Visit our travel agent friends at MEI Travel

How to beat the crowds on your cruise ship

12 Jun 2023
Matt Hochberg

No matter which Royal Caribbean cruise ship you sail on, there's going to be a few thousands other passengers onboard with you, but that doesn't mean the ship will be crowded all the time and everywhere.

Sail away crowd

In some cases, a crowd is a good thing. It's nice to have the energy of a crowd for a theater performance, during a sing-a-long in a bar, or as part of the sail away party.

Royal Caribbean designs its ships to distribute guests around so crowding doesn't become problematic.  This is through a combination of placing venues at different ends and decks of the ship, as well as scheduling competing events at the same time.  

While these methods help reduce crowding, it's not going to feel like a private yacht or anything quite that empty.  That's to be expected to some degree on a mass market cruise line, but there's still a few ways to keep crowds to a minimum.

Crowd on pool

Depending on your cruising style, budget, and energy to seek out alternatives, you can enjoy a Royal Caribbean cruise without nearly as many crowds.

If your goal is to find ways to minimize crowds on your cruise, here are some strategies to side-step the crowds while enjoying your cruise.

Book a suite

Royal Loft suite on Icon

If you want to throw money at the problem, staying in a Royal Caribbean suite gives you certain privileges that can assist with avoiding crowds.

Your suite cabin is going to be substantially larger than a standard balcony room, and that gives you private space to enjoy every day. This is especially nice with your suite balcony, which is quite a bit larger than a regular balcony.

Another way staying in a suite can give you an uncrowded experience is access to suite-only areas, such as the suite lounge and suite sun deck.

Suite Sun Deck on Wonder of the Seas

The suite sun deck is a popular option, because it allows you to enjoy the bright sunny days at sea without having to compete as much for a lounger.

Having your own bar and lounge in the suite lounge really makes a difference too, especially since drinks are complimentary here in the evening.

Suite Sun Deck render on Icon of the Seas

Looking ahead to Icon of the Seas, Royal Caribbean has dedicated the most space ever for suite guests in an entire neighborhood.

Icon’s expanded Suite neighborhood will include a new Mediterranean restaurant in The Grove, a multideck outdoor area with a pool and hot tub, reserved for suite guests.

Suite Sun Deck render on Icon of the Seas

Of course, staying in a suite isn't a cheap option, and it may be out of the question for most people's budgets.  But if you can afford one, staying in a suite is one easy way to avoid crowds.

Seek chairs away from the pool

Chairs on Oasis of the Seas

If you want to enjoy time outdoors in a chair or lounger, there are usually lots of seating choices if you don't mind being away from the pool.

While the pool is a focal point for sea day activities, you'll find lots of seating choices on the outer decks if you venture further aft or forward from the middle of the deck.

Solarium loungers

What I love about getting a lounger away from the pool is it's quieter and a better chance of getting a lounge chair in the shade.

There are also chairs on the promenade deck that wraps around the outside of the ship on deck 4 or 5 (depending on the Royal Caribbean ship class).

Go indoors on sea days

Schooner Bar on Vision of the Seas

If you value a quiet day on a sea day, head indoors when everyone is outside at the pool.

During the day, the bars are open on sea days and you'd be surprised how uncrowded some of these venues can be in the morning and afternoon.

A bar indoors will be quieter and sparsely crowded because a lot of other guests want to be outdoors to enjoy the sun or activities. If your goal is to read a book, watch a movie, or chat, being in an indoor venue isn't a bad idea at all.

Plus, you'll still find activities held indoors to keep you busy.

Cruise in the shoulder season

Radiance of the Seas in Alaska

While Royal Caribbean ships rarely sail less than full capacity, picking a cruise during the shoulder season can feel less crowded, especially in the ports of call you visit.

The term "shoulder season" refers to the beginning and end of a cruise season when demand is less. Some examples of shoulder season are:

These times of the year are when demand is less because of weather or school schedules, and the result is (generally) lower prices and less demand.

Anthem of the Seas in Geiranger

While I don't think your cruise ship will be half empty by any means, one advantage of shoulder season cruising is fewer ships in port. That makes shore excursion touring far less crowded, especially in cities or at popular beaches.

Avoid Windjammer on embarkation day

When you board a Royal Caribbean cruise, the first place you may run into a crowd is at the ship's Windjammer buffet restaurant.

A lot of people boarding want to grab lunch before enjoying their first afternoon onboard and that can result in a busy lunch crowd.

Instead, get something to eat at another venue.

El Loco Fresh

Depending on your ship, there's usually a couple of alternatives you could choose from for an embarkation day lunch.

Park Cafe, El Loco Fresh, Cafe Promenade, or Sorrento's are all complimentary options you could enjoy a lunch at for no extra cost.

In addition, some specialty restaurants are open for lunch on the first day, such as Chop's Grille, Johnny Rockets, Playmaker's Sports Bar, or Giovanni's.

Check a past Cruise Compass to get a sense of restaurant choices and operating hours.

Book with a group and rent out a venue

Private ice skating

If you're sailing with a group of friends, you might be able to rent out a venue onboard.

Assuming you all booked with the same travel agent, Royal Caribbean's group department provides certain services, such as the ability to rent out a venue.

You could rent out a bar, specialty restaurant, water slide, or lounge. Depending on the size of your group, this might be something the equity generated by the group could cover partially or entirely in cost.

You'll need to have a group set up with Royal Caribbean's Groups department, but with some advanced planning, this can be a really fun way to enjoy certain venues of a ship without anyone else!

Do activities during dinner time

Learning to surf on Flowrider

Want to ride the water slides, climb the rocking wall, or try the Flowrider without any lines? Go during dinner time.

Royal Caribbean usually operates its signature activities into the late afternoon and early evening, and this is one of the best times to go without much of a wait because most other guests are either at dinner or preparing to go to dinner.

Once the clock hits 4pm or so, the pool and sports decks start to empty out considerably because everyone wants to go to dinner. 

In the summer, there's plenty of day light in the early evening, and it's a great time to enjoy these venues that are otherwise super popular other times of the day.

Book a private shore excursion

I mentioned how shoulder season cruising can ensure a less crowded port day, but if you can't do a shoulder season cruise, another good option to avoid crowds is to book a private tour.

No matter which port you visit, there are bound to be private shore excursions you can book through third party operators.

A private tour means it's just for you and your group, so you don't have to worry about a crowded bus or waiting around for a large group to move.

Private Tour

Plus, your private tour will be more nimble than a large group, and that can allow you to get to and from hot spots in port before the larger crowds descend.

A private tour will cost more than a group tour, but if you value avoiding the crowd, a private tour is the way to go.

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.

Get our newsletter

Stay up-to-date with cruise news & advice

    We never share your information with third parties and will protect it in accordance with our Privacy Policy