For $35 per adult and $17.50 per child aged 3 to 17 (free for the under 3's), passengers can stay onboard the ship on disembarkation day until 90 minutes prior to the ship's next departure. Passengers must still vacate their cabin by 9 a.m., and not all the restaurants and services will be open -- but options for late departers include using the pool, fitness center and spa, and grabbing food or drinks in the bars and buffet venue. Luggage will be stored and passengers given a wristband to match to their bags when they eventually disembark.
The programme was tested successfully on Splendour of the Seas and Brilliance of the Seas in the summer 2009 season and is now available year-round on all the other Royal Caribbean ships in Europe: Independence of the Seas, Adventure of the Seas, Jewel of the Seas, Navigator of the Seas, Vision of the Seas and Voyager of the Seas. The option can be booked online pre-cruise on Royal Caribbean's Web site (it's listed as a shore excursion).
Late departure is an option that may be welcomed by cruisers more accustomed to having to disembark at breakfast time, regardless of their onward flight schedule, and hang around in the Mediterranean heat, encumbered by luggage. With low-cost airlines -- hugely popular for British cruisers trying to reach typical embarkation ports like Barcelona, Venice and Rome -- late evening departures are common.
Although most big cruise lines offer excursions on the day of disembarkation, ending with airport drop-offs, Royal Caribbean is one of the only lines to offer passengers a means of bypassing the early morning boot. Costa Cruises allows late departure in a more informal manner in Dubai, where the line's two ships overnight in port on turnaround day; some cruisers even report leaving their luggage onboard all day and returning to the ship for dinner before flying home late at night. Silversea, on the luxury side, used to allow you to stay onboard until 5 p.m. for $100 ($150 if you wanted to keep your cabin), but the line's since discontinued the practise.
What U.K. cruisers in particular might want is the same service from Royal Caribbean on cruises from Florida; typically, Brits disembark in the morning and then have all day to kill before the evening flight departures from Miami. "We are exploring the possibility of offering guests a late departure option in other regions around the world," is all a Royal Caribbean spokesman would say to Cruise Critic.
Curious if people would pay for the service, we put the question out to our fans on Cruise Critic's Facebook page. Interestingly, response was mixed.
"That would be awesome," writes Robin Koepke Meyer. "I always hang out till the 'last call' anyway! A good way to avoid the crowds, luggage easy to find, cabs ready and waiting for you." Poofy Cat had a slightly different view: "So you stay on board to mingle with the happy people boarding for the next sail, while you're depressed that you're heading to the airport in a couple of hours? Sorry, not for me." Paula Gilman, the only reader who'd tested the new feature offered a glowing report. "I used this option in Barcelona, stayed on Adventure of the Seas until 3 p.m. It was great and even better when the bill came and we were not charged!!!!!!" Paula liked it so much that she'd opt for late departure even if she actually had to pay.
What do you think of Royal Caribbean's new late departure options in Europe? Join the discussion on the Cruise Critic forums.
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor