3 Things to Know Before Booking a Royal Caribbean Cruise

If you don’t want any surprises on your Royal Caribbean cruise vacation, it’s important to understand these three things before you book.

No other type of vacation prepares you for a cruise and every cruise line has slightly different policies as to what’s included, what costs extra, and in comes cases, what’s even offered.

A cruise on Royal Caribbean International’s (RCL) – Get Royal Caribbean Group Report namesake cruise line offers a sort of all-inclusive experience but few people end up not spending additional money beyond their cruise fare, taxes, port fees, and (more or less) mandatory gratuities.

Before you book a cruise with Royal Caribbean, it’s important to understand exactly what you’re getting for your money. That means understanding three big things. These, of course, aren’t the only factors to consider, but you make a bad call on the first things, and don’t go into your cruise understanding the second two, you may have a poor experience (or at least not the experience you hoped for.

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1. The Class of Cruise Ship Matters

Royal Caribbean offers six classes of ship (with a new one coming next year). They range in size from the biggest ships in the world (Oasis class) to much smaller. It’s not only size of the ship the matters, but broadly, bigger ships have more amenities, more restaurants, and more kid-friendly activities.

It’s also important to know the bigger (or biggest) isn’t always better. Some people swear by older, smaller ships for having a more “classic” cruise vibe and those ships can often sail more interesting itineraries.

The Royal Caribbean classes are:

Oasis: These are the largest ships in the world with even the oldest ship of the class being packed with things to do, restaurants, and impressive experiences. Oasis-class ships also all have Central Park (a literal park dotted with restaurants and bars) and the Boardwalk, another outside area with a carousel, bars, eateries, and more.Quantum: This class is slightly smaller than Oasis-class, but it’s actually newer. Quantum lacks the outdoor spaces but offers innovations like a huge sports court that turns into a bumper car attraction at times. Like Oasis-class, these are modern, activity-packed ships.Freedom Class/Voyager: These classes are very similar and they’re sort of good mid-range options. They don’t offer as many options as Oasis and Quantum-class ships, but they often many more choices than anything smaller.Radiance: A sort of modern take on a smaller ship, Radiance Class lacks many of the features, restaurants. and other options on the larger classes, but they offer more than the smallest ships in the fleet.Vision: These are smaller ships with very few bells and whistles that are not generally used for port-heavy itineraries.    

When you book a cruise, in a broad sense, if you look at the same time period, the newest ships cost the most, then the biggest ships. Older ships in bigger classes cost less while “Amped,” Royal Caribbean’s term for updated, cost more.

2. Know What’s Not Included in Your Cruise Fare

Your cruise fare includes your room, meals in the main dining room, the Windjammer buffet, and at least a few (more on bigger ships) free other dining venues. You’ll also get access to water (not bottled). coffee, milk, and different flavored waters that vary based on time of day.

You’ll pay extra for a lot of other things:

Soda, bottled water, specialty coffee: You can buy a package including these before you sail or pay for them a la carte onboard.Alcoholic beverages: Again, you can buy an all-inclusive package or pay as you go.Internet: If you want to used the internet while onboard you will have to buy a package. You pay by device, but you can move your service between devices or even people in your party.Specialty dining: Royal Caribbean ships offer all sorts of for-fee dining options ranging from sit-down, upscale steakhouses to ice cream shops.   

These aren’t the only extras you can buy on a ship, but they’re the ones that seem to shock people on their first cruise the most.

3. Buying Extras Before You Cruise Is Best

Once you’re on the ship, you are a captive audience. Yes, you can wait to get to a port to have a drink, use the internet, or eat a non-free meal, but most people won’t want to do that. In nearly every case, it’s cheaper to buy any of the things listed above as well as shore excursions before your cruise.

That, however, presents a different challenge as prices are not rigid and move around a lot. Royal Caribbean generally runs sales around major holidays, but even those may not offer best price.

The good news, is that you can cancel your pre-cruise purchase and buy them again if the price falls.  That’s a pain, and it can take a bit to get your refund, but the best way to get the best price is to identify which things you want to buy, do some research on what a good price might be, and lock in once you see an acceptable price.

After that, you can monitor prices and cancel and rebook if there’s a meaningful drop compared to what you paid.

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