Just picking your cruise line is a major step, but it’s only the first part of finding your perfect cruise.
Picking a cruise line requires balancing everything from itinerary, food, entertainment, and what type of passengers you want to sail with.
A couple looking for a romantic getaway might opt for Virgin Voyages, which requires passengers be 18 or over rather than booking a family-friendly Royal Caribbean International (RCL) – Get Royal Caribbean Group Report or Carnival Cruise Line (CCL) – Get Carnival Corporation Report voyage.
Even within the same cruise line, there can be major differences. Sailing on the same Royal Caribbean ship on a Monday-Friday sailing versus a Friday-Monday can bring a very different crowd and deliver different experiences.
If you pick Royal Caribbean as your cruise line of choice, you have made one key decision, but others remain. Yes, there are many things the same about every ship in the fleet, but there are also massive differences between the newer, bigger ships in the fleet and the older, smaller ones.
So, before you book you should consider the following considerations.
Is the Ship More Important than the Destination?
If you sail for a week on an Oasis-class ship (the largest class) you may not be able to experience all the ship has to offer. With its near-endless dining and entertainment options, these ships are destinations to themselves and they generally sail into ports many find less desirable.
Nassau, Cozumel, and other Caribbean ports have their appeal, but the biggest ships can’t dock in more exotic locations. That means that if you view the ship as a floating hotel that takes you someplace new each day, you may want to opt for a smaller ship and focus on where it stops.
Some people view smaller ships as offering a more classic cruise experience. Since they have very few added-fee specialty restaurants and fewer entertainment choices, the pace tends to be slower. Everyone eats at either an early or late setting and many people attend the show in the main theater each night as there are many fewer choices.
The larger ships can overwhelm you with choices or give you more options — it really depends on how you view it.
How Much of a Factor Is Price?
Cruise pricing varies quite a bit based on the time of year and demand. School vacation and holiday weeks may bring a premium price on most itineraries while some months will show discounts on nearly every ship. In a broad sense, newer ships generally cost more and bigger ships cost more than smaller ones.
There can, however, be some nuance to how pricing works. For example, Wonder of the Seas, the newest Oasis-class ship generally costs the most of any Royal Caribbean ship. Its older – but still incredibly impressive ships – sister ships generally offer lower, often much lower, fares. You can sometimes book Symphony of the Seas (a ship that’s nearly identical to Wonder) at significant savings. If you look at the Older ships of that class, Allure, Harmony, and Oasis, the savings can be even more substantial.
When booking mid-sized ships – many of which sail 3-4 day itineraries out of the three ports on Florida’s east coast – prices can vary for reasons that aren’t easy to spot. Freedom of the Seas and Mariner of the Seas are very similar ships sailing from Miami and Port Canaveral respectively. You might find a much better deal on one versus the other on any given weekend, making it important to check your options from all viable ports.
Consider All the Extra Cruising Costs
Your cruise fare gets you a cabin, access to the main dining room, buffet, and at least a few other free dining options, most entertainment, and some basic beverages. You could pay extra for any of the following:
Internet accessA beverage package or a la carte drinksSpecialty diningSpecial entertainment (escape rooms, arcades, classes)Shore excursionsPhotosOnboard shoppingCasino gambling
Those aren’t the only areas where you might spend more, but it’s important to consider these costs when planning your trip. Internet access, for example, might cost $22 per day for a single device (you can switch between devices). An all-you-can-drink beverage package including alcohol can cost between $55 and over $100 per day, per adult passenger in your cabin. Neither of those is an inconsequential cost so it’s very important for most people to understand what they will actually spend versus what their basic fare will cost.