What I Wish I Knew Before I Sailed Royal Caribbean

Today, Royal Caribbean is a monster cruise line, and I’ve sailed it time and time again. In fact, it’s one my favorites. But I’ll be honest, if you haven’t sailed the line much, there’s a lot that you likely don’t know. Even for me, there was a learning curve with everything from how things work onboard to CocoCay to pricing and more.

So what do I think people will wish before sailing that can help you have a better trip? The following items are some of the big issues that jump out to me that you’ll definitely want to know.

Dynamic Pricing Onboard

The first thing you want to know about Royal Caribbean is something that I actually think is a pain for planning. Royal Caribbean uses something that’s called dynamic pricing. That’s just a fancy way of saying that prices for many things change depending on your cruise.

Take the drink package — the price you pay will vary depending on your specific sailing. So I couldn’t tell you the cost (just a ballpark), and you won’t know the exact price until you actually book your cruise. It’s the same thing for admission to the beach club or waterpark on CocoCay. Maybe you get lucky and it’s priced lower than usual. Or it may be that your trip sees higher prices.

That uncertainty is something you just have to deal with.

There’s a Big Difference Between Ships

Two Royal Caribbean ships docked next to each other.
The Royal Caribbean fleet ranges from new ships to some built roughly 30 years ago. Yes, there is some difference between them.

My first cruise on Royal was on Mariner of the Seas, built in 2003. My second was aboard Enchantment of the Seas, built in 1997. Even between those two ships built six years apart, there was a major difference in what it was like to cruise. Now, the difference between newest and oldest is even hard to imagine.

Royal Caribbean is known for having the largest cruise ships in the world with the most things to see, do, and eat. But those older ships just don’t hold a candle to what’s on the newest ones today.

If you’re thinking of sailing Royal Caribbean for the first time, I think that you’re best off focusing on something built in the past 10 years to get an idea of what the cruise line is really all about. Otherwise, the experience will be much different.

It’s the Favorite Line for Teens & Families

If you’re traveling with a family, then one thing you’ll want to know before booking is that I consider Royal Caribbean hands down the best cruise line for those traveling with older kids or teens.

What makes it so great for older kids is that it offers so much for them to do. There’s the kids area and teen hangouts, but Royal Caribbean is also famous for things like bumper cars, their arcades, rock climbing walls, the Flowrider, and water slides. Some ships have escape rooms, and even the entertainment on board is often geared toward family shows versus high-end or avant-garde performances that might lose interest of younger viewers.

Keep it Free on CocoCay

View of CocoCay pier
There’s lots to do on CocoCay that’s an extra charge. However, we suggest sticking to the free things here like the beach and the pool, then using the saved money to book excursions in other ports.

The first time I visited CocoCay, it was well before the transformation to what it is today. Back then, it was sleepy and quiet. Today, it’s essentially a theme park. There’s a lot to do on CocoCay and Royal Caribbean continues to add things… for a fee.

Today, the waterpark is a charge. The Coco Beach Club is a charge, cabanas and daybed around the island are a charge, and the new adults-only Hideaway Beach is also a paid entry. In other words, you can spend plenty if you wanted to.

But what you’ll want to know is that you don’t have to spend money to have a great time. The island is pretty large and there’s a massive pool and tons of beach space. So if you go on a cruise and want pool time or beach time — and who doesn’t? — then you can absolutely have an awesome beach day without spending a dime.

Don’t Miss the Entertainment in the Theater

If you’ve never sailed any cruise before, then you might have an idea of the entertainment on board being hokey shows with lip-syncing and washed-up performers. That’s not really accurate for any major cruise line, but even less so with Royal Caribbean. 

There’s a ton of talent but also a lot of technology, especially on the newer ships, that takes performances to another level. Then the Oasis and Icon-class ships have Aqua Theaters with water performances that are unlike anything you’ve seen.

I will say that the ice shows on the ships with a skating rink have not been my favorites, but if there are shows in the theater or the AquaTheater, I know to consider them a can’t miss.

You’ll Have to Shell Out for Food

One thing I wish I knew before sailing Royal Caribbean is that if you want the most when it comes to food, then you have to be prepared to shell out more money.

Food included with your fare is the Windjammer buffet and the main dining room. Then there are a number of other included spots, but they are generally “snacky,” like the grab-and-go pizza, or a spot to grab tacos, or to get a muffin in the morning. Anything that’s an actual sit down service is going to be an extra charge.

I don’t like having to spend extra on specialty restaurants, but I generally make it a rule to work in two for-pay meals during a 7-day cruise. Otherwise, the buffet and dining room can get a bit old.

There Are Often Discounts on Port Days

I mentioned dynamic pricing earlier, but it’s not just charging different prices for different cruises. Royal Caribbean also charges different prices depending on if the ship is in port or at sea. For instance, when I sailed Quantum of the Seas to Alaska, the North Star observation pod that takes you up over the ship was free when in port, but a charge if done while at sea.

It’s similar with the spa. You’ll find cheaper prices when the ship is in port and most people are out exploring. The prices are higher when you have days at sea and a more captive audience.

Take advantage and you can save yourself a nice chunk of change.

Huge Ships, But Easy to Navigate

Map of Royal Caribbean ship
Royal Caribbean is known for large ships, but a lot of thought was put into making them easy to get around. Example #1: Ship maps on every deck.

You wouldn’t think that a cruise ship would be that hard to navigate. Many cruise lines, however, build ships that are anything but easy to get around.

One nice thing to know about Royal Caribbean is that there is a lot of thought put into navigating the huge ships. Not only are they laid out more simply with few dead ends and lots of hallways that run the length of the ship, but they like to put out maps to help you navigate and even put door markers that point the way forward. If you have a round door marker, look for the arrow. If you have the older wave versions, the high end of the wave is the way to the front of the ship. Others simply have a ship that points forward.

Despite the massive size of these ships, I’ve always found them easier to navigate compared to many others.

A Generous “Space Ratio” Despite Thousands of Passengers

Speaking of those big ships, there are a lot of people that get turned off of the newer vessels due to the number of people they carry. Having 6,000 other people on the cruise ship is not unusual. Of course, you might imagine a place where you can barely breath there are so many passengers.

In reality, Royal Caribbean builds the ships to accommodate that many people, not simply stuffing more passengers on. I like to use something called the space ratio — the gross tonnage of the ship divided by the number of passengers at double occupancy.

On this metric, Royal Caribbean ships consistently measure slightly more than 40 whether the ship was built a year ago or 20 years ago (a ratio of 40 is my cut-off for a “roomy” ship). In other words, yes, there are more passengers but the size of the ships have also kept pace, meaning there’s still plenty of elbow room.

Big Discounts on Packages Ahead of Time

I’ve told you that prices change depending on the cruise you book. But it’s always the case that Royal Caribbean offers discounts for early purchases on things like drink packages and wi-fi. It’s often in the 10-30% range.

They do this because in the cruise industry passengers that book early end up spending more overall, so a discount is made up for in the long run. But if you’re going to buy anyway, doing it early and saving some cash is smart.

One sale to watch for is around Black Friday when they seem to offer the biggest discounts of up to 50% off.

Solo Cruisers See Double Points

One thing I wish I knew really only applies to a small segment of passengers, but it’s definitely been beneficial to me.

If you like to sail solo, then you know that it can be an expensive way to travel. Rooms are sold on double occupancy, so a $400 cruise fare is actually $800 when you factor this in. Despite that, there is one perk for sailing solo.

If you sail alone but pay for double occupancy, then Royal Caribbean awards you double Crown and Anchor loyalty points. So a three-day solo cruise earns you as many points as a six-day regular cruise.

Those that like to chase loyalty status should know this is a quick way to ramp it up quickly.

The Ship Is Also an Art Gallery

Artwork on Royal Caribbean
It’s not talked about much, but the cruise line puts a lot of unique art all around the ship.

One thing that I never thought about before sailing Royal Caribbean but it jumped out at me immediately is how the cruise line does a great job of incorporating art into the ship.

Now, any cruise line will hang pictures on the walls, but Royal Caribbean really focuses on adding sculptures, pictures, and even large works around the ship. And they are all unique.

Why is that such a big deal? For one, some of the pieces are memorable and things you’ll see nowhere else. It also just adds to the atmosphere of the ship, makes it feel more luxurious, more fun, and frankly it’s just interesting to see.

Next time you sail, really take a few minutes to appreciate the pieces around the ship.

Those Truth About Cruise Sales

Discounts on packages before the cruise are something to take seriously as they can save you money. Hemming and hawing over waiting for a cruise sale? I say don’t bother.

This isn’t a Royal Caribbean-specific thing, but it’s definitely something the cruise line is guilty of. Those sales that are offered run constantly. The base line for Royal seems to be up to $650 off, with 30% off all cruises with kids sail free.

So even if you see that countdown timer warning you the sale is about to end, it may be tweaked at the end of the countdown (or often extended), but the price will most likely stay the same.

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