Tips and Tricks When Cruising with Royal Caribbean

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Elevate your vacation with extraordinary cruise experiences through Royal Caribbean.
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Whether you find yourself booking Royal Caribbean for the first time (or tenth), here is a step-by-step guideline of many important timelines and considerations to help take your cruise to the next level (and start relaxing that much sooner).

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Where to stay onboard

Royal Caribbean Wonder of the Seas

Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas is a marvel of cruise luxury, setting sail with an array of thrilling activities, world-class entertainment and innovative amenities. As the largest cruise ship globally, it offers an unparalleled seafaring experience, combining comfort and excitement on a grand scale.

Royal Caribbean Icon of the Seas

Embark on a journey of unparalleled elegance and innovation aboard Royal Caribbean's Icon of the Seas, where every moment is crafted for a truly iconic experience.

Royal Caribbean Anthem of the Seas

Elevating the cruise experience with cutting-edge technology, thrilling activities and unparalleled ocean vistas.

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Things to do onboard

Relaxed on boarding day embarkation.

So your cruise is booked, whether putting down a deposit or paying in full. Once your travel agent provides you with your Royal Caribbean cruise booking ID, link that ID number to your Crown and Anchor account. You can start booking all kinds of exciting aspects of your cruise, such as My Time Dining reservations, shore excursions, onboard activities and drink or dining packages.

Royal Caribbean has many sales on its Cruise Planner website throughout the year, so it is always recommended to book any items you might be interested in as soon as possible. If the price drops closer to sailing, you can easily cancel and rebook through the website for the lower price. With sailings back at 100% capacity (and cruises being increasingly popular), many highly sought-after add-ons and shore excursions sell out months in advance.

Entertainment Reservations (for Quantum, Oasis, and Icon-class ships)

On Royal Caribbean’s newer ship classes, it is possible to pre-reserve many entertainment shows on the Cruise Planner as early as 60 days prior to the sailing. While not all ships post them on the Cruise Planner at 60 days out, it is worth looking at that mark and checking back every few days until they populate (as they will sell out weeks before the start of the cruise). If performances are showing in the Cruise Planner as sold out, make sure to connect to the ship’s wifi as soon as possible once onboard, as they will release a few more spots for each show to those booking once onboard.

Time for Check-In

Check-in for Royal Caribbean cruises begins 45 days prior to the sail date, at 12 a.m. in the local time of the ship’s departure port (i.e., if the ship is leaving from Miami on February 25, check-in will open at 12 a.m. ET on the morning of February 25). For those looking to start their vacation by booking the earliest time slot, it is worth ensuring you are awake to select an embarkation time as soon as the system opens. It is possible on the Royal Caribbean app to select an embarkation time for those traveling in the same cabin without fulling processing all the required check-in questions, passport documentation, photo, credit card details, etc. If only selecting an embarkation time 45 days prior, ensure that the other details are completed no later than three days before departure to ensure a smooth boarding process without delays at the terminal.

Packing Considerations

In the days, weeks, or months before your cruise (whichever type of packer you may be), remember that Royal Caribbean allows guests to carry onboard one bottle of wine per person per cabin (with a maximum of two bottles per cabin total). This is a great opportunity to supplement for those not purchasing the beverage package or others looking to bring some special bottles onboard. Note that these bottles must be in your hand luggage on boarding day. They will be confiscated if they are in your checked luggage at embarkation (and returned on the last night of the cruise).

Regarding carry-on hand luggage vs. checking bags, cabins will not be available or accessible to guests for any reason until 1 p.m. - 2 p.m. on embarkation day. This means that any items you carry with you onto the ship (including wine bottles, 12 packs of soda or water, etc.) will need to stay with you and be carted around the ship until the announcement is made that cabins are ready. There is no limit regarding number of checked suitcases an individual or group can bring on board, so consider checking as many of your belongings as possible for ease of boarding. Remember to keep all important documents, funds, prescriptions, a swimsuit, wine/soda/water, etc., in your carry-on before dropping your checked bags off with the porters since you will not see those checked bags for a few hours. Checked bags are usually guaranteed to be delivered to the cabins by 5 p.m. - 6 p.m., often sooner.

Once fully checked in (either on the website or app), Royal Caribbean will email you an informational packet 30 days before sailing, including your luggage tags on page 19. It is best to print the luggage tags in advance and in color when possible. There are many great options for luggage tag holders that help prevent any tags tearing off or becoming illegible during embarkation.

There is quite a surprising list of items that are not allowed on cruise ships, including steamers, clothes irons, surge-protecting extension cords, and illicit substances. You can find the full list here to ensure none of your items are confiscated from your carry-on or checked luggage.

Many strongly recommend that you pack your own shampoo, conditioner, body wash, hand soap pumps (if you do not like using hand soap bars), and even a collapsible laundry basket.

Boarding Day Embarkation

Cruise day has finally arrived! If driving and parking at the port, check whether the port allows pre-booking parking (as many will sell out before boarding day). Other ports, such as Royal Caribbean’s main terminal in Miami, do not allow pre-booking and sometimes fill up, which is another reason to get an embarkation spot as early as possible.

While on the way to the port, go to the Safety icon at the bottom of the Royal Caribbean app and watch the required safety drill videos (not if you are in the driver’s seat, of course). This will save time once you are on board to complete your muster drill.

Royal Caribbean will generally not allow anyone to arrive more than 30 minutes prior to their scheduled embarkation time, so stick to your assignment for the smoothest process. If all check-in details were completed more than three days before sailing, the Royal Caribbean app will populate your digital Sea Pass card, which is necessary for boarding day. Ensure you have loaded the Sea Pass into any mobile wallets or taken screenshots for quick access (printing is unnecessary).

If checking luggage, find a porter in front of the terminal to leave your items with your preprinted luggage tags (if you forgot to print, they have blank versions they will assist in filling out). Do not forget to give the porter a $5-$10 tip based on how much luggage they might assist your party with.

After a passport verification and scan of your digital Sea Pass, you will proceed through security before boarding the ship.

Regardless of whether your party paid for internet during your vacation, connect to the ship’s wifi through the Royal Caribbean app (or onboardicafe.com, if you need the link). The free version for those without an internet package is necessary in order to operate the app properly onboard. It also allows guests to chat with each other for free via the Royal Caribbean app.

When stepping on the ship, staff will direct you to your muster station (noted on your digital Sea Pass card). Proceed to that location to have staff scan your Sea Pass, and you are done! This must be completed by all guests, or the ship cannot leave port, so it is always best to get it done first so your vacation can truly start.

Now that the muster drill is complete and you are connected to the ship’s wifi check your reservations and book any remaining shows you might need. If in doubt, make the entertainment reservations first, as you can always join the standby line for other day’s performances if the timing does not work for your group.

The ship’s buffet (called the Windjammer) will be packed on boarding day, so consider alternate options such as booking a specialty dining reservation for lunch on embarkation day, booking The Key (which includes a private lunch), or choosing included locations such as the Solarium Bistro on Oasis Class ships which are less frequented.

WOW bands are offered on most Quantum, Oasis, and Icon class ships and can be procured from Guest Services for $10 per person for those interested. WOW bands can be very handy, as they double as a wearable Sea Pass card for easy payments, cabin access, etc. They will work from ship to ship, so if you already have one, make sure to bring it along on your next Royal Caribbean cruise and proceed to Guest Services upon boarding to have them program it for the cruise.

Note that you will not receive your physical Sea Pass card until the cabins are ready, as the Sea Passes will be waiting in the holder outside your cabin.

Tips and Activities during the Cruise

If you know you would like to sail again on Royal Caribbean, consider heading to the NextCruise office during the first two to three days of the cruise for possible bonuses such as an onboard credit raffle and/or a bottle of sparkling wine. Even if you are not sure of an exact sailing you would like to book, you can place a $200 placeholder deposit called Book Later that allows you 60 days to choose a sailing and still get all of the discounts and benefits as if you booked on board (after 60 days the $200 deposit is still valid. However, you will not receive the added OBC or discount). After disembarking, let your travel agent know of your new booking (or placeholder Book Later) so they can ensure all the details and add-ons are squared away!

Royal Caribbean ships offer a behind-the-scenes tour (at a cost through the Cruise Planner website) that takes a small group of 12 persons to see such areas as the Main Dining Room galley (kitchen), the ship’s bridge, engine control room, and laundry facilities. For those wondering how these floating cities at sea operate, it is a must-do activity to see the real action.

Many ships will have a traveling piano person who will pop up in the strangest places… even in elevators! If/when you hear random piano music, keep your eyes peeled for a surprise concert.

Disembarkation/Packing

A few days into the cruise, a prompt will show on your Royal Caribbean app to select your disembarkation time. Filling this out earlier in the cruise ensures you are able to select the departure window you would prefer before most fill up, and will correspond to the luggage tag numbers you are provided by your stateroom attendant before disembarking (they announce departure times by luggage tag numbers).

Those requiring assistance with their checked luggage must have everything packed and in the hallway with the luggage tag no later than 10 p.m. the night before disembarking. Make sure to keep important items like clothes for disembarkation day, medicines, or anything you might need overnight, as you will not have access to your checked bags again until you are off the ship the next day.

On the last full day of the cruise, make sure to scan in and return any pool towels you may have checked out. If any remain listed on your account as not returned, each towel will be charged for $25 on disembarkation day.

If any professional photos you want to purchase are taken while onboard, ensure you have completed your order in the Focus Photo Gallery before the last night of the sailing. You cannot retrieve or purchase the photos once you disembark the ship.

Self-disembarkation is an option if you want/need to be off the ship as early as possible (as this will be the first group allowed to disembark). However, note that you will have to carry all your luggage off the ship that morning, and often, elevators are difficult to come by, so carrying bags downstairs might be required. Some ports, such as Galveston, Texas, only allow one bag per person for self-disembarkation, so keep that in mind when choosing this option.

Additional Details to consider:


The Key
The Key is a great option for those who want some of the perks of having a suite without the full cost. The Key provides priority embarkation and disembarkation similar to those in suite classes, as well as internet for one device per person, an embarkation day lunch, and priority seating at entertainment (though reservations are still required). The Key’s cost can vary greatly depending on the itinerary but sometimes can be very close in cost to purchasing internet for one device for the cruise. It is worth checking, particularly for those who want priority boarding and internet access.

Please see my separate guide here for more details regarding suites and their perks.

I have also created a rundown of the Crown and Anchor Society benefits (Royal Caribbean’s loyalty program) so you can make the most of your perks on your next sailing.

Happy sailing!

Places to eat & drink onboard

My Time Dining

Royal Caribbean offers three options regarding dinner when booking your cruise: early seating, usually around 5 - 5:30 p.m.; late seating, around 8 p.m.; and My Time Dining. If your first selection is unavailable at booking, you can request that your travel agent put you on the waitlist for your preferred time. If My Time Dining is selected or assigned, ensure you book dinner reservations as soon as the booking shows on your Royal Caribbean Cruise Planner website. My Time Dining is the only selection that needs a reservation to prevent lining up in the standby line nightly for dinner.

Need to Know

Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out my guide, An Adventurer’s Road Trip through Ireland and Northern Ireland.

This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel by cruise.

Kelsey Parry in a polka dots dress

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Kelsey Parry

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