November 11, 2015

What to expect on a Royal Caribbean cruise

I’ve just finished a fabulous 12-night round-trip cruise from Barcelona on one of Royal Caribbean’s smaller ships, the Vision of the Seas. I say smaller because it has a mere 2,700 fellow passengers. The newest one they’re building, Harmony of the Seas, will be the biggest ship ever built (to date) and carry nearly 5,500 passengers. That’s more than the population of some New Zealand towns docking at the local port and pouring excited tourists into the city!

Royal Caribbean

Docked in Ephesus

I’m a big fan of cruising, this is my 10th I think, so here are some tips for first-timers (or tenth-timers who want to hit the decks running!):

Fly in to your departure city a couple of days before to relax, de-stress from the packing, parking kids out and winding down from work, explore the new city in your own time, at your own pace… Or, alternatively, add a couple of days on at the end. A couple of nights to explore a new place at a slower pace will be what you’ll be in the mood for after a hectic day in each port.

Board your ship any time from mid-day until late afternoon, find your cabin and unpack. I mean fully unpack. Empty your suitcase into the drawers and closet and zip it up and stow it under your bed, in the closet, on top of the closet – wherever there is room. Now you’re in.

Grab your shore excursion info leaflets and head for a deck chair or one of bars to finally (now that you have the chance) go over every day again – with a cocktail, of course. You’ll need to act quickly to book any ship excursions if you haven’t already done that online from home as they fill up fast. But don’t panic about needing to do an organised tour each day. In some of the ports (like Cannes, Santorini and Ephesus) we did our own thing and I’d do it that way again.

Look at when the sea days are and book a spa treatment, hair do or anything you want before everyone else does. These fill up licketty split, we managed a 6pm one just before dinner.

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Royal Caribbean

Our Mexican lunch with this view!

Eating and drinking:

On our ship there were two meal seatings in the main (and fancy) dining room. 6pm and 8pm. We were down for 6pm which we never made! Depending upon your daily activities, you’re barely likely to be back onboard after romping around Rome (in a day – see my Rome post here) before then. But if you’re like us and find 8pm a little late, the other solution is to just head up to the buffet deck.

We also had the chance to buy a drinks plan for a flat rate, or you can order by the glass. We decided against the drinks plan as it was US$22 per person per day, and I believe both of us needed to have signed up, so for the equivalent of NZ$66 per day, we decided on just ordering by the glass/bottle. However, this plan did include cocktails and spirits which individually are priced at around US$15, and a glass of wine $9 or $10, so if you like a drink with an umbrella in it of an afternoon, a glass of wine with dinner and finish your meal with a port or a whisky, this package would be worth it. Plus unlimited soft drinks.

Vision of the Seas has three specialty restaurants. We signed up for the deal of US$75 each which gave us a meal in each of them: Chops Grille for a big fat, juicy steak; Giovanni for freshly made pasta and delicious antipasto; Izumi for fresh sushi, sashimi and tempura arranged like art on our plates.

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Royal Caribbean Vision of the Seas

Do everything or do nothing

Things to do onboard:

On our ship (as with all cruise ships) there are literally dozens of daily activities. So many you couldn’t possibly do them all, but enough to find something to please everyone.

Cooking classes: I went along to the sushi class at our Japanese restaurant Izumi. I loved it because the chefs had done all the prep work and all I had to do was add my favourite ingredients and roll! Actually I learned some tips about using gloves with a dash of oil to work the rice and covering the bamboo mat with Glad Wrap (ok that’s a NZ brand and I’m not sure what you might call it. The clear plastic wrap). That way nothing ever sticks. So easy!

Demo classes: This was listed as an Indian cooking class, but the nice surprise for me was that not only had the chefs done the prep, but they had set up their cooking station in one of the restaurants and did all the cooking themselves, showing us how to do it and providing us with the recipes. Then we ate it!

Galley tour: this included lunch after we had filed through the (very clean and tidy) galley kitchen, met some of the chefs, bakers and waiters and seen how they work to churn out 900 meals in a single sitting. A fascinating little tour of how the inner workings work.

Flash mob lessons: Ah no, I did not join the flash mob lessons, but many did and at various times and places throughout our 12 days they would appear and pull out some dance moves.

Evening shows: Twice a night there was a (free) performance in the theatre to correspond with the main meal sittings. These range from Broadway shows (Harmony of the Seas has announced they will be hosting Grease onboard) to soloists, comedians and dancers.

Spa treatment: Well it would have been rude to know there was a delightful Kiwi girl working here and not pop in for visit, right?! Meredith Wotherspoon is from Dannevirke (I knowww!) and as that is only a hop, skip and a jump from Hastings where I grew up, yes you guessed it, we knew lots of the same people 🙂 We booked a couple’s treatment on one of the sea days and wallowed in a decadent massage with this incredible view.

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Things to know:

Laundry facilities are becoming a thing of the past as apparently they are fire hazards for passengers to use, so ships are taking them out and instead you need to send a bag via your cabin steward. We paid US$30 per load (and squeezed as much as we possibly could in without bursting the bag!)

Dress code, even though not compulsory, was still pretty smart for dinner. Collared shirts for the men in the main dining room was the norm and women were slung in jewellery and teetering on their best heels. There was also a formal night where suits and bow ties accompany pearls and cardigans. That’s up to you though. We slunk through in our smartest, but no tuxedo 🙂

You might also like to read my post on what NOT to expect on a Royal Caribbean cruise when we stopped to assist refugees >>

Scroll through some of my favourite photos for a look around the Vision of the Seas:

Royal Caribbean shopping

Shopping – special deals change daily.

RCL Masked Masquerade

Masked Masquerade theatre entrance

Vision of the Seas photos

Each day the ship’s photographer takes photos and if you say yes, you can come here later and buy them. Or just look at them and laugh!

Royal Caribbean

Our Mexican lunch with this view!

Chops Grille

Chops Grille

Meredith and me

Meredith and me! Girls from Hawkes Bay 🙂

Vision of the Seas flash mob

The flash mob does Thriller in the main foyer bar

Vision of the Seas galley lunch

Desserts for those on the Galley Lunch Tour

Lobster plating

For about $30 extra you can order these in the main dining room

Vision of the Seas bread making

Bread making in the galley!

Watching migrants

Our early morning emergency stop to assist refugees

Vision of the Seas blogging

Blogger at work!

Vision of the Seas theatre

One of the nightly shows

Vision of the Seas spa tables

Do you think you could manage a treatment here?

Spa wine

Spa lounge and waiting room. Take your time…

Vision of the Seas Indian lunch

Our Indian cooking demo – and then lunch!

Cabin towel art

The cabins are small, but there is plenty of storage

on the deck

Goodbye Cannes!

Sunset on deck

Quiet spaces can be found…

My sushi

My presentation marks at sushi class were not quite as good as chef’s

Vision of the Seas indoor pool

The adult’s pool (there are two)

Vision of the Seas pool

Outdoor pool and cinema screen with jacuzzis on each side

Vision of the Seas enchanted bar

One of the 4 bars

Vision of the Seas main dining

The main dining room set up for dinner

Vision of the Seas casino

How about a quick flutter?

Royal Caribbean

This has to be the best towel art I’ve ever had on a ship. Thanks Tamara!

I was thrilled to be hosted by Royal Caribbean Cruise Line on Vision of the Seas. We had an absolute blast and I can thoroughly recommend you check out their cruise itineraries and go!

 

A huge thank you too, to Emirates who flew me to Barcelona direct from Dubai and out of London back home. A really great airline with loads of space (in both economy and business class). Have a look at their fares here as they fly pretty much everywhere!

About Megan Singleton

Megan

Megan Singleton is a travel writer, blogger and radio correspondent. She's been gallivanting around the world telling stories for the last 16 years and has her suitcase always half packed (or half un-packed!) Follow along on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for monthly newsletters if you want to keep up with the journey!

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