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Cruising 101

Cruising 101: How to book third party excursions


Last week we looked how to book excursions through Royal Caribbean but today we're going to explore why and how to book an excursion through a third-party service.  For many cruisers, taking in a shore excursion with a company that isn't officially sponsored by Royal Caribbean can be daunting and even frightening but we're here to show you that does not have to be the case.

Why book an excursion through a third party?

First and foremost, booking your excursions on your own can save you money.  Most of the time, the same excursions Royal Caribbean offers can be found through other parties for significantly less money.  Since everyone is always looking to make their vacation dollars go further, this is an obvious benefit.

In addition, booking excursions on your own can offer you more than what Royal Caribbean does.  Your imagination is your limitation here and you can go through a tour guide or create your own excursion through tools and resources in planning it all.  Moreover, guided tours that are booked through a third party can sometimes be less crowded than Royal Caribbean tours (although this is not a guarantee).

How do I find third-party excursions?

While booking excursions through Royal Caribbean is simple enough, booking excursions on your own will take a little more effort to get done.  The internet has blossomed into a wealth of information for finding good excursion options.  

The first place to start are web sites that list well known and used excursion options.  Our two favorites are Trip Advisor and Cruise Critic's message boards.  Trip Advisor allows you to go to each port of call you are visiting and see what attractions, businesses and tour operators are listed along with detailed reviews.  For finding good beaches or museums and other things to do, Trip Advisor has a lot of information supplied by users to help you decide what is worth doing.

Cruise Critic has a section of its message board dedicated to ports of call around the world where you can see threads and posts about things to do at each port as well as reviews of tour operators.  In some cases, the tour operators themselves post on the boards.  For more personalized help in figuring out what is good for you, Cruise Critic is the best choice.

Last, but not least, is Google.  Simply search for the port of call you are visiting along with keywords such as, "tours" or "excursions" can generate some good leads as to what is available.  It's a good thought to cross reference what you find in your Google searches with Trip Advisor and Cruise Critic to ensure the claims are as good as they say.

How do I book third-party excursions?

Usually third party excursions are booked in one of two manners.  The first is reserving your spot online through a reservation form.  The second is emailing or calling the person responsible for the excursion and reserving your spot.

Where Royal Caribbean requires payment of your excursion up front, quite often payment for your third party excursions is not due until you actually take the excursion.  Regardless of how you reserve the excursion, make sure any payment you make in advance is through a credit card so you can fight it if the excursion operator does not show up.  The excursion operator will let you know about payment options but most excursions we book on our own require payment when you arrive and it's usually in cash.

Can I cancel my excursions?

Take a look at any fine print about the excursions you book, but most excursions will automatically cancel your reservation if your cruise ship cannot dock at the port.  Otherwise, it's up to the operator as to what the excursion policy is.  

Many of the best third party tours are family run businesses that aren't sophisticated enough operations to have formal cancelation policies.  So while you could simply not show up as a way of canceling, a courteous email or phone call is the right thing to do to let them know your plans have changed.

Concerns of using third-party excursions

By far the biggest downside to booking an excursion on your own is the cruise ship will leave if you are running late and do not make it back to the ship in time.  That being said, these tour operators know this fact very well and word of mouth and other online reviews are the lifeblood of their businesses.  So it's in their interest to get you back to the ship on time so that you will not be disappointed and not post a negative review on every site you can get your hands on.

The cruise line may also cite safety concerns but in our experience, the safety of excursions is no worse or better by booking with or without Royal Caribbean.  Do your research and make sure there are enough positive reviews to feel confident you are going with a reputable operation.

Cruising 101: Everything Freedom of the Seas


When you choose a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, it's important to know what's special and unique about that ship so you can take advantage of it.  Today we will begin a look at the ships in Royal Caribbean's fleet and what is fun and exciting about it, starting with Freedom of the Seas.

Best place for sail away: the helicopter pad

Most guests enjoy Freedom of the Seas leaving port from their balcony cabin or the pool deck, but a lesser known fact is you can enjoy sailaway from the helicopter landing pad on the bow (front) of the ship.  

You can get to this special spot by walking all the way forward on deck 4 outside. There will be stairs that go up to the next deck, and farther forward is the helipad.

In addition, some nights the helipad is open to passengers at night which is perfect for star gazing.  Which night the helipad is open will vary from sailing to sailing.


One of the unique entertainment offerings on Freedom of the Seas is the FlowRider, which is a surfing simulator located on the back of the ship.  This is a free activity where you can try to learn to surf in a controlled environment.  There are also private and group FlowRider classes offered.

Lines for the FlowRider can be long for most of the cruise.  Try to hit it up as soon as you embark upon Freedom of the Seas on the first day or during port days.

Buy One, Get One Free Margaritas

Lately the "On the Air" bar on Freedom of the Seas has been offering buy one, get one free margarita drinks, which is fantastic deal for those that enjoy having adult beverages during their cruise.  We've seen this deal offered throughout the cruise as well as starting on the 2nd or 3rd day.  Check with the bar or your cruise compass when you board, but it's hard to go wrong with free drinks.

Freedom of the Seas Entertainment

Freedom of the Seas offers some unique entertainment that is only found on a few other ships in the fleet

  • Ice skating show (
  • DreamWorks parade in Promenade
  • DreamWorks character breakfast (free with reservation)
  • Marquee (stage show)
  • Now You See It (stage show)
  • Headliner Show
  • Once Upon a Time (stage show)

Boxing Ring

Freedom of the Seas offers a boxing ring for passengers to use inside their massive gym.  Here you can take boxing lessons, which can be a fun workout.  Passengers can take individual or group boxing lessons for an additional cost. 

Ben and Jerry "Sweet"

On the promenade there is a special stateroom that overlooks the promenade area, cabin 6305, which is unique because it is themed to the Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream shop that is below it. The cabin lies directly above the Ben & Jerry's ice cream shop on the Royal Promenade. And because on the porch of Ben & Jerry's two life-size cow figurines, the passengers look through their window behind these cows.

If you happen to stay in this stateroom, you will get certain extra amenities such as complimentary Ben & Jerry's ice cream as well as access to the concierge lounge.  

Freedom of the Seas quick info

Formal Nights: Day 2 (Monday) and Day 6 (Friday).  Monday is also the Captain's Reception

Specialty Restaurants: Chops, Portofino & Johnny Rockets
Other food that costs extra: Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, Cupcake Cupboard, Cafe Promenade (coffee), Vintages (wine)

Cruising 101: Royal Caribbean WOW Sale


Royal Caribbean hosts what it calls a "WOW Sale" usually once per quarter to attract new cruise bookings and if you're considering booking a cruise during one of these sales, here are some things to keep in mind.

What is a WOW Sale?

WOW Sales are promotions Royal Caribbean runs to attract new cruise bookings.  Wow Sales are more targeted at people who have never cruised with Royal Caribbean before than veteran Royal Caribbean fans, although there's absolutely no reason someone who has sailed with Royal Caribbean before cannot take advantage of the sale.

What does the WOW Sale offer?

There are two basic components to a typical WOW Sale.  The first is reduced deposits on new bookings.  Usually that means you only need to put down 50% of the normal deposit amount for your cabin.  This greatly reduces the amount of money you need to put up to hold a cabin for a booking.  It's a great benefit if you're looking at a longer cruise and/or a bigger cabin.  As an example, a 7-night balcony may usually require around $700 for a deposit but with the WOW Sale, that would be cut in half to $350.

In addition to the reduced deposits, Royal Caribbean offers onboard credit depending on your cabin.  This can be up to $200 of onboard credit per cabin and the amount varies depending on how long your cruise is.  Typically the onboard credit offered is as much as you can usually get for a cruise.

Do cruise prices go down as well?

During a WOW Sale, the actual cruise fares do not usually change.  The sale is mainly about offering booking incentives rather than a reduction in the price of the cruise.

What are the drawbacks of a WOW Sale?

The chief drawback to booking a WOW Sale is for those that have sailed with Royal Caribbean in the past and have other discounts.  WOW Sales prohibit combining the sale offer with other discounts including Next Cruise Credits, balcony discounts from Crown and Anchor Society status or Crown and Anchor Society saving certificates.

If you have access to one or more of these discounts, a WOW Sale usually doesn't make financial sense.  Keep in mind, WOW Sales are targeted at people that have never sailed with Royal Caribbean before since it offers them the best booking incentives a first timer can expect to see.

How can I book a WOW Sale?

You can book a WOW Sale either by booking through Royal Caribbean directly or through your preferred travel agent.

Cruising 101: Specialty Restaurants


Royal Caribbean offers a wealth of food to try on your next cruise but an emerging trend aboard their ships are specialty restaurants that are not included in the base fare.  These restaurants focus on a particular cuisine or food style for an additional cost.

Cost of specialty restaurants

Royal Caribbean offers two cost structures to pay for their specialty restaurants: cover charge and a la carte.

Many restaurants have a simple cover charge per person to get in and then guests may order as much as they want from the menu (alcoholic beverages would be extra, like they are elsewhere on the ship).  Cover charges can range from a few dollars per person to $75.  Most are between $10-$30 per person.  

Some restaurants offer an a la carte menu, with a small cover charge.  Here, guests pay for admission and then pay an additional fee for each item they order off the menu.  You will typically find this pay structure at Izumi, a sushi restaurant.

Getting into the specialty restaurants

There are two ways to dine in one of the specialty restaurants aboard your Royal Caribbean cruise.  You may make a reservation for the restaurant either before your cruise even begins or during your cruise.  Reservations are a recommended way of ensuring a spot at the restaurant of your choice.  Specialty Restaurants can typically be reserved online up to 4 days before your sail date.  Advanced reservations are limited to parties of six persons or less in all Specialty Restaurants.

Alternatively, you can try simply showing up at the restaurant at the time of your choice and see if there's availability.  Quite often, there will be availability for restaurants to walk up to but popular restaurants may fill up, especially during popular dining hours.

What are the specialty restaurants available?

The specialty restaurants vary from ship to ship across Royal Caribbean's fleet but here is a list of all the restaurants available

  • Chops Grille (Steakhouse)
  • Portofino (Italian)
  • Johnny Rockets (American)
  • 150 Central Park (American)
  • Izumi (Sushi)
  • Solarium Bistro (American)
  • Giovanni's Table (Italian)
  • Samba Grill (Brazilian Steakhouse)
  • Rita's Cantina (Mexican)
  • Seafood Shack (Seafood)

Are the specialty restaurants worth it?

Many passengers we speak to generally enjoy the food at the specialty restaurants.  It's not to say that if you don't dine there, you will be disappointed with the complimentary food on the ship.  Rather, specialty restaurants are a perk that you can opt to pay for in the same way some people find it enjoyable buy a massage or gamble in the casino.

Generally speaking, the food at specialty restaurants can be of a finer quality than the complimentary food but personal tastes will vary.  Specialty restaurants are a great way to have a fun night out or celebrate special occasions. 

Cruising 101: Linking reservations


If you're going on a Royal Caribbean cruise and your group has more than one cabin, more than likely you're going to want to be seated together for dinner in the main dining room.  The good news is Royal Caribbean provides a way to link your reservations together so that it's clear all of you are cruising together.

You can link reservations together at any time, either when you book your cruise or at any point up to your embarkation.  What you'll need is the reservation numbers of each booking.

You can link reservations together in one of three ways:

  • Have your travel agent do it for you
  • Call Royal Caribbean and have them do it
  • Do it yourself online

To link a reservation yourself, you need to go to your account and complete the form on your reservations page.  If you booked with a travel agent, you will need to have your travel agent do it for you.

Cruising 101: Avoiding the post-cruise depression


There's nothing better than a cruise on Royal Caribbean, but once your cruise is over, a lot of people run into the post-cruise depression that results from having to go back to the usual daily routine of life. The good news, is there are outlets for keeping that excitement about cruising going between cruises.

Book another cruise

This may seem obvious but booking another cruise can often make dealing with returning to "real life" a lot easier.  By booking a new cruise, you'll have a new cruise to look forward to.  The great thing about Royal Caribbean cruises, is you can book cruises in advance without really committing to a particular cruise.  You can either book a Next Cruise while onboard your cruise or simply put a deposit down for a cruise in the future, with the option of cancelling or changing the cruise date without penalty.

Booking another cruise can really help with focusing on the next cruise and it reminds me of the saying, "nothing gets you over the last one like the next one" and it's certainly true for cruising.

Read blogs, forums or listen to podcasts

There's a wealth of cruise related news, discussion and information online from a variety of independent sources (such as this website).  Keeping up with the news and discussions of what's happening in cruising today can help with getting over your last cruise.  Use this as an opportunity to submit a cruise review or post your favorite photos.

Try re-creating parts of your cruise at home

If reacclimating to life is tough after a fun cruise, try bringing parts of that cruise into your daily routine.  Try making a recipe of a favorite food you tried in the Windjammer or surprise your kids with towel animals on their bad when they get home from school.  Simple things like this can help bring back fond memories of your cruise without having to completely leave them behind.

Listen to cruise inspired music

There's something about music that can conjure up memories and emotions and there's no shortage of great music out there to remind you of your cruise and make a mental escape.  If you went a Caribbean cruise, try steel drum band music or for those that went on the Mediterranean try some classical Spanish or Italian instrumental music.  Making a mix CD or loading up your iPhone/iPod with these tracks can help put you back in the island mood.

Watch the Royal Caribbean television specials

Over the years, there have been a number of Royal Caribbean ships featured on travel specials across a variety of networks.  From time to time, you'll find these shows rerun on networks like the Travel Channel or Discovery Channel and you can get a great "fix" by seeing these fun ships once again.

A few of these shows can also be purchased from stores like iTunes or Amazon, which will allow you to watch them on-demand whenever you need to escape virtually.

Cruising 101: Why choose Royal Caribbean?


You may be wondering when booking a cruise why you should book Royal Caribbean?  We were inspired by a recent episode of CruizeCast to look at why someone would want to choose Royal Caribbean for their next cruise.  Rather than contrast Royal Caribbean to other lines, we thought it might make sense to tell you why Royal Caribbean is as popular as it is and why you should consider them for your next cruise.

Things to do

If there's a selling point to Royal Caribbean, one of them has to be what your cruise ship will offer.  While all cruise lines offer a lot to do onboard, Royal Caribbean has defined the category of onboard activities.  If you see any of Royal Caribbean's television commercials, you will see mostly passengers doing something.  There are rock climbing walls, mini-golf courses, ziplines, the Flowrider, ice skating rinks just to name a few.

It's not to say that on Royal Caribbean ships, you will feel ostracized for not participating in events.  Far from it, in fact.  If your ideal cruise is to go to the pool and sleep, you can do that without ever being bothered.  But if you're ever inclined to do something physically active on your ship, Royal Caribbean offers a lot of it.  

Many of these activities are free and available throughout your cruise.  Most passengers probably try one or two activities on their cruise.  These activities aren't the focus of the cruise, but it is something that separates Royal Caribbean from the competition.  Royal Caribbean really tries to convey the idea that there's always something going on during your cruise so you won't have to worry about being bored because there's nothing to do.

The Ships

Royal Caribbean has strived to differentiate itself from other cruise lines by pushing the envelope of how big a cruise ship can be.  Over the past 10 years or so, Royal Caribbean has constructed new ships that are bigger than the ones that came before it and if you're looking to be on the state-of-the-art cruise ship that is the biggest and newest, Royal Caribbean is a great choice.

As of the writing of this blog post, Allure and Oasis of the Seas are the largest cruise ships in the world.  Not only are they large, they also feature distinct "neighborhoods", that can best be described as themed areas of the park in the ship.  Think of it like how Adventureland or Tomorrowland are themed if you were to visit Disneyland/Magic Kingdom... same basic concept, different look and feel.

Royal Caribbean does have a number of relatively smaller and older ships in its fleet, but the company has spent a considerable amount of time and money keeping them updated with revitalizations that add new venues, cabins and amenities.


Royal Caribbean has set itself squarely in the middle of the pack when it comes to pricing.  They aren't the cheapest big cruise line out there, nor are they the most expensive.  Royal Caribbean is a mass-market cruise line that tries to appeal to everyone and their prices are generally affordable to most people in the market for a cruise.  

While the ship, itinerary and time of year all dictate the exact pricing, generally speaking the average price of a Royal Caribbean cruise is what most people would consider affordable and comparable to a land-based vacation elsewhere.   Quite obviously what one person finds affordable will vary from what someone else finds affordable, but there seems to be a consensus out there among veteran cruises of the price point that Royal Caribbean tries to serve.

The rest

There are plenty of other reasons why people come back to Royal Caribbean time and time again.  For some, it's the food onboard the ship, others enjoy the onboard entertainment.  Royal Caribbean has a large fleet that serves a number of markets outside of the Caribbean, such as Alaska, Europe, Asia, Australia and more.

Cruising 101: Booking Incentives


It doesn't take much to convince fans of cruising to book another cruise but Royal Caribbean offers incentives for everyone to book another cruise with certain benefits by doing so. These booking incentives can help reduce the cost of our cruise overall or make booking another cruise a little easier to swallow financially.

Types of booking incentives

Onboard Credit

Onboard credit is perhaps the most common incentive there is and basically Royal Caribbean deposits a credit to your onboard account that you can use for purchases with your SeaPass card.  Onboard credit can be used for

How much onboard credit you get can depend on 

Typically we see onboard credit amounts starting at $25-$50 per cabin and going up to $200 or more.

Free Shore Excursions

Sometimes Royal Caribbean will offer free shore excursions, which means the cost of an excursion will be paid for.  These free shore excursion offers must be a Royal Caribbean shore excursion and often is limited to one per cabin.  We've also typically seen a limit to the price the excursion may cost of about $75.

Free Spa Treatments

For those that like to pamper themselves, free spa treatments may be the booking incentive for you.  There are some limitations, such as you cannot book the spa treatments in advance and must book them once you are onboard the cruise.  In addition, we've typically seen the free spa treatment offer limited to one per cabin, a limited amount of treatments to choose from and you must take the treatment on a port day.

Pre-paid Gratuities

A lucrative booking incentive is when Royal Caribbean pays the gratuities for the waiter, assistant waiter, head waiter and room attendant.  Usually pre-paid gratuities are only good for up to two people per cabin and the value of pre-paid gratuities depends on how long your cruise is.

Lower Deposit Amount

To help spur bookings, Royal Caribbean will lower the amount required for a deposit to book a cruise.  This allows you to spend less money up front to book a cabin, which can be a benefit for the more expensive cabins or when booking multiple cabins.  While this does not reduce the overall price of the cruise, it does help in not having to put up the money for the bookings in advance.  This can be important for someone booking a cruise years in advance who does not want to allocate a lot of money now for a cruise down the line.

Which booking incentive is the best?

Choosing the best booking incentive is a very subjective decision.  If you're not someone who enjoys the spa, then free spa treatments aren't a real incentive for you.  Likewise, if you're booking a 3 or 4 night cruise, a lower deposit amount isn't likely a big deal.  

When talking about pure value, we believe onboard credit is usually the best booking incentive because of the amount of money you can get and for the flexibility it allows.  There's few people who do not spend at least some money onboard their cruise and onboard credit can help take the sting out of that final bill you get when you cruise is over.  Pre-paid gratuities are a good second choice, although the value favors those going on longer cruises.

How are booking incentives determined?

How good an offer will be depends on how full the ship is, how close you are to your sail date and other factors.  Generally, the less popular the cruise sailing, the better the booking incentives are.  Royal Caribbean uses booking incentives to drive up demand for their cruises.

It should be noted that often booking incentives can be combined, and you may see an offer one week for lower deposit and onboard credit, while a different week will offer free spa treatments, onboard credit and lower deposit.  Again, which offer you get will depend on how full or empty the sailing is.  

Cruising 101: Spa


There are just some things that go hand-in-hand with going on a cruise - umbrella drinks, hair braiding and the spa.  Every Royal Caribbean ship features an onboard Vitality Day Spa and Fitness Center that offer a variety of services that you can purchase to help relax, ease tension, make you look/feel better or just plain splurge.

What can I have done at the spa?

There's a number of services offered at the spa on a Royal Caribbean cruise.  Exact services can vary from ship to ship, but in general there are these services

  • Massages
  • Facial Treatments
  • Wraps and body therapies
  • Cosmetic services (BOTOX, Teeth whitening)
  • Acupuncture

Who can use the spa?

The spa is open to anyone at least 18 years old or older.  There are also services available for passengers age 13-17 called the special YSPA menu for teens.  You will have to inquire at the spa for more details on teen programs.

Which treatment is right for me?

The Vitality Day Spa usually offers free tours of the spa, especially on embarkation day.  On your first day of your cruise, you can usually drop by and get a tour and see the facilities as well as hear descriptions of what's available on your cruise.  We've found these tours to generally be fairly low sales pressure and it can be a fun activity for the family to look at.  

In addition to the tour, you can speak with a spa staff member about what you're interested in.  Given the slew of treatments and services available, there's a lot to choose from and everyone's needs are different.

Spa treatments are a nice perk for yourself or someone you're with.  They cost extra and some can cost as much as a few hundred dollars.  They are far from a necessity but many cruisers love to take the opportunity to indulge in one.

How do I book a spa treatment?

You must make a reservation for a spa treatment at the spa desk or by calling the spa.  Generally speaking, the spa books up quickly on sea days and is easier to get into on port days.

You may also book the spa online prior to your cruise via the Royal Caribbean website.

How much do treatments at the spa cost?

Prices for spa treatments vary and can change often.  While we can't quote you exact prices for your cruise, we can give you some ball park ideas of what prices will roughly cost. Keep in mind, these are generalizations and your actual cost may be less or more.

  • Full Body Massage 50 minutes - $109
  • Aroma Stone Therapy - $175
  • Hydra-Lift Facial - $109


What about tip?

It is customary to tip the person who provided the spa services to you after your treatment is complete, but be sure to ask if gratuity is already included in the price they quote you.  Often gratuity is included and while you may tip extra if you feel the service was extraordinary, it isn't necessary.

Cruising 101: Crown and Anchor Society


Just like your favorite airline or hotel chain, Royal Caribbean has its own customer loyalty program called the Crown and Anchor Society.  But what is it? And why should you join?  Let's answer some questions about this club.

What is Royal Caribbean's Crown and Anchor Society?

The Crown and Anchor Society is a free customer loyalty and rewards program that Royal Caribbean has offered to its guest for many years.  While the programs exact details have changed over the years, the basic premise remains: the more you cruise with Royal Caribbean, the better the rewards you receive.

Can I join the Crown and Anchor Society?

The only eligibility requirement to join the Crown and Anchor Society is you must have completed one cruise with Royal Caribbean.  So if you're brand new to Royal Caribbean, you will need to wait until you finish your first cruise.  But once you return from your trip, you can enroll online or via the phone.

How does the Crown and Anchor Society work?

Royal Caribbean has created different levels of levels in the Crown and Anchor Society.  Each  level is separated by points and you earn a specific amount of points for each cruise you take.  Shorter cruises get less points than longer cruises, with the idea that longer cruises cost more and therefore are worth more.  

You earn one cruise point for every night you cruise with Royal Caribbean and if you stay in a suite cabin, then you accumulate double or two points per night of your cruise.

The levels of the Crown and Anchor Society are as follows with the points required to achieve that level in parenthesis...

  1. Gold (3)
  2. Platinum (30)
  3. Emerald (55)
  4. Diamond (80)
  5. Diamond Plus (175) 
  6. Pinnacle Club (700)

What do you the levels of the Crown and Anchor Society get me?

The exact perks vary from level to level but in general, Crown and Anchor Society members receive coupon books in their staterooms upon embarkation on their cruises, a members only welcome back party, and onboard booking bonuses.  In addition, from time to time Royal Caribbean offers complimentary stateroom upgrades to its members with those with the highest points offered first.

There are many more benefits such as your own robe, gifts, tours, lounges and more for those in the higher levels of the Crown and Anchor Society.    You may view a full list of benefits on the Royal Caribbean Crown and Anchor Society members benefits page.

How do I get to the higher levels faster?

Crown and Anchor Society membership favors those that take longer cruises and spend more on their cabins.  Taking cruises longer than seven nights and staying in a suite will get you to the top of the Crown and Anchor Society fastest.  While the perks of the higher levels are nice, they are simple that - perks.  They're nice incentives to staying loyal to Royal Caribbean but these perks aren't really major cost savers or amazing opportunities.  They're simply a nice way to thank Royal Caribbean's customers for returning aboard.

Should I join the Crown and Anchor Society?

There's really no reason not to join once you've cruised with Royal Caribbean before.  The club is free and does offer some nice benefits once you amass enough credits.  Basically, you're only missing out on benefits that you would otherwise pass up by not joining.  In simpler words, you've got nothing to lose by joining.


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