(7 p.m. EST) -- In a move that's become the rule rather than the exception, Royal Caribbean has announced that the maiden voyage for Allure of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas' twin, will take place earlier than originally scheduled.
It's the fifth time in a row that either Royal Caribbean or sister line Celebrity Cruises has rescheduled maiden voyages for new ships. In the last two years, the "inaugural voyages" have been moved up for Celebrity's Solstice, Eclipse and Equinox, as well as RCI's Oasis of the Seas.
Instead of sailing its first cruise open to the public on December 12, 2010, Allure of the Seas' first revenue voyage will be a seven-night Western Caribbean itinerary, departing on December 5, 2010. Passengers booked on the non-maiden December 12 cruise will be able to move their cruise up to December 5, where they'll be accommodated in the same cabin category and be charged the lower of the two fares. Royal Caribbean is also offering $100 per person -- to members of the Crown & Anchor Society, who are already booked on the December 12 sailing -- to cover some of the costs of their flight changes. Passengers on the December 12 cruise will have until the end of February to switch.
Some Cruise Critic members on the message boards are grumbling about what seems to have become an accepted Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. business practice.
Silentbob007 writes, "It doesn't make sense to book inaugurals anymore with Royal … until you are sure it WILL be the inaugural ... especially if you have to fly to port." Steponboard adds, "I hope they do something really nice for people who can't change their travel date and are disappointed about missing an inaugural cruise."
Still, others see Royal Caribbean's decision to move up the date as a simple question of dollars and "sense." Waterbug123 writes, "If the ship is ready, the cruise line isn't going to let it sit there idle for a week when it could be sailing and earning money. I'm sure the shareholders appreciate that."
Our advice? If sailing on a new ship's inaugural voyage, which often features commemorative events and freebies, is important to you, you may want to wait to book -- just in case the dates change. The closest in the lines have made such a change is six months out.
--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor
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