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First time cruise tips for Royal Caribbean

28 Nov 2023
Matt Hochberg

If you're brand new to a Royal Caribbean cruise, we have some special tips that will make your first cruise much better.

Symphony of the Seas turning

There's no shortage of Royal Caribbean tips, but when you're new to the cruise line, there's a different approach you need to take because some aspects of the experience may be completely different than you expect.

Whether it's your first cruise or your fiftieth, you want it all to go well and have a great time.  Using tried-and-true advice, you can arm yourself with the proper strategy to have a wonderful vacation.

Here's our best advice for someone who is taking their first cruise on Royal Caribbean.

1. Double check you have the right travel documents

An easy rookie mistake to avoid is ensure you have the right travel documents for your cruise.

In order to go on any cruise, you need certain documentation and depending on your nationality, where you're sailing from and to, as well as your itinerary, there could be different requirements.

If everyone sailing has a passport, that's the ideal situation.  Royal Caribbean recommends cruising with a passport that will not expire in less than six months for any cruise, and we agree. Passports are the simplest and best document you can have to cruise.

If you're planning a European, Australian, or Asian cruise, you're going to need a passport for everyone, no matter what.

However, there are some cruises where you could cruise without a passport.

If you're an American citizen sailing on a cruise ship that departs and returns to the same U.S. city, then you can cruise with a birth certificate and state issued identification.

Read moreDo you need a passport for a cruise?

2. Download the Royal Caribbean app and check-in with it

RC app

You really should download and install the Royal Caribbean app before your cruise begins.

The app is a powerful tool that makes the entire experience so much easier, and you're effectively doing yourself a disservice by not getting it.

Get the app and install it while you're at home, and then 30 days before your cruise is scheduled to begin, do the online check-in.

You'll want to check-in exactly 30 days early because that's when the earliest check-in times are available, and most people want to get onboard as early as possible.  If you wait, you'll end up with a check-in time in the afternoon.

Read more30 cruise ship embarkation day do's and don'ts

3. Bring a carry-on bag for embarkation day


Plan to have a small carry-on bag to bring with you around the ship on the first day.

When you arrive at the cruise terminal, porters will greet you and take your luggage to be checked and delivered to your cabin onboard the ship. It's a great service, and you should totally take advantage of it.  There's no cost, but a small tip is expected.

In the time between when you drop off your luggage with the porters and the time it gets delivered, you're going to probably need a few items, such as:

  • Travel documents
  • Cash
  • Hat
  • Sun glasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Medication
  • Phone charger

Read more15 things to pack in your cruise carry-on

There could be more items, but it's a good idea to invest in a small carry-on bag, such as a backpack, small rolling suitcase, or other bag.

4. Pre-book shows, add-ons, and shore excursions

Aquadome on Icon of the Seas

If there's a mantra about planning a great Royal Caribbean cruise, it's to plan as much as possible before the cruise begins.

Royal Caribbean makes a great deal of options available to reserve in the months leading up to your cruise, and doing so could save you money and time.

About 30 days before your cruise, shows will be bookable for Royal Caribbean's biggest ships.  If you're sailing on an Oasis, Quantum, or Icon Class cruise ship, you'll be able to pre-book entertainment.

Read moreRoyal Caribbean ship classes ultimate guide

AquaTheater show on Wonder of the Seas

If you're sailing on any other class of ship, you won't be able to pre-book shows and that's because there's no need.

You can book shows in the Royal Caribbean app or through the Cruise Planner website on Royal Caribbean's homepage.

Show reservations are complimentary, so you should make a reservation. Keep in mind reservations will go very quickly, so it's likely shows will sell out. If you don't get into a show, not to worry. Standby lines will be available and if you arrive early, you'll probably be able to make it into the show.

Soda cup

Speaking of pre-booking, you ought to pre-book extra cost add-ons to save money. Royal Caribbean has an array of possible things to buy for your cruise, including drink packages, specialty dining packages, WiFi packages, spa treatments, and shore excursions.

To be clear, you will pay more if you wait to book these items onboard the ship.  So if you know you want them, book them before the cruise.

A common question is if it's worth it to buy them, and the answer it depends on the person.  Beverage packages and dining packages can absolutely save you money, provided you take advantage of them to make it worthwhile.

In terms of picking a shore excursion, you will want to research the ports of call you are visiting to make plans now.

You will want to have a plan for what to do in these ports in advance, rather than trying to wing and it and risking missing out.

In nearly all cases, you'll be in port for around six or eight hours, so picking a tour or a plan to hit up one or three spots is a good idea.

Kids on an Alaska cruise

Organized tours are the most popular way to visit any port of call. Royal Caribbean offers its own set of shore excursions you can purchase from the website or the app, but you could also plan to do something on your own.

There are pros and cons to booking a tour with the cruise line or through a third-party. Do your research and have a plan so you can have a really fun day in port.

Read moreTop 10 cruise ship shore excursion mistakes to avoid

5. Book your cruise as early as possible for the best price

Wonder of the Seas

Want to save the most money possible on a Royal Caribbean cruise? Book your cruise as early as you can.

Generally speaking, the best price for a Royal Caribbean cruise is when you book as many months in advance as possible.  This is because as cruise ship cabins get booked up, the amount of available cabins drops and prices go up.

Ideally, you'll book your cruise as soon as Royal Caribbean puts the sailing on sale.  Yes, that's two years or more in advance.

By booking that far in advance, not only will you get a low fare, but you can get the exact cabin category you want.  The cheapest cabins and the most expensive suites are the first types of rooms to be sold out and they are both highly desirable.

Read moreThe 5 best cabin locations on a cruise ship

6. Avoid bringing any prohibited items

Clothing steamer iron

There are things you can bring on an airplane that you can't bring on a cruise ship, many that would surprise you.

Packing for a cruise involves a lot of things that you'll need, but there are a few items you shouldn't bother packing because if you do, Royal Caribbean will confiscated them.

This includes:

  • Firearms, ammunition, handcuffs, pepper spray, night sticks
  • Coffee makers, clothing irons, travel steamers, electric kettles and hot plates
  • Candles, incense, flammable liquids and explosives (including lighter fluid and fireworks), hookahs and water hookah pipes
  • Power strip and surge protectors
  • Dangerous Chemicals, including bleach and paint
  • Drugs (including medically prescribed marijuana)
  • Beer or liquors
Voyager of the Seas oceanview cabin

Some of these may seem self-explanatory, but the appliances and candles are the most commonly confiscated items because people don't realize they aren't allowed due to being a fire hazard.

Don't even bother trying, all bags go through a screening machine and they will see them and take it.

Read moreWhat can you not bring on a cruise

7. Fly to your cruise port a day or two early

Airplane in the clouds

The single costliest mistake you could make is flying to your cruise port the same day the cruise is scheduled to set sail.

Since Royal Caribbean cruises depart in the afternoon, a lot of newbies will think to book a flight that arrives in the morning on the same day of the cruise.  This is such a dangerous decision, because even a minor delay could prevent you from being able to board the ship.

Read moreThe costly cruising mistake newbies make planning their first cruise

New York as seen from Bayonne

What you want to do instead is book a flight at least one day before embarkation day so that you can protect yourself against any travel delays. Plus, you'll have more time to explore the city you're in and start your vacation a little bit earlier.

If you are traveling overseas for a cruise, we advise flying in at least two days early not only because of travel delays but to acclimate yourself to the local time and jet lag. Starting your international cruise without feeling exhausted is so important given how port intensive it tends to be.

8. Plan to bring your own soda and wine

Wine brought onboard

Royal Caribbean won't let you bring beer or liquor on your cruise, but you can bring a limited amount of wine and soft drinks.

Royal Caribbean allows one bottle of wine (or champagne) per adult in the cabin to be brought onboard on embarkation day. In addition, you can bring up to 12 standard cans, bottles or cartons of nonalcoholic drinks.

Bringing your own drinks can save a lot of money on a bar tab.

Read more: Royal Caribbean drink prices

9. Do the signature activities on the first day

Icon of the Seas water park

There's a good chance you picked a cruise ship because of the fun attractions available onboard, but so did everyone else too.

Activities like the Flowrider surf simulator, water slides, bumper cars, and sky diving simulators are just some of the top must-dos, so the best time to try any of them is on the first day of the cruise.

Embarkation day is busy, and most people are still finding their way around the ship.  Heck, some might be oblivious these are options to do until later in the cruise.  The water-based activities are perfect for embarkation day because most people packed their swimsuit in their checked luggage.

Grab lunch and then hit up these signature attractions on day one.

10. Keep your phone in airplane mode

Woman using iphone

If you want to avoid a giant cell phone bill due to thousands of dollars in cell phone charges when you get home, make one simple change to your phone after boarding.

Cruise ships have a cell phone antenna on them, but they're out of network. When a phone is outside of its normal cellular network, and you try to use a cell phone for calls, data, or texting on someone else's network, you incur crazy high rates.

Many cellular plans (even international plans) do not include calls, texts, or data on cruise ships and they will charge you extremely high roaming rates for such services that will show up weeks later on your phone bill.

The easy way to prevent this from ever happening to you is to put your phone into airplane mode.

If you want to stay connected on your cruise, you can buy a WiFi package, which will let you make FaceTime calls and stream videos over Wi-Fi without using phone data.

11. You can re-price your cruise and add-ons

We talked about how important it is to book your cruise fare and add-ons early to lock in a good price, but what happens if there's a price drop later?

Anyone can cancel and rebook a Cruise Planner purchase at any time before the cruise begins.  That way, if the drink package or shore excursion price goes down, you can easily cancel and reprice it.

What if your cruise fare goes down? Many people hesitate to book early because they worry about missing out on a better deal later on.

If you're a resident of certain countries (such as the United States or Canada), you can get your fare reduced to match the lower price up until the final payment date.

12. Use a travel agent to book your cruise

There are many ways to book a Royal Caribbean cruise, but using a travel agent is the best choice.

There are so many decisions to make when booking a cruise as a first timer that you're much better off using an experienced travel agent to help.

A good travel agent will charge nothing extra for their services, and get a sense of your interests, needs, and travel style to help guide you through the booking process, as well as answer questions and deal with problems later on.

In addition, travel agents could spot special discounts or deals you might not find on your own, such as group rates or nabbing extra onboard credit.

Read moreWhy first-time cruisers should use a Royal Caribbean travel agent

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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