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12 Things to Know Before Sailing Royal Caribbean



By Don Bucolo

Planning your first Royal Caribbean cruise? We’ve been there before. Having now sailed with Royal Caribbean several times, we have learned a thing or two about planning a cruise with this cruise line. In fact, we have picked up a number of useful tips and tricks that can make booking and sailing with Royal Caribbean a breeze. So, before you venture off on your maiden Royal Caribbean voyage, here are the 12 things you need to know before sailing them.

12. They Have Six Classes of Ships

From the world’s largest class of cruise ships, the Oasis-class, to the fleet’s smaller Sovereign-class, Royal Caribbean has ships in all shapes and sizes. The variety of ships means that there are cruises on Royal Caribbean ships sailing to destinations all over the world. It also means that not every ship comes equipped with all of the line’s signature restaurants, onboard entertainment, and amenities (like rock climbing walls or the surf simulator, the Flowrider). Review the different ship classes carefully to find the right one for your next trip.

11. The Line Caters to Families

While there are plenty of couples on a Royal Caribbean cruise, the majority of cruisers will be families. These families will have plenty to do including onboard water parks, activities like bumper cars (on Quantum-class ships), and a dedicated kids program known as Adventure Ocean. If you plan on taking the little ones, be sure to register them for the program as soon as you board. If you are sailing sans children, most ships offer a Solarium which is an adults-only retreat to let you escape from the rest of the families onboard.

10. You Can Get the Best Rate by Booking Early

Royal Caribbean is always running promotions, but a good rule of thumb is to book your trip at least 8 months out. That is your best shot at getting the lowest fare, especially on the line’s largest and newest ships. If the price drops, you can always call to get the lower rate. We sometimes book a year or more in advance to take advantage of these lower prices. Of course, if something comes up and you need to cancel, you can do so up until 90 days prior to sailing with no cancellation penalty.

9. Cruise Costs Depend on Cabin Type and Location

From interior rooms to luxurious multi-deck suites, the cabin options available on many Royal Caribbean ships are as varied as the ships themselves. The low prices you see advertised are most likely for inside cabins on the lower decks of a ship. If you want to secure a cabin on a higher deck, and perhaps one with an outside view or balcony, the per person cruise fare will rise accordingly. Don’t be surprised if the total cruise costs more than double by selecting a different cabin category, especially if you opt for one of the suites onboard.

8. You Have A Few Dining Options

Royal Caribbean maintains two options for dining in the main dining room on most of their ships. With Traditional Dining, cruisers get assigned a specific table and eat at the same time each night. The same wait staff and table mates are there to greet you nightly during either an early seating (usually around 6 pm), or a late seating (around 8:30 pm). With My Time Dining, you can make reservations ahead of time to eat at different times each night. Or, My Time Dining guests can walk up to the main dining room and wait to be seated at any time, similar to restaurants back on land.

7. But, Not All of Your Dining is Included

Like many of the contemporary cruise lines, Royal Caribbean ships offer a variety of complimentary dining including casual spots, a buffet, and the main dining room. Many of the line’s larger and newer ships also include a number of specialty restaurants. These restaurants are not covered in your cruise fare. Most Royal Caribbean specialty restaurants charge a per person, flat fee (between $25 to $50 a person) which includes a three course meal with multiple starters and desserts included.

6. There is a Digital Cruise Planner

Before you board the ship, you are going to want to use the Royal Cruise Planner. Whether you book directly with the cruise line or use a travel agent, you should set up an online account as soon as you have a reservation number. For most cruises, you can book things like shore excursions, dining, spa treatments, and other additional packages using this online portal. You will also need to complete your pre-cruise check-in online, which will help save you time on embarkation day.

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5. Some Entertainment Requires Reservations

On Royal’s larger ships, some entertainment requires reservations. You can wait to reserve your spot onboard…or, you can reserve your selections pre-cruise. We always book our entertainment online before cruising to ensure we never miss a show. If your cruise ship includes some shows that require reservations, we highly recommend you book before you set sail as well, as preferred show times do fill up quickly. For shows that do not require reservations, we advise getting to the venue about 30 minutes before show time for the best seats.

4. Purchasing Packages Pre-Cruise Can Save You Money

Who doesn’t like to save money? With a Royal Caribbean cruise, you can save the most money by pre-paying for certain packages. The cruise line regularly discounts items like beverage packages, internet packages, and even some shore excursions if you book them ahead of time. By checking your online account routinely, you can score the greatest deal. Again, if you purchase something and the price drops, just call Royal Caribbean and they can refund you the difference.

3. The Deluxe Beverage Package Covers Almost All Drinks

Royal Caribbean changed their alcoholic beverage package options last year, resulting in only one package called the Deluxe Beverage Package. With onboard prices starting at $55 a day, this package covers most beers, cocktails, and wines by the glass up to $12 ($13 on Oasis-class ships). The package also covers bottled water, soda, and specialty coffees and teas (but it does not cover drinks at Starbucks). We usually buy this package and find it to be a good value. Of note, if a drink costs more than the allotment, you will only pay the difference in price.

2. You Should Use the Royal IQ App and Internet

Royal Caribbean has some of the fastest internet at sea. If you want to stay connected to your social media, email, and the world-wide-web, we suggest purchasing one of the internet packages. The plans are charged on a per day rate, and costs vary based on your surfing needs. Even if you decide not to purchase an internet plan, still download the Royal IQ app. This app is free to use and lets you stay informed of what is happening throughout the cruise. It connects to your reservation so you can see what you have scheduled for the day, make or change reservations, and view what is happening onboard each day.

1. The Cruise Compass is Your Onboard Guide

If you are not tech savvy, or prefer the printed page, then you will need to get your hands on each day’s Cruise Compass. The Compass includes a complete rundown of all onboard activities, entertainment, shopping, shows, and dining events occurring that day. The digital version of the Compass is part of the Royal IQ app. Each night, your stateroom attendant will also leave a printed copy for you to review for the next day. Extra copies, and copies in foreign languages, are also available at Guest Services. We always review the cruise compass before retiring for the evening to see what awaits us on the next day of our vacation.

With these handy tips, you can make the most of your Royal Caribbean cruise vacation. So, start planning now. Who knows, we might even see you onboard!

Don Bucolo is the editor of Eat, Sleep, Cruise and can be found at

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Travel Tips

5 Cruise Disembarkation Tips




cruise disembarkation tips The very last morning of your cruise is typically the dreaded one – it’s back to reality. While I don’t have any tips for extending your vacation (unless you are doing a back-to-back cruise), I can tell you how to get off the ship a little bit faster.

If you haven’t been on a cruise before, when it comes to disembarkation the cruise line will give you a luggage tag with a color or zone number on it, this tells you when you can get off the cruise ship and when your bags will be ready to pick up pier-side. 

Here are 5 cruise disembarkation tips:

1. Self-Assist

If you’re wanting to get off the ship early, do self-assist, this allows you to do walk off the ship with your own luggage. It usually starts around 7 am and 20-30 minutes later you’re on the pier. Keep in mind that you are responsible for all your belongings and the cruise line will not assist you.

2. Early Flights

If you have an early flight out, just register when the paperwork comes to your room and you’ll be allowed to get off the ship earlier. Once on a cruise that ended in Venice they were starting airport transfers at 4 am.

3. Talk to guest relations.

If you don’t have a flight and don’t want to do self-assist and lug your bags around, contact guest relations (usually in person) and tell them that you’d love to disembark the ship a little earlier. Guest relations will usually give you the luggage tag you need to get off the cruise ship earlier.

4. Luggage Valet Program

A couple days before you disembark you’ll have the option to do luggage valet from the cruise ship to the airport, where for a nominal fee (plus checked baggage cost) you’ll be able to forward the bags to the airport and check them to your destination. This generally works in US ports of call and Vancouver, Canada. The cost of this varies per cruise line but I’ve seen it for around $20 per person.

5. Have customs documentation.

You know when you’re in the airport and waiting for someone to get their stuff together to go through security? Well, it’s the same thing when you’re approaching the customs line. Have your documentation in hand and ready to go. It will make the line go a lot quicker for you and everyone behind you.

With these tips you should be able to slide off the ship a little bit earlier the next time you take a cruise vacation. Keep in mind that the early bird gets the worm, so as much as it may stink, plan your disembarkation before you get to the pier.

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7 Quiet Places on a Cruise Ship



Cruises are full of fun and adventure, including epic excursions like ziplining through a Jamaican jungle or parasailing over the open ocean. But sometimes vacation calls for some simple rest and relaxation, too. There are plenty of places on a ship to find peace and quiet.

1. Spa

On any ship, the spa is the pinnacle of calm and quiet. While almost every ship comes equipped with a sauna and steam room free of charge, you can also unwind even further by booking a spa appointment like a massage, acupuncture session, or facial.

norwegian escape spa cruise

Norwegian Escape spa

2. Library

Often overlooked, the ship’s library is a great room for escaping the hustle and bustle. Full of books and board games, it’s the perfect place for a quiet retreat. And if you’re lucky enough that your ship’s library has windows, you can enjoy the ocean views during your downtime.

Photo credit: Carnival

3. Inside on a port day

If you’ve ever stayed on the ship on a port day, you know that it can look like a ghost town. With everyone off and exploring the port of call, there’s no better time to take advantage of a quiet and nearly empty ship. Plus, you’ll get incredibly fast service at the bar!

4. Your room

While many say to get out and enjoy the ship, that argument could depend on what type of room you’ve booked. Balcony rooms, especially unique ones like aft balconies or cove balconies, offer the perfect excuse to stay in, bask in the sun on your own private piece of deck, and enjoy the serenity.

5. Adults-only deck

Carefree and quiet, the adults-only deck on a ship usually comes with extra comfy lounge chairs, a private bar, and a hot tub or two. If you’re looking to skip the sounds of the live steel drum band or the crowds from the hairy chest contest, this is easily one of the best places to enjoy the sun on the ship.

6. Secret decks

Believe it or not, you can always find a “secret” deck on any cruise ship. These are decks that are tucked away or rather difficult to get to, meaning almost no one uses them. For example, on many of Carnival’s ships, cruisers rarely take advantage of the solitude and open air on deck 3, which is directly under the lifeboats. Though you may not get the sun, you can enjoy plenty of peace and quiet – accompanied of course by the calming sounds of the ocean passing beneath. Many ships also have “secret” decks toward the front of the ship which many people don’t think you can access, so study your deck plans before you go to find out how to get to these.

7. Private lounges

Some ships have private lounges for certain stateroom categories, such as the Havana Lounge on Carnival Vista or The Haven on some Norwegian ships, to elevate your private, customized cruise experience. Also, some cruise lines reserve private lounges and even private restaurants on their ships for their most loyal cruisers, but you’ll have to have rewards with them already to get those benefits.

Where is your quiet place on a cruise ship?

quiet places cruise ship travel


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Travel Tips

My Cruise is Paid Off – Now What?



Congrats, you’ve completed the most difficult (and least fun) part of a cruise: paying for it. But, there’s still time until your sail date. Here’s what you should be doing in the meantime.

1. Print Out Cruise Documents

Cruise Terminal 1 Embarkation Area – photo: Port Canaveral

As soon as your payment has been made in full, you can go online and print out your boarding passes and luggage tags. It’s never a bad idea to print extra copies, either. (Somehow there’s always an extra bag at the last minute that needs a tag too.) Keep these documents in a folder for safekeeping until departure day.

2. Find Your Sailing Online


Online cruise groups are really popular, with several different sites hosting platforms for specific sailings. The site Cruise Critic has had forums called “roll calls” for years where people can search by their cruise line to find their specific ship and sail date. The same concept has transferred over to the ShipMate app as well as to Facebook. In these forums or online groups, members can chat about their upcoming cruise and plan a group meetup, which often happens at a popular bar on the ship right after the muster drill. On some Carnival sailings, John Heald, brand ambassador and senior cruise director, has even been known to send small gifts and prizes to the groups.

3. Start Your Packing List

photo credit: flickr/Nicole Hanusek

From swimsuits and sun hats to slacks and button-downs, packing for a cruise can get overwhelming. Making a list will make it a lot simpler. It will also ensure you don’t forget miscellaneous items like a reusable water bottle for those hot days on the lido deck.

4. Set A Cruise Price Drop


Setting a cruise price drop means that if the price of your cruise decreases from what you originally paid, you can get the difference back – usually in onboard credit. One of the best alerts is through the app ShipMate or, which will send you an alert when the price of your cruise, set to your specific stateroom category, increases or decreases. However, there are several other price drop alerts besides ShipMate, and you can always check yourself or have your travel agent do so.

5. Book Your Excursions 


If you haven’t looked at excursions yet, now is the time to do so. It’s better to book them before you board the ship because often the best and most popular excursions will sell out beforehand. If you’re booking an excursion through a third-party company, booking ahead of time is typically a must.

Browse 1,000’s of shore excursions here.

6. Explore Dining

Manhattan Dining Room aboard Breakaway.

As part of your pre-cruise planning, research all the dining venues on your ship. Make a list of the ones you want to go to and whether or not they have a surcharge. If they do, plan that into your onboard budget for guilt-free grubbing once onboard.

7. Prepay Everything You Can

These days, you can prepay almost everything for your cruise: gratuities, excursions, drink packages, specialty dining packages, and even wifi packages. The more you prepay, the lower your bill will be at the end of the cruise. Plus, by prepaying you can pay in installments rather than paying in one large lump sum at the end of your cruise.

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Make Reservations

With ships carrying more and more people now, making advanced reservations is becoming more popular. That includes reservations for spa treatments, theater shows, dining venues, and more. If there’s something you have your heart set on, make a reservation. There’s no harm in canceling it once you’re onboard if you change your mind. (The Chef’s Table is an exception to this and usually comes with a fee if you don’t cancel within a certain time frame.)

8. Double Check Travel Insurance

Carnival Horizon

Seriously, don’t leave home without travel insurance. There are countless horror stories from cruisers of innocent accidents or a simple illness that resulted in bills worth thousands of dollars from the ship’s medical center. You never know what may happen. That small price for insurance could save you tens of thousands down the line.

Read More: Why You Should Book Travel Insurance

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