The New Days of Cruising … (a series, part 3of4)

You’ve scanned your ID (Royal Caribbean “sea-pass”) at pre-boarding to show you have left the terminal and entered the dock. DON’T PUT THAT CARD AWAY … you still have to scan it once you get on ship to show you are physically on ship (once you cross the gang-plank)

“Welcome aboard!”

The vacation you have been planning for months has OFFICIALLY STARTED.

While it still may be hours before the ship leaves the dock, this is your chance to get familiar with the layout of your home-away-from-home for the next couple of days. Rooms typically are not available until after 1:00pm on departure days. Remember, while you were standing in line to get on, passengers from the previous cruise were still getting off and staff were frantically tearing those rooms apart to prepare them for your arrival. There is a lot of things going on while you are just “standing around”.

With the recent changes with regards to COVID, this time may be extended due to new sanitation procedures. Keep in mind, each room must be brought back to “hospital standards” after each cruise. Many cruise-lines are looking into “fogging” sanitation, where once the rooms are cleaned, a “fog-bomb” (much like an exterminator uses) would be set off in the room and tape would then be placed on the door (much like a crime scene). This “taping” is important. This is your assurance from your room steward that he/she has completed the cleaning/sanitization process and no one has entered the room since. This is also a good way to find out who your room steward is because each “tape” will be signed and the time the room cleaned will be shown. Obviously, when you get to your room, the tape should be intact.

… so you’re waiting. What to do, what to do?

Explore!

During this pre-departure time, you are welcome (and encouraged) to change clothes in one of the public restrooms and grab a lounger by the pool to get a head start on that tan you’re going to be bragging about to family and friends when you get home.

When we get onboard, we usually head up to the buffet or one of the bars (our favourite staple is always the SCHOONER BAR) for a more comfortable chair to relax in. If we’re hungry, we may head up to the buffet or one of the smaller cafe’s for a wrap or small sandwich to tie us over for a while before dinner. In the months of planning our cruise, I am forever looking at the ship deck plans to acquaint myself with the layout, but to actually see where things are … its a whole new perspective. Even though our suite is not yet ready, I’ll go find it and take my bearings from there thinking what will be used most from that point. In our case, I always need to find out the easiest way to (1) the spa, (2) the adult pool, (3) the specialty restaurants, (4) the buffet. THEN I need to find “my space” – usually a little corner tucked away in the aft (rear) of the ship where few people like to go. Believe it or not, there is a wonderful area for sunning on the deck surround the ship ”stacks”. Of course, it’s always good to find a spot to lounge in when inclement weather hits (and yes, contrary to popular belief … there are days when it does rain at sea).

With this time being less crowded and more quiet around the ship, its the perfect chance to get all those “undisturbed photos” you’ll want to share. I know its hard to believe, but people are people and it’s rare that they will stand aside and let you get a clear photo.

Royal Caribbean ALLURE OF THE SEAS adult only SOLARIUM

While most ROYAL CARIBBEAN ships have the main pool(s) and an adjacent kiddie-pool, the larger ships also have a special “adult only” pool called the “SOLARIUM”, which is where you’ll find us whenever we are in a pool-mindset. It’s quieter, it’s private, it’s got it’s own bar and cafe, and typically 3-4 oversized hot-tubs that jut over the edge of the ship for that “infinity” sense of relaxation — and true to its designation, there is an age limit that prevents families with screaming children from entering. The newer “SOLARIUM” pools are usually completely glass enclosed (temperature controlled) at the front of the ship with loungers lining the entire outer edge, one of the most perfect views. These SOLARIUM are also a 2-deck feature with multi-level pools and decks for lounging on.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the other areas generally open prior to sailing is the buffet. Heading up to the Windjammer Buffet (a staple on all Royal Caribbean ships) can give you a chance to (1) check out the lay of the room, (2) grab a quick bite to eat, (3) have a cocktail, and (4) relax in a comfortable chair with table space to use your ipad.

Royal Caribbean RHAPSODY OF THE SEAS, Windjammer Buffet seating area

Obviously, the term buffet will have a new meaning now, POST COVID. No longer will passengers be grabbing their own food, touching tong after tong after tong, and piling their plate to the limits. Food stations will still be available, but instead of getting and touching everything yourself, you will hand your plate to a server who will get you what you want.

All (former) self-serve stations on board will now be handled by a server or taken out of commission. ROYAL CARIBBEAN also has soft-serve icecream by the pools, and pop-dispensers throughout the ship. I’m sure these will now have an attendant to serve you.

… bow / aft / starboard / port

Getting your bearings while on a ship can be trying. If your stateroom is on the port side (thats LEFT facing the bow/front), just remember when you walk out of your door ALL LEFT hand turns will eventually take you to the front of the ship, if you stay in that hallway. For those of you (like myself) who prefer to book your accommodations “mid-ship”, directions can get a little complicated. I know its weird, but I ALWAYS book our suites on the port side, just so I can keep my bearings straight.

Our next cruise may be a little bit of a challenge. Our suite is on the front starboard corner. At least I know we can only go aft (to the rear) when leaving our room.

… stateroom availability

Staterooms (no matter what class you get, be it cabin or suite) are generally available around 1:00pm (depending on the size of the ship — AND may vary with new cleaning and sanitization procedures). When the announcement is made, it’s like a mad rush to get to your room — people, it’s not going anywhere! I understand the excitement and all, but frantically bouncing through those narrow hallways and running into people is not worth the hassle. That, and trying to get into one of the limited number of elevators at the same time everyone else wants to get in them.

My suggestion, and I’ve learned this from personal experience … do as much pre-boarding research on the ships deck plans as you can. If your cabin/suite is on an upper deck level, it makes sense to wait out this time by the pool or in the buffet. It is much quicker to WALK (yes I said walk) down a few decks compared to waiting in line for and being crammed into an elevator to get to your room. ABOUT ELEVATORS, some cruise lines are now opting to go back to an age of nostalgia where elevators will have attendants in them to (1) monitor the number of people in each, and (2) to press those buttons so there is less physical contact among passengers, and therefore less chance of spreading germs. While it may make your journey’s up and down an little longer … you’re at sea, wherever you have to go is NOT THAT FAR AWAY.

… getting those perfect pictures

If you know you are going to posting your vacation in as much “real time” as possible, think before shooting. I always find it amazing and a little telling of the personal habits of individuals when they post pictures of their rooms. Keep in mind, THESE ROOMS AND EVEN SUITES ARE TINY! Even the simplest thing out of place in a photo stands out (a pair of underwear at the end of the bed, a bathing suit hanging in the shower to dry). I usually get all my suite pictures BEFORE I even let my husband see the room. As the announcement is made that rooms are now available, I’ll head to our suite ALONE, so I can get pristine pictures of every part of the room without luggage in the view, without having to clean up, and without having to try to get a picture without one of us in it. It also gives me a chance to pick ‘MY’ drawers before he gets there.

… the “muster”

The “muster-drill” is a pre-cruise “instruction demonstration” designed to gather a large group of people into one area to go over life-belt and life-raft applications and locations. Pre-COVID, the muster drill took place prior to departure and ALL PASSENGERS ON DECK had to be present before commencement. Those little “sea-pass” cards I mentioned?? All had to be swiped to show your attendance and generally, those NOT present were called out by name over the announcement system.

POST COVID, since everyone is trying to socially distance, the old-fashioned “muster” is not feasible and cruise lines are deciding to break it down into smaller “clusters” (where masks will be required) or have passengers participate electronically from the comforts of their own room via internet.

… smooth sailing

Before you even know it, you’re ship has left the dock and you are on that vacation you so looked forward to. The rest of the time is up to you.

  • sit by the pool the entire cruise
  • get off at each port-of-call to explore or purchase a shore excursion package
  • indulge in some fine dining in specialty restaurants or the main dining room
  • shop in the duty-free shops while at sea
  • pamper yourself at the spa or qork out in the gym
  • jog miles and miles around the deck while at sea
  • take part in a slot-machine tournament or take a class on how to play poker
  • go skating, bumper-car skidding, surf on the wave-rider, play mini-gol, climb the rock wall
  • watch a movie on the outdoor screen at night under the stars

There are ENDLESS things to do on a cruise-ship. SOME are free, some cost extra. DO NOT get in the habit of just swiping that “sea-pass” … every swipe is a “ca-ching” on your credit card.

Whatever your ideas are, crew and staff are there to make sure your vacation is the one you expected and area always more than happy to help …. and just a little “tip” …. we usually tip our stateroom attendant IN ADVANCE — you’d be amazed at the service we are given ■

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