Cruises are a great way to vacation. Board the ship, unpack and sail off to new destinations without the headache of changing hotels. If you’re a first time cruiser or have never sailed with Royal Caribbean, there are countless little known Royal Caribbean cruise line secrets to help you make the most out of your next cruise.
Before we dive into the secrets of cruising, it’s important to pick the right destination & ship. Everyone’s tastes and every family has different needs. Before booking your cruise, choose the best destination and ship for your family. Are you looking to hit the beach on a Caribbean island? See the glaciers in Alaska? What places are you most interesting in seeing and plan your trip accordingly.
Also determine the amenities you want on the ship. Would the kids love the chance to ice skate? Do you prefer a smaller or larger vessel? Each cruise ship class is different, so take a look at what is offered before you book.
Cruise Critic is an awesome resource for searching the latest ships, ports and destinations. You can also get to know people you meet through the site by attending the Meet & Mingle with other Cruise Critic users.
Royal Caribbean Cruise Line Secrets:
1. Complete online check-in
Check-in online for your cruise before you sail. Royal Caribbean requires you to check-in no later than 3 days prior to sailing. This helps keep the line moving on embarkation day.
You can also sign any waivers such as for the FlowRider and Zip Line up to three days prior to the sail date. Get all of the paperwork out of the way, so you can relax once you board.
2. Purchase shore excursions in advance
You can purchase shore excursions online prior to your cruise. Popular excursions sell out early and you don’t want to be disappointed! If you didn’t book your spot, a limited amount of excursions are still reserved for on board booking so schedule those as soon as you board the ship.
See my 5 tips for selecting shore excursions for help determining which excursions are right for you.
3. Reserve specialty dining in advance
Reserve your table at one of the many specialty restaurants before you sail. If you make 3 or more reservations, you’ll get a credit of up to 30% of the value. You can use that credit any way you wish during your cruise.
A newer feature is that kids can dine at the specialty restaurants for just $8 and order off a special menu. The special kids price will be adjusted and shown on your final bill.
If you prefer to wait until you board, book on the first day. You can ask to see the main dining room menu’s for the week then pick your day to dine in a specialty restaurant accordingly.
However, if you book on board the ship and dine in a specialty restaurant on the first night, you will still receive a discount, but just for that meal.
4. Arrive early
Get your vacation started early by being among the first on the ship. Plan to arrive at the pier at the earliest specified boarding time for your particular cruise. This information will be available to you after booking. We have found that crowds are smaller the earlier you arrive. If you arrive about an hour after boarding starts, you’ll likely be in for a longer wait.
Typically, you can arrive around 11am and get on board by 12 pm. Staterooms are usually available around 1pm, but this can vary based on the ship.
Once you board, consider heading to lunch before the ship starts to get busy. If the buffet lines are already getting crazy, ask a crew member what dining room options are available. These are usually the last places to fill up on the first day. Of course, if you prefer to be waited on, make the dining room your first priority.
5. Arrive later for less crowds
Alternatively, arriving a couple of hours before your cruise departs usually means less crowds. Most ships require passengers to be on board no later than 90 minutes before sailing, so check your ships specific guidelines. If your cruise departs at 4pm or 5pm, you should be able to board fairly quickly after 2pm. However, do not push your luck and try to arrive just before departure!
6. Pack a carry-on bag for embarkation day
Suitcases will be delivered to your room the first evening of your cruise. Ensure you pack anything you need such as medications & travel documents in a bag to bring on the ship with you. We like to pack swimsuits and sunscreen, so the kids can jump in the pool even before our bags make it to the room. Note that they may not arrive before dinner, so plan accordingly.
7. Consider on board & port activities when packing
I’m not going to tell you what to pack for a cruise in this post. I have a FREE Travel planner printable to help you out with packing. However, if you want to ice skate on one of the ships with a rink, you need to pack long pants and socks as those are a requirement for ice skating. If you want to rock climb, you will need tennis shoes. Take these things into consideration when packing your suitcase.
8. Bring your wine on board to save money
Two 750 ml bottles of wine or champagne per stateroom can be brought on during boarding day only. This is a great way to save a little money. You can NOT bring on liquor or beer. If you purchase alcohol in port, it will be held until the last day of the sailing.
Royal Caribbean no longer charges a corking fee. Yay! They also now allow wine to be consumed in any shipboard restaurant, dining venue, or within the guests’ stateroom. Ask your stateroom attendant to bring you a wine glass or ask for an empty wine glass at one of the bars.
*Note: The corkage policy states that “Guests who consume their personal wine and champagne in public areas, will incur a $15 corkage fee per bottle.” Basically, don’t carry your personal bottle around the ship and pack a cork screw. That way you can avoid the fee.
You can’t bring nonalcoholic beverages such as water or soda onboard, so please keep this in mind. Cases of water and soda used to allowed on during embarkation. No allowing it is now the official policy per their website and a call to RC. Some people have reported still being able to carry on cases, but this is at your own risk. See the policy here.
Note for Diamond Plus or Pinnacle level – You get 3 free drinks every night at any bar onboard the ship.
That includes water, soda, and certain wines and liquor. Also, nightly from 5 – 8pm in the diamond lounge you can drink free with no limit.
*To clarify on beverages – bottled water is charged. You can get glasses of water for free on the ship. You’ll also be able to get regular coffee, tea and lemonade for free.
9. Pack a hanging toiletry bag
This isn’t really a secret, just a helpful tip. While cruise ships do make great use of all the available space, it’s still a small room. Bring a hanging toiletry bag with compartments that you can hang in the bathroom. It will keep you organized and save space.
10. Bring highlighters
If you have multiple children, consider bringing highlighters so each kids can mark the activities they want to participate in on the Cruise Compass. If you’re new to cruising, the Cruise Compass will list the days activities and times as well as other important information.
11. Bring magnetic clips
If it never occurred to you, ships are made of metal. Therefore, you can bring magnetic clips to hang up documents such as your Cruise Compass and notes to family members.
12. Unpack & store suitcases
Staterooms are full of little nooks and crannies to store all your clothes and gear. Once you get your suitcases, unpack and store your empty suitcases under the bed. I like to keep one suitcase in the bottom of the closet for dirty laundry.
If you need extra storage, ask the stateroom attendant for help. You might not have noticed that stool that opens for more storage or the cabinet that you thought was just part of the furniture. Another great storage area is under the vanity.
Free room service
**Update – As of March 27, 2017, select sailings will start offering our enhanced room service with “exciting new dishes” for a delivery charge of $7.95 per stateroom order. This will roll out across all fleets. Please see the information here.
I read breakfast items listed under the continental menu will still be free of charge.
I’m hoping they change back to free room service as I love having the option to eat on our balcony – especially on sea days. Dining in your room for breakfast is also a great idea if you have an early excursion on port days. Schedule room service the night before and skip the lines at the buffet.
14. Order more than one entree at dinner
Speaking of food, did you know that you’re not limited to one appetizer, entree and dessert when dining? Order 2 desserts or skip the entree and order 3 appetizers, whatever on the menu strikes your fancy. This is a great way to try new dishes. If you don’t like something, you have a backup.
You can also request special menus for dietary restrictions. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want!
15. Take advantage of My Family Time Dining
If you have children between the ages of 3 and 11, you can take advantage of My Family Time Dining. Register for the program and children will receive their meal within 40 minutes of being seated during first seating time. Children will then be taken to Adventure Ocean for evening activities while parents enjoy a leisurely meal together.
Note – you don’t have to use this service every night. Pick and choose the nights you want a quiet dinner alone, anytime after the 2nd night.
16. Watch the parade
Find out when the parade will be held on the ship. The time and location will be in your Cruise Compass but it’s easy to overlook. The parade isn’t just for kids and it’s worth watching at least once. Arrive at the location about 45 minutes early to grab your spot. It gets crowded about 15 minutes prior to the show.
17. Schedule spa and fitness class appointments early
If you want to visit the spa or take a fitness class, make sure to sign up the first day to ensure you get your desired time. Also remember that sea day appointments will fill up fast. Wait for port days to get spa treatments for the best deals.
18. Become a Crown & Anchor member
Once you have completed one Royal Caribbean cruise, you can sign-up to become a Crown & Anchor member. Sign-up online, on the ship or by phone. The exclusive benefits vary based on your membership level, ie. the number of times you have cruised with Royal Caribbean. They include cruise savings, on board amenity offers & special on board events. Higher tiered members also get priority check-in which can be a great time saver.
19. Open balcony dividers if you have adjoining rooms
Are you traveling with friends or family and have adjoining rooms? Ask your stateroom attendant to have the balcony divider removed to increase your balcony space. This is not possible on all ships, but it never hurts to ask if it’s permitted (or possible) on your ship.
20. Bring walkie-talkies
If you’re traveling with a group, bring walkie-talkies to keep in touch. Cellphones won’t work on board ship once you leave port & when they do it will be costly.
21. Have your bags taken directly to the airport
If you have a late flight, you can have your suitcases taken directly to the airport by Royal Caribbean. If you use this service, you will leave your suitcases out the evening before you embark as usual. Instead of having your luggage waiting for you at the terminal, they will take your suitcases to the airport and you won’t see your luggage again until you get home. There is a fee for this service, but it’s a nice way to avoid lugging your suitcases around all day. All you have to deal with before your flight is your carry-on items.
22. Take advantage of adults-only pools
The pools are some of the most crowded spots on a ship. Sunbathers are all clambering for a spot and lounge chairs fill up quickly. Avoid the crowds and visit the adults-only pool areas while the kids play in Adventure Ocean. Take the kids to swim after 3pm for less crowds and to avoid full sun.
There are also tons of “off the beaten path” lounge areas around each ship. Most of these are further away from the pools and allow for a nice spot to sit back, sip a drink and read a book.
23. Stay on the ship during port days
The best time to enjoy the ship is on port days. While other cruisers are spending their day running around an island or going snorkeling, you can be relaxing on a nearly empty pool deck. The kids can enjoy a pool to themselves and experience short or nonexistent lines on water slides and other popular activities.
Depending on the length of time in port, you can get the best of both worlds. Stay on the ship in the morning then disembark after lunch. Many cruisers, largely those with young children, return to the ship after lunch – around nap time. Once other guests have had their fill of the port, you can set off to explore.
You can also find better shopping deals later in the day. If you’re at a port where haggling over prices is common, you’re more likely to get the best price when sellers know it’s their last chance to sell merchandise for the day.
Just don’t miss the boarding time! The ship will NOT wait for you!
24. Pack an alarm clock
Staterooms don’t have alarm clocks. If you don’t want to use the alarm on your cellphone or rely on wake up calls, bring a travel clock. This can also help add a bit of light to a dark inside cabin.
25. Arrive the day before your cruise
It’s not a secret, but a valuable tip. Plan to arrive the day before your cruise and stay in a hotel near the terminal. Flight delays, cancellations, car trouble and other unforeseeable events cause cruisers each year to miss their cruise or barely make it to the ship in time. Don’t start your vacation off with stress. Arrive in plenty of time to ensure you make your cruise. Even if you’ve purchased travel insurance, missing the ship is no way to start off a vacation.
Bonus – Download my FREE printable cruise planner to keep all your information in one place!
Ship Specific Tips:
26. On deck 14, go AFT past all the cabins, walk out the door to overlook the Aqua Theater pool. This is a neat way to see the show and to simply get a new perspective of the ship.
27. Don’t make a reservations for the Aqua Show on the first night out of Florida as the seas tend to be rough. You might get your show cancelled. They will rebook, but you might not get your preferred time.
If you sit in the first 5 rows, you will get wet.
28. Make show reservations online prior to sailing to guarantee a seat. You don’t want to miss a show! Ten minutes prior to show time the staff will allow cruisers without reservations to find seats, based on availability. This is only on the newer ships.
Book your shows around your shore excursions. Also, just because you have a reservations, doesn’t mean you have to use it. They can be rescheduled based upon availability.
Arrive 30 minutes prior to show times to get a good seat. If you arrive late, your group may not be able to sit together. You must arrive prior to 10 minutes of showtime or your seat can be given away.
29. Families should take part in the carnival which will occur on one of the sea days. There will be games, face painting, popcorn, clowns and other fun stuff for kids on the boardwalk.
30. Eat in Wind Jammer buffet or, better yet, Park Cafe in Central Park for lunch on the first day you board. The roast beef sandwiches & salads in Park Cafe are great and it will be less crowded.
31. Make restaurant reservations online to pick your dining rooms and dining times. This is particularly important if you like to eat early.
Freedom, Radiance & Voyager Class
32. Head to the bow of the ship for a quiet spot for sailing away or to get away from the crowds. On Radiance and Voyager class: from deck 4, walk all the way forward then go up stairs to get to the bow. This is where the helicopter lands. You can’t access the bow on the Oasis and Allure ships without being part of an escorted group.
Voyager & Radiance Class
33. Watch the Belly Flop Contest from the Sky Bar. It’s just a fun angle to watch the contest without being stuck on the deck.
There are many tips & tricks Veteran cruisers learn to help save time, save money and find new ways to experience the ships. Ask other cruisers what they are looking forward to while on the ship or what tips they can offer. The waitstaff are also a great source of information. They spend a lot of time on the ship, and chat with cruisers on a daily basis. You’ll be surprised how many tricks you can learn just by asking while on board.
Make sure you also read my Royal Caribbean Cruise Money Saving Tips article to help you save money!
What other Royal Caribbean cruise line secrets can you share?