Royal Caribbean Cruises – A UK Point Of View Bookmark and Share

We had the great pleasure of enjoying a cruise with Royal Caribbean in May/June of 2010 onboard the Brilliance Of The Sees. Our cruise took us around a large part of the Mediterranean and whilst not brilliant we could easily describe it as a great holiday.

However I don’t want to write about the various places and ports we visited, instead I want to let you know how we found our experience onboard a Royal Caribbean ship as somebody from the UK. As somebody who researches heavily before taking any holiday there did seem to be a lack of information available from a UK point of view and so hopefully this should fill in some of the gaps.

First of all it should be clearly explained that you will be in a minority onboard, I mean a real minority and as such you will likely be hugely outnumbered by North Americans. This is no issue at all as just about everybody we met on our cruise was fantastic, what it does mean though is that you will find almost everything onboard geared towards a slightly different cultural taste. You’ll even find some of the information provided doesn’t really fit. The most glaring example being the insistence on carrying government photo ID at every port. As Brits we are used to only carrying our passport and I don’t think many would be comfy carrying their passport around a foreign country. Not once did we carry anything other than our sea pass card and we had no issues either getting off or on the boat. There does appear to be a cultural difference in this regard and our American friends were more than happy to carry around various forms of ID (their passports were held by Royal Caribbean).

Currency Onboard

We booked with Royal Caribbean International UK and as such were quoted our cruise in pounds sterling. We opted to pay prepaid gratuities and again we paid in sterling. Through all the hunting around the on the UK website I could find no mention of the currency spent onboard – in fact the only clue as to what to expect was in a vacation forum where a user had stated that everything was priced in dollars. They are right, you will pay for everything onboard using your sea pass card and everything will be charged in dollars. It is a complete luck of the draw situation but between booking our cruise and going on it we actually ending up increasing our onboard spend by 30% just due to exchange rate fluctuations. Before completing a booking Royal Caribbean International need to improve the information they provide so that you know what you will be paying. You also need to keep in mind that if you choose to pay using a UK debit/credit card and have Royal Caribbean do the conversion at the end of your cruise they will charge a 3% fee, we compared this to the 2.75% our bank (HSBC) would charge and opted to be charged in dollars and have our bank handle the conversion. In short this is a 3% extra charge for anybody not holding a US credit card. It doesn’t sound much but it is very easy to rack up some huge amounts on your sea pass card, 90% of what you hear onboard is aimed at selling you something – from $200 per person excursions to Rome (it costs €9 for a day pass on the train that covers metro travel around the city as well) to Peter Max art selling for $60,000+ , there is very little onboard that is not part of some form of sales pitch and when you combine that with exchange rates and bank fees it pays to just keep one eye on what is best for you.

Tips/Gratuities Onboard Royal Caribbean

The English point of view is that we prefer the company employing the staff to pay them a decent wage, this isn’t so much the case over the Atlantic. The moment you set foot on a Royal Caribbean cruise you are entering a tipping culture so get used to it. On a previous cruise with a different company I’d actually mentioned on the customer survey that it would be nice if each payment receipt had somewhere so you could add a tip if you liked the service (they had no way of tipping individual staff and all tips were offered last day at collection points). Royal Caribbean do the complete opposite, not only do they provide an area for you to provide a tip but they also go to the liberty of adding a 15% gratuity to each transaction anyway. If you complete an extra amount you are tipping twice. You will experience various levels of service depending on what you put in that extra tip amount, I can almost guarantee you that it is the first thing the drinks staff look at after taking your signed receipt from you. It seems to be forgotten that there is already a 15% gratuity on every drink you buy anyway. Once onboard with Royal Caribbean it’s tips, tips, tips – mentally prepare yourself before you go and you’ll have no problems and enjoy a great service.

Entertainment

The main nightly show was fine, there is no doubting that a lot of it was singing but at least there was some variety. The trouble is that the main show only last about 45 minutes. From 10pm each night you are left with a choice of lounge music in the Schooner Bar, lounge music (with the odd game show where you provide the entertainment) in the colony club, lounge music in the Centrum or Basketball in the sports bar. It is very much geared towards a specific culture and your average Brit may find the choice on offer a little limited. With so much space available would it really hurt soo much to have a bit of variety in the other areas of the ship – we were crying out for a comedian by the end of the cruise! Day time entertainment should be very familiar for anybody whose ever been on a cruise, short classes (mixed with sales pitches) and a variety of quizzes. Remember you are in the minority onboard and hence any quiz questions are weighted towards a US knowledge base. We should add that the Brilliance Of The Seas in not one of Royal Caribbean’s biggest ships and as such the entertainment variety is likely to be much better on a bigger boat where more tastes can be catered for. The reality for us was once our daughter was happy playing with the kids in Adventure Ocean we would head of to the casino (don’t forget to bring some dollars with you).

Don’t let any of the above put you off, we had a great time on our Royal Caribbean cruise, it was just a slight shock having dealt with a UK company and booking what we thought was a UK based cruise to find ourselves on what was a US vacation. Royal Caribbean should be more upfront about this; it’s obvious from the number of people nursing drinks that it was a clear shock for some people! The staff onboard provide a great service and you will enjoy seeing some brilliant places, you’ll also likely meet a great variety of people from all over the world so if you get the chance to do a Royal Caribbean we suggest you do it – just be prepared.

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