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Most bars on cruise ships are pretty decent – you tend to have your champagne bar, martini bar, the big lounge with the live performers, and the nightclub, which is usually pretty empty but at least you can get some dance music every once in a while thrown in amongst the 60s nights.
But Celebrity Cruises has definitely upped the cool factor with a couple of bars that can be found on all Solstice class ships: yes, there’s the Martini Bar, but this one has an actual ice-top bar with ice-blue mood lighting, and there’s the Molecular Bar specializing in fancy foams and complex cocktails by award-winning mixologist Junior Merino. And then, unique to Celebrity Reflection, is the au courant pop-up nightclub concept.
Alexander Yepremian, the Reflection’s Cruise Director, had the brainiac idea to start a nightclub that would dock in a different bar each night at 10:30 p.m., with killer names like “Liquid” and “Indulgence.” On one particular night, this writer was having a glass of Pinot Noir at the club chair-rich Cellar Masters wine bar when crew started to move in carrying lights, sound equipment and cages large enough for cage dancers to shake their booty in. By the time I left, about an hour-and-a-half later, the DJ was throwing out some sweet sounds, the crowd was swaying and imbibing, and people were lined up outside on the red carpet waiting to get in.
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Have you ever wondered what it's like to run a hotel at sea as compared to one on land? Well this is the kind of thing that occupies this writer’s brain so I took some time during my vacation aboard Celebrity Reflection to speak with the ship’s Hotel Director (because yes – they have that), Jamie Petts, to get the inside scoop.
Like a hotel GM, a ship’s Hotel Director oversees pretty much everything to do with running a regular hotel including F&B, housekeeping and guest services. But unlike a GM who also looks after revenue and bookings, Jamie’s concerns are more hands-on: getting 3,000 people off the boat and back on 25-minutes later, whether the tenders are working properly and if the pools can open on time due to rough seas.
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Relax. This story is not about Selfie Sticks.
With the ferociously brutal winter almost behind us, this contributor decided to take some desperately-needed recuperating time, not just for my hunched-over, heat-starved body but for my rattled, over-worked brain as well. I really needed to unplug both mind and spirit.
The only way to prevent me, however, from sneaking an illicit peek at my emails and “only answering a few” was to book a cruise where that privilege costs a pretty penny. Ergo, I found myself on Celebrity Cruises’ Reflection, their newest ship on the block.
Celebrity has keyed into a traveler's need to disconnect and so they teamed up with Randi Zuckerberg, former Facebook and current Editor-in-Chief of Dot Complicated, and big advocate of finding a tech-life balance. The two brands came up with a series of spa and wellness treatments that encourage you to Take Care of YourSelfie. Clever marketing name aside, I didn't need to be told twice.
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Chocolate buffets. Rock climbing walls. Waterslides. Ice skating rinks! Sometimes it seems as though innovation for cruise ships is solely focused on making passengers forget that they're on a boat.
Thankfully a few new additions to ships and cruise lines over the last few years have focused not on all the bells and whistles inside the ship, but on the ship itself. The simple experience of sailing on the open ocean is a natural amenity much taken for granted, and these 3 new cruise ship features understand that:
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The 'Azamara Journey' off Port Lockroy, Antarctica
The Antarctica travel season is an extremely short one, lasting from December through February. Owing to mercurial weather, strict regulations on tourism, complicated logistical planning, and the high price of what are considered once-in-a-lifetime trips, some ships will only squeeze a few voyages into those few months. As such, planning for your trip to Antarctica is best accomplished early and armed with as much first-hand information as possible.
And here's a little nugget we feel compelled to share after our own 17-day sail on Azamara Club Cruises' Azamara Journey: taking a "big ship" to Antarctica is not only possible, but it's potentially the travel deal to rule all travel deals.
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You know that old idiom, “everything happens in threes?” Well, it absolutely applies in the case of WiFi on cruise ships this season. At-sea connectivity is a notoriously sore spot in the cruise industry, since the standard satellite systems bring embarrassingly low bandwidth at a shamefully high cost. In most cases, we’re talking $0.75 per minute. For real.
Several years ago it was normal to be charged ~$300 just to keep up some minimal internet access for emailing and some social media-ing on a 7-day cruise, and as of 2014 not much had changed...other than the passengers’ desire for more time online at a better price.
Then along came Royal Caribbean’s “smartship” Quantum of the Seas and its lower cost, lower orbit, higher bandwidth satellite technology, includinggaspunlimited plans.
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So maybe you've heard that there's a new WiFi scene on the high seas. Updated technology is finally allowing cruisers to log on from the Lido deck, and Royal Caribbean is the first big line to unleash the action.
Royal Caribbean's CEO insisted that the WiFi be available for free to everyone onboard the November pre-inaugural cruises of their newest ship, Quantum of the Seas, but RCCL has now nailed down solid numbers on how much they'll charge for the service.
The RoyalCaribbeanBlog noted WiFi rates and packages from the ship's frequent 8-day Caribbean sailings out of New York City and although the rates do hit three digits for the larger unlimited packages, they still represent massive savings over the exorbitant standard pricing of older systems.
The majority of cruise ships still utilize older systems, charging $0.75 per minute or offering packages like 8 hours for $168. These prices now decrease to as low as $65 for an entire day, and gone is that medieval by-minute option.
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"This changes everything."
That's the boasty slogan of ads on TV commercials and even plastered on bus shelters around NYC, referring to the newest cruise ship now sailing: Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas.
The Quantum calls itself a "Smartship," deploying fresh technology from bow to sternin some cases, technology that's never before been seen on a cruise ship, including at-sea WiFi faster than the usual slower-than-stalagmites connection and dedicated apps to help plan your cruise time in real-time.
Between riding the North Star and peeking into multi-level suites, we managed a moment with Bill Martin, Chief Information Officer for Royal Caribbean to discuss faster speeds, better satellites, and what all this means for the bottom line of your cruise folio:
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What's longer than five 747s and yet can turn on a dime in NYC's Hudson River?
The Quantum of the Seas, Royal Caribbean's newest cruise ship and the first to be branded a "smartship," is officially out on the ocean. Godmother Kristin Chenoweth christened her at Cape Liberty, New Jersey on November 14 and, with that crash of a massive bottle of Perrier-Jouët champagne, she begins a year of sailings out of New York Harbor to the Bahamas and Caribbean.
We spent the weekend onboard the Quantum, pushing buttons and opening doors to discover her secrets and put the much boasted about technology to the test. But first, let's take a long look at the shipall 168,000 tonnes of funwith completely original photos:
Cruise ship food: It’s not just for fanny pack-wearing Middle Americans anymore.
Okay, that was harsh; not all Middle Americans wear fanny packs. (Some of my best friends are Nebraskan.) But cruise ships have not often had a reputation for culinary greatness. Or even adequateness.
That reputation deserves revisiting, says David Owen in the new Food Issue of The New Yorker. Owen hopped aboard Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, the second largest cruise ship in the world, and did a little kitchen reconnaissance: How does the food taste, and how do these floating Mall of Americas manage to prepare it? The answers, we surmise, are "pretty darn good” and “with great difficulty and ingenuity.”
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Now, for example, if you board with a special bottle you're intending to drink in celebration on your cruise, you're welcome to do so without finding a hidden fee later. The policy is thus:
"Passengers are allowed to bring two bottles of wine or Champagne (up to 750 ml each) onboard at embarkation. Previously, they could drink the contents free of charge only in their staterooms. Additional bottles brought onboard or purchased in port are confiscated and returned to the passengers on the last day of the cruise."
The old corkage fee is hardly the only ridiculous extra onboard. Here are a few other exorbitant cruise ship fees we'd like to see eliminated:
Ice-skating rinks. Rock-climbing walls. Planetariums. Mini golf courses. If it seems like cruise ships have it all, that's because they must cater to the whims of thousands of travelers with differing interests, all with the single goal of a good time.
Starting this November, that good time will be enhanced by yet another cruise line first, as Royal Caribbean debuts the 4,900-passenger Quantum of the Seas and her extendable arm viewing capsule, the "North Star." This contraption, which lifts passengers up and over the ship for a 360-degree view, would be a lovely little mid-ocean joyride, if only the key promotional rendering wasn't so misleading.