My husband and I took our first cruise on Royal Caribbean in the fall of 1998. We were planning to be married in February 1999 and thought it might be nice to take a mini-honeymoon BEFORE the wedding. We chose a three-night cruise out of San Juan, Puerto Rico for our first adventure on the seas because we didn’t know if my husband would like it. He did.
I knew I would love the cruise because I had the pleasure of traveling for four months on the Semester at Sea program during my college years. I had also traveled on Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Lines but never Royal Caribbean. I was enchanted by the huge windows and expansive atrium that allowed for a spaciousness I hadn’t experienced on other ships. We never once felt claustrophobic. Plus we met some great people at dinner in the dining room who still keep in touch with us today.
Early on we learned the value of having a balcony cabin so we can sit outside and watch the glorious ocean – swells and white caps, flying fish, dolphins, whales, sharks, giant sea turtles and Orcas. We relish sitting there reading a book or planning our day with the “Cruise Compass” list of activities delivered to us each evening. We will always travel with a balcony. Maybe someday we’ll work our way up to a junior suite!
At first we selected smaller classes of ships – the “Sovereign” and “Vision” classes – because we didn’t like the idea of crowds onboard. Then we tried “Radiance” class when we visited Alaska and we were blown away by the variety of dining options. Our most recent trip was on one of Royal Caribbean’s biggest ships, “Freedom of the Seas” (“Freedom” class), and we learned there were over 4,000 passengers and 1,000 crew members. With all those people, we never once felt crowded or stood in a long line.
The food is decent. It’s not the ultra-gourmet of the super expensive lines – Crystal, Seabourn, Regent – but it’s really good, especially the buffets which feature international fare as well as American. There are two great gourmet options on some of the larger ships for people who want a more luxurious dinner experience – Chops Grille and Portofino restaurants – where you pay about $30 per person extra. We have enjoyed fine meals at both, but we also like the dining room and the buffet at the Windjammer cafes. “Freedom” had a couple of fast food options – a pizza parlor, Johnny Rockets (great milkshakes) and Starbucks.
Again, the key descriptors for our experience of Royal Caribbean are “delightful and affordable” but I know another important word is “safe”. On our most recent cruise, the crew conducted several safety drills, not just the “muster” where everyone lines up at life boats right before you sail the first day. They launched lifeboats at St. Maarten, had a “man overboard” drill and took it all very seriously. I had never seen that activity on previous cruises.
Do they try to sell you lots of extras? Yes. When I go to their spa, I always tell them I’m not in the mood for a hard sell on products today! They’re no different than Disneyland or most resorts who want to leverage every opportunity to make an extra dime. My husband always buys the unlimited soda package. Maybe next time I’ll buy the unlimited cocktails package because it’s nice not to have to pay $6 to $12 every time you order a pina colada or glass of chardonnay.
We feel comfortable with the passengers who travel on Royal Caribbean. They tend to be middle class, down-to-earth folks like us who appreciate a good deal and a good sense of humor. We love the ships, destinations, crew, accommodations, spa, casino, shipboard activities like Broadway-style shows, variety of shore excursions and of course, the food and beverages. I know we’ll like Royal Caribbean even more when we finally make it to Diamond status in their frequent cruiser program, the Crown and Anchor Society. Even as Emerald travelers now, we had no lines checking in and enjoyed our complimentary plush bathrobes in the cabin and a couple of fun parties with the captain and other officers.
You can book Royal Caribbean cruises online or through your travel agent. We book through our agent, Deidre Hammond at CWT Vacations (Carlson Wagonlit), because she is an awesome cruise specialist and gets us great rates and perks.
I recently read Tina Fey’s great book, “Bossypants” and laughed out loud when she mentioned her horrible cruise experience including a cruise director we once had too. His name was “Dan-Dan the Party Man” and truly, he was just trying to be funny all the time. Obviously that’s not an easy task when you have Tina Fey onboard. I had a bad cruise experience on another line. But seriously, don’t let all the bad news about cruising cause you to stay home. Get out there!