After sailing every class in the Royal Caribbean fleet, this experienced cruiser has a clear way you can get the most for your vacation dollar.
Royal Caribbean, and really every major cruise line, loves to trumpet the features on their newest (and usually biggest) ships. We all know that Icon of the Seas, the soon-to-be-largest ship in the world, has set sales records for the cruise line, and Carnival Cruise Line (CCL) – Get Free Report has had similar experiences with its latest flagship, Celebration.
It’s easy to see why people want to sail on the newest ships. They have the latest updates, the newest entertainment options, and usually offer a mix of innovation and the best things from the ships that came before.
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Booking the newest ships, however, comes at a premium. And while it’s tempting to take a “my vacation should be the best it can be,” attitude, it’s important to think about the balance of value and experience.
I’ve sailed Wonder of the Seas, Royal Caribbean’s newest Oasis-class ship, and the current largest ship in the world. I’ve also sailed on its second-newest ship, Odyssey of the Seas, and while both were lovely, they likely would not be my picks if I was paying full price (as a gambler, I often earn free “comp” sailings based on my play on the previous sailing).
Chicken and waffles at the Mason Jar on Wonder of the Seas.
Image source: Daniel Kline/TheStreet
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Wonder of the Seas was a truly amazing ship but it’s only marginally different than its predecessor, Symphony of the Seas. The only big addition was the new Mason Jar southern restaurant, which offered an excellent brunch, a packed bar with some of the best drinks in the fleet, and live country music. Aside from that, most of the changes compared even to older Oasis-class ships were relatively minor.
I’ve also sailed in the past 12 months on three other Oasis-class ships Allure of the Seas (2010), Harmony of the Seas (2016), and Symphony of the Seas (2018). Sailings on Allure and Harmony are generally much cheaper than Wonder while Symphony sailings are cheaper, but not by as large a factor.
The differences between the ships are notable, but not really in a way that makes paying for Wonder of the Seas over its older sister ships worth it. Both Harmony and Allure, for example offer Sabor, a Mexican restaurant on the outdoor Boardwalk while Wonder has the updated Playmakers sports bar in that spot.
I prefer ships with Playmakers onboard, especially if there’s a game I want to watch, but the change is not worth paying hundreds, or even thousands more to book a cruise. In addition, Wonder has sleekly designed rooms with more USB ports and other conveniences, but again, the changes are minor and generally not worth the price difference.
On Shorter Royal Caribbean Cruises, Go Smaller
Oasis-class and Quantum-class Royal Caribbean ships make sense when your cruise lasts at least six days. You can’t really even fully experience those ships in a week, so on the rare times they offer shorter sailings (usually before a repositioning) you have to go in knowing you won’t get to do everything you want.
Still, when those short sailings come up, they can often be a deal and offer a good way to sample some of what those classes have to offer. I’m sailing Oasis, for example on a four-night cruise in April before she sails to New York. Prices were low, which makes it easier for friends to join me, and I’m looking forward to getting to know the ship a bit before a week-long September sailing where I’ll have friends and family with me.
On most shorter trips, however, Freedom and Voyager-class ships have more than enough to do. I have sailed on Freedom of the Seas and Navigator of the Seas, ships of those two pretty similar classes, roughly 20 times in four years for 3- and 4-day sailings.
And, while those ships lack the Central Park and Boardwalk outdoor areas Oasis-class ships have, they offer more than enough choices for a shorter sailing. In fact, these smaller ships (relative to the bigger classes) might actually be better for a short sailing because it’s easier to get the lay of the land faster.
Once you get to the smaller Radiance and Brilliance classes, you do start to lose some of the more modern features, and there are a lot fewer choices in dining and entertainment. Those ships tend to be more about where they stop than the ship itself, but if the deal is right, adults can still have a good time (but you might want to leave the kids at home).