Empress of the Seas Pool Deck

Our Empress of the Seas Experience Plus Cruise Tips for Royal Caribbean First-timers

Over 3 months after disembarking from our short Caribbean cruise and I am finally writing about it. At least I’m on it now unlike with most of the trips we’ve taken that I never really got the chance to share the experience with you all.

This wasn’t our first time to go on a cruise, but I’ve noticed that a cruising trip seem to happen to celebrate a special occasion in our lives. And this time it’s because of our anniversary and we’ve been talking about taking a Caribbean cruise even before we tied the knot, so yay!

We originally wanted to pick a longer period of at least 8 days but Andre didn’t have much time off work and the scheduled cruise dates do not work with his approved leave. So we just got to take what we could. After all, staying in Miami for a few days before and after wasn’t a bad idea as that’s where we’re sailing off.

Details:

Empress of the Seas Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines

5 days 4 nights (Miami – Florida Keys – Nassau, Bahamas – Miami)

 

Empress of the Seas Exterior Panorama

We wanted to book the cruise via Expedia or Travelocity, but our payment won’t go through, so we booked directly at the Royal Caribbean website and actually got it cheaper because they were having a 35% off sale at that time. Steal! Sometimes deals pop up where and when you least expect it and you just get lucky!

If I had to tell you all about the travel adventures we had just to get to Miami, this will turn out to be monster post about the madness of traveling in the US during Easter holidays/Spring break, dealing with my pregnancy fatigue through all of that, getting bumped – of course being offered a compensation we still enjoy up to now – and all that madness. Oh did I say that already? I was just so thankful that my first trimester didn’t include nausea, throwing up, and feeling generally horrible. Otherwise, I would have spoiled the fun for myself and Andre and felt miserable the entire time.

Fast forward to E-Day or the Embarkation Day. We took the Miami SuperShuttle and got off at the Miami Port with our luggage just right in front of the entrance to our ship. As soon as we paid our fare, a porter (I still doubt to this day if he’s a legit Royal Caribbean employee) snatched our luggage away from us, lined it up with some other bags and somehow demanded for a tip and won’t accept our excuses (eg. No small bills, we’ll take it ourselves, etc). Anyway, Andre caved in and since I didn’t really want to make a scene there, I let it go.

I mean, I am not against tipping if it’s earned and well deserved. I know you tip for almost everything in the US as it’s customary, but I hate it when people command the amount they should be given especially if they haven’t done anything yet and worse, when we were one of the first ones to check in yet we got our suitcases last and were made to look for it after the ship had already departed because they lost the tags on it and mishandled it! Imagine – we could have cruised without our necessities! Thank God for our housekeeping attendant who found it – now HE deserved a huge tip. So yes, that certainly will be the last time I will ever let a porter handle any of my things. You can drop and check your own luggage in; people were doing it so I was confused.

Moving on, the check-in was a breeze even if I was actually kind of nervous they’d look for a Bahamas visa because I decided not to get it due to all the conflicting information I have received from the Bahamas Embassy, Royal Caribbean and Bahamas Tourism Board. Yes, you could say I risked being denied of boarding, but I made sure I could I had printed proof to justify my decision. Luckily, the heavens were in my favor and they didn’t even look beyond the first page of my passport and received my Seapass or cruise pass right away.

SeaPass is your personalized plastic ID, which has your name, stateroom number, and a magnetic strip, meaning this is the only thing you need when you wine & dine, buy anything in the ship, book excursions, and pretty much all that you’d need while onboard. So do not lose it! Everything that has been charged on your card will have to be settled upon Disembarkation Day and you can opt to pay with cash or auto-debit from your credit card if you don’t want to want an express checkout. We chose to pay it with cash so we can review our bills first and we’re not in a rush to get out of the ship anyway. Good thing we did it that way because I got charged for something I didn’t order, so we were able to clear things out.

Around 30 minutes into the blue, everyone was called to go to their designated deck numbers (in case of an emergency) to attend what they call a “muster drill”. This is mandatory even for veteran cruise-goers for your and everyone else’s safety and to know what to do when you hear “that” alarm.

Empress of the Seas First Impressions

Empress of the Seas Photo at Night - Party at the top deck

Empress of the Seas is one of the oldest (almost 29 years old now since its launch) and the smallest ship (only 1,602 passenger capacity) in the Royal Caribbean fleet and although I don’t have anything basis for comparison apart from the pictures of other imposing ships they have as this is our first time to cruise with them, I feel that it may be small but its interiors are well-maintained, tastefully-adorned and their service is definitely top notch, not lacking class at all. I’m not biased or saying this because most of the employees handling the F&B and events are Filipinos (my Kababayans/fellowmen who instantly made me feel at home), but really, the entire crew is commendable and faultless. You’ll see what I’m talking about when you cruise with them!

We enjoyed our first night eating to our hearts’ content at the main dining hall and watching bands play at one of the bars ‘til my sleepy eyes couldn’t take it anymore.

 

Day 1 – Key West, Florida Keys

I slept like a log after that hefty dinner and watching a variety show, but I willed myself to get up with Andre before sunrise and get our sweat on at the gym as we approach Florida Keys.

We had the entire day, until 4 pm, to spend in Key West. Andre booked the Rum and Cigar tour which I would have loved to join if I wasn’t pregnant, while I booked the easiest option – the hop on and hop off tour. At the end of our separate tours, we simply agreed to meet somewhere and had lunch – of course with Key Lime pie as dessert! At around 3 pm after walking around some more and getting some souvenirs, we were already on our way back to the ship. Will tell you more about how I spent a day in Key West with things to do see and do in a separate post.

Our nights from now on became a series of recurring events such filling & refilling our tummies at the dining areas (they have 2 main dining halls included in your cruise package), hanging out while watching a movie by the poolside, attending a theater show or having a few drinks at a bar, and sleeping soundly. I was ALWAYS tired and sleeping very well. I’m positive that more than the preggo fatigue, it’s a mix of being way too relaxed and jetlag.

Key West - Mallory Square

Day 2 – Cruise Day

Cruise Day is a day jam-packed with activities on board because you won’t be making stops this time – only in the middle of the ocean. They’ve organized an entire day of activities for ladies, gents, couples, kids, families – everyone! Even if we didn’t really participate in any of the programs, not even the spa time for ladies, we still had fun watching by the sidelines as spectators and of course, devouring a few servings of soft ice cream while at it.

Oh sorry, there was actually one activity we tried! We joined a Salsa dance class! That was fun though even if it was public, like everyone could see you because it was held at the main lobby. It didn’t bother us though – we were not the only ones making a fool out of ourselves.

 

Day 4 – Nassau, Bahamas

Nassau Bahamas

Been super excited to spend some time at a Caribbean beach since we left Germany and because I haven’t really taken a dip into the cold swimming pool at the top deck of the ship. The most I could do was to submerge up to my calf and slosh my feet around. I wasn’t really expecting chilly winds, especially in the mornings, in Miami and Key West at this time of the year.

We’ve considered taking a daytrip to Blue Lagoon or even thought of making our way to Exuma Bay (where you can hang out with wild pigs haha), but when we realized how much time that would take, we had to think of something else to do.

All we wanted was enough time to chill by the beach and do nothing else, so if we could find a sandy patch to lie under the sun, not be too bothered by the passing time and not rushing, that’s good enough for us. Next time when we go back and have enough time, we’ll have a chance to visit those places. For now, it’s essential to make the most out of our day.

We found Arawak Cay just off the port towards the right from the exit. According to the guides, you can either take a cab or bus or walk there. Good thing we decided to walk anyway as it wasn’t really far and we avoided getting ripped off by cab drivers, too! We found what we wanted – uncrowded area (actually, only one family was there), white sand, turquoise sea, palm trees, fresh coconuts to drink – ahh, simple joys. You don’t know how much I appreciate these things especially now that I spend more than half of the year freezing in cold weather. From the time I moved to Germany, I’ve lowered my “beach standards” or expectations by several notches and try to stop comparing every beach to the ones we have in the Philippines. That’s why these days; any beach makes me happy – even the man-made ones.

Arawak Cay, Bahamas

Celebrating the end of my first trimester!

Back on the ship at around 4 pm and went straight to the snacks buffet, nap and repeat (the buffet part). Since it’s our last night, we had to use up all drinks/beverage credit while bar hopping. I had my first ever alcohol-free beers & sugary sweet mocktails since I couldn’t really have anything else. We also watched an acapella show at the Royal Theater – that was quite outstanding though! I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Day 5 – Back in Miami

As mentioned earlier, we weren’t really in a hurry to disembark so we took our time to have our breakfast, shower, queue up to pay our bills, etc. No rush at all as we don’t have a plane to catch. Still had two days in Miami before vacation was officially over.

Miami Port Panorama

We’ve visited Miami before back in 2014 on our great USA roadtrip and have done quite a bit of sightseeing, so we just stayed in the South Beach hood and tried to get ourselves sunbaked.

But if you haven’t seen much of Miami yet, oh you’re in for a treat! The best way to get a quick overview of this magical city is by taking the Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour and picking which area you want to explore.

Miami Port Pictures

To wrap it up, our overall experience cruising with Empress of the Seas was nothing short of great! We were able to do exactly just what we wanted: NOTHING. Just a total rest and relaxation vacation. We could have been more involved with the activities they have lined up, but we’re really good with just chilling.

The crowd was also ranging from different ages, but we’ve noticed mostly young families. I guess if you are after crazy parties, FlowRider surf simulators, zip lines, massive swimming pools & slides on a cruise ship, look out for the mega ships such as the Allure or Harmony of the Seas. They take different routes as well and I can imagine, a longer duration, too. I can say for sure that if I wasn’t pregnant, I would have my eyes on those being adventurous and all. 😉

Cruise tips and FAQs when cruising for the first time with Royal Caribbean

How does the Empress of the Seas look like from the inside?

Read Royal Caribbean’s Empress of the Seas quick overview at Cruise Critic where you’ll find reviews from first-timers and veteran cruisers, photos of interiors, amenities, staterooms, deck plans restaurants and bars submitted by recent passengers. Moreover, they also have information about typical activities you can expect to help you decide if it’s the right one for you to take. Don’t be too swayed by the reviews though as they’re very subjective – obviously.

Once you have booked your cruise, they will be sending you tons of information anyway accessible and downloadable from your dashboard on the Royal Caribbean website. Book in advance to get deals!

Can you bring alcohol onboard?

As a general rule, two bottles of wine (750ml) are allowed per room. Note: not per person. Of course, this has to be declared. All luggage go through the security scanner anyway so they will know.

Can you bring snacks or food?

Yes, pack it in your carry-on or in your luggage. Just make sure it’s sealed, well packed or in ziplock bags if it’s already opened. But really, with all the food choices included in your fare, you won’t need extra snacks with you onboard. I was afraid to go hungry as well so I brought a few for my midnight snacks cravings, but I didn’t really eat any of it and the Windjammer Café, a buffet dining hall, is open until around 2 am. You can still binge on food after partying and even take some to your room. I didn’t know this at first until I saw people doing it, so I’d take “home” cookies sometimes. Ha!

They also have a 24-hr room service so you can order anything on the menu and they’d be happy to oblige. It’s very reasonable, really, especially when you’re feeling lazy and just want something to be delivered. Like from 7.50 USD for a plate

Is it possible to book day excursions onboard?

Yes, definitely. In fact, they claim that their offerings are cheaper than the tours you will find being offered by independent travel and tours agencies at the port. I found the tours my husband and I picked to be cheaper indeed – by 2-3 USD per person. Now that may not really be a lot, but it saves you the hassle of dealing with agencies plus the tour operators they partner with are accredited and will surely pick you up and take you back to the port on time.

Where can I find my daily detailed itinerary?

Once you have booked your cruise with the Royal Caribbean, you will be prompted to create an account to access this information and even be able to check in online, prepay your gratuities, add excursions, etc.

What are the entry and visa requirements to go on this cruise? Do I need a visa?

You and anyone else joining you on the trip definitely need a residence permit, valid US visa or an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) if your cruise starts and ends in the US soil – unless you are a legal US resident or citizen. Then you just bring your passport with you.

If you are getting off in Bahamas or other Caribbean states check if they require a visa for your nationality.

Check these websites for more information:

Bahamas Tourism Board

The Government of Bahamas Official Site

Also, check if you have the Bahamas or Cuba Embassies in your country to get a more specific response and to know where to lodge your application if will be required to secure a visa.

I was told I needed a Bahamas visa, but I ended up foregoing it as I’ve received a few conflicting responses from these authorities. But please, never assume. Get in touch with them and start asking away. I will share with you my story soon.

Do I need to print out anything before I check in?

Yes, print out the documents sent to you electronically and can also be accessed in your Royal Caribbean online account – your temporary SeaPass, itinerary (if you want), but most importantly and the one you should not forget are the bag tags! These tags will have your name on it, stateroom number and a unique barcode so that they can deliver your bags straight to your room once you start sailing. You have to attach/fasten it securely so it won’t loosen up. Otherwise, you will end up in a panic like us when the tags on our baggage came off and it took a while before it found its way to us.

How do I get to Miami Port from Miami International Airport?

Well, it’s really not a problem as you have a few options.

Book a seat online at SuperShuttle or just hop on one when you arrive – You’ll start seeing signs just after emerging from the arrivals exit gate and just wait at the pickup area. It’s around $17 for a one-way trip. Best deal if you are traveling alone – but you’re not, are you?

Hail a cab – this will cost around $30 plus or minus. Not bad if you’re going to split the cost with someone.

Uber it – Download that app and book your ride! I only paid $20 including a tip from South Beach to the airport on our way back. It’s the most economical and convenient option whether you are traveling alone or with some of your buddies. If you’re not using Uber yet, get your first ride for FREE using the code ipw2e when you sign up.

Royal Caribbean Empress of the Seas Experience Review