In the past year, I’ve sailed on Royal Caribbean’s oldest and newest cruise ships, and I wanted to see how they compare in terms of cabins, dining options, activities, and overall experience.
Despite being part of the same cruise line, my experience on a Royal Caribbean ship launched in 1997 was drastically different from the week I spent on a ship built in 2018. Everything from passenger demographics to entertainment and itineraries were vastly different from each other.
I expected to find the newer, bigger ship far superior, but I ended up having a wonderful experience on both ships.
Nonetheless, my experiences on both Royal Caribbean ships reinforced the importance of selecting a cruise ship wisely before booking your vacation. Not all Royal Caribbean ships are created equally, and here’s what it’s like to sail on both Royal Caribbean’s oldest and newest cruise ships.
Last summer, I cruised on Rhapsody of the Seas, one of the oldest ships in Royal Caribbean’s fleet, and I paid $1,512.
Launched in 1997, Rhapsody of the Seas is currently the 2nd oldest Royal Caribbean cruise ship. At 915 feet long, with a gross tonnage of 78,491, and a maximum capacity of 2,416 guests, she’s also among the smallest ships in the fleet.
Rhapsody of the Seas provides a more traditional cruise ship experience to guests. Her small size means she can sail to a wide range of destinations around the world, and the onboard atmosphere is generally more relaxed than that of the fleet’s newest ships.
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The ship has two pools, six jacuzzis, eight dining venues, and a selection of bars and lounges. Kids onboard can enjoy a rock climbing wall and complimentary programming at Adventure Ocean, although the ship isn’t as family-focused as other Royal Caribbean ships.
In total, I paid $1,512 for an interior room on a 7-night cruise to Greece. This cost included the price of two adults with taxes, fees, and prepaid gratuities added, making the total price $756 per person.
Last month, I cruised on Symphony of the Seas, which is the 2nd biggest cruise ship in the world, and I paid $1,656.
Launched in 2018, Symphony of the Seas is the 3rd newest ship in Royal Caribbean’s fleet. As an Oasis Class cruise ship, Symphony of the Seas is massive. She is 1,188 feet long, weighs 228,081 gross tons, and has a maximum capacity of 6,680 passengers.
As an Oasis Class ship, Symphony of the Seas is split into seven distinct neighborhoods, each of which offers its own amenities and purpose. Neighborhoods include Central Park, a sprawling outdoor park with over 20,000 plants, and the Boardwalk, a family-focused neighborhood with a carousel, arcade, candy shop, and sports bar.
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As one of the world’s biggest cruise ships, Symphony of the Seas offers activities for cruisers of all ages, whether you want to sunbathe at the pool or try thrilling activities like a zip line or laser tag.
In total, I paid $1656 for an interior room on a 7-night Western Caribbean cruise. The cost was for two adults in an interior cabin with taxes, fees, and prepaid gratuities added, making the total price $828 per person.
My cabin on Rhapsody of the Seas had outdated decor, while my Symphony of the Seas cabin had updated furnishings and plenty of storage space.
Rhapsody of the Seas is over 25 years old, and our cabin definitely showed its age. Our cabin had older bedding, the furniture upholstery could use an update, and we had a cloth shower curtain in the bathroom.
The color scheme was relatively outdated, too, with dark green furniture and cream-tinted walls, and the room’s size left little walking space.
On the contrary, my Symphony of the Seas cabin appeared modern, spacious (for an interior cabin), and with an impressive amount of storage space.
The cabin had closet and drawer space on each side of the bed in addition to a dresser with more drawers. The blue color scheme was more pleasing than Rhapsody’s outdated decor, and I found the room to be much more comfortable during our time onboard.
My one gripe with our cabin was that I feel the bed would have been better placed at the back of the room. We constantly had to walk around a tiny space between the bed and desk to reach the dresser and couch; the cabin layout seemed poorly designed.
On Rhapsody of the Seas, I ate primarily at the buffet and Main Dining Room. Symphony of the Seas had many more complimentary dining options available.
Rhapsody of the Seas, being a smaller cruise ship, has limited complimentary dining venues. There are four places to grab complimentary food onboard: the Main Dining Room, Windjammer buffet, Park Cafe, and Cafe Latte-tudes.
I enjoyed most meals at the Main Dining Room and Windjammer, as these venues have the most options. I was impressed with the buffet’s food selection, and it was one of the best buffet experiences I’ve had on Royal Caribbean so far.
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We did make a few stops at Park Cafe during the late-night hours, which run from 9PM to 1AM. During these hours, Park Cafe served pizza, sandwiches, and desserts, and it was the only late-night option available onboard.
Unsurprisingly, Symphony of the Seas has many more complimentary dining options to cater to nearly 7,000 passengers. There are ten places to eat included in your cruise fare on the ship, from Mexican cuisine at El Loco Fresh to pizza at Sorrento’s.
Park Cafe on Symphony of the Seas is located in the ship’s Central Park neighborhood. Like on Rhapsody of the Seas, this venue offers grab and go options like bagels, salads, soups, and sandwiches. I much preferred the outdoor location on Symphony of the Seas, but the venue wasn’t open for late night snacks like on Rhapsody of the Seas.
I found the buffet on Symphony of the Seas to be lacking, though, and wasn’t particularly impressed with any of my meals there. The buffet’s size also felt much more cramped compared to on Rhapsody of the Seas, despite the ship being so much bigger.
Wonderland was my favorite restaurant experience on Symphony of the Seas. Rhapsody of the Seas had more traditional specialty dining options, but that doesn’t mean the dining experience wasn’t enjoyable.
In addition to complimentary dining, both ships offered several specialty dining options.
I tried four specialty restaurants on Symphony of the Seas: Jamie’s Italian, Izumi Sushi, Wonderland, and Playmakers. Of the restaurants, Wonderland was my favorite dining experience.
Wonderland is an eclectic restaurant based loosely on the tales of Alice and Wonderland. The restaurant goes above and beyond standard menu choices by offering unique, imaginative dishes that don’t necessarily look the same as they taste.
Our caprese appetizer, for example, was "reconstructed" caprese. Instead of a dish with slices of tomatoes and mozzarella, it consisted of cubed goat and bocconcini cheese with blue cheese meringue and basil puree.
To eat the dish, you first had to smash a reconstructed tomato into the cheese, which had been drained and blended with agar and Bloody Mary mix. “Creating” and mixing the dish together was just as fun as eating it!
Related: I spent $60 to eat at Royal Caribbean's most bizarre restaurant. I thought I would hate it, but it was one of the best meals of my cruise.
Despite being one of Royal Caribbean’s smallest ships, I found myself surprised by the amount of specialty dining options on Rhapsody of the Seas. The ship has four: Chops Grille, Giovanni’s Table, Izumi Sushi, and Chef’s Table.
We dined at Izumi Sushi one evening of our cruise and found the ambiance and food to be just as enjoyable as on Royal Caribbean’s newest ships.
Although the newest Royal Caribbean restaurants aren’t available on Rhapsody of the Seas—like Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen and Hooked Seafood—I found the variety of specialty options adequate for sailing on an older ship.
It’s no question that the entertainment on Symphony of the Seas was several notches higher than that on Rhapsody of the Seas.
While performers on both Symphony of the Seas and Rhapsody of the Seas were equally talented, it was clear the entertainment on the latter had a much higher budget.
I don’t necessarily cruise for entertainment shows, but I was beyond impressed with the shows on Symphony of the Seas. From the ice skating performance in Studio B to the Broadway production of Hairspray, I made sure to never miss a show onboard.
The most impressive production, in my opinion, was HiRO in the ship’s AquaTheater. This show combined high diving, slacklining, tightropes, aerial acrobatics, synchronized swimming, and dancing for one of the most mind-boggling performances I’ve ever seen on a cruise ship.
The entertainment on Rhapsody of the Seas, on the other hand, is the area in which the ship fell the most flat for me. Not only does the ship have far fewer entertainment venues, with most productions in the main theater, but I found the shows to be a bit outdated for my generation.
I did enjoy the variety of live music on both ships, from piano tunes to jazz bands and reggae music. If I had to pick one ship over the other when it comes to entertainment, though, I’d definitely pick Symphony of the Seas.
The pool deck on Rhapsody of the Seas had a more relaxed vibe than that on Symphony of the Seas, and I preferred it.
While I preferred entertainment on Symphony of the Seas, I preferred the pool deck on Rhapsody of the Seas.
With so many passengers on Symphony of the Seas, the pool deck was packed nearly every time I tried to use it. I wasn’t interested in sharing a hot tub with 20 other passengers or swimming in a crowded pool full of kids splashing around.
I noticed much more chair hogging than usual, too, and it was nearly impossible to find a pool chair in the middle of the day.
With traditional decor and a lack of waterslides, the pool deck on Rhapsody of the Seas was not as exciting as Symphony of the Seas, but I preferred the more relaxed vibe. With one pool outside and one pool in the adults-only Solarium, I didn’t encounter nearly as many crowds using the pools.
While the lack of crowds could have been due to our port-intensive itinerary, I found myself enjoying the pool deck far more on an older cruise ship.
Activities were much more varied on Symphony of the Seas, but there were way more kids onboard.
Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class ships offer a far greater amount of activities onboard compared to the fleet’s oldest vessels. It’s practically impossible to feel bored on Symphony of the Seas, and I was almost overwhelmed with the amount of activities to choose from.
Whether riding waterslides, rock climbing, or using the FlowRider, each day onboard was packed with a full schedule of activities. Even if adrenaline isn’t your thing, you could still find an abundance of programming onboard, from trivia to game shows, live music, and dance parties.
Symphony of the Seas is especially popular with families, and there were a lot of kids onboard. With a large Adventure Ocean kids-only space and family-friendly activities like a carousel and Splashaway Bay, it’s no surprise that there were tons of families onboard.
As someone without kids, however, I have to say I preferred the more adult-focused atmosphere on Rhapsody of the Seas. Although Rhapsody of the Seas still had activities for kids, the ship doesn’t seem catered to families nearly as much as Symphony of the Seas.
If I were to bring my young nephews on a cruise, sailing on Symphony of the Seas would undoubtedly be a better choice. If I’m cruising with all adults, though, I think I prefer a smaller, less family-focused ship.
The itinerary on Rhapsody of the Seas was much more interesting than Symphony of the Seas, and visiting unique ports made the small ship experience worth it.
Generally speaking, Royal Caribbean’s oldest, smallest cruise ships offer much more fascinating itineraries compared to their newer ships.
New Royal Caribbean cruise ships focus more on the ship itself rather than the destination, and their big size means they can’t fit into as many cruise ports as smaller ships. While there’s nothing wrong with viewing the cruise ship as your vacation destination, I find the itineraries on smaller, older Royal Caribbean ships to be far more interesting.
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My Rhapsody of the Seas sailing left from Athens, Greece and visited Mykonos, Crete, Zakynthos, Kotor, and Split before ending in Ravenna, Italy. We only had one sea day on our entire 7-night cruise, and the ship felt more like an afterthought compared to the incredible ports we were visiting.
When I booked my cruise on Symphony of the Seas, I had fewer itinerary options. The ship’s Caribbean itineraries visit the same ports week after week, and the itineraries all visited popular cruise ports I’ve been to before.
I settled on a Western Caribbean cruise, and while I won’t ever complain about spending the day in Mexico, I much prefer the wider range of itinerary options on Royal Caribbean’s oldest ships.
Overall, I enjoyed sailing on both ships. Each ship comes with its own advantages and disadvantages, which may vary depending on your travel style.
I have a soft spot in my heart for Royal Caribbean’s older, smaller ships. While they may lack the shiny, sparkly new decor and venues, I appreciate the more traditional cruise ship experience they offer.
I’m perfectly happy sitting on the promenade deck and watching the ocean pass by without worrying about rushing to trivia or a theater show.
At the same time, however, I do enjoy the upgraded entertainment and programming available on Royal Caribbean’s newest cruise ships. There’s something special about eating breakfast in Central Park, strolling through the Royal Promenade, and having endless choices.
If there’s anything my experience on both ships taught me, it’s that having the right mindset can make or break your cruise vacation. If I boarded Rhapsody of the Seas expecting it to be on the same level as Symphony of the Seas, I would have been disappointed.
Likewise, if I boarded Symphony of the Seas expecting it to be a quiet, traditional cruise environment, I would have been shocked once onboard.
Whenever you book a Royal Caribbean cruise, it’s helpful to remain open and flexible to trying something new. You might surprise yourself by how much you enjoy cruising on a ship you never would have considered, whether it’s the biggest, most exciting ship in the fleet or the oldest and smallest vessel.