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Video of the Day: Take a tour of Explorer of the Seas

By: Matt Hochberg

Karen Schaler, a travel contributor for ABC News, takes a tour of Explorer of the Seas and shows you how to maximize the space in your cabin as well show off some of the fun things to do onboard Explorer.

Royal Caribbean confirms Dreamworks additions will not impact everyone

By: Matt Hochberg

When the Dreamworks alliance was announced last month, many Royal Caribbean fans were afraid that their favorite ships would be turned into a giant floating shrine to Shrek and his friends.  

In a blog post by Royal Caribbean CEO Adam Goldstein, he confirmed that if you have no desire to experience any of the Dreamworks entertainment, you won't have to.  All of it will be isolated in designated areas and like any other form of entertainment on the ship, you will need to seek it out to experience it.

On the other hand, some readers expressed concern that the DWA presence onboard Allure of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas and Freedom of the Seas will create too much of kid-centric, theme park style environment.

For guests who are not interested in this additional offering, it will be just as possible as before on these same four ships to have a fantastic Royal Caribbean experience taking advantage of all of the entertainment, programming, culinary and destination experiences that are already so appealing.

The news is not shocking, given that Disney ships, world renown for their characters, make it very possible to cruise with them and never see their characters.  The announcement by Goldstein is in response to a vocal outcry across the internet by concerned cruisers who wanted to know the limits of the Dreamworks team up.

Travel and Leisure Magazine Ranks Large-Ship Cruise Lines

By: Matt Hochberg

Travel and Leisure magazine has published their list of the World 's Best Awards including the category of large-ship cruise lines.  T+L readers were given a survey to fill out between December 2009 and March 2010 to rank the cruise lines. For cruise lines, readers rated them based on these categories

  • cabins
  • food
  • service
  • itineraries/destinations
  • activities
  • value
  • families (optional)

Here was the results:

  1. Crystal Cruises 90.47
  2. Regent Seven Seas 89.86
  3. Oceania Cruises 86.65
  4. Disney Cruise Line 84.93
  5. Azamara Cruises 83.91
  6. Cunard 83.35
  7. Celebrity Cruises 81.49
  8. Holland America Line 81.08
  9. Royal Caribbean International 80.92
  10. Princess Cruises 80.38

The good news is Azmara Cruises, which is owned by Royal Caribbean, ranked fifth.  The bad news is Royal Caribbean ranked ninth.  If you want to spin this in a more positive light, while Royal Caribbean was ranked ninth, competitor Carnival Cruise Line did not make the top 10. In addition, the difference between ninth place and fifth place is barely a few points.

Freedom of the Seas: Four Must Do Activities

By: Matt Hochberg

If you've got a cruise coming up on Freedom of the Seas, then this is your week as we have even more tips for your next cruise aboard Freedom of the Seas, as provided by

  1. Explore the Promenade
  2. Sample the Cuisine
  3. Experience the Entertainment and Nightlife
  4. Activities for Kids

Here is one of the tips, explore the promenade

The Promenade is longer than on other RCI ships, and is similar to a large suburban mall. Three miles of corridors connect the public rooms, and are well marked so passengers don't get hopelessly lost. Boutiques that are on the other Voyager-class ships are on Freedom. The Royal Promenade has special lighting effects for the Mardi Gras-style parades. The Royal Promenade features several spots for snacks and has a book shop, The Book Nook.

Photo of the Day: Explorer of the Seas

By: Matt Hochberg

Photo by Jillian Jasionowski

Cruising 101: Choosing Excursions

By: Matt Hochberg

Once you have your cruise booked, you're going to want to figure out what you want to do when your ship stops at various ports of call.  There's a multitude of options available with different costs.

Types of Excursions

There are many type of excursions.  Some are simple, such as transportation to and from a local beach.  Others are complex and can last many hours.  It's hard to generalize the various types of excursions that all ports can encompass but here are the most common types of excursions.

  • Beach trip
  • Animal interactions
  • Guided tour
  • Snorkeling/Scuba

Length of Excursion

Each excursion requires a set amount of time.  Some are short, others allow you to be flexible and some will consume the entire time you are in port.  It's important to figure out what your priority is.  If you'd like to do multiple things in port, like go to the beach, do some shopping and visit a local point of interest, you're best not picking an excursion that takes up multiple hours.  On the other hand, if the port doesn't interest you much, you could do fine with an excursion that last much of the day.


You can flip through a list of excursions easily enough and highlight a dozen or so that sound interesting but money isn't an unlimited resource for most of us, so you have to be picky.  The cost of an excursion can range from less than $20 per person to well over $100 per person.  

While not always the case, sometimes it can be cheaper to book an excursion by yourself rather than use the cruise line.  

Booking on your own vs. cruise line

The cruise you're on will provide a lengthy list of excursions to buy at all of the ports you are stopping at.  There are some advantages to booking with the cruise line...

  • Convenience: By booking with the cruise line, you can book it quite easily without much hassle.
  • No-dock refund: If for some reason your ship doesn't dock at a port, you aren't on the hook to pay for the excursion still.
  • Safety: Generally, excursions booked through the cruise ship are done with reputable third parties.  These operators are screened ahead of time by the cruise line and should be safe to use.

Booking an excursion on your own has its own set of benefits...

  • Price: Often, you can save money by booking an excursion on your own since you are cutting out the cruise line as the middle man. 
  • Wider selection: By booking on your own, you can find many more options of things to do at port.

Ultimately, the decision may come down to individual excursions and comparing your options.  What works for one person in one port may not work for another.  

Researching excursions

At first glance, all the excursions look like great options but you're smart to do your homework on them.  It's not to say you won't have a good time on them, but there could be a pitfall you aren't seeing or perhaps there are better options out there for you.

The best places to find information on excursions is from other people.  Popular sites like CruiseCritic have forums on ports of call where you can search through reports of other people's past experiences on excursions or post your own question.  Also, a Google search for the excursion can reveal more helpful information.

How to book

On Royal Caribbean, you can start booking shore excursions online up to 4 days before your sail date. Alaska Cruisetour land excursions can be reserved online up to 10 days prior to the start date of your Alaska Cruisetour.  After those time periods, you will have to book the excursion on the ship.  

Once you know what excursion you want to take, you should book it as soon as possible to ensure it does not sell out.

Five more tips for Freedom of the Seas

By: Matt Hochberg

Last week, Andy Mayer posted tips from his recent cruise aboard Freedom of the Seas and he's back this week with more tips to share.  As always, these tips are specific to Freedom of the Seas, but I believe they can be applied to nearly any Royal Caribbean sailing.

  1. Get up early if you want lounge chairs near the pool on the days at sea
  2. Book your own excursions
  3. Get private lessons on the Flowrider
  4. Get a “cabana chair” in Haiti
  5. Return to the ship earlier than normal in Grand Cayman
  6. Depart on your own term

Here's a good tip Andy posted about regarding the best place to rest in Labadee


Unfortunately, we found information lacking about RC’s private beach at Labadee, Haiti.  We checked for maps at guest services and asked around, but could learn almost nothing.  The head of the excursions desk on deck 5 knew zero!  I want to pass one thing on to you.
When you get off this ship, go straight and take the path almost as far as you can take it.  By walking straight and far, you come to a less rocky area, from which you can swim.  However, you will also find “cabana” chairs.  These are two normal chairs pushed under a half-moon, umbrella like cover that provides shade and a bit of privacy.  They are first-come, first-serve.  If you don’t care about swimming, then find some shade under a tree.  But, if you want to swim and want shade to relax, go directly for a cabana chair.

Royal Caribbean offering late checkout in Europe

By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean is testing out a new option on its European based ships.  For $35, you can opt for a "late departure".  Rather than hurry in the early morning to be off the ship, you can pay extra and stay onboard until the mid afternoon. If you opt into the program, you will be able to stay on the ship until 90 minutes prior to its next sailing.  The cost is $35 for adults and $17.50 for children.

Now available on all eight Royal Caribbean ships in Europe, the program allows passengers to stay aboard the vessels through lunchtime and into the afternoon on disembarkation day instead of a traditional early-morning departure. Passengers who sign up for the program can stay on their ship until 90 minutes prior to its next sailing.

Passengers who stay onboard later will have access to all the public areas on the ship as well as select restaurants but will need to be out of their stateroom by 9am.

Preview of entertainment on Allure of the Seas

By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean offered a glimpse into the entertainment options about the still under construction Allure of the Seas.

  • Chicago
    As you may or may not know, the Broadway musical Chicago is coming to Allure of the Seas.  This was announced a while ago but a rehearsal was put on for various members of the Allure team

    Jeremy Plummer, Director & Choreographer for Blue Planet, took us through this exciting original production. This show has scenes that are unreal! Highlights will be when a tree comes to life as a “living tree,” as well as an enormous mountain scenic unit with trampolines built into it, so you can just imagine the action and choreography that will take place! This show is a departure from any production show we have done, and takes us from the rain forest, to the desert, to the ocean, and then the mountains and brings together the music, aerial artistry and gymnastics together in a very surreal way.

  • New ice show: Ice Games
    This will be a new ice show that brings the board game Monopoly to life.  Things like rolling the dice and visiting various landmarks are displayed but "with a twist".

    we might land on Boardwalk, or Dazzles, or even go directly to Jail. This is definitely a very clever story line.

  • New ice show: How to Train Your Dragon
    Based on the hit 3D Dreamworks film of the same name, this 20-30 minute show is a family friendly show that is expected to be a great spectacle.

    While you typically wouldn’t find me using the word “magical,” for obvious reasons, it is truly the word that describes how we will bring to life the movie in this ice show. Our Co-Producer, Willy Bietak, said he has done projects for decades and this was one of his favorites ever.