What’s New with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines?

As part of my continuing travel education, I attended a breakfast seminar this morning put on by my local business development managers for Royal Caribbean and Azamara Club cruise lines.  Wow!  Do they ever pack a lot into 1 ½ hours.  There is a lot of cool, new stuff happening with RCCL and I’m happy to be able to share it with you.  I’m only going to hit the highlights. 

If you are into cruising, you probably have heard of the new Oasis class ships, Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas.  RCCL is doing Royal Enhancements on all of their ships, and so far have completed 3.  They will be rolling this out onto the rest of the fleet over the next 3 years until all the ships have the most popular features.  They even upgraded the Oasis of the Seas with the Dreamworks Experience which was previously only available on the Allure.  Plus they added a 3D movie theater. 

They have upgraded the Freedom of the Seas and the Liberty of the Seas with the following:

  • Dreamworks Experience (this does not include as much as the Oasis & Allure, but still a fabulous experience for the kids.)
  • 3D Theater with First Run movies.
  • Outdoor, Poolside movies.
  • The Cupcake Cupboard
  • Vintages Wine Bar
  • Royal Babies & Tots Nursery (for 6 mos. – 3 YO, babysitting for $8 per hour, 3 – 1 ratio kids/staff.  You know you want a romantic evening without the kids!)
  • Enhanced Wi-fi throughout the ship.
  • Digital Wayfinder System (touchscreen system – type in your room # and find out the quickest way to get there.  Find out what’s happening & where right now.  What restaurants have no waits and much more!)
  • Chefmakers Cooking Academy– classes such as Knife Skills, Small Bites & Cocktails, Quick & Easy Fish, Wine & Dine, Spa Cuisine, Kids with Kids Baking and more.  (This is one of my favorite enhancements, right after the Digital Wayfinder)

The next ship to be done is the Radiance of the Seas.  It will have many of these same features, but it will also have many new dining venues such as the Samba Grill Brazilian Steakhouse, Rita’s Cantina, Giovanni’s Table, Quill & Compass Pub and more.  They will also have a Chef’s Table experience for a maximum of 14 guests where the chef will create a 5 course meal paired with wine.  They’ve also added a few new cabins.  Next will be the Splendour of the Seas – and then the rest of the fleet. 

Azamara Club Cruises doesn’t have the dramatic ship upgrades that their sister Royal Caribbean does, but they WOW you with the experience.  They offer unique itineraries offering cultural immersion and experiences; an informal, country-club atmosphere; fabulous regional cuisine and wines; more overnight stays; 45% of their port stays are until 8PM or later; 694 passengers to 408 crew members with 70% of the rooms having balconies; few children because there are no childrens programs, and more inclusions and amenities in the price such as:

  • Gratuities (dining, bar & housekeeping)
  • Bottled water, sodas and specialty coffee & tea.
  • Select vintage red & white wine at lunch and dinner.
  • Self service laundry
  • Concierge service.

Suite guests get even more inclusions including Butler Service and Complimentary Specialty Dining.  They have some incredible new itineraries for 2012, and some fabulous specials including discounts for booking air with their Choice Air program (same, or better, rates as you will find published on other sites); 50% off select shore excurisions; some great single occupancy discounts and more. 

Azamara also offers great Golf  Themed itineraries where they have paired with PerryGolf.  You can play spectacular, challenging courses in countries such as Spain, Italy,France, Portugal, Wales and Ireland.  They even have a cruise planned to coincide with the 2013 British Open.  The Golf Package includes too much to list here, but some highlights. 

  • Green fees & Confirmed starting times (including cart and gratuities)
  • Practice range & range balls where available
  • All golf bag handling between ship & golf courses and onboard club storage in a secure location
  • Full time Golf Manager throughout the voyage
  • Cocktail parties, Golfer’s social events onboard, 2 special onboard dinners, and special events for non-golfing guests.

The package offers one price for golfers, and a reduced price for their guests who can still attend all the social events onboard.

Azamara also has cruises for Carnival and New Year’s Eve in Brazil, the Monte Carlo Grand Prix and more special events.  They will take care of tickets and transportation for you for these events.

Royal Caribbean and Azamara Club Cruises really can take you to the world – Caribbean, Europe, Asia and more.  Let’s get cruising!

Royal Plantation Collection by Sandals

Royal Plantation Ocho Rios sit atop a seaside bluff above the stunning Caribbean Sea offering the perfect setting to truly get away from it all.  The 74 All Oceanview Suites come with Butler Service and is a member of “The Leading Small Hotels of the World”.  All your needs will be taken care of at this resort – with 3 Gourmet restaurants, two private coved beaches with Beach Butler Service, a Red Lane Spa, and the only Champagne & Caviar Bar in the Caribbean you will feel pampered from morning to night.  Enjoy Yoga on the Pier, golf at the nearby Upton Gold & Country Club, or get your workout in the 24 hour Fitness Center or on one of the 2 lit Tennis Courts.  Enrich yourself with Cooking Demonstrations and Cigar-rolling Classes.  Make this a true worry-free vacation by opting for the “Royal Plan” and receive all of the complimentary inclusions as well as all meals, snacks, spirits & wine, scuba diving and roundtrip luxury shuttle airport transfers.

For an even more indulgent vacation, choose the Villa Plantation, an exclusive 3 bedroom villa with private pool, butler, plus a car & driver to get you around town. 

This resort will truly exceed your expectations with its combination of old world charm and Jamaican hospitality.

Royal Plantation Island is in the Exumas, Bahamas.  This breathtaking, private 50 acre island has 6 magnificent rental houses to choose from.  All include a full kitchen, all food & drinks, a golf cart (per house), tennis court, kayaks & sailboats, and a motorized boat for guest 18 and over.  You can also stay well connected with Satellite TV, DVD & CD player and Internet enabled computers.  Not to mention the sensational cuisine in the Harbor Club Restaurant.

What an incredible place this would be for a Destination Wedding or Family Reunion to celebrate a special occasion. 

The Royal Plantation Private Villas of Jamaica are Butch Stewarts private homes which he makes available to those who insist on the very best and would like an unforgettable experience. 

Any one of these 4 stunning villas would be the perfect setting for a Destination Wedding or other special occasion.  With accommodations for up to 16 adults these would also make be the ideal place for a small group of friends who want a private, exclusive vacation.  Or you could choose one of the properties with a guest cottage which sleeps 4.

You will feel like Royalty when you choose one of these fabulous Royal Plantation properties for your special vacation.

Where it All Started – Sandals Montego Bay

(This was supposed to be the first in the series, but I forgot to publish it, sorry)

I’ll start where it all started, Jamaica and Sandals Montego Bay.  This is the most active of the Jamaica Sandals, with a fun party atmosphere.  This resort is on the largest private white sand beach in Jamaica, making it the perfect choice for a high-energy beach oriented vacation.  This resort offers casual elegance with Caribbean style, with 251 rooms in 17 different categories including Butler and Concierge level suites.  That’s right – 17 categories from the Deluxe Oceanview Room all the way to the Prime Minister’s Beachfront Suite at the Bay Roc Villas.  Which category would you want to stay in?  Maybe a Grande Luxe Beachfront?  Or the Water’s Edge Concierge Room?  Or one of the Bay Roc Villas complete with Butler?  So many choices!

Speaking of choices, with 7 restaurants, including the new Stewfish Restaurant and 5 bars to choose from you have plenty of dining choices.  There are 4 pools, 4 whirlpools, a wedding chapel as well as beach gazebo and garden locations for weddings, and the fabulous, award winning Red Lane Spa!

This resort is located under the flight path for the airport.  The staff has started a great tradition of waving at the planes as they depart, and all the couples kiss.  The resort also has new Fire Pits on the beach for extra romance in the evening, plenty of palapas for shade during the day – some with hammocks or beds for comfort.

Want a little privacy, the 26 acres of grounds provide many opportunities for you and your loved one to have some time to yourselves, walking through landscaped gardens filled with fresh fruit trees and tropical flowers. 

Daytime activities include watersports, beach and pool volleyball, tennis, a fitness center, or you could opt for a local tour like Bamboo River Rafting, Deep Sea Fishing, a Zip Line Canopy Tour, or a Catamaran Cruise.  In the evenings there is nightly entertainment including music and theme parties.  You can indulge in as many of these activities as you like, or none at all.

Sandals version of a Bed & Breakfast – Sandals Carlyle

This boutique resort has just 52 rooms, but all the luxury and personalized service that you will find at all Sandals properties.  Sandals Carlyle features lush beautiful gardens, 3 restaurants, 2 bars, 1 pool and 1 whirlpool.  Although there are only 3 room categories here, you can still have the butler experience.  With exchange privileges at Sandals Montego Bay and Royal Caribbean, you have all the activities, dining choices and entertainment that you can experience at the other resorts, with an intimate small inn style vacation.  Besides all of the watersports, activities, entertainment available at the resort, you are walking distance to the famed Hip Strip with its restaurants and shops.  This is the perfect resort for those looking for the Sandals experience on a smaller scale, who also want to get out and experience the local culture. 

Sandals Carlyle was the first resort names Green Hotel of the Year by the Caribbean Hotel Association.

Azamara Cruise Lines

A bright star in the deep blue sea. I was at an event last night for home based travel agents.  Our local sales rep for the new Azamara Cruise line did a short workshop prior to the main event.  I had not really taken the time to check out this cruise line, but was extremely impressed with everything that is included, the beautiful ships themselves, as well as the Itineraries. 

I’d like to share a few things that I learned with you. Most people who have cruised have been on one of the so called “mass market” cruise lines such as Carnival, Princess, Royal Caribbean, etc.  All of these offer a wonderful experience – included in your cruise price are your accommodations, nightly entertainment, all meals (unless you choose to eat in a specialty restaurant), art auctions, captain’s cocktail parties, superb service, and all sorts of day time activities.  What more could you possibly want or expect? 

Well, to start with, the ships are much smaller at about 30,000 tons.  What the heck does that mean?  Well, rather than 2000 passengers and 1000 crew members, Azamara Quest has only 694 passengers with 407 staff members.  The ships are much smaller and can get into some much more out of the way ports than the bigger ships. 

There is butler service in all staterooms and suites.  Your butler will help schedule spa treatments, specialty dining reservations, shore excursions, assist with unpacking and packing, afternoon tea, evening hors d’oeurves, and more! 

Speaking of speciality dining – did I mention that one Speciality Dining Experience is included with your stateroom price; 2 with your suite.  There are 2 fabulous specialty restaurants on each ship – Aqualina which has regional cousine and Prime C which is steak and seafood.  Both of these restaurants have well stocked wine bars where you can do wine tastings.   

The main dining rooms do things a little differently as well.  There are lots of tables for two and the others are for 4 and 6.  If you want a table for 8 you have to ask to have two tables put together.  There are no formal nights – country club casual is the style aboard these ships. 

Ahh, the spa.  Azamara’s spa is operated by Elemis Spa – they don’t just carry the products, they are operated by them so you get the same fabulous treatment you would get on Crystal, Cunard or Celebrity ships. 

Shore excursions are another area where things are done differently than you may be used to.  There are a maximum of 18 guests on the excursions – most are even smaller than that.  There are “excursion experts” to accompany you and make sure you learn about the destination that you are visiting.  The tours are accented by onboard experiences that relate – you really learn about the culture of a destination, instead of where to shop and which beach to visit. 

The ships themselves are luxurious.  Fresh flowers in all of the staterooms as well as throughout the ship.  Double lounge chairs by the pool.  Intimate lounges.  A non-smoking casino!  A computer center that offers classes in Excel and other programs because so many people today don’t have time to stay up to date on technology and take a vacation (I knew I had a good idea with my Cruise to Learn series.)  Words can’t do these ships justice, you need to go onboard and check them out for yourself.  

I mentioned Itineraries – there are many ports that you won’t see with other cruise lines.  Puerto Rico for instance, most of the ships stop in San Juan, Azamara stops in Ponce: in the US Virgin Islands, you will visit St. John rather than St. Thomas; Jamaica – Port Antonio; other unusual ports of call include the islands of Guadalupe, Tobago, Turks & Caicos, Virgin Gorda in the Caribbean; in South America you can visit Buenos Aires, Camarones, Comodoro Rivadavia, Ushuaia; Brazil ports of call include Ilhabela, Itaiai, Parati, Porto Belo, Rio; in Chile you can visit La Serena, Puerto Chacabuco, Punto Arenas, Valdivia; and the Falkland Islands or Uruguay. 

I could go on and on or you could check out their website and see for yourself.  Although I don’t want to miss mentioning that their prices are still very reasonable.  As time goes on and the line gets more well known that will change, so now is a perfect time to consider cruising with Azamara!