7 things we wish we knew before cruising first-time with Royal Caribbean

Independence of the Seas in Labadee
Independence of the Seas in Labadee

Planning a first time Royal Caribbean cruise can be information overload. While you don’t need to plan every detail, it’s always good to know upfront what to expect and what to look out for so you don’t miss out.

After our first time cruising with Royal Caribbean we found out so many details we wish we knew. Many of these would have improved our cruise experience and saved us money.

Here are the 7 things we wish we knew before first sailing first time with Royal Caribbean.

1. Bring Your Own Alcohol

Yes, you read that right. You can take on board a certain amount of alcohol and soft drinks on boarding day. 

If there’s somebody in your cabin over the drinking age, which there always probably will be, you can take up to two 750 ml bottles of wine or champagne per cabin.

Independence of the Seas in Labadee
Photo: Cruise with Ben & David

You can also take non-alcoholic drinks on board too. Up-to 12 standard (17 oz/330 ml) cans, bottles or cartons per stateroom. Distilled water or drinks for medical purposes, dietary or infant use such as milk are also permitted.

If you take on anything over this amount they will be confiscated from you at check-in. All drinks must be placed in your hand luggage, not your checked luggage.

2. Plan your cruise before you sail

If you are a first time Royal Caribbean cruiser you need to check out the Cruise Planner. The Cruise Planner is a great tool to plan your cruise, manage your booking and buy any cruise extras before you sail. 

On the Cruise Planner you can book shore excursions, speciality dining, spa treatments, buy in-cabin gifts, internet packages, drinks packages, dining packages and reserve activities and entertainment.

We recommend booking before you sail as entertainment and dining venues have limited space plus you can choose the exact date and time you want. Also, you will frequently find the cost of dining and drinks packages are cheaper on the Cruise Planner than on board.

The cruise planner also features pre-cruise purchases sales that are offered regularly throughout the year. These sales include up-to 30% of dining packages, drinks packages and other pre-cruise purchases. Follow our Facebook page for announcements on when these sales are running.

Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas
Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas – (c) Cruise with Ben & David

3. The extra on-board charges

There are lots of extra paid-for activities and up-charges on Royal Caribbean. This isn’t anything unusual in the cruise industry today as this is the same for most cruise lines. Speciality restaurants, shore excursions, spa treatments, photos and gratuities all cost extra.

There’ll also be several up-sell opportunities on board too such as photographers asking to take photos of you, waiters approaching you about dining and drinks packages or up-charge choices on the main dining room menu. Don’t feel obligated to buy anything, just politely say no and thank you.

Remember that gratuities will be added to your onboard account each day. You can choose to pre-pay these before you sail, which we like as this helps us budget our cruise better.

The first time we cruise with Royal Caribbean we had a huge bill at the end of our cruise. Keep an eye on your spending as these extra-onboard charges really add up.

Dining Room on Independence of the Seas
Dining Room on Royal Caribbean – Photo: Cruise with Ben & David

4. The wide choice of dining available

Wow, we were really amazed by how many choices of dining Royal Caribbean ships have. Not just paid for dining venues but included, free dining choices too.

Of course, the buffet is huge and had a wide variety of food. But, it also has special treats during the cruise such as the chocolate fountain or themed buffet evenings.

Sorrento’s Pizza is a fantastic pizza restaurant that is completely free and opens 24 hours a day. You can choose a slice of ready-made pizzas on-offer or order a whole custom-made pizza.

The Cafe Promenade, The Café @ Two70 and Park Café serve quick bites and tasty cakes also for free. The breakfast options here are also a tasty alternative to the buffet.

Royal Caribbean also has a huge range of speciality, extra charge, options too. We really recommend trying one or two of these if you can as they have some excellent restaurants. We particularly liked “Giovanni’s Table” and “Fish and Ships”.

Watch our voisit to “Giovanni’s Table”

5. Cruising is addictive – your first time won’t be your last

We really wish we knew how addictive it was going to be to sail with Royal Caribbean. Before we first cruised we didn’t think we would love it as much as we did and we have now cruise with Royal three times.

They say that the best way to cure the cruise blues is to book another cruise. You can book another cruise while on board your current sailing at the “Next Cruise” desk. They will offer you special offers and promotions if you book your next cruise on board the ship.

A good tip is to check prices and itineraries online before visiting the “Next Cruise” desk. This will give you an idea of what cruise you want to do and the price. Additionally, the “Next Cruise” desk can get quite busy towards the end of the cruise so try and visit as early in your sailing as possible.

If you booked your cruise with a travel agent at home, you can have a on board booking transferred to them. This is then combined with any promotions such as on board credit that your travel agent offers.

Jonny Rockets on Royal Caribbean.
(c)Cruise with Ben & David

6. Book as early as possible

Royal Caribbean put their cruises on sale up to two years in advance and we really recommend booking your cruise as early as possible.

This is when you will usually find the cheapest prices as prices operate on a supply and demand model. So the more popular a cruise is, the more cabins they sell, the price will go up.

Unfortunately, we don’t see as many last-minute cruise deals as we used to. So we do really recommend booking as early as possible.

Additionally, if you are booking from the USA, Canada or Australia you have the option to re-price your cruise after you book.

This means that if, after you’ve booked, you notice the price of your cruises goes down or a better promotion is released you can still take advantage of it. 

If you haven’t made your final payment yet, you could cancel your booking and rebook under the new price or promotion. You would keep in place all parts of your booking, keep the same reservation number, and not lose your deposit. If you booked through a travel agent, these will be able to help you do this and many agents will notify you when a lower price or new promotion is released.

However, if you are booking from the UK you would have to cancel your cruise, lose your deposit and start a brand new reservation before booking at the new rate or promotion.

Cafe Promenade on Royal Caribbean

7. The dress code is not super strict

Before we cruised we thought we were going to have to wear formalwear every single night. Thankfully, that’s not the case.

During the day you can wear pretty much whatever you choose. Shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops are all acceptable attire. On an evening it’s pretty casual too with most people wearing trousers and a t-shirt.

There are formal nights on board, which are still very informal and has recently become even more relaxed. Men can get away with a smart pair of jeans and a shirt. You don’t even have to wear a tie, formal shoes or a dinner jacket. Ladies can wear a nice dress, pant-suit or slacks and a blouse.

See also: Top 10 Tips For A Royal Caribbean Cruise

Ben Hewitt
I am a keen video producer and photographer. Before starting Cruise with Ben and David I worked for the BBC and Discovery Channel.