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best royal caribbean cruises 2023

Symphony of the Seas

The 6,680-passenger, 2,200-crew-member Symphony of the Seas set sail in 2018 and features 18 decks packed with activities.

For heart-pounding fun, travelers will find a surf simulator, an indoor ice skating rink, two 40-foot rock walls, a zip line and a 10-story slide. Meanwhile, relaxation seekers can unwind in the spa, sip cocktails made by robotic bartenders or stroll through the Central Park -inspired neighborhood.

Onboard snacks and meals are served at 20 quick-service and sit-down eateries. The Main Dining Room is where the ship's traditional, complimentary dinners are provided nightly, but specialty options like a steakhouse, a bistro and a Johnny Rockets outpost are also available. What's more, cruisers can dine at Jamie's Italian, a restaurant helmed by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.

After filling up on gourmet fare, passengers can retreat to their cabins, all of which include work desks, flat-screen TVs and minibars. Guests can choose from 149-square-foot Interior Staterooms, some of which have virtual balconies with real-time views of the ocean, or opt for upgraded cabins with furnished balconies and up to 1,524 square feet of space. Select suites also feature two bedrooms, whirlpool tubs and dining rooms.

Symphony of the Seas departs from Cape Liberty, New Jersey, Miami , Fort Lauderdale, Rome and Barcelona for sailings throughout the Caribbean and Europe.

U.S. News Insider Tip: If you’re on one of the 19 Royal Caribbean ships that have a FlowRider, like Symphony of the Seas (which has two!), reserve a private lesson with a pro. For a small fee, you'll save yourself some embarrassment and get more ride time. – Skye Sherman, Contributor

best royal caribbean cruises 2023

Odyssey of the Seas

Launched in July 2021, the Odyssey of the Seas holds 5,498 passengers and 1,550 crew members. Royal Caribbean's latest ship is the first Quantum Ultra Class vessel to sail in the United States. As a member of this class, Odyssey of the Seas offers standout amenities like RipCord by iFLY, billed as the only skydiving simulator available at sea, and the FlowRider, a 40-foot-long surf simulator. There is also the North Star observation capsule, which hoists guests 300 feet above sea level over the cruise ship to enjoy unparalleled views below. 

In addition to these thrilling activities, the ship comes equipped with standard facilities like pools, an arcade, a spa, a fitness center with classes, kids clubs and shopping venues. There are also 15 dining options, ranging from Japanese fare to all-you-can-eat buffets to Starbucks. For drinks, the ship offers nine bars and lounges, giving passengers plenty of places to enjoy libations. Entertainment options include theatrical performances, live music, a casino, outdoor movie nights and more. 

As far as cabins go, cruisers can choose between Interior, Ocean View, and Balcony staterooms, as well as suite accommodations and new Virtual Balcony rooms. These technologically advanced cabins feature floor-to-ceiling displays that project real-time views of the sights and sounds from the outside of the ship. 

Odyssey of the Seas sails to ports in Europe, as well as to various destinations in the Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale, Florida and Cape Liberty, New Jersey.

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Wonder of the Seas

Wonder of the Seas, which embarked on its maiden voyage in March 2022, holds 7,084 passengers and 2,204 crew members. The ship measures 1,188 feet long and 215 feet wide, and it weighs 235,600 gross tons. It surpasses its sister ship, Symphony of the Seas , as one of the largest cruise ships in the world.  

Guests can enjoy plenty of thrill activities on board, such as the Ultimate Abyss – a 10-story dark tunnel slide – or the 40-foot-long FlowRider surf stimulator. The ship also offers a fitness center, shopping venues, rock climbing, a carousel and clubs for kids and teens. When it's time to dine, cruisers have the option of 21 dining venues ranging from Italian fare to Southern cuisine. Travelers can also indulge in a few cocktails at 14 bars and lounges.

Accommodations include Interior, Ocean View, Balcony and Suite staterooms. If you're looking for something more spacious, check out the ship's all-new Suite Neighborhood. Located on the upper decks, these suites offer guests ample private quarters to recharge during the cruise. Amenities included in the exclusive suites include priority boarding, a members-only dining facility and a dedicated check-in line. For families, the new neighborhood may be of particular interest because it features the Ultimate Family Suite. The family suite offers two floors of space with stunning ocean views, in-suite movies and video games and a kids slide between the floors.  

Wonder of the Seas sails from Orlando , Florida, to ports in the Caribbean.

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Allure of the Seas

The 6,826-passenger Allure of the Seas, unveiled in 2010, is among the largest cruise ships in the world. There are a whopping 2,054 crew members on board to cater to passengers' needs. Along with signature line amenities like rock climbing walls and ice skating rinks, the ship houses seven unique neighborhoods with a variety of activities, shows and dining options. The ship underwent a $165 million refurbishment in 2020, which added approximately 50 new staterooms, the Ultimate Abyss (the tallest slide at sea), redesigned kids and teens spaces, new dining venues and more.

Other standout features include a zip line that descends 10 decks, two surf simulators and a science lab. Plus, with 19 dining options – and a Starbucks at sea – every member of the family will be satisfied.

In terms of lodging, about 65% of cabins feature balconies, and all staterooms are appointed with TVs and minifridges. Interior staterooms are the most economical option, but those who splurge on Suites are granted larger balconies and concierge service. Crowd-free areas might be difficult to find due to the outrageous capacity of the ship, but some recent cruisers praise the nonstop activity and entertainment. 

Allure of the Seas departs from Miami, Orlando, Florida, and Galveston , Texas, for sailings in the Caribbean.

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Harmony of the Seas

Welcoming up to 6,687 passengers and 2,200 crew members, Harmony of the Seas is one of the largest cruise ships in the world. Launched in 2016 and tuned up in 2021, the ship features Royal Caribbean staples like surf simulators and rock climbing walls, as well as innovative amenities like the Ultimate Abyss (a 10-story slide) and three multistory waterslides. Plus, while younger passengers play in the arcade or at age-appropriate clubs, adults can relax at the spa or sip cocktails at multiple bars and lounges.

After working up an appetite, guests can choose from 20 dining options. Past cruisers especially praised the multitude of specialty restaurants, which range from Mexican to Japanese fare and require reservations and an additional fee.

When it comes to lodging, Harmony of the Seas offers a wide variety of cabin categories, with more than 70% of cabins featuring balconies. While Interior staterooms are the most economical choice, those looking for a little more space and luxury should consider upgrading to a Suite, which range from Junior Suites to four-bedroom Villa Suites. While all cabins offer flat-screen TVs and minibars, suites include access to a private restaurant, lounge and sun deck.

Harmony of the Seas sails from Miami and Galveston, Texas , to destinations throughout the Caribbean.

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Mariner of the Seas

Introduced in 2003 and overhauled in mid-2018, Mariner of the Seas features passenger favorites like the Escape Room, the Izumi Japanese restaurant and a surf simulator. During the ship's refurbishment, Royal Caribbean also added 100 new staterooms, updated cabins and public spaces and added fan-favorite restaurant Jamie's Italian by chef Jamie Oliver.

Though the 4,000-passenger ship features a 1-to-3 crew-to-passenger ratio, recent cruisers said the vessel still maintains a high level of customer service. When it comes to dining, the ship offers 11 venues, including a multilevel main dining room. The ship's 10 bars and lounges and onboard entertainment, which includes Broadway-style shows, earn a consistent nod of approval from past cruisers. Kids have plenty of age-appropriate entertainment, too, including youth programs and teen lounges. Mariner of the Seas touts three pools and six whirlpools. These areas of the ship attract a high concentration of children.

Past travelers were generally complimentary of the staterooms. Similar to its sister ships, Mariner of the Seas offers four stateroom categories: Interior, Ocean View, Balcony and Suite. All staterooms include flat-screen TVs and Wi-Fi accessibility. 

Mariner of the Seas departs from  Orlando , Florida, and Galveston, Texas, for sailings in the Caribbean, Bermuda and the  Bahamas .

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Adventure of the Seas

Adventure of the Seas (first launched in 2001) underwent an extensive renovation in January 2018. It boasts modern amenities like an outdoor movie screen and Wi-Fi (for an extra fee). Other highlights include an ice skating rink, a surf simulator and a rock climbing wall. 

There are seven dining venues across the ship, the newest of which is the Izumi Japanese specialty restaurant. While adults can relax at the ship's nine bars and lounges, youngsters can mix and mingle at age-appropriate youth clubs and a teens-only disco. Among other onboard amenities, Adventure of the Seas features an abundance of pools and whirlpools, including an indoor/outdoor pool and lounge area exclusive to adults called the Solarium.

When it comes to lodging, recent cruisers found staterooms to be comfortable and spacious. Cabins come in four categories – Interior, Ocean View, Balcony and Suite – and about 60% offer ocean views. The ship's 2018 revamp brought with it new Interior and Ocean View staterooms, as well as a new Suite Lounge. While it may be difficult to find quiet spaces on the 3,807-passenger ship, recent guests were still complimentary of the service on board and the 1-to-3 crew-to-guest ratio. 

Adventure of the Seas sails to various destinations in the Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale , Florida and Orlando , Florida. The ship also completes transatlantic voyages.

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Oasis of the Seas

The 6,771-passenger Oasis of the Seas saw an extensive refurbishment in late 2019, unveiling the line's first dedicated karaoke venue, a live music space with a large dance floor, brand-new dining options (including a barbecue restaurant), three waterslides, new bars and more. 

While this ship is not for those seeking secluded spaces, most cruisers say the seven distinct onboard neighborhoods make up for that. The behemoth ship features designer boutiques and larger staterooms than other ships in the fleet.

Like other Royal Caribbean vessels, Oasis of the Seas offers four cabin categories: Interior, Ocean View, Balcony and Suite. Interior rooms average about 150 square feet, while Suite category cabins can span anywhere from 287 to 1,524 square feet and include added amenities like Jacuzzis and expansive balconies.

While recent cruisers were impressed with the ship's abundant amenities, they noted that with 2,109 crew members, there aren't many tailored onboard experiences – especially when the ship is filled to capacity. Oasis of the Seas caters to those looking for nonstop onboard action.

Oasis of the Seas sails from Miami , Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Barcelona and Rome to destinations in the Bahamas , the Caribbean, Europe and the Mediterranean. The ship also offers transatlantic voyages.

U.S. News Insider Tip: On Oasis-class ships, stop at Vitality Café for protein shakes and fresh juices. – Skye Sherman, Contributor

best royal caribbean cruises 2023

Ovation of the Seas

The 4,905-passenger, 1,500-crew-member Ovation of the Seas features a skydiving simulator, an observation pod that hovers 300 feet above the sea and a bionic bar where robots mix cocktails. Other highlights include a rock climbing wall, a surf simulator, an outdoor movie screen and upscale boutiques like Cartier.

After working up an appetite, passengers can take their pick of 16 eateries, including six signature restaurants that require reservations and an additional fee. Many recent cruisers praised the cuisine, from the main dining room buffet to the Italian menu created by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.

Travelers were also mostly complimentary of the staterooms, 75% of which boast balconies. The ship offers Interior, Ocean View, Balcony and Suite category accommodations, all of which are equipped with flat-screen TVs, safes and sitting areas. Even those staying in Interior rooms can catch a glimpse of the sea with virtual balconies that give a real-time view of the ship's location.

The most common drawback, according to cruisers? You're likely to encounter long lines and crowded common areas. Some recent travelers also felt the service was not as good as expected. 

Ovation of the Seas sets sail from Vancouver ,  Honolulu , Seattle  and  Sydney  for itineraries in Alaska, Australia, Hawaii and the South Pacific.

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Vision of the Seas

Most recently updated in late 2018 (with the exception of routine maintenance in 2022), the 2,514-passenger, 742-crew-member Vision of the Seas offers Royal Caribbean staples like diverse dining venues and nonstop entertainment. Past cruisers especially praise the ship's appealing decor and the Solarium, an adults-only pool and lounge area. 

In terms of food, travelers can choose from the main dining room, the buffet and several casual eateries. Cruisers recommend springing for a meal at the ship's specialty restaurants, which range from the Chops Grille steakhouse to the Izumi Asian venue. Food in the main dining room received mixed reviews, but travelers praised the service around the ship.

When it comes to daytime activities, guests can try rock climbing, swim in the pools (which can become crowded) or play games in the casino. There are also sushi- and cupcake-making classes available.

In terms of lodging, Vision of the Seas touts four staterooms categories: Interior, Ocean View, Balcony and Suite. Interior cabins range from 136 to 252 square feet, while Suites on the opposite end of the spectrum range from 243 to 1,140 square feet. Opt for a balcony-equipped Suite and you'll enjoy cushier extras like whirlpool bathtubs. All cabins include amenities like flat-screen TVs and vanity areas. 

Vision of the Seas departs from Baltimore for itineraries in the Caribbean, New England and Canada.

Disclaimers about ship ratings: A ship’s Health Rating is based on vessel inspection scores published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If a ship did not receive a CDC score within 22 months prior to the calculation of its Overall Rating, its Health Rating appears as N/A; in such a case, the ship’s Overall Rating is calculated using the average Health Rating of all CDC-rated ships within the cruise line. All ship Traveler Ratings are based on ratings provided under license by Cruiseline.com.

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best royal caribbean cruises 2023

Press Releases

Summer of firsts: royal caribbean all in on 2023 seasonal caribbean cruises.

MIAMI, Dec. 16, 2021 – Royal Caribbean International today revealed the 2023 seasonal Caribbean cruises that will make waves with a summer of firsts. Wonder of the Seas , debuting in March 2022, headlines the lineup with its first U.S. summer from Port Canaveral (Orlando), Florida. The new, innovative ship will be joined by the amplified Mariner of the Seas, while Harmony of the Seas calls Miami its summer home for the first time. The bold lineup is rounded out by the first Oasis Class summer in Galveston, Texas, with Allure of the Seas slated for a full season at the cruise line’s new, $125 million terminal. Summer 2023 Caribbean cruises are now open , with more Caribbean getaways to be revealed early next year.

Families and travelers of all ages can have their pick of short, 5-night cruises and 7- to 8-night sailings that feature idyllic destinations in Bermuda and the Eastern, Western and Southern Caribbean. The vibrant, tropical places they visit from April through October 2023 include Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao ( ABC islands ), Puerto Rico , Mexico, St. Kitts and Royal Caribbean’s private island destination, Perfect Day at CocoCay in The Bahamas .

Whichever itinerary beckons travelers, a day of thrill and chill on Perfect Day at CocoCay will be among the highlights on most sailings from Florida. The cruise line’s top-rated destination in the Caribbean welcomes guests to create their perfect day with 13 heart-pumping waterslides at Thrill Waterpark, including the tallest waterslide in North America ; sights from the highest vantage point in The Bahamas on helium balloon Up, Up & Away ; the first floating cabanas, a dedicated restaurant and infinity pool at Coco Beach Club ; and more across dining, relaxation and adventure.

The matchup of award-winning ships and array of itineraries makes for exhilarating thrills from ship to shore. On Oasis Class ships Wonder , Allure and Harmony, adventures await in Royal Caribbean’s distinct signature neighborhoods. There are all-time favorites like the Ultimate Abyss, the tallest slide at sea, and more than 20 different restaurants, bars and lounges, plus all-new highlights on Wonder , such as the Suite Neighborhood and the area’s dedicated sun deck. The amplified Mariner brings to life a combination of experiences for guests to seamlessly transition from a day at the pool to a night out. The lineup on board features a Caribbean-inspired and resort-style pool deck, a trio of high-speed waterslides known as The Perfect Storm, The Bamboo Room, a tiki-chic lounge; and more.

Itinerary Highlights

  • Allure of the Seas – Cruising from: Galveston Vacationers have the Lone Star State’s biggest summer ever on the horizon when Allure becomes the first Oasis Class ship to call Galveston home for the season. Just in time for summer family vacations, Royal Caribbean has extended Allure’s big Texas debut in winter 2022-2023 and opened a lineup of 7-night Western Caribbean cruises. Travelers can set their sights on more ways and time to get away to the tropics, including destinations like Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico ; and Roatan, Honduras. Allure will continue to set sail from Royal Caribbean’s new, $125 million terminal, which opens its doors in October 2022. The 161,334-square-foot and LEED-certified terminal, built in partnership with Galveston Wharves, will make way for Galveston to welcome the cruise line’s globally renowned Oasis Class – the world’s largest cruise ships – for the first time.
  • Wonder of the Seas – Cruising from: Port Canaveral Following the world’s largest cruise ship’s debut in 2022, the cruise line keeps the good times rolling for vacationers. Wonder will sail its first summer in the U.S. from Port Canaveral, extending its newly announced 2022 winter season that starts in November. The adventure to be found in the new, innovative ship’s eight action-packed neighborhoods, including an Oasis Class first – the Suite Neighborhood – extends to the destinations in store on the 7-night Western and Eastern Caribbean cruises . Highlights include Philipsburg, St. Maarten; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas ; Cozumel ; and Perfect Day at CocoCay .
  • Harmony of the Seas – Cruising from: Miami The cruise capital of the world will be Harmony’s summer homeport for the first time. An Oasis Class favorite, perfect for families and travelers of every age, Harmony will set sail on 7-night cruises to the sun-soaked shores of the Western and Eastern Caribbean . Natural sights and adventures will be at every destination, which include Basseterre, St. Kitts and Nevis; Charlotte Amalie; Oranjestad, Aruba; Costa Maya; and Perfect Day at CocoCay .
  • Mariner of the Seas – Cruising from: Port Canaveral Returning to Port Canaveral for the third consecutive summer, the amplified Mariner sets course to offer vacationers varying ways to get away to the Caribbean. With their choice of short and longer itineraries of 5, 7 and 8 nights to Bermuda , and the Eastern, Western and Southern Caribbean , travelers can visit stunning destinations across the board, such as the Dominican Republic , Aruba, Curacao and St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands . And on all 8-night Bermuda and Perfect Day at CocoCay cruises, there are two nights in Bermuda

About Royal Caribbean International Royal Caribbean International  has been delivering innovation at sea for more than 50 years. Each successive class of ships is an architectural marvel featuring the latest technology and guest experiences for today's adventurous traveler. The cruise line continues to revolutionize vacations with itineraries to more than 270 destinations in 72 countries on six continents, including Royal Caribbean's private island destination in The Bahamas,  Perfect Day at CocoCay ,   the first in the Perfect Day Island Collection. Royal Caribbean has also been voted "Best Cruise Line Overall" for 18 consecutive years in the  Travel Weekly  Readers' Choice Awards. 

Media can stay up to date by following  @RoyalCaribPR on Twitter and visiting RoyalCaribbeanPressCenter.com. For additional information or to make reservations, vacationers can call their travel advisor; visit RoyalCaribbean.com; or call (800) ROYAL-CARIBBEAN. 

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From Central Park to the Pool and Sports Zone with FlowRider surf simulators and a zip line, to the Boardwalk and Youth Zone, Allure of the Seas offers thrills and relaxation for travelers of all ages with Royal Caribbean’s signature seven-neighborhood concept.

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best royal caribbean cruises 2023

The best Caribbean cruise for every type of traveler

Gene Sloan

There is no shortage of choices for a cruise to the Caribbean — the most popular place in the world for cruising. More than 200 cruise ships spend at least part of every year in the region. Cruise-selling websites list thousands of individual Caribbean sailings.

This can be great news for would-be Caribbean cruisers. But it also can be overwhelming. With so many options, where do you even begin? Which one of these ships and sailings is the best?

I get the latter question a lot — and I always answer the same noncommittal way: It depends. The best ship and sailing in the Caribbean for whom? The best for me? The best for you? The best for your kids?

For more cruise news, reviews and tips, sign up for TPG's new cruise newsletter .

When it comes to picking the best cruise in the Caribbean, as with picking the best cruise anywhere, a lot comes down to tastes and preferences. Some people love the big-resort feel of the biggest-of-big ships . Others are horrified by the very idea of them. Some people demand (and are willing to pay for) the highest levels of luxury . Others are on tight budgets. The best cruise for a family with kids isn't necessarily the same as the best cruise for a couple looking for romance.

What kind of cruiser are you? It's important to think that through before you start narrowing down your choices.

The bottom line is that the best Caribbean cruise for you depends a lot on your travel style. Below, we'll help you narrow down the choices by looking at Caribbean cruises by broad category type. The good news is that in the Caribbean, at least, there really is something for everyone.

Best Caribbean cruise for megaresort fans: Royal Caribbean

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If your idea of a great vacation is a week at a big, bustling resort filled with every sort of amusement known to humans, you'll probably want to start your Caribbean cruise search with a look at the biggest vessels from lines like Royal Caribbean .

If "more is better" is your mantra, skip the search and look up Icon of the Seas . At 250,800 gross tons, the much-awaited, 20-deck-high vessel will be the biggest cruise ship in the world when it debuts in 2024. No ships in the Caribbean will be quite like it.

Some of Icon of the Seas's wow factors include an unprecedentedly massive water park with six waterslides, a cantilevered infinity pool, a huge glass dome encompassing an indoor AquaTheater for acrobatic and diving shows and innovative new cabin and suite layouts for families.

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Royal Caribbean offers seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean sailings departing from Miami aboard Icon of the Seas from February 2024 through April 2026.

Eastern Caribbean itineraries vary but include stops at St. Maarten; St. Thomas; Nassau, Bahamas; Basseterre, St. Kitts and Nevis; San Juan, Puerto Rico and the line's private island Perfect Day at CocoCay, in the Bahamas. At the time of publication, prices for the seven-night Eastern Caribbean cruise started from $1,731 per person.

Western Caribbean ports of call include Puerto Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico; Roatan, Honduras; Nassau, Bahamas and Perfect Day at CocoCay. Prices start from $1,651 per person.

With at least two sea days per sailing, passengers will have ample opportunity to explore all the attractions the ship has to offer.

Related: Why you shouldn't 'freak out' about Royal Caribbean's giant new Icon of the Seas

Best Caribbean cruise for families: Disney Cruise Line

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In the family cruise arena , it's hard to top Disney Cruise Line. As you might expect, the line caters heavily to families in every aspect of the cruise experience — from onboard attractions to family-friendly cabin configurations.

Disney's attention to detail transfers to its voyages on the sea. Kids are given the royal treatment with high-quality kids clubs and onboard attractions like the 765-foot-long AquaDuck water coaster. Plus, they have plenty of opportunities for photo ops with their favorite Disney characters.

Parents will find opportunities to unwind at adults-only sun decks and pool areas that are closed to kids and in bars and clubs that are off-limits to anyone younger than 18.

In addition, many cabins on Disney's ships feature extra pull-down bunks and pull-out sofas that will allow four or even five people to stay in a single cabin. Most cabins have two bathrooms — one with a sink and a toilet and one with a sink and a shower or tub. This is rare in the cruise world, and it's designed to make it easier for families sharing a room to get ready.

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For family fun on the high seas, try a seven-night Western Caribbean cruise aboard Disney Fantasy. Departing from Port Canaveral, the ship stops in Cozumel, Mexico; George Town, Grand Cayman; Falmouth, Jamaica and Castaway Cay, Disney's private island.

Also, depending on the time of year you sail, you can enjoy special onboard activities and events for Halloween or Christmas. Some itineraries also include a "Pixar Day at Sea," which features a day of playing, dancing, swimming and dining with your favorite Pixar characters.

Prices start from $2,959, double occupancy, and include taxes, fees and port expenses.

Related: The ultimate guide to Disney ships and itineraries

Best budget Caribbean cruise: Carnival Cruise Line

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The undisputed leader in the Caribbean cruise market when it comes to affordability is Carnival Cruise Line . Not only does Carnival offer lower fares than you'll find at most rival lines, but it also purposely deploys its Caribbean-focused vessels to a wider variety of U.S. "home ports." The idea is that a large percentage of the U.S. population can reach a Caribbean-bound Carnival ship by car, saving the cost of flights.

Related: The ultimate guide to Carnival ships and itineraries

Carnival ships are packed with fun-focused attractions, including multiple pool areas, water parks with waterslides, basketball courts, miniature golf courses and even roller coasters on select ships .

The cruise line is known for its multitude of included-in-the-fare dining spots. Every vessel has two main dining rooms and a casual buffet eatery. Most ships feature two of the best quick-serve poolside dining venues you'll find on mass-market ships at sea: BlueIguana Cantina for burritos and tacos and Guy's Burger Joint, serving the mouthwatering burger creations of Food Network's Guy Fieri.

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Carnival ships sail to the Caribbean from all the major Florida cruise hubs but also from ports as far-flung as New York City; Baltimore; Charleston, South Carolina; Norfolk, Virginia; Mobile, Alabama; New Orleans; and Galveston, Texas.

The line's 10-day Eastern Caribbean sailing from New York City on Carnival Venezia is a solid choice for budget-minded travelers seeking an affordable Caribbean escape. Passengers can swim with graceful stingrays in Gibbs Cay or tour historic Cockburn Town during a port call in Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos. In Amber Cove, Dominican Republic, take an exciting ATV tour through the lush backcountry.

Year-round sailings in 2024 offer ample itineraries to fit your schedule and budget. Rates start from $529 per person, based on double occupancy. Price does not include taxes, fees and port expenses.

Related: 6 ways to get a deal on a cruise

Best Caribbean cruise for solo travelers: Norwegian Cruise Line

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When it comes to catering to solo cruisers, the king of the hill in the Caribbean is Norwegian Cruise Line — at least among the big-ship lines. The Miami-based cruise operator in 2010 began adding entire zones for solo travelers to the center of every new ship it deployed to the region. You'll now find these zones on Caribbean-focused vessels like Norwegian Encore, Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Epic and Norwegian Prima.

Each of these solo cruiser zones, which are unrepeated in the industry for now, includes dozens of cabins for solo travelers, all clustered around each other. They also have a private lounge with a bar and television where solos can mingle at daily hosted happy hour gatherings.

Known as Studio cabins, the tiny solo rooms in these complexes measure just 100 square feet. But they're superbly designed to maximize storage space. I sailed solo in one of the cabins on Norwegian Epic, and I was smitten. I particularly loved its futuristic "Jetsons"-like design and the multicolored mood lighting.

Related: These cabins are great for travelers cruising alone

One big caveat with Norwegian's solo cabins: They're all "inside" rooms without an ocean view. That said, most have a window that looks out onto a corridor. Another downside is that these solo cabins are so popular they often sell out far in advance and at prices that aren't much better than booking a cabin for two.

best royal caribbean cruises 2023

Single cruisers seeking some extensive R&R should consider a 10-day Bermuda & Caribbean: Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic cruise out of New York City on Norwegian Getaway.

The 3,963-passenger ship is chock-full of restaurants, bars and nightspots, and fantastic entertainment, including Broadway shows. With Norwegian's laidback dining plan, solo travelers aren't locked into set dining times and tablemates, so can invite newly made friends to dinner at a time convenient to everyone.

Bermuda is the first stop on this six-port sailing. From there, the ship visits St. Maarten; St. Thomas; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.

Rates for a Studio cabin start from $1,499, excluding taxes, fees and port expenses.

Related: The best credit cards for booking cruises

Best Caribbean cruise for luxury lovers: Windstar Cruises

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For those who wouldn't be caught dead on a vessel that doesn't have butler service and free-flowing caviar, the Caribbean can be a tough spot. Many of the world's most luxurious cruise ships spend a lot of time in Europe and Asia or gallivanting around the globe on exotic world cruises . For some luxury lines, the Caribbean is almost an afterthought.

Also, you'll usually only see luxury sailings in the Caribbean during the winter months — from December through March. For luxury cruises in the Caribbean, the period between April and October is pretty much a dead zone.

However, if an upscale cruise experience is what you seek, Windstar Cruises can deliver, and the line's seven-night Classic Caribbean itinerary aboard Wind Surf should be on your radar.

Windstar Cruises specializes in small ships carrying between 148 and 342 passengers each. The line calls them yachts, but the ships are structured more like tiny cruise ships with indoor lounges and communal dining rooms.

The 342-passenger Wind Surf features six decks, five masts and four types of cabins (all with windows only, no balconies). Accommodations range from 188-square-foot regular cabins to 376-square-foot suites.

best royal caribbean cruises 2023

Windstar Cruises ships also include a water sports platform. On select days when the ship is anchored (not docked at a pier), and the weather, government regulations and planets align, passengers can enjoy varied water sports like stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking and swimming right off the back of the ship. You can also lounge on a float or take in the glittering, yacht-dotted harbor from a large foam flotation island.

Wind Surf is also home to multiple dining venues, a pool and hot tubs, boutique, spa and fitness center.

The seven-night Classic Caribbean itinerary begins and ends in St. Maarten and features sun-kissed beaches, secret coves and gin-clear waters in idyllic ports of call like St. Barts, St. Kitts and Nevis, Guadeloupe, Dominica and St. Lucia.

All-inclusive rates start from $2,622 and include Wi-Fi, gratuities and unlimited beer, wine and cocktails. Cruise-only rates start from $1,999 (and excludes taxes, fees and port expenses).

Related: The 2 classes of Windstar ships, explained

Best adults-only Caribbean cruise: Virgin Voyages

best royal caribbean cruises 2023

The brainchild of unconventional business mogul Richard Branson, Virgin Voyages appeals to vacationers averse to the traditional cruising experience who crave a hip, party atmosphere. Ships are blissfully void of children — sailors must be over 18 — making it a prime choice for an adults-only cruise.

Virgin boasts unique onboard offerings like the first tattoo parlor at sea , lots of included dining options, free exercise classes , drag performances and an app that lets you simply shake your phone to order Champagne (which is delivered to you just about anywhere onboard). Also, fares include all meals, soda, basic Wi-Fi and crew gratuities.

Virgin's first vessel, Scarlet Lady, launched in late 2021. The line added Valiant Lady and Resilient Lady in 2022 and 2023, respectively. The fourth ship in the fleet, Brilliant Lady, is set to debut in 2024.

Ships are filled with stylish, adult-oriented nightspots and bars promising a hopping scene late into the night and hipster venues like a colorful karaoke lounge. Onboard entertainment is inventive and often edgier than what you might see on traditional-style cruises.

best royal caribbean cruises 2023

Cabins sport a minimalist look with futuristic touches, and suites exude a rock 'n' roll vibe with in-room turntables and peekaboo showers.

The line's Dominican Haze five-night itinerary to Bimini, Bahamas and Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, sails out of Miami on the 2,700-passenger Scarlet Lady. With two sea days, the sailing offers a good mix of onboard shenanigans and port-of-call exploration. Party by the pool or swim with stingrays during your day at Virgin Voyages' Bimini Beach Club . Chill out on a powder-white beach or go waterfall hunting in the jungle in the Dominican Republic.

Rates start from $913.75 per person, based on double occupancy (excluding taxes and fees).

Related: Virgin Voyages cruise cabins and suites: Everything you want to know

Best Caribbean cruise for couples: Holland America

best royal caribbean cruises 2023

Holland America offers spacious mid-size vessels that carry no more than 2,700 passengers, providing a relaxed and intimate cruising experience ideal for pairs seeking quality time at sea.

Caribbean-craving couples will be sated with the nine-day Southern Caribbean Seafarer cruise sailing out of Fort Lauderdale aboard Rotterdam. The 2,650-passenger ship is Holland America's newest (it debuted in 2021).

In addition to a main restaurant and casual buffet, Rotterdam features five separate specialty dining venues — everything from a pan-Asian eatery to an upscale steakhouse. Extensive onboard entertainment includes clubs featuring blues and classic rock and various musical performances in the main theater. Cultural programming, pickleball lessons and food and wine tastings are among the complimentary activities available.

Of course, relaxing by the pool and indulging in a restorative spa treatment are also options.

best royal caribbean cruises 2023

On the Southern Caribbean Seafarer cruise, couples can visit Curacao, Aruba and Half Moon Cay, the line's private island in the Bahamas. An overnight stay in Curacao allows cruisers to dive deeper into the island's history, culture and natural lures. Aruba offers diversions below and above the water, from submarine tours and snorkeling to hikes and 4x4 adventures. The stop in pristine Half Moon Cay provides an easy and relaxing beach day.

Rates start from $799 per person, based on double occupancy (excluding taxes and fees).

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The 16 Best Cruises to Book in 2023, According to T+L's Expert

Travel + Leisure hand-selected 16 different types of on-the-water adventures to consider in the year ahead.

Paul Brady is the news director at Travel + Leisure and the brand's expert on cruise travel. He has been covering the travel industry for more than 15 years for outlets including Condé Nast Traveler , Skift , and The Huffington Post .

best royal caribbean cruises 2023

Courtesy of Windstar Cruises

Cruising is in the midst of an epic comeback . Travelers are turning to trusted lines to help minimize the hassles of country hopping and maximize relaxation time in each destination. With 2023 poised to be a big year for both new and frequent cruisers — thanks in part to an abundance of new ships and itineraries — Travel + Leisure has hand-selected 16 different types of adventures to consider in the year ahead.

The Nile on Viking Osiris

Alastair Miller/Courtesy of Viking

Viking Osiris is the line’s newest on the Nile, with just 41 suites and staterooms, a pool deck, and cool Scandinavian design. The ship sails between Aswan and Luxor, with pre- and post-sail touring in Cairo included with the 12-day itineraries.

Alaska on Ocean Victory

The Alaska trips on Ocean Victory , a fuel-efficient, 93-cabin ship from American Queen Voyages, come with the opportunity to kayak past glaciers and spot bald eagles and grizzlies. The vessel, which first debuted in 2021, represents an evolution in ship design for American Queen, with its cutting-edge X-Bow design (which helps reduce fuel burn) and chic suites, including many with private verandas.

The Galápagos Islands on Quasar Expeditions’ Evolution

In June, Quasar Expeditions is offering a Galápagos cruise on the 32-passenger Evolution for children with autism spectrum disorder, hosted by an expert in supporting families with special needs. The trip, which departs June 24, is a seven-night expedition that takes in many of the most notable sites on the islands, with programming specially tailored for both kids and adults.

Cruising Antarctica on Silver Cloud or Silver Endeavour

Adrian Wolodarczyk/Courtesy of Silversea

Silversea gives Antarctica travelers the option to skip two days of sailing the often-rocky Drake Passage. Instead, they can fly in comfort over the waters separating South America from the continent, then hop aboard the 127-suite Silver Cloud and 100-suite Silver Endeavour for trips along the frosty coastline.

The Caribbean, South Pacific, and Australia With Windstar Cruises

Windstar has a series of 2023 itineraries on the 156-cabin Star Pride and 171-suite Wind Surf that hit yachty Caribbean ports like Jost Van Dyke, in the British Virgin Islands, and Anguilla. The small-ship line, which is known for both its sleek “Star Plus Class” ships and its classic vessels with their dramatic sails, also has an array of itineraries along the coast of Australia and in the South Pacific.

Cold-weather Cruises on Le Commandant Charcot

A game changer in lowering emissions, Ponant’s brand-new hybrid-electric Le Commandant Charcot can operate on less-carbon-intensive battery power and liquefied natural gas and has room for 245 guests. The game-changing ship, which has already hosted eclipse watchers on a trip to Antarctica and sailed to the geographic North Pole, also offers adventures in places such as Iceland and Svalbard.

Cruises Closer to Home With American Queen Voyages

Michel Verdure/Courtesy of American Queen Voyages

American Queen Voyages will offer the longest trips in the line’s history in 2023, with two 23-day river itineraries on the Mississippi and Ohio aboard the 123-stateroom American Countess . “The ship will sail more than 1,700 miles from Minnesota down the Ohio River and Upper Mississippi River , calling on more ports and offering more guided tours than ever before,” as T+L reported in August .

The South Pacific on Paul Gauguin

Just refurbished, the 165-cabin Paul Gauguin will be exploring the Pacific in 2023, with trips to the Cook Islands, Fiji, the Marquesas, and the Society Islands. The single-vessel brand was voted the very best small-ship cruise line in the World’s Best Awards 2022 , as T+L readers gave particularly high marks to the Paul Gauguin ’s on-board staff.

Mystery Cruising With Uniworld

Courtesy of Uniworld

Next year, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises will offer two nine-night “mystery cruises ,” with the European destinations revealed only as guests depart: similar trips in 2022 sold out. Travelers on the June 2023 trip will meet in Amsterdam, while the July 2023 sailing rendezvous in Nice, France — from there, the itinerary is anybody’s guess.

Expedition Cruising With Seabourn

Courtesy of Seabourn

Seabourn Venture , the luxury line’s first 132-suite expedition ship, launched in late summer with itineraries in northern Europe; trips in Japan, the South Pacific, and Antarctica are on tap for 2023. Seabourn Pursuit , which will be a sibling ship to Venture, is scheduled to arrive in 2023, the second in Seabourn’s growing expedition fleet.

Seeing Europe’s Gems by Small Ship

Slated to launch in the spring, the 228-passenger Scenic Eclipse II will visit ports from Dublin to Lisbon, as well as both polar regions, in 2023 and 2024. The innovative vessel, which is similar in design to Scenic Eclipse , will have luxurious suites complete with butler service and all sorts of extras, including helicopters (plural) and a submarine.

Visiting Wild Places With Fewer Impacts

Aurora Expeditions, whose newest vessel is the 71-cabin Sylvia Earle , guarantees that all operations are carbon neutral, pledging to offset all emissions. The newly launched ship, with its fuel-saving X-Bow design, doesn’t skimp on expedition necessities: guests on Antarctica expeditions can explore by Zodiac or snowshoe and even, when conditions allow, go scuba diving in polar waters or camping on the ice.

Solo Cruising With a New Line

Upstart cruise line Atlas Ocean Voyages offers all-inclusive fares on its two 98-suite vessels, and, in a departure from industry norms, the brand doesn’t charge solo travelers a single supplement. The line’s second ship, World Traveller , launched in November 2022 . It will sail nine-, 10-, 11-, and 12-night round-trips from Ushuaia, Argentina, to Antarctica through March 2023 before heading to the Mediterranean to hit Spain, France, and Portugal.

The Galápagos Islands on Celebrity Flora

Michel Verdure/Courtesy of Celebrity Cruises

Another ship that sails the Galápagos, the Celebrity Flora , has 50 suites, many with large verandas, plus a stargazing deck and a fleet of comfortable tenders. Two itineraries are available, the first of which is a seven-night “northern loop” that visits the volcanic island of Santiago and has guests spotting red-footed Boobies on Genovesa Island, a place sometimes called Bird Island thanks to its famed animals. The line’s “outer loop” also includes plenty of wildlife watching, plus a stop at the less-frequented Daphne Island.

Doing Wine Country on Seadream II

SeaDream Yacht Club has two Wine Voyages in 2023, which include vineyard visits in Greece, Italy, and Spain and a winemaker-hosted dinner on the 112-guest Seadream II . The highly regarded intimate-ship line wins frequent accolades from T+L readers for its on-board service and well-appointed vessels.

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Royal Caribbean Group: 2023 Year in Review

The Royal Caribbean Group went through an eventful year in 2023, with the debut of new ships and a unique itinerary, an improved financial condition and more. Here are the key highlights: New Largest Cruise Ship in the World Royal Caribbean International welcomed the world’s new largest cruise ship in 2023. Set to welcome its first guests in early 2024, the Icon of the Seas was delivered by the Meyer Turku shipyard in late November. In addition to assuming the title of biggest cruise ship in the globe, the 250,000-ton vessel is also introducing several innovations to the company’s fleet, such as the largest water park at sea and the new AquaDome, a unique transformational venue featuring a huge waterfall. After crossing the Atlantic with no guests onboard, the Icon of the Seas is set to depart on its inaugural cruise at the end of January.

‘Upbeat Forecast’ During the Group’s Q3 earnings call, Royal Caribbean’s executives presented a very upbeat forecast for the full year of 2023 and outlook for 2024. With operations back to normal and strong demand, the company is expecting a full year adjusted EPS of $6.59 to $6.30 for 2023 and “at least $9” for 2024, according to Jason Liberty, CEO. During the third quarter, the Royal Caribbean Group reported Earnings per Share of $3.65 and Adjusted EPS of $3.85, in addition to total revenues of $4.2 billion and a Net Income of $1.0 billion.

Longest Cruise Ever In December, Royal Caribbean International kicked off its longest cruise ever. Sailing onboard the Serenade of the Seas, the 274-night Ultimate World Cruise includes visits more than 150 destinations in 65 countries, including several firsts for the company. Sailing roundtrip from Miami, the itinerary is the first world cruise to be offered by Royal Caribbean and marks the company’s return to South America and the Middle East.

Newbuilds for Celebrity and Silversea Celebrity Cruises and Silversea Cruises took delivery of newbuilds in 2023. A sister to the Celebrity Beyond, the Celebrity Ascent entered service in November. Part of the company’s Edge Class, the 3,260-guest vessel is currently offering a series of cruises in the Caribbean for its maiden season. Silversea welcomed the new Silver Nova to its fleet in August. A prototype, the new luxury vessel is described as one of the greenest cruise ships ever and uses new technologies that include a fuel cell system and dual fuel LNG engines. Featuring what the cruise line calls a “revolutionary asymmetrical design,” the new ship offers different public areas, including a reimagined, outward-facing pool deck, an al fresco dining area, and more.

Deployment Developments Royal Caribbean International had deployment developments in 2023, with ships repositioning to different homeports and even a return to Latin America after almost one decade. In December, the Rhapsody of the Seas marked the company’s return to the region with a series of week-long cruises departing from Colombia and Panama. Royal Caribbean also introduced the Harmony of the Seas to Galveston, with the Oasis-Class vessel kicking off a year-round program at the Texas homeport. Other developments include the arrival of the Vision of the Seas in Baltimore and the return of the Symphony of the Seas and the Enchantment of the Seas to Europe. The Allure of the Seas became the first Oasis-Class ship to offer short cruises on a regular basis with a new deployment out of Port Canaveral.

MSC Lirica Introduces Paranaguá, A New Homeport in Brazil

MSC Lirica Introduces Paranaguá, A New Homeport in Brazil

This month, the MSC Lirica embarked on a new series of cruises from its latest homeport in Brazil, marking a significant addition to MSC Cruises’ extensive six-ship deployment in South […]

December 28, 2023

Hurtigruten’s Cheese & Wine Bottles Attracting Attention

Hurtigruten’s Cheese & Wine Bottles Attracting Attention

At the recent 2023 World Cheese Awards held in Trondheim, Norway, Nidelven Blå, a cheese provided by Hurtigruten’s partner Nidelven Blå and produced by Gangstand Gårdsysteri, was once again crowned […]

December 27, 2023

Viking Announces New Ships and Itineraries for 2024

Viking Announces New Ships and Itineraries for 2024

Viking has announced an exciting expansion of its fleet and offerings for 2024 and beyond, as revealed in a recent press release. The company is launching the “Iconic Iceland, Greenland […]

December 26, 2023

MSC Meraviglia Makes Unprecedented Winter Visit to Saint John

MSC Meraviglia Makes Unprecedented Winter Visit to Saint John

On December 21, Saint John played host to the MSC Meraviglia along with its complement of 2,880 guests, an unexpected visit as the ship had been redirected north due to […]

December 22, 2023

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Find the best Royal Caribbean cruise

Why should i book a royal caribbean cruise.

If you're looking for an unforgettable vacation, Royal Caribbean cruises are a perfect choice. Royal Caribbean is one of the best cruise lines in the industry, with a successful history of providing excellent service and luxurious experiences. The Royal Caribbean cruise vacations take you to some of the world's most beautiful and fascinating destinations. They’re sure to have features to please everyone in your group.

How to find the best Royal Caribbean cruise deals?

There are many different Royal Caribbean cruise deals to choose from depending on your destination and the experiences you would most like to enjoy. These deals let you include additional features for a lower price to make your vacation even more comfortable. You can find the best deals by searching for your destinations, and filtering by your desired cruise lines. This way only the companies you wish to travel with will appear. You can also sort your results by price and length of time.

How to choose your cruise with Royal Caribbean?

If you want to book aRoyal Caribbean cruise there are plenty of amazing Royal Caribbean cruise deals available. Add your destination, cruise vacation, and number of travelers. Then you can sort your results by price, duration, and departure date. You can also filter by cruise line, cruise ship and cabin type. You’ll find different amenities to suit your vacation needs on each Royal Caribbean cruise. For example, youth programs, fitness facilities, and spa facilities.

What do I need to look out for when booking a Royal Caribbean cruise?

When booking your 2025 Royal Caribbean cruise it’s important to consider a few practical tips. Check what the cost covers, and what you may need to budget for or need insurance for. Think about any amenities or onboard service you’ll require, depending on the length of the Royal Caribbean cruise. For example, youth programs, entertainment, fitness facilities, spa facilities, and room service. Secondly, research the weather conditions for your journey and destination. In some locations, summer and winter weather can vary a lot. Another tip is to go over the ship layout to see where you’d like to pick a cabin. Don’t forget to check visa requirements and any flight logistics.

When is the best time to book a Royal Caribbean cruise?

You can book a Royal Caribbean cruise as early as you like depending on availability. There’s a higher chance of finding cheaper Royal Caribbean cruise prices by booking between 6 months to 12 months in advance. But there are also lots of last-minute cruise deals closer to your preferred departure date, but this will depend on your flexibility.

Are last minute deals available with Royal Caribbean?

Yes, you can find last-minute Royal Caribbean cruises on Expedia. Add your travel dates to the cruise finder and sort your results to find the best price available. Cruise deal discounts are indicated by a green box above the Royal Caribbean cruise price.

How do I book a cruise with Royal Caribbean?

To book a Royal Caribbean cruise on Expedia select your Royal Caribbean destination and filter by cruise line. You can also browse our extensive selection of pre-selected cruise deals and find the perfect cruise for you. Once you have found the one you want, choose your dates and the port of departure. You can also refine your search by cabin experiences, or cruise ship. Each ship will have amenities to suit your needs including room service, spa facilities, and fitness facilities.

Is Royal Caribbean great value for money?

Royal Caribbean cruises are excellent value for money if you're looking for an enjoyable and relaxing cruise vacations. A Royal Caribbean cruise offers a high standard of service, a great selection of dining, modern amenities, friendly staff, and exciting activities. The exceptional quality of the experience is worth the price.

Can I cancel a Royal Caribbean cruise booking?

Yes, you can cancel your Royal Caribbean cruise. We all have unfortunate circumstances where we need to cancel a booking, so Expedia makes it easy to do so. All you have to do is head to your My Trips page on Expedia and click on the cancellation button. Another option is to contact customer service, where you’ll receive help with cancelling. Do make sure that you’re aware of the refund policy that applied to your booking, to see if you’re entitled to a full refund.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Guide

In the last 10 years, Royal has delivered the biggest and most modern ships in the market. From rock-climbing walls, crazy water slides and infinite food selection, Royal Caribbean continues to deliver a vacation of a lifetime.

Stemming from the idea that everybody should cruise, Royal offers cruise activities such as the Flowrider – Surf simulator and Zip-lining for active vacationers, as well as the adults-only Solarium for those who simply want to relax and unwind.

In 2019, Royal Caribbean revamped their private Island, presenting “Perfect Day at CocoCay” as a new port of call in many of their Caribbean and Bahamas itineraries. This hidden island features an overwhelming number of activities such as the Daredevil’s Tower Aqua Park, Splash Summit, the Wave Pool and more!

The line also holds the distinction of debuting the Central Park and the Royal Promenade neighborhoods, two distinct areas found in many Royal ships, where guests can find many eateries, shops, bars and live entertainment throughout the day.

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Looking to save big and get the best deal on your next cruise? Check out Royal Caribbean's latest promotion.

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Royal Caribbean Articles

best royal caribbean cruises 2023

HOW TO SPEND THE PERFECT DAY AT COCOCAY

Heather McManus - May 2, 2019

Royal Caribbean has taken the private island experience to the next level. Check out all the amplified awesomeness that make this private island a must see port of call.

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best royal caribbean cruises 2023

YOUR GUIDE TO WHEN CRUISES WILL RESUME SAILING

Expedia - April 16, 2021

Cruise lines continue to adapt their sailing plans to these measures with diligence and enthusiasm and are beginning to announce sailings dates for a return to the sea. Want to be prepared to sail too? Here is everything you need to know about the restart of cruising.

best royal caribbean cruises 2023

4 REASONS ROYAL CARIBBEAN MIGHT BE RIGHT FOR YOU

Heather Mcmanus - February 2, 2020

The megaship vacation style isn’t necessarily for everyone, but if you’re considering hopping onboard one of Royal Caribbean’s 26 ships, here are four reasons this cruise line could be the right fit for you.

Royal Caribbean Ships

  • Anthem of the Seas
  • Empress of the Seas
  • Quantum of the Seas
  • Harmony of the Seas
  • Ovation of the Seas
  • Spectrum of the Seas
  • Symphony of the Seas
  • Jewel of the Seas
  • Mariner of the Seas
  • Serenade of the Seas
  • Brilliance of the Seas
  • Navigator of the Seas
  • Adventure of the Seas
  • Radiance of the Seas
  • Grandeur of the Seas
  • Voyager of the Seas
  • Vision of the Seas
  • Explorer of the Seas
  • Rhapsody of the Seas
  • Enchantment of the Seas
  • Oasis of the Seas
  • Allure of the Seas
  • Liberty of the Seas
  • Independence of the Seas
  • Freedom of the Seas
  • Odyssey of the Seas

More Cruise Lines to Explore

  • AmaWaterways
  • Avalon Waterways
  • Azamara Club Cruises
  • Celebrity Cruises
  • Costa Cruise Lines
  • Crystal Cruises
  • Cunard Cruises
  • Carnival Cruise Lines
  • Disney Cruise Line
  • Holland America Line
  • MSC Cruises
  • Norwegian Cruise Line
  • Oceania Cruises
  • Princess Cruises
  • Regent Seven Seas Cruises
  • Seabourn Cruise Line
  • Uniworld River Cruises
  • Viking Ocean Cruises
  • Viking River Cruises

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Fuel supplement may apply. Savings advertised are based on specific cabin types and sailing dates, and may not be available for all cabin types/sailings.

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Our Best Royal Caribbean Cruise Tips And Tricks (2023)

Posted on Published: 03/09/2023  - Last updated: 11/07/2023

Cruising can be such a relaxing vacation as well as so much fun. With all of your meals and the fun activities on the ship, easily accessible and planned, you won’t have to do much work once you are on vacation. Many ships also have an abundance of kids’ activities including kids’ clubs that can keep your kids entertained and active.

However, to have the best time that you can have on a cruise, you’ll need to do some advance planning. You won’t be able to do much shopping for things you’ve forgotten, and some things are best planned early.

Are you sailing on Royal Caribbean Cruise Line? Here are our best Royal Caribbean Cruise Tips and Tricks including information about Royal Caribbean Royal Up, guides on what to buy, and what to do before you go. Plan in advance and relax once you are on board.

Disclosure: We have attended complimentary media sailings on Royal Caribbean, but have also paid in full for our own six-day cruise. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links and purchase/click through one of these links may result in a commission paid to us.

Royal Caribbean ship Odyssey of the Seas docked at Coco Cay with umbrellas, palm trees, and water slide in the distance.

Our Best Royal Caribbean Cruise Tips And Tricks

Booking your royal caribbean cruise.

There are so many different options on Royal Caribbean – including different Royal Caribbean ships, itineraries, ports, and lengths of cruise. Look at the various options and choose what will work best for your family. Make sure to review the ports of call, because those are a big part of your vacation. For a longer cruise, you definitely will want to get off the ship at these stops on your cruise itinerary.

Once you find the date and the ship, you’ll need to select the best stateroom. I generally recommend getting a balcony, because you’ll probably use it during your trip. It’s a great place to sit and drink coffee in the morning and gives you a private place to watch the ocean.

Costa Maya cruise port sign with cities listed

Before Your Royal Caribbean Cruise – What To Do

Once you book your cruise, there are some things you’ll need to do in advance to prepare. Depending on your cruise ship, you may be able to use the Royal Caribbean app. It’s a great idea to download it to your family members’ cell phones and set it up in advance, if possible.

You can also set up your account on the Royal Caribbean website, using your confirmation number. Once you do that, you’ll have access to the Cruise Planner section of the website. There, you’ll be able to book a number of extras on your cruise.

Go through each option, and see if you want to include that with your sailing. These extras include meals at specialty restaurants, internet packages, a drink package, shore excursions, cabanas at Labadee and Coco Cay, and more. During our most recent sailing, there were lots of different sales on these things, so keep checking your email for deals.

Although many things can also be booked on the ship, there are a lot of benefits to advance planning. Prices are generally cheaper before your sailing (especially for things like the beverage package), and there’s also much more availability for specialty dining options. Save money by purchasing early.

If you do wait until you are on board, you will find staff members throughout the ship offering many of these add-ons. If you haven’t booked the specialty restaurants yet, this is the time to do it.

When you check in to your cruise, you’ll supply all essential information, including your passports. You’ll also want to put a credit card on file for your purchases. You can select which family members have charging privileges.

Royal Caribbean Beverage Package – Saving Money on Alcoholic Beverages

Considering the beverage package? Depending on how much you drink, it can be a great option. It’s a good idea to look at the pricing and do the math to see if you’ll use it enough to make it worthwhile. You are able to use the beverage package at Royal Caribbean properties like Coco Cay and Labadee, but not at off-ship locations on port days.

Don’t drink alcoholic beverages and prefer non-alcoholic drinks? There are other drink packages as well. If you like soft drinks, there’s a soda package that includes a souvenir cup. There’s also a refreshment package that includes fountain soda, non-alcoholic beverages, still and sparkling water, fresh juices, and premium coffee and tea.

Foot billiards on outdoor deck

Royal Caribbean Dining – What You’ll Eat on the Cruise Ship

Every Royal Caribbean ship includes meals at many included restaurants, including the main dining room and the buffet. You definitely won’t go hungry during your sailing, even if you don’t purchase any dining extras.

However, each ship does also offer specialty dining for an additional fee. These themed restaurants can be a fantastic add-on to your vacation, especially if eating is a big part of your cruise experience. Menus can be found on the Royal Caribbean app for many sailings (in advance), so you can check those before you book to make sure you will enjoy the offerings.

If you’d prefer to just dine at the specialty restaurants, there are also special packages available in Cruise Planner. Purchasing one of these packages can be a great bargain in comparison to purchasing every meal separately.

Room service is also an option on Royal Caribbean. Your cruise fare includes delivery of continental breakfast, but there is a delivery fee for other items.

Specialty dining isn’t required at all. There are plenty of places onboard that are included in your cruise , including buffets, the main dining room, and cafes.

Sky Pad on Royal Caribbean Odyssey at night

Royal Caribbean Royal Up – Bid on a Room Upgrade

After you book your cruise, you may receive an email from Royal Up, offering you the opportunity to bid for a stateroom upgrade. These are generally available for up to about 3 categories above the one you’ve already purchased.

Royal Up operates similarly to first and business-class upgrades on many international airlines. You’ll see the available options, and will be able to bid a specific amount that you are willing to pay to be upgraded. There are minimums and maximums, and there’s also a scale to show how strong your bid is.

Royal Up is always based on availability. We used Royal Up on our latest sailing and won our bid for a Grand Suite – one bedroom. While we found out a few weeks in advance, guests are informed of their Royal Up status up to the first day on the ship.

When bidding, I recommend choosing the highest price that you are willing to pay. It can be tempting to offer a low price, but you may be outbid.

However, when you make a bid, it is binding, and you’ll be charged if your bid is accepted. Keep in mind that the price you offer is per person, up to two people. So if you offer $1000, you’ll be charged $2000 if accepted.

Embarkation Day – The Day You Board the Ship

Embarkation Day is always stressful, regardless of the cruise line you are sailing. There is just so much to do to get on the ship safely, and it’s important that every document and bag is carefully checked. While you will be eager to get going on your vacation, you’ll need to be patient going through the process on the first day of your cruise .

If you are flying in for your cruise, I highly recommend flying in the day before your embarkation day. That way, you aren’t stressed about flight delays. I can recommend a few hotels in popular cruise ports:

  • The Hyatt Regency Orlando Airport (if flying into MCO and leaving from Port Canaveral cruise terminal)
  • The Renaissance Fort Lauderdale Marina Hotel (for Port Everglades cruise port)
  • Homewood Suites Miami Airport (for PortMiami)

To make things work as smoothly as possible, be sure that you have everything ready to go. Pack a day bag with everything that you need, so that you don’t have to wait for your suitcases to be delivered. Have all necessary documents ready to go in your carry-on bag – including test results and passports as well as everything you are required to bring.

Your day bag should also include any clothes you want for the first day, medications, valuables, and sunscreen. Checked luggage is delivered to your stateroom up until 8 pm, so you may not have access to your bags until then. If you plan to visit the hot tubs, pools, and small water slides first thing, you’ll want to include a bathing suit in your bag.

If you are checking bags, you’ll want to print out your luggage tags in advance. These will be online and available when you check in to your cruise. I recommend purchasing these plastic luggage tags from Amazon. They will keep your paper tags safe.

Once onboard, take the time to explore the ship, and purchase any upgrades that you want and didn’t already buy. We like to use the first day to get oriented, and typically dine in the main dining room that night.

You can use the SetSail pass on the Royal Caribbean app to gain access to the ship. Once you are there, you’ll find your SeaPasses on your stateroom door. We like these lanyards from Amazon to keep your SeaPass safe and nearby you at all times.

Cruise Compass – Your Guide to What To Do on the Ship

Your cruise compass is your guide to all of the activities and events taking place on the ship. A paper copy will be left in your stateroom every evening and will include a schedule as well as weather information and the recommended dress code for the upcoming day.

If your ship is using the Royal Caribbean app, you can also get daily schedule information for the entire cruise. That can be especially helpful for planning.

Currently, some things need to be booked in the app. Examples include the North Star and iFly (on select ships) as well as entertainment venues.

Dress Code – What To Wear

Some locations on the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line have dress codes, including some restaurants and the suite lounge. There is also a recommended dress code each evening. Some sailings do have one or more formal nights, as well as a Caribbean and white clothes night. Many do bring along formal wear for these special nights.

Despite the dress codes, you really will generally see people dressed in all kinds of clothes each night (even on formal nights). However, I like getting dressed up and usually bring along several dresses. Just make sure that you’ve reviewed the dress codes so that you bring the correct items.

Want to wash dirty laundry while onboard? There aren’t any laundry facilities for you to do your own laundry. However, there is a laundry service offered for an additional fee. On some sailings, you’ll receive a bag mid-trip that you can fill for a flat fee laundry service.

Jet skis at Coco Cay

Shore Excursions

One of the best parts of a cruise is the opportunity to visit multiple ports of call on your trip. Take advantage of that by researching each location and deciding what you want to do there.

The easiest option is to purchase shore excursions through Royal Caribbean. These can be scheduled through Cruise Planner before your cruise, and at the Shore Excursion desks once on board.

Many ports also offer lots of different places that you can visit on your own. Just keep in mind that you’ll be responsible for getting yourself back on the ship in time. If that seems stressful, it’s best to keep to the official excursions offered by the cruise line.

If you are in Sky class, either through your initial booking or through a Royal Caribbean Royal Up bid, that comes with a bunch of extra benefits. We recommend taking advantage of these because they can really make your vacation even better.

Depending on the ship you are sailing on, you may have access to an exclusive suite lounge, complimentary meals at Coastal Kitchen, a Voom Surf and Stream package (for each member of the suite), and much more.

We also really enjoyed sitting on the Suite Sun Deck, which was relatively quiet on our sailing. There’s also a separate line for the entertainment venues, which will let you get some of the best seats.

The Key – Paid Upgraded Experiences

If you don’t have a suite, you can still purchase upgraded experiences. The Key is available to purchase for each member of your group, and you’ll need to pay a daily rate.

With the Key, you’ll receive an arrival lunch with a signature restaurant menu, internet access, priority access on embarkation day, private times at popular onboard activities, early show access, priority debarkation, and more. Availability may vary depending on your specific cruise.

Gratuities on Royal Caribbean

Gratuities can be pre-paid for your cruise, and include tips for your stateroom attendant and main dining room servers. They’ll also be automatically included with the purchase of beverages and specialty dining.

You may also want to give gratuities to crew members on the ship, especially if you are staying in a suite. In that case, you’ll also want to provide gratuities to servers in Coastal Kitchen and the suite lounge, as well as the suite concierge. If you book a cabana at Coco Cay (Royal Caribbean’s Private Island) or Labadee (in Haiti), you will also want to give a gratuity to the attendant.

It’s easiest to bring cash for these (especially on Coco Cay and Labadee). However, you can also add these gratuities to your final bill by visiting guest services. Just be sure to keep track of names and their positions throughout your trip. You’ll also receive an envelope that you can use.

Checking bags? You may also want to tip the porter who is handling your bags. They are generally not employees of the cruise line, so you’ll need cash to tip.

Next Cruise

If you are enjoying your cruise, you’ll probably already be looking forward to your next one. Visit the Next Cruise desk on the ship to book your next family vacation. By booking while you are still on a ship, you’ll be able to take advantage of booking discounts, a lower deposit, and more. Then, you’ll be able to look forward to your next trip.

Debarkation Day – The Day You’ll Leave

No one looks forward to the last day of the cruise. You will need to be prepared though because you’ll have to follow specific procedures to make sure you get off the ship at the right time.

Typically, you’ll receive a notification in your stateroom a day or two with information on how to prepare your bags and when to leave the ship. When booking your return flights, make sure you follow the cruise line’s guidelines around the earliest time you can book your departure. It usually does take time for the ship to clear customs, for your bags to be ready, and for you to go through immigration.

Considering a family cruise? Check out our guide to family cruising , with posts about popular cruise terminals, cruise ships, and cruise lines, as well as tips for cruising.

Royal Caribbean ship docked at cruise port with logo on building

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Sign up for essence newsletters the keep the black women at the forefront of conversation., we were onboard the newest, biggest cruise ship in the world - royal caribbean's icon of the seas.

We Were Onboard The Newest, Biggest Cruise Ship In The World - Royal Caribbean's Icon Of The Seas

On January 27, Royal Caribbean’s newest cruise ship, the Icon of the Seas , officially set sail for its inaugural trip. A week before that, my family of four were lucky enough to be able to experience it first. It was an unforgettable time.

There are plenty of cool things to highlight about Icon. For one, it’s presently the biggest cruise ship in the world, a behemoth with 20 decks at close to 2,000 feet, 365 meters long. There’s even a giant pearl in the middle, which you can see below (more on that shortly!).

We Were Onboard The Newest, Biggest Cruise Ship In The World – Royal Caribbean’s Icon Of The Seas

Secondly, it’s Royal Caribbean’s most sustainable ship ever, switching from a heavy fuel oil to liquefied natural gas, converting waste into energy and doing away with food waste, aiding in their efforts towards reaching a corporate goal in 2035 to have a net zero ship.

Thirdly, it employs more than 2,300 crew members from all over the world. You may have a server at one of the ship’s 40+ restaurants, bars and lounges who is from Kenya one minute, and then the next, a woman making balloon animals for your kids from the Philippines. Everyone was friendly, everyone was helpful, and the automatic exposure to other cultures is a great thing to introduce young children to.

We Were Onboard The Newest, Biggest Cruise Ship In The World – Royal Caribbean’s Icon Of The Seas

All of that is great. But when it comes to what I think you want to really know about Icon of the Seas, I’m sure it’s the actual experience. Oh, and the food. To all that I’ll say, there is truly something for every kind of traveler and their tastes on board.

Within eight neighborhoods, there’s plenty to see and do. A waterfall in Aquadome, where at night, performances of Aqua Action! (where professionals perform stunts beneath the shapeshifting waterfall) occur. An actual open-air park called Central Park offers the sight and smells of more than 30,000 plants as well as live music and shopping (Regalia Fine Watches has an amazing collection of timepieces, including Rolex watches by the way).

We Were Onboard The Newest, Biggest Cruise Ship In The World – Royal Caribbean’s Icon Of The Seas

In Surfside, the first neighborhood for kids, every kind of youth can have a blast. There’s a fully equipped arcade, a carousel, three water experiences and four food spots that serve more than chicken poppers and fries (though they have those too and they’re delicious after spending time running behind your children!). There’s also spots like The Lemon Post that offer a menu for both kids and adults, so kids can have fun while parents can enjoy both alcohol and “zero-proof” libations alongside them.

And accommodations are of a wide variety. In addition to balcony, view and interior staterooms, there are a plethora of suites. I took a peek at the biggest one, the Ultimate Family Townhouse, which can house eight and is 1,772 feet with a slide, stairs that have steps that play piano notes (you can turn that off if you’d like), bunkbeds, a mini theater and more. Icon has more options for families and those traveling in groups who may want to swank up their lodging.

We Were Onboard The Newest, Biggest Cruise Ship In The World – Royal Caribbean’s Icon Of The Seas

Food and drinks were impressive, too. There were all sorts of options depending on your desired tastes. Want sushi? They have that via Izumi in the Park. Italian? Listen, you will not regret eating at Giovanni’s, which is a familiar eatery for Royal Caribbean cruisers. The Pearl Cafe, a new spot where breakfast and yummy toasted sandwiches and salads, as well as sweets are available, is right next to the massive pearl. The pearl is a magnificent art installation that is also an architectural structure meant to help bring natural light in the ship via grand windows. It’s a beauty.

Windjammer Cafe offers global cuisine buffet style, while Basecamp provides quick but tasty small bites as you move from one marvel to another. And the drinks are top-tier wherever you go, folks. I was handed a Purple Tide at The Grove (which is a dining spot for suite guests that was opened up for a mixer I attended), and it was one of the first cocktails I’ve been given in a large balloon glass at an event that I stayed behind to finish completely . Delish.

We Were Onboard The Newest, Biggest Cruise Ship In The World – Royal Caribbean’s Icon Of The Seas

Other gorgeous concoctions include the Snap. Crackle. Pop. found at Dueling Pianos, the Clover Club at Lou’s and the Toaster Marshmallow Old Fashioned from Schooner Bar. In the spirit of Dry January, I was enamored with the many zero-proof options too that were made available at every bar on board. (A crisp Watermelon Mint Limeade at El Loco Fresh made me an instant fan while dining with my kiddos.)

And in addition to the big shows, including The Wizard of Oz at the Royal Theater and Pirates vs. Mermaids at Aquadome, as well as comedians at the The Attic, there were some exceptionally talented musicians all over the place. I caught one British pianist on deck eight who sang rock classics, including “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, like it was as simple as reciting your ABCs. There was also a great guitarist who played in Central Park, and a cover band in the Pearl area who kept my 1-year-old dancing to the delight of folks passing by.

We Were Onboard The Newest, Biggest Cruise Ship In The World – Royal Caribbean’s Icon Of The Seas

So depending on what you want out of a trip, you can find it on the ship. Want to grab a coffee and read a book in peace? Head to the Pearl Cafe…or the Starbucks across the way. Want to keep up with all the matches and games on TV? Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade was a buzzy spot every night I was on board. (Ask my husband, he was often there…) Not a gym rat but want to burn off the late-night snacks and buffet bites? There’s a running track on deck five for that. Looking to dance the night away? There are fun events like the One Hit Wonder party we checked out that played all the hits of artists who weren’t lucky enough to have longevity.

We Were Onboard The Newest, Biggest Cruise Ship In The World – Royal Caribbean’s Icon Of The Seas

And if you need to find childcare while you do all of this, young kids will love Adventure Ocean (where we left our sons at the AO Babies and AO Junior clubs) to play amongst other littles. And if you’re looking to take a dip, there are nine whirlpools, and you know, just a 17,000+ square foot waterpark on decks 16 and 17 called Thrill Island. There you can find a few firsts, including the tallest drop slide at 46 feet tall in Frightening Bolt, the first open freefall slide at sea in the Pressure Drop, and the first family raft slides at sea in the Hurricane Hunter and Storm Surge among other attractions. If that’s a bit too intimidating or extra for your energy levels, check out Swim & Tonic, the first ever swim-up bar in Royal Caribbean’s fleet.

We Were Onboard The Newest, Biggest Cruise Ship In The World – Royal Caribbean’s Icon Of The Seas

All said and done, there are plenty of experiences to have as a family, a whole host to have with your girlfriends, some sweet options as a couple, and fun if you even want to cruise at sea solo. To me, Icon of the Seas felt like a one-of-a-kind world that has everything one might be interested in doing over the span of a few days at sea, and this is all before you get to the Bahamas and enjoy the fun beach getaway at the private Perfect Day at CocoCay (which has a new, and first, adults-only haven by the way).

According to Michael Bayley, CEO of Royal Caribbean, it’s all brought to guests not by coincidence but through research; finding out what people want more of when they vacation and putting that in place on their newest fleets.

We Were Onboard The Newest, Biggest Cruise Ship In The World – Royal Caribbean’s Icon Of The Seas

“If you look at the classes of ships over time, how they’ve evolved, we do know a lot about the flow of people and we do know how to create an experience that delights the customer,” he says. “We do a lot of work, a lot of study, a lot of analytics, and we’ve got a lot of information from our existing fleet and we utilize it to try to operate this as efficiently as possible, but also make sure people have a great time,” he says.

So yes, it’s a huge ship. But every inch is used to bring joy, ease and wonder to passengers, young and seasoned, escaping the mundane. The result is a cruise experience you’ll be talking about for some time.

Learn more about Icon of the Seas and find the cruise experience that works for you, and your pockets, over at royalcaribbean.com .

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The World's Largest Cruise Ship Has 20 Decks, 7 Pools and Would Cover Almost 4 City Blocks

The world’s largest cruise ship is set to begin its maiden voyage from the Port of Miami

The World's Largest Cruise Ship Has 20 Decks, 7 Pools and Would Cover Almost 4 City Blocks

Rebecca Blackwell

Rebecca Blackwell

FILE - The Icon of the Seas, the world's largest cruise ship, sits docked after arriving to its home port in Miami, Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024. Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas is leaving South Florida on Saturday, Jan. 27, for its first seven-day island-hopping voyage through the tropics. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)

MIAMI (AP) — The world's largest cruise ship — the size of almost four city blocks — is set to begin its maiden voyage Saturday as it leaves from the Port of Miami.

Royal Caribbean's Icon of the Seas runs nearly 1,200 feet (365 meters) from bow to stern.

The ship, which is leaving South Florida for its first seven-day island-hopping voyage through the tropics, was officially christened Tuesday with help from soccer legend Lionel Messi and his Inter Miami teammates.

“Icon of the Seas is the culmination of more than 50 years of dreaming, innovating and living our mission – to deliver the world’s best vacation experiences responsibly," Royal Caribbean Group President and CEO Jason Liberty said earlier this week. “She is the ultimate multigenerational family vacation, forever changing the status quo in family travel and fulfilling vacation dreams for all ages on board.”

The ship sets sail as Royal Caribbean’s cruises are having a moment online. Since December, the company’s 9-month “Ultimate World Cruise” has captivated — and confused — a following of avid watchers on social media.

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best royal caribbean cruises 2023

Millions are following the journey through the eyes of the passengers, as they live and post their lives aboard a vessel they’ll be on for nearly a year. If it sounds like a reality show, that’s exactly what some watchers have turned it into.

When the Icon of the Seas was first revealed in October 2022, the ship spurred the single largest booking day and the highest volume booking week in Royal Caribbean’s then 53-year history, according to the cruise line.

The Icon of the Seas is divided into eight neighborhoods across 20 decks. The ship includes six waterslides, seven swimming pools, an ice skating rink, a theater and more than 40 restaurants, bars and lounges. The ship can carry up to 7,600 passengers at maximum capacity, along with 2,350 crew members.

It is powered by six dual-fuel engines, which can be powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG), a fuel alternative that the Cruise Lines International Association says reduces sulfur and greenhouse gas emissions. However, some environmentalists worry LNG-powered ships increase methane emissions . Other say that vacationers generate eight times more carbon on a cruise than they do on land.

Royal Caribbean says every kilowatt used on the Icon of the Seas “is scrutinized for energy efficiencies and emission reductions.”

Copyright 2024 The  Associated Press . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Can the World’s Largest Cruise Ship Really Be Climate-Friendly?

The newly christened Icon of the Seas is filled with energy-efficient technology. But some climate experts say the biggest challenge with a ship that can accommodate nearly 8,000 people is its size.

A large, colorful cruise ship is docked in an urban setting with mountains in the background. Turquoise lounge chairs are lined up on the curving deck, and there is a small pool, one of many, in the foreground.

By Ceylan Yeginsu

On Tuesday, in a ceremony that, of course, involved a soccer ball, the Argentine soccer superstar Lionel Messi pressed a button and a bottle of champagne smashed against the bow of Icon of the Seas, christening the world’s largest cruise ship at its home port of Miami. Like an A-list celebrity stepping onto the red carpet, the arrival of Royal Caribbean’s 250,800-ton ship has captured the world’s attention, with some marveling over its cutting-edge features, like the largest water park at sea, while others criticize the gigantic ship’s potential to damage the environment.

With the capacity to carry nearly 8,000 people, the 20-deck, 1,198-foot-long vessel — whose inaugural cruise with paying passengers departs Jan. 27 — is the size of a small city. There are eight “neighborhoods” packed with amenities that include a 55-foot waterfall, six water slides and more than 40 restaurants, bars and entertainment venues.

According to Royal Caribbean, the ship, which is registered in the Bahamas, also sets a new standard for sustainability with the use of energy-efficient technology designed to minimize the ship’s carbon footprint and move closer to the company’s goal of introducing a net-zero ship by 2035.

“We live by one single philosophy, which is to deliver the best vacations responsibly,” said Nick Rose, the vice president of environmental stewardship at Royal Caribbean Group. “And to do that we build with the core principles of sustaining our planet and communities.”

For decades the cruise industry has been criticized for its negative impact on the environment. A 2021 study published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin found that despite technical advances, cruising remains a major source of air, water and land pollution affecting fragile habitats and human health.

While environmental groups have welcomed some of the features on Icon of the Seas, like its advanced water treatment system, some say building such huge ships is contrary to the cruise industry’s long-term goals of sustainability and preservation.

“The ships are getting bigger and bigger and that is the wrong direction for the cruise industry to be going,” said Marcie Keever, director of the Oceans and Vessels Program at the environmental organization Friends of the Earth . “If you were really thinking about sustainability and not your bottom line, you would not be building a cruise ship with a capacity of nearly 10,000 people.”

With more than five different brands, Royal Caribbean has a fleet of 65 cruise ships of various sizes. Icon of the Seas was built to meet demand and deliver experiences that its consumers were seeking, the company said, adding that all its ships carry the same sustainability principles of energy efficiency, and advanced waste and water management.

Here’s a look at some key features that Royal Caribbean says make Icon of the Seas more sustainable and how they stack up.

Transitioning to alternative energy sources

Icon of the Seas is Royal Caribbean’s first ship to be powered by liquefied natural gas, or L.N.G., a fossil fuel that the cruise industry has touted as a cleaner alternative to the commonly used heavy fuel oil.

“L.N.G. is currently the fossil fuel available at a scale that has the best performance in reducing atmospheric emissions,” said Cruise Lines International Association, the industry’s trade group, in its 2023 Environmental Technologies and Practices Report, citing analysis from Sea-LNG , an industry coalition that promotes the benefits of L.N.G. as a viable marine fuel.

But environmental analysts are concerned about L.N.G.’s long-term problems. Despite emitting around 25 percent less carbon dioxide than conventional marine fuels, they say, L.N.G. is mostly methane, a powerful gas that traps more heat in the atmosphere over time than carbon dioxide.

According to a 2020 greenhouse gas study by the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations body that regulates global shipping, the use of L.N.G. as a marine fuel grew 30 percent between 2012 and 2018, resulting in a 150 percent increase in methane emissions from ships.

Bryan Comer, the marine program director at the International Council on Clean Transportation, said the reason methane emissions have grown faster than the use of L.N.G. is because ships are switching from steam turbines to dual-fuel internal combustion engines. “They are more fuel efficient, but emit large amounts of unburned methane to the atmosphere in the form of ‘methane slip’ from the engine,” he said, pointing to I.C.C.T. research that predicts demand for L.N.G. will triple between 2019 and 2030, as will methane emissions.

“Even if ships used 100-percent renewable L.N.G. bio or e-fuels, methane emissions from ships would still double between 2019 and 2030 because of methane slip,” he added.

Royal Caribbean says that L.N.G. was the most viable alternative fuel available when decisions were being made about how to build Icon of the Seas more than 10 years ago.

“People will say L.N.G. is not the long-term fuel and we agree and view it as transitional,” Mr. Rose said. “We have built the ship to make it adaptable to future fuel sources.”

The company is preparing to debut the Celebrity Xcel next year, a 3,248-passenger ship that will be equipped with a tri-fuel engine designed to accommodate methanol, which several environmental groups consider to be one of the most promising fuels to achieve carbon-neutral sailing.

Shore power capabilities

When cruise ships are docked at ports, their engines and diesel generators are often running on fuel, emitting carbon dioxide into populated areas. Icon of the Seas has been built to run on shore power electricity in ports, a cleaner alternative to fuel, and hopes to become one of the first cruise ships to plug into the local power grid at Port Miami when shore power facilities are set to become available in the spring.

Three ships can plug in safely and simultaneously at the port on any given day, including Icon of the Seas, a spokeswoman for Port Miami said.

“When it comes to sustainability, there is no silver bullet and we want to pull every lever possible,” Mr. Rose of Royal Caribbean said. “So if we can pull into a port that has cleaner shore-power capabilities we want to plug in so we don’t use any fuel.”

The problem is that most ports don’t supply shore power: Only 2 percent of the world’s ports currently offer it for cruise ships, according to CLIA. Royal Caribbean says it is working with ports and other cruise lines to further its use.

Converting waste to energy onboard

Expanding its 30-year “Save the Waves” program , which aims to help keep trash out of landfills and the ocean, Royal Caribbean has built what it says is a first-of-its-kind waste management system on board Icon of the Seas that converts waste into energy.

The microwave-assisted pyrolysis technology, known as MAP, takes food, biowaste and cardboard waste and turns it into small pellets. The pellets are then heated up to produce a gas that is converted into steam energy that Royal Caribbean said would be used to power the ship’s water park. The system also produces biochar, which has the potential to be used as a fertilizer.

The company said it will have a better understanding of the system’s output while the ship is in full operation in the coming months, but so far it takes around 25 kilowatts of electricity to operate the system with an output of 200 kilowatts.

“It won’t take much energy to run the system,” said Mr. Comer, of I.C.C.T , but, he added, “It won’t produce much energy for the ship, either.”

Advanced water treatment

Icon of the Seas is equipped with an advanced purification system that is designed to treat all wastewater onboard, from toilets and showers to kitchen galleys. More than 93 percent of the ship’s fresh water will be produced on board through a system of reverse osmosis, which removes contaminants from water, the cruise line said.

Ms. Keever of Friends of the Earth said Royal Caribbean deserves credit for the treatment systems. “They’re installing the most expensive and best sewage treatment technology on their ships, and it’s important because they are the biggest cruise line and are showing the industry that they can do it, pay for it and they should,” she said.

In its 2023 promotional video series , “Making an Icon,” Royal Caribbean said Icon of the Seas would be its “first ship with fuel cell technology,” which would be used to power parts of the ship like the air conditioning and elevators.

But it won’t happen yet.

Fuel cells combine hydrogen and oxygen to make electricity without combustion and their byproduct is water, meaning that they do not emit as many greenhouse gases as traditional fossil fuels. While Icon of the Seas has been built to accommodate fuel cells, the batteries have not yet been installed, according to Bloom Energy, the fuel cell manufacturer working with Royal Caribbean. Because of the size and scope of the project, Bloom Energy said it encountered issues with external suppliers.

Bloom Energy is now focused on solving the issues for larger fuel systems that are being planned for Royal Caribbean’s 5,668-passenger Utopia of the Seas, which is scheduled to enter service next year. Suminder Singh, the vice president of marine at Bloom Energy said the next opportunity to equip Icon of the Seas with the cells may not be for another five years, when the ship is scheduled to go into dry dock. Royal Caribbean says it may not take that long and the decision will depend on the success of the technology on Utopia.

Mr. Comer of I.C.C.T. said that while fuel cells would be a great option, they have similar life-cycle emissions as conventional oil-based fuels if they are made on land using natural gas. “We need hydrogen made from renewable electricity,” he said. “And if we have that and use it in fuel cells, then you would basically have zero-life cycle greenhouse gas emissions.”

Follow New York Times Travel on Instagram and sign up for our weekly Travel Dispatch newsletter to get expert tips on traveling smarter and inspiration for your next vacation. Dreaming up a future getaway or just armchair traveling? Check out our 52 Places to Go in 2024.

Ceylan Yeginsu is a travel reporter for The Times who frequently writes about the cruise industry and Europe, where she is based. More about Ceylan Yeginsu

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Cruise ships are bigger and noisier than ever. And Gen Z is to blame.

On January 27, the world's largest cruise ship is set to glide out of the Port of Miami. For the several thousand passengers who have reserved a berth on its maiden voyage through the Caribbean, the Icon of the Seas might seem like the dream holiday. Weighing as much as five Titanics, the ship is a floating ziggurat of fun and indulgence.

The "first-of-its-kind combination of the best of every vacation," as Royal Caribbean describes it, boasts seven pools across the ship's 20 floors, an aquapark with six waterslides, a 55-foot water curtain, and a surfing simulator. There's a climbing wall, an ice-skating rink, a minigolf course, a karaoke bar, a casino, an escape room, an obstacle course, and "The Pearl," a multimedia sphere billed as "the world's largest kinetic sculpture." Passengers have 40 ways to dine across eight distinct "neighborhoods," and 28 ways to sleep, including the $80,000-a-week "Ultimate Family Townhouse," each with its own white picket fence, mailbox, and indoor slide. The opening of reservations for the Icon, in October 2022, saw Royal Caribbean's "single largest booking day in its 53-year history," the company said.

The megaship embodies a rapid redemption for the cruise industry. In the early months of the pandemic, as the global cruising fleet moldered at port, some wondered whether the hiatus might prove terminal. Instead, cruising has come roaring back , setting passenger records and attracting a new cohort of younger travelers.

But the Icon is also debuting at a moment of reckoning. As it pulls away from the American mainland, it will be pursued by a storm of animosity from port communities, environmental activists, and bystanders who feel that, in a period of overtourism and climate crisis , it all seems a bit much .

When a rendering of the Icon's flamboyant stern went viral in July, for every person presenting it as the ultimate vacation, someone else was calling it a monstrosity, an avatar of grotesque overconsumption. Few could deny that the lurid leviathan was indelible. But what is it an icon of, exactly?

Love them or loathe them, giant cruise ships are among the most remarkable success stories of the mass tourism age. In the mid-20th century, as commercial airplanes supplanted boats as the main mode of long-distance transportation, passenger shipping lines fell into steep decline. Cruising was initially a small-scale and ponderous pastime: Ships would dock at ports of call for several days and cater to a clientele that had both time and money. Then Ted Arison, the scion of an Israeli shipping family, flipped the industry on its head by asking: What if the boat itself was the destination?

In January 1972, Arison bought an old passenger liner and commissioned a hasty refit to provide space for onboard entertainment. Rechristened the Mardi Gras, the first Carnival cruise ship sailed out of Miami that March. The modern cruising industry was born.

Today, cruising includes river cruises, luxury special-interest journeys, and monthslong expeditions to some of the most remote maritime environments in the world. But what most people think of are the massive ships that followed in the Mardi Gras' wake: a vacation on the water. A boat like the Icon will spend the vast majority of its seven-day itinerary at sea, docking at only two or three ports along the way.

In the decades after the Mardi Gras' inaugural journey, the annual cruise-passenger load grew exponentially — from 500,000 in 1970 to nearly 30 million in 2019. The Port of Miami, "Cruise Capital of the World," went from processing 61,000 passengers in 1950 to nearly 68,000 passengers in a single day in 2023.

best royal caribbean cruises 2023

This expansion has pushed through some formidable bow waves. In 2012, the Costa Concordia made worldwide headlines when it foundered off the coast of Tuscany, Italy, killing 32 people. Eight years later, cruise ships such as the Diamond Princess became early incubators for COVID-19. By summer 2020, Carnival was hemorrhaging $1 billion a month . As the borders reopened, the speed of the industry's recovery has been startling. Passenger numbers surged past 2019 levels last year.

"This week, in January, would typically be very quiet," Aaron Saunders, a senior editor at the cruising-review site Cruise Critic, told me earlier this month. He was calling from the Golden Jubilee lounge of the Carnival Celebration, the largest vessel in Carnival's fleet (it has a roller coaster on deck). "But this ship is entirely sold out," he said. "We've never seen ships this consistently full."

More than anyone, repeat cruisers have fueled the bounce back. In a December 2022 survey by the Cruise Lines International Association , 85% of passengers said that they would cruise again. The appeal was clear: In CLIA surveys, people said cruises were easier to arrange, more relaxing, and more "pampering" than other holidays. People also coveted the variety of destinations and activities.

"Twenty years ago, the entertainment was extremely limited compared to what you have now," Sue Bryant, a veteran cruise journalist and editor, told me. "When the first ship introduced a climbing wall, it was considered outrageously revolutionary. Now you've got zip lines, water slides, and musical shows from Broadway and the West End. The product is always improving."

While overseas travel has become freighted with anxiety post-pandemic, a cruise ship, by contrast, is the ultimate contained environment — convenient, predictable, and hassle-free.

But perhaps the most surprising feature of this surging popularity is how much of it is also being driven by younger travelers. Data recently compiled by researchers at CivicScience showed that 69% of 18- to 24-year-olds were at least "somewhat interested" in going on a cruise, the highest level of any age group. At the time of writing, videos of life aboard another Royal Caribbean ship, the Serenade of the Seas, six weeks into a nine-month Ultimate World Cruise , had become a viral sensation. Posts with the hashtag #ultimateworldcruise, most of them created by millennial and Gen Z influencers, had accrued over 350 million views on TikTok alone.

As the industry casts off outdated clichés of retirees, shuffleboard, and black-tie dining, some companies have gone all out for the young-adult market. Virgin Voyages , which debuted in 2021 with the promise to "sail our ships with sass," has a no-kids policy and boasts onboard amenities — such as brunch bars, Peloton classes, and resident drag performers — tailored to a young customer base.

"Some people think that cruises are all about partying. Others have an idea that cruises are formal, all about ballroom dancing," Emma Le Teace, a cruise writer and YouTuber, said. "Both these options do exist. But young customers are realizing that there are hundreds of options in between."

Crucially, in a period of high inflation, all these perceived upsides are available for controlled costs. The standard cruise package is all-inclusive. Though alcohol and off-ship excursions tend to cost extra , a person can, in theory, spend a week on board without spending another dollar.

All this is why, for millions of repeat customers, cruising is the best and only way to travel.

A week on a giant floating resort will never be for everyone. For the writer David Foster Wallace, in his famous 1991 essay for Harper's, there was "something about a mass-market Luxury Cruise that's unbearably sad." Three decades later, many of the characteristics that ensure cruising's popularity and profitability are the same ones that burden it with ethical ballast.

The modern cruise industry is dominated by the company Arison founded, Carnival, which owns almost half the entire global market, and Royal Caribbean, of which the Icon of the Seas is the latest flagship. Both companies are headquartered in Miami, but their vessels sail under what's known in maritime parlance as "flags of convenience." To bypass strict American regulations and high taxes, companies register their ships to a foreign country. Carnival, for instance, is flagged to Panama, Royal Caribbean to the Bahamas. Originally pioneered by passenger-ship companies seeking to sell booze during Prohibition, today this tactic has enabled cruise lines to sidestep stringent labor laws. Low-ranking employees on large cruise ships, often from low-income countries, have reported working long hours for below minimum wage, while enjoying few, if any, employment benefits. (One former cruise worker recently told Business Insider that he knew of colleagues working for as little as $2 an hour.)

But a perhaps greater contention is the industry's immense environmental impact . In common with most large oceangoing vessels, cruise ships have traditionally been powered by heavy fuel oil, a viscous diesel that tends to be the cheapest — read: dirtiest — fuel available. When burned, it emits prodigious quantities of CO2, as well as toxic particulates that contaminate the air and water. A 2019 study by Transport & Environment, a Brussels nongovernmental organization, found that Carnival's European fleet emitted 10 times as much sulfur oxide, a pollutant that has been proved to harm the human respiratory system, as all the continent's 260 million passenger vehicles combined. 

Cruise lines insist that a greener future is viable. Carnival has committed to halve its carbon emissions by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. Royal Caribbean promises a net-zero ship by 2035. But many climate experts say that the "transitional" mitigations are nowhere near adequate. Liquefied natural gas, which powers most new cruise ships, including the 90,000-horsepower engines on the Icon, emits about 25% less CO2 than conventional marine fuels, but it generates methane , a particularly potent greenhouse gas.

Friends of the Earth's latest Cruise Ship Report Card, which scores major lines on metrics including air-pollution reduction, water-quality compliance, and transparency, gave both Carnival and Royal Caribbean yet another F.

"Cruise-ship greenhouse-gas emissions grew more than 20% between 2012 and 2018," Bryan Comer, the director of the International Council on Clean Transportation's marine program, told me. The only way to bring that down, he said, is through "mandatory, enforceable regulations."

For anti-cruise activists, the wider climate crisis has become a rallying point. In October, when the World Traveller, a luxury cruise ship often assigned to the polar regions, arrived in the French port of Douarnenez, it was booed by a crowd of protesters, some dressed as walruses and polar bears. Anti-cruise sentiment has begun to carry over into restrictive legislation. Several major cruise ports , including Venice, Italy; Dubrovnik, Croatia; and Amsterdam, have introduced prohibitions and levied new taxes on passengers.  

Cruise passengers learn to be suspicious of anything outside of their cruise bubble. They don't want to see anything that's ugly. They don't want to see anything that's real. Karla Hart, founder of the Global Cruise Activist Network

But many campaigners remain unsatisfied. "The big cruise companies are playing three-dimensional chess, while the local governments play checkers," Karla Hart, the founder of the Global Cruise Activist Network, told me.

Hart, whose hometown of Juneau, Alaska, is a summer cruise hub, said the industry had an ignominious history of environmental violations and of leveraging flags of convenience, clever marketing, and political clout to get its way. "They're very good at spinning the story to make themselves look better. But greenwashing and obfuscation are ingrained in the corporate culture," she added.

Despite their notoriety, boats such as the Icon are few in number. Cruise Market Watch forecasts there will be 360 cruise ships in service at the end of this year, comprising less than 1% of the global commercial fleet. But they're a conspicuous target. "It's easy to point a finger at the ship in the harbor and say there's our problem. It's a lot harder to get angry about the 37 flights a day that are arriving from all over the world," Saunders, the cruise critic, said.

While many port residents decry the ships' disruptive impact, others vaunt them as economically indispensable. In April, when ships returned to Skagway, Alaska, after a long COVID-19 hiatus, reports described store owners weeping with relief.

Meanwhile, ongoing calls for ships to be proscribed risk precipitating a vicious cycle in which cruise companies, ostracized at traditional ports, merely reroute to their coastal concessions. Both of the routes traveled by the Icon of the Seas include a stop off at Royal Caribbean's private island, Perfect Day at CocoCay , in the Bahamas.

A lot of the discourse boils down to cruise ships' arresting optics. The industry's tendency toward gigantism is partly about economies of scale — it's more cost-effective to squeeze as many passengers as possible onto one large ship than many small ships — but it's also an arms race designed to polarize and provoke. "That stern is such a departure from anything that has ever been created on a ship before," Saunders said, referring to the Icon's eye-catching rear end. "It was always going to stir the pot."

To detractors, the fact that each new incarnation of megaship seems to aspire to more , adding entrées to an already stuffed menu, can seem symbolic of an impatient, gluttonous, and superficial age — the perfect holiday for a society that demands constant diversion. "Cruise passengers learn to be suspicious of anything outside of their cruise bubble. They don't want to see anything that's ugly. They don't want to see anything that's real," Hart said. Her house often shakes from helicopter excursions carrying cruise passengers to Juneau's shrinking ice fields. "These trips are sold as 'once in a lifetime' opportunities," she added, "but it's basically a theme-park experience offered by companies that are trying to empty your wallet."

But the same resort-style product that repels some people proves irresistible to others, for whom a boat like the Icon is a kind of fantasy. While overseas travel has become freighted with anxiety post-pandemic, a cruise ship, by contrast, is the ultimate contained environment — convenient, predictable, and hassle-free. From the moment of boarding, a passenger is insulated from the variables and complexities of traveling in a foreign place. The food and drink are always flowing. Your luggage is never far away. The entertainment runs 24/7. Adrift on a parallel world of rest and recreation, the ships take you away from terrestrial concerns and, by extension, away from moral scruples.

If cruising is an industry that has long benefited from loopholes in maritime law, then today it also benefits from something else: a loophole in consumer conscience.

Henry Wismayer is a writer based in London. He writes essays, features and commentary for a range of publications including The New York Times, National Geographic, Financial Times, and Noema.

About Discourse Stories

Through our Discourse journalism, Business Insider seeks to explore and illuminate the day’s most fascinating issues and ideas. Our writers provide thought-provoking perspectives, informed by analysis, reporting, and expertise. Read more Discourse stories here .

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Caribbean, St Thomas US Virgin Islands. Panoramic view.

[Infographic] Eastern Caribbean vs. Western Caribbean Cruises

East vs. west: planning your caribbean adventure.

By Amanda Mesa | Published on November 2, 2023

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The Caribbean Islands

Western vs eastern.

The Caribbean offers unforgettable tropical escapes for thrill-seekers and chill-seekers alike, but there are many differences between the Caribbean islands. The eastern Caribbean islands are rich with history, culture and beautiful beaches fit for watersports, while the western Caribbean islands are renowned for lush jungles and crystal-clear waters perfect for snorkeling.

Bolder Beach Days Await

Packed with resort-style amenities, shores on the western Caribbean islands are ideal for lazy beach days

Where to go

  • Nassau, Bahamas
  • Grand Cayman

Eastern Caribbean islands are fit for watersports-enthusiasts

  • Rincón, Puerto Rico

Calling All History Buffs

Roam impressive ancient ruins and learn about Maya civilizations in the western islands

  • Cozumel, Mexico
  • Belize City, Belize

Explore centuries-old Spanish fortresses in the eastern islands

  • San Juan, Puerto Rico

Hang Ten Or Rock The Coral Reefs

For prime snorkeling, hit the colorful reefs that ring the western Caribbean islands

Looking for epic swells? Make a beeline for the many surf-friendly eastern Caribbean islands

  • St. Maarten

Immerse Yourself In A Melting Pot Of Cultures

In many western Caribbean destinations you'll still hear ancient Mayan dialects.

The eastern Caribbean is a tapestry of cultures and languages, including French and Dutch.

Girl floating at the beach in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas |  Deals

Getting There

Experience the eastern and western Caribbean for yourself.

T he terms "eastern Caribbean" and "western Caribbean" were coined by the cruise industry to indicate the general areas ships would cover during any given Caribbean cruise itinerary. Western Caribbean cruises typically included destinations closer to the mainland U.S. and Mexico, like Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Jamaica and Belize. Eastern Caribbean cruises tend to stop at isles closer to the open Atlantic, like the British Virgin Islands, the Leeward Islands, St. Maarten and Puerto Rico.

Beyond physical location, there are a few factors to keep in mind when deciding between eastern Caribbean vs. western Caribbean cruises. Luckily, if you're looking for laid-back island culture and beautiful beaches, you really can't go wrong either way. Isles on both sides offer miles of pristine shoreline kissed by calm, crystal-clear turquoise waters. Some have been rated among the most beautiful shores in the world by news outlets and travel magazines. To the west, there's Jamaica's iconic Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman's legendary powder-white shores and Belize's secluded coves. In the east, St. Thomas beckons with world-renowned spots like Magens Bay. St. Maarten's Dawn Beach stuns with world-class snorkeling, and Puerto Rico's Condado and Isla Verde beaches bustle with water sports.

Level Up Beach Days on Western Caribbean Islands

While every isle in the west will satisfy the sun-seeker in you, there are some general differences between the Caribbean islands. When considering the eastern Caribbean vs. western Caribbean itineraries with an emphasis on water-based activities, go with the western isles. The waters that surround Cozumel, for example, are considered among the clearest in the world, making them ideal for snorkeling, fishing, and swimming with dolphins and gentle whale sharks.

Many western Caribbean ports you'll be cruising to — particularly Puerto Costa Maya and Nassau — have long histories of tourism. Because they host so many vacationers year-round, they're well-equipped with convenience-boosting amenities like easy-to-rent umbrellas and loungers at most beaches, plenty of seaside food stands and bars, and endless options for excursions and charters. If you're longing for lazy days on the beach and calm waters, nothing beats Grand Cayman, Jamaica and The Bahamas. For eco-tours, Key West, Roatan and Belize City are the heavy-hitters.

While most western Caribbean cruise routes feature the same iconic islands, there are some off-the-beaten-path gems that not every cruise will take you to. For a deep dive into the western Caribbean and all it has to offer, check out cruises that stop in Nassau, The Bahamas; Roatan, Honduras; Cozumel, Mexico; Puerto Costa Maya, Mexico; Falmouth, Jamaica; and George Town, Grand Cayman.

Immerse Yourself in the Many Cultures of the Eastern Caribbean Islands

Eastern Caribbean islands also offer amazing water activities and beachside amenities, but the biggest pull of this side of the Caribbean is the history and culture that pervades these islands. Now, this isn't to say the west is only known for its beaches. Cozumel and Belize have impressive Maya ruins and entire communities that still speak ancient Maya dialects. And Jamaica's vibrant culture shines through in its tantalizing cuisine, music and use of Jamaican Patois. But eastern Caribbean cruises add even more cultures into the mix.

Stops in St. Thomas reveal a rich blend of African, British, Arab and indigenous cultures created over centuries. St. Maarten is perhaps best known for its unique combination of African, British, Dutch and French heritage. In fact, the isle is actually split into nationalities — the French side is called St. Martin and the Dutch side is called St. Maarten. Children on either side are taught English, Dutch and French in schools today. And of course, Puerto Rico's colorful Hispanic flavor is apparent the moment you step off the ship and onto the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan. You'll hear it in the rhythmic reggaeton and sultry salsa that spills from open windows and see it in the impressive Malecon and massive fortresses built by Spaniards when the city was founded over 500 years ago.

Eastern Caribbean cruises typically feature stops in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas; Philipsburg, St. Maarten; Basseterre, St. Kitts and Nevis; St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic; and St. Johns, Antigua.

How To Choose the Right Itinerary

Whether you opt to set sail to the east or west Caribbean islands, you're in for spectacular scenery, beautiful beaches, rich culture and warm hospitality. Some veteran cruisers feel the eastern islands offer more historical sites, a bit more diversity in terms of culture, and slightly more dramatic landscapes. Others prefer the western Caribbean isles for their calm, crystal-clear waters, abundance of wildlife and gorgeous beaches equipped with amenities that make every visit effortless. But ask any savvy traveler, and they'll likely advise you to try each side at least once. It's the only way to get a true feel for the two different regions and decide which destinations resonate most with you. Maybe you love the melting pot of cultures guaranteed on every eastern Caribbean cruise but long to return to the ancient Maya temples and cities in Cozumel and Belize. Or maybe in your book, the romantic bays of St. Thomas and the jet-set vibes of St. Croix trump the world-class diving in Roatan and the Florida Keys.

The beauty of the Caribbean islands is there's no right or wrong way to experience this wonderful corner of the world — it all depends on what sparks your wanderlust. Start planning your next getaway based on your personal vacation preferences, then plan a visit to the other side of the tropics.

best royal caribbean cruises 2023

Written By AMANDA MESA

Amanda has written for Royal Caribbean since 2017. She also covers travel, lifestyle, food and beverage for Indulge Magazine, the Miami Herald and PureWow. She's traveled extensively around the world, enjoys building unforgettable itineraries and loves introducing readers to lesser-known destinations. 

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  28. Icon of the Seas: Why Americans Are Obsessed With Big Cruise Ships

    The Port of Miami, "Cruise Capital of the World," went from processing 61,000 passengers in 1950 to nearly 68,000 passengers in a single day in 2023. Cruise ships like the Icon of the Seas will ...

  29. [Infographic] Eastern vs Western Caribbean

    Some veteran cruisers feel the eastern islands offer more historical sites, a bit more diversity in terms of culture, and slightly more dramatic landscapes. Others prefer the western Caribbean isles for their calm, crystal-clear waters, abundance of wildlife and gorgeous beaches equipped with amenities that make every visit effortless.