Complete Guide to Sailing Royal Caribbean (What It’s Like)

Royal Caribbean’s pitch in its advertising is for passengers to “Come Seek.” If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to sail the cruise line, we think the most appropriate phrase would be “Go Big.”

Royal Caribbean ship ported in CocoCay

When it comes to cruising, Royal Caribbean is definitely of the idea that bigger is better.

Yes, that applies to ships, which are the largest at sea, but it also applies to so much more with the cruise line. For instance, Royal Caribbean is a leader in innovating things to do on board (including activities like the Flowrider standing wave) as well as things to do on land like the complete renovation of its private island CocoCay into a complete destination.

If you’ve never sailed on the cruise line, then you likely have a lot of questions, including what it’s like, the amenities onboard, food, and much more. We’ve covered the cruise line from bow to stern below to give you a complete guide to what it’s like to sail with Royal Caribbean.

Overview of Royal Caribbean

Since starting in the 1960s, Royal Caribbean has grown into a global powerhouse. Its fleet of more than two dozen cruise ships operate around the entire world, offering everything from three-day cruises to the Bahamas all the way to multi-week trips that span the Pacific.

Allure of the Seas in Cozumel

Based in Miami, the cruise line puts a big emphasis on the North American market with trips to the Bahamas, Mexico, and throughout the Caribbean. The line is what we call a “mass market” line, meaning that it is designed to appeal to all cruisers.

That means whether you are young, old, have kids, it’s your first cruise or your 50th cruise, you’ll find that Royal Caribbean has something for you to be excited about.

Sailing from North America, you’ll find the other passengers range from families looking for a warm vacation all the way to couples enjoying a honeymoon and those enjoying 50 years of being married.

Its fleet ranges from relatively modest older ships like Empress of the Seas, which can hold a couple of thousand passengers… all the way to the world’s largest liners. The cruise line’s Symphony of the Seas is the biggest cruise ship in the world and can hold nearly 7,000 passengers.

Atmosphere of Royal Caribbean

As a mass-market line, Royal Caribbean aims to appeal to everyone. That means its atmosphere on board has broad appeal as well.

The feeling starts with the staff. Walking around the ship you’ll see lots of smiles from the staff, along with plenty of friendly “hellos.” Everyone on board wants you to have a good time and will go out of their way to make sure you have anything you need. Don’t feel shy asking questions or getting help. The staff is always happy to help.

Meanwhile, the cruise always feels relaxed, and casual is the order of the day. You’ll never feel underdressed. Shorts and t-shirts are the usual attire around the ship during trips to the Caribbean, with swimsuits around the pool.

Speaking of the pool, it’s one of the most energetic spots, especially during sea days. Expect music, contests, entertainment, and a generally buzzing atmosphere poolside while the ship is sailing and the sun is out.

Formal night is a bit more upscale, but it’s optional. If you don’t want to dine in the main dining room or the upscale restaurants on this night, feel free to keep things casual.

The atmosphere even extends to the ship’s decor and design. Royal Caribbean ships are well known for having multi-story promenades that cut through the middle of the ship. These promenades are lined with shops, restaurants, and bars, and are meant to be open, airy, and welcoming like an outdoor mall.

In general you should find that your ship is nicely appointed, without feeling like a museum. This matches up with the outgoing and fun nature of the cruise line.

Price of Cruising

In our research, Royal Caribbean hits a price point that’s higher than some of its competitors, but not the most expensive out there. To put it in terms of retailers, Royal Caribbean is often referred to as “Target” — slightly nicer and higher-end than some other lines but it won’t break the bank.

Looking for a short cruise? You can find three-night trips from Florida to the Bahamas (including the cruise line’s private island CocoCay) starting at about $280 per person for an interior cabin if you sail at the height of summer.

Seven-night sailings during the peak summer season start around $600 per person on a middle-of-the-road Royal Caribbean ship and can go up from there.

Trips on the newest and biggest ships will usually run higher than similar trips on smaller and older ships. You can often save hundreds by looking to sail older vessels. That said, there is a significant difference between the newer ships (which have more amenities) and older ones.

Keep in mind that once you are on the ship, you aren’t done spending. In fact, Royal Caribbean passengers spend around 40% of their cruise fare on the ship, on average. So if you paid $1,000 for your cruise, expect to spend about another $400 on board.

On the ships prices can be high. Royal Caribbean is known for having dynamic pricing — prices for packages can vary based on individual cruises. A drink package, for instance, might be between $63 and $89 per day, depending on your specific trip.

In general, expect to pay about $20-40 per person for a specialty restaurant, $10 to $14 for a cocktail, and $15-20 for a day of Internet on the ship. (One tip: If you know that you will want to buy a drink package, specialty dining, or Internet, book it online head of time for a discount.)

Fortunately, many activities and things to do on Royal Caribbean are currently included in your cruise fare. Things like the Flowrider, waterslides, rock walls, and kids clubs are free to enjoy. 

Ports of Departure

While Royal Caribbean offers cruises from ports around the world, its largest market is North America. And as the cruise line grows, it has expanded its departure ports to include smaller ports. This puts a Royal Caribbean cruise within driving distance for many people instead of having to catch a flight to Florida to set sail.

The biggest ships that sail from North America do so from ports like Cape Liberty, Miami, and Port Everglades. Smaller ships usually service smaller markets. Even so, the cruise line continues to ramp up its presence in growing ports. Galveston, for instance, is slated to see its first Oasis-class ship (the largest in the fleet) in the coming years.

Here is a full list of where Royal Caribbean currently sails from in the United States:

  • Anchorage
  • Baltimore
  • Boston
  • Cape Liberty (New York area)
  • Fairbanks
  • Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades)
  • Galveston
  • Miami
  • New Orleans
  • Honolulu
  • Orlando (Port Canaveral)
  • San Diego
  • San Juan
  • Seattle
  • Seward
  • Tampa

Port of Call and Itineraries

Entrance to Thrill Waterpark

As with rival cruise lines like Carnival and Norwegian, Royal Caribbean offers everything from short 3-4 day cruises that head to the Caribbean or Bahamas, as well as week long trips that offer longer getaways and even lengthier sailings. The cruise line also offers Alaskan itineraries when in season.

Of course with the Caribbean/Bahamian/Mexican sailings you get the favorite and popular ports like Cozumel, Nassau, Jamaica and more.

Longer sailings of 10 days or more tend to be re-positioning cruises, such as moving a ship from a port in the United States across the Atlantic.

If you want to sail Royal Caribbean’s newest and largest ships, then you’re most likely going to sail a week long cruise. Shorter trips are usually serviced by older ships, although with refurbishments these ships offer many amenities that are similar to newer vessels.

Any conversation about Royal Caribbean’s routes can’t be complete without mentioning CocoCay. This is the cruise line’s private island located in the Bahamas.

Royal spent hundreds of millions of dollars to transform the island from a sleepy spot with nice beaches into a full-blown destination. Today it still features gorgeous white-sand beaches, but also so much more. This includes plenty of places to eat, pools, a waterpark, cabanas, and even a beach club.

The marquee attractions are the Thrill Waterpark and the Oasis Lagoon. Thrill Waterpark is a complete waterpark including about a dozen waterslides, a wave pool, obstacle course and more.

Its tallest slide, which you will see clearly from the ship, is Daredevil’s Peak — the tallest waterslide in North America. Note that there is an admission fee to the waterpark, which will vary based on your specific sailing. Prices seem to range from about $50 per person to $130 per person. (Read our thoughts on if Thrill Waterpark is worth it.)

Oasis Lagoon is a free freshwater pool on CocoCay. As the largest pool in the region, it is massive as it wraps around the center of the island. With different curves and coves there is plenty of space for everyone without feeling like you are cramped. The pool also features a swim-up bar and a sloped entry area for those with kids or in wheelchairs can enjoy the water.

For more on CocoCay, see our full guide here.

Things to Do on Royal Caribbean

When it comes to things to do, we’d argue that there is no one that does it better than Royal Caribbean. With the largest ships at sea there is a lot of space to fill with activities. The cruise line goes above and beyond to push the boundaries of what’s possible on a cruise ship.

Below we cover some of the more common features you’ll find across the fleet. Keep in mind that not every ship has every amenity (for instance some vessels have things like bumper cars and ice skating rinks). What’s below represents a wide range of things you’ll find on all (or at least many) ships.

Busy pool deck on Mariner of the Seas

Pools/Solarium
Think of a cruise ship and you no doubt think of the pool. Here, Royal Caribbean does not disappoint. Pools are a main focus at the top decks of the ships.

The largest ships will have several pools for you to enjoy, and even the smallest ships in the fleet will still have a main pool for passengers. Whirlpools are also dotted around the pool deck.

Keep in mind that cruise ship pools are generally smaller than you might expect. The weight of a pool full of water high up on the ship can be tremendous. Pools are therefore kept smaller than you’d see on land.

Many Royal Caribbean ships have a separate pool area for adults known as the Solarium. This spot can have a pool and/or hot tubs. One nice feature is that the solariums are covered, giving you a warm place to enjoy the pool even if it’s cool outside.

Splashaway Bay
Another feature that’s common on Royal Caribbean is Splashaway Bay. While pools hold a lot of water that limits their size, Splashaway Bay is an assortment of water features spread out over a large area so that there is plenty of space.

Here, kids of all ages can get wet and enjoy the cruise. It includes playground-like equipment with water spraying everywhere, huge buckets that fill up and drench everything and even small slides. One nice feature is that there is a separate area for kids not yet potty-trained so that all ages can enjoy.

Splashaway Bay on Liberty of the Seas

Flowrider
One unique feature you’ll only find on Royal Caribbean is the Flowrider. Located at the back of the ship, this activity spits a thin layer of water over a smooth padded floor. The result is a wave that you can boogie board or use a special board to surf standing up.

It can take some time to get the hang of it, but instructors are there to help.

Other Outdoor Activities
The cruise line’s ships have no shortage of things to do outdoors. Most, if not all, ships have sport courts for basketball, soccer and other games. Putt-putt courses are a great (and free!) way to spend some time with the family.

Royal Caribbean ships also have waterslides, rock-climbing walls, and some have Sky Pad, a huge sphere with bungee-assisted jumping inside. You can jump as normal, or don virtual reality goggles to play a game tied to your jumps.

Fitness Center
If you think of cruising, it’s likely you think of lounging by the pool, or eating your fill day after day. But many people also like to keep to their fitness routines. Cruise ships — including those from Royal Caribbean — offer surprisingly large and complete fitness centers. Here you can get your workout in while at sea.

One of the nice things is that these gyms aren’t tucked away at the bottom of the ship in some corner. They are high up on the ship and have floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over the ocean. There is no nicer view from a gym than working out on a cruise.

Spa
Remember that a cruise ship is a floating resort, and most resorts have a spa included. 

You can get all sorts of treatments done here, from a basic massage all the way to nail treatments, tooth whitening and more. If you’ve been looking for an opportunity to pamper yourself, this is it.

One suggestion is to look at treatments through your online account before you board. If you find something you like, there is often a discount for booking early before you get on the ship.

Shopping
Want a new watch or a pair of earrings? Forget something at home? Or maybe you want to restock your liquor cabinet?

No matter your preference, your cruise ship will have plenty of spots to shop. Because cruise ships are able to offer items duty-free, many shops focus on high-end items like jewelry, cigarettes, and liquor. But there are also plenty of spots for other items, including a store with sundries ranging from candy bars to cold medicine and souvenir shops where you can get just about anything with the name of the ship on it.

Evening Entertainment
During the evening is when Royal Caribbean puts on the bigger shows. They range from full-on productions shows (the shows vary by ship) to fun game shows that have guests participate.

One classic is the “Love and Marriage” game, which is Royal Caribbean’s version of The Newlywed Game. For adults, it’s a can’t miss. But just keep in mind that things can get a little “R-rated.”

The evening shows are completely free. Seating is done on a first-come, first-served basis, so be sure to arrive early to get the best seat.

Kids Area
Royal Caribbean ships are meant to appeal to everyone and that includes families and kids. One nice feature is the kids area. This spot lets you drop the kiddos off in a spot that’s designed for them and offers supervision.

It is broken down into different age groups so that everyone has something that appeals to them. The staff will even take the kids to dinner, giving mom and dad a chance to enjoy a meal on their own.

The kids areas are free to use and give kids a chance to do something fun while parents get some time on their own to enjoy their vacation, too.

Daily Activities
In addition to everything mentioned above that’s available to do, the cruise line also offers tons of things to do that are put on by the staff. This can range everything from trivia contests to live music to belly-flop competitions by the pool.

The lineup of things to do changes and will be covered in your daily planner that you receive in your cabin. Below we’ve put a sample list of things to do from a single afternoon.

Royal Caribbean afternoon activities

Royal Caribbean Ships

We’ve mentioned that Royal Caribbean has the largest ships at sea. In fact, they offer up four of the five largest ships in the world right now.

But not every ship is huge, and not all the ships are the same. Ranking from smallest to largest, Royal offers several classes of ship:

  • Empress Class (1 ship, built 1990)
    Empress of the Seas
  • Sovereign Class (1 ship, built 1992)
    Majesty of the Seas
  • Vision Class (4 ships, built 1996-98)
    Grandeur of the Seas
    Rhapsody of the Seas
    Enchantment of the Seas
    Vision of the Seas
  • Radiance Class (4 ships, built 2001-04)
    Radiance of the Seas
    Brilliance of the Seas
    Serenade of the Seas
    Jewel of the Seas
  • Voyager Class (5 ships, built 1999-2003)
    Voyager of the Seas
    Explorer of the Seas
    Adventure of the Seas
    Navigator of the Seas
    Mariner of the Seas
  • Freedom Class (3 ships, built 2006-08)
    Freedom of the Seas
    Liberty of the Seas
    Independence of the Seas
  • Quantum Class (4 ships, built 2014-2020)
    Quantum of the Seas
    Ovation of the Seas
    Anthem of the Seas
    Spectrum of the Seas
    Odyssey of the Seas (not yet finished)
  • Oasis Class (4 ships, built 2009-2021)
    Oasis of the Seas
    Harmony of the Seas
    Allure of the Seas
    Symphony of the Seas
    Wonder of the Seas (not yet finished)

Those ships in the Empress, Sovereign, Vision and Radiance classes are noticeably smaller than the rest of the fleet. While they are regularly refurbished, they do offer a different (and more subdued) experience than large vessels. On the plus side, these ships are often less expensive to sail, making them great for people looking to save money.

If you want the latest and greatest, then the Quantum and Oasis class ships offer that. This is where you’ll find the most things to do and the latest innovations from the cruise line. On the flip side, this usually means you’ll find higher prices and longer journeys.

There is a happy medium with Freedom and Voyager classes. These ships are large (though not the largest) and have been refurbished to offer many of the amenities you’ll find on newer vessels. As well, the usually offer more affordable prices than what you’ll see from the newest ships.

Which ship you’ll want will be a personal preference. As for us, we try to stick with the Voyager class and above. We enjoy the wider variety of things to do and more space, especially if taking a longer cruise.

Food & Restaurants

Every Royal Caribbean ship offers plenty of spots to eat and drink, usually with more than a dozen bars and nearly as many different restaurants.

On some cruises you could eat at a different place each meal and never hit the same restaurant twice. Restaurants will vary based on each ship, but there is a group of eateries that you’ll find across the fleet.

Windjammer Buffet
The buffet on Royal Caribbean is called the Windjammer. It’s a popular place to eat for both lunch and dinner, and it’s where you’ll find most people eat these meals.

There is a wide variety of foods offered, from simple things like hot dogs and burgers to ethnic dishes, salads, and more. Breakfasts includes traditional American fare like pancakes, French toast, omelettes, yogurts, fruits and other dishes.

Main Dining Room
There are several dining rooms and when you check-in you will be assigned your mealtime and location. The dining rooms offer a white-tablecloth experience where you can have a three-course meal. Staples include everything from steaks to shrimp, pasta to soups. Expect the entire meal to last at least an hour.

Main dining room menu on Royal Caribbean
Main dining room menu on Royal Caribbean.

Most nights the attire is fairly casual (no shorts, but jeans/pants and t-shirt or blouse is fine). On a week cruise there will be two formal nights where it is expected that you dress a little nicer.

One tip: The dining room opens for breakfast and offers made-to-order meals with smaller crowds.

Cafe Promenade/Sorrento’s Pizza
Sometimes together, and on some ships separate spots, Cafe Promenade and Sorrento’s are two spots where you can grab a quick bite no matter the time of day.

Cafe Promenade serves small snacks, coffee, and desserts. You can pick up small sandwiches or a piece of cake. If not separate as a standalone Sorrento’s Pizza, you can also get pizza by the slice here. Both Sorrento’s and Cafe Promenade are free to eat.

Other free eateries that might be on your ship include:

  • Dog House (Hot Dogs)
  • Park Cafe (Sandwiches)

Specialty Restaurants
Royal Caribbean has made a move to add more and more specialty restaurants. These spots have an extra charge for you to dine.

The lineup of specialty restaurants can vary widely, but there are usually a few consistent spots throughout the fleet. Johnny Rockets is common on ships, featuring a ’50s-style diner with burgers, fries and shakes. Chops Grille — a classic steakhouse — is also featured throughout the fleet.

Other specialty restaurants that may be on your ship include:

  • Izumi Hibachi
  • Playmakers (Sports Bar)
  • El Loco Fresh (Mexican)
  • Jamie’s Italian
  • Hooked Seafood
  • Chef’s Table (High-end Dining)
  • Portside BBQ
  • Giovanni’s Table (Italian)
  • 150 Central Park (Modern)

Bars

Royal Caribbean offers a ton of different bars. No matter where you go, you won’t be far from a drink.

Playmakers Sports Bar and Arcade on Royal Caribbean

Bars range from buzzing poolside bars where you can get any sort of tropical creation you can imagine to more subdued bars like Boleros that are great for date night.

Three bars in particular deserve mention, although they are only on a handful of ships at the moment.

  • Bionic Bar is a unique spot that makes you a drink… without a bartender. Put your drink order in using the electronic pad and the robotic arms get to work making your concoction. You likely won’t want every drink from here, but it’s an experience you have to try.
  • The Bamboo Room is a tropical-tiki-themed bar making an appearance on some ships. It calls back to the tiki rooms of the 1960s with Hawaiian decor in a chilled out and dark atmosphere.
  • Playmakers is a sports bar that is perfect for watching the game. Sail during football season and you’ll find it to be the meeting spot for fans of different teams and a rowdy atmosphere depending on which team just did something good. It serves a full lineup of drinks but also wings, nachos and more to snack on during the game.

Gratuities on Royal Caribbean

Just as with other cruise lines, you have automatic gratuities on Royal Caribbean. The charge is 14.50 per person, per day for junior suites and below. The rate is $17.50 for those in grand suites and above.

Gratuities are charged to all passengers, regardless of age. So even if you are a couple traveling with an infant, all three will be charged daily.

This cost goes to several different areas of the staff. Most notably it will go to your room steward and the dining staff.

To see how much gratuities will cost on your cruise, you can use our gratuity calculator here. Remember, gratuities are charged for each person for each day of your cruise (but not the day that you debark).

In addition to the automatic gratuities charged each day, there is also an 18% gratuities tacked on to many things you purchase on the ship, including specialty dining, spa treatments, and alcoholic drinks.

See more on Royal Caribbean gratuities here.

Drink Packages

Drinking is a popular pastime on a cruise. There’s not much better than hanging out poolside with a drink in hand… or having a glass of wine with dinner… or playing in the casino while having a beer.

Truth is, however, that drinks can be expensive on a cruise. Expect to spend about $6-8 for a beer and $10-14 for a cocktail. It doesn’t take many to add up to a significant bill.

That’s why Royal Caribbean offers a “Deluxe Beverage Package” that you can buy. With this package, you can pay one flat fee per day and get most (not all) drinks on the ship included. So when it’s time for that beer, you just scan your card and you don’t have to worry about running up a tab.

Drink package prices vary for your specific cruise, but will be between $63-89 per person, per day. There is also an 18% gratuity added on top of that price.

You can learn more about Royal Caribbean’s drink package with our complete guide here. We also have a drink package calculator to see if you’d save money buying the package.

There are also non-alcoholic drink packages available.

What Royal Caribbean Does Well

Sunset on a cruise

Without a doubt, Royal Caribbean is great at offering a lot of things to do on a cruise for everyone. No matter your age, you’ll find something to enjoy onboard. If you’re active there are plenty of high-octane things to do on the ships. If you’d rather just relax, there’s plenty of opportunity for that as well.

Royal Caribbean also does a great job of pushing what’s possible to do on a cruise ship. With the largest ships at sea, there is an enormous amount of variety from food to entertainment to activities. This also extends to CocoCay, where the cruise line has set the bar for its competitors following the recent renovation.

In short, it’s hard to be bored on Royal Caribbean, especially when you stick with their largest and newest ships. Trips to CocoCay are also a must-do.

What Royal Caribbean Could Improve

There’s a lot to like about Royal Caribbean, but it does come at a cost. To us, that’s where there could be an improvement.

For passengers planning their vacation, know that there will be extra costs on your cruise. If you’ve sailed other competitors, then the prices might surprise you. For instance, whereas Carnival charges around $55 per day for a drink package, Royal Caribbean charges up to $89. The Thrill Waterpark on CocoCay can cost more than $100 per person.

What can also be frustrating is that prices vary for different cruises for many things. If you are trying to budget a vacation, it’s hard to know exactly what you’ll spend until you book and see the prices for things like drink packages and restaurants for your specific trip.

More on Sailing Royal Caribbean

Popular: 39 Useful Things to Pack (17 You Wouldn't Think Of)

Read Next: Park & Cruise Hotels for Every Port in America

Popular: 107 Best Cruise Tips, Secrets, Tricks, and Freebies

Complete Guide to Sailing Royal Caribbean (What It’s Like)

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here