The ultimate guide to Royal Caribbean cruise ships and itineraries
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For megaresort lovers, Royal Caribbean may be the ultimate cruise line.
The line’s biggest ships are more than 20% bigger than any other cruise vessel afloat, and they’re chock-full of more restaurants, bars, entertainment zones and attractions than you’ll find anywhere else at sea — or even at many of the biggest land resorts.
On Royal Caribbean’s biggest ships, there are multiple pool areas, watery play zones, rock-climbing walls, surfing simulators, miniature golf courses, basketball courts and even zip lines. And that’s just on the top deck. Interior areas bring everything from full-size spas and casinos to Broadway-quality theatres with top-name shows.
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Some Royal Caribbean ships even have ice-skating rinks. Really.
If all that seems like too much to fit on a cruise vessel, consider this: The biggest Royal Caribbean ships are 18 decks high, nearly 1,200 feet long and capable of carrying nearly 6,800 passengers.
Related: Which cruise brand is right for you?
3 Things TPG loves about Royal Caribbean
- The incredible array of onboard activities
- The over-the-top super suites on some ships
- The top-notch entertainment, including Broadway shows
What we could do without
- Sold-out shows, particularly in onboard comedy clubs
The Royal Caribbean fleet
Royal Caribbean is the world’s largest cruise line by passenger capacity, with 26 ships that together offer more than 80,000 berths.
The ships include the world’s four biggest cruise vessels — Symphony of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas, Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas. Similar in design, they are known as the Oasis Class, and they are unlike anything else at sea when it comes to size, amenities and passenger capacity. But they’re not the only biggies in the Royal Caribbean fleet.
In addition to the four Oasis Class vessels, which can each hold more than 6,600 passengers with every berth full, there are four big Quantum Class ships and three big Freedom Class ships that each have total capacities ranging from around 4,500 to 5,600 passengers.
Add those in, and Royal Caribbean operates 11 of the world’s 20 biggest cruise ships.
The line also operates five somewhat smaller Voyager Class vessels that can each hold around 3,800 passengers at maximum occupancy.
Together, the sixteen Oasis, Quantum, Freedom and Voyager-class vessels make up Royal Caribbean’s big ship fleet. The line’s remaining 10 vessels, split among four classes, are relatively smaller, with maximum occupancy topping out around 2,500 passengers.
While no longer the focus at Royal Caribbean, these smaller ships, which in general are the line’s older ships, allow it to offer itineraries to places that aren’t as easy for big ships to visit. Not all ports in the world can handle a ship the size of Symphony of the Seas.
The smaller ships also appeal to a subset of Royal Caribbean fans who like a little more intimacy in a cruise vessel and don’t mind giving up some onboard amenities to get it. They also often are less expensive to sail on, on a per-day basis.
One of these smaller ships, Grandeur of the Seas, is scheduled to leave the Royal Caribbean fleet in 2021. At the same time, two more giant Royal Caribbean ships — Odyssey of the Seas and Wonder of the Seas — are scheduled to join the fleet. That will push its big-ship-to-small-ship ratio even higher. The two vessels will be part of the Quantum Class and Oasis Class, respectively.
With each step-down in size, you’ll find fewer restaurants, bars, entertainment offerings and attractions. But even the smallest of Royal Caribbean ships still have quite a bit to offer.
Destinations and itineraries
Royal Caribbean sails almost everywhere in the world, but its heaviest presence is in the Caribbean and Europe. In a typical summer, the line will deploy about half its ships on sailings to the Caribbean, Bahamas and Bermuda while sending another six or seven ships to Europe. The line typically sends two to four ships every summer to Alaska.
In recent years, Royal Caribbean also has been deploying one or more ships to China for sailings aimed at the local Chinese market. For the coming year, the line’s newest ship, the one-year-old Spectrum of the Seas, will offer trips for Chinese travellers out of Shanghai and Tianjin, China (the port for Beijing).
In North America, Royal Caribbean ships generally sail out of Miami, Port Canaveral, Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades and Tampa in Florida; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Galveston, Texas; Bayonne, New Jersey (one of the ports for New York City); Baltimore; Boston; Seattle; Vancouver, British Columbia; and Seward, Alaska.
In Europe, Royal Caribbean ships mostly sail out of Southampton, UK; Amsterdam; Copenhagen; Stockholm; Barcelona; Civitavecchia, Italy (the port for Rome) and — starting in 2021 — Ravenna, Italy (which is taking the place of Venice as a home port).
Who sails Royal Caribbean
For the most part, Royal Caribbean operates big, bustling megaships that will appeal to people who like a megaresort experience. In other words, if you’re the kind of person who loves staying on property at Disney World or a giant Las Vegas resort, this is the line for you. Royal Caribbean ships offer holidaymakers a ton of options, whether it be for dining (some vessels have more than 20 distinct places to grab a bite) or entertainment. They are lively and fun.
That said, they also can be serene in spots. You can have a quiet afternoon reading a book on a bench in the tree-lined Central Park area of Symphony of the Seas while just a few decks above thousands of holidaymakers are frolicking away at the ship’s three distinct pool areas. Royal Caribbean’s designers are masters at designing vessels that can carry thousands and thousands of people but still feel relatively uncrowded — at least in some areas.
Insider tip: To escape the bustle on a Royal Caribbean ship, seek out the Solarium. It’s an adult-only, deck-top retreat found on every Royal Caribbean vessel that is relatively quiet.
Royal Caribbean ships have an inordinate amount of teen- and tween-friendly attractions — everything from some of the largest water slides at sea to bumper car pavilions. That makes them particularly appealing to families, including multigenerational groups. Families are a big part of Royal Caribbean’s business.
But it’s not just families that flock to Royal Caribbean. The line’s ships are designed to offer a little something for everyone, and they thus appeal to a wide demographic, including couples of all ages and even solo travellers (the line has been adding solo cabins to more ships in recent years). They also draw customers from a wide range of the income spectrum.
At one level, Royal Caribbean ships have a for-the-masses feel. But overlaid across most ships are high-end suites, eateries and services that are at a luxury level, and the line draws a good number of luxury-seeking travellers. Royal Caribbean executives like to say that if they carved out all the suites on their ships as a separate business, it’d be the largest luxury line in the world.
While wide in profile, what Royal Caribbean cruisers all have in common is that they love a big, bustling resort experience.
Cabins and suites
Royal Caribbean is known for offering a wide range of accommodations on its ships. Some ships have as many 34 categories of cabins. You’ll find everything from relatively low-cost, windowless “inside” cabins measuring just 149 square feet (perfect for the budget traveller) to massive, multi-room suites that are more than 10 times that size.
At the high end, the accommodations are aimed at well-heeled travellers who, for whatever reason, prefer the megaship experience to being on a luxury ship, and they truly are among the most spectacular accommodations at sea. Some, such as the Royal Loft Suites found on Oasis Class ships, are two decks high with sweeping views across the top of the vessel.
Depending on the ship, top suites can come with such perks as private butlers (called Royal Genies) that attend to your every need; access to a private restaurant, suite lounge and sun deck; reserved seating in entertainment venues; and priority boarding and disembarkation.
Restaurants and dining
While a few of Royal Caribbean’s smallest ships have relatively limited dining options, most of the line’s vessels offer so many choices that it can almost be overwhelming.
On Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class ships there are more 20 places to grab a bite, ranging from high-end restaurants serving six-course tasting menus to Johnny Rockets diners.
Every vessel has a main dining room and a casual buffet eatery where meals are included in the fare — the latter called either Windjammer Café or Windjammer Marketplace. For dinner in the main dining room, you must sign up for either My Time Dining, which is where you go whenever you want, or Traditional Dining, where you have a fixed table and time for dinner.
Other included-in-the-fare offerings found on some ships include Sorrento’s pizza parlours, the Mediterranean cuisine-serving Solarium Bistro and the coffee bar Cafe Promenade.
In addition, every ship has a least one and sometimes many extra-charge eateries. The most common one found across the fleet is Chops Grille, the line’s signature steakhouse. Many ships also have an Italian eatery, called either Giovanni’s Table or Jamie’s Italian by Jamie Oliver. Three’s also Hooked Seafood, a relatively new concept now on two vessels (Symphony of the Seas and Navigator of the Seas) that serves up lobster rolls, fish sandwiches and the like.
On some ships, you’ll also find Izumi, a sushi-serving Asian eatery; Vintages, a small bite-serving wine bar; imaginative cuisine-serving Wonderland; and Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade, which offers cold brews, burgers and wings along with games like foosball.
There also are full-blown Starbucks stores on some ships, or at least a Starbucks stand.
In addition, some ships have private restaurants just for passengers staying in suites and top-tier members of the line’s Crown & Anchor Society loyalty program.
Some of the extra-charge eateries come with a flat fee, usually around $35 to $50 per person, not including the cost of drinks. Others are a la carte.
If you know you want to eat at several extra-charge restaurants during a single voyage, you can buy one of several dining packages that offer meals at a discount.
Related: The 7 best meals you can have at sea
Entertainment and activities
No other cruise line has as broad a range of entertainment and activities on its ships as Royal Caribbean. As noted above, the line’s biggest vessels offer multiple entertainment venues, from theatres to comedy clubs; all manner of deck-top attractions; large casinos; full-service spas; and even ice-skating rinks. Plus, you’ll find more bars, lounges and nightspots than you could think possible for a ship.
Theatres and shows
One of Royal Caribbean’s great strengths is its theatre entertainment, which can be mindblowing at times — i.e., you won’t believe you’re seeing what you’re seeing on a cruise ship.
Many of Royal Caribbean’s biggest ships have state-of-the-art theatres as big as you’ll find on Broadway, with top-name Broadway shows. Symphony of the Seas has Hairspray, for instance, and Oasis of the Seas has Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. In some cases, the shows are cut down slightly (though some still run nearly two hours), and the casts aren’t the A-team you’ll find on Broadway. But these are quality productions. And, the best part … they are entirely free. Compare that with the hundreds of dollars you’ll spend to take your family to a show in New York City.
Even more “wow,” as Royal Caribbean executives like to say, are the ice-skating shows put on at the ice skating rinks found on 12 of the line’s ships. The rinks are in the interiors of the ships, surrounded by stadium seating for up to 775 people, and the shows are out-of-this-world. The line has hired Olympics-level skaters to star in the productions.
On Oasis Class ships, there also are 735-seat outdoor “aqua theatres” that are home to dazzling aerial and water shows. Quantum Class ships have Two70, an extraordinary, high-tech theatre space that offers multi-sensory shows combining singing, dancing and acrobatics.
Some ships also have comedy clubs, and there’s always live music in multiple venues nightly. We’re particularly fond of the two-deck-high Music Halls on Quantum Class vessels.
Insider tip: Be sure to book the (free) tickets for onboard comedy clubs early. They sometimes sell out in advance due to heavy demand and limited capacity.
Other Interior attractions and activities
In addition to entertainment spaces, the interior of Royal Caribbean ships are loaded with other venues where passengers can kick back and let loose day and night, including a seemingly endless array of bars, lounges and nightspots.
Every Royal Caribbean ship has a casino, and on the line’s bigger vessels, they are big operations. The Casino Royale on Oasis of the Seas sprawls with 450 slot machines, 27 table games (including blackjack, roulette and craps) and a poker room, plus its very own bar.
The 12 vessels that are part of the Voyager, Freedom and Oasis classes also have Royal Promenades — indoor, mall-like spaces that are home to some of the coolest bars at sea as well as food outlets and retail shops.
The version of the Royal Promenade on Oasis of the Seas, for instance, offers the Bionic Bar, where a robot makes the drinks, and the Rising Tide Bar, which rises between the Royal Promenade and the outdoor Central Park area three decks above while you drink. There’s also a British pub, a karaoke lounge, a Latin-themed nightspot and — located one deck up in a balcony area — the line’s signature Schooner Bar.
The line’s Quantum Class vessels have a much smaller version of the Royal Promenade called the Royal Esplanade that transitions into another indoor area called The Via.
The Quantum Class ships also have an indoor fun zone known as The SeaPlex that includes a bumper car pavilion. Yes, really, you can do bumper cars on a cruise ship. When the bumper cars aren’t in use, the space transforms into a roller rink, and it also can be used as a “circus school” with lessons on a flying trapeze. Other SeaPlex activities include air hockey and table tennis.
For something a bit quieter and pampering, Royal Caribbean ships also all have spas, which can be quite big on the bigger vessels.
The top decks of Royal Caribbean ships are where things get crazy. There is stuff that you just won’t see on any other vessel at sea.
There are pools, of course — on the bigger ships, oodles of them. The Oasis Class ships have three distinct pool areas as well as a watery play zone for kids. A growing number of Royal Caribbean ships also have waterparks with significant waterslides.
But you’ll also find all sorts of other fun-focused attractions — giant rock climbing walls, surfing simulators, zip lines, miniature golf courses and basketball courts, to name a few. Some recently built ships even have skydiving simulators — giant acrylic tubes where you get to experience the sensation of skydiving.
On Oasis Class ships, there’s also an outdoor Boardwalk area with a hand-carved carousel.
But the most out-there deck-top attraction on Royal Caribbean ships surely are the North Star rides found on Quantum Class ships. Perhaps the most bizarre attractions ever conceived for a cruise ship, they are giant mechanical arms topped with glass-enclosed capsules that will take you soaring above the ships for the view.
The North Star is free to ride for the view. It also can be booked for special events, such as weddings, for a charge.
Royal Caribbean has one of the most extensive children’s programmes at sea, with programmes and activities for children as young as six months through the age of 17.
The heart of the programme, called Adventure Ocean, brings free, supervised activities daily for children ages 3 to 12. The line splits children here up into three age groups: Aquanauts (ages 3-5 years); Explorers (ages 6-8 years) and Voyagers (ages 9-12 years), and they each have their own age-appropriate activities ranging from scavenger hunts to arts-and-crafts. On many ships, there are extensive dedicated spaces for the different groups.
While the free programming ends at 10 p.m., you can pay extra to leave your kids at Adventure Ocean past 10 p.m. until 2 a.m., when it transforms into a supervised Late Night Party Zone.
Royal Caribbean also operates a Royal Babies nursery programme for children ages six to 18 months that includes interactive child-and-parent classes with activities developed by early childhood experts. The Royal Tots programme (for ages 18-36 months) offers 45-minute interactive playground sessions with age-appropriate activities and toys. Both programmes are hosted by trained youth staff. On many ships, parents also can drop off their babies at the nursery for short-term babysitting (this service comes with an extra charge).
Royal Caribbean also offers dedicated teen and tween programmes on ships for children ages 12 to 17. On some vessels, such as the Quantum Class ships, you’ll find a dedicated space with games and a widescreen TV called The Living Room where teens can hang out, and a teens-only disco called Fuel.
What to know before you go
If you’re a U.S. citizen, on a cruise that starts and ends in a U.S. port, you’ll need either a current passport or an official copy of your birth certificate and a driver’s license or other government-issued photo identification to sail. Passports must be valid for at least six months. For cruises from international ports, you’ll need a passport. Note that it is important that the name on your reservation be exactly as it is stated on your passport or other official proof of nationality.
Royal Caribbean adds an automatic service gratuity of $14.50 to $17.50 per person, per day to final bills, depending on your cabin category. If you are unhappy with the service you receive, you can adjust this amount before disembarking at the Guest Services desk. Also, an 18% gratuity is added to bills at bars, mini-bars, salons and spas.
Royal Caribbean has one of the fastest WiFi systems at sea — so fast that you will be able to watch Netflix from your room on your mobile device. Pricing changes over time, but recently has been priced at $17.99 per day, per device for a package that includes streaming. There also are multi-device packages that are less expensive on a per-device basis.
Carry-on drinks policy
Royal Caribbean allows you to bring two bottles of wine or Champagne per cabin onto ships at boarding, plus up to a dozen standard cans, bottles or cartons of nonalcoholic drinks such as sodas. Note that you’ll be charged a $15 corkage fee if you want to bring the wine or Champagne to an onboard restaurant or other public areas to drink.
Smoking (including e-cigarette smoking) only is allowed in designated outdoor areas, casinos and the cigar clubs found on Freedom and Voyager-class ships. It’s forbidden in cabins and on cabin balconies, and those who violate this rule will face a $250 cleaning fee. In the casino, only cigarette smoking is allowed, and only in designated areas (on most ships; smoking in casinos is forbidden on sailings out of Australia and UK ports).
Unlike some lines, Royal Caribbean does not build self-service launderettes onto its ships. Vessels offer extra-charge laundry and dry cleaning services.
All vessels have standard North American-style, 110-volt outlets in rooms as well as European-style, 220-volt outlets. A growing number of vessels also have USB ports in cabins.
The currency used on all Royal Caribbean ships is U.S. dollars, no matter where they are in the world. All vessels operate on a “cashless system” with any onboard purchases you make posting automatically to your onboard account. You’ll receive a SeaPass card that you can use to make charges.
You must be 21 to consume alcohol on sailings originating in North America or the United Arab Emirates. The drinking age on sailings from South America, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand is 18.
During the day, there is no specific dress code, and people dress casually. If it’s a sea day in a warm-weather destination, and you’re bound for the top-deck, that means looking like you’re going to the beach — t-shirts, shorts and bathing suits (with a cover-up to go inside) are just fine.
During the evenings, there is an official dress code, but it only applies to passengers entering the main dining room. On any given night, one of three dress codes will apply — Casual, Smart Casual or Formal. Casual means just that — jeans, polo shirts, sundresses. Smart Casual is a step up to collared shirts, dresses, skirts and blouses, or pantsuits, with a jacket for men optional. Formal, officially, is suits and ties, tuxedos, cocktail dresses or evening gowns. But don’t worry if you don’t want to go that fancy. Not everybody plays into it. You’ll see most men wearing suits or sports coats and women in cocktail dresses.
Royal Caribbean loyalty programme
Royal Caribbean has a point-based frequent cruiser programme, the Crown & Anchor Society, that has six tiers, ranging from Gold (requiring 3 points) to Pinnacle Club (700 points).
Members earn points for every night they sail on one of the line’s ships, with double points awarded to passengers staying in suites. To hit the first tier, Gold, takes one cruise. Reaching the second tier, Platinum (30 points), would take five cruises if you’re doing seven-night trips, fewer if you’re in a suite.
Lower tiers don’t bring all that much in terms of truly valuable benefits. You’ll get things like priority check-in and a private departure lounge with Continental breakfast at the end of a trip. But higher levels of the programme start to be enticing.
The second-to-highest tier, Diamond Plus (175 points), brings Concierge Club access, priority seating at onboard shows, an exclusive number to call for bookings and reduced rates for solo travellers, plus other things. The top Pinnacle Club level brings free cruises after hitting key milestone levels.
Note that, in contrast to airline frequent flyer programmes, cruise line loyalty programmes do not require you to requalify for status every year. So, yes, the perks with lower tiers aren’t great. But, it’s not as difficult as it might at first seem to hit the more rewarding higher level tiers in just a few years if you’re cruising a lot.
A passenger staying in suites could get to the Diamond Plus level with just 13 seven-night cruises. Sail a few longer voyages, like a transatlantic sailing, and you could reach it even sooner.
How much does a Royal Caribbean cruise cost?
Royal Caribbean designs its ships to appeal to a broad mix of people, in part by offering a wide range of cabin types at varying price points. On a typical sailing, you might find an entry-level cabin for around $100 a night while a high-end suite is four or five times that amount.
As of the date of this story’s posting, for instance, a Spacious AquaTheater Suite on Harmony of the Seas for a seven-night Caribbean cruise in August 2021 was going for $3,944 per person, based on double occupancy — about four times the cost of the least-expensive “inside” cabin (which was starting at $950 per person, based on double occupancy). Balcony cabins on the same sailing started at around $1,132 per person, based on double occupancy.
Note the “based on double occupancy” caveat in the above paragraph. As is typical for cruise lines, Royal Caribbean charges on a per-person basis, not per room, and it prices most cabins based on two people occupying a room. It does offer a small number of cabins for solo travellers on some ships that are priced based on single occupancy.
In general, Royal Caribbean’s big, resort-like Oasis Class and Quantum Class ships will be more expensive than the line’s older, smaller vessels. But there are a lot of factors that go into pricing for any given cruise, including the popularity of the specific itinerary, the time of year when the cruise is taking place and changing demand trends.
As you might expect, pricing for all ships generally will be lower during off-season periods such as September and October.
The timing of when you book also can matter. Cruises book up much further in advance than aeroplanes or hotels, and many cruisers will tell you that the best pricing for any given sailing often is available when cruises first go on sale (which can be a good two years before a departure). Booking far in advance also will give you the best chance of getting your preferred cabin type and location on a ship.
Once on board, you’ll pay extra for most drinks, extra-charge restaurants, spa services, shore excursions, internet service and a few other things — unless you’ve bought a package for some of these items in advance. Most onboard activities such as rock climbing and zip lining are included in the fare as is your lodging, meals (in non-extra-charge restaurants) and entertainment.
How to book
If you’re sure you know what sort of cabin you want, on which ship, on which itinerary — and about a dozen other things — you can head over to RoyalCaribbean.com to make a booking directly.
That said, given the complexity of booking a cruise — there are a lot of decisions to make during the booking process, trust us — we recommend that you use a seasoned travel agent who specializes in cruises.
A good travel agent will quiz you about your particular interests, travel style and preferences, and steer you to the perfect cruise line, ship, itinerary and cabin for you. They also can help you if something goes wrong just before, during or after your voyage.
If you’re sure that Royal Caribbean is your line, look for a travel agent who specializes in trips with the brand. You want someone who knows all 34 of those cabin categories that we mentioned above and, preferably, has done ship inspections to see them first hand.
Royal Caribbean has grown into the world’s biggest cruise line by passenger capacity for a reason. It has long dazzled customers with stunning, resort-like vessels full of every sort of amusement and activity you could imagine. If you’re a megaresort lover, you’ll surely love the line’s biggest ships, particularly the giant Oasis Class vessels. If you’re more of a small boutique hotel sort of person, or someone who just isn’t happy around crowds, well … this might not be the line for you.
More stories to help you plan your next cruise:
- The 6 best cruise ship waterslides and watery fun zones
- Are cruise ship drinks packages worth the price? A line-by-line guide
- 12 best cruises for people who never want to grow up
- The most exciting new ocean ships of 2020
- The best cruise lines for solo travellers
- A guide to travel insurance for cruises
Featured image courtesy of Royal Caribbean
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