For many of us, the idea of going on a cruise doesn’t usually cross our minds. If and when it does, it’s something we normally wouldn’t entertain. No surprises there, really. Cruising is one of those travel styles that often come with a lot of misconceptions.
When we asked our friends what they initially thought of cruises before they learned what it was actually like, most of them said the same thing — that it’s a luxurious trip for extremely wealthy retirees who only eat, drink and party on board. So yes, no thanks to how it’s often depicted in films, we think of cruises as something that’s way out of our reach.
But over the past several years, cruising has become more accessible. While no Philippine city is currently a home port to any major cruise ship, our neighbor Singapore is! Royal Caribbean’s Spectrum of the Seas, Asia’s largest cruise ship, is calling Singapore home until 2024, giving Southeast Asian travelers an opportunity to explore our home region in style. SG’s central location means easy access to neighboring ASEAN destinations. Depending on your travel dates, the ship may make a stop in Port Klang (gateway to Kuala Lumpur), Penang, Phuket, and more.
If you’ve always been curious about going on a cruise, but you’re not sure if it’s something for you, it’s your lucky day! We were recently invited by Royal Caribbean to board and explore the Spectrum of the Seas as it sailed to Malaysia. In this article, we’ll answer some of your burning questions about cruising from Singapore!
WHAT’S COVERED IN THIS GUIDE?
Not really. Not always. It can be expensive but it can be affordable, too.
The price of the cruise depends on many things: destination, travel dates, number of nights, number of guests, and the accommodation type. Hence, the rates vary greatly.
Let’s talk about travel dates first. If you do a quick search, you’ll find several cruises with the same itinerary (same number of nights and stops) but each sailing’s price is different. It’s very much like booking a flight. But you can easily find budget-friendly dates! Here’s a quick scan I did just now:
As you can see, it’s entirely possible to find affordable sailings, especially if you book in advance. Royal Caribbean has just recently opened their 2023-2024 seasons, so if you search now, there’s a big chance you’ll find reasonable prices.
On the other hand, November, December and January tend to have the steepest rates because they’re around major holidays — Christmas, New Year, and Chinese New Year! You’ll also notice the big difference between room types.
Speaking of room types, the most affordable cabin is the Interior state room. And if you’re able to book a cheaper date, you’ll find that the price of a cruise isn’t too far away from the cost of a typical land tour in Singapore. I’ll break it down and explain further in the next section.
The rates vary depending on a number of factors, as mentioned. But here’s an example of an affordable find:
A 3-night cruise that makes a stop in Penang can cost as low as SGD 767.52 (PHP 30,700) for 2 persons (interior room) for an August 2023 sailing. That’s SGD 383.75 (PHP 15,350) per person. This can go even lower if you’re traveling with seniors, who are eligible for a substantial discount.
I think that’s a fantastic deal considering that it’s inclusive of the following:
- 3-night accommodations (interior)
- UNLIMITED meals
- entertainment (theatre, movies, etc.)
- access to amenities (pools, some attractions)
- stop in Malaysia (tour not included)
- gratuities / tips
- taxes and fees
In comparison, here’s what 2 travelers would probably spend on a typical DIY land tour in Singapore:
- SGD 370 (P15,000) – Hotel (3 nights at a typical budget hotel at P5000/night)
- SGD 200 (P8000) – Food (4 days at SGD 25/person/day)
- SGD 200 (P8000) – Attractions & incidentals (SGD100 budget/person)
- SGD 50 (P2000) – Transportation (SG Tourist pass SGD25/person)
- TOTAL: SGD 820 (P33,200) or SGD 410 (P16,600)
Of course, depending on your travel preferences, your actual costs may be higher or lower than this, but for me, if I’m staying at a proper hotel, this is what I usually spend on a 4D3N Singapore trip.
But as you can see, the difference in expenses isn’t that much. The cruise cost is even lower, and it would also allow you to visit another country!
So for me, if you’re able to snag a good deal, going on a cruise is pretty much like your typical SG trip budget-wise.
YES, most of the time! Senior guests (55 years old and above) can get a 10% discount off the cruise fare. This is equivalent to around SGD 80 – 120 per room, depending on cabin type.
Royal Caribbean also has several KIDS SAIL FREE promos, which could reduce the cruise fare for 3rd or 4th guests who are 12 years old or below, staying in the same room as the primary guests.
However, these promos are not available year-round and may not apply to certain dates. These discounts also cover the CRUISE FARE only. Taxes and other fees still need to be settled by the guests.
For the Philippine market, the most ideal option is via www.cruising.com.ph, managed by the official Royal Caribbean representatives in the country.
What’s great about booking on the official Philippine website is, you automatically get customer service and assistance in case you make a mistake, you wish to change something, or you want to extend payments. Most importantly, you have someone to call and assist you in case of emergency. Having easy access to customer support here in the Philippines is super valuable for two reasons:
- The travel scene can still be unpredictable these days. Travel requirements and border policies change frequently and quickly. It’s nice to have someone you could turn to in case of urgent matters.
- Booking and going on a cruise is a little bit complicated. Or at least, more complicated than the usual land tours. There are a lot of moving parts that you need to watch — flight schedules, cruise timings, travel requirements, check-in and boarding processes, activity and dining reservations, shore excursions, etc. Having someone to keep you updated can ensure you have a hassle-free journey.
If you book on the international website, you’re basically on your own (DIY) and should you need further assistance, you need to call their customer service in the United States (US). This happened to my aunt. She mistakenly booked a cabin on a deck and section of the ship that is different and so far away from her companions. She wanted to change rooms, but because she booked via the international website, she had to call the US number.
So it’s best to book at www.cruising.com.ph!
The Spectrum of the Seas has four major state room categories. But under each category, not all rooms are created equal. They have different configurations and sizes. But here’s what a quick description of a typical cabin under each category and what sets them apart from each other, sorted from cheapest to most expensive.
- Interior Room. No windows. Usually 166 square feet. Some interior rooms have a virtual balcony, which is basically a screen showing some footage of the sea.
- Ocean View Room. Bigger, usually 182 square feet, and with a large window.
- Balcony Ocean View Room. Or simply “balcony rooms”. More spacious, usually 198 square feet. The glass wall facing the sea also makes it look bigger. With a spacious balcony.
– You’ll also find rooms tagged “Obstructed Ocean View Balcony“, which refers to those rooms that have a balcony but the view is partially blocked by something. For example, Deck 6 is where the smaller boats are placed, obstructing the view of many of the rooms here. Because of this, obstructed balcony rooms are often cheaper than non-balcony ocean view rooms.
- Suites. The largest, most luxurious, and most expensive accommodations. They come with a lot of perks, too. Some amenities are open only to suite guests. Here are the different suite types sorted by size and price.
– Silver junior suite
– Grand suite (1-bedroom)
– Owner’s suite
– Grand loft suite
– Ultimate family suite (a two-level suite that has an indoor slide, an entertainment room, and three bedrooms, good for 11 pax)
Most staterooms (not including suites) can accommodate up to four (4) guests. (I say “most” because some Interior rooms can only host 2-3 pax.) That said, cramping four people in a room doesn’t necessarily give the best value for money. The price difference between booking 2 rooms with 2 guests each and booking 1 room with 4 guests isn’t much.
That’s not surprising given that when you book a cruise, you’re not just paying for a room but also access to endless array of food and amenities. In most instances, pricing is pretty much per person, not per room.
Note that a minor always has to share a room with an adult. You cannot book a stateroom for an unaccompanied minor.
That depends on your personal preferences and budget.
Anything with a view of the ocean — balcony or no balcony — is always a good choice. It gives you some space to breathe. It’s also great if you’re the type who likes admiring the view of the ocean or waking up to a bit of sunshine. If you like taking photographs, the balcony also provides a fantastic vantage point especially when the ship is docked at a port of call. And a window is useful when checking the weather quickly, especially on days that you intend to disembark for a shore excursion.
But if budget is a little tight, an interior stateroom isn’t bad at all. I have tried it before and I didn’t mind that there was no view because I was always outside exploring the other decks anyway. On our most recent cruise, we were assigned a balcony room, but to be completely honest, I didn’t really use it that much other than a couple of occasions when I wanted to take a photo of Penang’s and Singapore’s coasts.
This is probably why I think the obstructed ocean view balcony room can give me the most bang for my buck. I have never really tried it, but I’m guessing since I don’t really mind the view, it can still give me the space of a balcony room at the price of a regular ocean view room. If I would cruise again, this is probably what I would book if the price is much lower.
If you’re interested in an obstructed ocean view room, it might help to know how much of the view is blocked. It’s not visible on the international website, but it is clearly indicated on cruising.com.ph, allowing you to choose the room with the least obstruction at the same price. Here’s a sample:
Needless to say, if you’re going for an obstructed ocean view room, pick one with the least view blockage.
YES. Each booking comes with access to six (6) complimentary dining options:
- Main Dining Room, a proper restaurant
- Windjammer Marketplace, buffet-style
- Noodle Bar
- Splashaway Café
- Sorrento’s – Authentic New York Pizzeria
- The Café @Two70®
- SeaPlex Dog House, a “food truck” serving tasty hot dogs!
Dining at any of the above is FREE of charge, and you can have as much food as you like. When I like a particular dish, I order another serving. Even at the Main Dining Room, if I like two main dishes, I order both. It’s okay and it’s allowed. You can even ask for items that are not on the current menu. I always order a cheese platter even if it’s not on the menu (LOL).
Because of the sheer diversity of the cuisines that are available for FREE, it is entirely possible to complete the trip without spending anything more on food.
But if you want to splurge a little, aside from these complimentary food spots, you’ll also find specialty restaurants that incur additional charges, including:
- Chops Grille, steakhouse
- Teppanyaki, Japanese food prepared and served by entertaining chefs
- Jamie’s Italian by Jamie Oliver
- Wonderland, creative and innovative Alice-in-Wonderland-themed dining
- La Patisserie, pastries and desserts
- Chef’s Table
- Sichuan Red
- The Hot Pot
- Leaf & Bean cafe
Room service is also available but a US$7.95 service charge + 18% gratuity applies per stateroom order except for continental breakfast.
So I asked some of my friends who never considered cruising before: What do you think are in store for you on board? Unsurprisingly, most of them said “eat, drink, and party.” But nothing much other than that. I say “unsurprisingly” because years ago, I thought the same, too! When I was younger, the only mental images of cruising to me were painted by the movies I saw wherein rich retirees just socialize at cocktail parties. LOL.
But the truth is, boarding a cruise ship is like stepping into another world. There’s just a globe of things to do on board! Competition among cruise lines is intense, so every one is continuously one-upping the others by offering a lot of features, depending on the target market. Royal Caribbean, for example, has been filling their new ships to the brim with fun and exciting amenities. As one of their largest ships, the Spectrum of the Seas has more than its share of thrilling attractions and lifestyle spaces.
Here are some of them:
- RipCord by iFly, simulated skydiving experience (with extra cost)
- FlowRider, simulated surfing activity (FREE, but instructor fees apply if you need one)
- Skypad, bungee trampoline with virtual reality headset (FREE)
- Rock climbing wall (FREE)
- Royal Theatre, where musical and other entertaining performances are regularly staged (most shows are FREE)
- SeaPlex, a sports complex where you can ride bumper cars; play tennis, pingpong and basketball; try archery; and more! (FREE)
- North Star, a glass-enclosed observation pod and capsule ride that allows a 360-degree view (with extra cost)
- Swimming pools and whirlpools (FREE)
- Music hall, with band performances every night (FREE)
- Star Moment, karaoke! (FREE)
- Spas and gym (FREE)
- Video game arcade
We were able to try almost everything on the list and we really had a lot of fun! We were at the Music Hall every night and would spend our high-seas day trying most of the rides and attractions.
And oh, don’t forget to catch at least one of the awesome shows at the Royal Theatre and the Two70!
YES. Children have their own swimming area, complete with water slides.
The SeaPlex, a sports complex, composed of game rooms and a lot of kid-friendly attractions like an arcade, video game rooms, archery room, bumper cars, and claw machines.
Some of the shows at the Royal Theatre are also wholesome, which kids can enjoy.
The Spectrum of the Seas also has a so-called Adventure Ocean program, which is basically a youth club or day care, where children ages 3 to 11 can play with other kids. Parents can drop off their kids here.
YES, of course. There’s a reason why most people (mistakenly) assume it’s only for retirees and pensioners — when it comes to travel styles, cruising is a favorite among the elderly!
While the ship is gigantic, it is quite easy to explore. It has at least 16 guest elevators: 10 between the aft (back end) and midship, and another 6 towards the forward section. From here, most key attractions on board are easily accessible.
For guests with mobility issues, cabins near the elevators can be requested. Some rooms are also especially designed for PWD guests.
Cruising in general is popular among senior travelers because of the sheer convenience. Guests are well taken care of. For example, you never have to carry your luggage. Once you check it, the staff will deliver it to your room. And on the last night, you can leave it in the hallway again for the staff to pick it up. The next time you’ll see it again is once you disembark.
On top of all these, everything you need is on board. You may choose not to explore the stops or ports of call at all and still have a grand time.
The journey always starts and ends in Singapore. But the usual stops, called ports of call, depend on the number nights.
- 3 nights: Penang
- 4 nights: Port Klang/Kuala Lumpur and Penang, OR Penang and Phuket
- 5 nights: Port Klang/Kuala Lumpur, Penang, AND Phuket
The arrival and departure times vary, but you’ll usually get just a day or half-day at each stop.
The last full day onboard is usually spent at high seas, so you’ll be on the ship the entire time.
You have the option to book a guided tour from Royal Caribbean called SHOREX (Shore Excursion) or you can explore the destination on your own.
The beauty of joining a shorex is they will be taking care of everything for you, including the transfers to and from the port, but it usually comes with a rigid itinerary.
If you want more freedom and flexibility, you can explore independently. But just make sure that you’ll be back to the ship before the set time. You can see the arrival and departure times on the Royal Caribbean app.
Penang and Phuket are quite easy to explore because the pier isn’t too far away from the main points of interest or city center. But Port Klang is tricky because it’s roughly 1.5 to 2 hours from Kuala Lumpur, depending on traffic conditions. This means, you’ll be spending at least 3 hours on the road.
Important! You have to be fully vaccinated to explore ports of call.
No, it’s not included in the published rates.
Some travel agencies can offer fly-and-cruise packages, but if you’re doing it on your own, you’ll have to book the flight separately.
If budget is an issue, try to search for a week that can give you lower rates for BOTH the cruise AND flights. I know it’s easier said than done, but it is possible. I am able to find some dates that do match, especially when airlines have seat sales.
Airfare is more erratic, so that’s what I usually check first. Don’t book flights yet, just scan. Then, when you find cheap flights to Singapore, search for an affordable cruise. When you find one that matches your flight dates, book the flight and the cruise immediately. Please mind your timings. Take note of the departure and arrival times before finalizing your flight reservation.
Try to be in Singapore at least a day before the start of sailing. We don’t recommend booking a flight on the same day of boarding because a delay on your flight can easily mess up your trip. The ship won’t wait for you.
Again, that depends on a lot of factors especially the room type and travel dates. But let’s say that you’re interested in the cheapest possible option — interior stateroom on a sailing scheduled in an off month a year away. Supposing you’re a couple flying from Manila, here’s how much you are most likely to spend per person:
- P10,000 – roundtrip Manila-Singapore flight
- P1620 – Philippine travel tax
- P2500 – 1 night at a hotel in Singapore (P5000/night divided by 2 pax)
- P15,350 – Cruise (inclusive of meals)
- P5,000 – transportation and incidental expenses
- P34,470 – TOTAL
Let’s round it off to a clean P35,000.
This is the minimum you can expect to spend. But it’s always wise to add some allowance for other possible expenses. You might find yourself wanting a drink, buy a souvenir, try a specialty restaurant or visit an attraction in your free time in Singapore. Having a wiggle room would allow you to enjoy more!
Of course, if you fail to find flights and sailings at these prices, you’ll end up with a higher total cost, so plan your trip well.
For cruises departing on or before 30 April 2023: If you or any of your traveling party tests positive for COVID-19 within 10 days before your sailing date or at the boarding terminal, 100% of the cruise fare will be refunded.
(As of August 30, 2022)
Okay, before anything else, full disclosure: My most recent cruise was sponsored by Royal Caribbean, so I may have biases. But in my honest opinion, sponsored or not, a SPECTRUM OF THE SEAS cruise is worth it! Especially if you’re able to snag promos and low prices!
It’s a travel experience that I could recommend in a heartbeat for families, friends, and couples celebrating a special occasion. When I was on board, I kept thinking about how much my sister and my senior mother would love the experience.
I absolutely enjoyed my stay that I’m already planning to do it again, this time with family. (And yes, I will be shouldering all my expenses this time!)
Book at www.cruising.com.ph, the official website of Royal Caribbean Philippines, managed by Arpan Air, the official representatives of Royal Caribbean in the Philippines.
By booking on this site, you can get easier access to customer support, which is extremely valuable in case you’ll have to make a change to your booking or you need further help.