Royal Caribbean International Reviews

Year Started: 1969
Ships in Fleet: 22
Category: Mainstream

Summary: The largest and most technically impressive cruise ships in the world. Great for kids, families and adventurous adults. A large fleet, but Oasis and Brilliance are often cited as favorites

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Royal Caribbean International Editor's Review

Overview

21 ships including Oasis and Allure (the world's largest) - high-tech, beautiful resorts at sea, sports and entertainment focus.


The Experience

When Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines was founded 1969 by a diverse collection of Norwegian companies, the name and company focus was intended to meld the majestic reputation of the Norwegian royal class with the dawning age of dedicated Caribbean cruising out of Miami. Today, RCI is also a major player in Alaska, Mexico, New England/Canada, Hawaii, Australia, Europe and Asia, too, but being merely another cruise line is not what they are most noted for; the mainstay of their reputation is for building ever larger and more innovative vessels that offer more features per ship than most cruise lines can manage to extend across an entire fleet. They were the first to put rock climbing on a ship, a skating rink, and on their newest ships, Oasis of the Seas, they even have inward facing balcony cabins, a large outdoor “Central Park" and a "Surf-Rider Wave Pool, which generates a constant, surfable wave of water for surfing or bellyboarding.

The lines’ newest ship on order, Quantum of the Seas, will feature bumper cars, simulated skydiving and a “pod” at the end of an extendable 300-foot arm that will take cruises up, out and over the seas at amazing heights for a thrilling ride that is sure to be unforgettable. This ship will also have the first inside staterooms with full-size “virtual balcony” with picture windows that are really video screens to show you the view outside as if you had a real window.

By 1972, Royal Caribbean and Carnival were already fierce competitors. Royal Caribbean had the lead in passenger volume for many years, but Carnival and NCL created enough competition that the entire cruise industry boomed. Eventually Carnival Cruise Line started acquiring competitors and parent company Carnival Corp. is now larger than Parent company Royal Caribbean Intl. It is the ongoing rivalry between these three major lines that is largely responsible for bringing about the modern age of cruising as we know it today. But keep in mind that Royal Caribbean Cruise Line is just one company under the Royal Caribbean International umbrella, just as Carnival Cruise Line is just one company under the Carnival Corp. umbrella.

So, if the question of which is better is the reason why you are reading this review. Without a doubt, Royal Caribbean is farther along the cruise industry's cutting edge, ever innovating, ever challenging the boundaries of what a cruise ship can do and be. But, are they better? In many areas yes, but it is hard to compete with Carnival's ability to establish and embellish a simple concept; build fun ships with good food, and make sure the staff understands the concept. Royal Caribbean may have many more things to do onboard, but Carnival may be arguably "more fun" based solely upon their attitude. Where Royal Caribbean may be aptly described as “high-tech with something for everybody," Carnival embodies the concept of "fun for everyone" with more personalized service.

But that is not to say a Royal Caribbean cruise should be missed! If any cruise ships deserve to be tried at least once, and possibly several times, it is one of the Royal Caribbean mega-ships. These ships define the concept of "the ship as the destination" more than any other cruiser in the world, with an onboard water park, ice skating, rock climbing, surf riding, a variety of pubs, large casinos, and simply the biggest ships imaginable; larger than Carnival's biggest by almost double. Even if you don't care to get wet, skate or climb rocks, don't dismiss the people-watching wow factor.

The Fleet

The oldest ship in the fleet is the Majesty of the Seas, built in 1992 at 73,000-tons, and at the time no one could believe a cruise ship could ever be so big. The ship also had the first atrium at sea, a concept other cruise lines scurried to copy. Now she is last of Sovereign-class. In 2007 she received a facelift and today she sails an eclectic combination of itineraries from three and four-night cruises to Nassau from Miami.


With the Vision-class ships (Vision and Splendour of the Seas launched in 1995, 1996), Grandeur and Enchantment of the Seas (1996, 1997) and Rhapsody and Legend of the Seas (1997, 1998), Royal Caribbean made their signature Viking Crown Lounges more easily accessible by perching them atop the "Centrum" (the atrium) giving the ships an easily identifiable space age look. These ships also used more glass than had heretofore been thought possible, delighting their passengers with remarkable sea views.

In November 1999, RCI launched the highly anticipated Voyager of the Seas, at 138,000-tons and 3114 passengers it was by far the biggest cruise ship ever. The ship introduced such further innovations as an indoor promenade area – an open space running the length of the ship big enough for parades, like a virtual shopping mall at sea. The ship had the first ice skating rink, a rock climbing wall, and a rollerblade rink. Such was the Voyager's class's immensity that it actually had its own Zip code -- 33132-2028.

Smaller, but offering enhanced entertainment options similar to the Voyager-class, the Radiance-class vessels that debuted in 2001 sported all glass elevators facing the sea, and were propelled by a new smokeless and vibration-free engine, with Azipod propulsion. This class of ships, including Radiance (2001,)Brilliance (2002),  Serenade (2003),  and Jewel of the Seas (2004) are considered the “right-size” ships for being new but smaller, so you get the best in technology and more personalized service.


By the end of 2003, Voyager also had four sister ships in service; which until the delivery of Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2 in December 2003, they were the biggest passenger ships in the world. But then Royal Caribbean reclaimed the record of “world’s largest cruise ship” with its first Ultra Voyager ship, Freedom of the Seas launched in 2006 and now with a sister ships, Liberty of the Seas, launched in May of 2007 and Independence of the Seas launched in 2008. Fully 18 stories high, Freedom-class ships carry 3,430 passengers (double occupancy) and 1,400 crew.

In 2010 the world's largest cruise ship, Oasis of the Seas, debuted to great acclaim. This is is 220,000-tons, almost one third larger than any other cruise in the world. Its sister ship, Allure of the Seas, is said to be just a few microns bigger, barely enough to measure. These two ships are truly the wonders of the cruise world, with completely different designs and a vast array of entertainment options. I call them the ships everyone should try at least once. Please read the special reviews just for these Oasis-class ships.

In design right now are the new "Quantum-class ships ready to debut in 2014, 2015, respectively. The two named ships are "Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas. A third ship of the class is also on order, as is another ship of the Oasis class - both yet to be named.

Please read the Royal Caribbean Quantum of the Seas Review here in CruiseMates for a more detailed picture of the Quantum-class.

With an average passenger age of 42, about five years younger than the industry average, Royal Caribbean has managed to attract a lot more than the stereotypical "overfed, newlywed, or almost dead" cruise demographic by offering a cruise experience that's at once classy and tons of fun - at very reasonable prices. These are wonderful ships for families with children of all ages, including teens, who have their own private club and disco. Service is friendly and efficient and the food has enough variety to satisfy almost any palate.

Alternative restaurants with menus that don't change over the course of the cruise are available on all ships, each charging a $20 to $40 per-person cover. Make reservations as early as possible in your cruise or you may get locked out.

All staterooms come with a twin-that-can-be-converted-to-queen bed, private bathroom, phone, closed-circuit television, mini bar and hair dryers, and are decorated in bright colors presumably intended to evoke the Caribbean. As the ships get newer the staterooms tend to get larger, and so Quantum will have the largest staterooms on average of any Royal Caribbean ship yet.

Dining

Over the years Royal Caribbean has developed a number of "signature" restaurants that you will find on most of the newer ships in addition to the regular dining rooms.  The newer ships have premium and even gourmet dining options, while the older ships have far fewer options. The company is now in the process of retro-fitting some of the older ships with newer restaurants - and for that reason it is inportant to check out each ship individually to see what is included.

Cabins

Older ships have somewhat small staterooms by industry standards, while the lines newest ship, Quantum (coming in 2014) will have the largest staterooms on average of any Royal Caribbean ships.

Some of the ships have beautiful, two-story loft suites - the ultimate in cruise luxury for a mainstream cruise ship. Family suites are available on all ships larger than 140,000-tons.

Fellow Passengers

Who doesn't belong on a Royal Caribbean ship? They have something for everyone and it is almost impossible to imagine not having a great time. They are active, sports oriented ships for the most part, not for retirees looking for the library.

Shore Excursions

RCI offers the active cruiser moderately priced excursions with plenty of water sports, golfing, and sightseeing, all of which may be booked online up to ten days before sailing. Newer options include canopy tours and adventure tours like rafting.

Kid's Excursions

Royal Caribbean's Adventure Ocean youth program has age-specific facilities and programs supervised by youth counselors for Aqaunauts (age 3-5, must be toilet trained), Explorers (age 6-8), Voyagers (age 9-11), Navigators (age 12-14) and Teens (age 15-17). A new program for infants and toddlers 6 months to 3 years, in partnership with toymaker Fisher-Price, offers children accompanied by an adult 45-minute playgroups involving storytelling, creative arts, music and a variety of Fisher-Price learning toys and games. Adventure Ocean runs year-round in the Caribbean, Bermuda, Bahamas, Mexico, Hawaii and Alaska. Organized activities are offered from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., with group babysitting from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. for a fee. Teen centers are now open past 2 a.m.

Private babysitting is offered from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m., provided sitters are available, for children from six months old at $8.00 per child per hour, with a minimum of three hours and a $2.00 per hour charge for each additional child.

The Vision, Voyager and Radiance-class ships all have private teen clubs and discos, and supervised teen activities are available on RCI's private islands.

On Voyager and Radiance-class ships, Adventure Ocean Computer Centers have age-appropriate software and staff-guided tutorials.

There' a special menu for children -- Captain Sealy's Kids Galley Menu, to name names. A Fountain Soda Package can be purchased for the cruise. The package includes fountain sodas and juices at all bars, lounges, dining rooms and private destinations. Kids 17 and younger pay $4.00 per person per day plus a 15% gratuity. For teens 17 and older, and adults, the charge is $6.00 per person per day plus the 15 % gratuity.

The Vision, Voyager and Radiance-class ships all have family staterooms.

RCI has a seven-night "Orlando Experience" package, a seven-night program featuring a four-night Sovereign of the Seas cruise from Port Canaveral, accommodations at the Portofino Bay Hotel a two-day pass to Universal Studios, $20 meal voucher at Hard Rock Cafe, one-day admission to the Guinness World Records Experience attraction and a 15% discount on Alamo car rentals.

Past Passenger Programs

Royal Caribbean has one of the more complicated loyalty programs - the Crown and Anchor Society. There are six different levels. It is one of the more popular programs because Diamond class members get a daily cocktail party -  in their own private lounge on some ships.

The many benefits you can receive as you go up the ladder include:

  • Laundry and WiFi access
  • A free 7-day cruise (after about 150 days at sea)
  • The nightly cocktail parties, 
  • Private ship tours
  • Stateroom upgrades

... and many, many more benefits. Visit the web sote for all details.

Special Programs

RCI owns two private resorts, CocoCay in the Bahamas and Labadee, Haiti, to which it delivers its delighted passengers. Its "ShipShape" fitness program includes full jogging track, workout classes, full gym, spa and solarium. Golf Ahoy! offers scheduled golfing in the Caribbean, Bahamas, Bermuda, Mexico, and Hawaii. Climbing walls, so popular on the Voyager and Radiance-class ships, have been added to the entire fleet. Hats off to Royal Caribbean, incidentally, for not piling on a lot of equipment "rental" fees on ice skates and roller blades.

That RCI is extraordinarily committed to the comfort and pleasure of its differently abled passengers is clear from its multifaceted Accessible Seas Program, which, for instance, added Braille deck numbers to staircase handrails on all of its ships in 2003.

The Academy at Sea offers passengers a chance to learn about a variety of topics -- Theatre Production; Beauty; Health and Fitness; Hospitality and Beverage; and Photography -- on sea days. The highly informative yet informal classes are taught by onboard staff and are well attended. A new program, Vitality at Sea, offers special cuisine and various activities throughout the ship, all identified by a green logo.

Tipping

Royal Caribbean suggests a per person per day gratuity of: $3.50 for the stateroom attendant ($5.75 for those in suites); $3.50 for the waiter; $2.50 for the Assistant Waiter; and .75 for the Head Waiter. These may be paid in cash or charged to your onboard account. For children sailing as third or fourth passenger in the stateroom, tipping is at the parents' discretion.

A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to all beverage tabs. Gratuities for room service, spa, casino and other staff are at your discretion.

User Ratings

Overall Rating
4.18
from 731 reviews

Cuisine

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