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9 Common misconceptions about a Royal Caribbean cruise

20 Feb 2023
Matt Hochberg

Someone that is brand new to cruising might have a few ideas about the experience that don't match up to what it's actually like onboard.

Royal Caribbean ships docked with gangway

There's a lot of nuances to cruising that makes it understandable why a first-time cruiser might have these concepts about what to expect. Given how frequently these mix-ups occur, it's clearly something that isn't just a problem relegated to a few people.

The good news is many of these misinterpretations can easily be cleared up before someone steps foot on a ship, and the result is very likely a better cruise experience.

We get a lot first-time cruiser questions on our Royal Caribbean message boards, but I wanted to highlight the top concerns raised that end up being the opposite of what the person thought. Perhaps one or more of these concerns will assuage your own anxiety about trying a cruise!

Liberty of the Seas

Read moreTop 10 cruise questions first time cruisers are too shy to ask

In case you're wondering, here are the top cruise misconceptions you should know about before you book or cruise!

You need a drink package if you want drinks that cost extra

Bamboo Lounge drink

Royal Caribbean's drink packages are so popular and well-advertised that some people think you need to buy a drink package if you want to venture past what's included.

On any cruise, there's a certain selection of beverages included with your cruise cost, but alcohol, soft drinks, and specialty coffees will cost you extra.

Perhaps because of how prominent a drink package is in the pre-cruise advertising, some people think you'll need to buy a drink package in order to enjoy any of those libations.

Cocktails on the bar

The reality is a drink package is only necessary if you'd like to enjoy unlimited extra cost beverages for a fixed price.  However, if you just want a coke or two per day, or a beer or glass of wine, paying for drinks a la carte is definitely an option.

When you order a drink that isn't included in your cruise fare, you'll be charged for the cost to your SeaPass account.  You can do this as many times as you want. 

Drink packages are designed to provide a fixed cost so that people that don't want to worry about running up a giant bill can do so.  But you absolutely do not need to get a drink package, especially if you'll only order a few drinks per day.

In case you're wondering, on average, it will take 6-7 cocktails per day to break even on the Deluxe Beverage Package, whereas the Refreshment Package breaks even around 4-5 mocktails.  The soda package takes about 3-4 soft drinks per day to break even.

Read moreHow much is the drink package on Royal Caribbean?

Kids need a drink package if adults get one

Kids together on Wonder of the Seas

Because Royal Caribbean requires all adults in a cabin to get a drink package if one adult elects to buy the unlimited alcohol package, the question about kids pops up as well.

It's the policy of Royal Caribbean to require anyone buying the Deluxe Beverage Package that all other adults get one too (although there's a hack for this).  But this rule does not apply to minors.

Anyone under the age of 21 in your cabin does not need to get a drink package, regardless if an adult in the same room has the Deluxe Beverage Package.

Piggy-backing on the previous misconception, kids in general, don't need to get a drink package either.

While you could purchase the soda package or non-alcoholic drink package, you don't need to buy them one unless you think it might save you money.

Travel insurance covers any reason to cancel

Allure of the Seas docked

I think almost anyone going on a cruise should purchase travel insurance to protect themselves, but travel insurance does not cover any scenario involving a cancellation.

First and foremost, travel insurance policies are not all the same. Similar to auto insurance, the exact coverages depend on the policy. So you'll want to check what the policy covers and doesn't cover.

Most importantly, most travel insurance plans do not allow a cancellation for any reason.  Unless you seek out a "Cancel for any reason" travel insurance policy, it only kicks in if a pre-designated scenario plays out that is typically out of your control.  

Storm near beach

Typical scenarios for travel insurance to cover include:

  • Loss of a job
  • Death in the immediate family
  • Travel interruption (i.e. cancelled flights)

There's plenty more, so check the policy.

The misconception about travel insurance is you can decide one day you don't want to go on the cruise when you still have the means to travel.  

A great example of this is when there's a hurricane. Someone who's booked on a cruise sees the storm out in the Atlantic and decided they want to cancel because of the storm, but the cruise is still happening and there's been no change to their flights. Travel insurance would not cover this situation.

Therefore, it's very important to double-check the details of any travel insurance policy you purchase to verify it would cover a scenario you have in mind.

The automatic gratuities cover all crew members

Crew member smiling at the bar

Royal Caribbean automatically charges a daily gratuity that you can either be pre-paid or will accrue every day of the cruise, but this doesn't cover every crew member or purchase made onboard.

The daily gratuity is for the complimentary dining room staff and your stateroom attendant only. 

This means drink, spa, souvenir, and any other purchase made onboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship is not included with that gratuity.  

As a result, you'll see an automatic 18% gratuity added onto these purchases and listed on the receipt.

You have to book a tour to get off the ship in a port of call

Enchantment and Brilliance of the Seas in Cozumel

When your cruise ship visits a port of call, you don't need to book a shore excursion in order to disembark the ship.

Certainly excursions are the most common and popular way to explore the places your cruise ship will visit. These organized tours provide an easy way to experience the best of these places, but you aren't obliged to purchase one.

Unless you're in a country that requires a visa to visit (Russia, China, Vietnam, et al), you can walk off the ship and walk around and explore on your own without any tour booked.

Some people will just walk around the port area, while others will venture into the city or countryside via taxi, bus, or even on foot.

Neither Royal Caribbean nor the place you are visiting places restrictions on getting off the ship to explore.

The same holds true for Royal Caribbean's private destinations of Perfect Day at CocoCay or Labadee.

Read more:

If you don't pay for specialty dining, the food is going to be sub-par

Mason Jar restaurant

Similar to the drinks, a lot of first-time cruisers think the food included with your cruise fare is going to be disappointing and specialty dining is the only way to go.

Food is extremely subjective, but the food Royal Caribbean includes is more than adequate and enjoyable.

Whether in the main dining room, Windjammer buffet, or host of other grab-and-go locations, you wont go hungry on a Royal Caribbean cruise.  And I think you'll find plenty that's appetizing too!

Mariner of the Seas dining room

The specialty restaurants get a lot of attention because they are advertised quite a bit.  After all, these are sources of additional revenue for the cruise line, so they're going to make sure you're well-aware of them.

However, Royal Caribbean prides itself on the complimentary food served and you'll find lots of frequent cruisers who dine primarily in the complimentary venues.

There's nothing wrong with indulging in a specialty restaurant or buying a dining package, but don't buy them simply because you think it will be a terrible culinary experience otherwise.

Read moreFood on a Royal Caribbean cruise

You can bring marijuana on your cruise because it's legal where you live

Bow of cruise ship in Halifax

This has become a major source of confusion for new cruisers because of changing local laws related to marijuana in the United States.

In short, Royal Caribbean doesn't allow marijuana (or any illegal drugs) to be brought onboard.

The reason isn't because Royal Caribbean is being a stickler or is taking any kind of moral stance. Rather, it's because of the places you visit.

The cruise contract clearly states it's against the rules to bring marijuana on your cruise, even if it's allowed where you're from:

"Marijuana possession and/or use, including medical marijuana, and possession or use of any illegal drugs, is strictly prohibited in many jurisdictions visited and on the Vessel at all times, as well as in terminals, during shore excursions or any other part of the cruise, regardless of any local, state, or other laws which might
permit use or possession of marijuana."

The issue is the laws of the countries you are visiting, which are outside the jurisdiction of your home state or country.

Royal Caribbean goes onto warn about the stiff penalties with bringing marijuana on a cruise ship:

"Passengers who violate the laws of any jurisdiction are subject to being reported to law enforcement or customs authorities, arrest and prosecution. Passengers who bring on board dangerous items, marijuana in any form, or any illegal drugs or controlled substances are also subject to immediate disembarkation or denial of boarding."

You'll get loyalty program points if you pay for someone else

The scenario is you pay for someone else's cruise fare and assume you'll get the Crown and Anchor Society points.  

Whether they sail with you, or you're paying for them to go and you stay at home, the only person to get loyalty program points is the person taking the cruise.

It doesn't matter who pays for the cruise, the bottom line is points are only awarded if you actually go on the sailing.

This is the same policy that the airlines use in how points are earned.

You can cancel or change a cruise without penalty

Pool deck on Oasis of the Seas

If there's one billing discrepancy that pops up the most among new cruisers, it's what happens when someone wants to change their cruise reservation.

Admittedly, it's not easy to understand Royal Caribbean's deposit types and cancellation terms. It's why I always recommend everyone use a good travel agent when booking their cruise.

Essentially, you can't change or cancel a cruise anytime, and when you can, there can still be a penalty.

Oasis of the Seas in Port Canaveral

Royal Caribbean offers refundable and non-refundable cruise fare. Non-refundable cruise fare is cheaper, but incurs a penalty if you change the ship and/or sail date. 

Then there's the final payment date, in which once you past final payment, a new set of penalties kick in if you decide to change your cruise. 

And no, extenuating circumstances don't matter. The policy applies to everyone.

It's critical to understand the cancellation and change policies before you book a cruise.  Once again, a good travel agent can help you with this (and so many other possible issues).  Plus, a good travel agent should cost you nothing extra to use!

Matt started Royal Caribbean Blog in 2010 as a place to share his passion for all things Royal Caribbean with readers. He oversees all the writers at Royal Caribbean Blog, and writes a great deal of content on a daily basis.  He has become one of the foremost expert on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Over the years, he has reached Pinnacle Club status with Royal Caribbean's customer loyalty program.

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