Cruising can be such a relaxing vacation as well as so much fun. With all of your meals and the fun activities on the ship, easily accessible and planned, you won’t have to do much work once you are on vacation. Many ships also have an abundance of kids’ activities including kids clubs that can keep your kids entertained and active.
However, to have the best time that you can have on a cruise, you’ll need to do some advance planning. You won’t be able to do much shopping for things you’ve forgotten, and some things are best planned early.
Disclosure: We have attended complimentary media sailings on Royal Caribbean, but have also paid in full for our own six-day cruise. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links and a purchase/click through one of these links may result in a commission paid to us.
Our Best Royal Caribbean Cruise Tips And Tricks
Booking Your Royal Caribbean Cruise
There are so many different options on Royal Caribbean – including different Royal Caribbean ships, itineraries, ports, and lengths of the cruise. Look at the various options and choose what will work best for your family. Make sure to review the ports of call, because those are a big part of your vacation. For a longer cruise, you definitely will want to get off the ship at these stops on your cruise itinerary.
Once you find the date and the ship, you’ll need to select the best stateroom. I generally recommend getting a balcony, because you’ll probably use it during your trip. It’s a great place to sit and drink coffee in the morning and gives you a private place to watch the ocean.
Before Your Royal Caribbean Cruise
Once you book your cruise, there are some things you’ll need to do in advance to prepare. Depending on your cruise ship, you may be able to use the Royal Caribbean app. It’s a great idea to download it to your family members’ cell phones and set it up in advance, if possible.
You can also set up your account on the Royal Caribbean website, using your confirmation number. Once you do that, you’ll have access to the Cruise Planner section of the website. There, you’ll be able to book a number of extras on your cruise.
Go through each option, and see if you want to include that with your sailing. These extras include meals at specialty restaurants, internet packages, a drink package, shore excursions, cabanas at Labadee and Coco Cay, and more. During our most recent sailing, there were lots of different sales on these things, so keep checking your email for deals.
Although many things can also be booked on the ship, there are a lot of benefits to advance planning. Prices are generally cheaper before your sailing (especially for things like the beverage package), and there’s also much more availability for specialty dining options. Save money by purchasing early.
If you do wait until you are on board, you will find staff members throughout the ship offering many of these add-ons. If you haven’t booked the specialty restaurants yet, this is the time to do it.
When you check in to your cruise, you’ll supply all essential information, including your passports. You’ll also want to put a credit card on file for your purchases. You can select which family members have charging privileges.
Royal Caribbean Beverage Package
Considering the beverage package? Depending on how much you drink, it can be a great option. It’s a good idea to look at the pricing and do the math to see if you’ll use it enough to make it worthwhile. You are able to use the beverage package at Royal Caribbean properties like Coco Cay and Labadee, but not at off-ship locations on port days.
Don’t drink alcoholic beverages and prefer non-alcoholic drinks? There are other drink packages as well. If you like soft drinks, there’s a soda package that includes a souvenir cup. There’s also a refreshment package that includes fountain soda, non-alcoholic beverages, still and sparkling water, fresh juices, and premium coffee and tea.
Royal Caribbean Dining
Every Royal Caribbean ship includes meals at many included restaurants, including the main dining room and the buffet. You definitely won’t go hungry during your sailing, even if you don’t purchase any dining extras.
However, each ship does also offer specialty dining for an additional fee. These themed restaurants can be a fantastic add-on to your vacation, especially if eating is a big part of your cruise experience. Menus can be found on the Royal Caribbean app for many sailings (in advance), so you can check those before you book to make sure you will enjoy the offerings.
If you’d prefer to just dine at the specialty restaurants, there are also special packages available in Cruise Planner. Purchasing one of these packages can be a great bargain in comparison to purchasing every meal separately.
Room service is also an option on Royal Caribbean. Your cruise fare includes delivery of continental breakfast, but there is a delivery fee for other items.
Specialty dining isn’t required at all. There are plenty of places onboard that are included in your cruise, including buffets, the main dining room, and cafes.
After you book your cruise, you may receive an email from Royal Up, offering you the opportunity to bid for a stateroom upgrade. These are generally available for up to about 3 categories above the one you’ve already purchased.
Royal Up operates similar to first and business-class upgrades on many international airlines. You’ll see the available options, and will be able to bid a specific amount that you are willing to pay to be upgraded. There are minimums and maximums, and there’s also a scale to show how strong your bid is.
Royal Up is always based on availability. We used Royal Up on our latest sailing and won our bid for a Grand Suite – one bedroom. While we found out a few weeks in advance, guests are informed of their Royal Up status up to the first day on the ship.
When bidding, I recommend choosing the highest price that you are willing to pay. It can be tempting to offer a low price, but you may be outbid.
However, when you make a bid, it is binding, and you’ll be charged if your bid is accepted. Keep in mind that the price you offer is per person, up to two people. So if you offer $1000, you’ll be charged $2000 if accepted.
Embarkation Day is always stressful, regardless of the cruise line you are sailing. There is just so much to do to get on the ship safely, and it’s important that every document and bag is carefully checked. While you will be eager to get going on your vacation, you’ll need to be patient going through the process on the first day of your cruise.
If you are flying in for your cruise, I highly recommend flying in the day before your embarkation day. That way, you aren’t stressed about flight delays. I can recommend a few hotels in popular cruise ports:
- The Hyatt Regency Orlando Airport (if flying into MCO and leaving from Port Canaveral cruise terminal)
- The Renaissance Fort Lauderdale Marina Hotel (for Port Everglades cruise port)
- Homewood Suites Miami Airport (for PortMiami)
To make things work as smoothly as possible, be sure that you have everything ready to go. Pack a day bag with everything that you need, so that you don’t have to wait for your suitcases to be delivered. Have all necessary documents ready to go in your carry on bag – including test results and passports as well as everything you are required to bring.
Your day bag should also include any clothes you want for the first day, medications, valuables, and sunscreen. Checked luggage is delivered to your stateroom up until 8pm, so you may not have access to your bags until then. If you plan to visit the hot tubs, pools, and small water slides first thing, you’ll want to include a bathing suit in your bag.
If you are checking bags, you’ll want to print out your luggage tags in advance. These will be online and available when you check in to your cruise. I recommend purchasing these plastic luggage tags from Amazon. They will keep your paper tags safe.
Once onboard, take the time to explore the ship, and purchase any upgrades that you want and didn’t already buy. We like to use the first day to get oriented, and typically dine in the main dining room that night.
You can use the SetSail pass on the Royal Caribbean app to gain access to the ship. Once you are there, you’ll find your SeaPasses on your stateroom door. We like these lanyards from Amazon to keep your SeaPass safe and nearby you at all times.
Your cruise compass is your guide to all of the activities and events taking place on the ship. A paper copy will be left in your stateroom every evening and will include a schedule as well as weather information and the recommended dress code for the upcoming day.
If your ship is using the Royal Caribbean app, you can also get daily schedule information for the entire cruise. That can be especially helpful for planning.
Currently, some things need to be booked in the app. Examples include the North Star and iFly (on select ships) as well as entertainment venues.
Some locations on the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line have dress codes, including some restaurants and the suite lounge. There is also a recommended dress code each evening. Some sailings do have one or more formal nights, as well as a Caribbean and white clothes night. Many do bring along formal wear for these special nights.
Despite the dress codes, you really will generally see people dressed in all kinds of clothes each night (even on formal night). However, I like getting dressed up and usually bring along several dresses. Just make sure that you’ve reviewed the dress codes so that you bring the correct items.
Want to wash dirty laundry while onboard? There aren’t any laundry facilities for you to do your own laundry. However, there is a laundry service offered for an additional fee. On some sailings, you’ll receive a bag mid-trip that you can fill for a flat fee laundry service.
One of the best parts of a cruise is the opportunity to visit multiple ports of call on your trip. Take advantage of that by researching each location and deciding what you want to do there.
The easiest option is to purchase shore excursions through Royal Caribbean. These can be scheduled through Cruise Planner before your cruise, and at the Shore Excursion desks once on board.
Many ports also offer lots of different places that you can visit on your own. Just keep in mind that you’ll be responsible for getting yourself back to the ship in time. If that seems stressful, it’s best to keep to the official excursions offered by the cruise line.
If you are in Sky class, either through your initial booking or through a Royal Up bid, that comes with a bunch of extra benefits. We recommend taking advantage of these because they can really make your vacation even better.
Depending on the ship you are sailing on, you may have access to an exclusive suite lounge, complimentary meals at Coastal Kitchen, a Voom Surf and Stream package (for each member of the suite), and much more. We also really enjoyed sitting on the Suite Sun Deck, which was relatively quiet on our sailing. There’s also a separate line for the entertainment venues, which will let you get some of the best seats.
If you don’t have a suite, you can still purchase upgraded experiences. The Key is available to purchase for each member of your group, and you’ll need to pay a daily rate. With the Key, you’ll receive an arrival lunch with a signature restaurant menu, internet access, priority access on embarkation day, private times at popular onboard activities, early show access, priority debarkation, and more.
Gratuities can be pre-paid for your cruise, and include tips for your stateroom attendant and main dining room servers. They’ll also be automatically included with the purchase of beverages and specialty dining.
You may also want to give gratuities to crew members on the ship, especially if you are staying in a suite. In that case, you’ll also want to provide gratuities to servers in Coastal Kitchen and the suite lounge, as well as the suite concierge. If you book a cabana at Coco Cay (Royal Caribbean’s Private Island) or Labadee (in Haiti), you will also want to give a gratuity to the attendant.
It’s easiest to bring cash for these (especially on Coco Cay and Labadee). However, you can also add these gratuities to your final bill by visiting guest services. Just be sure to keep track of names and their positions throughout your trip. You’ll also receive an envelope that you can use.
Checking bags? You may also want to tip the porter who is handling your bags. They are generally not employees of the cruise line, so you’ll need cash to tip.
If you are enjoying your cruise, you’ll probably already be looking forward to your next one. Visit the Next Cruise desk on the ship to book your next family vacation. By booking while you are still on a ship, you’ll be able to take advantage of booking discounts, a lower deposit, and more. Then, you’ll be able to look forward to your next trip.
No one looks forward to the last day of the cruise. You will need to be prepared though, because you’ll have to follow specific procedures to make sure you get off the ship at the right time.
Typically, you’ll receive notification in your stateroom a day or two with information on how to prepare your bags and when to leave the ship. When booking your return flights, make sure you follow the cruise line’s guidelines around the earliest time you can book your departure. It usually does take time for the ship to clear customs, for your bags to be ready, and for you to go through immigration.