Just before I start this post, I want to make it clear this is not a paid post. I get absolutely nothing from Royal Caribbean whatsoever. The opinions in this blog are my own, from my experience, and the reasons I’ve listed are current as at the time of writing. I can’t guarantee they will always stay the same so you should always do your research. If you find this helpful, though, I’d appreciate it if you share it with anyone else you know who is thinking about booking their next cruise onboard a Royal Caribbean ship.
I know a lot of people are sceptical about booking another cruise on board a cruise ship, and rightly so. We were sceptical as well, even after deciding to give it a try, the first cruise we booked on board seemed like it was more expensive than the deal that was running when we got off the ship. After some further research and calls with Royal Caribbean, I finally figured it out. The deal you get by booking on board is always better UNLESS you can get a deal on a last-minute sailing, but even then if you book a last-minute sailing on board, it will still be a better deal than booking it off the ship. Sometimes there won’t be much in the price, but the deal will still be better value. Here’s why:
1. The best price guaranteed
The price is guaranteed to be the best and at least 30% off per person compared to full brochure rates. It’s true that there are sales that work out this good all the time off the ship, but that’s where the other aspects of the onboard deal come in to make it the best value. The regular Best Price Guarantee also applies. As per Royal Caribbean’s FAQ, if you find a cheaper rate within 48 hours after your booking you can get 110% of the difference in onboard credit.
2. Price match guarantee
The price match guarantee is confusing because it overlaps with the best price guarantee. What it means, though, is that if you do see your cruise come up cheaper, Royal Caribbean will discount your booking to match it until the final payment date or give you a cabin upgrade if that works out to be a similar price to what you booked. This policy is not NextCruise exclusive. It does apply to your bookings in general. You can use it with NextCruise as well, though, so it is a benefit. I’ve never actually encountered a lower price come up, so I don’t know if they honour this or not. I’ve read conflicting reports on the internet, but many of the issues seem to be related to different terms in different promotions. I can only assume they do honour this. For more information on price adjustments, Royal Caribbean’s blog does a good job of explaining it.
3. Reduced deposits
Reduced deposits make it easier to lock in a cruise while you plan everything else out. Normally, when booking on the Australian Royal Caribbean website, cruise deposits are $400pp, but when you book your next cruise onboard, they reduce your deposit. Onboard, deposits start as low as USD$50 per stateroom (for a 5-7 night cruise in an interior room) and go up to USD$500 per stateroom (for a 15+ night cruise in a Grand Suite and above). Now that is per stateroom, not per person. So that significantly reduces the upfront cost to you, letting you keep that extra money in your savings account earning interest for longer. As per the current NextCruise pricing, the reduced deposits you can expect to pay (in USD) are:
- 5-7 night cruises
- Interior/Oceanview: $50
- Balcony/Junior Suites: $100
- Grand Suite & Above: $200
- 8-10 night cruises
- Interior/Oceanview: $100
- Balcony/Junior Suites: $150
- Grand Suite & Above: $300
- 11-14 night cruises
- Interior/Oceanview: $150
- Balcony/Junior Suites: $200
- Grand Suite & Above: $400
- 15 nights or longer cruises
- Interior/Oceanview: $200
- Balcony/Junior Suites: $250
- Grand Suite & Above: $500
4. Onboard credit bonuses
Onboard credit bonuses vary, and at a minimum, match up with the reduced deposit. So if you pay a USD$200 deposit, you can expect to get a minimum of USD$200 onboard credit. Onboard credit obtained when booking this way is almost always greater than what you will get booking any other way. To give you some examples, a cruise we booked last year with Royal Caribbean came with $200 onboard credit, booking the same cruise online only had $100 onboard credit. We also just booked a Celebrity cruise onboard, and it came with $550 onboard credit for a USD$200 deposit. The same one comes with $300 onboard credit when booking online.
Flexibility is the biggest one for us. When you book your next cruise on board with Royal Caribbean, you don’t have to pay any more than the reduced deposit until the final payment date. On top of that, you can completely change your cruise until final payment! That is only 75 days before the cruise. Usually, you have to make any changes 151 days before you set sail. You can also cancel with a full refund up to 75 days before the sail date, allowing you more time than a regular booking. Standard bookings require you to cancel 151 days before the sail date to obtain a full refund. Not to mention if you do change your cruise you retain all the NextCruise booking benefits, except that the price will be the advertised price on the day you change it.
One thing to note is that Royal Caribbean’s blog does indicate the deposit for NextCruise bookings is non-refundable. However, the NextCruise staff and the NextCruise presentation have always said that it is entirely refundable up to 75 days before the cruise, including on our most recent cruise (February 2017). The terms and conditions on the Australian Royal Caribbean website do also make it clear that the deposit is refundable as long as you did not take the onboard credit immediately. If you chose to take it on your future cruise, then the deposit is completely refundable until the final payment is due. So, if took the credit immediately and then cancel, you are just covering the cost of the onboard credit you had already received. Make sure to check what will apply to your booking with your NextCruise consultant before you confirm.
6. Onboard credit flexibility
Onboard credit flexibility refers to what I alluded to above and means you can take the onboard credit bonus on the future cruise you have booked or immediately, on your current one. Being able to take it straight away can save you money on your current cruise if you need to, so that is awesome! One thing to note though is that as above, if you take the onboard credit immediately, you lose some of the flexibility in the booking as your deposit becomes non-refundable.
7. Sneaky room hacks
Sneaky room hacks that the crew know about means you get the best room available in your desired class. I can’t tell you much more about it than this except to say that they have always found us better rooms than we could find ourselves online.
8. Future cruise shore excursion discounts
Future cruise shore excursion discounts are available if you book them on board as well. You can save money booking shore excursions directly with local providers instead of through Royal Caribbean. However, if you want the benefit of being first off the ship or the security of the ship waiting for you, then you can save yourself money by booking your future cruise shore excursions onboard. It used to be a flat 10% discount for all future cruise shore excursions you book on board. However, on our most recent cruise, it changed to 5% off for 1 or 2 future cruise shore excursions booked in one transaction and 10% off for 3 or more.
Tip: Research your shore excursions before you go. You can also access the Royal Caribbean website for free onboard the ship if you need to.
9. Travel agent credit
Travel agent credit means that any NextCruise bookings you make get referred to your travel agent so they can continue to provide you with support for your future cruise. In other words, whoever you booked your current cruise with will be the contact for managing your next cruise. Simple.
So those are the reasons and benefits for booking on board in my opinion. Now, I did mention an exception being last-minute sailings. As an example, we booked a Radiance of the Seas repositioning cruise 12 months before the sailing date while we were onboard Voyager of the Seas. In the ten months leading up to the cruise, I have never seen a better price come up, though from time to time the price has gotten to within about $50 of the price (per person) we paid. I’ve also never seen a deal come up that included as much on board credit as we got. However, about a month and a half out from the cruise sailing date, Royal Caribbean started running a promotion that is very competitive in value.
The base cruise price works out at $67pp more expensive than what we paid. It has USD$100 onboard credit (half of what we got on ours). So far, it is still worse value than our onboard booking. However, Royal Caribbean has added a “Fly Home from $99pp” promo that applies to flights returning to Sydney or Brisbane. That is what makes it an excellent deal.
There is a caveat, though. The flights are “from $99pp” so it raises the question, how much are they? The terms state they are economy flights on the cruise debarkation date only. Since you have to call them to make the flight booking, there is no way to check it online. For us, our return flights cost a base price of $325 with Jetstar. So how does the math look (not taking currency conversion into account)?
Base price = the fly home for $99 promo base price.
|Our onboard booking:|
-$67 less per person
-$100 on board credit per person
+$325 extra in flights per person
= Base Price + $242
|Discount flight promo:|
($67 more per person)
-$50 on board credit per person
+$99 flights per person
= Base Price + $45
So it works out to be $197 better value per person with the current promo than our onboard booking. However, we wanted to spend some extra time in at our destination which the terms of this promo would not allow us to do and without prices to compare at other dates it is difficult so accurately measure it. Since we won’t be coming straight home, the value of this deal is worse for us. If we were coming straight home, then the value would be better.
I have also encountered last minute cruises, mainly repositioning cruises, which have a massive price drop. For example, a 21-day cruise from Perth to Singapore that fell to just AUD$281pp (no, that is not a typo, that was the actual price) for an interior room. So yes, you can get better value for last minute cruises than an onboard booking. Of course, last minute cruises do require you to be able to travel at very short notice, sometimes for extended periods of time.
Even then, there aren’t good deals on every last minute cruise. It depends on how full they are. So if you don’t have the ability to leave at the last minute, and you want to ensure that you get the cruise you want with the best deal, the best way to do that is by booking onboard.
I’ve come across a few concerns from my experience, so hopefully, I can help resolve your concerns:
1. The price quoted on board at the NextCruise desk is higher than the price listed on the Royal Caribbean website on the same day!
There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, remember that if you are using the internet on board, you are most likely looking at the North American Royal Caribbean website which lists prices in USD and excludes taxes. If you booked your present cruise in a different currency, such as Australian dollars, then your NextCruise consultant will be quoting you in AUD inclusive of taxes, looking more expensive even though it isn’t.
The second reason it can appear higher is that when you look at prices online, the prices exclude pre-paid gratuities. Your NextCruise consultant will always include pre-paid gratuities in the quote. You will almost always find it is cheaper when you remove pre-paid gratuities. Of course, you will have to ask them to do that.
The third reason I’ve encountered is that your NextCruise consultant will usually try to get you the best room in a cabin type, but that room may not be the cheapest room class. Royal Caribbean doesn’t advertise it as prominently as some other cruise lines, but rooms in different parts of the ship vary in price. That’s what those little codes such as 1A and 2D mean. As an example, we booked the same cruise in both 2018 and 2019 for my wife and I. The quote came back about AUD$1000 more expensive in 2019. To start with I assumed it to be inflation and increases in taxes and port fees. Upon closer inspection I discovered almost no variation in the base rate, the difference was that in 2018 we booked a 2C verandah stateroom and in 2019 we booked a 1A verandah stateroom. There is a price difference of AUD$471 per person between those rooms. That is a total of AUD$942. So make sure you are comparing room classes accurately because the advertised price online will always be the cheapest one.
While not inherently a bad thing, this is the only tricky thing I’ve found the NextCruise consultants doing. So remember, in this respect, your NextCruise consultant is trying to get you the best room in your chosen type, not necessarily the cheapest. Tell them if you want to save the money and get a cheaper room class.
2. Don’t Royal Caribbean ships operate on USD? What about currency conversion and exchange fees? Won’t it be cheaper if I just book in Australia with AUD?
Royal Caribbean ships do all operate on USD. However, when, it comes to future cruises, they can book in the same currency you booked the cruise you are on (e.g., AUD). They can also book future cruise shore excursions in the currency of that cruise booking. From an Australian perspective, they are a foreign merchant billing you in AUD. Some banks will charge a foreign transaction fee on this even though it is in AUD. Check with your bank before you leave if you aren’t sure, and if they do charge a fee, you are being ripped off. Find a better bank or credit card. There are so many to choose from that don’t charge fees on these transactions. Even taking that cost into account, remember that it is only your deposit you are paying now (and any shore excursions less 10% if you book them now), so if your bank does charge foreign merchant fees, they are only on those expenses.
3. Ahhhhh I don’t know what I want to do or if I will even be able to get the time off!!!
That’s ok! That is why we love the flexibility and reduced deposit. We go on board with an idea of what we want to do, but that isn’t always what we book. The flexibility makes it so easy to get home and figure it out, then change it at no cost if we can’t make it work. You can change it as many times as you like with no penalty as long as you make the change before the final payment date.
Got any other questions? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer them.
I’d also love to hear any tips you have for getting the best value out of booking your next cruise so let me know your secret cruise advice in the comments as well.