35 Royal Caribbean cruise tips and tricks that will make your voyage better
Want to impress your traveling companions the next time you cruise with Royal Caribbean? Take a scroll through our ultimate list of Royal Caribbean cruise tips, tricks and hacks in the story below — 35 in all!
These are specific Royal Caribbean cruise tips that will save you money and time, and let you maximize the experience both on board the vessels and during port calls.
Got a great Royal Caribbean cruise tip of your own that’s not included here? Email us at [email protected] You might find your tip included in a future update of this guide!
Here, our 35 best tips and tricks for getting the most from your Royal Caribbean cruise.
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Use a travel agent to book
We put this tip first for a reason. In our book, reaching out to a travel agent who knows the Royal Caribbean brand is the first thing you need to do when planning a cruise with the line.
Sure, you can book a Royal Caribbean cruise on your own, directly through the line’s website. But given that you must make many decisions during the booking process, it can pay to use a seasoned travel agent who specializes in cruises to help you arrange things. A good travel agent will quiz you about your particular interests, travel style and preferences and steer you to the perfect Royal Caribbean ship, itinerary and cabin for you. The agent also can help you if something goes wrong before, during or after your voyage.
In addition, travel agents often can get you extra onboard credit and other perks on Royal Caribbean ships that you might not be able to get by booking directly with the line.
Related: Is it better to book a cruise through a travel agent? We say yes
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Book as early as possible
Like many cruise lines these days, Royal Caribbean often offers its best pricing for any given cruise at the moment the sailing opens for booking. Then, as the cruise starts filling up, the line will slowly raise prices for the remaining inventory of cabins.
To get the best price on any particular sailing, you should book right when the voyage opens for sale. This means planning far in advance, as many Royal Caribbean sailings will open for reservations around two years before the trips are scheduled to take place.
Booking far in advance can pay off in more ways than one. One big advantage to booking ahead of time is that you’re more likely to get the exact cabin type you want. On many Royal Caribbean ships, the least expensive cabins and most expensive suites often sell out quickly.
Worried you might miss out on a deal by booking a cruise far in advance? Here’s the good news: If the cost of your cruise drops at a later date, you can usually get your fare reduced to match the lower price. You can renegotiate the price until you’ve paid in full for the cruise; that final payment is typically due a few months prior to the sail date.
Related: When is the best time to book a cruise?
Book off-season for the best deal
As is the case for resorts on land, the floating resorts that are Royal Caribbean ships can be significantly less expensive during the “offseason” travel months of September, October and November.
These are months when kids are typically back in school and family travel — a huge market for Royal Caribbean — drops off significantly, resulting in diminished demand for the line’s ships. In the Bahamas and the Caribbean, it’s also hurricane season, which keeps some people away from both land resorts and cruise ships in the region.
In addition to the fall months, the offseason period for Royal Caribbean cruises generally includes parts of January and February, but it varies by region. Traditionally, the summer months of June, July and August are considered to be the high season in many cruise destinations like the Caribbean, Europe and Alaska. The periods around major holidays — such as Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day — also are considered the busy season for cruising and bring higher prices.
Related: 6 secrets to getting a deal on a cruise
Don’t miss your shareholder’s benefits
Do you own stock in Royal Caribbean’s parent company, the Royal Caribbean Group? If so, you may qualify for an enticing perk — free onboard credit!
Any shareholder with a minimum of 100 shares at the time of sailing is eligible for an onboard credit of $250 per stateroom for sailings of 14 or more nights, $100 on sailings of six to 13 nights and $50 on sailings of five or fewer nights.
The only major caveat: Sailings on chartered cruises on Royal Caribbean ships, such as full-ship theme cruises, are excluded.
You may request the nontransferable credit each time you cruise. The credit applies only to the stateroom where the shareholder is staying and is based on double occupancy. If shares are held jointly, and you are booking more than one stateroom, 100 shares are required for each stateroom (based on one credit per shareholder per sailing and double occupancy). Single guests would have to pay 200% of the fare to receive the offer.
Note that the credit can’t be used for the daily service charges levied on Royal Caribbean ships. It also can’t be used for activities you pay for prior to sailing, as it won’t be applied to your account until you board.
Related: TPG’s guide to cruise shareholder benefits
Pre-book dining, drinks and internet packages
You’ll get the best price on dining and beverage packages if you book them in advance of your cruise. This is because Royal Caribbean often runs online sales on these packages in the months leading up to a voyage.
Once you’re on board a Royal Caribbean ship, you’ll find that packages for dining, drinks and internet will be higher than what you could have paid in advance.
Related: How to get free or cheap drinks on a cruise
And book your entertainment in advance, too
When sailing on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class and Quantum-class ships, you also can use the line’s online portal or app to pre-book shows in advance. We’re talking about the Broadway musicals and ice shows found on these vessels.
This is important to do if you want to be sure to get a seat for a specific show on a specific night. Given the many thousands of people on these ships on any given sailing, it’s not uncommon to find that some shows book up in advance.
Note that Royal Caribbean shows don’t come with a charge, nor is there a fee to reserve a spot in the audience. It won’t cost you anything to snag a seat to one of the shows in advance when you can. If you change your mind once on board, you can give up your seat without penalty.
If you don’t sign up for shows in advance, a backup strategy is to do so just after you board a vessel. Alternatively, you can wait in a standby line at onboard theaters on show nights. If some people with reservations don’t show up (something that happens often), the gatekeepers will let people without reservations in on a first-come, first-served basis.
Make reservations for My Time Dining
Here is yet one more tip about making reservations in advance: If you’re signing up for My Time Dining on a Royal Caribbean ship — the type of dining where you can eat in the main dining room whenever you want — you’ll have an easier time getting seated at the time you want if you make a reservation in advance.
In other words, don’t just show up at the main dining room without a reservation assuming that there will be a table ready for you and your traveling companions. Either make reservations for My Time Dining dinner times before you sail (again, through Royal Caribbean’s online portal) or after you board but before you plan to head to the dining room. The earlier you can make reservations for the time slot you want, the better.
Reservations for dinner in the main dining room on Royal Caribbean ships are particularly important if you want to dine during the busiest times, which typically are between 6:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. on the line’s ships.
Related: The ultimate guide to cruise ship food and dining
Sign those waivers in advance
While you’re booking restaurant reservations in advance at Royal Caribbean’s online portal, it’s a good idea to also sign a waiver for any onboard activities that you’d like to try that require one, such as the zip lines found on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class ships. If you do this in advance of sailing, you can jump right into onboard activities as soon as you board the ship.
Consider travel insurance
It’s not always smooth seas when it comes to cruising — or any sort of travel. We hate to even bring it up, but you might need to cancel your Royal Caribbean cruise in advance due to the sudden onset of an illness. Or, maybe you’ll fall ill during the trip and need emergency medical attention. Maybe your flight to your ship gets canceled and you miss the vessel’s departure.
These sorts of things happen all the time to cruisers, and they’re all the sort of situations where you might benefit from having travel insurance. Here’s a comparison of the top travel insurance providers and information about Cancel for Any Reason add-ons.
Related: The TPG guide to travel insurance for cruises
Fly to your cruise port a day or two early
This may be the most important piece of cruise advice you’ll read in this entire story. Seriously. Take it to heart, or you may end up missing your ship — something that happens to cruisers more often than you might think.
Many Royal Caribbean cruises depart in the afternoon, so it might seem fine to fly to a port on the morning of departure. But all it takes is a moderate flight delay to upset those plans. If you’re delayed in your arrival at the port, the ship will not wait for you.
Book your flights to arrive the day before your cruise to build wiggle room into your travel schedule should something go wrong. Make the most of your overnight by exploring a little in the departure port city before you board the ship.
If you’re traveling overseas for a cruise, we recommend traveling to the port two or even three days in advance. Not only will you ensure that you don’t miss the ship, but you’ll also have time to recover from jet lag. European cruises, in particular, can be port-intensive, with lots of touring, so you want to be refreshed and ready to hit the ground running right after the cruise begins.
Related: What happens if you miss your cruise ship
Check in as early as possible
Check-in for Royal Caribbean sailings can open as far as 45 days in advance, and it pays to go through the check-in process as early as you can. That’s because early birds in the check-in process have their pick of arrival times at the ship.
That’s right, you now have to pick an arrival time when heading to a Royal Caribbean ship, and passengers who check in early get the widest array of arrival slots from which to choose. If you check in far in advance, you’ll probably find the earliest arrival slots still open. If you wait, you might only find late afternoon arrival slots still available.
Getting an early arrival slot means that you can board the ship earlier than other cruisers and have more time to enjoy its attractions before sailaway.
Join a Facebook group
A great place to get ideas for what to do on Royal Caribbean ships and in the ports they visit — and what to bring on a cruise, for that matter — are the many private Facebook groups dedicated to Royal Caribbean in particular or to cruising in general.
Our cruise team at TPG belongs to a number of them, including the Royal Caribbean Cruises group and the COPs (Cruisers Opinion Page) group, for instance, and we love talking tips with their members. You’ll find thousands of cruise fans on these pages who often are more than willing to answer questions about their favorite Royal Caribbean ships, the line’s itineraries and activities in the ports of call.
Pack your bathing suit in your carry-on
When you first arrive at a Royal Caribbean ship, you’ll be greeted by porters who will whisk away your luggage. It will be delivered to your room later in the day. This is a great convenience, as there’s no need to haul your bags through the entire check-in progress. But it also means you might not have access to your luggage for many hours on your first day on board.
Be sure to pack anything you might need for the first hours of your cruise in your carry-on bag. This means things like medication, for sure, and a phone charger, but also a bathing suit, hat, sunscreen and other items that will let you head straight to the pool deck to start the fun.
Related: 13 items you should always pack in your cruise carry-on bag
Throw all the clothes you think you’ll need for a Royal Caribbean cruise in a pile, and then take away half of them. You won’t need them. Trust us.
Royal Caribbean cruises these days are relatively casual, save for occasional dress-up nights, and you really only need a few outfits to rotate through a voyage. For starters, people won’t notice if you wear the same thing two days in a row. And, even if they do, you’ll probably never see any of them again, so it doesn’t matter what they think.
Meanwhile, if things get too dirty to wear, it’s no problem. Royal Caribbean ships offer laundry and dry cleaning services that will get your clothes cleaned quickly for a nominal fee. (Unlike some lines, Royal Caribbean doesn’t build self-service launderettes onto its ships, which we find a bit annoying.)
Specifically, you’ll currently pay $3.49 to send out a T-shirt for washing and folding on a Royal Caribbean ship, or $4.99 for a long-sleeve shirt. Getting shorts washed and folded will set you back $4.49. The line’s ships also will wash an entire load of your laundry (whatever you can fit into a bag) for a flat fee of $34.99, sometimes less when they run onboard specials.
Bottom line: To us, at least, the extra cost of sending out a few shirts or even a full load of laundry for cleaning on a Royal Caribbean ship is a small price to pay for the freedom of not having to lug a giant suitcase around as you travel to and from your ship. Plus, you’ll want to save room in your suitcase for all the souvenirs you’ll want to bring home from your travels.
Related: Everything you need to know about cruise ship laundry service
Bring your own drinks on board
Many cruisers assume they can’t bring their own drinks on board a ship. And at some lines that is, indeed, the rule. But Royal Caribbean is one line that allows passengers to bring their own drinks on ships — albeit in small amounts. It’s one way to save money when cruising on a Royal Caribbean ship, as drink prices on the line’s vessels can be high.
The bring-your-own beverages allowance on Royal Caribbean ships currently is two bottles of wine or Champagne per cabin at boarding, plus up to a dozen standard cans, bottles or cartons of nonalcoholic drinks.
Related: Are drinks packages on cruise ships worth it? A line-by-line guide
Bring extra toiletries
Yes, you’ll be able to find sunscreen, painkillers and Band-Aids on Royal Caribbean ships. But it’ll cost you. The line knows you’re a captive audience and prices its shipboard stores accordingly.
We recommend always cruising with a small “go bag” of over-the-counter medicines in your suitcase that contains cold medicine, seasickness pills and the like. You’ll probably never use it. But you also won’t get hit with crazy charges should you develop a headache and desperately need ibuprofen.
While we’re on the topic of sundries, don’t forget extra batteries or memory cards for your camera if you are bringing one.
Related: Cruise packing list: The ultimate guide to what to pack for a cruise
Bring these six other things, too
In addition to extra toiletries, Royal Caribbean regulars often bring Clorox wipes or something similar to wipe down surfaces in their cabin upon arrival (and to bring along on shore excursions). Many Royal Caribbean cruisers also won’t head to a ship without room freshener, a foldable shoe rack (which they hang in the cabin bathroom to store toiletries), a highlighter (to highlight activities on the daily planner) and a lanyard (to hold their cabin keycard).
Some Royal Caribbean cruisers also swear by bringing magnets to ships to affix dinner invitations, excursion tickets and other important papers to their cabin walls. Walls on Royal Caribbean ships are made with metal (even if they don’t look like they’re made of metal, thanks to faux coverings) and will hold a magnet. Some cruisers even bring magnets with hooks so they can hang up clothes and other items on their walls.
Related: The ultimate guide to Royal Caribbean cruises and itineraries
Skip the buffet on your first day on board
There’s nothing more jammed than a Royal Caribbean ship buffet on embarkation day. Everybody heads straight to it after they board.
Our Royal Caribbean cruise hack: To avoid the first-day buffet crowds, make a beeline to one of the secondary dining options that typically aren’t nearly as crowded. Depending on which type of Royal Caribbean ship you are on, this could be the Sorrentos pizza outlets found in ship promenades, Park Cafe (found in the Central Park area of Oasis-class ships) or Cafe @ Two70 (found on Quantum-class ships).
Related: Cruise ship buffet taboos: 10 things you should never do at mealtime
Try the marquee attractions on departure day
If Royal Caribbean ships are known for anything, it is their marquee deck-top attractions — giant waterslides, surfing simulators, climbing walls and skydiving tubes, to name a few. Some Royal Caribbean ships even have bumper car pavilions.
To make the most of these activities, head straight to them on the first day of your sailing. You’ll often find that they are less crowded on embarkation day, when many cruisers still are getting oriented, than later in the sailing, when the attractions have been widely discovered.
With so much to do on board, you’ll have a better shot at sampling all the top Royal Caribbean cruise ship attractions if you get started early.
Related: 27 cruise ship embarkation day do’s and don’ts
Watch sailaway from this secret spot
On roughly half of Royal Caribbean’s ships, you should be able to watch the ship sail away from port from an amazing location that normally isn’t open to passengers: the helipad on the bow.
Many passengers don’t know about this secret spot for watching sailaways, found on Radiance-class, Voyager-class and Freedom-class vessels. It offers a truly wonderful vantage point. Royal Caribbean usually allows passengers to walk out onto these helipads around the time that a ship is departing. It’s not always open the rest of the cruise.
To reach the helipad on these ships, head to the promenade deck (the deck where there is an outside walking area) and walk toward the front of the ship until you reach the helipad area.
More cruise tips: 21 things you should do to make your first cruise go smoothly
Research ports in advance
There are some types of vacations — a beach trip, for instance — where you don’t have to do much advance research. You just show up and have fun. Cruises aren’t this way — at least if you want to get the most out of them.
Even if you think the biggest allure of your Royal Caribbean cruise will be the amenities you’ll find on your ship, you’ll still be facing several days of port calls on many sailings. You’ll want to have a plan for what to do in these ports in advance or you’ll miss out on a big part of the cruising experience.
In general cruise calls are short — often just six to eight hours. So, you’ll probably want to pick one or two things that you want to do during your time at the destination.
To make the most of your time, book an organized tour and let someone else get you to the destination’s top attractions and back in a timely manner. But you also might find it works perfectly fine to go it alone. The trick is to do the research in advance, so you have a plan for the best way to spend your day.
Related: The 5 best destinations you can visit on a Royal Caribbean ship
Use your onboard package perks at CocoCay
Good news if you’ve bought one of those drinks or Wi-Fi packages we mentioned above. They don’t just apply when you’re on your Royal Caribbean ship. They also work when you’re on land at Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas, Perfect Day at CocoCay.
If you’ve purchased a drinks package, you won’t need to pay extra for sodas, beer or frozen cocktails when you’re thirsty on the beach. The island is outfitted for Wi-Fi access, so you can use your shipboard internet package to stay in touch or post photos of your day on social media without extra fees.
This isn’t always the case when visiting cruise line private islands. And it’s no small thing, given that CocoCay is a marquee stop on a significant number of Royal Caribbean voyages to the Bahamas and the Caribbean.
Related: How to visit Royal Caribbean’s Perfect Day at CocoCay on zero dollars
Get free breakfast at Johnny Rockets
Many Royal Caribbean ships feature Johnny Rockets eateries serving the chain’s signature burgers and shakes. Meals there are not free; they come with an extra charge. But there’s an exception: The Johnny Rockets venues on Royal Caribbean’s five Oasis-class ships offer breakfast for free.
Even better, Johnny Rockets outlets on Oasis-class ships (located in the Boardwalk amusement area) typically aren’t crowded at breakfast time, in part because many people don’t realize they’re open.
Related: The 6 types of Royal Caribbean ships, explained
Eat at the extra-charge restaurants at lunchtime
Royal Caribbean ships have some wonderful extra-charge restaurants that you might want to try, such as the signature Chops Grille steakhouses found on many vessels. But they can come with a hefty extra charge.
One way to save: Book these venues for lunch instead of dinner. The flat-fee extra charge is typically half as much as the cost of going at dinnertime.
The Chops Grille eateries, for instance, recently were priced at a fee of $55 per person for dinner, while visiting at lunchtime only would set you back $25 per person.
Know your loyalty benefits
Royal Caribbean offers some enticing onboard perks to its most loyal customers, including free drinks, free internet time, access to an exclusive Diamond Club on select ships, a complimentary entertainment tour and, at the highest level, daily breakfast at a specialty restaurant. But it’s easy to miss out on these perks if you’re not aware of what you can get.
Be sure to read through TPG’s ultimate guide to maximizing your status in Royal Caribbean’s loyalty program to know all of the many perks you’ll be able to get depending on how many points you’ve accumulated.
Sign up for private tours
Booking a shore excursion directly through Royal Caribbean is easy. You check a box on an online form before sailing or while on board, and — poof! — your tour is all arranged.
But booking tours through the line isn’t your only option, and it’s not always the best option. In many cases, you can save a lot of money — and get a better touring experience — by booking shore excursions through independent tour operators in ports or a tour booking service such as Viator or ToursByLocals.
Often, independent tours will be much more intimate than the tours offered directly through Royal Caribbean. They might go to the same sites but in a small van instead of a big motorcoach. You might have just six or eight other people on a tour with you instead of nearly 40. If your group is big enough, you might even be able to book a private tour with an independent tour operator.
Independent tours also can take you to places that Royal Caribbean-organized tours don’t. Plus, they often come with excellent service. ToursByLocals has staff on hand around-the-clock to respond to questions, and — for those worried about missing your ship — they offer a return-to-ship guarantee with every tour.
Related: Ship-sponsored vs. independent shore excursions on cruises: Which should you book?
Always carry Royal Caribbean’s contact information with you
When going ashore, always bring your Royal Caribbean ship’s contact information with you. Those details are usually printed in the Cruise Compass newsletter that’s delivered to your cabin each night. If something goes wrong when you’re away from the ship, you’ll want to get in contact with the cruise line right away.
The newsletter should also list contact information for the port agent in every destination you visit. Should you have a problem in port and not make it back to the ship before it sails, the agent can help you figure out next steps.
Keep your phone in airplane mode
Some of the biggest cruise ship horror stories you’ll find on the internet are tales of cruising newbies who racked up thousands of dollars in cellphone charges while on ships. This can happen when you leave your phone turned on and, say, watch videos on the internet. Many phone plans — even international plans — do not include talking, texting and data on cruise ships, and you’ll pay exorbitant roaming rates for such services that will show up weeks later on your phone bill.
There is a way to make calls and access the internet from Royal Caribbean ships without spending a boatload of money. You can buy a Wi-Fi package, which will let you make FaceTime calls and stream videos over Wi-Fi without using phone data.
Download Royal Caribbean’s app
If you’re planning a Royal Caribbean cruise and you haven’t already downloaded Royal Caribbean’s app to your smartphone, do it now. Really, right now. We’ll wait.
Okay, got it downloaded? This is no small thing. Royal Caribbean is increasingly putting everything you need to know about your cruise on its app, and it’s also the place where you can check in for your cruise in advance — and have your boarding pass accessible at all times.
The Royal Caribbean app allows you to make all sorts of reservations for onboard venues including restaurants and shows, and you can book shore excursions through it, too. You’ll also find a comprehensive daily schedule of activities on the app as well as menus for restaurants. The best part: The app will work on board even if you don’t pay for a Wi-Fi package.
Related: The best cruise apps to streamline your vacation at sea
Don’t book a cabin near an elevator
Not every cabin on a Royal Caribbean ship is created equal. When choosing a room, we recommend staying away from those near elevators and just above nightclubs and other late-night venues. They can be noisy. Cabins just below the pool deck and near the anchor also can be problematic, as well as cabins near casinos.
Related: 8 cabin locations on cruise ships that you definitely should avoid
Use a points card for onboard spending
You saw this one coming, no? Given TPG’s origins as a points and miles website, we’d be remiss if we didn’t remind you to maximize your credit card points while making purchases on Royal Caribbean ships. The way to do this is to tie a credit card that offers extra points for travel purchases to your onboard account. This could be the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which offers 3 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on travel and dining (excluding the annual $300 travel credit). There’s also the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which brings 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on travel and 3 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on dining.
Related: How to book a cruise with points and miles
Don’t tip twice for drinks and spa treatments
Royal Caribbean automatically adds an 18% gratuity to bar bills and minibar items, as well as spa and salon purchases. Many first-time cruisers don’t know this and write in a hefty tip at the “additional tip” line on bills at cruise ship bars and spas. If you’re unsure, ask if a gratuity has already been included before adding another 15% or 20% to the total. Otherwise, you may end up tipping twice.
Related: Everything you need to know about tipping on a cruise ship
Don’t feel like you have to do it all
Royal Caribbean ships are known for having some of the biggest arrays of activities and entertainment at sea — so many options that it’s sometimes hard to do it all in a single voyage. Our advice: Don’t even try to do it all. In fact, you should force yourself to try not to do it all. Remember, you’re on vacation. Relax. Take some downtime. Sit on your balcony, if you have one, and just stare out at the ocean for a couple of hours. You won’t regret it.
Related: 26 cruise secrets from an expert that will blow your mind
Use points to get to your cruise
There are ways to use points and miles to book a Royal Caribbean cruise, but it doesn’t always make sense, as it often requires a huge number of points to secure a cabin. That said, that doesn’t mean you can’t save big time by booking your flights to and from a ship using points and miles.
You’ll find plenty of stories here at The Points Guy about how to, say, pay the equivalent of $1,330 in points for a flight that cost $16,000, or book a $27,000 around-the-world trip for just $168 in out-of-pocket costs. Scroll around a little, and you may never pay cash for a flight to a cruise ship again.
Book your next cruise while still on board your current cruise
Like many cruise lines, Royal Caribbean will offer you a bonus if you book a cruise while on a ship. At Royal Caribbean, it’s called the NextCruise program, and the bonus could include up to $600 in onboard credits for the next cruise that you book and up to 10% off shore excursions on the sailing. You also might only have to put down a reduced deposit of as little as $100 per person to hold the sailing.
The good news is these bonuses are in addition to whatever perks you already would be getting for booking another trip as a result of your Crown & Anchor Society status. If you normally use a travel agent to book your cruises, don’t worry about not being able to work with them. Your travel agent will get full credit when you book another sailing while on board a Royal Caribbean ship and can take over the booking later.
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