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

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

A 53 day cruising adventure aboard the most modern cruise ship in the world? Yes please. After an initial appearance in the New York area, Royal Caribbean’s newest ship, Quantum of the Seas will reposition to Shanghai, where she will homeport to serve the burgeoning Chinese market. So, how does a ship make it’s way from New York to Shanghai? According to this article in USA Today, by sailing an extraordinary repositioning itinerary:

“Kicking off on May 2, 2015 in the New York area, the sailing will include a trans-Atlantic crossing to the Mediterranean followed by passage through the Suez Canal to the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean and Asia. Along the way, the 4,180-passenger vessel will call at nearly two dozens ports including Barcelona; Aqaba, Jordan; Dubai; Cochin, India; Muscat, Oman; Penang, Malaysia; Singapore; and Hong Kong.”

If, like me, you don’t have 53 days of vacation to take, you can book portions of the itinerary ranging from 3 to 16 nights. Would you cruise for 53 days? I know I would if I had the time. But would you be bored?

Keeping it Together for 53 Days

There are a ton of exciting ports of call on this itinerary, so there’ll be plenty to do, and I can’t fathom boredom on this ship. However, if you aren’t careful, 53 days on a cruise ship chock full of opportunities to eat and drink could have a negative impact on one’s waistline. My tips for keeping things in check for a 53 day cruise are the same as a 14 day cruise:

  • drink plenty of water;
  • keep the alcohol consumption in check; and
  • visit the gym at least every other day.

On alternative days, walk a mile on deck or make sure you are participating in active tours. Finally, while food is available 24/7, no one is holding a gun to your head forcing you to eat it. Enjoy your meals, experience things you might not taste at home, but there’s no requirement to order pizza at 1am just because you can. Besides…you can do that at home.

-MJ, May 21, 2014

 

Royal Caribbean’s newest ship, Quantum of the Seas, is progressing nicely through construction and is now 60 percent complete. Quantum promises to be an exciting new ship introducing innovative new entertainment options at sea like bumper cars and a sky diving simulator which promises to be the closest thing I ever experience to jumping out of an airplane. :) Quantum will also represent a sea change in Royal Caribbean’s traditional dining concepts with the introduction of Dynamic Dining.

Here’s a video from Royal Caribbean with some scoop on Quantum’s progress.

MJ on Travel will be sampling Quantum of the Seas’ innovations firsthand in just over 6 months. I can’t wait!

-MJ, May 20, 2014

Royal Caribbean announced today that it has reached an agreement to purchase a 4th Oasis Class vessel for delivery in 2018. According to the press release,

“The Oasis Class was a revolution in maritime design when it was launched in 2009. Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas continue to be in a class by themselves both in terms of guest satisfaction and financial returns. Today’s announcement is a reflection of their success,” said Richard D. Fain, chairman and chief executive officer, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. “We are thrilled to announce the order of a fourth Oasis-class ship during the keel-laying milestone of the third. This announcement is also a testament to the men and women of STX France who have worked so hard and so cooperatively on Oasis III.”

Having spent 2 weeks on Allure of the Seas, I can vouch that these ships truly are in a class by themselves. They may not be for everyone, but my own experience was that this was the least crowded cruise ship I’ve sailed on, a minor miracle considering I was sailing with over 6,000 passengers. Seriously, these ships are marvels of engineering, and I don’t think I was exaggerating when I called Allure of the Seas “Shockingly Awesome” in my review.

Given the apparent financial success of these ships, which is touted on every quarterly earnings call, it is not surprising Royal Caribbean has decided to add a 4th Oasis Class ship to the fleet. Speaking from my own experience, there seemed to be far more opportunities to present your onboard charge card to pay for something extra on these ships than any other. It’s not unavoidable, by any means, but there is a lot going on from the Coach Store to upcharge eateries of every description. All that said, these ships are a destination of their own right, and that’s one reason we selected Allure of the Seas for our upcoming first trans-Atlantic cruise.

-MJ, May 9, 2014

Royal Caribbean is offering deals on select 2015-2016 sailings. Canadian and US vacationers booking cruises between May 1 and May 31, 2014 can find some decent deals for cruises. You’ll receive 50 percent off of the cruise fare for the second guest, booked in the same stateroom with a full-fare guest for cruises departing between January 1, 2015 and April 30, 2016. This offer excludes Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas, as well as 3rd and additional guests.

Surf over to royalcaribbean.com/BOGO for more details and booking. I’m shopping now.

-MJ, May 2, 2014

Royal Caribbean International announced new dining options today for its newest class of ships, Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas. “Dynamic Dining” will feature five new main restaurants along with both old and new specialty dining favorites, as well as new reservations tools to help ensure you can dine when you want.

According to Royal Caribbean’s press release, “Dynamic Dining” is a completely new culinary experience that gives guests on Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas a landscape of 18 restaurant concepts as vast and varied as dining in the world’s most cosmopolitan cities. With a new take on the main dining room, guests can choose from five complimentary, full service restaurants, offering more choice and flexibility than ever before. Guests will also be in full control of their own epicurean journey via a smart, new reservations system that empowers them to decide when, where, with whom to dine, and how to dress each evening.”

New main dining options include:

  • American Icon Grill, a take on the classic American road trip, pulling together best-loved regional favorites into one comfort-style menu
  • Chic, where the height of contemporary cuisine is realized and the freshest ingredients, such as proteins that pack a punch and sauces made from scratch, are evolved for a modern palate
  • Silk, a vibrant and exotic destination where the spices of the Far East bring new flavor to adventurous palates through a Pan-Asian menu
  • The Grande, a luxuriant nod to a bygone era of classic European ocean liners when dining was a time honored ritual, featuring timeless dishes, and where every night is formal night. (emphasis mine)
  • Coastal Kitchen, a concept created exclusively for suite guests, fusing Mediterranean influences with the unmatched riches of California’s bountiful farmlands.
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Roasted scallops with black truffle. Image courtesy of Royal Caribbean International.

On the specialty dining side (meaning extra charge), old standbys like Chops Grille, Izumi, and Chef’s Table will return, but there are some pretty interesting new choices as well.

  • Wonderland, an elaborate feast for the senses in a setting where Royal Caribbean chefs twist their culinary kaleidoscopes to invent a dreamscape of never-before-seen fare
  • Jamie’s Italian, featuring rustic Italian favorites, handmade – using seasonal ingredients and Jamie’s tried-and-tested crowd pleasers
  • Michael’s Genuine Pub, the first American gastropub at sea and the next evolution of Royal Caribbean’s relationship with James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schwartz, offering simply-prepared food and drinks made with quality ingredients from the best artisanal producers
  • Devinly Decadence at Solarium Bistro, Royal Caribbean’s fittest dining destination, serving the foods you love all under five-hundred calories, designed by Devin Alexander, media personality, New York Times bestselling author and chef of highly-rated television show, “The Biggest Loser”

Of course, more casual options remain, but with a twist. Old favorites like Johnny Rockets, Cafe Promenade, and Sorrento’s remain along with:

  • Windjammer Marketplace, a Royal Caribbean dining mainstay gets a new twist on Quantum class as a global culinary pavilion that invites guests to explore the world, dish by dish through enticing food islands, interactive stations, made-to-order specialties, an on-site bakery and a 24-hour station called The Grill
  • The Café @ Two70 ̊, a new gourmet marketplace serving savory hot-pressed sandwiches, salads made to order, handmade soups and more
  • SeaPlex Dog House, the first food truck at sea offering gourmet hot dogs for all to enjoy in SeaPlex, the largest indoor active space at sea

My Take

Dynamic Dining represents a big change for Royal Caribbean. Their other ships offer flexible dining times as well as the more traditional early and late seating at fixed times. Frankly, I like the old way just fine. MrsMJ and I book the late dinner seating, period. We have a set time to show up somewhere, a schedule to build our day around. Sometimes we choose available specialty offerings, and more often than not, we book those at the same time as our traditional dinner seatings.

But that’s not to say Dynamic Dining is not intriguing to me. I really like the multiple restaurant main-dining concept, and I am looking especially forward to the increased specialty options. A successful implementation of the new reservations system will be key to making all this work. I’m excited to try as many of these new options as possible during our December Quantum of the Seas cruise. Color me pleased with all these new options.

-MJ, March 26, 2014

Royal Caribbean is hosting another Quantum of the Seas reveal in New York City later this week. RCL has been keeping mum with many details about Quantum, which is set to homeport in the New York area beginning in late November. The latest reveal is apparently going to reveal the dining options that Quantum of the Seas will offer. I received an invitation to the event, but other responsibilities are sadly preventing me from attending. That won’t stop me from tuning in as details are released.

In the meantime, here’s a video courtesy of Royal Caribbean detailing some of the new innovations planned for Quantum of the Seas. For the record, the MJ on Travel team will be on board one of the first sailings from New York later this year. I’m mildly jazzed!

Royal Caribbean is running a pretty decent sale right now. The basics – Kids or any 3rd and 4th stateroom guest sail free on select sailings when you book by March 31, 2014. Better yet, you can reserve your cruise for as little as $50 depending on the itinerary.

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Click here for more details, available sailings, and most importantly, the terms and conditions.

-MJ, March 5, 2014

 

Back in December, MrsMJ and I took off on a 2-week back to back (B2B) cruising “adventure” aboard Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas. Adventure is a member of Royal Caribbean’s Voyager Class of ships, once the largest ships in the world. Nowadays, they seem kind of quaint. I’m kidding! Make no mistake, while Adventure and her other Voyager Class sisters are no longer the world’s largest ships, they’re still very big ships with the kind of amenities one expects from today’s megaliners.

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Checking In

We arrived in San Juan 2 days before our departure, staying at the beautiful El Convento in Old San Juan. When the day of our cruise finally arrived, we made our way to the Pan American Pier via taxi. The fare was around $18 from Old San Juan. When arrived at the terminal to what looked like a gynormous crowd milling around outside attempting to figure out where to go. Fortunately, we were dropped just far enough down the line that a sign caught my eye that said something to the effect of Crown & Anchor Priority Baggage Check. If you are facing the front door of the terminal it would be to the very far left. Basically, it’s a separate baggage check area for Crown & Anchor elites and suite guests. It’s also relatively tranquil compared to the scene by the door.

After dropping our bags we were directed to enter the queue to the far left (closest to the building), where our passports and boarding passes were checked. After a quick transit through security, we were in line to check in. In relatively short order, we were processed, and on our way to the ship. C2C time – 19 minutes.

On Board

We had a few errands to run right after boarding. MrsMJ was actually teaching four Zumba classes while we were on board, so she had to drop off some paperwork with Guest Relations. This gave me an opportunity to snap a picture or two.

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Not sure why, but seeing the Royal Promenade the first time always pleases me. From there, I explored the ship for just a few minutes before heading up to the Windjammer. I’m not much on buffet food photography, but our Windjammer lunch was standard fare. Perfectly serviceable buffet food. Better yet, even with over 3,000 passengers on board, the overall experience was not yet nutty. We were able to easily find a seat and enjoy our lunch before heading to the stateroom at 1:30PM.

The Stateroom – 9312

Our room was a D1 Superior Ocean View Stateroom with Balcony. It had plenty of storage, a comfortable sofa, and was just fine for our 2 weeks on board the ship. We managed to keep the same stateroom for both weeks, which makes a B2B all the better in my opinion. It was close to the elevators, but we heard no noise, and best of all, we were steps from the Concierge Lounge. We met a lot of great people there over the 2 weeks onboard.

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When we arrived in our room, we found our usual Crown & Anchor gifts (wine, Diet Cokes, and a snack basket) as well as an extra bottle of wine with a note from the Hotel Director welcoming us on board. Not sure if that was due to our B2B status or not. Our water was there as well as I typically order a water package for delivery on board. I’d carry our own if we didn’t have to fly to a port. As it is, ordering for delivery on board saves a lot of hassle.

Around the Ship

Adventure of the Seas is not lacking with amenities. The Royal Promenade is the center “mall” of the ship, lined with shops, snacks, a coffee shop, and of course, a couple of bars. The Royal Promenade serves as the host area for the Captain’s reception, various street parties, and parades too. It was also decked out for the holiday.

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Adventure’s pool deck was where we spent a lot of our days on board. Unlike some ships I’ve sailed, I never had to search endlessly for a desirable pool chair.

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The pool deck was also where MrsMJ taught Zumba – two classes each week. She attracted a good crowd, and everyone seemed to enjoy the Latin-inspired dance music, even if they weren’t taking part in the class based on the crowds standing around watching.

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I mainly participated in the classes from here.

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The ship’s adults only Solarium also featured a pool. This was another of my favorite areas. Less hustle and bustle than the main pool area.

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Dining

Dining options aboard Adventure of the Seas include the main dining room, Windjammer buffet, the pizzeria on the Royal Promenade, and my favorite by far, Portofino Italian Restaurant. Food in the main dining room was for the most part very good. I enjoyed the new menus immensely. For those keeping up with the mystery of the missing escargots from Royal Caribbean ships, it was available every night in the main dining room. No, I did not eat escargot every night, but I did enjoy it more than once. Our main dining room servers were outstanding – Inyoman and Curtis.

We dined in Portofino on 3 occasions during our 2 weeks on board. Both San Juan sail aways, and one other evening. Food and service were uniformly excellent. We dined there on one of the formal evenings as well, and it was obvious that a lot of our fellow cruisers had the same idea. They were obviously over subscribed. The food was still excellent, but service was slow. This was not an issue the other evenings.

I can’t even complain about crowding in the Windjammer on this cruise. Don’t get me wrong, it was busy. I just did not experience any issues finding a seat when needed, and we both enjoyed our handful of visits there for lunch. The pizzeria on the Royal Promenade was also fine. Basic pizza. They do offer gluten free crust, which made MrsMJ happy. If you need that, just ask, and they’ll gladly make you a gluten free pizza.

Highlights of the Cruise

The ship – Even though she’s entering a dry dock shortly for some pretty big updates, Adventure of the Seas was in great shape. The crew that I interacted with were excellent in every way. After 2 weeks on board, I could have easily stayed for 2 more. It was wonderful to disconnect. Cruise Directer Drew, and Activities Manager Michele were great! I still miss the morning show.

The ports – Aruba and Curacao were new ports for us. Enjoyed both greatly. St. Maarten is always a favorite of mine. The aerial tram in St. Lucia was awesome. Our itinerary for week 1 was:

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And week 2:

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Note: Itinerary images courtesy of Royalcaribbean.com.

I personally preferred the week with more sea days mixed in, but both of these cruises were among my favorites ever. Frankly, this was the first time we had been alone for 2 weeks since….well…ever. It was a very nice vacation. I am not reviewing each port of call individually. I enjoyed all of them immensely, but I always look forward to returning to St. Maarten. Of the ports that were new to us, I think I’d have to pick Aruba, followed by Curacao.

Miscellaneous

Cruising B2B – The B2B process in San Juan was easy. We received a letter in our stateroom towards the end of our first cruise. It contained our SeaPass Cards (room keys) for the next cruise, “in transit” cards, and instructions. If we wanted to go into San Juan, we could leave the ship anytime we wanted. All we needed to do was present the in transit cards and take our room keys with us. If staying on board, instructions were to meet in a lounge where we would be escorted through customs formalities. We elected to remain on board and enjoy the ship. At the appointed time, we met in the lounge where we were escorted to customs and then back onboard. “Formalities” included simply showing your passport to the customs agent and re-queuing to board the ship. We did not have to complete the “blue card” customs paperwork in San Juan since they considered us as in transit. That is different than our previous B2B experiences in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

Other Stuff

The Bottom Line

I don’t feel like I’m exaggerating when I say that our 2 weeks aboard Adventure of the Seas was one of our best vacations ever. We really got away from it all this time and enjoyed ourselves. Ship and crew were outstanding. We were well treated throughout. San Juan is a favorite city of ours, and spending a few days there before sailing is an ideal way to begin your vacation. Next time, to stay afterwards as well! We really enjoyed Adventure of the Seas, and look forward to sailing on her again. Any questions? Feel free to ask in the comments section.

-MJ, February 14, 2014

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