It's no secret that I love cruising on Royal Caribbean, but there are a few things I wish my favorite cruise line would borrow from the competition.
Overall, I think Royal Caribbean is the best cruise line out there for its approach to mainstream cruising. Suffice to say, I have no issues with continuing to cruise with Royal Caribbean. But like any company, there's always room for improvement.
Over the years, the cruise industry as a whole tends to follow trends and it's not uncommon for one line to introduce a change or new concept and for other lines to take notice of it and incorporate it into their approach.
A great example of this is the change from a traditional muster drill to eMuster drill that occurred in 2021. This was a change Royal Caribbean was among the first to introduce, and other lines quickly adopted it as well.
Along those lines, I can't help sometimes but see what other lines are doing and wish Royal Caribbean would at least take some of those ideas or approaches into their ships.
For the record, this wouldn't be the first time Royal Caribbean took inspiration from another cruise line. A classic example is the virtual balcony, which was copied from Disney Cruise Line's virtual porthole.
While the grass may not necessarily be greener on the other side of the cruise line fence, these are a few ideas I like that I wouldn't mind seeing Royal Caribbean add to their ships.
NCL: Add new venues to older ships
I was watching a video from Emma Cruises of the NCL Sky, which was launched in 1996, and was impressed this 25+ year old ship has as many new venues as it does.
When Norwegian refurbished the ship in 2019, they added 8 new venues (along with updated public spaces and refreshed cabins).
To be fair, Royal Caribbean's Royal Amplified program added some wonderful new venues to existing ships, but the program bypassed the Vision and Radiance Class cruise ships. NCL Sky is a ship even older than the Vision Class ships.
I was impressed when I saw NCL added a sushi bar, pub, mojito bar, Starbucks, and a few new lounges to a ship as old as NCL Sky.
Of course, this refurbishment occurred pre-2020 when the cruise industry was flush with cash. Times are very different now, but eventually cruise lines will recover financially and be in a position to refurbish older ships again. When they do, I'd love to see more love for the older vessels.
Carnival: Variety of free (and good) restaurants
When Royal Caribbean introduced El Loco Fresh to its ships as a complimentary restaurant on the pool deck, it was a revelation in having quick access to good and free food. I wish we'd get more of these sort of venues.
I hear a lot from cruise fans that if there's one thing Carnival Cruise Line does well, it's their complimentary food offerings.
BlueIguana Cantina, Guy’s Burger Joint, Carnival Deli and Big Chicken are all great examples of complimentary dining venues that offer some really good food.
What makes these restaurants stand out is not just that they're complimentary, but they're pretty darn good too.
If you wanted a quick bite to eat without paying extra on Royal Caribbean, you probably had to go the Windjammer. Newer ships might have had El Loco Fresh or Boardwalk Dog House, but these are few and far between and lack the variety of food Carnival has.
While it's early, I think Royal Caribbean is going to move more in this direction with Icon of the Seas when it launches. However, the rest of the fleet could use these sort of options too.
Piggybacking on the first point in this article about adding new venues to older ships, let's also get more great complimentary dining added to existing ships to keep up with Carnival's food game.
Disney: Split bathrooms
Since Disney Cruise Line launched, their approach to offering families more space and options in cabins has been a big deal.
I believe Royal Caribbean has taken notice of the family cruise market more than any other line in their approach to offering equally compelling options for kids (and their parents) onboard, but the cruise cabins could still benefit from something Disney does well.
In short, I like the split bath concept that comes in standard cabins.
With a split bath, there's two bathrooms. One has a shower with a tub (rare on cruise ships) and a sink; the other has a toilet and sink.
Having a split bathroom is super helpful for families, as well as almost anyone sharing a cabin with another person. While I think two bathrooms helps families out a lot, this concept can benefit just about anyone.
Unrelated, but Disney's brand of shampoo, conditioner, and soap smell great too!
When Icon of the Seas launches next year, it will have more family cabins than before. Icon will have 82% of rooms with a high occupancy of 3 or more guests, which is more than double the Oasis Class ships.
Read more: Guide to Icon of the Seas cabins and suites
Celebrity: Include gratuities in cruise fare
It's time we stop pretending gratuities for the crew members are some kind of a separate cost that isn't inherently part of the overall cruise price.
Royal Caribbean still charges an automatic gratuity that you either pre-pay or get charged each day of the cruise. So one way or another, you're going to pay it.
I think Celebrity Cruises did the right thing by just incorporating gratuities into the cruise fare and taking the ambiguity of tips out of the equation.
In 2020, Celebrity Cruises rolled out the "Always Included" plan, which means cruise fares now include automatically Wi-Fi, drinks and gratuity.
The cruise line says they made this change in an effort to avoid "confusing promotions, complicated add-ons and limited-time offers."
Other than cruises from Australia, Royal Caribbean doesn't include gratuities in its fare. This is likely because it helps market the price of the cruise as being lower.
While I don't think Royal Caribbean needs to include as much it its cruise fare as Celebrity does, gratuities should absolutely be part of the base cruise fare.
Not only do the crew members deserve it, but the notion that tipping on a cruise is somehow optional is antiquated.
Princess: Alaska cruise itinerary variety
I have loved every single Alaska cruise I've ever taken, and I'd love to see Royal Caribbean offer more options.
While Royal Caribbean has added more cruise ships to Alaska in recent years, the market leader in Alaska cruises is arguably Princess Cruises.
In 2023, Princess will have six ships sailing to Alaska that feature 14 unique itineraries, including stops at Glacier Bay National Park.
A great example is on the Majestic Princess, which offers a cruise tour where you visit four national parks: Glacier Bay, Denali, the Kenai Fjords and America’s largest national park, Wrangell-St. Elias. The 15-night trip combines a seven-night cruise from Vancouver to Whittier, Alaska, with another week on land, ending in Fairbanks.
Princess also offers Alaska cruises from San Francisco, an embarkation port Royal Caribbean doesn't serve.
I think Royal Caribbean has a compelling Alaska program, but I also think there's more opportunity here than what we've seen thus far. Alaska has so much to offer, and it seems to sell so well that investing more in the region seems like a no-brainer.
MSC: Late-night visits to its private island
They say turnabout is fair play, so I think it's time for Royal Caribbean to take a page out of MSC's play book.
MSC has been known to certainly borrow other cruise line ideas, so if there's one thing MSC does well it's their late-night visits to Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve.
Just like Perfect Day at CocoCay, MSC has a private island in The Bahamas. Whereas Royal Caribbean ships will stay until the late afternoon at best, MSC's ships offer evening activities.
MSC's ships don't allow overnight visits (although sometimes the ship will stay docked overnight), but they do allow guests to stay on the island until around midnight.
By staying late into the evening, it opens up so much more time to enjoy arguably one of the best features of any Royal Caribbean cruise: private island visits.
When MSC offers a late night stay, passengers can go to a party that has DJ, bonfire, and dancing. Bars on this part of the island stay open late, as well.
This seems like an easy win for Royal Caribbean to offer more out of their highly-rated private island, especially in the summer months when the sun doesn't set until much later.