How To Pick Your First Cruise
A guide to finding the perfect trip for you.
The things that make cruising an ideal vacation may also make planning it an adventure: options and flexibility. From itineraries that can cover the coastal United States and the Caribbean to China and Australia, to the many amenities available on today’s ships, cruising really does have something for everyone.
As you plan your first cruise, we’ve offered some of our best tips to help you find the options ideal for your preferences. Before you even start browsing, most cruise experts and travel agents recommend spending a little time thinking about how you like to travel—consider the types of hotels you like to stay in, how you approach dining when away—as well as how you hope to spend your time. Do you like to pack your days, or are you desperate for R&R? Do you plan your trips around sites, or experiences? And how active do you expect to be while you’re gone? Answering those questions will help direct your research, and depending on your general travel profile, we’ve offered our own suggestions below.
When families travel together, they have a certain set of needs that other travelers don’t. Generally, they might require group tables for meals, childcare services or child-friendly activities, and, if it’s a multi-generational family going on vacation, there may be certain accessibility or dietary needs, too. Royal Caribbean’s breathtaking Oasis-class ships, which include Harmony of the Seas, the largest ship in the world, are ideal for accommodating large groups with varying needs.
Choose from more than 20 places to eat on board—all of which can accommodate groups—take the kids to the Pool & Sports Zone, where they can ride a zip line, surf simulator, scale a climbing wall, or go down the Ultimate Abyss, a 10-story slide that’s the tallest at sea. Ships with a SeaPlex (Anthem of the Seas, Quantum of the Seas) invite you to ride bumper cars, test your acrobatic skills at trapeze school, or go roller skating. There’s also Adventure Ocean, a youth program that offers fun and educational activities to occupy the youngest members of your group, as well as a program for teens. In the evenings, make use of the world-class entertainment, from Broadway-style musicals to dizzying acrobatics in the AquaTheater (available on Oasis-class ships). Right now, all Oasis-class ships are based in Florida, in Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, and offer a variety of Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises.
If five-star hotels and the amenities that come with them are your must-haves, then it’s only right to book a room that is part of Royal Caribbean’s luxurious Royal Suite Class. These suites go far beyond your typical hotel digs, sporting private balconies—some with private Jacuzzis—expansive bathrooms, dining areas, kitchens, and even lofts. They also feature special “Royal Genies” ready to help customize your vacation every day—arranging private dining, reserving seats for every show, making reservations at the suites-only restaurant and more.
The Royal Suite Class experience includes the Ultimate Beverage Package; unlimited VOOM, the fastest internet at sea; and luxe linens and bath products in select suites. It’s available on five ships: Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas, Anthem of the Seas, and Ovation of the Seas. These ships cover destinations from Singapore, Sydney, Bermuda, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean.
With the right ship, you can experience adventure both on board and on land, so look for ships that feature the FlowRider surf simulator, the RipCord by iFly sky-diving simulator, the North Star, a jewel-shaped capsule made of glass that gives you 360-degree views—and which recently entered into the Guinness Book of World Records as the “Highest Viewing Deck on a Cruise Ship”—as well as others features, like an ice-skating rink and the Perfect Storm, a trio of intricate water slides.
To make the most of your time at each destination you visit, research and book shore excursions in advance—Royal Caribbean has an entire category of excursions earmarked as active, and they can include scuba diving, viewing Alaskan glaciers by helicopter, and exploring backwaters of India by houseboat. In addition, diving enthusiasts now can become certified scuba divers when they take a vacation with the cruise line—it’s the only one in the world with PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) Five Star Dive Centers onboard. So you can put that certification to use as you explore shipwrecks in St. Thomas and the British Virgin Islands, as well as coral reefs in the Caribbean, like the Belize Barrier Reef. No matter what level of daredevil you are, there’s an excursion sure to deliver the dose of adrenaline you seek.
For starters, no one would blame you for savoring all your meals on board. Complimentary dining spans options from pizza to hot dogs, fresh salads and café-like fare, to international and heartier meals. Beyond that, specialty restaurants (which require reservations in advance, as well as an additional fee) feature authentic Italian from celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and elegant, simple American fare from James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schwartz. All Royal Caribbean ships feature specialty dining options, which you can explore in advance of booking your trip.
When you’re in port, look out for unique culinary tours available to you—from visiting regional wineries to taking a cooking class or exploring the production of a locally made delicacy. Some of the most dynamic food- and wine-focused experiences are concentrated along the Mediterranean, where you can sample the centuries-old winemaking traditions of Italy right next to France, Spain or Greece. While you’re at it, you can make a personal taste test of their cured meats, cheeses and desserts.
Everybody’s got a trip or three they know they want to take. Believe it or not, some of the most popular bucket-list trips are ideal for cruising, which can take you to seaside locations that may not have an extensive train or road network, like Alaska. They also can take you to several spots and cover larger ground within a farther-flung locale, such as the South Pacific or Australia and New Zealand. You’ll save yourself the hassle of logistics, transfers, repacking more than once—and a whole lot more.
Cuba, a destination that’s long allured Americans, who could not visit there for decades, recently became more accessible for tourists—and Royal Caribbean just announced that it will start sailing to Cuba in 2017. Guests on Empress of the Seas will get the chance to go a little bit back in time to explore Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage site, spot perfectly preserved classic American-made cars, eat in local paladars and visit sites like Hemingway’s former residence and a rum museum.
You can get your search started on all Royal Caribbean cruise itineraries here.