Royal Caribbean announced yesterday that it is introducing another innovation at sea, Google Street View technology for its largest ship, Allure of the Seas. According to Royal Caribbean,

With just a few clicks, guests will be able to virtually walk through the various decks of Allure of the Seas including the Royal Promenade, a boulevard that runs nearly the length of the ship, flanked by restaurants, boutiques and lounges; Central Park, an outdoor park longer than a football pitch complete with over 12,000 live plants and trees; the Boardwalk, featuring a hand-crafted carousel, two rock-climbing walls and the AquaTheater, a high-dive aquatic performance venue with the deepest pool at sea; Entertainment Place, with an elaborate theatre, night club, comedy club, jazz club and ice-skating rink, which offers professionally produced ice shows; the Pool and Sports Deck featuring a zip line, twin FlowRider surf simulators, full-size basketball/sports court, nine-hole mini-golf course, 15 pools and whirlpools and 22 restaurants, and many, many more.”

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I think this is a pretty innovative approach to making more details of the world’s largest cruise ship available to potential and current customers. Allure of the Seas is a big ship, and I think it is entirely possible to spend a week on board and not experience everything that is available. I called Allure “shockingly awesome.” Google Street View should make the cruise experience a little more awesome…or at least easier to navigate.

View Allure on Google here.

-MJ, July 8, 2014

A happy holiday weekend to you from Vancouver, BC. I’ve often heard Vancouver called the most beautiful city in North America, and I do quite like it. Part of me wishes we could stay a little longer, but it’s been an enjoyable visit. We’re not here to tour, but to visit family, but have managed to work in a bit of sightseeing and experiencing new things – not counting eating Chinese food for lunch on the 4th of July in Canada, but I digress.

I was wondering if this visit to Canada would offer the opportunity to test the Chip & PIN capability of my Barclays Arrival Card. According to the materials that came with the card, it is Chip & Signature with Chip & PIN capability, and you’ll need to sign for your first transaction. In reality, I’ve needed to sign for every transaction. Not an issue, just an observation. I’m sure some of that is driven by the underlying workings of EMV chips, and what drives PIN requirements. I’ve not “studied” them but I think some of it has to do with attended terminals vs unattended and whether or not there is a real time connection to the payment network. In any event, chip cards are expected here, but each terminal I have used has included the option to swipe. The card has served me well this trip, and the Chip & Signature capability has worked like a charm. So…that’s enough of that Chip card datapoint. Let’s take a look at the week in review here at MJ on Travel.

No matter how you’re spending your weekend, enjoy it! Talk to you next week.

-MJ, July 5, 2014

Yesterday, I was perusing a few news articles, emails, etc., over lunch, and a marketing email came in from Royal Caribbean. It contained… wait for it…. tips for the first time cruiser. You might remember I wrote a little 3-part primer on the topic not too long ago.

The email reminded me that I failed to mention something extraordinarily important – travel documents. I can be excused a little (but not fully) because I have called a passport the cheapest travel insurance you can buy for your cruise on this blog more than once. I view a passport as something as natural to have as a driver’s license, so maybe I’m a little jaded about the idea. The truth is, the passport question is one I get more often than any other from new cruisers. It always surprises me, but perhaps it shouldn’t. According to this Forbes.com article from 2012, just over 1/3 of Americans actually have a passport, and that was celebrated in the article as a big improvement over past years.

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My advice to any cruiser, first timer or not, if you do not have a passport you should get one. Yes, I’m aware that “closed loop” cruises which begin and end in the same US port do not require them. Yes, I’m aware that getting a passport does have a cost in funds and in a little time. You’re leaving the country, you need a passport. What if you miss the ship in a port of call? What if you get sick, and need to be medivac’d out? You are now an American in a foreign country without a passport. Will you get home? Yes, I have no doubt you will. But the stack of paperwork along with the level of hassle and scrutiny you’ll no doubt receive strike me as exceeding the small amount of time and money you’ll invest in just getting a passport.

Going on a cruise? Please consider applying for a passport if you do not have one. You can learn more about passports and applying for one here.

-MJ, July 3, 2014

Royal Caribbean’s most loyal cruisers can now book next year’s Crown & Anchor member cruise. This morning’s email contained details on the cruise which will be a 12-night southbound Canada and New England itinerary originating in Quebec City, Quebec and ending in Cape Liberty, NJ with 12 days of beautiful sailing in between aboard Serenade of the Seas (which happens to be a favorite ship of mine). (Map image courtesy of Royal Caribbean.)

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Member cruises tend to attract a lot of higher tier elites, and feature special parties dedicated to the cruise line’s most loyal guests. Canada and New England itineraries are on my cruising bucket list, which make this attractive. Alas, I’ll be setting sail on a trans-Atlantic cruise a little too soon after this cruise ends to take advantage this time around. I have to work to pay for all these cruises! :) But if you’re a Royal Caribbean Crown & Anchor member, take a look at this itinerary. Looks like a great one.

-MJ, July 2, 2014

That kind of headline caught my eye. Couple that with Princess Cruises being high on my list of next cruises to choose (you never know when you might run into Captain Stubing onboard), and I thought this was worth sharing. Right now, Princess is offering up to $200 in onboard spending money and pre-paid gratuities when you book a balcony, mini-suite, or suite stateroom on select itineraries.

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Click here for details like terms and conditions as well as a sample of available itineraries. Personally, the 10-day Tahiti and South Pacific itinerary is talking to me!

-MJ, July 1, 2014

 

According to this Yahoo News story, Holland America Line’s Westerdam was forced to return to Seattle Saturday after what was referred to as a small fire occurred in one of the boiler rooms. The fire was extinguished, but the ship returned to Seattle in cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard for a check up. The article notes that the ship was likely to sail again on Sunday, and quick check of marinetraffic.com shows the ship is underway, and headed for Alaskan waters.

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According to reports from passengers on board the ship posting to this Cruise Critic thread, they turned around about an hour into the voyage. They were kept abreast of what was happening, and did not see or smell smoke. The fire apparently reignited at least one time after being extinguished.

Fire on any ship at sea is a major concern, but it looks like this was handled well. Reports around the internet indicate that passengers on this voyage are going to miss Sitka as a result of the delay, but are receiving some compensation on board for the delay. The best compensation – no one was hurt, and vacation continues.

-MJ, June 30, 2014

 

My road trip turned into a plane trip. It was a short flight, but an important work project held me behind in Atlanta while my team made the drive. I then joined them after a quick flight. Sometimes, flying really does work out, and in this case, it did even when compared to the price of renting another car. The net result – we got the job done, and I got to take my first flight in one of Delta’s “new” 717s. The verdict? It sure as heck beats a CRJ. :) Nothing really mesmerized me around the blogs this week, so let’s take a look at the weekly recap here at MJ on Travel.

That’s all for this very busy week. Enjoy your weekend!

-MJ, June 28, 2014

Tips for the First Time Cruiser – Part 1

Tips for the First Time Cruiser – Part 2

Tips for the First Time Cruiser – Part 3

A Word on Passports

Embarkation Day

In the conclusion to my series on first time cruising tips, I want to talk about embarkation day, ship life, and saving a few bucks here and there. When you receive your cruising documents, either through the mail or electronically via email, they will usually list a boarding time. This varies by itinerary and port, but typically is sometime after noon. It’s fine if you respect that to a tee, but I’ve found a couple of sweet spots for boarding. Your average 4:30pm to 5pm departing cruise is usually boarding by 11:30am, even if your documents say boarding begins at 1pm. I usually handle this one of two ways. For a ship I’ve not sailed on before, I usually like to be among the first to board, meaning I’m checking in around 11:30am, so I can get on board, snap a few photos before the ship gets busy, enjoy embarkation lunch, and explore a bit before staterooms are ready around 1:30pm. Alternatively, for a ship I’ve sailed on many times like Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas, which is my favorite weekend getaway ship, MrsMJ and I usually lunch at a favorite Miami restaurant and head over to the port checking in by 2:30pm. I’ve experienced 15 minute C2C (curbside to cocktail) times this way.

No matter what you do, embarkation day is exciting. Personally, I feel the stress of the daily grind begin to lift the minute I spot the ship from the car on the way to port. Frankly, the feeling of exuberance I get when I’m about to embark on a cruise is the same every time, whether I’m boarding a smallish ship for a Bahamas 3-nighter, or a magnificent new ship for a 14-night Mediterranean voyage. Cruising = happy for me. The advantage of boarding early – you beat some of the crowds. The advantage of boarding later – you can drop your bags in your stateroom immediately, change, and hit the pool. Either way, your on a cruise. Just don’t get there late. The ship will leave without you. I would never plan to arrive less than 2 hours before departure, and preferably 3.

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Ship Life

On a routine day, ship life is no different than life in a resort hotel other than the scenery changes outside with each new port. I personally prefer itineraries that begin and end with a sea day with ports in between. Sea days are a great first full day onboard a ship. Sleep in, work out, late breakfast, sleep in. :) You get the drill. When you first check into your stateroom, and every evening thereafter, you’ll find a newsletter containing daily activities. Look it over. Opportunities abound for everything from trivia (yawn, but to each their own) to rock climbing and wine tastings. My advice, pick at least one thing each day that you find interesting, and then leave a little time for either doing nothing, sitting by the pool, or whatever comes up. I usually begin each day by walking at least 1 mile on the jogging track, then breakfast and getting a little sun.

In general, the smaller the ship, the fewer the onboard “toys.” Ships like Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class and any other line’s largest ships are chock full of amenities from surfing simulators to miniature golf courses. You’ll not suffer from a lack of choices when it comes to the newest mega-ships. Pick a few things that look interesting and space them out over your cruise. Don’t try to experience everything onboard because one person probably can’t.

Dining is a big part of cruising, and while I’d never call typical dining room cuisine on a large mass-market cruise ship 5-star, it is usually pretty good. Considering meals are being prepared for thousands, it’s downright phenomenal. Most nights I eat dinner in the main dining room, but I make it a point to visit at least one specialty restaurant during a cruise. Most lines offer up charge restaurants ranging from typical “steakhouse” to Italian, and even fine French dining. Take a look at what your ship offers, and try to budget to try at least one. Yes, you have to pay extra, typically $25 to $35, but I think it’s well worth it. Look at it as getting a 5 star meal at a discount price.

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Saving Money Onboard

Unless you’ve booked a cruise with all beverages included or you generally forgo alcohol, your largest expense while onboard is likely to be your bar bill. Most cruise lines offer drink packages now that can run from basic beer budget to nearly all-inclusive. I like Celebrity’s premium package because it includes bottled water and specialty coffees which I drink plenty of in addition to most every kind of alcohol on board with some limits. On the other hand, I’ve yet to find a package that I thought was a good deal on other lines, including Royal Caribbean. My advice – set a budget for yourself and try to stick to it. Every few days, take a look at your onboard account and monitor your actual spending against your plans.

One of the best ways to save money on alcohol is to be loyal. This won’t help you on your first cruise, but it is something to keep in mind for the future. For example, on Royal Caribbean, I receive complimentary alcoholic refreshments each evening in the hours prior to dinner. There’s typically at least one reception for returning cruisers where beverages are served too. And for all cruisers, the Captain’s reception usually includes at least sparkling wine….same for onboard art auctions.

Regarding onboard shopping, I think it’s fine to pick up a few trinkets on the ship, but overall, you’ll usually find better pricing in shops at your ports of call. One thing to consider, cruise lines typically back your onboard purchases with some kind of warranty. It’s up to you to determine whether or not that holds value for you. You can also buy things like bottled water in port at prices that are usually better than are available on the ship.

In conclusion, your first cruise is a great occasion, and I hope these tips and those shared by readers in the comments are helpful. I am sure there’s something I’ve not covered that cruisers might be interested in. If you have a question about something cruising related, just comment or email. Happy cruising!!

-MJ, June 23, 2014

Summer has arrived in Georgia, complete with humidity and a daily thundershower. Is it October yet? :) MJ on Travel entered total aviation geek mode early in the week while getting a look around Delta Air Lines along with some other bloggers and aviation writers at #InsideDelta. I put up a few teasers this week, but have a full blog post in the pipeline for next week. There were no big deals this week like a new revenue-based MileagePlus, but a few things around the blogs piqued my interest.

The Weekly Recap at MJ on Travel

Enjoy your weekend!

-MJ, June 21, 2014

Tips for the First-Time Cruiser – Part 1

Tips for the First-Time Cruiser – Part 2

Tips for the First-Time Cruiser – Part 3

A Word on Passports

In my first post on first time cruising tips, I focused on a few basics. Reader Dan reminded me that there is so much more, and some of what I’ll mention below are taken from his thoughtful comment. I suppose that I’ve become such a frequent floater that I have a routine, and lost sight of how daunting things can be for a first timer. Things like “the dress code” and formal night actually intimidate a lot of people. Hint – they shouldn’t!

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Don’t Overpack

Overpack? Me? Yes, you! I’ve done it and so have you. I remember the days that MrsMJ and I used to travel with a steamer trunk for our cruising. The last straw was a 2-week trip to Europe a few years ago that included a 10-day cruise. We had these two huge bags. It was fine until it wasn’t. It was also unnecessary. Pack a reasonable amount and do laundry if you need to. Some ships have a self-service laundry while other require you to use the ship’s dry cleaning/laundry service. I routinely use the onboard services. They’re reasonably priced, and I can get away with a carry-on bag and backpack.

Things you’ll likely need – swimsuit, sunscreen, hat/cap, under garments, socks, one pair of flip flops, one pair of shoes, workout shoes and shorts, one pair of decent shorts, several t-shirts, a decent pair of slacks, and a couple of nicer shirts, and as Dan noted, a small power strip can be useful for keeping your electronics charged. My typical dinner dress is a pair of khakis and a “dress” t-shirt (i.e. one that is of a single color, no pictures, not faded and ripped). If I’m on a cruise where I want to participate in formal activities I simply rent a tuxedo onboard even though I own one. It’s worth it to me to be able to pack light, and it serves as a good segue into this….

Don’t Worry About Formal Night

When I’m surfing the web about cruises, I’m not sure any topic comes up more or generates more heat than formal night. Some people love formal night, some don’t care, and some loathe it. I’m somewhere between liking it and not caring. Those that love it really love it in my experience, and a few of those formal night lovers don’t understand why everyone else might not. Most formal nights nowadays, you’ll find me in a suit or nice pants and sport coat with an open collar. For those cruises that I wish to play formal, I just rent a tuxedo onboard as I noted above. I keep a card with all my sizes filed away, and when the time comes, I pre-order the tux and it’s waiting for me in my stateroom.

All that said, on your typical Bahamas (especially short Bahamas) and Caribbean cruises, you will not be alone if you elect to forgo formal dress on “formal night.” Now, if you’re sailing a line like Cunard on a trans-Atlantic Queen Mary II cruise, dress up if you’re going to the dining room. :) My advice - if it’s your first cruise, I say make it special, dress up, get a few pictures made, and make a party of it just once. Then you can decide if you’re a formal night loyalist or you’d rather leave the tie at home.

Up next – life on board, dining choices, and holding on to more of your hard-earned money.

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-MJ, June 19, 2014

 

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