In less than a week, I’ll be setting sail on a four-night Royal Caribbean cruise to nowhere.
As a first-timer passenger, there’s an awful lot to learn in a short period of time, and believe me, they don’t make things simple for noobs. I’ve already written a detailed post about booking a cruise, so let’s now look at the planning decisions you’ll need to make before boarding.
|🚢 Cruise to Nowhere|
The Cruise Planner
Once your Royal Caribbean booking is confirmed, a six-digit reservation ID will be generated. You’ll need this to login to the Cruise Planner, the centralized hub for all your onboard reservations.
For the unprepared, the Cruise Planner can be a minefield, full of upsell opportunities designed to lighten your wallet. It’s helpful to remember some of the basics:
- Most meals onboard are free (see dining section for more details)
- Some drinks onboard are free (water, basic drinks at breakfast)
- Most entertainment and activities onboard are free
In other words, you could still have a smashing good time on a cruise without spending an additional cent.
But for those of you who want a little something extra, here’s where you book it. Scroll down on the Cruise Planner homepage, and you’ll see seven different categories:
Shore excursions don’t apply since this is a cruise to nowhere, and spa & fitness is pretty self-explanatory. I’ll focus on the other five categories below.
A few general points before we begin :
- The cut-off time for bookings via Cruise Planner is 11.59 p.m Eastern Standard Time, 2 days before your departure (e.g if you sail on 28 January 2021, you must book by 25 January 2021 11:59 p.m EST). Any later than that, and you’ll need to make reservations onboard
- All purchases require payment upfront, but can be refunded to your credit card up to 2-4 days before you sail (it depends on what you purchased; read the fine print). Beyond that, you may be able to get a refund in onboard credit (again, read the fine print)
Let’s start with the big draw of cruising: the food. Dining venues on Royal Caribbean ships are split into two categories:
As the name suggests, all complimentary dining venues are included with the cost of your ticket (although their menus may contain items which require an additional supplement, e.g lobster), and all specialty dining venues will require an upcharge.
Here’s the list of dining venues on Quantum of the Seas.
|🆓 Complimentary||💰 Specialty|
|^Does not take reservations
*Confusingly, Solarium Bistro appears under both the complementary and specialty sections. Anyone knows why that is?
Reserving Complimentary Dining
You may have heard of the Main Dining Room (MDR), the primary complimentary dining location. On Quantum of the Seas, American Icon Grill, Chic, Silk and The Grande all make up the MDR. Even though they’re different venues, they all offer the same menu (I’m assuming they have different names because once upon a time they served different cuisines).
But how do you go about making an MDR reservation? I didn’t see any listing for American Icon Grill, Chic, Silk, or The Grande in the Cruise Planner, which confused me to no end.
I later figured out that “My Time Dining” meant MDR, and I’d have to select this to make a reservation.
|🍴 Traditional or My Time Dining?|
Royal Caribbean offers two choices for MDR dining: Traditional or My Time. Traditional means you dine at a fixed time- either the early seating (5.30 p.m) or late seating (8 p.m). You’ll have the same table and wait staff each evening, so in theory they’ll get to know you and your preferences. 5.30 p.m sounds really early for dinner, but remember this lets you catch an early show (and perhaps a second dinner after that!)
My Time Dining, as the name suggests, lets you choose your dining slot (or you can show up as and when, but expect to wait). You can choose dining slots anytime from 6 p.m to 9.30 p.m.
Larger groups will generally find traditional dining to be better, because they can guarantee the same table assignment each evening.
If you’re a suites passenger, you’ll have access to Coastal Kitchen, a “better than MDR” dining experience. This cannot be booked in advance, however, and you’ll need to make reservations once onboard.
Reserving Specialty Dining
In addition to the complimentary dining options, guests can choose to pay an upcharge for meals at specialty dining venues. This only covers food; drinks will be charged at a la carte prices (unless you have a beverage package)
|Cost per pax||Lunch||Dinner|
|Prices are for my 28 January 2021 4-night cruise and are subject to change|
You’ll be asked to select a specific time and date, and you can get a full refund to your credit card if you cancel at least four days prior to boarding. Within four days of boarding, cancellations must be made onboard after departure and will be credited to your shipboard account. Cancellations with less than 24 hours of notice will be charged a minimum of US$10.
Buying Dining Packages
If you intend to mostly stick to the MDR and just want to try the odd specialty restaurant, don’t bother with packages.
However, if the food’s a highlight and you really want to sample all there is, consider a dining package, which can save you money compared to making individual speciality dining reservations.
These are the packages currently offered:
|Taste of Royal||S$47.59||Four course lunch featuring dishes from various specialty restaurants|
|Sushi & Sake||S$54.39||Four course lunch at Izumi with sake cocktails|
|Chops + 1||S$102||Dinner at Chops plus one other specialty restaurant of your choice|
|3-Night Dining Package||S$134.64||Unlimited specialty dining for 3 nights^|
|Unlimited Dining Package
|S$134.64||Unlimited specialty dining for full cruise^|
|Prices are for my 28 January 2021 4-night cruise and are subject to change
^Excludes Chef’s Table
Don’t ask me why the 3-Night dining package is priced exactly the same as the UDP (maybe it’s the decoy effect), but in any case I booked the latter. This includes all dinners plus lunch on sea days (days the boat is out of port, which for cruises to nowhere means every day except the day of boarding). You’ll also save 40% off bottles of wine under US$100 and 20% off bottles above US$100.
I reasoned that all I had to do was eat one dinner at Wonderland and one at Chops to break even, and those were restaurants I wanted to try anyway. I’ve heard mixed reviews of Jamie’s Italian (their outlet at Forum Mall is dire), but I’ll probably grab lunch there too, and I’m fairly confident I’ll more than recoup my cost.
You might think the next step after buying a UDP is to go on a specialty restaurant booking spree, but nope. The UDP gives you one complimentary specialty dining reservation upfront, for the first night of the cruise. You can choose the time, but you won’t know which restaurant it is until you board the ship (and can change it once onboard, subject to availabilty).
Otherwise, you’ll need to wait until you board to make the rest of your reservations. If you want a guaranteed seat at a guaranteed time at a guaranteed restaurant, you’ll need to make an a la carte specialty restaurant booking (and pay accordingly).
For example, I could pay S$74.79 per person to guarantee a seat at Wonderland on 29 January 2021 at 6.30 p.m, or I could wait until boarding and try to make the same reservation with my UDP. That slot may or may not be available; that’s the chance you take.
The UDP sounds like a gamble, but the good news is that just like a la carte specialty dining, you can get a full refund to your credit card up to four days before boarding (or in shipboard credit after that). Dining packages which are completely unused can be refunded up till the end of the first day of the voyage. I suppose this would come in useful if you boarded the ship and found that you couldn’t get any reservations at your desired restaurants.
By the way, the same applies to the Chops + 1 package. You’ll get a guaranteed reservation at Chops Grille for dinner, and can reserve a further specialty dining restaurant for free once onboard (you can’t book Chops Grille again).
Taste of Royal and Sushi & Sake are basically set lunches. For both, you’ll receive a letter in the stateroom the day before your reservation, confirming the time and location of your lunch.
First things first. The tap water on a cruise ship is drinkable. You can boil it if you want, but the stuff’s safe to drink out of the tap. Other free drinks on offer include milk, tea, coffee (not the premium stuff, that requires an upcharge), lemonade, iced tea, juice (at breakfast, not fresh squeezed) and hot chocolate (instant).
For those who want more, the following packages are available. All prices shown below (except the Cafe Select Coffee Card) are per day, and you must buy the package for the entire duration of the cruise.
|Classic Soda Package||S$10.87||Unlimited soft drinks|
|Classic Soda + VOOM||S$23.12||Unlimited soft drinks + 1x Surf + Stream|
|Refreshment Package||S$27.20||Unlimited non-alcoholic drinks|
|Cafe Select Coffee Card||S$42.16
|Includes 15x specialty coffees and 50% off individually purchased ones|
|Deluxe Beverage Package||S$54.40||All drinks included|
|Deluxe Beverage + VOOM||S$65.28||All drinks included + 1x Surf + Stream|
|Prices are for my 28 January 2021 4-night cruise and are subject to change
With the exception of the deluxe beverage package (which must be purchased for all guests of legal drinking age in the same stateroom), beverage packages can be purchased by individual guests. For example, my roommate can buy a classic soda package without the need for me to buy one (sharing is not allowed, obviously).
Here’s the full details of what exactly each package contains.
|Bottled still and sparkling water||✅||✅|
|Premium coffee and teas||✅||✅|
|Fresh squeezed juices||✅||✅|
|Cocktails, spirits, liquor||✅|
|Beer, wine by the glass||✅|
Royal Caribbean allows guests to bring onboard a maximum of 2x 750 ml bottles of wine or champagne per stateroom (beer and spirits are not allowed). You can enjoy these drinks in your stateroom, or pay a US$15 corkage fee to enjoy them in the restaurant.
Non-alcoholic drinks can also be brought on board, with a maximum limit of 12 cans, bottles or cartons.
Important point: No one should be paying full price for the Deluxe Beverage or Refreshment package. Royal Caribbean runs frequent sales on these packages, and you’ll receive notification by email.
Given that all packages are refundable, there’s no harm in making a pre-emptive booking to lock in the price, and rebooking if you see a lower price later on.
Also note that if you’re booked in a Star Class suite, you already receive a Deluxe Beverage Package. If you’re booked in a Sky Class suite, you will have access to the Concierge Club which serves free alcohol during the evening happy hour (5 to 8 p.m). Since I’m in this category (Grand Suite), I decided not to buy any beverage package.
Cruise ship Wi-Fi has improved by leaps and bounds, and Royal Caribbean likes to boast it has the fastest internet at sea with its VOOM service (six times faster than other ships, apparently).
Royal Caribbean offers two types of Wi-Fi packages:
- Surf + Stream
As the names suggest, Surf is for basic internet tasks like emails and chat, while Surf + Stream is for more heavy-duty uses like video streaming and video chat. I’ve heard that Netflix works without any issues, but it does depend on weather conditions and where you’re located.
If you’re booked in a Sky or Star Class suite, you will receive 2x Surf + Stream logins, valid for the whole length of your cruise.
Everyone else will have to purchase access. All prices shown below are per day, and you must buy the package for the entire duration of the cruise. I saw these prices during one of Royal’s sales, so keep a lookout for when they come back.
|Surf + Stream
Just like drinks packages, Wi-Fi packages frequently go on sale, so don’t pay full price.
|💡 Protip: Sharing Internet via Hotspot|
|Windows 10 laptops have a mobile hotspot feature that lets you share your Wi-Fi connection across multiple devices. You could try that if you have both a laptop and a cell phone. Of course, if your partner wants to tap the connection then he/she will need to stay within range all the time|
Last I heard, Royal Caribbean was testing a chat feature for its app that lets you message each other for US$1.99 per day. This could be a more economical alternative if all you need is to keep in touch with your partner, but I don’t know if it’s launched on Quantum yet.
Onboard activities can be classified into two types: paid, and free. The following paid activities can be reserved ahead of boarding.
|RipCord by iFLY||S$54.40||S$54.40|
|North Star Experience||S$27.20||S$27.20|
|Sushi Making Class||S$47.59||S$47.59|
|Cupcake Decoration Class||S$47.59||S$47.59|
It really boils down to what you’re interested in, but for what it’s worth I only booked iFly. North Star (an observation capsule that lifts you 300 feet above sea level) might make sense if you’re sailing somewhere interesting, but I doubt the Strait of Malacca would have anything worth seeing.
iFly and North Star reservations opened 12 days before departure, so don’t panic if you don’t see them listed yet. Reservations for both can be cancelled, but you must give at least 12 hours notice (or else there’s a US$25 no show fee).
Free activities run throughout the day, and bookings are generally not required. These include:
- Art auctions (they serve free champagne)
- Arts & crafts classes
- Bumper cars (bookings required and can be done on board)
- Dance classes
- FlowRider (but private sessions are chargeable)
- Rock wall climbing
- Scavenger hunts
- Trivia quizzes
It seems like laser tag and escape room games have been temporarily suspended due to COVID-19, a shame because those seem like really fun activities.
All entertainment must currently be booked on board, and takes place across three main venues: Royal Theater, Two70, and Music Hall.
Here’s the schedule from a December sailing. The timings and shows are subject to change, but this should at least help you plan your mealtimes.
While reservations are required for all shows, it’s free seating once the doors open.
- For guests in Star and Sky Class suites, as well as Pinnacle Club members, doors open 30 mins prior to showtime
- For all other guests, doors open 20 mins prior to showtime
Odds and Ends
All charges onboard the ship are billed in USD. That creates some confusing listings in the Cruise Planner, such as pre-purchasing arcade credits.
You’re paying S$108.80 for US$100 of credits; although they really should make it more clear.
Unlike hotel staycations, there’s no need to book the swimming pool ahead of time. You do, however, need to reserve the gym. Counterintuitively, you won’t find it under “spa & fitness”; navigate to the “onboard activities” tab instead.
Your friend the Cruise Compass
A Cruise Compass is a schedule of what’s happening on each day of the sailing- activities, shows and special events. As per my understanding, physical Cruise Compasses are no longer left in staterooms every night, but you can still request them from guest services. Do it; it makes planning that much easier.
Here’s a sample that someone contributed from a December sailing on HWZ, just for your reference.
If you booked a Star or Sky Class suite, you’ll have access to a concierge who can help you book dining reservations, onboard activities and spa services in advance. The concierge should reach out ~5 days before departure to introduce him/herself (I got my mail late at night on 23 January for a 28 January departure).
Here’s the key points:
As we expect our specialty dining restaurants to be busy, we encourage you to confirm your dining reservations, onboard activities, and Vitality Spa services now, if you’ve not already. You may do so by visiting Cruise Planner. Please let me know if I can assist with your preferred reservation pre-cruise by replying to this email.
My desk is in the Concierge Lounge, located on Deck 12 aft. I will be at the desk from 7:30 am until 11:00 am, and from 4:30 pm until 8:00 pm. To encourage physical distancing, I am also reachable via my phone by dialing 29015 from your Suite or any house phone.
As a Sky Suite guest, you have access to additional amenities and services, not available to other guests onboard:
It’s unclear from the mail whether they’re able to reserve shows in advance, or specialty dining for those with the UDP, but I’ll find out and update this section.
While that sounds like a lot to mull over, the main decisions you’ll need to make are:
- Am I happy with the free food, or do I want more options?
- Am I happy to pay a la carte prices for drinks, or will I drink enough that a package makes sense (remember- you need to buy it for the whole duration of the cruise)
- Am I happy to disconnect, or do I need internet?
I’ve written so much and haven’t even gotten to the all-important preboarding COVID-19 testing- look out for that in the next post!
Any other tips for pre-cruise planning?