Margaritaville at Sea vs Royal Caribbean

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Curated By

Alyssa Paprocky

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  • Cruises

  • Entertainment

  • Sightseeing

A girl posing in blue dress on a sea deck.
Curator’s statement

In 2023, I cruised on both Margaritaville at Sea and Royal Caribbean, Freedom of the Seas. It was my first time on both cruise lines; my husband is a die-hard Royal fan, so my expectations were quite high for that trip. Surprisingly, Margaritaville beat Royal in a few spots!

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Where to stay in Florida

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Things to do in Florida

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Let’s start with the embarkation. Royal Caribbean was 10/10; I had all of my documents already uploaded using the Royal Caribbean App. They scanned us in and we walked right on to the ship with no wait! We arrived a little before our timed window that you can choose before boarding day.

Margaritaville at Sea we purchased the License to Chill package, which included priority boarding, WiFI, priority disembarking among other perks! We got to the port and checked in pretty quickly. They needed to print our room keys and do all the documentation there as there is no way to do it before arrival. We went over to the “VIP” room, which was a small room with some snacks and refreshments. We waited probably an hour or so in that room before being able to board. When we walked out into the check-in area, it was packed with people waiting to get on the ship.

The staff on both ships were outstanding. Everyone was friendly, fun and helpful, all service with a smile. We did not see our room attendant other than the first day on either ship; they only cleaned once a day and there were no turn-down services.

I was quite disappointed with the entertainment on Royal. On cruises in the past with NCL, I felt like I was watching off-broadway productions at each show; this was not the case on the Freedom of the Seas I was just on. The first night they had an ice-skating show, which for a ship, pretty cool. It was a fun show, but nothing to write home about. The next night, they had two showings of “Marquee” which were snippets of Broadway productions. About halfway through the show, I turned to my dad and said, "I have no idea what is going on, but that girl can sing!” The lead female singer was outstanding, other than that, I wasn’t overly impressed. The final night on the ship, there was a production of “Once Upon a Time.” As an avid Disney fan, this was the show I was most looking forward to. It was not what I expected and again the performance itself was good, the singing was amazing, but it didn’t excite me like other shows I have seen on other ships have. They weave modern songs into well-known fairy tales. Something about hearing a song on the radio station being sung by Cinderella just didn’t jive. One night, they did have two comedians from Las Vegas do stand-up comedy. They were the best act of the cruise! Very funny, had everyone laughing the whole time.

Aside from the shows, they hosted a lot of trivia games of all sorts; the Quest game, which is always an adult crowd favorite; Love & Marriage show, belly-flop competitions and more. The problem I felt here on this trip was that there seemed to be only 1 “major” thing going on at once, so everything was packed. For example, the belly-flop competition, if you were not near the pool area earlier on, you couldn’t see anything. We found this happened a bunch of times when they would do events in the smaller lounges too - prepare to be there a half hour early to get a seat.

Margaritaville at Sea had activities such as line dancing, dueling pianos, Margarita making competitions poolside. I felt because it was a smaller ship, nothing was too busy. We were always able to find a seat or somewhere to stand and see what activity was going on. The shows have since changed since I was on, but for what I would feel is a low-budget cruise line, they were better than expected.

Disembarkation on both ships was quite easy. Since we had the priority of disembarking on Margaritaville at Sea, we left the ship and were outside the port waiting for our ride in 15 minutes. Everyone on both trips traveled with passports; the birth certificate lines were always a little longer. Royal Caribbean was quick and easy as well. On both ships, I walked my bags off on my own and did not use their baggage service as we had only small carry-ons for the short trips.

Places to eat & drink in Florida

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On Royal Caribbean, we did not purchase any specialty dining. We had a 545-seating time for dinner each night and were greeted with the smiling faces of our server, his assistant, and the manager for that section with our drink orders and freshly warmed bread in hand. The service was top-notch! As for the food, I was disappointed. Maybe it was because I set my expectations too high because of my husband's rants and raves. Don’t get me wrong, the food was very good, but it was nothing like “the best I have ever had” taste.

The buffet always felt very busy, and although there was a very large area with tables and chairs, it seemed very hard to find one open anytime we went there. You would have to scout who looked done to poach their table! The food was just okay. The options seemed the same each day, which I found weird. We tried breakfast there the first morning and chose to go to the dining room the other day because it was less crowded.

Drinks. We paid over $1,000 for a drink package for three people on a 4-night, 5-day cruise. Drink packages are not shareable. I was having heart palpitations booking that, it seemed astronomical for drinks. Drinks are around $14 on average, so doing the quick math, we needed to drink seven alcoholic drinks a day to make the drink package save us money. So if you are not a big drinker, it might be money better spent elsewhere. Luckily, the first day, our server at the pool kept those margs coming! You weren’t even done with your drink and they were asking if you wanted another. Now, because I had unlimited drinks, I found this to be great service, but I might have felt it to be a bit pushy and almost annoying if I was paying for my drinks each time. All things to consider. A bonus with the drink package on the cruise we took, was that it can be used when at their private island CocoCay!

Margaritaville at Sea, on the other hand, blew my expectations with their food. My mom and I, on different nights, had the salmon; it might have been the best salmon I have ever had. Also, their key lime pie – top-notch! Their buffet was smaller than Royal Caribbean, and the tables and chairs surrounding the buffet were limited and always full. On the last night, we found behind the buffet another bar and an area with plenty of seating! So that solved that problem.

Onto drinks, when we booked our room, we were given a 5-drink band. We also purchased two 10-drink bands before getting on the ship. So in total, between my mom and I, we had 25 drinks for our 3 days on the ship. A few things I liked about this; the bands were shareable and can be used on future cruises if you don’t use all of them! A lot of people in the Facebook groups will hide bands behind pictures in staterooms with a drink or two left on them for the next guest to possibly find! Most drinks on this ship were around $12 and the bands will cover drinks up to $12, if you wanted a drink that cost more, you would be charged the difference to your stateroom. Now, we thought 25 drinks would not be enough – we ended up having mimosas with our breakfast on disembarkation day because we still had drinks left!

Need to Know

I took advantage of the labor day sale for a drink package on royal. When we booked Margaritaville, I could get a 5-drink package added to our reservation. Overall, I found value in both cruises. Royal Caribbean definitely is a more updated ship, with more activities on board that we did not even utilize, like water slides, rock climbing, etc. Margaritaville at Sea had a multi-million-dollar upgrade a week or two after I sailed. I have seen them add things like a dueling piano bar, a cheeseburger in a paradise bar and even pickleball courts! For the price paid on Margaritaville at Sea, I was pleasantly surprised with the whole experience - between the rooms, the service, the food and the shows. That trip was under $1,000 for two people, including drinks. On the other hand, Royal Caribbean was probably about $4,000+ for three people including drinks and I left wanting more. I will definitely be back on both to see what else they have to offer.

For more travel tips, check out Fora Advisor Brittany Merryman’s guide, Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas Cruise Sail to Mexico.

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Travel Advisor

Alyssa Paprocky

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