Back in October 2020, the STB gave Genting Cruises and Royal Caribbean the green light to sell cruises to nowhere.
These sailings (only open to Singapore residents) take place under strict safety protocols, with mandatory COVID-19 testing and 50% capacity caps. It’ll take the cruise industry a long time to exorcise the memories of Diamond Princess, but barring that infamous false alarm in December, the cruises to nowhere have been rather uneventful thus far.
While I must have flown more than half a million nautical miles in my lifetime, I’ve yet to clock any on water. It’s not that I dislike sailing; I just never found a rewards program that lets me do it for free. But with air travel suspended indefinitely, a cruise may be the only cure for cabin fever (yes, I have a lot of sea jokes- have you seen the pirate movie? It was rated arrrrr).
And so I booked a Royal Caribbean cruise for the end of January, reasoning that capacity restrictions and enforced social distancing made this the best opportunity for a crowd-hating misanthrope like me.
Although I know my way around airlines and frequent flyer programs, cruising is a whole new ball game. Seasoned hands may scoff at this, but as a first-timer, I’ve found the booking and planning process to be less than intuitive. Believe me, there’s a lot of terms, procedures, and packages to get familiar with, and they don’t make it easy for newbies.
So if you’re a cruise noob like me, I hope you’ll find the following series of guides and reports useful.
|🚢 Cruise to Nowhere|
Let’s start at the beginning: what do you need to know about booking a cruise?
What stateroom should I book?
After you’ve chosen your dates, the first order of business is to select a stateroom (this is the collective term used for rooms and suites). On Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas, staterooms are divided into the following categories:
|Studio Interior||101 ft2||N/A||1|
|Interior w Virtual Balcony||166 ft2||N/A||2|
|Ocean View Rooms|
|Ocean View||182 ft2||N/A||4|
|Spacious Ocean View||302 ft2||N/A||4|
|Studio Ocean View Balcony||119 ft2||55 ft2||1|
|Ocean View Balcony||198 ft2||55 ft2||4|
|Ocean View w Large Balcony||177 ft2||65 ft2||4|
|Junior Suite||267 ft2||81 ft2||4|
|Junior Suite w Large Balcony||276 ft2||161 ft2||4|
|Grand Suite||351 ft2||109 ft2||4|
|Grand Suite w Large Balcony||351 ft2||259 ft2||4|
|Grand Suite (2BR)||543 ft2||259 ft2||4|
|Owner’s Loft Suite w Balcony||975 ft2||501 ft2||4|
|Grand Loft Suite w Balcony||696 ft2||216 ft2||4|
|Royal Loft Suite w Balcony||1,640 ft2||553 ft2||4|
|Sky Loft Suite w Balcony||673 ft2||183 ft2||4|
Which stateroom to book is a question of budget and preferences.
Interior Rooms are the cheapest, but as the name suggests, lack a view of any kind (although on Quantum they’re equipped with virtual balconies, so that might be an interesting experience too).
They’re best for those who intend to spend most of their time outside enjoying the various activities onboard, or for those who are really particular about sleep quality (since there’s no window, your stateroom can be completely black at night). They obviously aren’t a good choice for those with claustrophobia, or on longer voyages.
Ocean View Rooms give you a (non-opening) window to look out of. This is great for those who need natural light, but don’t want to pay the premium for a balcony.
Balcony Rooms are the next step up, and provide guests with a private space for fresh air and ocean breeze. I’d wager a Balcony Room would be more important on a scenic cruise, so don’t feel too bad if you can’t get one on the cruise to nowhere- there isn’t much to see.
In case you’re worried that your balcony’s view will be obstructed by a lifeboat or some other piece of equipment, Royal Caribbean explicitly labels such rooms on the booking page. They’ll appear as a separate category, with a commensurate reduction in price.
Finally, we have suites, which Royal Caribbean further subdivides into three categories:
Suites are much more than just larger rooms; passengers also receive additional benefits as follows:
|Dedicated Check-in Line||✔||✔||✔|
|Coastal Kitchen Dinner||✔||✔||✔|
|Royal Caribbean Classic Bathrobe||✔||✔||✔|
|L’Occitane 50ml Bathroom Amenities||✔||✔||✔|
|In-room Mr. Coffee/Tea Service (kettle)||✔||✔||✔|
|Exclusive Signature Activities||✔||✔|
|Suite Lounge/Concierge Club Access||✔||✔|
|Complimentary Specialty Dining||✔|
|Complimentary Deluxe Beverage Package||✔|
|^ A Royal Genie is a private concierge who will be your single point of contact for everything on the cruise, e.g reservations, special requests|
Given the way benefits are assigned, I don’t see much point in booking a Junior Suite unless you really want the extra space. Junior Suites are “suites lite”, and don’t get:
- Lounge access (with free alcohol in the evenings)
- Concierge service (which I’m told is important for securing reservations)
- Free Wi-Fi (all other suites get access for two devices)
- Access to Coastal Kitchen except at dinner (the special restaurant reserved for suites passengers)
|❓ What are “Guarantee” Rooms?|
You will see certain rooms labelled “Guarantee”, e.g “Ocean View Guarantee”. These rooms are slightly cheaper, but it means the cruise liner assigns your stateroom (see section on location). You have no say in the matter, so be sure the savings are worth it.
Be warned: for Balcony Guarantee Rooms, the room you’re ultimately assigned may have an obstructed view. For more on “guarantee” rooms, read this discussion thread.
Since it’s my first time cruising, I figured I might as well get the full fat experience. So I booked a Grand Suite, which cost S$2,257 nett for a four-night cruise. Royal Caribbean tells me that I’ve snagged a fantastic, limited time 50% off deal, but I’d take this with a pinch of salt. I still see the offer available on the website, with a countdown timer that gets suspiciously reset each time it expires.
A final point about pricing: I don’t find Royal Caribbean’s way of displaying prices to be very transparent, because they wait till the very last step to add on the mandatory gratuities.
These cost US$14.50 per person per night for guests in Junior Suites and below, and US$17.50 per person per night for guests in Grand Suites and above, so be sure to factor that into your costs too.
Should I bid for a RoyalUp upgrade?
If you find the price of your desired stateroom too steep, you can always book a lower category and try for an upgrade through the RoyalUp program. Emails about RoyalUp go out roughly 2.5 months before departure, but you can always visit this webpage at any point to check your eligibility.
The interface will be familiar to those of you who have bid for airline upgrades before (it’s run by Plusgrade, which Singapore Airlines also uses). You drag a slider bar to adjust your bid, and the system tells you the strength of your offer (it’s obviously calibrated to nudge your bids higher).
All bids are priced on a “per guest” basis, based on two guests per stateroom for the entire length of the cruise. In other words, even if you have three or four people in the room, the amount you pay will be based on two guests.
Minimum bids apply. For my particular cruise, the minimum bids to upgrade from a Grand Suite were:
|Grand Suite with Large Balcony||Sky||S$65 per guest|
|Grand Suite- 2 Bedroom||Sky||S$80 per guest|
|Owner’s Suite||Sky||S$160 per guest|
|Sky Loft Suite||Sky||S$160 per guest|
|Grand Loft Suite||Star||S$330 per guest|
|Owner’s Loft Suite||Star||S$370 per guest|
|Royal Loft Suite||Star||S$450 per guest|
|To be clear, the bid is based on the entire length of the cruise, e.g a Sky Loft Suite minimum bid is S$320 nett (S$160 x 2)|
If you’re looking to make the jump to a Star category suite, do remember that this category receives complimentary gratuities, specialty dining and deluxe beverage packages. Assuming you were going to buy a dining and beverage package (we’ll talk about that more in the next post), the minimum bid you should place for a Star suite is:
Gratuities + Specialty dining package + Deluxe beverage package + Whatever amount you’d otherwise pay for a bigger room
Some illustrative pricing from my four-night cruise (yours may be different):
- Gratuities: S$95 per person
- Specialty dining package: S$135 per person
- Deluxe beverage package: S$55 per person*
*Based on sales price. Royal Caribbean holds frequent package sales, which I’ll cover in the next post
After you place your bid, you wait. RoyalUp bids may be accepted anytime up to 48 hours prior to departure, and once the bid is accepted, it cannot be cancelled (you can go back and cancel/modify it as many times as you want prior to acceptance, however).
A few things to think about.
First, just because the system lets you place a bid for a particular stateroom doesn’t mean there’s availability. RoyalUp is a way for the company to hedge against last minute cancellations, so if everything goes as planned, that stateroom may never become available.
Second, there are situations where an upgrade may not be an upgrade, if you know what I mean. That’s because you have no control over the new stateroom’s location- your ocean view room may be upgraded to a balcony room, but it may be near the elevators (noisy), or on a higher level in the forward area (more movement and worse for those prone to seasickness), or have an obstructed view.
Third, your check-in timing may change. You could have snagged the earliest available 2 p.m check-in slot (the earlier you board the better, because certain restaurants, entertainment and activities can only be reserved onboard), but your upgrade may cause you to be bumped to a later timing.
What location should I choose?
Once you’ve selected your stateroom, you’ll be prompted to make three further choices:
- Aft, Mid-ship or Forward
- Specific stateroom
|❓ Why don’t I have these options?|
|If you don’t see these prompts, chances are you chose a “Guarantee” room in the previous step. This means that Royal Caribbean will assign you a room, usually 5-30 days before sailing. No notification is generated for this, so you’ll need to periodically login to the Cruise Planner and check if a room number has been assigned.|
Here’s the general rule: if you’re prone to sea sickness, pick the lowest level in the mid-ship area. It’s all about physics- the most stable part of the ship will be found here. While modern ships are remarkably stable, movement is more noticeable towards the forward areas and on higher decks. Being mid-ship also means you’re at the centre of everything, and don’t have to walk too far from your room to get to the pool or dining areas.
If you’re a light sleeper, you may prefer to be way from the pool deck and entertainment areas. Look for a cabin that is both above and below other cabins (use the deck plan to find this), because the last thing you want is to be one floor above the theatre. Avoid rooms near elevators and service areas. And while the drone of the engine may provide soothing white noise for sleep, rooms located low and to the aft may get unwanted vibrations or noise when the anchor drops.
If you value a view, then an aft stateroom will give you great views when pulling away from the port. They also tend to have larger balconies (I’m not sure if this applies to Quantum of the Seas specifically though).
The forward area is for those without who love the view on the way into port (keep in mind, the ship returns to Singapore in the wee hours of the morning), and don’t mind a bit more turbulence throughout. If you’re on a lower deck in the forward area, you may have to deal with the sound of water smacking against the front of the ship, and potential noise from bow thrusters.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think it matters whether you’re on the port or starboard side of the ship (and before anyone asks, posh does not come from “port out, starboard home”- that’s a debunked urban legend). It especially doesn’t matter on these cruises to nowhere. With all due respect to the Straits of Malacca, it’s not something I’d pay to see.
Ultimately, the “best” cabin is a highly subjective thing. It really depends what you’re looking for: privacy vs access, great views vs stability, cost vs features.
What about travel insurance?
When cruises to nowhere were announced back in October, Royal Caribbean announced that it would offer up to S$25,000 of medical coverage for COVID-19 related medical expenses on these sailings.
More details were supposed to be found here, but I can’t find any reference to the S$25,000 coverage anymore. Instead, it simply says:
This means you’ll be on the hook for any medical expenses incurred off the ship, so protect yourself accordingly.
Does travel insurance cover cruises, much less cruises to nowhere? I sent this question to as many underwriters as I could, and here’s a summary from those which replied:
|Covers Cruise to Nowhere?||Remarks|
|AIG||✅||Choose worldwide plan|
|AXA||✅||Choose Malaysia or Indonesia|
|ERGO||✅||Choose Region 1: ASEAN|
|Etiqa||✅||Choose the furthest destination the cruise will be sailing to|
|FWD||✅||Choose ASEAN region|
|Great Eastern||✅||Choose Area 3: Basic Plan|
|Liberty Insurance||✅||Choose the country which waters the ship passes through|
|MSIG||✅||Choose Area C|
|NTUC Income||✅||Choose worldwide plan|
|Sompo||✅||Choose Area C (worldwide)|
The good news is that the vast majority of travel insurance policies cover cruises to nowhere.
While only some of them (Sompo, NTUC Income) provide coverage for COVID-19, it’s less important in this case than if you were going overseas. Think about it: should you somehow test positive while on board, the ship will turn around and head back to Singapore immediately.
Once you’re back in Singapore, your usual medical insurance will kick in, and in line with the MOH’s revised guidance in October 2020, government subsidies and insurance coverage will be applicable.
In other words:
- Cost of medical treatment onboard= Covered by Royal Caribbean
- Cost of medical treatment while in Singapore= Covered by your own medical insurance
Travel insurance in this case is primarily needed for things like lost luggage (insofar as luggage can be lost on a cruise to nowhere), lost travel documents (maybe a seagull steals them), or if you fracture something or sustain some non-COVID malady while onboard. It will also cover scenarios where you can’t cruise because you fall sick (e.g food poisoning), or if there’s a bereavement in the family.
What card should I use to book cruises?
Royal Caribbean cruise bookings are processed in SGD and code as MCC 4411 Cruise Lines, so you can use the following cards to earn the most miles on your booking:
|4.0 mpd||Max S$1K per c. month|
DBS Woman’s World Card
|4.0 mpd||Max S$2K per c. month
If you use the DBS Woman’s World Card, do monitor your points balance as you may need to appeal for the bonus 9X points to be manually credited. If you hold an AMEX Platinum Charge card, you can use the S$400 lodging credit to offset the cost of the cruise, provided you book it through the American Express Travel Concierge.
Once you’re onboard the ship, all charges are in USD, so you’ll want to use a card that gives you bonuses on foreign currency spending.
So there you go! Those are some of the things I learned while booking, and hopefully it helps you along the way too.
Of course, booking is only the first step. There’s a whole lot of planning still to come, such as food, drinks and internet packages, and how to go about making reservations. I’ll touch on this in the next post.
Once again, I’m hardly the expert on cruising. If you’ve done this before and have tips for newbies, do share them below- anything else first-timers should know when booking?