Cruise prices rise but bargains are out there, nevermind the view

As promised, cruise lines have raised prices in reaction to increasing demand. It seems the all-inclusive nature and higher-than-other-things safety level of a cruise vacation is once again filling up ships. But there are still a few bargains out there, if you don’t mind the view.

Royal Caribbean International, who eternally vowed to never discount new Oasis and Allure of the seas is doing the next best thing. In what they call a summertime “family-friendly” promotion running through the 13th of April, the line is offering $200 onboard credit for sailings during June, July or August 2011.

Vacationers booking two or more Central Park- or Boardwalk-view balcony staterooms, that are grouped together, will receive a $200 onboard credit per stateroom, up to a maximum of three staterooms for a total of $600 onboard credits per group.

Here’s the catch: Nobody wants those cabins.

When most people think “balcony” they think “overlooking the ocean”. These don’t. Your view will be of whoever is across the interior Central Park Neighborhood if you look straight ahead or of the Central Park landscaping below. Look up and you will see the sky but not much of it.

The Boardwalk-view location is better or worse depending on how you look at it. The aft location does provide a view of the ocean. Sort of. If you look past the Aqua-theater and there is a lot going on back there. The down-side is that there is a lot going on back there. Someone who wants a lazy day on the balcony watching the ocean roll by will be disappointed if not angry.

I was on the ship with a bunch of really loud people who we put out on the balcony, hoping they would fall off. They didn’t fall off but when the balcony door was closed and I was standing inside the cabin looking at them it was like putting them on mute setting.

Still, this is a great promotion if you don’t have plans to relax, fool around, smoke or otherwise misbehave on your balcony. Concerns over noise from the area below are more true in the bustling Boardwalk area than the serene Central Park but not very well founded.

Don’t get me wrong, Oasis and Allure of the Seas are great ships. The cupcakes from the Cupcake Cupboard alone are reason enough to sail on either one. Take Royal Caribbean up on this deal and you’ll have plenty of cash for them.

Photo: Whitney Owen

Allure of the Seas to visit St Kitts

Often thought just too big to visit most ports of call, giant Allure of the Seas will visit the tiny island of St Kitts in December. The unique port will answer a call by fans and critics to add much needed diversity to the ship’s standard itinerary.

That’s good news for fans of Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class ships. Die hard fans worried that a lack new ports would hurt popularity of the giant feature-rich ship after the new-ship hoopla wore off.

“Royal Caribbean International is delighted to bring the world-renowned Allure of the Seas to St. Kitts,” said Michael Ronan, vice president of Government Relations, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. adding “while Allure of the Seas is the world’s largest and most revolutionary cruise ship, the ship’s ports of call are also very important to our guests. We look forward to bringing more of them to beautiful and vibrant St. Kitts.”
That’s even better news for St Kitts who will see a total of 45 port calls in the 2011-2012 season, up from 20 calls in the 2010-2011 season.

“I am proud of the fact that St. Kitts has been making great strides forward in the cruise industry,” said Minister Skerritt, who is also Minister of International Transport.

Allure of the Seas features 16 decks, 2,700 staterooms, seven themed “neighborhoods” and carries 5,400 guests at double occupancy that could potentially disembark at St. Kitts.

Prior to sailing Oasis of the Seas, older sister to Allure of the Seas and the senior largest cruise ship in the world, much was said about all the work it took to ready ports for arrival of the largest cruise ships in the world. They are simply too big for many ports.

Flickr photo by Jemingway

Forget shuffleboard , 3D theater next on today’s cruise ships

Royal Caribbean International, parent of giant sister cruise ships Oasis and Allure of the Seas announced it will add stereoscopic 3D digital cinema to on-board programming. Royal Caribbean also plans “Revitalizations” for other ships in 2011 including Oasis, Liberty Freedom, Radiance and Splendour of the Seas.

“While we look forward to a period of slower growth, we do not intend to stagnate,” said Royal Caribbean Chairman and CEO Richard Fain in January just before the line announced a new, secret class of ships to be built in the future. The Royal Revitalizations program looks to use that period of slower growth wisely, adding features made popular on new ships to some others in the fleet

Royal Caribbean’s existing deal with Dreamworks Animation and a new partnership with FUNA International makes it possible.

“We called upon FUNA and their team to come up with creative technical design solutions in a number of areas including physical placement, additional cooling and power and integration with the existing audio system, and the result is a 3D movie experience as good as or better than any land-based theater” said Christopher Vlassopulos, Entertainment Technology and Technical Direction for Royal Caribbean International.

First to get the 3D upgrade will be Allure of the Seas but soon, Oasis of the Seas, Freedom of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas will have the 3D capability.

“On testing the finished product, people at the highest level at Barco [projection supplier], DreamWorks and Dolby [sound system supplier] were ‘blown away’ with the result. We wanted to do a good job but to impress them out of the gate was a real bonus and obviously something the guest will really enjoy. It looks and sounds great.” Vlassopulos added.

Flickr photo by Monica R

Cruise Deal Watch: Onboard Credit on Oasis of the Seas

Royal Caribbean has a special onboard credit offer for new bookings on Oasis of the Seas for any March, April or May 2011 sailing.

Check this special cruise deal watch. Book a Boardwalk or Central Park Balcony on any sailing in March, April or May 2011 and get $100 onboard credit per cabin. These are the balcony cabins that have a view looking inside the ship, not out to the ocean. Pricing is good in comparison to oceanview balcony cabins too so see your travel expert today if interested.

Look for more special pricing and deals from Royal Caribbean in the near future too. The line has released it’s 2012-2013 Deployment schedule and very soon that coveted information will be available.They will be opening up the Caribbean/Bermuda, Canada/New England, Summer Europe and Transatlantic sailings in March. In April look for Alaska, Australia, more Caribbean and Winter Europe and Dubai. In August we’ll see pricing on Asia then in September more Caribbean (Colon, Panama) and Winter Europe. October 2011 will be the month to find out about Brazil.

Photos: Chris Owen


Cruise lines offer dining options, for a price

If there is one thing cruise lines are it’s responsive to giving passengers what they want. A big part of the cruise experience has always been the food and these days there are more options than ever before. It’s been an evolution as cruise lines look for just the right mix of dining options to be everything to everyone. For the most part, cruise line dining options have been evolving well but not without moving a bit farther away from the all-inclusive nature cruise vacations are known for.

It wasn’t all that long ago that everybody on a cruise ship piled into the main dining room for dinner. They may have chosen an early or late dining time but that was about it in the way of options. Still, considering the all-inclusive nature of a cruise, it made sense and everyone was happy for the most part. Dancing waiters in the dining room and top-notch banquet-style service pleased pretty much everyone.

Then cruise lines started adding what were called “alternative dining options” to ships. Initially they were a single restaurant in addition to the main dining room where one might go for a super extra special occasion, pay a little more and get even better service and even better food than the already great stuff in main dining room.

I remember sailing on Carnival Legend when this concept first came out. We paid $20 extra for a steak that would have been called a roast back home able to feed a family of four along with a dining experience like no other. In the small venue there was live entertainment, waiters always within arms reach and they did a really good job in a different way than the main dining room. It made sense. It was worth the nominal fee and quite an experience. Not that the main dining room wasn’t, this was different and obviously something they couldn’t just throw in for everyone as part of the deal.

Fast forward to now and Allure of the Seas, Norwegian Epic or any one of a number of other ships where the main dining room experience is almost secondary and not the star of the show as it once was. Today there are more options than ever before for dining at any time of the day or night, for a price.

%Gallery-112282%”Oasis of the Seas features 24 distinct dining experiences, ranging from an exclusive signature restaurant, to neighborhood-specific themed venues, and new twists on Royal Caribbean’s traditional dining areas.” says cruise expert Linda Garrison.

Of those 24 dining options, 12 included in the price and 12 cost more, but prices are reasonable starting at $4.95 for Johnny Rockets, fun and casual indoor/outdoor diner to $35 for 150 Central Park, the ships premiere dining venue.

Other cruise lines and ships have up to a 50/50 split between complementary and extra charge dining options too. Norwegian Cruise Lines new Norwegian Epic has 9 complementary options and 10 extra charge choices.

A number of long-time cruise vacation fans recoil at the mere thought of paying a cover charge for, in their minds, what used to be included in the price. Surely, long ago when these options did not exist, that was true. But now pretty much all major cruise lines have dining options and doing so is consistent with what a cruise is all about

On a cruise, as opposed to other packaged vacation options, we can easily customize the experience to be pretty much what ever we want it to be. This is good news for travelers who are becoming more and more all about custom vacation options rather than a boiler-plate same experience for everyone.

Yes, you can still book a cruise, and have a good time without spending one penny more than the price of the cruise. The lines are well aware that it was the all-inclusive nature and extraordinary value of a cruise compared with other options, that got them where they are today. They are not going to turn their back on that.

Attractive dining options, at an extra charge, allow those who want more than the standard fare to get just that.

In 2011 and beyond, look for this trend to continue as cruise lines as well as other vacation options allow more customization. Those who want to debate the topic need to wake up and smell the coffee, this is not going away.