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What to expect on a Royal Caribbean cruise

I took this cruise in 2015: 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!

If you’re interested in a 2022 Princess Cruise review, you’ll like this post on Sky Princess.

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!):

You might also like to read my super popular post on 18 things NOT to do on a cruise!

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.

Royal Caribbean
Our Mexican lunch with this view!

Eating and drinking on the Vision of the Seas:

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.

Royal Caribbean Vision of the Seas
Do everything or do nothing

Things to do onboard Vision of the Seas:

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.

Click here to shop my curated selection of great cruise luggage and travel accessories >>
Shipping only in NZ, sorry!

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Things to know before you cruise:

Every ship is different, just like every hotel is different. One of the thing to do before you book your cruise is find out what the actual ship is like. Go online to the cruise company website, look up the name of your vessel and look at photos (remember they’ll only show the best and most flattering). So another tip is to Google some blogs from people who have cruised on that specific ship and will have written a review and no doubt posted photos. Also look at Tripadvisor and type in the name of the ship where you’ll find completely honest, warts and all reviews.

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!

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Joseph Alba

Thursday 3rd of January 2019

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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!