Picture it: Galveston. November 4th, 2023.
Julie and I were just about to embark on our first-ever Royal Caribbean cruise! I had cruised with several different lines and as an agent I have helped my clients cruise this line many times, but I had yet to experience it firsthand and this was to be Julie's very first cruise! We were sailing on Voyager of the Seas, which was exciting because I have had clients sail on this ship in the past, and have a few that are cruising in the coming months as well. I collected some tips to pass along to them for both the ship and the cruise line as a whole since many of them are first time cruisers and I decided to do this blog to share with everybody, client or not. Although... If you do want help with making your cruise booking (or you've made the booking within the last month and are feeling overwhelmed), I would love to help you out and it costs you nothing extra!
Getting To (And On) The Ship
Ok, most of these tidbits of knowledge apply to those who are cruising out of the Port of Galveston specifically:
- If you are flying in, please... PLEASE consider flying in at least a day before. You'll either be flying in to IAH or HOU and both of those airports are at least an hour from the port. If your flight has any delays, my concern is that you will miss the boat... literally.
- If you are driving, the parking at the port is super convenient! As you enter the parking area, you'll be given the opportunity to drop off your luggage (keep your carry on bags / items with you... do not drop those off) and the luggage stewards will take them to the ship for you. Bring a few dollars for a tip because this is such a helpful service especially if you have a lot of luggage, kids, mobility issues, or you're already in relaxation/ vacation mode! You can pre-book your parking at their website here: Port of Galveston Website
- >>>Disabled Veterans with at least 50% service-connected disability or Purple Heart recipient can get a 15% parking discount by clicking here: >>>DAV Discount Application <<<
- There are a lot of shuttles, taxis, and other car services that will pick you up from the airport and drive you to the port or if you are flying in the day before they will take you to your hotel. Because it is such a long drive from the airport to the cruise port/ Galveston Beach area the price for transportation can be extremely high and many of them charge per person. We saved a lot of money by pre-booking an Uber from the airport to our hotel the night before. It was around $70 total one way for Julie and I to get taken to our hotel which was only a few minutes from the cruise port.
- When you do your online check in you select your port arrival time. Please do not arrive before the selected time, and try to arrive within the selected timeframe for a smoother boarding process.
- Once you arrive at the cruise terminal, you will be guided through several checkpoints. If you are cruising with your passport, you will need to have that with you. If you are cruising with birth certificate and driver's license, you will need to have those ready. Never pack those documents in your checked luggage... Keep them with you in your carry on or purse! You will also need to have your boarding pass ready as well. You can pull it up on the Royal Caribbean app or have it printed out and kept with your identification documentation. You'll go through the check in process by showing the boarding pass and your identification documents, then you will move through the security line which is very much like TSA at the airport. You'll place your bags / carry on items on the belt to go through the scanner and you will go through the metal detector before collecting your items on the other side. Once you get through that process, you will head in to the waiting area which is a large area with plenty of comfortable seating and wait until your boarding group is called. This is done by Crown and Anchor (loyalty program) membership tiers. Since it was our first cruise, we were the last group for our assigned timeframe to be called to board but it went very quickly once they started!
- Side note: While you wait to board, that is a good time to do the first part of your safety briefing that is on the app. Each guest in your party needs to do this. Once you get on board, you'll do the second part which is to visit your assigned Muster Station and check in with them there.
Once we were officially on the ship, we went straight to our Muster Station.
What is a Muster Station?
Each guest is assigned a Muster Station. It is imperative that you know where yours is in case of emergency. This is where your assigned lifeboat is. That is why they require each guest to visit the Muster Station prior to sailing away so make sure you do this part sooner rather than later. The cool part is that, in Galveston, you can look for dolphins while you wait to check in with the Royal Caribbean team member who is manning your station! Julie and I saw quite a few in the short period of time we were waiting. **Also**, they do not have someone at every single muster station, they have someone who oversees several stations at a time so once you get to your muster station just look for the person working that section (there will be a sign to help you know which one to go to).
Guests who do not do this will be contacted by an officer onboard and if they do not comply they can be asked to get off the ship. That's why I say do this right away so you don't forget!
When Can You Access Your Stateroom?
First time cruisers might not be aware that you will often times have to wait to be able to access your stateroom once you've boarded. This is not just cruises on Royal Caribbean, this is applicable to almost any cruise you'll ever go on. Many first timers get on board and want to go find their room right away but they are surprised when they get to their floor and can not access the corridors to the staterooms because they are blocked off. If you board at or after 1pm you will probably be able to access your room right away, but if you board earlier (like we did) you'll need to wait a bit. Our rooms were ready for us at 1pm. When you get to your room you will find your SeaPass card which acts as your room key as well your onboard payment method for any purchases you might want to make.
If you had any checked luggage, that will be delivered to your room shortly. It was around 3:30/4:00pm when ours was delivered. Be patient! Go enjoy the ship and activities while you wait! If you are wanting to swim or hop in a jacuzzi right away, it might be wise to have your swim suit and cover up in your carry on.
Our stateroom was #1168. It had a very nice sized balcony and two beds that could be pushed together or kept separate depending on your needs. It also had a couch and vanity/ desk area, plenty of storage (I store my suitcase under the bed after I unpack to keep the room a little more clean/ less crammed) a safe, small fridge which we didn't use, etc. The one thing we did not love was that there are no outlets or USB ports near the beds, they were only at the desk.
First Day Fun
While you are getting yourself familiar with the ship, familiarize yourself with the app, too! Specifically, take some time to check out the schedule of activities for day 1! Some of the fun things we did on day one include:
- The Sail Away Party- lots of music and dancing to welcome you to vacation! Julie was getting down to some fun songs and I was doing some kind of movement myself (although I can't call it dancing).
- Art Scavenger Hunt- This is held at the Art Gallery and I know it sounds a little weird but trust me--- it's fun! Plus, you might get a little surprise for completing it!
- Go collect your free bracelet and your "starter pack" of charms at the shop in the Royal Promenade. The bracelet is free and the starter pack of 4 charms was $10. Then you can come back each night and collect the charm of the day ($5) and then on the final night you get the last one for a penny! This is a fun souvenir that you can wear every day!
- Play a little basketball! Ok, full disclosure, we did not play one-on-one or anything like that, we just messed around for a bit. But it was fun to *try* doing some layups and free throws. There are also some small soccer goals and balls if you would rather do your dribbling with your feet.
- Check out the Welcome Aboard Show in the theater! Here is a good opportunity to see your Cruise Director and be introduced to some of the key personnel onboard and then you can enjoy the awesome show! On our first night we had an amazing live musical performance and a comedy act which was hilarious!
You might be wondering what meals are included and what food might cost you extra. Yes, it can be confusing! Let me help break it down for you and also cover some other info while I'm at it! We will do a separate post about how Royal Caribbean handles extreme food allergies so be sure to check back soon for that if you or a loved one have allergies or dietary needs that require extra precautions!
- Windjammer- This is the buffet and it is included in your cruise fare. You can eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner here.
- Main Dining Room- Included in your fare. Check your dining time. You may be assigned the 6pm or 8pm seating or you could have "My Time" dining so you can go earlier or later depending on your preference from day to day. If you have an assigned dining time you will have the same table each night, same waiters, etc. and you may be seated with other cruisers whom you may or may not know. If you have "my time dining you will not have the same table each night but you'll likely have your table to yourself that way. Personally, I prefer "my time" but for this cruise we were part of a group and our dining time was 8pm. It was not bad, but I am not a night owl by any stretch of the imagination so it was a little bit of an adjustment at first.
- Chef's Table- Additional Cost- This is not an experience I have personally taken part in, so I can't give an opinion but this is a formal 5 course meal with specially prepared dishes and wine pairings.
- Izumi- Additional Cost- Craving sushi? You can get it here at Izumi! They are open for lunch and dinner. You get a four course meal here including appetizer and dessert.
- Chops Grille- Additional Cost- This is Royal Caribbean's delicious steak house. You can eat here for lunch or dinner. We ate here for lunch one day and we sampled quite a few menu items. I am a fish lover, and I really enjoyed the grilled branzino that I ordered along with the appetizers that came with it! Those that ordered the other meats (other than the fish) enjoyed what they ordered as well!
- Cafe Promenade- Included (mostly)- Here is where you can come and get some delicious deli-style foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It's open 24 hours so you can venture out to it whenever. If you have kids this is where they'll find that famous pizza they'll probably ask for repeatedly! They also serve Starbucks coffee here which is not included so you would ay extra for that if you want it.
- Giovanni's Table- Additional Cost- An Italian restaurant that is open for lunch and dinner. If you are in the mood for pasta and / or romance, here is the place to eat!
- Room Service- Added Cost (Continental breakfast is complimentary)- You can order room service for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! You will have a service fee for using this service but it may be worth it to enjoy a lovely meal on your balcony with your sweetheart or have a lazy morning after a long night of dancing!
What Drinks Are Included?
Another question we get asked a lot is "what beverages are included in the cruise fare?" so I want to touch on that real quick. Basic drinks like non-bottled water, regular iced and hot tea, basic coffee, lemonade, milk (including cartons of chocolate milk and non-dairy options), hot chocolate, and juices (typically orange, apple, grapefruit, and maybe a few others) are included. Specialty coffees (like the Starbucks I mentioned above), cocktails, wine, beer, soda, bottled water, etc... will be an added charge.
Pro tip: Bring a refillable / insulated water bottle. You can't fill these at the stations in the Windjammer or around the ship (sanitary reasons) but you can fill a glass or two with it and then dump that into your bottle. That way it stays cool and you can take it with you off the ship if you have a port excursion and want to take some hydration with you! It's also good to have one if you get thirsty in the night and don't want to buy bottled water and don't want to bring a bunch of little cups to your room.
You can buy drink packages that suit everybody's needs if you want to. There are different options for coffee lovers, soda drinkers, and adults who want alcohol included as well. Neither Julie or I purchased a drink package and we really never felt like we were missing out. If we wanted something extra we could order it and pay for it with our SeaPass account.
What Activities Onboard Are Unique to Royal Caribbean?
Of course Royal Caribbean ships, including Voyager of the Seas, have activities and venues that are similar to other ships and cruise lines. There are water slides, a theater, pools, an adults only section (called the Solarium), a spa, jogging / walking track, and more. But what really sets most Royal Caribbean ships apart are the other activities that they have which can't be found on any other line! Onboard Voyager of the Seas we had:
- FlowRider- Included- Here you can try out a simulated surfing experience! Word of advice: Ladies, bring a one piece or very well fitting bathing suit, and men make sure your trunks are tied tight! I lost a lot of weight and so my bathing suit I had with me was not very tight fitting and so I was afraid to try the FlowRider. I really wanted to do it but I didn't want to moon a bunch of people. P.S. You can purchase private FlowRider lessons but the regular open sessions are free!
- Studio B- Included- Who can say that they have ice skated onboard a Caribbean cruise? Well now I can say that I have! Julie and I had fun testing out the ice rink! If you are interested in doing this activity you MUST have socks and pants (no shorts or skirts) to participate. It is well worth packing the long pants, I promise! They also have an ice show during the cruise which you will NOT want to miss!
(***I got to be part of the show and it was embarrassingly amazing! Check out my videos!***)
- Laser Tag Battle For Planet Z- Included- Yep, you can play laser tag onboard! Guests must be at least 5 years old and 40" in height to play, and you MUST have closed toed shoes. Julie and I went down to play and we didn't realize that you had to have closed toed shoes. We were both wearing sandals at the time and only one of us had packed tennis shoes so we opted to skip it this time. But I'm doing it next time for sure! My kids would love it!
- Rock Climbing Wall- Included- Try your hand (or whole body) at rock climbing while you're on your cruise vacation! This was a fun, completely safe experience for guests age 6 and older. They have the equipment you need including the footwear so you don't need anything special to be able to do it. I made it *kind of* close to the top on the first try and then attempt number two was just unbelievably bad! Think you can do better? You're probably right!
More And More And More...
I realize this is running a little long. There is just so much I want to share with you! But I think it will be better if I break it into multiple parts so I will end this one here. In future installments I want to talk about the other onboard activities like silent disco, more about the nightly shows, karaoke, and more. I want to cover embarking / disembarking on port days which is important to have some kind of information about prior to cruising! Lastly, want to tell you about the NextCruise promotional offer you will be able to take advantage of ONLY while you're onboard and I will touch on the debarkation process and getting back to the airport. Be looking for those posts here in the next few days/ weeks along with our special post regarding food allergies!
In the meantime, check out our Packing Tips Post here: