Royal Caribbean came away with a few awards from the 11th annual Cruise Critic Editors' Picks Awards.
Royal Caribbean was the winner in the following categories:
Best Entertainment: Royal Caribbean International
"Royal Caribbean continues to entertain with original Broadway-style productions, parades and now, laser tag. State-of-the-art technology, including drones, has enhanced new shows in the skating rink as well as with amusements like Sky Pad, a bungee-trampoline experience that also employs virtual reality. And as always, you can still surf, slide and fly (by zipline or skydive simulator) onboard many of Royal Caribbean's ships."
Best Ship Refurbishment: Mariner of the Seas – Royal Caribbean International
"Royal Caribbean invested $120 million into the refurbishment of Mariner of the Seas and the results are astounding. From the bright yellow globe at the top of the ship that houses the virtual reality trampoline experience Sky Pad to the addition of two restaurants, two bars, FlowRider surf simulators, the Perfect Storm water park and an escape room, Mariner's got plenty to keep you entertained."
Best Suites: Royal Caribbean International
"The lavishness of Royal Caribbean's top cabins as well as their inclusiveness and variety -- some ships offer up to a dozen suite categories -- can't be beat by any other mainstream cruise line. Just imagine, suites as deluxe as luxury penthouses. Royal Caribbean's got them. And this year, the line even introduced the Ultimate Family Suite, a visual marvel complete with a bedroom-to-living room slide."
Royal Caribbean launched a pilot program that offers guests on select sailings VIP benefits and perks, called The Key.
The Key is being tested out on Liberty of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas for sailings beginning November 25, 2018 through the end of March 2019 and we recently had the chance to try it out on Oasis of the Seas.
For the November 25th sailing of the Oasis of the Seas Royal Caribbean introduced a new feature called 'The Key'. 'The Key' is collection of benefits that allow you to AMP your cruise to the next level by including exclusive benefits many of which are available only to guests who purchase 'The Key'.
‘The Key’ benefits include:
- Carry on luggage storage and delivery to your cabin on boarding day
- Boarding day lunch at Chop’s Grille
- Voom Surf and Stream for each guest in your cabin
- Private hours at marquee attractions
- Priority disembarkation on select ships and ports and tender service ship to shore
- The best seats in the house with VIP seating at pre-reserved shows
- Choice debarkation on the final day with an à la carte breakfast in the main dining room
For this sailing 'The Key' was on sale in the Cruise Planner for $19.99 per guest per day. Every guest over six years old in a cabin must purchase 'The Key' if any guest in that cabin purchases 'The Key'. This pilot introduction of 'The Key' is also being offered on Liberty of the Seas.
I was fortunate enough to secure 'The Key' for this Oasis of the Seas sailing and experience it the first time it is being offered on this ship.
When checking in at the Port Canaveral terminal they affixed a green dot to my SeaPass card to indicate I had purchased 'The Key'. This green dot doesn’t really accomplish anything at this point, I think it’s purpose is to let guests know that Royal Caribbean is aware you purchased 'The Key'. Perhaps in the future as the 'The Key' expands to ships in the fleet that distribute SeaPass cards in the cabins onboard, the green dot will be placed on SetSail passes so you can still use the benefits of 'The Key' before cabins (and your SeaPass cards) are available.
On this sailing 47 guests purchased 'The Key'. The program is being launched with a cap of 100 'The Key' membership positions available for purchase.
After boarding I first took care of booking my specialty dining and purchased the drink package before I headed down to deck 4 and the Opal Theater to drop off my carry on luggage.
Inside the Opal Theater several crew were there to happily greet me and begin the benefits of 'The Key'.
Here they removed the green dot and affixed a Key symbol to my card to indicate my membership in 'The Key' program. They also collected my backpack, gave me a bag claim ticket and assured me my bag would delivered inside my cabin and not left in the hall like baggage checked outside at the terminal is once it’s delivered on the ship.
With that I was off to roam the ship absent of having to drag my carry on bags around with me. I didn’t appreciate before hand just how much I would enjoy walking around without having to drag my carry on luggage with me every where I went. It was great!
I went off to reacquaint myself with Oasis of the Seas and begin to leverage my drink package. Eventually it was time for lunch so I headed to Central Park to take advantage of my next 'The Key' benefit, lunch at Chop’s Grille.
At Chop’s Grille they presented me with a card reminding me of the benefits associated with 'The Key'.
Earlier when I was in the Theater they had presented me with a card containing my Voom code that is included with 'The Key'.
The Chop’s Grille lunch menu consists of a selection of items from the Chop’s Grille dinner menu but presented in a manner suitable for lunch.
The menu can vary slightly by ship. Here is what I was offered on Oasis of the Seas on this occasion.
At 1 pm they announced that cabins were ready. Waiting inside my cabin was my carry on bag carefully placed on the sofa. A letter inside my cabin once again explained 'The Key' benefits and displayed the times for the private and exclusive activities for this cruise.
All guests who wish to use the FlowRiders are required to sign a waiver and check in at the sports desk where they will be provided a wrist band. 'The Key' guests receive an extra wrist band to note their membership in 'The Key' with exclusive access to the FlowRider at certain times during the cruise.
During the exclusive hours for 'The Key' at the FlowRider, the sports staff were directing other guests to the port side FlowRider which was available for all guests while the starboard FlowRider was exclusive to guests who had purchased 'The Key'. During these exclusive hours, 'The Key' members only share the FlowRider with other 'The Key' guests which at times during this cruise meant very few and sometimes no other guests to share the FlowRider with. At times I was able to ride the FlowRider for ten or fifteen minutes by myself. I only stopped because I was tired.
Later in the day the Zipline was offered exclusively to 'The Key' guests and I was able to make several runs with no line and no wait between runs.
The starboard Rock Climbing wall also had exclusive hours for the 'The Key' guests.
Another benefit of the 'The Key' is access to reserved seating during entertainment. 'The Key' provides reserved seating in Studio B, The Aqua Theater and in the Main Theater. Crew are on hand to inspect cards and ensure only eligible guests have access to the reserved seating areas in each venue.
'The Key' does require guests to make reservations for all shows. Unlike Sky and Star Class Suite guests who don’t need reservations for any of the shows (other than the comedy shows), all 'The Key' guests must have reservations.
Reserved seating areas are shared with Sky and Star Class Suites and Pinnacle members of the Crown and Anchor Society. For Studio B this area is in the first few rows of the center section.
With 'The Key' I had front row seats right next to seating reserved for Star Class Suite guests.
Royal Caribbean Ice Skating shows are great for kids of all ages and they never fail to please the crowd.
Don’t miss these wonderful shows that are included in your cruise fare and they are best observed from the front row.
In the main theater the reserved seating area is on the lower level, center theater in the first few rows of the raised seating area which turns out to be one of my favorite seating areas.
In the Aqua Theater 'The Key' guests have access to reserved seating areas outside of the splash zone in the center section of the Theater with excellent sight lines to enjoy the show.
On the last night of the cruise a letter was left in my cabin outlining the ‘Choice Deprtaure' with an exclusive breakfast for the morning.
I headed down to breakfast shortly before 7am. Outside of the deck 4 dining room a sign for ‘The Key’ welcomed me.
I was escorted into the dining room into an area exclusive to The Key guests.
A special breakfast menu for The Key guests was presented.
Once I was finished with breakfast I was escorted up to deck 5 and through the deck 5 dining room out a separate exit onto the outer decks where security was waiting to scan me off the ship for the final time. In the terminal I caught up with the tail end of the self-assist debarkation guests and had a 5-10 minute wait for customs.
Before arriving to the ship I was curious how organized this first offering of the ''The Key' would be seeing that it was being implemented for the very first time. I am impressed with how well it worked. Clearly the staff have been trained and prepared for this first ever 'The Key' introduction with signage ready where it’s needed. All of the stated benefits have worked flawlessly as if they had been offering 'The Key' for some time now. Exclusive hours were just that, exclusive for 'The Key’.
The dining room staff on the final morning answered a few questions for me. They had been meeting and preparing for this initial 'The Key' cruise for over two weeks. That preparation included planning the breakfast menu, making arrangements to open a kitchen just for 'The Key' purposes and choosing dedicated wait staff to serve 'The Key' guests. This was not simply allowing more guests to sit with top tier members of the Crown and Anchor breakfast, this was truly an exclusive sit down full service breakfast with no buffet aspect.
On this itinerary there were no ports that required or would benefit from priority debarkation at a port of call. This is a feature of ‘The Key’ I did not have an opportunity to experience on this cruise. Since ‘The Key’ may expand to more ships in the fleet it will likely be beneficial on specific itineraries that include tendering.
Who is the ideal 'The Key’ guest? ’The Key’ is suitable for anyone looking to make their vacation just a little more memorable. Ideal for anyone who has never cruised a particular ship before the reserved entertainment seating means you can take your time heading to a show without having to line up long before to secure good seats. The exclusive activity hours are ideal for any families that want to enjoy the activities absent of the normal lines for them. With Voom included ‘The Key’ is ideal for families that would likely buy Voom on their vacation anyways, after all no adventure should go unshared. From the boarding day Chops Grille lunch saving you from a crowded Windjammer to the full service choice departure breakfast ‘The Key’ will ensure your family can make the most of every moment and all of it will be just a little more memorable.
If someone has cruised a particular ship before, seen all the shows and is Diamond Plus or Pinnacle the incremental benefits of 'The Key’ might be diminished. A family with young children might consider the included Voom to be wasteful and they will need to decide if the other perks are worth it. The exclusive activity hours may very well make up for a lot because it was really nice to avoid some of the lines. Any one who has children will know avoiding lines definitely has some value.
The reserved entertainment seating has a distinct value. It was so nice being able to walk up 20 minutes before show time with most folks desperately trying to find some seating while I just flashed my card and sat right down in prime seats. They always gets some envious glances.
It many ways ‘The Key’ offers some Sky Class Suite benefits without the full price of a Sky Class Suite. ‘The Key’ is a nice add-on for any cabin that can elevate the overall cruise experience. Since Sky Class Suites are only offered on Oasis and Quantum class ’The Key’ offers a unique opportunity on other classes of ships providing features that no other guest can access.
We are getting closer and closer to the much-anticipated launch of Royal Caribbean's CocoCay private island makeover.
Royal Caribbean Blog reader Scott Ullerly recently visited the island and shared these photos of the progress being made.
We start off with a look at the new pier. Royal Caribbean CEO Michael Bayley indicated recently he expects the pier to be done in January.
A member of the island staff mentioned work had had recently completed staff housing. This may be one of the photos from further back on the island.
A great deal of work is occuring on several buildings near the pier.
Perfect Day at CocoCay will open in phases, and May 2019 marks the first phase opening.
Royal Caribbean plans to open the first major phase of its major overhaul of private island CocoCay in May, and we have a look at the layout of Perfect Day at CocoCay.
Perfect Day is a $200 million transformation of Royal Caribbean's private island in the Bahamas that is scheduled to open in May 2019.
Thanks to David Beers for alerting us to the map.
What are you most excited to experience in Perfect Day at CocoCay? Share with us in the comments below so we can all get excited together.
The Owner's Suite on Royal Caribbean's Harmony of the Seas is a popular choice for guests who want to indulge in a suite experience. It offers a lot of living space, and the Sky Class benefits of the Royal Suite Class.
This photo tour comes to us from Royal Caribbean Blog readers Elizabeth & Brian Robinson, who recently sailed on Harmony of the Seas.
These photos are from stateroom 11644. The Owner's Suite offers 556 square feet of living space, along with a balcony that comes in at 243 square feet.
Owner's Suite staterooms on Harmony of the Seas include Two twin beds that convert to a Royal King a private balcony living area with table and sofabed private bathroom with tub and two sinks marble entry large closets an interactive flat-screen TV mini-safe radio telephone and a hairdryer.
Being a suite, this type of stateroom qualifies for the Royal Suite Class Sky Class amenities, which includes: Concierge Services (Priority reservations priority theater seats access to Suite Sun Deck access to Exclusive Suite Beach on private islands priority boarding and departure and more); luxury pillowtop mattress luxury Hermes Ferragamo or L''Occitane bath amenities all-day access to Coastal Kitchen special in-suite dining Suite Lounge specialty bottled water complimentary: VOOM internet Spa Thermal Room access (1-day pass) exclusive access to Signature Activities in-suite welcome amenity and more.
All photos by Brian Robinson
If you're ready for a mental escape to a Royal Caribbean cruise, then you're at the right place because we have some great Royal Caribbean photos our readers have sent in. Each week we ask our readers to send us their best Royal Caribbean photos to showcase right here on the blog so be sure to send yours in too!
Our first photo is by John & Debbie Blahnik of the sun setting as Oasis of the Seas is about to leave Falmouth, Jamaica.
Paul Jordan sent in this photo from Explorer of the Seas, while docked in Melbourne, Australia.
Here is a look at the Grand Suite on Grandeur of the Seas, as seen by David Ep.
Phillip took this photo of Harmony of the Seas docked in Labadee.
Wayne Stephens took a moment to admire the hand-carved carousel on Oasis of the Seas.
Henry Greenfield took a photo in Cozumel of a "living statue".
James Woodward took a photo of the Tidal Wave water slide in action while on Liberty of the Seas.
Thanks to everyone who sent in their photos this week. Be sure to send your photos in as well by using this form.
One of the most popular ways to spend time in Cozumel is by going to an all-inclusive beach, and there is no shortage of choices. So when I ran across the El Cozumeleno resort offering day passes, I had to check it out for myself.
Photo by Cruise Life Rick
El Cozumeleno is an all-inclusive resort that offers day passes for purchase, which grant access to the hotel grounds. This includes the beach, pool, dining facilities, snorkeling, mini-golf and more. It looks like the total package, but how would it stack up to the many other all-inclusives in Cozumel?
Located on the north end of Cozumel, El Cozumeleno is not in the usual area where you find the most popular all-inclusives. El Cozumeleno is one of many hotel resorts on the north side that cater primarily to guests who are staying in Cozumel multiple nights.
The resort advertises itself as offering a lot for your time and money. There is a huge selection of activities, options and ways to spend your day while on a cruise in Cozumel. Note that this is not a Royal Caribbean excursion, and can be booked via one of many third-party websites that sell day passes.
Checking in at the front desk, you are greeted with a welcome drink and explanation of what's included with your stay. Essentially, you have access to anything a hotel guest would have, minus pool towels.
Here is exactly what is included with your day pass:
- All food and open bar
- Snorkel gear
- 5 swimming pools, Jacuzzis and wading pools
- Restaurant a la carte and buffet style right on the beach
- Restaurant a la carte (air conditioned)
- 5 Bars
- Diving class in the pool
- Mini golf & tennis court
- Game room - pool table, table games, table tennis, table soccer
- Fitness Center
- Beach chairs
- Swimming pool lounges
- Sandy beach and great snorkel area
- Kids club activities program in a special designed kids club
- Wi-Fi in lobby area
As is the case with many all-inclusive resorts, you head outside and pick a few chairs to be "your spot" for the day. There is ample seating along the beach, or in one of the pool areas.
There are two main beach areas at El Cozumeleno, with one being primarily for enjoying the sun and surf, and the other beach used more for snorkeling (although there is plenty of seating there as well).
In addition, El Cozumeleno has a sprawling pool complex, which is also split up into two areas. The main pool is massive, with various depths and even part of the pool completely under a shaded area for those that want refuge from the sun.
There is a swim-up bar, as well as roaming waiter service. The wait staff will consistently stop by to bring you any food or drink you would want.
If you prefer, there is a buffet restaurant between the two pools that is convenient to the beach or the pools.
Speaking of food, there is a lot of it with a good mix of Mexican favorites and more familiar American fare.
El Cozumeleno offers programming and services beyond the usual beach and pool activities. There is a child care facility adjacent to the pool, such as programming for all guests (Spanish language lessons, water aerobics, etc).
There is also a mini-golf course and playground near the pools. The pools, beach and facilities mentioned are all relatively close to each other, which keeps things manageable in terms of not venturing off too far from anyone.
In my opinion, there are four components that make a great all-inclusive beach experience:
- Well-kept and appealing aquatic facilities
- Excellent waiter service
- Freshly made and tasty food
- Fair price
Having visited a number of all-inclusive resorts in Cozumel, often there is one or two of those components that a resort struggles with and it ends up dampening the experience. I was pleasantly surprised to find El Cozumeleno bucked that trend and hit all four targets.
First and foremost, the resort is quite lovely. It is large without feeling overwhelming, and offers plenty of space on the beach and by the pool. Their pool facility is particularly impressive, with a large amount of space and nicely set up. We found ample seating, both in the shade or in the sun.
The beach offers palapas, hammocks, beach chairs and like the pool, there is lots of seating. Between the two beaches, you should find a spot to enjoy the day.
Equally impressive was the food and service at El Cozumeleno. We had a team of two waiters who were essentially "assigned" to our group and would regularly come around to see if we needed anything. In my opinion, you want waiter service that is borderline annoying just so that you are not the one hunting them down to make a request. The waiter team was quite attentive and always had a smile when taking a new drink order, or bringing us our fifth order of chips and salsa.
Speaking of chips and salsa, the food came out fresh and tasted great. Being in Mexico, I expect a certain level of authentic fare that should exceed the kind of Mexican food we can get in the United States. Their ceviche and fish tacos were excellent, along with fresh salsa. They offer food like pizza or burgers, which were nothing special but certainly not inedible either.
After spending a day at El Cozumeleno, I believe I have found the new gold standard of all-inclusive beach days in Cozumel. Their facility was superior to Nachi Cocum, and their service definitely equaled it. The food offered rivaled any other all-inclusive beach in Cozumel, and I was all too willing to order multiple dishes while there.
At the time of our visit, the price was $54.99 per adult and $25.99 for children aged 3-11 years old (2 and under are free). The price mirrors most other all-inclusive beaches in Cozumel, and is an excellent value.
In short, El Cozumeleno is the best overall all-inclusive resort we have visited in Cozumel to date. Between the beach, pool, food and service, it is "the total package" and I instantly wanted to go back on a future visit to Cozumel. It offers enough for families to enjoy, while still retaining a sense of relaxation if you want to find a quiet corner of the resort.
From time to time, Royal Caribbean tries out a new specialty restaurant concept, with Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade the latest addition to the fleet.
The idea is simple, capitalize on the popular sports bar and pub food trend and offer Royal Caribbean guests some simple, yet tasty food with plenty of opportunity to watch or play.
Royal Caribbean felt so strongly about Playmakers, that the restaurant is at the heart of the re-deisgn of the Boardwalk neighborhood on Symphony of the Seas. With as much buildup as this restaurant as had, I had to try it out for myself.
When you hear of a sports bar that offers great food, tons of televisions and games abound, undoubtedly land-based restaurants of similar ilk must come to mind. It is only natural for any new restaurant one may try to be compared to other similar venues.
Located in the Boardwalk, Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade takes up one entire side of the neighborhood and features an open-air venue that is designed to tempt guests to walk in and check things out.
The restaurant features plenty of seating, inside and outside. The outdoor seating is your typical table and chairs, while indoors there is a variety of seating. Bar seating, booths, benches, high tops and more. This is a casual dining venue, first and foremost.
At each table, you may find a game like Connect 4 or a peg game board. Speaking of games, Playmakers is also home to a mini-arcade. Skeeball, video games and more are part of the restaurant experience.
Given the name, it should come as no surprise that there are lots of televisions around the restaurant to watch sporting events. Royal Caribbean says there are 30 televisions around Playmakers.
Playmakers wants you entertained while you are there, ordering plenty of food and drinks. Royal Caribbean created a whole new menu to enjoy while you spend time inside.
When you talk about a sports bar, beers and cocktails are going to be a big part of the experience. Playmakers offers a lot of domestic and international beers, including a good amount of craft beers.
If beer is not your style, there is a full bar at Playmakers as well. Any guest can drop in by the bar and grab a drink without having to dine there. A large bar allows guests to stop in to get a drink and go, or stay and enjoy a game or two. You can also order food from the bar, which provides flexibility if “just one drink” turns into “I can’t believe this game went to double overtime!”.
While the drinks are a big component to what Playmakers offers, the food served up is what will likely bring many to try Playmakers.
Being a sports bar, Royal Caribbean came up with a menu that reflects the kind of casual comfort food you might find at popular restaurants of a similar theme. Burgers, wings, fried chicken and the like are at the heart of the menu. No surprises on this menu, but that should not be a surprise in itself.
The Playmakers menu is priced a la carte, which means you only pay for what you order. Like Izumi, that means you can drop in for a snack, or opt for a full meal. That kind of flexibility is a major strength of Playmakers, since not everyone who wants to enjoy specialty dining wants a drawn-out meal.
We stopped by Playmakers on a few occasions to sample some of the menu. Depending on if you are going for just a small bite or a big meal, there is plenty to choose from.
The best item on the menu has to be the Playmakers Burger. A double beef patty on a brioche bun makes arguably the best burger served on Royal Caribbean’s fleet. Yes, better than even Johnny Rockets across the Boardwalk.
If wings are your thing, you can choose between 12, 24 or 50 wings across four different buffalo sauces. If you are feeling dangerous, try the Playmakers Challenge: 100 of their hottest wings to be eaten in 45 minutes or less. If you can do it all by yourself, you can get a special t-shirt to commemorate the accomplishment.
A perfect option for eating at the bar for part of a game might be their sliders. Choose between a portobello mushroom, pulled pork or meat patty, or go for a combination of them all.
In addition to all of that, there is still nachos, loaded potato skins, chicken sandwich and more.
In addition, there is a mini-arcade that comprises part of the restaurant. The appeal may be a combination of giving the kids something to do while their parents watch a game, or perhaps an opportunity for adults to engage in some competitive shenanigans after a few drinks. Eitherway, there are plenty of games
Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade is not a revolutionary idea, but it is a great representation of what a modern sports bar is all about. Royal Caribbean seemed to have read the tea leaves of what is popular these days, and came up with a fun casual experience that fits nicely into the Boardwalk.
What we love best about Playmakers is the extensive menu, ample television viewing opportunities, and inclusion of games. It is a dead simple concept, and it works.
Price-wise, there is decent value with the offerings on the Playmakers menu. Other than the sliders, everything on the menu offers a large serving and I think in many cases, you can easily share the food with others.
Without a doubt, the experience is as critical to the draw of Playmakers as the food. Royal Caribbean bills Playmakers as the spot to watch your favorite team play.
While there are a lot of televisions and ample spots to watch a game, the realities of television contracts, blackout rules and international viewerships limit how much you might want to actually watch. Without getting into a lengthy discussion of how Royal Caribbean can legally show a game, it is important to note that the television programming tends to show primarily international competitions that most Americans may find less than enticing. Cricket, soccer, and international basketball are quite commonly shown.
Thanks to Ron Hiller for this photo.
That being said, on football Sundays, college football Saturdays and other evenings, you will find more familiar games shown. It is impossible to know which games will be shown on your sailing, but Royal Caribbean does make an effort to showcase the more popular sporting events, especially during the playoffs.
In a nutshell, Playmakers is a good choice for a casual meal, preferably while watching a sporting event. The clichéd saying, "come for the game, stay for the food" holds up, and I think the food stands on its own even if there is only cricket or curling on the TVs.
What are your thoughts on Playmakers? Leave us a comment and tell us about it below!
Royal Caribbean has partnered with an industry leader in the field of biometrics to provide frictionless arrivals for guests in the boarding procedure.
Tascent, Inc. announced it has been selected by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. to deliver an end-to-end biometric solution utilizing face recognition to streamline the check-in and boarding process for its travelers. To take advantage of Royal Caribbean’s new face recognition-enabled Expedited Arrivals process, passengers can register from the comfort of their own home and then breeze through check-in and boarding upon arrival at the terminal.
The goal of this technology is a streamlined, efficient process and personal welcome for travelers.
Tascent has been working with Royal Caribbean's Excalibur team, and has already implemented the first phase of its work, which was first utilized by the new Celebrity Edge in Terminal 25 of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Integrated with Tascent Enterprise Suite and Royal Caribbean's passenger systems, this enables seamless, “on-the-move” recognition of registered passengers as they arrive for their cruise. In combination, this capability will result in a streamlined, efficient process and personal welcome for travelers.
Royal Caribbean recently added a new casino and slot play pre-cruise purchase option to its Cruise Planner site.
Located under the Internet & More section, guests can buy $500, $1000 or $2000 in credit and receive bonus slot or Casino free play credit, along with a bonus scratch card.