The Symphony, The Key, Two Teens, and Me: A March 2019 Review

Discussion in 'Royal Caribbean' started by nancy drew, Mar 24, 2019.

  1. nancy drew

    nancy drew DIS Veteran

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    [​IMG]

    (Oh wow that photo is HUGE! I might have to replace it, oops!!)

    We just returned from the Symphony of the Seas Eastern Caribbean sailing from 3/16/19 to 3/23/19 and I miss the ship already!! When I plan our vacations I obsessively read trip reports and LOVE reports that have LOTS of photos. I hope this will be helpful in some way to others as they plan their vacations. Or maybe you'll just admire my photos. That's OK too. I'm still getting all of my photos sorted and Cruise Compasses scanned, but hopefully I can get this review completed before I forget everything!

    Me: I'm from Chicago, lived here in the city all my life, and while the winters can be brutal I can't imagine living elsewhere. My main job is in education, but my side gig is related to travel :upsidedow. I am also taking graduate school classes online right now.

    Since I call the city my home, I try to plan vacations that take us away from city life. We are relatively new to cruising, with our first cruise (on DCL) about 5 years ago. What stopped me from sailing earlier? Fear of claustrophobia, fear of motion sickness, fear of boredom, fear of the ship sinking... you name it. We did a short 4 night sailing on DCL and we were hooked (get it? See what I did there? Nice nautical pun, right?). We have since done another DCL sailing (Western Caribbean), a 7 night Alaska cruise on Holland America, and now this 7 night Eastern Caribbean on Royal Caribbean.

    DD: DD is 15 and a freshman in high school. She LOVES Disney, especially the villains. She has had mixed feelings about the kids clubs on cruises and other resorts.

    DS: DS is 13, and very much 13, if you know what I mean. He likes Fortnite, Fortnite, oh and Fortnite. Ok just exaggerating a bit. Ok no I am not exaggerating at all. He does enjoy Fortnite, but he also likes music, Garage Band, and antagonizing his sister. Not very interested in sports.

    I was kind of apprehensive about how the kids would feel about the teen club. They weren't too fond of the tween club on DCL, but both LOVED the clubs on Holland America. Did you even know they have kids clubs on Holland America aka the Floating Nursing Home? Well they do, and my kids really enjoyed the smaller groups, which meant more interaction from the counselors. Teen clubs can be hit or miss, depending on the kids and the counselors. My kids tend to prefer fewer kids in the clubs, and, well, this was spring break so that just wasn't an option, at least not on Royal Caribbean.

    How this vacation came to be: It is SUCH a long and boring story. Needless to say, I had wanted to sail on Royal for a long time, I wanted to try an Oasis class ship because of all of the activities, and this one worked best with our schedule, for the most part.

    Our itinerary was:

    Day 1: Miami
    Day 2: At Sea
    Day 3: At Sea
    Day 4: St. Kitts
    Day 5: St. Thomas
    Day 6: At Sea
    Day 7: Nassau
    Day 8: Miami

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    I don't really like having a port on the last full day, because it makes the day go by way too fast, but this was the best option in all other ways.

    Ok, that's too much backstory and not enough pictures. I promise once we get going there will be a lot more photos. I'll be adding them after I write each section for the most part, because the photos are on my phone, my regular camera, and my under water camera, and I have to pull them all in to this report. But that's a sacrifice I am willing to make, for you, because you're worth it. :love:
     
  2. nancy drew

    nancy drew DIS Veteran

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    [​IMG]

    Before we sailed, Royal introduced a new program called The Key. Guests could purchase The Key for $19.99 per person per day (the price has since fluctuated). The benefits were announced, but between the time the program rolled out and the time we sailed, the benefits changed significantly. If you want to buy The Key, it must be purchased for all guests in your stateroom age 6 and up.

    When I purchased The Key, these were the promised benefits, straight from the confirmation email from Royal (with the statement that benefits could change at any time).

    Package includes:

    Carry-on luggage drop off with delivery to stateroom
    Welcome lunch at Chops Grille
    Private hours for ship attractions
    Priority debarkation and tendering at ports of call
    Reserved VIP seating at shows
    Complimentary VOOM Surf + Stream internet package for one device per person
    Choice debarkation with exclusive à la carte breakfast

    Here is the current list of benefits on the Royal Caribbean website:

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    And here is the letter Royal had waiting in our stateroom upon arrival, explaining the benefits we would receive:

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    (Whoa why are my photos so huge? Ok, I think I fixed it?)

    Take note of these lists, and the minor and/or major differences in wording.

    There has been much debate, both here and elsewhere, about whether the benefits are worth the price. The benefits also changed with our sailing, or so it appears, as I had been closely watching for others' reports about their experience, and none of the previous reports, including the week prior on the same ship, had the same letter we had upon arrival.

    I'll review our experience with The Key as I review, and I'll share my general thoughts at the end of the report.
     
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2019
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  4. nancy drew

    nancy drew DIS Veteran

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    Day 0:

    We pack light on our vacations. Why? Another long and boring story, but my anxiety says that traveling is easier when we don't check luggage so we don't check luggage. So far it has worked for us. Thanks, anxiety!

    We use packing cubes. I was skeptical about them for a while. I mean, how would it possibly help you to use packing cubes? Well, when we were on a vacation in Wyoming, where we were moving hotels every few nights, it seemed like a good idea to try the cubes since we would be living out of suitcases. It was so easy to just pull out some cubes and then fit them back into our suitcases. When we pack, we end up pulling things out and rearranging things, and cubes make that easy. They are like this puzzle pieces. They all fit perfectly in a suitcase, especially when you roll your clothing. Yes, we often end up doing laundry on vacations. Some people are astounded by this. "What??? I would NEVER want to do LAUNDRY on VACATION!!!" Well calm down buddy, no one is forcing you to do laundry on vacation. Personally I would rather throw a load of laundry into the machine while hanging out at the pool (conveniently there was a laundry room next to the pool at a hotel once), or while hanging out in the room in the evening. For me it is preferable to either losing our luggage or looking like we are moving into the hotel for a year. On our cruise we saw bags outside of the rooms that were the same bags my kids pack all of their gear in for a MONTH at summer camp. I can't fathom bringing that much stuff on vacation and then having to wash all of it when we get home.

    But to each his own, right?

    Anyway, my daughter said on this trip that cruising is like going to overnight camp. Every time you go, you figure out something that you should bring the next time, so next time you are more prepared. Here is a very small list of things we have learned to bring on cruises, some obvious, some not so obvious:

    Towel clips
    Reading material
    Snorkel mask
    Sunscreen (high spf)
    Laundry soap

    Anyway, on to the vacation.

    Our flight to Miami left Chicago at 2pm. This was worlds better than our usual super early 7am flight when we go to Florida! 2pm meant we didn't have to worry about traffic, or huge airport crowds. Traffic was pretty light, and we made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare:

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    DD and I have TSA Pre Check. DS doesn't have it yet, because he was too young when DD and I signed up and I haven't taken him to get signed up yet. Luckily he had it added to his ticket anyway, so we all went through TSA Pre line. From the time we entered O'Hare to the time we reached the gate was 15 minutes, and that included going through the trippy walkway to the C gates. If you've been through the United terminal at O'Hare and you've left or arrived through a C gate, you know what I'm talking about. And if you don't, here is a visual:

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    I had upgraded us to Economy Plus on the plane. It was so nice having that extra space! We hadn't remembered to charge the iPads and apparently my computer needed an update in order to watch any of the United entertainment. Somehow we made it work; I think DS watched something on one iPad and DD watched on her phone and I read. In any case the flight was uneventful and soon enough we had landed in Miami.

    We grabbed a taxi and went to our hotel. I had found a great rate at the Intercontinental Miami in the Club Level. We had never been to Miami before, and we were only staying overnight. The hotel was maybe 20 minutes from the port, and in a good location where we could walk to restaurants/entertainment if we wanted.

    When we checked in we were told the club lounge was closing in 30 minutes, and we should head there if we wanted any of the appetizers and drinks. So we dropped off our bags in the room, took a few quick photos, and then headed down to the Club Lounge.

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    We had great views of Miami, which would have been even better without my reflection.

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    This was in the club lounge. I guess someone thought it would be funny to remove some letters from the sign with Breakfast and Happy Hour times. Someone else thought it would be funny to take a picture of said sign, and post it here.

    [​IMG]

    Alas, vacation had begun.

    [​IMG]
     
  5. eeyorefanuk

    eeyorefanuk DIS Veteran

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    Really looking forward to more. We loved the harmony. Though disappointed to hear no more dreamworks
     
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  6. a1tinkfans

    a1tinkfans Spreading Some Pixie Dust Today!

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    Awesome! Can’t wait to read and See more pix!!
     
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  7. mevelandry

    mevelandry DIS Veteran

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    Can't wait to read the rest of your review and see your pictures!
     
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  8. cel_disney

    cel_disney DIS Veteran

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    Looking forward to your review! Great photos so far! (I am viewing on my phone so they all auto-size just fine!)
     
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  9. Magical2017

    Magical2017 DIS Veteran

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    Thanks for this. Symphony of the Seas is one of the ships we are thinking about booking for June 2020, same itinerary.
     
  10. starvenger

    starvenger DIS Veteran

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    Enjoying this so far. Laundry soap is an underrated item, especially on cruise lines like RCL where there is no self-serve. I bring a few of those Tide "sink" packets which helps for those emergencies.

    Wish we could do just carry-on, all the time. I'm OK, as I've managed to pack 3 days worth of clothing plus a suit into a carry-on before. But my wife is a chronic over packer when it comes to her stuff and the kids as well, so I just play the hand I'm dealt. We managed to do it once, for 4-day trip to San Francisco for a wedding + my grandmother's 100th. She didn't want to do it again.
     
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  11. pattyw

    pattyw DIS Veteran

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    Looks great so far! We're on our first cruise 4/14- Allure 7 day Western Caribbean. Looking forward to reading all about your trip!
     
  12. trvlgirlmq

    trvlgirlmq DIS Veteran

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    Great Review so far. We haven't branched out beyond Carnival yet but I really want to try a big Royal ship someday.

    We are also only carry-on packers. I hate waiting for checked luggage and I also don't want to pull a 50lb suitcase anywhere. We also do laundry on vacation and it doesn't bother us. Heck we often rent a house and cook our own meals too!
     
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  13. cel_disney

    cel_disney DIS Veteran

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    We are DVC and are soooo used to having a washer/dryer in our vacation room that cruising is almost scary to me because there is not one and I tend to overpack as a result...but we still do pretty good - our last cruise with 4 people and 10 days of travel we brought 2 -24” suitcases weighing in at about 40# each and a 22” carry on size. Our April cruise will just me 2 of us but again 10 days...we just won’t make it to only carry on size..

    The magnets/wall clips/towel clips, foaming pump hand soap for the sink, and assorted sunscreen and after sun products pretty much ensure that! ..plus we have rose gold Mickey ears and magic bands etc for our pre-cruise Disney Days... But those things make my week so much more comfortable I will deal..
     
  14. Grumpy's Wife

    Grumpy's Wife Dollar Tree gal here

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    I have a cruise booked on Symphony but not until next May. We'll be heading to St. Thomas and St. Maarteen. I look forward to hearing all about this great ship and your ports.
     
  15. nickymaria

    nickymaria Mouseketeer

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    @nancy drew - #1: I love Nancy Drew! And #2: I am cruising with my two kids (12 and 15) solo on Saturday! We also bought The Key. I can't wait to read more!!!
     
  16. nancy drew

    nancy drew DIS Veteran

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    Symphony has no Dreamworks and it was fine, though I don't have little kids who would care about characters. There was a crazy pirate parade that was fun, and the shows were amazing. I have no basis for comparison since I haven't sailed with Dreamworks characters but I think people will see that the cruise is still fun without the characters.

    Do it! We really enjoyed it. We didn't even do most of the activities because we were busy with other things or just relaxing. There is no shortage of things to do!

    I will have to look for the sink packets! I use Woolite in the sink, and magnetic hooks in the shower to hang things to dry. When we sailed on HAL I was panicked that there was no self-serve laundry, but we bought the Unlimited laundry package for $7 per day and it was so worthwhile, especially since we had been in Vancouver/Whistler for 4 days before going on the cruise.

    You'll love it!

    Do it! You will love Royal, I can't see how anyone wouldn't enjoy it! I'm glad to hear I'm not the only lunatic who doesn't mind doing laundry on vacation! :)

    Yes, I panicked when we sailed on HAL and there wasn't self-serve laundry available. But we bought the unlimited laundry package, $7 per day for a bag, and it was even better than doing the laundry myself! Money well spent! I did have a $5 off coupon with Royal and put that toward the $25 laundry bag.

    Pump hand soap is a great idea for a cruise! I will be adding that to my list next time I sail!

    You'll love it!!

    :D. Yay solo moms! You'll love it! I want to hear about your experience with The Key. I am very curious to hear about others' experience after our sailing.
     
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  17. nancy drew

    nancy drew DIS Veteran

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    Day 0 continued...

    Turns out we needed a few things from CVS. So we headed out and walked a few blocks to the CVS.

    [​IMG]

    We spent quite a while looking around as they had some really fun stuff there. We needed an iPad charger, so we could use the iPads on the flight home, and I needed a small bottle of nail polish remover. I ended up buying this gel nail polish remover (not for removing gel nail polish, but the remover itself is gel) which I have used before. Spoiler alert: this stuff is HORRIBLE! I forgot that I had used it before and it is awful! The stuff is like super glue on your skin, plus it doesn't really get all of the nail polish off. When I used it, it made such an incredible mess. My fingers and toes looked like I had been given a manicure by an extremely energetic 3 year old. The polish was everywhere *except* my nails.

    We did find some cool stuff, though. DD and I are really into skin care, and sheet masks. At CVS we found some Hello Kitty sheet masks that are so cute, and so fun!

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    We had more, but we used them before I took this photo.

    Armed with our CVS purchases, we headed back to our hotel. As we approached our hotel, we could see there was a super cool projection of a person dancing on our hotel.



    We were tired, and wired, but we knew tomorrow would be a very exciting day.
     
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  18. nancy drew

    nancy drew DIS Veteran

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    (BTW if any of the pics are too big, please let me know and I will try to figure out how to post smaller photos.)

    Day 1:

    Cruise day!!!

    We woke up bright and early, and headed to breakfast in the Club Lounge. The choices weren't that great, but we managed to find a few things we liked.

    [​IMG]

    Check out was smooth, and we found a taxi and headed to the port.

    There wasn't anything wrong with the Intercontinental, but I'm not sure it was worth the cost, even with the discounted rate, especially since we arrived late. I think next time we will opt for something less spendy, unless we are arriving a few days in advance.

    The drive to the port was uneventful, until we approached the port. It can't just be me, but there is nothing quite as exciting as seeing all of those ships lined up, looking for *your* ship among the crowd, waiting for that first glimpse of your home for the next week. We passed by several ships.

    I don't remember which this was, maybe MSC?

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    Then there was the NCL Bliss. A nice looking ship, and it wasn't the last time we would see her this week.

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    I think this was a new NCL terminal under construction? It was near the Bliss so I assume it was for NCL.

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    And then. Is that it? I think it is... YES! I see The Abyss! It must be our ship! There is nothing quite like seeing your ship, or your resort, for the first time on a vacation. You've been planning, researching, looking at photos, videos, reading about other peoples' experiences or remembering the last time you were there... and then there it is, right there, and it is finally your turn. That feeling never gets old!

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    I had my son taking photos out the window of the taxi because I was squashed in the middle of the back seat so DS and DD didn't kill each other. Tell me I'm not the only one whose kids still can't sit next to each other because they will fight?

    [​IMG]
     
  19. nancy drew

    nancy drew DIS Veteran

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    Day 1 cont'd:

    So, we had experienced 2 different cruise line embarkation procedures: DCL (Port Canaveral) and HAL (Vancouver). I had read extensively about the new terminal in Miami, but I wasn't sure what to expect.

    On DCL we had always arrived early to a terminal full of people who were sitting around or standing in line, waiting. We went to a person at a desk, checked in/got our KTTW cards, and then waited to be called to board. It was kind of a cluster, with everyone crowding the boarding ears waiting for their boarding group to be called, and you had to push your way through to board.

    On HAL we walked through endless hallways, circled back, stopped at a desk and got our info and cards, then were directed to a specific row of folding chairs lined up Musical Chairs style until someone told our row of chairs it was time to board. It was very methodical and structured.

    So let's talk about boarding in Terminal A in Miami. As you enter you see this:

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    Suites and Pinnacles to the right, everyone else up the escalators or stairs. Don't stop to take photos here, and especially don't stop to take zoomed in photos like this:

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    Because they will tell you to move along, and they mean it. DS stepped to the side to get a better photo angle so DD and I waited for him, and we were told "You can wait for him upstairs!" I said he was just taking a photo and we would move along in a second. She said "No, your husband, that's who you're waiting for, right?" Um, no? "I don't have a husband," I said, and I smiled like this :D. She laughed, and by then DS was done taking his photos, so we moved along.

    But they mean business. Do not stop.

    This theme of DO NOT STOP continued all the way through the terminal. I had wanted to take photos of the process but I could not because we were constantly being shuffled along and yelled at to move along.

    My bag was flagged in the scanner, so we had to stop (take THAT, RCI!) while they pulled out my stuff and uncovered.... the magnetic hooks.

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    They had triggered the scanner, though TSA had let them through at the airport just fine. Mmmmkay.

    Then DS decided he had to use the bathroom, so again we had to stop. We were totally sticking it to RCI with all of this stopping, for real. I had wanted to ask someone a question, based on a debate I was having with someone, but there wasn't anyone I could ask. The question was: Are you allowed to bring on board 2 bottles of wine per stateroom or 1 bottle of wine per adult. RCI policy is pretty clear to me, 2 bottles per stateroom, but someone who claims to be very informed about all things Royal Caribbean insisted that even though the policy reads 2 per stateroom, they actually mean 1 per adult. That makes no sense, because what if there were 3 or 4 adults per stateroom?

    See, I ask the real questions. And I want answers. And I wasn't getting them in Terminal A.

    So once DS was done with his business, we moved along.

    There is some cool stuff to look at as you MOVE ALONG, like this:

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    And then... it is time... NO SITTING IN MUSICAL CHAIRS AND WAITING! MOVE ALONG! You walk through a hallway and think "THIS IS IT!!!!" but no, you turn around and walk back. See the three hallways here, as seen from below? Straight. Up. Torture.

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    "Am I going back to the terminal? What is happening here?" and then you turn again...

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    and finally...

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    There you are! Right smack in the Promenade, where you will inevitably spend a lot of time for the next week. There is no announcement of your arrival, that's a DCL thing. I kind of hate the DCL thing, to be honest. Our last DCL cruise was a Star Wars Day At Sea cruise so I had them announce us as The Skywalker Family. I mean, not all families are "The ONELASTNAME family" any more. It is very common to have 2 or 3 last names in a family. So you have to be creative, otherwise you just don't feel welcome. So thank you, RCI, for making everyone feel welcome by not having your employees pretend to cheer for us as we board. And for balloons. Thank you for balloons.

    So, from the time we exited the taxi to the time we stepped on to the ship, including the security check for the super scary magnetic hooks and DS's pit stop, it was less than 15 minutes. I timed it.

    The Key: As we entered the terminal I mentioned that we had The Key, because according to one of the many lists of benefits, priority boarding and check in was a perk. I was shuffled along to the escalators with the masses (OK there weren't really masses yet, but YKWIM). No Key benefit here. But it doesn't matter because I doubt we could have made it on the ship faster, plus the Suites and Pinnacles were SITTING!!! OMGWTFBBQ none of that sitting stuff for us, thank you very much! MOVE ALONG AND GET ON THE SHIP!!!
     
  20. cel_disney

    cel_disney DIS Veteran

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    The comment about sitting in the Middle seat so the kids don’t fight ... why does the bickering never end??? And why do moms always give up their own sanity/comfort to avoid it...sigh...balancing #vacationgoals (relaxing and no fighting and whining) with #momgoals (developing capable people...ie, kids learning to get along like human beings) is always tricky...no doubt you made the right call sitting in the middle on day 1!!!

    Thanks for the info on check-in! We will be meeting up with friends - it sounds like we either need to meet up outside the terminal or on board? Is there a forced group photo somewhere without the announcement? We might need to be together before that...
     
  21. nancy drew

    nancy drew DIS Veteran

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    Right? I mean, how can they not sit next to each other for a 20 minute ride in a taxi?

    Oh right, there is a photo op before you board. I totally forgot to mention that because we "nope"ed right past it. You'll definitely want to meet up and travel to the terminal together or meet on board. Though there is that sweet spot between security and boarding, where the bathroom is. If you can manage to arrive at similar times you could stage a meeting at that part. Best bet would be to try to arrive together and go through the whole thing together. It really is so fast! Very unlike DCL where you can easily meet up with someone in the port while waiting to board.
     
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