What’s Your Free Cruise Perk Really Worth?

By Brittany Chrusciel, Associate Editor

Exterior shot of Carnival Valor in port

If you pay attention to those cruise line emails that flood your inbox and those bright brochures that line your mailbox, you’ve probably noticed an uptick in promotions touting “free perks” or your choice of added onboard amenities. Cruise lines — such as Celebrity, Norwegian and Oceania — are promising bonuses like a free drinks package for two, hundreds in onboard credit or even free third and fourth passengers (to a cabin) — but is there a catch? When presented with the choice, which perk or perks are the best ones to choose? (Especially considering that once you make the choice, it applies to both you and the other person in your cabin.)

We took a look at a couple of the industry’s current cruise perk promos and broke down the value by each offer category. We also provide our read on which perks offer the best deal. Armed with information on what these freebies are really worth, choosing between complimentary Corona and endless free Facebooking becomes less of a guess and more of a discussion (argument?) with your travel companion.

Fruity drink from Oasis of the Seas' Mast Bar

The Perks

Beverage Package

If you imbibe, purchasing a drinks package on a cruise might seem like a relative no-brainer. Across the board, this is the perk we see offered by nearly every cruise line that offers a value-add promotion. The offer typically applies only to the first two people in a cabin (if they are 21 or older). So what’s the actual value of free drinks for a weeklong cruise?

Less than you’d think. That’s because you might end up paying for this perk before you receive it — an unexpected stipulation for something advertised as free. The reason is an automatic 18-percent gratuity and service charge is attached to many cruise lines’ individual beverages and beverage packages — and while the package is free, the gratuities are not always.

The best-value free drink package perk we found is Norwegian’s. Even with gratuities ($199.08 for two on a weeklong cruise), you’ll save $906.92 per cabin off the cost of the line’s Ultimate beverage package. Abstain from alcohol but dig the sweet stuff? Opt instead for a weeklong soda package (valued at $86.10 for two people).

Internet Package

With cruisers looking to be more connected than ever before, free internet minutes or unlimited voyage-long internet access is the second most popular perk offered by cruise lines with this kind of promotion. Oceania Cruises includes it as its baseline free perk for the OLife Choice program — free, unlimited internet for the duration of the sailing, which is typically $27.99 per day. Depending on how you use the web — checking in with family via email or social media or spending long leisurely evenings uploading hi-res photos at sea — a free internet perk package could serve you well or come up short. Our advice is look for unlimited plans.

The best internet perk we found is Celebrity’s Go!Big offer, which includes an unlimited-use package valued at $140 per person for a weeklong cruise ($280 value for two people). Norwegian’s Free at Sea program offers $125 worth of minutes per cabin — that’s just over four hours of internet use to be shared over the course of a week. The least impressive free Wi-Fi perk belongs to MSC Cruises; that line gives cruisers a package offering only email and social media access (a value of $33 per person for a weeklong cruise).

Onboard Credit

The perk with the most freedom, onboard credit means you have money to spend onboard just about anywhere you’d like. You can certainly use it to purchase a drinks package or a shore excursion, but you could also blow it all in the shops or on for-fee extras like arcade games. The magic number for this type of perk is usually $300 per cabin; if you’re traveling with a friend (or a partner who doesn’t want to share) that means $150 per person.

The true value? There are no caveats. Onboard credit won’t charge you gratuities or a fee to use. It is, for lack of a better word, free money. Onboard credit is also the most popular perk you might find as a one-off value-add offer or a bonus for booking with a travel agent. Oceania staggers its onboard credit by length of voyage. For example, a 10-night sailing will get you $400 per cabin. Treating yourself to a back-to-back 28-night voyage? That’s $1,000 in onboard credit.

A beach lifeguard in Great Stirrup Cay with Norwegian Breakaway docked in the background

Free Shore Excursions

Cruise lines offer shore excursions to help travelers explore each destination — but the tours can be pricy (and booking several can quickly add up). Therefore, cruise lines might offer an onboard credit exclusively for booking shore tours or offer a set number of included tours as an enticement to book. Before you choose shore excursions as a perk, see how much an average excursion would cost your family and then subtract any credit. Still a deal?

Oceania’s OLife Choice offers three full excursions for two on sailings shorter than nine days; that number increases to five excursions for sailings 14 days or longer. On the contrary, Norwegian’s Free at Sea offers a shore-ex credit of $50 per cabin per port. On average, a weeklong Caribbean cruise visits about three or four ports, meaning a shore-ex credit of just $150 to $200 per cabin. (Shore excursions can cost hundreds of dollars depending on the adventure and length.)

Prepaid Gratuities

Most cruise lines automatically add gratuities or a service charge to your onboard account; for a couple cruising, the added fees come to $180 or more for a weeklong cruise. It’s not surprising that prepaid gratuities — otherwise known as free tips — are a common incentive across many cruise lines and even through travel agents. Celebrity’s Go!Big promo equates to savings of $189 per couple for a standard cabin, $196 per cabin for an AquaClass or Concierge-class room and $238 for a suite on a weeklong cruise. If tipping makes you uncomfortable or you want a more all-inclusive feel to your cruise, the value in prepaid gratuities comes as peace of mind.

Free Specialty Dining

Who doesn’t love a free meal? Norwegian’s free specialty dining perk includes three meals for two people on sailings up to nine days. This is another perk where you can expect an 18-percent service charge, which is added to all dining charges onboard Norwegian’s fleet. You’ll pay $74.52 worth of gratuities, but you’re still getting a value of $339.48 for three free meals for two on a weeklong sailing. (Passengers on cruises of more than 10 nights receive four meals each.) Looked at another way, each person is paying just $12.42 for each of the three dinners — not free but a definite savings.

Room Upgrade

Getting a cruise room upgrade is not offered as a choice on too many value-add promotions with multiple options, but it’s a common perk or incentive for many cruise lines and the focus of many cruise campaigns. Some lines will offer upgrades within the same cabin type (balcony cabin to higher-category balcony cabin), while others let you move from one class to another (outside to balcony).

Because cruise fares vary dramatically per sailing and sometimes categories can be close or far in price, the real value is not financial but what you’re getting with the upgrade — a better cabin.

Free Cruise Fare for Third & Fourth Passengers

Maybe no perk could be better than free cruise fare — except it’s not entirely free.

Norwegian’s Free at Sea promo is (at press time) offering “free” passage for additional passengers in a cabin (on select sailings) as one of its perk choices. From time to time, other cruise lines will offer free third and fourth passengers (or free kids sharing a cabin with two adults) as part of sale fares. The catch? You’re still responsible for paying port taxes and fees for these “free” passengers, which can equate to about $200 each.

If you’re trying to figure out the value of the free fares, it can also get tricky. Many times, third and fourth passengers don’t pay the full cruise fare, so the actual value can be significantly less than you’d think, based on the full amount for the first two passengers. For example, we saw a round-trip sailing around the Hawaiian Islands on Pride of America selling for $1,449 — that would be a two-person value of $2,898. However, the third and fourth passenger fares were just $449; valuing the promotion in the hundreds not thousands of dollars. (Gratuities were just $119 per person for third and fourth passengers.) Still, this is one of the nicest perks — with real savings — if you’re bringing the kids along, or splitting a cabin four ways with friends.

Surf and Turf entree from Cagney's

The Verdict?

The free alcoholic beverage package perk is, by dollar amount, the best value you can attain with one of the bonus amenities. However, if you don’t drink the hard stuff, or drink very little, you might not be able to justify the cost of the gratuities and be better served with another perk.

Internet, while handy, is only useful if you use it to its fullest capacity (optimally getting an unlimited package), but compared with an onboard credit of $300, you could simply purchase the highest-level internet package and still have some money left over for a souvenir.

Shore excursions are only a cushy perk if full excursions are included, like with Oceania. A credit, like the one offered by Norwegian, could be measly in comparison to what excursions cost in your ports of call — meaning that instead of a free tour in every port, you’ll have to pool the credit to get a couple of tours comped. For example, in the Caribbean, $200 would cover a couple of beach day excursions or perhaps a dolphin swim for one person; in Alaska or Europe, tours tend to cost more so depending on your interests, your credit might not go as far. Still, a couple of free excursions per cruise is nothing to sneeze at.

Room upgrades are a shiny incentive, but only make sense if you are getting the upgraded room at a good price. Make sure to do a little homework and price out what the average cost of the upgraded cabin is on a typical sailing to see the dollar value of your savings. If you still aren’t sure if you’re getting a deal, the true value of your cabin upgrade might be best discussed with a travel agent who can really price out what makes sense for your needs and where the perk plays into that. At the end of the day, if you feel you are getting your cruise room at a fair price, by all means book it.

While the value of other deals might be higher in terms of dollars and cents, onboard credit has no strings attached. If you’re looking for a pure freebie, with the flexibility to use it however you’d like, this is a surefire pick.

Choosing the right perk really comes down to what would make your onboard experience a better one. Even though specialty dining is a $340 value, if you don’t care much for the alternative restaurants, it’s a wasted choice. Likewise, if you prefer independent touring, don’t choose a shore excursion perk; if you don’t drink much, an alcohol package might be lost on you. The best method is to determine which amenities you would purchase anyway, and then choose the free perks that match your typical onboard spending

10 Signs You’re Addicted to Cruising


Cruise Fever, also known as post cruise depression, affects everyone in a different way.  For some it starts the moment they head back to work yet for others it begins at disembarkation and while standing in line for customs.  Here are 10 signs that you have Cruise Fever and are addicted to cruising.














1. Everyday you check your cruise countdown (via Ship Mate or other mobile app) to see exactly how many days you have until your next cruise.  If this is one of the first things you do every morning when you wake up, you are addicted to cruising.

2. You check in online for your cruise and print out your boarding passes the moment you make final payment, even if your cruise is 75 or more days away.  For some reason, this makes it feel like you’re a little closer to your cruise.

3. You begin researching your next cruise before you even start unpacking from your last one. Admit it, this is just about always true, especially after your first cruise.

4. If your friends and family members tell you that you talk to much about cruising, you probably have Cruise Fever. This also includes sharing cruise pictures and articles on Facebook.

5. When you head to bed at night, you get bummed that there is no chocolate on your pillow and your bed isn’t turned down.

6. When you go out to dinner and you miss having menus that don’t have prices listed on them.

7. If your Saturday and Sunday afternoons are spent watching the PTZtv webcams and watching cruise ships leave port, you just might have Cruise Fever. If you didn’t know that this website existed until now, you’re welcome.

8. You’re addicted to visiting cruise message boards or one of the various cruise groups on Facebook.

9. If you find yourself constantly looking at pictures and videos from past cruises, it is a sign that you have Cruise Fever.

10.  If you eat, sleep, and dream about cruising, you are definitely addicted to cruising.

Cruising 101: Choosing an Ocean Cruise Line



Cruising 101: Choosing an Ocean Cruise Line

Photo courtesy of the Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board

For cruising veterans, it may seem obvious how to choose the best cruise line for your vacation, but for newbies, it’s the crucial first step and begins by asking the right questions.

To start, ask: What is my budget and what is my traveling personality?

There are four main categories of cruise line quality increasing in cost in order of standard ones, premium ones, upscale ones and luxury ones, and in each category, there are a number of different lifestyles to be expected onboard each individual line.

The guidelines below are merely a loose primer, that for the sake of this exercise excludes boutique and adventure lines, and researching those brands in your budget more extensively will point you to the one best suited to your tastes.


Mainstream cruise brands like Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, MSC Cruises, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean International fit into the standard quality category, and while many are similar, they do each have their own personalities that may or may not match your own. Carnival, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean are fun casual options with MSC Cruises and Princess Cruises being a bit more refined.


Celebrity Cruises, Cunard Line, Holland America Line and arguably Disney Cruise Line make up the premium category of cruise brands for offering a step up in overall quality of service, dining and more. Of course, Disney is going to be more family-friendly whereas Cunard will be far more formal and traditional. Meanwhile, Celebrity and Holland America are both known for great cuisine.


For an upscale experience, the likes of Azamara Club Cruises, Oceania Cruises and Viking Ocean Cruises near luxury quality for a lower price and are thus known for offering a fantastic value. Viking is raising the bar for this category overall while Oceania is the leader in fine dining and Azamara excels in entertainment.


Then luxury brands like Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Seabourn Cruise Line and Silversea Cruises lead the pack as the best of the best. All-inclusive is the name of the game onboard these, which are altogether very similar, with Regent perhaps being the most inclusive of the bunch.


Another question to ask: where do you want to go?

Not all cruise lines go to every desired port of call, or at least not with regular frequency. Upscale and luxury lines have smaller fleets and spread their ships around internationally, and standard and premium lines usually follow seasonal deployments in regions such as Alaska, Canada/New England and Europe while often having a year-round presence in the Caribbean. Plus, it’s good to remember that specific destinations affect fares as well. For example, Alaska commands a premium price that can tip the scales of perceived cruise line value.


One last question to ask is: Who will you be traveling with?

An elderly couple that might ordinarily sail on a luxury line might be better off on Norwegian Cruise Line when with their children and grandchildren. That way they can stay in the line’s luxurious Haven ship-within-a-ship complex while the younger generations are happily tended to in less-expensive stateroom categories.

10 Reasons Why I Can’t Stop Cruising

Cruise Fever — by

It only took one cruise, a four night voyage on the Norwegian Sky to the Bahamas, for me to fall in love with cruising.  I enjoyed it so much, I was home less than than 48 hours and I had already booked my 2nd cruise. What do I love about taking a cruise?  Here are 10 reasons why I can’t stop cruising.








1. Visit New Destinations – I love to travel and visit new and familiar places.  With cruising, I can visit multiple places on one trip and I only  have to unpack once.  I don’t have to check in and out of hotels and lose time traveling between destinations.  Cruising is the perfect way to sample several new ports on one trip.

2. Morning Coffee on my Balcony – Waking up early each morning and drinking a cup of coffee while watching the sunrise over the ocean is pretty much the perfect start to a day.  It really doesn’t get much better than that.

3. Sea Days – Before I took my first cruise, I was afraid of being “stuck” on a cruise ship during sea days.  Now, sea days are my favorite days of each cruise.  Whether I’m relaxing by the pool, attending an enrichment class, or getting a massage at the spa, sea days are a great way of relieving stress and getting completely away from the hustle and bustle of life.

4. Sample New Food – Cruises are a great way to sample new food that you have always wanted to try without being afraid of spending money and not liking the dish.  Whether it’s frog legs, alligator, or calamari, you can try new cuisines at no extra cost. It is all included in your cruise fare, with an exception being the specialty restaurants.

5. Sailaway Parties – I love pulling out of PortMiami with Bob Marley being blasted over the Lido Deck preparing me for a week of fun in the Caribbean.  Sailaway parties are the perfect way to start every cruise.

6. Best Bang For the Buck – Cruising offers the best bang for the buck out of any type of vacation available.  For one low price, your accommodations, food, entertainment, and transportation from one port to another is included.

7. Brings Out the Best in People – There is something about cruising that brings out a side in people that you don’t see on land. I never get tired of seeing grandmas and grandpas dancing on the pool deck like they are 60 years younger.  Is it the salty air or motion of the ocean? Whichever it is, I hope it never stops.

8. Being Pampered – The crew members know how to treat you like royalty and I love the service and attention that they give me while I am onboard.

9. Meeting New People – I love hearing stories of fellow cruisers who have met others on a cruise who are now friends for life. A few ways to meet people on a cruise is at dinner, meet and greets (Facebook Rollcalls), and at various activities that are offered onboard.  I have met so many new friends at sea and look forward to meeting many more in the future.

10. Mobility – Cruise ships are mobile, and when bad weather (tropical storm or hurricane) hits, the ship will sail away from the storm keeping my vacation going. Cruise lines have been known to switch itineraries from Eastern to Western Caribbean and vice versa to give their passengers the warm, sunny vacation they were hoping for.  If I went to a resort in Grand Cayman and a hurricane hit, my tropical vacation would be pretty much ruined (and shortened).  I’ll stick to cruising.

Why Cruising is Statistically the Safest Form of Travel


Why Cruising is Statistically the Safest Form of Travel

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

In 2016, the cruise industry will carry an estimated 23 million passengers, and they are in very good hands statistically, even safer than on commercial flights, which are widely known as a secure form of travel.

According to research compiled by the Daspit Law Firm, cruise ships have the lowest rate of deaths per billion passenger miles with 0.08. Compare that to 11.9 for rail travel, 3.3 for cars and trucks and 0.8 for commercial air, and traveling on the seas is a relatively safe venture.

Of course, as anywhere, accidents do happen as do deaths and injuries onboard, and the numbers are mostly relative. Thanks in part to the records from The Marine Casualty and Pollution Data files, Daspit Law Firm has compiled the where, when and how people were killed or injured on North American cruise lines.

In the span of over a decade, between 2002 and 2013, 356 people were killed on cruise ships while 1,060 injuries were reported. Included in the numbers are the 32 deaths aboard the Costa Concordia that sank in 2012 due to an extremely rare navigational mistake. Already since the accident, many additional safety measures have been adopted industry-wide to make cruising even safer in the future.

According to the report by market share, Carnival Cruise Line holds 29.5 percent, Royal Caribbean International 23.1 percent and Norwegian Cruise Line 14.5 percent. As the big three brands, it is not surprising that the number of deaths onboard – both crew and passengers – rise accordingly, with 122 on Carnival, 68 on Royal Caribbean and 63 on Norwegian.

As for injuries, Princess Cruises accounted for 49 percent of the reported injuries, with a total of 522. Norwegian Cruise Line had the second most with 213 injuries and Carnival Cruise Line rounded out the top three with 181. However, nearly half (214) of Princess’ injuries were linked to the violent listing of the Crown Princess in 2006 caused by the human error of a crew member, again a very rare accident that resulted in zero deaths.

In fact, the most common injuries found on cruise ships are falls (596) and incidents tied to existing medical conditions (300). It’s a good reminder that no matter how safe cruising is, be mindful of your surroundings and hold onto hand railings as advised by ships’ crew to ensure you are healthy enough to travel prior to boarding.

For a ship-by-ship breakdown of deaths and injuries, check out the official website of Daspit Law Firm. The bottom line is everyone knows it is safer to fly than it is to drive, and it just so happens that it is safer to cruise than it even is to fly.

TravelPulse writer Donald Wood contributed to this report.

6 Reasons You Must Have Your Wedding in the Caribbean



6 Reasons You Must Have Your Wedding in the Caribbean

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

There are all types of weddings out there, traditional, eccentric, urban, rural and in “petit comite.” The location and theme change everything, but they all have one common factor, they’re romantic events where true love and the desire to spend a lifetime together is proclaimed and simplified to express all these feeling in one single day.

A fairy tale princess who has been dreaming about her wedding all her life is not going to leave any stone unturned when organizing her big day — invitations, the guests to invite, the place she wants to celebrate her big day, the decoration, the date, the time of the year …

Celebrating your wedding in the Caribbean is a novel option and at the same time something quite personal. The sea and a touch of wilderness are now very chic, so if this is something you’ve been thinking about for your big day, then you’re in luck as we have several reasons here to show you why a wedding in the Caribbean is one of the most sought after options for romantic and original weddings:

1. Simplicity and proximity: Having your ceremony and reception in the same place is one of the easiest options. There’s no need to worry about moving from one place to another, and if we move fast enough there’s plenty of accommodation for the guests too. The BlueBay hotels on offer in the Caribbean offer fairy tale locations with a wide range of facilities that are perfectly kitted out for this type of romantic wedding.

2. The comfort of having everything in the one place: Obviously, this is linked to the previous point. But having a wedding in a hotel gives you the comfort, and ease of mind of having everything in the one place: the ceremony, the aperitif, the reception and the accommodation. A romantic wedding where the only thing the happy couple and their guests have to worry about is having a good time.

3. Relaxed and quiet setting: Right on the beach and surrounded by nature means everything flows more naturally. Here there’s no city noise to disturb you, you’re surrounded by nature, and the only thing you’ll hear is the sound of happiness.

4. You don’t have to stress about guests driving and finding a parking spot:With this type of Caribbean wedding, there’s no need to worry about the guests dealing with traffic or finding a parking spot. Everything is available in the one place.

5. An extensive range of facilities, covering all types of original romantic weddings: An idyllic setting with white sandy beaches and clear blue sea is sure to amaze both the guests and the happy couple. Celebrate your wedding on the beach surrounded by lush tropical jungle and arrive barefoot at the ceremony… Let’s start dreaming!

6. Catering: Without a doubt, food is one of the key aspects to ensure a successful wedding. BlueBay hotels guarantee gourmet food that is sure to wow all the guests.

Take a Tour Inside the Most Luxurious Cruise Ship in the World


by Fran Golden

It includes a $10,000-per-night suite—and all the caviar, lobster, and Champagne you can possibly consume.

It includes a $10,000-per-night suite—and all the caviar, lobster, and Champagne you can possibly consume.

On board the opulent new Seven Seas Explorer this week, Frank Del Rio, president and chief executive officer of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, took a moment to talk about the subject of conspicuous consumption.

“This idea that one-percenters are the evil empire of the world is over,” Del Rio said. “It’s time to celebrate success. It’s time to celebrate wealth. This ship is a trophy to the one-percenters.”

The Regent Seven Seas Explorer.

The Regent Seven Seas Explorer. Source: Regent Seven Seas Cruises

The Seven Seas Explorer is a $450 million, 750-passenger, all-suite triumph of luxury—the first new ship for NCLH’s high-end Regent Seven Seas Cruises brand in 13 years. It’s designed to make a splash, as well as a profit: Extravagance was always core to the plan when it was being conceived, and subtlety was never a consideration. Del Rio’s simple goal was to create the most luxurious cruise liner ever built.

Jaw-Dropping Design

The grand lobby of the Explorer.

The grand lobby of the Explorer. Photographer: Steve Beaudet

On a pre-inaugural cruise in the Western Mediterranean for media, travel agents, and company insiders, I had the run of the ship for five days. The most striking feature of this Italian-built, 55,254-ton ship is how palatial it feels.

Ceilings seem to soar endlessly, the floors are done up in intricate stone patterns (sometimes with gold leaf accents), and even the guest hallways have Czech crystal and glass chandeliers. There’s an entire football field’s worth of marble onboard, half of it Carrara. The overall look is more Grand European Hotel than your typical cruise ship.

Three design firms worked on the project, but somehow their work flows seamlessly. They report that “no” was a word rarely heard from the money guys.

Asked the craziest thing he got away with, Greg Walton of design firm CallisonRTKL cited a $500,000, three-ton sculpture made from hand-cast bronze that resides outside the ship’s Pacific Rim restaurant. It’s so heavy, it required steel reinforcement.

“The answer from Frank [Del Rio] was a resounding ‘yes,’ no matter what it weighed or what it cost when he saw the design,” Walton said.

The Pacific Rim restaurant on board the Explorer

The Pacific Rim restaurant on board the Explorer Photographer: Steve Beaudet

Del Rio himself was responsible for choosing (and even hanging) much of the art, and his refined taste comes through, clear as day. In the lobby are dramatic abstract paintings by Eduardo Arranz-Bravo, the famed Spanish artist, that were commissioned for the ship. And from the bar in front of Prime 7 steakhouse, you can spot pieces by Chagall and Picasso.

Five-Star Accommodations

One of the suites.

One of the suites. Photographer: Steve Beaudet

Up in the Explorer‘s top, $10,000-per-night Regent Suite, which occupies much of Deck 14, travel agent Bob Newman aka “CruiseExpertBob” was wide-eyed and smiling so hard he could hardly talk.

“It’s fabulous,” said Newman, a vice president for Rhode Island-based Cruise Brothers. “Nothing compares to this. It’s just unique. That’s the only word I can use for it.”


Explorer has 375 suites in 10 categories, all with marble bathrooms and oversized balconies—a key differentiator from its competition. On similar ships by Silversea, a luxury cruise line, everyone gets a butler; only select suites on the Explorer get that perk. But everyone gets Veuve Cliquot or Jacquart Champagne and L’Occitane bath amenities, plush bedding, and furnishings, with the quality and perks increasing the higher the suite level.

The $10,000-a-night Regent Suite.

The $10,000-a-night Regent Suite. Source: Regent Seven Seas Cruises

The apex is the two-bedroom, 4,433-square-foot Regent Suite—the largest suite at sea—which comes with a limousine and driver so you don’t have to give up the VIP lifestyle in port. In the master bedroom, you can rest your head on a $90,000 Savoir No.1 bed that cost an additional $60,000 to install. There’s a one-of-a-kind, $250,000 Steinway Arabesque piano designed by Dakota Jackson in the living room. There’s also a private spa with sauna, steam shower, and an oversized, ocean-view hot tub—complete with unlimited treatments from the ship’s Canyon Ranch SpaClub. Even the heavy black-lacquer double door to the suite’s marble entrance hall is designed to impress; it’s flanked by a pair of his and hers Picasso lithographs.


Eat Like a King

Compass Rose, the flagship restaurant.

Compass Rose, the flagship restaurant. Photographer: ©2016 Steve Beaudet

The eight restaurants aboard the Explorer boast a wide array of Champagnes; the ownership estimates 1,000 bottles will be consumed each week. And though you’ll have to pay a premium for the best of the bubbles (Louis Roederer “Cristal Rosé” 2007 champagne goes for $525; a Château Margaux 1er Cru Classé 2007 was $1,150), many more treats come complimentary. At breakfast, there’s a self-serve caviar station with Siberian Osetra, blinis, and all the accoutrements your heart could desire. (Pro tip: You could also use a hearty spoonful to top your three-egg omelet).

The Café on deck five.

The Café on deck five. Photographer: Steve Beaudet

At dinner in Compass Rose, the ship’s flagship restaurant, you can order from the chef’s daily-changing, European-inspired menu or get healthy offerings designed by Canyon Ranch. It’s not quite as progressive as the molecular gastronomy-style restaurants aboard the larger Crystal Cruise ships, but the menus are full of crowd-pleasing items. If you like, you can order Maine lobster every night. (It’s a safer bet than ordering steak, which didn’t always arrive at the temperature requested.)

You can also put in a special request. As long as you give the chefs 24-hours notice, they’ll make any recipe you give them—even your mom’s lasagna, if that’s what you’re craving. It may taste just like home, but when it’s served on Versace chargers, it’ll feel a wee bit fancier.

At one point, Del Rio bragged that his top chefs—many of whom were recruited from France—are paid more than the ship’s captain. “We have to pay top dollar to recruit top talent,” he said. They might be talented indeed, but they’re not Thomas Keller (who recently struck a partnership to design menus for Seabourn, one of Regent’s competitors).

What It’ll Cost

The entrance to the Canyon Ranch Spa.

The entrance to the Canyon Ranch Spa. Photographer: Stephen Beaudet

Regent stands out in the luxury market by including almost everything you can think of in its cruise fares: flights, pre-cruise nights at luxury hotels, several options for shore excursions in each port, Wi-Fi, premium drinks, gratuities, and more. All those inclusions make it the most expensive of the luxury cruise brands—and a favorite with travel agents, who happily get commissions on all of the above.

On the Explorer, that translates to a price point of about $1,000 per person per night, which varies slightly based on the itinerary. The most affordable itineraries available are for March 2017, when you can get on a 10-night Caribbean cruise departing from Miami for an entry-level price of $5,499.

The Culinary Arts kitchen, where guests can take cooking classes.

The Culinary Arts kitchen, where guests can take cooking classes. Photographer: Steve Beaudet

“We really wanted to set a new standard, to take it to the next level with Explorer,” said Jason Montague, president and chief operating officer of the Prestige division of NCLH.

Clearly, the public is responding. The Explorer is selling well—including the $10,000-per-night suite, which is all but sold out this year and already booked for more than half of next year.

“It’s selling too easy,” Del Rio said gleefully. “I quite frankly believe we’ll be raising the price.”

As for Regent having the world’s most luxurious ship, Richard Meadows, president of rival Seabourn, said it wasn’t a major concern to him or his brand.

“I think what’s great about our industry is the consumer has choices and it is ultimately up to them to decide what is their definition of the perfect vacation.”

But Regent has thrown down the gauntlet, and Meadows is ready to respond. He said the Adam Tihany-designed Seabourn Encore, previewing in December, would be “the most beautiful ship ever built” and offer exceptional service.

“It’s the sum of all the parts,” Meadows said. “When you see the finished product onSeabourn Encore, you are going to be blown away.”

Regent’s Seven Seas Explorer embarks on its maiden voyage from Monte Carlo on July 20; it will sail the Mediterranean until November and then spend the winter season in the Caribbean. 

9 Cruise Packing Hacks That Will Revolutionize the Way You Travel

–By Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor

open suitcase

It is a truth universally acknowledged that packing is a pain. No matter how much we travel, we agonize over what to bring and how best to maximize space in our luggage. Cruise packing is especially frustrating because even if we want to pack light, we end up needing 12 different outfits each day … and an equal number of shoes. On no other vacation, do you find yourself bringing over-the-door shoe bags, snorkel equipment, tuxedoes, fleece jackets, highlighters and large floppy sun hats on the same trip. It’s a packing nightmare.

While we likely can’t convince you that you don’t need the third ball gown or both pairs of sneakers, we can share some packing hacks that will help you solve common packing problems and use your suitcase space more efficiently. Everyday items — including some you almost threw away — can become packing saviors.

So don’t cry over that bulging suitcase. Follow these tips and tricks to hack your way to efficient packing for your next cruise.

1. Keeping Your Outfits Sorted

Solution: Going on a cruise requires so many types of clothing: daywear, formalwear, swimwear and even gymwear if you’re inclined to work out. Keeping all of that sorted can be a nightmare. You could buy packing cubes … or you could save those zippered plastic casings that sheet sets come in to serve the same purpose. (Ziploc bags work, as well.) Pair your outfits, put them in their own bags, and squeeze all the air out before you zip them closed. Not only will you be spared from hunting for that matching top, but you’ll have an easier time fitting more clothes into the suitcase.

2. Getting the Creases Out

Solution: All that formal evening attire (and even some of your country club casual attire) is susceptible to wrinkles on the long trek between your house and the cruise ship, especially if you’ve got a flight in between. With travel irons a no-no on cruises, what’s a cruiser to do? Save the plastic bags you got after your last post-cruise trip to the dry cleaner, and carefully wrap wrinkle-prone clothes in them when you pack for your next sailing. Fold delicate items in tissue paper left over from the holidays. Your favorite fashions will remain wrinkle-free and safe.

3. Tangled and Loose Jewelry


Solution: You take out your jewelry on the first formal night, and it’s all tangled in one large, sparkly ball. With so many jewelry-separating packing hacks out there, you’ll never have to spend time in your cruise cabin untangling your necklaces or digging around at the bottom of your bag for the other earring. Earrings can be threaded through buttons or separated out in pill containers that have a compartment for each weekday. Keep thin necklaces from tangling by threading them through a cut-in-half drinking straw and then clasping them closed, or by taping them to an index card. Other tricks to keeping small pieces of jewelry separated include storing items in egg cartons, Altoid cases and Tik-Tak boxes.

4. Wallet Doesn’t Fit in Travel Bag

Solution: Your massive day-to-day wallet won’t fit in your travel purse, and you’re nervous about leaving credit cards behind in the cabin to make it slimmer. Instead, pare down your wallet before your cruise. If you’ve ever traveled on a cruise line that gives out those pleather card holders to store your cruise card, save them, and use them as travel wallets on your next trip. They work well as business card holders, too, should you cruise with your business card.

5. Dirty Shoes

Solution: Regardless of where you’re cruising, you’ll likely be spending a lot of time exploring your new environs, whether it be by flip-flops on the beach or hiking boots near an Alaskan glacier. But how do you keep those dirty shoes from spilling sand and dirt onto your cruisewear on the return trip home? Next time you travel, take the shower cap sitting unused in your hotel bathroom. Then when you next pack after your cruise (or really anytime you want to protect your clothing), wrap the shower cap around the soles of your shoes to keep dirt and sand away from your clothing. Plastic bags work well, too. (Or see our first hack. If your clothes are encased in plastic, they’re safe from footprints.)

6. Exploding (or Leaking) Liquids

liquid containers

Solution: Forget dirt — what you really don’t want all over your new maxi dress and Bermuda shorts is sunscreen, shampoo or shaving cream. You can easily hack your way to preventing liquid travel products from leaking. The easiest method is to cut a square of plastic wrap, place it over the open top of the bottle, then screw the cap on over the plastic square. Put some tape over the top to be safe and — voila! — spill-proof bottles. Or, if you don’t need the whole bottle, decant your lotions and creams into smaller containers; think contact lens cases and pill bottles with childproof caps. You’ve then got a space-saving and spill-proof way of transporting toiletries. Another solution that does double duty is to storing your bottles in Tupperware. Once the containers have done their job keeping your clothes safe from spills, you can wash them out and use them to carry out food from the buffet.

7. Fitting (Lots of?) Shoes Into Luggage

Solution: Your shoes are now happily wrapped up, but they’re bulky and take up so much room in your suitcase. There’s no way to reduce shoe bulk (unless you only pack flip-flops or ballet flats), but you can put them to use. Fill that footwear with all the little items that clutter up your suitcase — chargers, the magnets you’re going to stick on the cabin walls, small toiletries, even socks, underwear or ties. The bigger your feet, the more space you have to fit loose items.

8. Packing Bulky Items

Solution: While we’re talking about bulky items, a packing hassle for guys is what to do with collared shirts and belts that never want to pack nice and flat. Easy peasy — roll the belt and stick it inside the shirt collar. You protect the shirt, save some room and can probably wad up some socks to fill out the remaining space inside.

9. Keeping Wine Safe

wine bottles

Solution: Most cruise lines let passengers bring one or more bottles of wine onboard. But packing a bottle in your checked bags means risking a messy break and spill. Our favorite bottle protection hack is to save up bubble wrap and then fashion a protective case for your bottle. (Bonus: If you don’t plan to bring home any local wine for a souvenir, you can while away an hour on your balcony happily popping the bubbles.) We’ve also heard of inserting wine bottles in pool floaties and sneakers (yet another shoe hack — see above).

Heading abroad? Leave your regular card at home


Heading abroad? Leave your regular card at home

When heading abroad, you should never rely on cash alone. Not only would you be seriously stuck if your money were to be lost or stolen, but what if you were tempted by an extravagant souvenir or special meal out that your cash wouldn’t cover? That’s why you should always bring a card with you, but it doesn’t mean you should bring your everyday spending card…

Unexpected expenses

What you may not know about your regular credit or debit card is that they’ll often charge you extortionate fees when using them abroad. Whether it’s making a cash withdrawal or a physical purchase, you could well end up spending far more than you bargained for thanks to ramped up exchange rates, load fees or a raft of other charges – and you’ll be hit every time you use the card.

These extra fees could include:

  • Uncompetitive exchange rates for purchases and cash withdrawals
  • A non-sterling transaction fee (otherwise known as the loading or conversion fee), which is added to the exchange rate with every purchase and cash withdrawal, typically around 3%
  • A separate ATM/cash withdrawal fee
  • Additional interest charges on credit cards, even if you pay off the balance
  • An extra penalty charge for every instance of foreign use

When those fees are combined, and multiplied by the number of times you use your card abroad, you’ll soon see how your budget can spiral out of control – unless, of course, you use a card that’s been specifically designed for foreign use.

Fee-free foreign use

Cards designed for foreign use are just that – they know you’ll be using them abroad, so they don’t charge you any extra for it. You won’t find any additional fees levied when you make purchases or withdraw cash (and if you do, they’ll be far less than average), which could prove to be far more cost-effective. Just bear in mind that you should still try to avoid withdrawing cash using a travel credit card, as much like in the UK, you’ll be charged extra for doing so, so in this case you’ll probably want to opt for a travel debit card instead.

Mix and match

While there are a lot of credit cards out there that offer fantastic deals when used in the UK – 0% interest on purchases and cashback on your spending, for example, can prove to be great ways to help you manage your budget – the benefits are completely nullified when used abroad. Likewise, cards used for foreign use may not offer the best spending options when back on home soil, so you should always have specific cards set aside for each. That way, you can be confident that your plastic is working hard for you, no matter where you are in the world.

What Not to Do on a Cruise Ship Pool Deck

–By Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor

The Main Pool on Norwegian Escape

Relaxing by the pool, with a cliched umbrella drink in hand, is one of the great pleasures of a cruise vacation. It’s what many 9-to-5ers dream of, as they sit in their offices, ticking off the calendar days until embarkation. So it’s no surprise that cruise travelers get very upset when their sun-drenched fantasies are destroyed by screaming children, rude chair hoggers or unexpected splashings — or feel sheepish when their own behavior gets them into trouble

Everyone can have a good time by the pool without too much effort, as long as we can all agree to follow a few simple etiquette and safety rules, and adjust our expectations from the idyllic to the realistic. Don’t be the object of glares, stares or next-day regrets — learn what not to do on a cruise ship pool deck…and don’t do it!

Chair hogs on Carnival Splendor

1. Don’t be a chair hog.

Everyone should have equal access to prime sun loungers. If you want to get up at the crack of dawn, stick a book and towel on a chair, grab breakfast at the buffet, then return to your chair to eat it — be our guest. If you don’t plan on returning until late in the afternoon, preventing other people from using a perfectly good chair, you are a chair hog, and no one likes you. Please be courteous and only reserve chairs you’re actively using when you need to step away to grab a drink, take a dip or run to the bathroom.

2. Don’t ignore your kids.

There are two parts to this “don’t.” First, as a parent, you are responsible for your kids’ behavior at the pool, so don’t let them terrorize your shipmates by running around screaming, starting water fights or otherwise being a nuisance. Second, most cruise ship pools do not have lifeguards, so watch your little ones when they’re in the water to make sure they stay safe.

Woman applying sunblock by the pool

3. Don’t forget sunblock.

Several hours spent lying in the sun, plus no sunblock (or no re-application of sunscreen), equals one very bad sunburn that could ruin your vacation. Don’t spend half your cruise bathing in aloe vera gel or unable to sit or go outside because you didn’t take a few minutes on your first sea day to lather on some SPF 30. Don’t love the lotion? At least put on a hat and cover-up to keep your fair skin out of the bright rays.

4. Don’t wear a Speedo.

Unless you’re a gorgeous model, and possibly even then, no one wants to see you in itsy-bitsy, very clingy swim trunks. The best rule of thumb when packing swimwear for a cruise is to remember that people of all ages, genders and levels of modesty will be sharing the pool deck with you. If you don’t want to be stared at — for whatever reason — choose a bathing suit that fits you well and leaves some things to the imagination.

5. Don’t sunbathe topless.

You might be cruising in Europe, but most cruise lines ban topless sunbathing for women in all destinations. If you want to pick an upper-deck lounger and untie your bikini straps while lying on your stomach, most likely no one will bother you. But this isn’t the place to take off your top while sitting around reading a book or chatting.

Hot tub on Oasis of the Seas

6. Don’t take your baby in the hot tub.

It’s not safe (infants and toddlers can’t handle high temperatures) and it’s not sanitary (they don’t allow kids in swim diapers for a reason, so don’t do it. Besides, your baby is much more interested in crawling down cabin corridors and chewing on a restaurant menu than enjoying a hot, bubbling soak.

7. Don’t take your drink in the hot tub (or pool).

While we’re on the subject of what not to take into a body of water…please finish your pina colada or Bud Lite before you enter a hot tub or pool. You run the risk of accidentally knocking your colorful, frozen concoction into the water, forcing a closure for cleaning. Plus, consuming alcohol can lead to dehydration, dizziness, passing out or dumb behavior — all of which can be dangerous when you’re in or near a pool or hot tub. (On that note, drink responsibly and mix in glasses of water between cocktail rounds to avoid inebriation or dehydration in general on sea days.)

8. Don’t run.

The pool deck is slippery! Please don’t run (or let your kids run). Lose your balance and you can hit your head, topple into the pool or knock someone — or their fruity cocktail — over. It’s OK to walk slowly; lunch will still be there.

Men's Belly Flop Competition on Enchantment of the Seas

9. Don’t expect peace or privacy.

Cruise ship pools are the hubs of sea-day fun. Bands play, people chat, activities staff host silly games and fundraisers and movies or concerts play on huge LED screens. It’s loud, and it’s public. If you want to nap in peace, do a little alfresco canoodling or whisper tete a tetes with your cabinmate, book a balcony cabin and seek privacy there. If you don’t mind company, but don’t want to get splashed during the Belly Flop contest or get crowded by Instagram fans during the Hairy Chest contest, consider a lounge chair that’s not located right at the edge of the pool

10. Don’t pee in the pool.

We saved it for last, but it must be said: Don’t pee, fart or perform other bodily functions in the pool. Instruct your kids on the same, and follow all rules about not letting toddlers who aren’t potty trained play in the water. Not only is it truly gross, but crew members are obligated to shut down contaminated pools to drain and clean them. One misstep on your part can ruin sea day fun for everyone else onboard.