 - April 17, 2021 have been canceled.

In addition to the canceled sailings, Royal Caribbean also announced two other changes to Odyssey of the Seas.

First, the trapeze school will no longer be a feature of the SeaPlex.

Second, the age restrictions for the Sky Pad virtual trampoline experience will change: guests must be at least 7 years old to jump, and at least 13 years old to jump with a virtual reality headset.

Odyssey was set to be the first Quantum Ultra Class ship to arrive in North America, and will feature a two-level pool deck, as well as a collection of restaurant choices to enjoy.

Oasis of the Seas sailing from New York area

So many cruise fans were excited to welcome the first Oasis class cruise ship to call the New York City area home, but those plans were dashed.

Oasis of the Seas was scheduled to offer summer cruises from Bayonne, New Jersey between May and October 2020.

The voluntary cruise shutdown hit before one sailing could be offered, and eventually, the entire season was canceled.

The good news is Oasis is scheduled to return to Cape Liberty for summer 2021.

President's Cruise in Europe

The annual tradition of Royal Caribbean's President and CEO Michael Bayley hosting a cruise for loyal cruisers is among the many disappointments from the year that was 2020.

While there was hope it could be pulled off, Mr. Bayley informed guests in August that it was indeed cancelled.

"This is disappointing news for you and me. The President's Cruise is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to come together and celebrate the cruise line we love, our incredible crew and each other — something we have been doing since 2016."

There has not been a President's Cruise announced yet for 2021, but Mr. Bayley did say they were working on other ideas that the cruise line is working on for guests that will be announced at a later date.

New project construction delays

With cashflow coming to a near halt, so many projects had to be postponed.

Royal Caribbean's new Miami headquarters that are still under construction were paused, resumed and paused again.

Plans to begin construction of a new cruise terminal in Galveston have been delayed by a year.

Many other destination projects have had no updates at all, including the Royal Beach Club in Antigua, Freeport Harbour Village, Perfect Day at Lelepa and more.

Like most plans, the sooner Royal Caribbean can begin cruising again, the more likely these projects may get back on track again.

Which of these projects were you most looking forward to enjoying? Share your comments below!

6 things that happen on a cruise that nobody talks about

In:
17Sep2020

The appeal of going on a cruise is so much of the experience really is unlike anything else, and with that, comes a few nuances that tend to "fly under radar".

Millions go on a cruise every year (although maybe not this year), and it is a fantastic vacation, but there are a few things that could happen that usually do not make top ten lists or cruise tips videos, so I wanted to highlight them here.

Here are six things that happen on a cruise that no one seems to talk about, but it could happen to you.

Get frustrated at some point

Not unique to cruising, but sometimes a series of unfortunate events occur that leave you less than happy.

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.

If an incident occurs that sets you off, try to remain calm and think is there someone else that can fix the problem, such as another crew member or your travel agent at home. 

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.

Travel stomach

Another thing that is not unique to cruising, but has happened to the best of us is an upset stomach.

I am not talking about a bacteria or something that infects you, just your run of the mill grumpy gut.

While bacterial infection can occur, many times the transition to a new diet, dehydration from flying, a change in climate, stress and even lack of sleep can cause simple traveler's stomach. 

The good news is most of the time it is easily treated and a minor and short-lived inconvenience. You should travel with medicine like Pepto Bismol or Imodium to quickly take care of the symptoms. (These are affiliate links that cost you nothing extra, but I get a referal fee if you buy something).

Sleep through activities we wanted to do

You will see commercials for all the amazing activities onboard a Royal Caribbean ship, and even circle them in your Cruise Compass the night before to ensure you do not forget to try it out and then... you sleep in.

While these activities are really fun and Royal Caribbean bills itself as a cruise line packing in amazing things to do, more often the appeal of sleeping in wins over.

A cruise is a vacation, and sleep is important.  Moreover, being able to sleep in is usually a rare opportunity at home, so a few more hours of sleep is very appealing.

If you ever manage to get up early on a ship (before 9am or so) and walk around the ship, it looks almost deserted.

So don't worry that you slept your cruise away, because we all do it too.

Have one too many drinks on a sea day

Despite your best of intentions, sometimes you will overdo it and have a few more drinks than you had planned.

Between the fantastic drink package values, creative cocktails served onboard and party atmosphere, overindulging does happen.

The lesson learned is to pace yourself and not try to keep up with anyone that has the nickname "Cruise Life ____" or "Big Dawg ____" in  front of their name.

Breaking up those drinks with a snack is helpful as well (might I suggest Sorrento's Pizza).

The best DIY shore excursion: go to a supermarket

I learned this tip from my friend Billy at CruiseHabit, and it really is such a great, inexpensive and fun excursion: go to a local supermarket.

The ports you will visit usually are known for amazing history, beautiful scenery, incredible things to do, and fun days in the sun.  But if your budget is low, or you cannot find something appealing, hop in a cab and visit a supermarket.

This is a really fun shore excursion to do in a different country because it provides a lot of insight into the destination.

You can browse the aisles and see what is for sale, who is shopping, how much things cost and how to buy things. What is the popular snack food? How are things packaged? You will learn so much by lurking in the supermarket.

Readjusting to your routines after the cruise is no fun

This is the biggest shock every cruiser encounters: the inevitable return to home after a cruise and culture shock of having to readjust to civilian life.

You will have to make your own beds every day, with no one leaving towel animals behind for you.

There is no place to drop off your kids while you relax with other adults. 

You will not wake up to an ocean view from your balcony, or be able to order room service coffee to go with the view.

Worst of all, you will have to start cooking again, and cleaning up after yourself.

It is not pretty, so be sure to have another cruise booked to have something to start day dreaming about while you wait for your hot dogs to cook.

Your thoughts

Is there some aspect of going on a cruise that never really gets talked about, but definitely happens to you? Which of these have you regularly experienced? Share your thoughts in our comments!

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

In:
11Sep2020

One of the most common mistakes a first time cruiser will make is to fly on the day of your cruise.

Booking a flight for the same day your cruise begins seems like it would not be a problem, but it could result in missing your cruise vacation completely.

Tempting fate

While most flights are going to be on time and without incident, travel delays do occur with some frequency and if you end up on the wrong side of a delay, it could create a giant fiasco.

Even though you are able to board your Royal Caribbean cruise in the early afternoon (and later arrival times could be coming soon), planning to fly in the same day your cruise departs is just too risky.

Having a tight schedule of landing, collecting your luggage, and then getting to the port leaves little wiggle room for any kind of delay.

Flight delays or cancellations, bad weather near your house, car breakdowns and a variety of other unforeseen possibilities can wreak havoc on your schedule.

Also consider how airlines have severely cut back on the number of flights they offer due to weaker demand for air travel, and you leave yourself few choices if your flight is delayed.

If your delayed travel plans cause you to miss embarkation of the cruise ship, you either have to pay to meet the ship at its next port of call, or simply give up on the trip completely with no refund for missing it.

Royal Caribbean (nor any cruise line) will not refund your money if you miss the cruise due to a travel delay.  Trip insurance might pick up some of the tab, but it will not allow you to actually go on the cruise vacation you planned and dreamed about.

Fly in a day early

The way around this potential travel nightmare is to fly into the city your cruise departs from at least one day ahead of time.

Flying in on the day of your cruise is just too risky. Even if you manage to arrive with no travel delays, you are just plain lucky because airline delays are too common an occurence.

What you should do instead is plan to fly in at least one day early.  Not only will arriving a day or two before your cruise departs provide more than enough buffer for travel delays not to impact your cruise vacation, it will also start your vacation a little earlier.

In addition, flying in early means significantly less stress for everyone. The last thing you want to do is start your vacation worrying every minute until you arrive in your embarkation port that a travel delay could appear. Just the lingering thought of a delay is enough to make your vacation anything but relaxing.

What to do if you have to fly the same day

Some people may not be able to do fly in early, due to work schedules or crippling high airfare prices. If you have no choice but to fly in the same day, make sure you take a few critical steps (including packing plenty of patience).

Try to book the first flight of the day.  Ideally, you want a flight where the plane is already at the airport from the night before, so there are no potential delays related to your aircraft coming from somewhere else. This may mean a super early flight, but early morning flights have less delays since storms tend to occur later in the day and your plane is ready for passengers.

You should also consider buying your airfare through Royal Caribbean.  The Air2Sea program offers guests assistance related to travel disruptuons.  The Air2Sea team can provide air re-accommodation, or hotel and ground transportation if needed. The Emergency Travel team will work with you to find accommodations on the next available flight. In some instances, same day viable flight options may not be available, and in those instances Air2Sea will accommodate you to the next available port where you may legally join the ship.

8 cruise ship tips from a former employee

In:
03Sep2020

The crew on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship see a lot of things in their time onboard, including guests making mistakes along the way.

Former Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises employee Pippa Madden worked on a few different cruise ships for 8 years, and shared what she saw as important tips for guests when they go on a cruise.

Here are eight things to do, avoid, or simply be aware of, for your cruise vacation.

Be kind to the crew

This may seem obvious, but do not be rude to crew members.

The crew works incredibly hard and if there is a policy or rule you do not agree with, remember that crew member is not the person who created it.

As Pippa noted, "It's pretty straightforward, but it will get you way further than if you are rude or get angry. Be nice to them."

Tipping is important

There is a saying that "money makes the world go round", and it applies to life on a cruise ship too.

The crew onboard are there to work hard and service the guests who come aboard, and tipping when appropriate is not only a way to reward good service, it also goes a long way to making the crew happier.

"That's why the majority of people out there is for the money, so make sure you tip."

Pippa added that if you wish you can personalize your reward with a gift of some kind, if you wanted just the recipient to enjoy it individually. That is a well-appreciated option to give back to a crew member that went above and beyond for you. 

Avoid getting sunburned

If there is something that all crew members cringe, it is the cruise ship guest that sees someone dressed very nice on formal night along with a major sun burn.

Nothing ruins your beautiful cruise photos like a giant red sun burn, not to mention how painful it can be to the person who has it.

"I can't really recommend it enough, especially that first formal night, make sure we ladies have sun cream and do not get burnt."

Fill out the post-cruise survey

As soon as your cruise is over, Royal Caribbean sends guests a survey to get their thoughts on the sailing, and this is an incredibly critical tool for any crew member.

Pippa recommends taking a photo of your favorite crew member's name badges so it will be easier to remember their names (and how to spell it) for that survey.

The results of the survey go directly back to the manager of any crew member named in the survey, and this goes a long way towards promotions.

Guest etiquette

In terms of etiquette, Pippa noted a few questionable choices guests make on cruise ships that they probably would not do if at a land resort.

She started off by saying it is not a good look to wear your swimwear around the ship in public spaces, such as restaurants or the casino.

In addition, if you are a bar or lounge, do not put your feet up on the furniture.

"It's like, you wouldn't do that in normaly on land, like in a restaurant or casino."

Avoid Guest Services on the first or last day of the cruise

The two times you will find the longest lines at Guest Services are on the first and last day of the cruise, so avoid Guest Services on those days if you can.

Pippa recommends if it all possible, take care of any issues you have on other days of the cruise to minimize your waiting.

Don't lie to Adventure Ocean staff

Some guests will try to tell the Adventure Ocean staff that their child is about to turn a certain age in order to move them up to the next group, but these lies are silly considering the staff has every child's age in front of them.

"Do not tell white lies or fibs to Adventure Ocean staff, because they know the birth dates of the kids."

You can tip the casino dealer

Pippa worked a lot in the casinos on cruise ships, and tipping the dealer when you are winning is something you can and should do.

"So if you win, the dealer wins. And of course, the dealer wants you to win because then they will win."

Readers share: What’s the best piece of cruise advice you have ever received?

In:
01Sep2020

The proverb, "experience is the best teacher" is a famous proverb of Julius Caesar, and it applies to so many aspects of life, including going on a cruise.

I reached out to other Royal Caribbean cruisers to get their single best piece of cruise advice they ever received to share with you here.

There is tremendous value in hearing a tip or bit of advice that positively impacted your vacation.  I know that hearing tips or tricks from other cruisers has made my cruise experience significantly better.

In just 24 hours, I received over 450 responses from cruise fans that run the gamut of guidance, from pre-cruise planning to onboard activities to saving money.

And so, dear cruisers, I share now some of what was posted, conveniently organized.

Pre-cruise

Before the cruise begins (or is even booked), here are some sage words of wisdom from our readers to start off on the right foot.

  • "Use a travel agent" This is a mantra Jonathon Pelissero shared that I have always felt strongly about, because it provides so much helpful advice and resources at no additional cost to you.
  • "If you don't live close enough to the port, book a hotel room for the night before your cruise." Jorge X. Arnoldson is absolutely right about the importance of not letting a travel delay impact your ability to get to the cruise.
  • "Don't listen to bad reviews. People like to complain about everything.  Go with an open mind. And just enjoy it." I completely agree with Lynne White's approach to cruising the right way.
  • "I learned the hard way, pack only about 1/2 of what you think you will need." I still struggle with this solid advice from Tim Bennett, but it makes sense.
  • "Book super early. You get more time to pay for it, Royal Caribbean takes partial payments!" I think Iuliana Scott's shared a very helpful way to budget your cruise vacation with this tip.
  • "Pack a first aid kit and extra meds of all sorts never know what you will need." My wife has always done this, and it has saved us a lot of money and time later.
  • "You can find videos of your ship, itinerary and room on YouTube." This is a very good way to learn about your ship, excursions or even your stateroom. Thanks Melissa Bachman.
  • "Prepay as much as you can, so you aren't constantly thinking about the cost of the cruise while on the cruise." This is such a helpful way by Debbie Stubbs Harris to keep your cruise budget spread out and make the entire vacation affordable.

Embarkation

The first day of your cruise is super exciting, so make sure it goes exactly as planned.

  • "Get to the cruise port and board earlier than they say." I always follow John Degaris' advice that the check-in times are suggestions, and not enforced. Better to arrive early and start your vacation sooner.
  • "Take two bottles of wine in your luggage." Graham Tilley noted you are allowed to bring up to two bottles of wine per stateroom on the first day of your cruise, which can save you a lot of money.  
  • "Pack swimsuit and sunscreen in your carry on."   This is such a good suggestion by Kayleigh Meagher  to beat the crowd to popular pool deck activities (Flowrider, water slides, etc) on the first day.

Staterooms

Your room is where you will stay for the duration of the cruise, and there are lots of ways to maximize your space here.

  • "Put the little table from your room in the wardrobe to make more room and another shelf in the wardrobe." Great advice by Donna Gracen on how to free up space in your room.
  • "When traveling with kids, don't book a suite book an adjoining room." I think Renee Anne's advice is spot on for families. You get an extra bathroom, more space, and more privacy.
  • "Magnet hooks are great for extra hanging areas (think hats, swimsuits, sweater)." Another good tip for getting things out of the way by Francine Brown.
  • "Put a white board on your door so other friends or family members can leave a note of where they are going." So many families follow this tip by Jane Hontz to keep connected in a low-tech manner.
  • "Suitcases fit under the bed." Not only will this suggestion by Shari Arsenault 'LaForme' save you space, it will get your luggage out of view for the cruise.

Things to do onboard

Royal Caribbean cruise ships are packed with activities, events and things to do.  Here is some advice our readers gave on keeping it fun and manageable.

  • "Don’t try to do and see everything!" Jerry Blanton is right that you have to prioritize what you really want to do first, and then come back for another cruise later to do the rest.
  • "Wear your tightest clothes first, and have loose ones for the second week." If your cruise is long, or you are doing a back-to-back sailing, this advice from Tina Cowdery is probably very practical.
  • "Towel Clips for the pool chairs." This suggestion by Shannon Caldwell was echoed by a number of others who like having them when they are lounging on the pool deck.
  • "If traveling with kids, get them involved night one in Adventure Ocean." I can tell you from personal experience that Philip Dickson's point is very accurate. Getting kids there on the first day allows for everyone to meet each other and get acclimated.
  • "If you are physically able, take the stairs instead of elevator, helps keep off the extra food weight." I think Jasmine Angel's advice is a good rule of thumb when for easy ways to burn a few extra calories.

Dining

When it comes to eating on a Royal Caribbean cruise, there is lots of good ways to maximize your experience, or simply save you time or money.

  • "Find a table in the buffet first, and take turns getting food" This is such good advice by Daniel Smith Jr. when dining at the Windjammer, especially during breakfast when tables go quickly.
  • "Buy the drink package" So many cruisers said they recommend buying the unlimited drink package to save money in the long run.
  • "If you want 2-3 items on the menu because you can’t decide, order them all and share with others at the table!" I love this advice by Anni Reynolds, because it is not only a good suggestion, but also something many cruisers are unaware you can do without extra cost.
  • "Try any food that looks interesting to you. Try things you don’t think you’ll like. Chefs are top notch & you might be surprised!  Food is unlimited & if you don’t like something they’ll bring you something else." Never be afraid to try food, because on a cruise ship you are not paying per item. Well said, Kristen MamaBadger.

Shore Excursions

Exploring the places your cruise ship visits is a major component to the cruise, and there are some ways to ensure you get to experience it all without problems.

  • "Be back on board an hour before we set sail from ports." Whenever I go on shore, I make sure to be back at least 2 hours early, but Nick Spears' advice is very good.
  • "Don't book excursions thru the ship, too expensive. Book local." I think it is worth considering excursions through the cruise line and from third-party companies, but I agree with Nicole Harris you can save money by booking with a third-party.
  • "Going to ports that offer things you enjoy. Do a little research before you pick the itinerary." Where your ship visits is an important consideration, and Denise Mackerell Tuckett's tip is a very good piece of advice on ensuring you are matching your interests with where your ship sails.
  • "Bring zip lock bags" This is a really helpful way if you have wet swim suits, for making ice packs and other things by Merri Brown-Smith.
  • "You don’t have to take an excursion when in port. Just getting off at port and looking around is great also." A very astute observation by Diana Foley-Paiement that you can just walk around in the port area if no excursion jumps out at you.

The Lighting Round

And finally, a grab bag of wise words that do not need further explication. If the advice fits, wear it.

  • "Be kind to the crew. A smile and a hello goes a long way, even it's a maintenance crew member." - Beth Ballard Bean
  • "You can listen to others' opinions or recommendations of ports or ships; but, don't judge till you've tried it yourself!" - Cindy JM Li
  • "Book another one" - Michael Gucker
  • "Get out of the Caribbean and cruise the world." - Ken R. Miller
  • "To go & not be in the mindset that cruising isn't for me!"  - Kimberly Coker 

The worst cruise mistakes our readers have made on a ship

In:
27Jun2020

We all make mistakes, including when on a cruise ship.  While making a mistake is bound to happen, we can learn from each other by hearing the one big mistake our readers have had on a cruise.

A cruise vacation is filled with fun activities, great dining and exotic ports of call to explore.  With so many possibilities, a misstep along the way is not uncommon.  The key is to avoid the pitfalls.

I reached out to our blog readers to hear some of the worst mistakes they have ever made on a cruise. These pitfalls are the perfect lessons for the rest of us to know about and avoid on our own sailings.

Taking online reviews too seriously

This next cruise fail is a giant pet peeve of mine, which is to take one person's opinion of something as gospel.

WanderPam almost cancelled her cruise plans based on a negative review online!

"The worst thing I did was consider canceling our Explorer cruise because I took negative reviews too seriously. So glad I didn't because we had the most amazing 2 week cruise ever!"

There is nothing wrong with consulting others' opinions (this entire blog post is made up of opinions), but do not treat cruise ship reviews like you would a Yelp review.

Cruise ships offer such a varied and experiential vacation that it cannot be properly reviewed in its entirety based on a single experience. Cruises are by their very design a "create your own adventure" experience.  You could sit at the pool every day of the cruise and never do one activity, whereas the guy next to you could be zip lining, crocheting, belly flopping and dancing the night away.  In short, we all cruise differently.

My favorite way to explain why online reviews of cruise ships should not be used as a basis for anything other than entertainment is The Great Wall of China.

If you do an internet search for "The Great Wall of China", which is one of the greatest achievements of mankind, it only has a 4.2 star rating on Google!

 

No ship in the fleet is inherently flawed, and no ship is a mistake to sail on. Figure out what the ship offers (and doesn't offer), and make the right decision based on what you are looking for in a cruise vacation.

Not considering the holiday schedule

There are cruises offered throughout the year, including over major holidays.

Coneyraven booked a cruise on Brilliance of the Seas not realizing it was over the Easter holiday, which meant there were many more kids onboard than he was anticipating.

"Our biggest mistake was not looking at the holiday calendar before we booked a cruise. Had we known it was going to be Easter, we would not have booked that date.  We tend to gravitate more towards holiday's that are more "adult oriented", as opposed to "Family Oriented", like Halloween and New Years Eve."

You might be wondering why he did not cancel and rebook to a non-holiday cruise? He committed a double faux-pas by booking a non-refundable cruise fare, which is one of my pitfalls to avoid.

Beyond the issue of kids, not looking at the calendar means you could also end up paying more for hotels or aifare because holidays will drive up the cost of those incidentals as well.

Not researching anything

Our next cruise fail is one that I hear about all the time from first time cruisers and that is not learning about their ship, or where the places they are visiting.

Geoff P shared how on his first cruise, they did not research anything to maximize their vacation.

"We had a good time of course, but learned my lesson to do more research to really get the most out of our experience.  For our second cruise and now our third on upcoming have done much more research and planning ahead of time and its been so much better."

Learning about your cruise ship, as well as the ports you visit only benefits you in the long run. Not only can a little exploration into what your cruise ship offers save you time, it can reveal activities and opportunities you might not have otherwise know about.

All too often, I hear from cruisers who wish they knew about a certain activity, excursion or deal, and the key to not missing out on any of it is pre-cruise research.

Knowledge is power, so take advantage of your time before a cruise begins to learn as much as you can!

Going to a port without anything planned

Each port of call your ship will visit offers something a little bit different, and in many cases there are opportunities to explore the history, culture or natural beauty of these destinations.  

In the case of SteveinSC, not knowing about what the ports offered lead to a lackluster experience.

"My first couple of cruises, at our stops, I just got off the boat and walked around the port area. Big mistake. I wasn't taking advantage of all the stop had to offer!!! In my other cruises, I started booking excursions and taking taxis and really venturing out. Completely changed how I viewed, not only the itinerary, but the whole cruise."

One of the best things about the internet is the ability to learn about what nearly anywhere in the world has to offer, so look up the popular attractions and offerings to have a good idea of what the best choices are out there.

Next, look at booking a Royal Caribbean shore excursion to see what the cruise line is offering.

You have everything to gain by looking into what there is to do in any of the ports you will be visiting, and coming up with a plan for each port day.

Trying to do it all

I mentioned that cruise ships have so much to do onboard, and that leads us to our next cruise mistake, which is trying to do everything.

Melmar02 shared how she wanted to work everything in and that lead to more frustration than fun.

"I'm all for seeing and experiencing everything, but husband wants a laid back relaxing vacation...big fights may have broken out on our second cruise. I'm much more "go with the flow" now."

Achieving a balance of activities and relaxation is a great idea, and overdoing it in order to see it all often leads to burnout.

It is nearly impossible to do every single activity on a single sailing, so your best bet is to prioritize the must-do activities onboard and then come back for another sailing later to do more. 

Lots of people have had amazing cruise experiences by sleeping in, relaxing by the pool, and otherwise taking it easy. No one said a fabulous vacation can only be one where you are hiking, ATV-ing, and running around for 7 days.

Not pre-booking

If there is one mistake I always bring up it is not taking advantage of prebooking activities and add-ons to save you time and money later on.

JasonL shared how not pre-booking things cost him while on the cruise.

"Didn't use to pre-purchase as much as possible before the cruise. Also didn't pre-book activities. Of course I didn't have any money for extras back then, but  still it's a very common rookie mistake."

If you wait to purchase drink packages, shore excursions, restaurant reservations or spa appointments onboard your Royal Caribbean ship, you are wasting money.

Royal Caribbean offers pre-cruise discounts in the months leading up to its cruises and these discounts are significant enough to make it well worth your time to pre-book instead of waiting to buy it on the ship.

An intangible benefit to pre-purchasing anything is it saves you time onboard from doing the exact same thing, which means more vacation time back to you.

Taking the time to purchase anything onboard does not take very much time, but every little bit helps, and some purchases on the first day of the cruise can require waiting in a line, such as drink packages.

Not having a packing list

I still struggle with packing as efficiently as possible, but the fear of getting onboard a cruise ship only to realize you forgot something really important is an all too real concern.

ptod wrote about how her husband refused to use a packing list, and ended up getting onboard without something pretty darn important.

"My husband was a little irked that I wanted to review the basic clothes that we had packed for one cruise....so I just let it go.  Come to find out that he completely forgot to pack any underwear - none, nada, zilch.  All he had was what he wore to travel."

While I admit that I do not always use a packing list, it is generally a good idea to refer to one to ensure you bring the most important things to pack for your Royal Caribbean cruise.

Not putting phone into airplane mode

A very costly mistake is not protecting your phone against roaming charges that can run up a giant bill later.

Rose City Cruiser committed this mistake, and it was not pretty after the cruise was over.

"Forgetting to put my cell phone in airplane mode.  Was able to negotiate down the outstanding balance.  It was a huge lesson."

It is really easy to put your phone into airplane mode to protect against a costly bill later. 

Make sure once you get on the cruise ship, disable your phone's ability to connect to other networks, and then have the peace of mind that you will not have an expensive surprise waiting for you next month.

Missing the cruise because of a flight delay

Perhaps the most common mistake I see made is by people that fly in the same day their cruise departs. In my opinion, you are playing with fire by doing this instead of flying in at least a day ahead of time.

twangster wrote how it cost him once by doing that.

"I don’t make cruise mistakes. Okay, there was that one time I flew to the cruise on the morning of the cruise... and missed my cruise."

If you are flying to your cruise embarkation port, be sure to fly in at least one day early to avoid travel delays impacting your ability to make the cruise.

Having an extra day or two provides a buffer to account for travel delays.  You really do not want to be that person in the airport losing their mind because the latest delay means the entire vacation is in jeopardy.

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.

Having cash with you

While Royal Caribbean's ships are cashless, other people outside the ship definitely still use green backs.

Brobbins246 confessed to a time she forgot to grab some cash.

"My confession is completely forgetting to have some cash available for tipping the porters on embarkation day.  We had a rental car to return that morning, so my husband dropped me, our kids and our luggage at the cruise port, then drove off to return the car.  After a porter took care of our luggage, I realized all our cash was still with my husband and I had nothing to give him except a profuse apology, thank you, and a hand shake.  Awkward....."

It is a good idea to bring some cash with you for before and after the cruise, as well as in any of the ports you visit. Be sure to also have smaller bills for tipping.

What's your worst cruise mistake?

Time to fess up to the worst rookie mistake you made on a cruise, even if you aren't a first time cruiser. Is there one here that you also committed, or do you have your own story to share? Please share the single mistake/slip up/fail you made on a cruise, so that we can all learn from these mistakes!

Expert-level cruise tips that all the cruise pros use

In:
25Jun2020

If you have done even a tiny bit of research, you are well aware of common cruise tips, such as not overpacking or to pre-purchase add-ons to save money, but here are the secrets and tricks people that cruise all the time do, so you can do it too!

There is plenty of good cruise advice to go around, and this blog was started as a means of learning from each other.

In that spirit, I wanted to highlight five tips that I, and so many other people that cruise all the time, do on pretty much every cruise we book.  These tips may save you time and money, and not something the average cruiser may know about.

Changing their booking to non-refundable at the last minute

Many of you know I am a big proponent of booking refundable cruise fare because it adds a great deal of flexibility in case your plans change.  But you can change to non-refundable cruise fare down the line, especially if it is in your financial best interest to do so.

While not something that always occurs, there are plenty of situations where a booking is made a year or two in advance with a refundable cruise fare.  As the sail date approaches, it becomes clearer that you will almost certainly want and be able to sail on that cruise.

A good tip is to monitor the non-refundable cruise rates prior to final payment, because there are scenarios where the non-refundable rate drops to a point where it makes sense to rebook under that deposit program and take advantage of the savings.

I will employ this strategy once I am certain I will go on the sailing, and the savings bu changing are worth the jump.

Booking solo stateroom with a fake second person

This is one of my favorite tips for saving money when cruising by yourself.

Going on a cruise solo is a really fun experience, but it can also be an expensive sailing. Royal Caribbean charges something known as the "single supplement fee" to offset the loss for not achieving double occupancy in a stateroom.

When someone seeks to book a solo cruise, they usually enter just one person in the room reservation, and Royal Caribbean sticks you with that single supplement fee.

Instead, try looking for a reservation that has two people on it: you and a fake person.

When you add a second person, it is not uncommon that the total price is cheaper than if you price the same room out solo. 

Don't worry, you will not get in trouble for booking a fake second person.  You simply show up to the cruise terminal alone, let the agent know the other person will not be coming and you will get the fake second person's port fees and taxes refunded later.  And you still get double Crown and Anchor Society points for sailing solo!

Pre-book gratuities

When you book a cruise, there is the option to pre-book gratuities or pay them onboard.  Cruise pros always pre-book gratuities because it simplifies things, and locks in the gratuity rate in case of a rate change later.

Every so often, Royal Caribbean will revise the gratuity rates for its crew to keep pay in line with the industry.  When this occurs, anyone who pre-booked gratuities will be grandfathered in under the old rates.  

By pre-booking gratuities, you not only spread out the total cost of the cruise, but you assure yourself of the lowest price you can pay.

Book cruises years in advance

People that cruise a lot will book their cruises many months in advance to take advantage of the lowest prices. 

This is the best strategy for locking in the lowest price, as well as getting the most sought-after cabins that get booked up quickly (such as suites).

When Royal Caribbean releases new sailings, cruise pros will comb over the new options and usually place deposits as soon as they can to lock in low prices.

By booking early, you will often find the best rates available because cruise fares operate on a supply and demand basis.  The less supply there is (i.e. staterooms available to book), the higher prices.  So by booking one to two years early, you will find the best rates.

Book with a travel agent

I will never tire of sharing one of my favorite tips that will save you time and money in the long run - work with a good travel agent.

A good travel agent is more than somebody to take your credit card details and reserve a cabin.  Travel agents are your advocate throughout the cruise process, and are invaluable if an issue should arise at any point. 

In these days of delayed refunds, cancelled cruises, and future cruise credit tracking, having a good travel agent working on your behalf is incredibly important.

Since a good travel agent should cost you nothing extra to use (the cruise line pays them a commission), you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by using one.

Your best tips

Did I miss a cruise tip employed by the most cruise-ninjas out there? How many of these tips have you heard about? Share your suggestions and experiences in the comments!

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