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Planning a cruise vacation for the entire family is a complex endeavor. Planning a Royal Caribbean cruise is no different. You have to choose the ship, cabin, itinerary and add-ons that will work best for your family. Here are 7 tips that will help you get it right.
Disclosure: Brands mentioned provided some consideration.
Booking the Right Cruise
How do you pick the right cruise for your family? A good way is to determine what’s driving the trip. How many nights do you want? Are you looking for specific ports of call? What’s your cruise budget? When will you travel? Which embarkation port works best?
Royal Caribbean offers cruises as short as a two nights or as long as 12 nights. If you have never cruised before and aren’t sure it’s going to be right for your family, we recommend starting small. Choose a two-night cruise for your first trip. It’s a fantastic option for getting a taste of cruising. If you know you love to cruise, look for a deal on a longer cruise, such as the 12 night Southern Caribbean cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas. It departs from Baltimore and includes stops in St. Thomas, St. Maarten, St. Lucia, St. Kitt’s and Barbados.
Which embarkation port?
It’s always possible to fly to a destination to board a ship, but it isn’t always necessary. With US ports up and down the West Coast, East Coast and along the Gulf Coast, much of the United States is within a day’s drive of at least one cruise port.
Best Ways to Save Money When You Book
There are a number of ways to save money when planning a Royal Caribbean cruise:
Book very early. Or very late. Royal Caribbean offers many deals on its website, including Kids Sail Free, discounts for booking as much as two years out and last minute deals to fill unsold cabins.
Cruise on an older ship. Cruising an older ship doesn’t mean you give up the luxury cruise experience. Most of Royal Caribbean’s fleet has been dry docked and updated with the same features found on the newer, larger ships of its Oasis and Quantum class ships. Expect to find updated staterooms, water slides, escape rooms and specialty dining on the smaller ships just as you would on the newer ships. And no matter which ship, if it’s sailing the Caribbean, the itinerary can include a stop at the new best thing about Royal Caribbean: Perfect Day at CocoCay. That’s Royal Caribbean’s private island, which has just undergone a $250 million renovation. In my humble opinion, it’s the best private island of any cruise line. If you’re undecided on where to go when planning a Royal Caribbean cruise, consider an itinerary that includes Perfect Day.
Be a frequent cruiser. Like most cruise companies, Royal Caribbean offers deals to current customers to entice them to book another cruise. The deals often are best if you book the next cruise while you’re still on the ship.
Work with a travel agent. Cruises are notoriously complicated vacations to plan. Travel agents that specialize in cruising can help with everything from booking the right cabin to finding the best deal.
TravelingMom Tip: Don’t worry about prices going down over time. In the event prices change between your booking and final payment date, Royal Caribbean will allow you to reprice the cruise at the lower rate.
Beverages and Internet: Plan for The Fun
Royal Caribbean cruises are not all-inclusive. Some things will cost extra — from drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) to wifi to shore excursions. The best way to reduce these costs is by planning ahead and figuring out the full budget before you sail.
For example, meals at the main restaurants are included, but foodie families may want to upgrade their dining experience at the ship’s specialty restaurants that charge an additional fee. Research the options for saving money by buying a dining package if you know that dining in the specialty restaurants is important to you.
The same goes for drink packages and internet service. Research before you sail to determine whether you want to buy a package or pay as you go onboard.
Here are examples of ways to save.
- Double (and triple) check your family cruise packing list to make sure you don’t forget any essential items. For example, sunscreen is essential for a Caribbean vacation. It will be much cheaper to buy it at home than on the ship.
- Royal Caribbean allows each stateroom to bring on up to 12 (17 oz) cans, bottles or cartons as carry-on items on boarding day.
- Look for daily drink specials to save money and try something new and fun.
- Consider the specialty restaurants for lunch, which can be a more reasonable option. Be sure to ask for a kids’ menu.
- Forego buying the onboard Voom internet and look for an internet café on a port day.
- Pack enough clothes that you don’t need laundry service. Royal Caribbean doesn’t have self-serve laundry and sending out your family’s laundry can get expensive.
Consider Connecting Rooms or Family Suites
Royal Caribbean offers very family friendly cabin options. Depending on the cruise ship, families can choose from adjoining rooms or family suites that sleep up to six people.
Which is best? It depends on the price and the needs of your family. The space in adjoining rooms with two bathrooms can be important for families with teens. Being in one family suite might work best with families with four kids under 7.
For the family looking for a serious splurge, the Ultimate Family Suites on the newest Oasis classes of ships are Ah-mazing! They sleep up to 8 with two and half bathrooms over two stories along with an in-suite slide, in-suite movie/game room and private hot tub on the balcony. The suites start at $30,000 per week, so it’s going to be a real splurge.
Download the App
Royal Caribbean’s app allows you to check in pre-cruise. Once you’re onboard, use the app to manage your account, make reservations and check the daily Cruise Compass list of ship activities. If you don’t use the app, you can still check-in via a computer.
To check in on the app or online, you need a passport, form of account payment, and a clear picture. Check in at least three days before your cruise begins. Print your Set Sail Pass or have it available on the app to walk right past the check in line and on to the ship.
Make sure to bring a carry-on packed with a swim suit, sunscreen, medications, and any other items you and your family will need the first day. Boarding begins mid-morning, but rooms usually aren’t available until after 3 pm and your checked luggage may not be delivered until late that evening. Plan on having lunch at the Windjammer café, enjoying the ocean view and relaxing until the muster drill and set sail party.
Choosing Shore Excursions
Shore excursions are a fun part of planning a Royal Caribbean Cruise. Royal Caribbean offers shore excursions from mild to totally adventurous, from educational to pure fun. Take into account the age of your children as well as their abilities. If there’s an adventure that you would love to do, book it in advance during your registration and online check-in. Visit the shore excursion desk after you board for advice if you’re torn on which excursion to choose.
You don’t have to book excursions through Royal Caribbean. In most ports, an independent tour operator will offer a nearly identical excursion for a cheaper price. The drawback to booking with an independent operator is you don’t have the backing of Royal Caribbean in case of emergency. Again, research is the key. Look for reviews and recommendations here in the TravelingMom family cruise planning guides or by visiting TripAdvisor sites.
If you book shore excursions with an independent tour operator, make sure that you:
- Keep your watch on ship time, not the local time
- Arrive back to the ship with plenty of time to board.
In Nassau Bahamas, it can take 10 minutes to walk through the security gate and dock back to your ship. Don’t cut it too close; I’ve seen ships leave passengers before. If that happens, you have to find your way to the next port to rejoin the ship. That means buying expensive last-minute plane tickets!
Also remember that you don’t have to leave the ship. Port days are a prime time to try the water slides and FlowRider surf simulator without the long wait times. The pool deck won’t be as crowded and spa treatments will probably be discounted. Read your Cruise Compass to find out about any specials.
Enjoy the Kids’ Clubs
Royal Caribbean offers kids’ clubs starting with the youngest cruisers up to age 17 included in the cruise price.
Royal Caribbean is unique in that several of the ships offer Royal Babies & Tots Nurseries where babies 6 months to 36 months can be dropped off at specific times during the day and evening. Unlike the other kids’ clubs, this service is an additional hourly fee but allows parents a little time to explore the ship.
Kids from 3 to 11 have their own dedicated spaces with fun kids programming. Aquanauts (3 to 5) focus on playing through music and art. Explorers (6 to 8) and Voyagers (9 to 11) do tons of hands-on science and marine exploration exercises. Parents of Voyagers can elect to have their children sign themselves in/out. My sons love the kids clubs; it’s their favorite part of our cruises. The staff are trained as child care specialists with first-aid and CPR.
TravelingMomTip: Even if you have a shy child, introduce them to the kids’ club. I was nervous our first cruise, but my sons loved it. And the training of the staff in first-aid and CPR makes me feel more comfortable.
Teens have a world of their own with teen lounges, teen-only dance parties and other teen-only events. Teens have the option of going to the teen club or exploring the ship. One thing to note is that teens have a curfew on Royal Caribbean ships. On my last cruise, the curfew was 1 am.
More Things to Consider When Planning a Royal Caribbean Cruise
- Opt-in to Royal Caribbean emails even after you book. Royal Caribbean sometimes sends guests invitations to “Royal Up.” That allows guests to bid for an upgraded cabin at a reduced rate.
- Read the Cruise Compass every evening. It will be delivered to your stateroom while you’re at dinner. Spend time studying it. It’s the master list of activities happening on the ship each day and it can let you know if a time has changed or a special event has been added.
- Make any reservations or changes on the first day of your cruise. This will give you the widest selection of available times and services. This goes for the Royal Babies & Tots Nursery, spa services, specialty restaurants, and the escape room. If there isn’t a time open, check back again to see if there were any cancellations or open reservations.