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50 Best First Time Alaska cruise tips for a perfect vacation

10 Jan 2023
Jenna DeLaurentis

An Alaska cruise is different from cruises to the Caribbean or Europe, and there's a whole bunch of easy tips and tricks to make your cruise fantastic.

Alaska requires its own strategy for planning, given the variety of tours and things you can do while on an Alaska cruise.

We wanted to the share absolute best Alaska cruise tips to help you kickstart your planning and ensure a great trip to the last—and vast—great frontier.

Booking tips

Figure out the best time to visit Alaska for your preferences

The Alaska cruise season generally runs from May to September. While many offerings and experiences on an Alaska cruise will be similar no matter the month you sail, there are a few differences to consider.

May and September are shoulder seasons for Alaska cruises. During these months, you may find fewer families and passengers onboard and lower prices. In addition, you may have a greater chance of seeing the northern lights as fall begins in September.

The most popular months to cruise to Alaska are in June, July, and August. These months are when daylight hours are longest, wildlife viewing opportunities are greatest, and weather is warmest.

Read more: The best time to take an Alaska cruise

Research the best ship for you

Sun rising in Alaska

Royal Caribbean deploys both large and small cruise ships to Alaska, each with their own benefits and drawbacks. Larger ships will offer more onboard activities and venues, whereas smaller ships are able to fit into more destinations along Alaska’s inside passage. Taking a look at what you hope to see and experience while on an Alaska cruise is an important first step before booking a particular ship.

Are you traveling with kids and looking for the most onboard activities? If so, selecting a larger ship like Quantum of the Seas or Ovation of the Seas may be the best option. These Quantum Class ships feature the Seaplex, an indoor sports court that offers activities like bumper cars, soccer, pickleball, and more. They also have an indoor pool as well as more bars, dining options, and entertainment venues onboard.

Ships like Serenade of the Seas and Radiance of the Seas may be smaller, but don’t let that deter you from choosing one of these ships. Many passengers find that cruising to Alaska on a smaller ship comes with its own set of benefits. Smaller ships are able to fit into more ports, meaning that they can visit destinations like Hubbard Glacier and Tracy Arm Fjord. And like Royal Caribbean’s larger ships, these smaller ships also offer fantastic viewing opportunities with floor-to-ceiling windows and plenty of outdoor deck space.

Consider a balcony cabin

Sailing into port in Alaska

If a balcony stateroom is in your budget, then definitely book one and enjoy the opportunity to have a private area to enjoy the natural beauty of Alaska anytime you see fit.  There is no denying that having easy access and private space, especially when near a glacier, is a lovely perk.

Balcony staterooms may come at a higher cost than interior or ocean view cabins, but for many cruisers it is well worth the cost.

Or… consider an interior or ocean view cabin

Large interior room

One of the lessons we learned from our first Royal Caribbean cruise to Alaska was that while a balcony cabin is nice to have, it is not nearly as essential as others led us to believe.

You can still have an amazing Alaska cruise by depending on public areas to enjoy the view.  Royal Caribbean's ships feature ample deck space to enjoy the view any time of the day.  Even when near a glacier, you ought to find great viewing opportunities.  Moreover, the price of a balcony room may be much more expensive than an interior room. You may decide that it is a better investment to book the cheaper room and use the money saved to invest in an amazing shore excursion.

The bottom line is consider all room categories, but do not assume you have to get a balcony room.

Book with a travel agent

One of the top tips we share at Royal Caribbean Blog is to book your cruise with a travel agent. A travel agent will cost you nothing extra, but they can provide extremely valuable help and support during the booking process.

Being able to ask your travel agent questions–and get them resolved–without having to take time out of your day to contact Royal Caribbean yourself will save you valuable time. Additionally, good travel agents have an abundance of knowledge about Royal Caribbean and the cruise industry, so they are available to answer any questions you may have about your upcoming cruise.

Read more: Top 5 things to look for in a good travel agent for your cruise vacation

Book dining and drink packages in advance


Just like any Royal Caribbean cruise, it’s important to pre-book any dining or drink packages for your cruise via Royal Caribbean’s Cruise Planner website. Booking early allows you to lock in the price. If the drink package you purchased for $63/day raises to $75/day, for example, you will have paid a much lower price than some passengers onboard.

Likewise, you’re also able to cancel and rebook if the price drops. If you initially paid $220 for an Unlimited Dining Package and it lowers to $179, you can cancel and rebook the package to obtain the lower price.

You can also cancel any packages booked up to two days before your cruise, so there is no harm in booking addons early to lock in the best price.

Book excursions in advance

Alaska paddleboarding excursion

The same rules that apply to dining and beverage packages also apply to shore excursions; it’s important to book shore excursions in advance. In fact, because popular shore excursions often risk selling out, it’s even more important to book shore excursions ahead of time compared to dining and beverage packages.

Whether you are booking through Royal Caribbean directly or through an outside provider, be sure to research what activities and excursions are recommended in each cruise port. While some ports may be best for whale watching, others may offer the best historic or cultural opportunities.

For more information on what to do in the most common cruise ports in Alaska, check out our guides:

Find the best itinerary for you

While there is no “best itinerary” for an Alaska cruise, it’s important to have an understanding of what options are available. Some cruise ships leave from Seattle whereas others leave from Vancouver, some are one-way sailings to Alaska while others are roundtrip, and some itineraries visit more cruise ports than others.

Read more: How to choose the right Alaska cruise itinerary

Browsing through all of Royal Caribbean’s Alaska cruise offerings on the website is a good starting point for researching the different options available. Alternatively, you can talk to your travel agent to discuss which option will work best for you.

Fly into your departure port a day early

No matter where in the world your cruise departs from, it is important to arrive to your departure city at least one day prior to the cruise. Flight delays and cancellations, missed connections, traffic, unexpected car issues, and weather can negatively affect your chance of getting to the cruise port on time. Arriving one day ahead of time and staying in a hotel the night before your cruise will give you buffer time in the chance you encounter unexpected delays.

Luckily, Alaska cruises depart from Vancouver, Seattle, or Seward, each of which offers plenty to do, eat, and experience before your cruise begins.

Know the difference between Alaska and Caribbean cruises

If you are used to cruising in the Caribbean, going to Alaska is going to surprise you in some ways with the different approach and experience it offers.

Cruising to Alaska is a port-intensive itinerary with shore excursions that cost significantly more money and far fewer party events.  Unlike the Caribbean where the places you visit can sometimes be secondary, an Alaska cruise is all about where you visit and the onboard experience can almost become an afterthought.

Extend your Alaska cruise with a Cruise Tour

In addition to the cruises, Royal Caribbean offers expanded journeys into Alaska with its Cruise Tour program.

A Royal Caribbean Cruise Tour will take you to incredible destinations that no cruise ship can visit. From the coastline to the heart of the frontier, a Royal Caribbean Alaska Cruise Tour land and sea package delivers all the must-see sights on land.

Either before or after your Royal Caribbean cruise, you can book a Cruise Tour that combines a cruise and a land tour, which usually runs three to seven nights. Popular destinations include Denali National Park (for wildlife viewing), Talkeetna (best place for Denali views) and Fairbanks (Alaska pipeline). 

Every Royal Caribbean Alaska Cruise Tour includes knowledgeable Adventure Specialists who act as guides, historians and concierges. They are by your side for the entirety of the land tour, providing insider tips and local perspective.

Expect abnormal hours in port

Most cruises tend to have port stops sometime between 7AM and 8PM at the latest. Alaska cruises, however, often have more abnormal hours. Some port stops, for example, may be between 4PM and midnight, or you might have two stops in one day!

Most ports will stick to more “normal” hours, but if you’re looking at your itinerary and are shocked to see such bizarre hours for port stops, don’t be too alarmed. Cruises to Alaska run primarily during the summer months when daylight hours are much longer, so it’s possible to be walking around the port at 9 or 10PM in the peak of summer while still enjoying the daylight.

Purchase travel insurance

Travel insurance is always a good idea whether you are cruising to international ports or within the United States. Even though the insurance plans of most US citizens should work while in Alaska, it’s still a good idea to purchase travel insurance prior to your cruise.

Travel insurance can cover travel delays and cancellations, lost luggage or valuables, medical coverage, emergency transportation, and more. It’s always better to purchase travel insurance and not need it than to not have travel insurance when an unfortunate situation arises.

Tips for onboard the ship

Be flexible on ports

Your cruise will stop at a variety of ports in Alaska (with some stopping in Canada as well). Common ports include Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Sitka, Haines, and Hubbard Glacier, among others. 

Where you visit depends on your ship’s size, itinerary, and embarkation port. However, it is important to remain flexible and understand that your itinerary can change.

Alaska’s weather conditions may lead to high seas, storms, and heavy winds, especially if you are traveling during the shoulder season in early May or late September. The day you planned in Sitka, as an example, could be replaced by a stop in Ketchikan. Or perhaps the ship is unable to sail further into a passage for a glacier sighting.

The majority of sailings do go as planned, but staying flexible is important. Plus, you may end up having a fantastic day in a port you did not plan to go to in the first place!

Find a great spot to watch glaciers and scenery

A unique aspect to an Alaska cruise is that you can see land for the majority of the sailing. They mainly sail through Alaska’s inside passage, where fjords, waterfalls, and mountains dot the landscape on both sides of the ship.

On the first day or two of your cruise, we recommend exploring the ship to make note of areas from which you can view the scenery once you get to Alaska. The pool deck is a popular option, but you may find some hidden gems throughout the ship.

If you’re sailing on a Quantum Class ship to Alaska, head to the back of the Windjammer or the Solarium bridge wings for some fantastic views of the scenery with fewer crowds. On Radiance Class ships, check out the helicopter pad, the front of deck 12 above the bridge, or the Viking Crown Lounge.

Wake up early and stay up late

Traveling to Alaska will have different daylight hours than what you are used to on a Caribbean cruise, especially if you’re traveling in the middle of summer. With as many as 19 hours of daylight in the summer months, don’t forget to wake up early and stay up late to be amazed by the scenery around you on an Alaska cruise.

Try not to worry about the weather

News flash: it will rain while you are in Alaska, but it is also not the end of the world.

Weather forecasts do not always match what you will experience. Be prepared for changing weather daily. Be prepared with varying clothing options (i.e. wear layers).  And when it does rain, just give it a few minutes, as it generally does not last long. Take it all in. And remember, many excursions go rain or shine!

No matter what time of the year you pick for your cruise, the weather can be iffy, so plan for it all.

Bring motion sickness remedies

Depending on the weather conditions outside and time of year you sail to Alaska, you may encounter some choppy seas. While most days should be smooth sailing, it’s always good to plan in advance if you are prone to motion sickness. This is especially true if you plan to book a whale watching tour while in port, as most guests will feel more movement on a smaller vessel.

There are many remedies available for motion sickness, from dramamine to sea-bands or even natural remedies like green apples and ginger.

Take advantage of port lectures

Royal Caribbean offers complimentary lectures presented by higher education staff on the history and culture of the ports your cruise will visit.

It is easy to overlook these types of offerings with so many other activities and things to do onboard your Royal Caribbean cruise, but do yourself a favor and check these out. The lectures provided onboard offer important context for the adventures you will take on shore later in your visit.

These lectures may not offer money saving tips or pitfalls to avoid, but they do offer an insider look at these ports that I think helps improve your appreciation of each city when you go to visit them later.

Relax and enjoy the scenery

Even with all the fun activities you’ll find onboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, it’s always a great idea to spend time sitting back and relaxing on an Alaska cruise. Sailing through the Alaska Inside Passage comes with stunning views in every direction, whether you spot whales, eagles, glaciers, or waterfalls.

While it can be tempting to book a full day of fun activities onboard, don’t forget to spend some time relaxing in a comfy chair or on the pool deck to watch the scenery pass by.

Book shows and dining on the first day

Just like any Royal Caribbean cruise, be sure to book any specialty dining and entertainment reservations on the first day of your cruise to ensure you can reserve the days and times that work best for you.

As soon as you get onboard, connect to the ship’s wifi and open the Royal Caribbean app (you do not need to purchase a wifi package to access the Royal Caribbean app). Then scroll through the calendar to reserve any entertainment you are interested in.

If you have a dining package, head to any of the restaurants onboard to reserve all specialty dining days and times for the week.

Bring cards or board games

You may encounter more downtime on an Alaska cruise compared to what you would experience on a bigger cruise ship in warmer weather. While there are certainly enough activities and entertainment options to keep you occupied, some passengers like to spend time playing cards or games with fellow passengers.

While you may be able to find cards onboard, either in the library or Royal Caribbean gift shop, packing a deck of cards in your luggage isn’t a bad idea either.

Confirm Main Dining Room dining times and options

Another thing you should do on the first day of your Alaska cruise is double check your Main Dining Room preferences. When you booked your cruise, you should have selected a dining time and either Traditional or My Time Dining. Additionally, if you would prefer a private table as opposed to dining with others, it’s a good idea to speak with the staff in the Main Dining Room on embarkation day to ensure this is the case.

Shore excursion tips

Book a whale watching tour

Whale watching tours are arguably the most popular shore excursion to book on an Alaska cruise. The chance to view the largest mammals on earth in their natural habitat is simply a remarkable experience, and Alaska has some of the best whale watching in the world.

Whale watching tours are not cheap, but they won’t necessarily break the bank either. Some ports are better than others for whale watching, and some months bring a higher chance to spot whales than others. While you may be able to spot whales from your cruise ship at some point on an Alaska cruise, if you really want to see whales up close, be sure to book a whale watching excursion.

Read more: Alaska cruise whale watching guide & tips

View other wildlife

While whale watching may be popular, don’t miss the opportunity to spot more of Alaska’s amazing wildlife while in port. Bears, eagles, salmon, sea lions, sea otters, and other wildlife are often able to be spotted on an Alaska cruise.

In Sitka, consider visiting the Fortress of the Bear, a bear rescue center located near the city center. In Ketchikan, walk around Creek Street for the chance to spot sea otters playing in the creek. When you’re on a bus tour or walking through town, be sure to look up in the trees to see if you can spot any eagles.

Learn about Alaska’s Native history

While Alaska cruises are famous for providing stunning views, don’t miss the opportunity to learn more about Alaska’s history and culture while visiting the state.

Royal Caribbean offers shore excursions with a focus on history and culture in its Alaskan ports. As an example, one of these tours is the Native Cultural and Historical Tour in Sitka, where guests will experience first-hand the melting pot of native Tlingit culture as well as Russian and American influences. 

If you’re hoping to explore Native history and culture on your own, research museums and walking paths in your port of call.

Visit glaciers

While most cruises to Alaska will include a scenic cruising day to destinations like Hubbard Glacier and Endicott Arm & Dawes Glacier, you may also wish to explore glaciers up close while in port.

Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau is one of the most visited glaciers on an Alaska cruise, as it is easily accessible via bus or taxi from the cruise port. While at the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area, visitors can enjoy walking trails, the spectacular Nugget Waterfall, and wildlife viewing opportunities.

If you’re looking for a truly once in a lifetime experience, you can even book a helicopter tour that lands on top of a glacier in Alaska!

Go on a day hike

Alaska is a dream for active cruisers, offering some of the country’s most magnificent nature and mountains to explore. All Alaska cruise ports offer fantastic day hike opportunities, from the easiest of trails to the most challenging.

Whether hiking to the pointy peak of Deer Mountain in Ketchikan, riding the Goldbelt tram to mellow trails in Juneau, or opting for a low-impact nature walk in Sitka, hiking through Alaska’s forests is a nice way to connect with nature and explore the port.

Kayak near glaciers

Kayaking is another popular active shore excursion in Alaska, bringing visitors to picturesque destinations along the coastline. Some kayaking excursions allow guests to get close to glaciers and you may even spot wildlife while on the tour.

Kayaking is a relatively low-impact activity, making it a great choice for those looking for an active excursion that also allows them to relax and enjoy the scenery.

Go biking or rent a scooter

If you’re looking to explore Alaska in a unique way, consider traveling on two wheels. Bicycle tours or rentals are available in most Alaska cruise ports, allowing guests to see much more of a port than they would on foot. The “Bike and Brew Glacier View” tour in Juneau combines a bike ride with a beer tasting!

If riding a bike sounds too active for your liking, consider renting an electric scooter in Skagway through Skagway Scooters to explore all of Skagway and the surrounding area.

Try local food

One big mistake we made on our Alaska cruise was not taking the time to research where to eat in the various ports we visited. Alaska has some amazing local cuisine, but there are a lot of pretenders alongside the great stuff.

Each port you visit will take you to some terrific spots to eat, so don't rely purely on your Yelp app once in town.  Figure out the restaurants and bars you want to go to before you leave home, especially if you are interested in enjoying the best crab, salmon and beers of Alaska.

Here are a few food and drink recommendations for your Alaska cruise:

  • Ketchikan: The Alaska Fish House is a popular seafood spot located just a few blocks from the port. In our experience, a long line formed around lunchtime, but the extremely fresh fish is said to be worth the wait.
  • Skagway: On a chilly Alaskan day, not much fills the spot more than a doughy, sugary, and warm piece of Alaskan fry bread. Similar to an elephant ear, Alaskan fry bread is a popular snack in the state, and the place to try it in Skagway is at Klondike Doughboy. Each piece of fry bread is fried to order, and it is guaranteed to warm you up no matter what the weather is like outside. If you’re looking for something more savory, check out the Skagway Fish Company.
  • Juneau and Sitka: Due to Alaska’s historical and geographical connection to Russia, you can find Russian influences in Alaskan cuisine. A restaurant to taste Russian flavors is Pel’Meni, which is located in both Juneau and Sitka. Pel’Meni offers steamed Russian dumplings in two flavors: beef or potato. The dumplings are then topped with butter, curry, hot sauce, and cilantro, creating an explosion of flavor with each bite.

Visit a saloon

Just like eating, drinking can be a way to learn more about the culture of Alaska. Our recommendation is to plan shore excursions for the morning and spend the afternoon walking around the port to try local food and drinks.

Dotted along most Alaska cruise ports are small, historic saloons filled with local history, and drinking at a saloon is a quintessential part of visiting any small town in Alaska.

One of the most famous places to grab a drink when cruising to Alaska is The Red Dog Saloon in Juneau. With western-themed architecture and eclectic decor, The Red Dog Saloon is certainly unique. It’s not uncommon for the saloon to be filled with cruisers enjoying live music, drinks, and food before getting back onboard the ship.

Three of the most popular drinks at the saloon are the Duck Fart shot, Glacier Margarita, and Miners Scratch Hard Lemonade.

Taste local beer

If you’re a beer lover, you’re in luck while on an Alaska cruise. A variety of local craft breweries are located in most Alaska cruise ports, offering the perfect place to wind down after a busy day exploring the state.

Here are a few of our recommended breweries to check out while in Alaska:

  • Ketchikan: Bawden Street Brewing Company
  • Juneau: Barnaby Brewing Company
  • Skagway: Skagway Brewing Company or Klondike Brewing Company

Visit the Yukon Territory

If your cruise visits Skagway, you may want to take the chance to visit Canada’s Yukon Territory, located just 15 miles from the center of town. The Yukon Territory, like much of Alaska, offers rugged terrain, fascinating culture, and breathtaking scenery.

You can opt to visit the Yukon Territory by renting a car or motorcycle, booking an excursion, or traveling on the White Pass & Yukon Railway.

Get a taste of Alaska’s Russian history

In 1867, the United States purchased Alaska from Russia for a price of $7.2 million. Before this purchase, though, Russia had significant influence on the state, bringing architecture, food, and religion to the region. Visiting Alaska today offers visitors the chance to learn more about Russia’s impact on the state.

The best port to experience Alaska’s Russian history is in Sitka, the former capital of Russian Alaska. From visiting Orthodox cathedrals to Baranof Castle State Historic Site, where the formal transfer of Russia to the United States occurred, you’re sure to get a glimpse of the state’s dynamic history while in Sitka.

Pack snacks for shore excursions

It’s a good idea to pack a snack with you while on a shore excursion in Alaska, which may be further out into nature and more active than what you normally book on a Caribbean cruise. Packing granola bars, trail mix, or even the small boxes of cereal you can get with room service is recommended to ensure you don’t get too hungry while on tour.

Always get off the ship

Regardless of how bad the weather outside may be or if you have already visited a port before, always get off the ship when you can. Even if you don’t have anything planned, just walking around the historic port towns can be a nice way to spend a few hours.

If it’s cold and rainy, take shelter in a local seafood restaurant, saloon, coffee shop, or brewery and immerse yourself in the town’s culture while tasting delicious food and drinks.

Packing tips

Bring an all-weather jacket

Even though your Royal Caribbean cruise will take you to Alaska during the warmer months of the year, it can get downright cold (and wet) during your Alaska cruise.

Given its northerly position and varied geography—from mountains and oceans to glaciers and tundra—you can experience several microclimates in a short amount of time, which can mean extreme temperatures in one place, and mild conditions in the next.

There are plenty of great packing choices to consider, but an all-weather jacket is essential to ensure you remain warm and dry in the coldest of temperatures. Here are our top recommendations for the best jacket for an Alaska cruise:

Wear the right shoes

While you may walk around in flip flops in the Caribbean, you probably will not want to do this on an Alaska cruise! Packing the right shoes to fit Alaska’s terrain and shore excursion opportunities is essential to ensure you remain comfortable during your vacation.

The proper footwear to bring ultimately depends on what you plan to do while in port. Sneakers or other closed toed shoes are the most recommended footwear, especially those that are water-resistant. Rain is extremely common in Alaska, so having footwear that will not make your feet cold and wet is important.

Rugged hiking boots are not totally necessary unless you plan to do a lot of hiking while in Alaska. For walking around Alaska’s towns and visiting popular spots like Mendenhall Glacier, sneakers should suffice

Bring binoculars

Alaska is all about what you see around you, and often the very best of Alaska's natural beauty and wildlife is best seen through a pair of binoculars.

You do not need to go crazy with the fanciest binoculars on the market, but being able to zoom in on a bald eagle resting, or sea lions swimming is worth every penny you spend on binoculars.

On our recent Alaska cruise onboard Ovation of the Seas, we purchased these binoculars and found them to be a great budget option. 

Wear layers

Layers are key when it comes to packing for an Alaska cruise. Weather can change rapidly and several times throughout the day, so it’s important to be prepared with layers of clothing you can take on and off while in port or onboard.

In general, there are three layers to pack:

  • Base layer: t-shirt and jeans
  • Warm layer: Fleece or down jacket/sweater
  • Waterproof layer: Thin waterproof jacket suitable for when it rains

It can actually get fairly warm in Alaska during the day in the summer, so having a few t-shirts and even a pair of shorts can be a good idea.

Pack accessories

Outside of layers, remember to pack accessories for your Alaska cruise. Hats, gloves, and sunglasses are all important items to bring with you to ensure you stay warm in the chilliest temperatures you may encounter.

While you may picture rainy, cloudy days in Alaska, you’ll be surprised at how helpful sunglasses can be on sunny days. Not only is the sun shining down on you, but light will be reflected from glaciers and snow, making sunglasses really nice to have access to.

Buy lightly used clothing

If buying an all-new wardrobe sounds expensive, consider buying clothes on a website like eBay.  A quality jacket is an especially costly item, but buying a gently used one from eBay can save lots, especially for kids.

Additionally, check if there are any used outdoor gear stores in your area. These consignment stores can be an excellent place to find quality outdoor clothing at a lower price.

Don’t pack too many clothes

Packing for an Alaska cruise can feel overwhelming. From puffy jackets to rain gear, boots, dress clothes, and swimsuits, it can be easy to fill up a large suitcase with apparel fit for Alaska’s unpredictable weather.

A big lesson we learned from cruising to Alaska is to pack much less than you think (while still packing the essentials, of course). As the weather in Alaska is colder than on a Caribbean cruise, for example, you may find that your clothes stay cleaner much longer. You may also find yourself wearing nearly the same exact outfit each day in port, as well. 

Remember that you can do laundry

If you’re concerned over not packing enough or what you’ll do if clothes get dirty on a shore excursion, remember that all Royal Caribbean ships offer laundry service onboard. While self-service laundry is not available, you can choose to have a full bag of laundry washed and folded for $35.99 per bag.

While it isn’t the cheapest laundry service in the world, the convenience of washing clothes midway through the cruise and packing lighter can be worth the cost.

Bring a waterproof or water-resistant daypack

While it’s always a good idea to take a daypack ashore, it is especially important to do so when visiting Alaska. You’re going to need somewhere to put your sweatshirt when it gets too warm or your phone when it starts to rain.

Bringing a waterproof or water-resistant daypack with you to Alaska will ensure that your belongings are protected while exploring, rain or shine.

Don’t pack an umbrella

Despite the rain, do not pack an umbrella. Instead, make sure there’s a hood on your all-weather jacket. A hood takes up far less space than an umbrella, leaving more room for your gear and adventure essentials.

Don’t forget a swimsuit

Don’t forget to pack a swimsuit in your suitcase. Even though you’ll encounter colder weather than you are used to on a tropical cruise, the ships Royal Caribbean sends to Alaska tend to have an indoor pool or adults-only Solarium along with jacuzzis.

While you might not spend as much time in the pool as you would in the Caribbean, relaxing in the hot tub on a chilly morning or evening in Alaska can be extremely relaxing.

Quantum Class ships cruising to Alaska offer an indoor pool for all ages in addition to an indoor adults-only Solarium. Radiance Class ships have an indoor pool, but it’s only for ages 16+ as it is located in the Solarium. Jacuzzis are available on both ships.

Remember to pack clothes for onboard the ship

In between packing your down jacket, sweaters, raincoats, and gloves, remember to pack clothes to wear onboard the cruise ship as well. Dinner outfits, formal wear, loungewear, and pajamas are all important to pack for an Alaska cruise.

An expensive camera is not necessary

While some travel guides recommend bringing a fancy camera on an Alaska cruise to capture the state’s scenery, this is not totally necessary. If you have a phone with a great camera, don’t worry about purchasing an expensive camera to use on the cruise. A relatively new iPhone or Android will have fantastic picture quality that you can use to capture your cruise memories.

If you enjoy taking photos and are planning to invest in a new camera, though, Alaska is certainly a great spot to bring a DSLR or mirrorless camera. Remember to pack wide angle and telephoto lenses!

Bonus tips!

Book the North Star and RipCord by iFLY

If you’re sailing on a Quantum Class ship to Alaska, such as Quantum of the Seas or Ovation of the Seas, you’ll likely want to experience two of the ships’ most exciting onboard activities: the North Star (observation pod) and RipCord by iFLY (indoor skydiving).

It’s important to reserve these activities in advance to not only ensure you can try the activity onboard, but to reserve the best time, day, and price that works for you.

Both the North Star and RipCord by iFLY have complimentary and extra-cost options. Complimentary spots for the North Star are available when the ship is in port, but cost extra on sea days ($29.99) or when the ship is visiting a glacier ($49.99). RipCord by iFLY has a 1-minute complimentary flight option or a longer, 2-minute flight available for $49.99.

Just like entertainment, open the Royal Caribbean app as soon as you get onboard to reserve a time slot for these two activities.

Buy forgotten items in port

If you forget a piece of clothing like a waterproof coat or sweatshirt, don’t fret! There are plenty of souvenir shops available at each Alaskan port which offer a variety of clothing to fit any weather condition you encounter.

Plus, most of the clothing you will find in souvenir shops will be branded with “Alaska” or the port’s name, making it a great souvenir to take home with you.

I bought Royal Caribbean's drink package for the first time and it wasn't worth it for me

10 Jan 2023
Allie Hubers

There’s no arguing that pre-purchasing a Royal Caribbean drink package can be a great way to save money on your cruise vacation, especially for those who prefer to spend their cruise days with a drink in hand.

Allie enjoying a drink

Royal Caribbean’s drink package allows cruisers to enjoy unlimited drinks at a fixed daily rate. Those who know they plan to drink consistently on their Royal Caribbean cruise will definitely benefit the most from having a drink package. 

Rather than purchasing individual drinks for upwards of $14 each, splurging on Royal Caribbean’s unlimited drink package can save you big money on your cruise - but only for those who can drink enough to make it worthwhile.   

At the end of the day, the drink package isn’t for everyone - and I learned this the hard way. 

On my recent Royal Caribbean cruise, I purchased the Deluxe Beverage Package for the first time on a 4-night sailing on Mariner of the Seas.

The Deluxe Beverage Package is the only alcoholic package available on Royal Caribbean cruises. The package includes pretty much every drink available onboard that you’d want, such as cocktails, beer, wine, premium coffees, soda, and fresh squeezed juices. 

Royal Caribbean requires all passengers of drinking age within a stateroom to purchase the drinking package. 

Most of the time, drink packages are meant to make your cruise more convenient because you have already prepaid for your drinks. You don’t have to worry about racking up a huge bill onboard!

Although I’ve cruised 30 times with Royal Caribbean, I’ve never purchased a drink package. This is almost entirely due to my Diamond Plus loyalty status with the Crown and Anchor program.

For top tier members (Diamond, Diamond Plus and Pinnacle), Royal Caribbean provides complimentary, daily drink vouchers that can be used throughout the cruise.

As a Diamond Plus member, I receive 5 free daily drinks (up to $14 each) on Royal Caribbean cruises. 

Between my husband and I, we have 10 free drinks each day to share among the two of us. This means we’ve barely spent any money on alcoholic drinks for most of our cruises, only occasionally going over the complimentary drink allocation. 

Here’s why I opted to try out Royal Caribbean’s drink package for the first time and why I’m never planning to do it again. 

Making the splurge

As I mentioned, we were sailing on a quick 4-night cruise on Mariner of the Seas to Cozumel, Mexico for a post-holiday getaway. Although my husband and I cruise together often with each other and our families, this was our first cruise with friends! 

Those who cruise often will know that Royal Caribbean’s onboard vibe can vary greatly depending on where you’re sailing, who you’re sailing with, and how long you’re sailing. 

Port-intensive itineraries would make it difficult for us to drink enough onboard to even consider the drink package. Likewise, sailing with our relatively low-key parents (the type who just enjoy an occasional cocktail) would certainly not make the drink package worthwhile. Longer sailings can make it difficult to drink consistently as well. 

While our 10 free daily drinks have usually been sufficient for the two of us, we’ve always wondered whether we would benefit from a drink package; however, the daily vouchers make the breakeven threshold of the drink package higher than most. 

If there was ever a time to try the drink package though, this cruise was the perfect opportunity to do so. Our sailing had two sea days and just a single stop in Cozumel, giving us plenty of drinking opportunities onboard. We planned to spend most of our time onboard with our friends anyway, enjoying poolside cocktails and unwinding together. 

With everyone else opting to purchase the package, we decided to make the splurge too. The total for the drink package was $736 for both of us, or $92 each day per person, including gratuities.

This cost is on the more expensive side for Royal Caribbean’s drink package; however, a short sailing during the holidays will lead to a higher cost for the cruise line’s seemingly dynamic pricing model. 

The drink package was a hefty purchase; for us, it more than doubled the cost of our cruise. Luckily, a nicely timed Amex Offer became available on our credit card to earn reward extra points for Royal Caribbean purchases, which slightly helped soften the blow.

Calculating our breakeven logic

With an estimated $14 each for drinks, our drink package’s breakeven was about 6-7 drinks each day for both of us.  

Of course, you can also enjoy bottled water, premium coffees, smoothies and other drinks with the drink package. While $15 is the most expensive cocktail onboard in the Bamboo Room, you can also enjoy beer and wine for slightly less than this price. 

However, we can’t forget the fact that we would have each received 5 complementary daily drinks on this cruise when calculating our breakeven point. If you consider this fact, we actually had to drink closer to 13 daily drinks each to make the drink package worthwhile. 

I figured that purchasing drinks after we burned through the vouchers would be a more cost-efficient approach; but, my husband was pretty keen on trying the drink package, even if it meant we each needed to have upwards of 13 drinks each day for the entire cruise. 

My husband was confident in his ability to reach that threshold, but I was hesitant that we’d be able to get close to breaking even. 

A strong drinking start

Once we boarded our cruise ship, we immediately started chipping away at our drink package. There was no time to waste! My cocktail choice is always a mojito, while my husband loves an amaretto or whisky sour. 

We started strong with sailaway party cocktails, followed by happy hour in the tiki-themed Bamboo Room. We opted for caffeine-heavy espresso martinis at dinner, along with all of our friends at the table. Later, we indulged in after-dinner drinks and shots as we danced our first night away in the nightclub.

Keeping track of how much we drank on the first day, we did indeed breakeven between the two of us. However, as we dozed off to sleep, my husband stated, “I don’t want to do the drink package again. It’s too much pressure to get our money’s worth."


The following morning, we continued our drinking marathon with lattes and mimosas at breakfast, despite not feeling our best. A tinge of a headache couldn’t be ignored, along with feeling unreasonably bloated from the copious amount of alcohol consumed.  

Poolside piña coladas seemed to consistently hit the spot though; most of the afternoon was spent on the top deck during our sea day with waiters insisting on getting us more drinks.

Our dinner choice cocktail was an espresso martini again, as we all needed a caffeine pick-me-up from day drinking. 

I couldn’t imagine doing this for two more days given how I was already slowing down and losing my ambition to try making the drink package worthwhile. 

Throwing in the towel

On the evening of the second day, I told our friends that I was throwing in the towel on my drinking marathon. I didn’t want to feel hungover for another morning, nor did I want to keep feeling so bloated. 

It’s difficult to consistently keep up with excessive drinking. As much as I hate to admit my own aging, it’s getting harder for me to recover from alcohol like I used to. A little bit of heartburn and some persistent tummy rumbles signaled that my body wasn’t wanting to make the drink package worthwhile anymore either. 

I will spare you the details of how many drinks we had because my mother might have a heart attack when she reads this; but, between cocktails, bottled water and coffee, we only reached our breakeven threshold on the first two days. 

My husband slowly started to fade by this point too; in agreement, we opted to start ordering drinks without feeling the pressure of making the drink package worthwhile anymore. Like most wives, I took great pride in the fact that I was right about us not needing the drink package. 

Going to bed for our second evening, we also came to the conclusion that we would never be purchasing the drink package again for our future cruises. 

Losing money on the drink package

At the end of the cruise, I calculated everything we drank onboard to confirm my suspicions that the drink package was not worth it for us. I kept a log of everything we drank throughout the cruise to ensure my calculations were accurate. 

We paid $736 for the drink package and our complementary vouchers are worth up to $560. This implies we would need to drink more than $1,300 worth of drinks to breakeven. 

The final total for our 4-night cruise was right around $1,100. For those who do not have complementary drink vouchers, the $736 price for the drink package more than paid for itself. 

It’s also important to keep in mind that we were inherently drinking more than we would have simply because we had the drink package. Had we purchased each drink on our own without the pressure of wanting to get our money’s worth, we probably would have drank a more reasonable amount. 

At the end of the day, the Royal Caribbean drink package was not worth it for us since we lost money and couldn't totally recoup the package's cost. 

Final thoughts

Although Royal Caribbean’s drink package is not worthwhile for us, I am glad that we tried it out so we can feel more confident in our cruising planning decisions in the future. 

We had always wondered what it would be like to cruise with Royal Caribbean’s drink package. We knew if there was any cruise that we could make the drink package worthwhile, it would be this party-style cruise with our friends.

For us, if we couldn’t get our money’s worth on this getaway friends cruise, then we will never be able to make it worthwhile. 

The drink package is supposed to help your cruise feel more all-inclusive because you do not need to be skimpy with your drinking. Since you’ve already purchased the drink package before boarding, there shouldn’t be any surprise charges onboard.

We did find that our cruise felt more all-inclusive since we could drink without limits. Since our friends also had the drink package, it was nice that we didn’t have to stress about blowing a budget or spending way more than anticipated. 

However, most think there’s an added convenience of not worrying about how much you’re drinking onboard because you’ve already pre-purchased the package; yet, my husband and I felt the opposite. 

In fact, we felt like we were constantly trying to calculate how many drinks we had to have to ensure our hefty purchase was worthwhile. My husband also noted how he felt internal obligation to order the most expensive drinks rather than what he would have preferred drinking. 

Perhaps the two of us are too analytical to enjoy the drink package advantages on our Royal Caribbean, but we won’t be splurging on this purchase again. I may have lost money on the drink package, but I did prove my husband wrong, which is definitely worth something. 

Receiving 5 complimentary daily drinks because of our Diamond Plus status is a great perk from Royal Caribbean - and we will stick to cashing in on these on future cruises. Until then, you can find me embracing the rest of the month as Sober January.

Royal Caribbean's onboard messaging system is now free: Here's how it works

09 Jan 2023
Hayley Phillips

Royal Caribbean's chat feature in its app is free for everyone now, but how well does it work?

Chat feature in app

As of January 1st, 2023 the onboard messaging system on all Royal Caribbean ships is now complimentary for all guests to use during their voyage.

Prior to the 1st of this year, the messaging system was offered to guests for a cost of $1.99 USD per device, per day. With the recent change, guests can now enjoy messaging their fellow travel companions throughout their cruise journey free of charge!

At an event last year in 2021, the Chief Executive Officer of Royal Caribbean, Michael Bayley,  stated the following at a question and answer event held onboard Odyssey of the Seas, “I remember that we had a lot of arguments internally within the company about a dollar ninety-nine. I’m tempted to say we’ll drop it, but nobody seems to be reacting against it. So we’ll drop it. Yeah. I think that will be good.”

It seems that Mr. Bayley has made good on his promise, making the messaging feature on Royal Caribbean’s app free for guests traveling after January 1st of this year, 2023.

Allie and Hayley

I recently sailed with Royal Caribbean onboard their ship Mariner of the Seas from January 2nd to January 6th, 2023. While on this trip I traveled with fellow Royal Caribbean Blog and Cruise.Blog writer, Allie. We enjoyed testing out the new complimentary version of Royal Caribbean’s messaging system.

Read on for the best way to use this onboard service!

Downloading Royal Caribbean’s App

RC app

(Home screen of Royal Caribbean's phone app)

For many frequent cruise travelers, the first step to planning any voyage is downloading the cruise line’s app. Royal Caribbean’s app has many helpful features for guests to use and enjoy complimentary while onboard, and prior to their trip.

The messaging feature can only be used when a guest is connected to the onboard ship wifi, through the Royal Caribbean app. The Royal Caribbean app can be found in the app store for most smart phones.

Upton check-in day, guests can connect to the ships wifi and use the Royal Caribbean app and the messaging for free.

Adding Travel Companions and Other Guests

RC app

After accessing the messaging system, guests can add their friends, family, and fellow travelers using either their stateroom numbers or their reservation numbers, and the guests’ birthdays.

To clarify, the messaging system only works for guests traveling onboard the ship. The messaging system can not be used to message individuals back onshore who are not traveling with Royal Caribbean, or who might be traveling onboard a different Royal Caribbean ship.

Messaging Other Guests

RC app

Once all of the travel companions have been added, guests can message people individually, as well as create group chats. The group chat feature is very helpful for notifying your fellow travelers where you will be at what time, for example “after breakfast we will be at the pool deck”, etc.

The messages appeared to be delivered immediately after being sent, and the group chat feature worked seamlessly and efficiently.

Pros of the Messaging System

RC message watch

I cannot count how many times this messaging system proved helpful throughout our 4-night voyage, traveling with friends!

Our entire party consisted of 8 adults and one child, and being able to message each other, check in with everyone, and tell others where we would be a different times during the day was incredibly useful and helpful.

The messaging system is very easy to use. Once you have the stateroom number and names of your travel party, adding them is quick and painless. The instructions in the app are easy to follow.

Messages seemed to deliver quickly and efficiently after being sent.

The physical layout of the messaging system is similar to that of texting normally, and most guests will be able to use the messaging without any issues. The layout is extremely similar to any smartphone.

Improvements that Could be Made

Oasis of the Seas Live Blog - Day 1 - Embarkation Day | Royal Caribbean Blog

My biggest complaint with the messaging system, was its lack of notifications.

Normally during a vacation I would not want my phone being blown up with notifications, however for using the messaging system it would have been helpful if the app had notified recipients of messages similar to that of a text message.

Instead, I found that notifications seemed to come in only about 20-30% of the time, We tested this several times, but many of the individuals in our travel party also expressed that they were not being notified of received messages.

Oasis of the Seas Live Blog - Day 1 - Embarkation Day | Royal Caribbean Blog

Along with the lack of notifications, some members of our party owned smart watches (such as an Apple Watch), and some received message notifications consistently on their watches, while others did only some of time.

Because of the lack of notifications, guests had to be diligent about opening the Royal Caribbean app, and checking the messaging portion of the application, to ensure that they were not missing any messages from their friends and family.

A feature of the messaging system that would have been nice to have, is the ability to send pictures to others.

Woman using iphone

While on our friend trip, we took many fun photos and wanted to share them with each other. While we could wait and send them to each other once the cruise was over, it would have been fun to send photos to each other while we were on the ship.

Other notes

RC app

When sending messages, most of the time it appeared that once a guest hit ‘send’, the message would send twice in the app. However, only one message was actually received by the recipients, and when the messaging system was opened again later on, the double message seemed to go away. If you experience this, be assured that your message was only sent once, not twice.

Adding individuals to a group message was very easy, which is helpful as members of your travel party are boarding and disembarking the ship.

Something important to know, is that guests onboard cannot receive messages until they do both of the following things: first guests must be connected to the ship’s wifi. Once connected, guests must then go in to the messaging system, and allow other guests to find their names to add to their messaging system.

If a guest does not select this setting, they will not be able to be added to group chats or individual messages.


RC Cozumel

(Cruise port in Cozumel, Mexico)

The use of a complimentary messaging system while onboard has already proved to be very helpful to guests. As a traveler who likes to save when they can, I appreciate Royal Caribbean deciding to include this feature as a complimentary service in their app.

Complimentary connectivity makes it easier and more convenient for Royal Caribbean guests to connect with their families, friends, and travel companions during their cruise!

As for us at Royal Caribbean Blog and Cruise.Blog, we are thrilled with the recent change, and will be using it in depth to better connect during our cruise sailings!

Royal Caribbean Post Round-Up: January 8, 2023

08 Jan 2023
Matt Hochberg

Welcome to this week's round-up of all the Royal Caribbean news and happenings.  Hope you are staying warm and are ready to cozy up to the cruise happenings this week.

Royal Caribbean revealed the new main dining room menus this week.

Symphony of the Seas main dining room

Symphony of the Seas is the first ship to roll out the new menus, which will eventually make it fleetwide by the end of the month.

The new menus have a new layout, with a distinct theme for each evening.  In addition, there's no longer a subset of menu selections that stays the same every night.

This is Royal Caribbean's first refresh of the dining room menu in over five years, which offers guests new choices alongside fan-favorites that remain on select evenings.

Royal Caribbean News

Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast

The 482nd episode of the Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast is now available, where Matt and Billy share their wishes for changes Royal Caribbean would make in 2023.

Trying to be as practical as possible, this week's episode is about things they want to see change in policies or offerings.

Please feel free to subscribe via iTunes or RSS, and head over to rate and review the podcast on iTunes if you can! We’d appreciate it.

New RCB Video: Boarding day cruise ship tips for 2023

Have you subscribed to the Royal Caribbean Blog YouTube Channel? We share some great videos there regularly, all about taking a Royal Caribbean cruise! This week, we are sharing our latest video — Boarding day cruise ship tips for 2023 — and don’t forget to subscribe here.

23 Do's and Don'ts for your Royal Caribbean cruise in 2023

Ready for your cruise this year? Here's the top tips for how to tackle any cruise sailing in 2023.

Cruising in 2023 is as "normal" as it's been in quite a while, but there are quite a few good tips to follow for your sailings this year.

From ways to save time, to money, to pitfalls to avoid, these are the do's and dont's for a 2023 cruise.

What I wish Royal Caribbean would copy from other cruise lines

DCL Split bath

I love Royal Caribbean, but there's always room for improvement and I think there's a few things other cruise lines do better.

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.

Check out my list of the ideas and things to do that I wouldn't mind seeing Royal Caribbean "borrow" from other companies.

10 cruise ship tips that worked for our Royal Caribbean Blog staffers in 2022

Inside cabin

We share lots of tips and tricks, but which secrets are our staff's favorites?

Our staff spent a cumulative 270 nights on cruises last year, and we wanted to share the best tips for our readers from our own experience.

First look at Royal Caribbean's new main dining room menus

07 Jan 2023
Elizabeth Wright

Royal Caribbean's new main dining room menus are officially here.

Main Dining Room on Voyager of the Seas

Symphony of the Seas is the one of the first cruise ships in the fleet to launch the official new menu following weeks of testing, along with Wonder of the Seas. 

In late 2022, Royal Caribbean began testing new menus onboard the Symphony of the Seas. After receiving positive feedback from guests, they announced that they were going to permanently change the menus on all ships within the fleet.

Royal Caribbean cited the swiftness of service as the primary reason for implementing new menus. Michael Bayley, Royal Caribbean International's President and CEO, said that guests often complain about the length of dinner service.

In addition to a new design, each night's menu will have a theme: French, Italian, etc. There are still no sugar added and vegan options available, as well as premium selections.

A Maine lobster tail can be purchased for $16.99, Chops Grille filet mignon for $19.99, and surf & turf for $34.99. 

Here's a first look at the new menus onboard the Symphony of the Seas. 

Welcome Aboard

The theme for the first night is "Welcome Aboard," and the cuisine served is American. The menu features some "classics" from the old menu, including the caesar salad, shrimp cocktail, escargots, New York strip steak, spaghetti bolognese, Royal cheesecake, and ice cream. 

All sailings will feature the Welcome Aboard menu on the first evening.

French Night

The dining theme of night two onboard the current Symphony of the Seas sailing is French Night.

It seems as though the primary feedback they received for the menu was in regard to the desserts, as many of them have been updated compared to the sample menu that was tested last month.

Sailings six nights and longer will offer the French Night menu on the first formal night.

Italian Night

All sailings will feature the Italian Night menu on at least one evening.

Caribbean Night

On Caribbean sailings, the Caribbean Night menu comes out on the first evening at a Caribbean port.

Mexican Night

On Mexico sailings, the Mexican Night menu comes out on the first evening at a Mexico port.

The Royal Night

Gone are the days of ordering multiple lobster tails. If you'd like a second, you'll now be charged $16.99 plus 18% gratuity. 

Sailings six nights and longer will offer The Royal Night menu on the second formal night.

Mediterranean Night

Mediterranean night menu

British Night

Sailings six nights and longer will offer the British Night menu on at least one evening.

British night main dining room theme

Bon Voyage Night

Sailings six nights and longer will feature the Bon Voyage menu on the final evening

Kids' Menu

The kids' menu is offered every night of the sailing and does not change. 

Kids MDR menu

What's different about the menus?

Food in main dining room

One change is more of a cohesive theme to each night, with different cuisines and cooking styles highlighted in each day's menu.

Look for themes such as Italian, American, or Caribbean themes, with the chef's featured choices listed at the top of the menu.

Something else guests may notice is the removal of the "classics" section, which offered a subset of menu options that were available each night and never changed. 

Lobster tail

Royal Caribbean is also limiting guests to one lobster tail for no additional cost on the evening the broiled lobster is available.

Prior to this change, guests could order unlimited lobster tails, but the realities of the lobster trade forced Royal Caribbean's hand in part.

Royal Caribbean can only buy 90% Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified food, which means that lobster needs to be either farm raised or wild caught. A recent shift in Maine lobster purchasing due to environmental concerns has places like Whole Foods halting the purchase of the items.

As a result, Royal Caribbean has changed to buying Canadian lobster that is still MSC certified.

Importance of guest feedback

Women eating in main dining room

It's been a few years since the last time Royal Caribbean refreshed their dining menus, which is why they relied on guest feedback when curating the new menus. 

During the testing phase, they sent a team of six people onboard the Symphony go the Seas who were responsible for conducting in-person meetings with 30-40 passengers per day. In addition, surveys were sent out via email. 

In an exclusive interview, Linken D'Souza, the Global Vice President of Culinary, Dining, & Beverage said, "If there's four or five modifications we can make, we'll iterate and make those changes. If there's a theme that's not working and we're seeing a lot of dissatisfaction on a specific day within the cruise period, we'll review that experience."

A quicker, more consistent dining experience

Family eating in main dining room

As previously mentioned, one of the reasons for this change is to decrease the time guests spend in the Main Dining Room.

The company believes that dinner should last around 75 minutes. Prior to the new menus, passengers could spend 95-120+ minutes at dinner. A shorter dinner service allows guests to get enjoy other activities during their cruise vacation. 

If you do not want a faster dining experience, all you have to do is tell your waiter. 

"I think holistically, when you look at both the service experience we create with the theming of nights and then the food that's layered're going to see hotter, fresher, more consistently plated, beautiful food," said Mr. D'Souza. 

When will the new menus be on all ships?

Royal Caribbean expects the new menus to be available on all ships by early February.

The current plan is to begin the new menu deployment in January, and by early February, it should be available on all ships across the fleet.

I visited 13 countries by cruise ship in 2022: 8 things I learned will change how I cruise in 2023

06 Jan 2023
Jenna DeLaurentis

I was constantly on the move in 2022, with 10 cruises, 44 flight segments, and 13 countries under my belt. While I certainly made memories this year, I also learned a few lessons that will change how I cruise with Royal Caribbean in 2023.

Jenna cruising selfie

I started 2022 with two back-to-back solo cruises to the Bahamas and the Eastern Caribbean.

In March, I boarded Wonder of the Seas—the largest cruise ship in the world—for a 7-night sailing to Labadee, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas.

Just a month later, I headed back to the Caribbean with a cruise to Mexico and another to the Bahamas.

In June, I cruised from England to Spain and France and later from Greece to Montenegro, Croatia, and Italy.

As summer came to an end in August, I boarded the cheapest Alaska cruise I could find.

Just three weeks later, I cruised to Mexico before ending my 2022 travels with a 4-night cruise to the Dominican Republic in November.

I became a seasoned cruiser in 2022, but the year came with a lot of trial and error, from regretting booking shore excursions to realizing solo cruising isn’t my cup of tea. Here are 8 things I learned in 2022 that will change how I cruise in 2023.

I cruised solo for the first time in 2022. While I enjoyed it, I think I’ll stick to cruising with friends and family.

In 2022, I spent most cruises sailing with friends or family, but I also tried solo cruising for the first time on two ships. Cruising solo seemed daunting at first, but it wasn’t as nerve-wracking as I initially thought it would be.

Related: What I learned from my first solo cruise

On my solo cruises, I found that I struck up conversations with fellow passengers more often than usual, leading to new friendships and connections onboard. I also loved the freedom I had to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.

However, I found myself wishing I could have shared the experience with a friend or family member. Some of my best cruise memories have been those I’ve experienced with loved ones, whether island hopping with my parents in the Bahamas or sipping rosé in France with one of my best friends.

In 2023, I plan to bring a friend or family member on most of my cruises. I don’t mind spending some time alone in port or on shore, but as a whole, I think I prefer to share the cruise experience with someone else.

I found a $240 cruise deal to Alaska in 2022. In 2023, I plan to look for more cheap last-minute cruise deals

I booked the cheapest Alaska cruise I could find in 2022 and set sail on a 7-night one-way sailing from Vancouver to Seward. While the price ended up being more than the $240 cruise fare after taxes, fees, and gratuities, it still offered a fantastic value for such a phenomenal vacation.

Video: I tried the cheapest cruise cabin to Alaska

Finding cheap cruise deals is always a nice surprise, and I plan to keep my schedule open to last-minute cruises in 2023. Even though we typically advise booking cruises far in advance, my experience with the cheap Alaska deal made me eager to see which last-minute cruise deals pop up this year.

Related: How to get last-minute cruise deals

I felt seasick on a cruise ship for the first time in 2022. In 2023, I’ll make sure I always pack motion-sickness medication.

After cruising once a month in 2022, I felt invincible when it came to seasickness. Even in what I thought were “choppy” waters, I felt completely fine!

On my Alaska cruise in August, however, I felt seasick for the first time ever. As we began crossing the Gulf of Alaska, I started to feel ill. Luckily I never got physically ill, but the same cannot be said about my travel companion!

Related: How to prevent seasickness on a cruise

I was relieved I remembered to pack motion sickness medication in my toiletry bag to Alaska, as I hadn’t always done this on previous cruises. While you can obtain motion sickness medication onboard, it’s much more convenient to have seasickness remedies in your cabin already.

I’ll be sure to pack Dramamine or other motion-sickness remedies for all my cruises in 2023.

I found myself lacking freedom on organized tours in 2022. This year, I won’t book cruise line excursions.

Almost every time I book an organized shore excursion I find myself regretting the decision. I’m not a fan of structured sightseeing to check items off a list; I prefer to explore places on my own schedule.

I find that most shore excursions tend to involve a lot of waiting around for other members in the group. When I explore on my own, the pace of the day is up to me. Plus, organized tours are almost always more expensive than exploring on your own.

Because of my past experiences with organized shore excursions, I won’t be booking any cruise line excursions in 2023. I will, however, make an exception for tours that offer experiences I cannot do on my own, such as the Discover Scuba lesson I took in St. Thomas last year.

Related: Excursion Focus: Discover Scuba Diving in St. Thomas

While I can see some benefit of booking through the cruise line for shore excursions that require long travel times from port to the destination (i.e. excursions to Rome or Paris), I’ll be sticking to exploring on my own in port this year.

I hired a private guide in port for the first time in 2022, and the experience was so great that I plan to do this several times in 2023.

I encountered an unexpected itinerary change on a cruise in November, with our itinerary changing from the Bahamas to the Dominican Republic. Having never been to the Puerto Plata cruise port before, I had no idea what to expect.

While the port itself offers more than enough to keep visitors busy for the day, I wanted to experience the city highlights outside the gated port area. The city’s main attractions didn’t seem walkable from the cruise port, so I hired a taxi driver for $100 for the full port day.

Related: 7 things I did right (and 3 mistakes) on my recent cruise ship port day

I had full control over where I wanted to go and how long I wanted to spend in each place, which was a fantastic way to see the port compared to a crowded tour bus. I also had a personalized, friendly local guide with me along the way to point out interesting places to visit in Puerto Plata.

I’ve already booked a private tour guide for a port stop in Roatan this February and am looking forward to exploring other ports this way in 2023.

In 2022, I flew on 44 separate flight segments. Luckily, I never missed a connection, but I’ll be sure to book longer layovers in 2023.

Unfortunately, despite being a cruise blogger, I do not live within reasonable driving distance to a cruise port.

Because of this, I find myself spending a lot of time in airports. My home airport is quite small, so I often have 1-2 layovers to reach most cruise ports. Traveling to port—along with personal travel—led to 44 flight segments in 2022, the most I’ve ever flown in one year.

I am always paranoid about missing my cruise due to airline delays and cancellations, so I usually schedule layovers that are around 2 to 3 hours long instead of an hour or less. This ensures I have wiggle room in case my first flight is delayed.

Related: The 20 worst mistakes that will ruin your cruise vacation

A few times in 2022, however, I had layovers that were under an hour in length. Whenever this was the case, I was a nervous wreck. If my first flight was delayed even a half hour, I could miss my connecting flight to the cruise port.

Luckily this never occurred, but I’ll be more cognizant of layover times when booking flights in 2023. I’d much rather wait in an airport lounge for a few hours than frantically run to my gate!

After 10 cruises in 2022, I found myself getting bored on sea days. I plan to book more port-intensive itineraries in 2023.

While there are countless activities to keep passengers busy on a Royal Caribbean cruise, I spend more time than most on cruise ships due to my work with Royal Caribbean Blog. After 10 cruises in 2022, I found myself feeling restless on sea days.

One way I’ll counteract this in 2023 is to sail on more port-intensive itineraries. Cruises with only one or two sea days in a week as opposed to three or four work much better for my travel style. I love being able to explore a new port nearly every day on a cruise while still having a sea day or two to relax.

Related: Top things to do on a sea day on a Royal Caribbean cruise

As an example, I almost always pick a Western Caribbean cruise over an Eastern Caribbean cruise. 7-night Western Caribbean sailings typically include four port stops whereas 7-night Eastern Caribbean cruises (from Florida) only include three port stops.

Having an extra port stop in the Caribbean means I can enjoy additional time at the beach, try more delicious Mexican food, and have extra time to practice my Spanish skills.

In 2022, I sailed from 6 embarkation ports. In 2023, I’ll plan to spend more time in my embarkation ports before my cruise.

Radiance of the Seas in Vancouver

From Vancouver to Athens, I sailed from a variety of cruise ports in 2022. For most sailings, I arrived in the port only one day before my cruise began. And although this provided ample time to arrive before my ship set sail, it didn’t leave much time for exploring these world-class destinations.

In 2023, I plan to spend more time in my embarkation ports before and after my cruise. I’m already looking forward to exploring Sydney before my South Pacific cruise this fall and eating my way through Vancouver before my Alaska cruise this spring.

What lessons did you learn from cruising in 2022? Will anything you experienced change how you’ll cruise this year? Let us know in the comments below!

When is the best time to cruise to Alaska? Month-by-month guide

05 Jan 2023
Matt Hochberg

The Alaska cruise season is quite short, with just six months to choose the best time to cruise Alaska.

Glacier seen from cruise ship

The Alaska cruise season runs between May and September, which happen to be the most temperate times of the year in the 49th state. 

The spring and summer months are when nearly all cruise ships visit each year. You'll find many hours of daylight in the summer with long days.

It is hard to top the majestic beauty of rugged glaciers, plethora of unique animal sightings, or huge mountains. Going on a cruise to Alaska is an extremely popular kind of cruise, because it offers an easy way to see so much in a compact amount of time.

Alaska sled dog tour

Royal Caribbean also sails to Alaska in early May and into late September or even October, where you can find some great deals.

While it is impossible to see and do it all over the course of a one week cruise, Alaska has the power to enchant even brief visitors.  So while you are stuck at home, this may be the perfect time to start planning a cruise to The Last Frontier.

There are advantages of cruising in each of the summer months, including when prices will be higher or lower.

Here is your guide for figuring out the best times to visit for your first (or 50th) Alaska cruise.

The best time to cruise to Alaska if you want to avoid crowds

There are definite ebbs and flows to demand and crowds in the ports you will visit depending on which month you sail.

If you are looking for the months with the lowest crowds in Alaska, try for May or September.  These are the "shoulder season" months, which is when the season begins and ends, and is when you will find less people vying for a cruise. 

Moreover, going during May or September is also when most kids are still in school, which means families are unable to cruise during this period.

Skagway ship at end of street

The downside to these months is the weather tends to be the most unpredictable, and that can be an issue with possibly impacting your shore excursions.  Most notably helicopter and boat excursions are the most at risk for cancellation.

Since Alaska cruises are so dependent on outdoor activities, your best chance for sunny days can be opposite of when the best time for crowds are each season.

Read more: What is the best month to cruise to Alaska?

The best time to cruise to Alaska for good weather

The weather in Alaska can, and will, change multiple times per day, but you will find the warmest months to be June, July and August.

The median months will see higher temperatures and longer days for touring, and it represents the limited summer that Alaska enjoys. However, July and August tend to also have higher levels of precipitation.

Here's a look at the average temperatures in Southeast Alaska:

  • May: average high 54 degrees and average low is 39 degrees
  • June: average high 62 degrees and average low is 47degrees
  • July: average high 65 degrees and average low is 51 degrees
  • August: average high 63 degrees and average low is 48 degrees
  • September: average high 55 degrees and average low is 41 degrees
Franklin Street

If you do book a cruise during summer, be sure to plan your shore excursions well in advance to avoid tours selling out.

If you are willing to trade warmth for less precipitation, then go for May. In fact, the end of May and early June offers some of the best weather in the region throughout the year.

Sitka, Alaska

If you want to see snow on the ground, April or early May is the best month for that.

Most cruise passengers tend to avoid the early season because of the school calendar and cooler weather.  By going in the summer months, many people get to enjoy Alaska when things are in full swing and of course the warmer weather.

Read moreComparing the Royal Caribbean ships sailing in Alaska 2022

The best time to cruise to Alaska for low prices

Alaska is not a cheap cruise, but if you want to save money on your cruise fare, then your best bet is May or September.

For the same reasons May and September feature lower crowds, these months see most often the lowest prices for a cruise because of the combination of colder temperatures and the school calendar.

Read moreWhat is the cheapest month to go on a cruise?

The best time to see the Northern Lights on an Alaska cruise

Few places allow for viewing of the aurora borealis, and the best time see the Northern Lights is in September.

September is the time of year when the sun sets earlier during the cruise season, which means the sky gets darker and makes for the most ideal viewing conditions.

Woman wearing jacket in Alaska

Of course, temperatures during September will be lower than other times of the year, but the opportunity to see the Northern Lights is a real treat.

As mentioned in this article, not only does September provide the opportunity to see the Northern Lights, but you will also enjoy less crowds and likely lower prices on a cruise.

Read moreTop 10 tips for planning your Alaska cruise

The best time to cruise to Alaska to see wildlife

You will see plenty of wildlife during your Alaska cruise throughout the cruise season, including whale watching, sea lions, bears, & birds.

The best months to catch a glimpse of the amazing fauna that call Alaska home are the months of June and July. 

  • Moose: Moose give birth around June.
  • Caribou: June is the best month to see herds of caribou
  • Humpback Whales:  June and July is when the humpback whales migrate through Alaska's Inside Passage.
  • Black bears: Spring is ideal because the new vegetation lures back in sheep, mountain goats and black bears. July is also good because that is when salmon runs start to get busy.
  • Brown bears: July and August are when you will have a better chance to see brown bears since they are near rivers and streams.
  • King Salmon: King salmon runs start in late May.
  • Bird watching: June is when you have a good chance to see unusual birds migrating.
  • Bald eagles: You'll find eagles throughout the season, but August is a great time since they are found near the sockeye salmon spawning locations.
  • Killer Whales:  Your best chance at seeing Orcas is from May to the beginning of June.

Read moreWhat Is an Alaska Inside Passage Cruise?

Which month should I book my Alaska cruise?

Ultimately, there is no perfect time to sail to Alaska, as each month offers its own advantages and disadvantages, and choosing when to cruise to Alaska comes down to your preferences.

Alaska cruise in May: Cheap prices when you cruise in May

Alaska by kayak

May has always stood out as a great time to take a cruise. The weather in May is usually mild, with temperatures ranging from the mid-40s to the mid-60s. 

One of the biggest advantages of cruising in May is that you get to avoid the peak season crowds. The summer months are the busiest time for tourists in Alaska, and the ports and attractions can get overcrowded.

By cruising in May, you can beat the rush and enjoy a more relaxed and peaceful experience. You can also take advantage of the lower rates offered by the cruise lines during the shoulder season, which can help you save money.

Additionally, May is an ideal time to take advantage of the extended daylight hours and enjoy some outdoor activities. Alaska is known for its outdoor adventure opportunities, and the springtime weather is perfect for hiking, fishing, and kayaking. You can take a guided hike through the wilderness or try your hand at fishing in one of Alaska's many rivers. 

Alaska cruise in June: Summer without the biggest crowds

Creek Street in Ketchikan

The weather in June is usually warmer and more stable than May, with temperatures ranging from the mid-50s to the mid-70s. The longer days allow for more time to explore the state's natural beauty, and the scenery is simply stunning. The warm temperatures also make it an ideal time to participate in outdoor activities.

Another reason June is a great month for an Alaska cruise is that the ports are in full swing. The peak season for Alaska tourism starts in June, and the ports are buzzing with activity. The shops, restaurants, and attractions are all open and ready to welcome visitors, offering a wide variety of experiences to choose from. The larger crowds can add to the atmosphere and make for a lively and enjoyable vacation.

Glacier Bay from Alaska Cruise

Finally, June is an excellent month for a family vacation. With the school year coming to a close, many families take advantage of the opportunity to travel together during the summer months. Alaska offers something for everyone, with activities and experiences that appeal to all ages. Whether you want to hike in the wilderness, go whale watching, or learn about Alaska's history and culture, there is something for everyone.

Alaska cruise in July: Wildlife spotting and higher prices

Pack creek

The weather in July is usually warm and pleasant, with temperatures ranging from the mid-50s to the low 70s. This makes it an ideal time for outdoor activities. The only issue with a July Alaska cruise is the rain, as the state averages around 12 inches of rain in the month of July.

July is also a great month for wildlife sightings in Alaska. The state is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including bears, moose, caribou, and whales. In July, the whales are usually in full migration, making it an ideal time for whale watching. Visitors can take a whale watching excursion to see humpback whales, orcas, and other marine life up close. The salmon are also in full run during this time, which attracts bears and eagles, making it an excellent time to spot these animals in their natural habitat.

One downside to July is the price of your cruise will be higher than other months of the year. It's the very peak of the Alaska cruise season, which makes July expensive.

Alaska cruise in August: Rain and high temperatures

You'll likely encounter the highest chance of rain if you take an Alaska cruise in August, but it's also when you can expect to find the most comfortable outdoor temperatures. 

On average, more than half the days in the month of August experience rain.  This may seem like a reason to skip an Alaska cruise in August, but it's still a great time to take in lots of activities around the state.

The price of an Alaska cruise in August should be cheaper than June or July, especially if you can take a cruise in the latter half of the month.

Bears in Alaska are still around because they're looking for food, such as berries or salmon. You're also quite likely to see many bald eagles that are also interested in salmon.

Alaska cruise in September: Return to cooler temperatures and lower prices

Other than May, September is the best month for an Alaska cruise if you're looking for a deal.

The average temperature for an Alaska cruise in September is in the mid-50s and lows in the low-40s. It's also very likely to encounter rain, as September is an even rainier month than August.

With school back in session, demand from families drops each week.  The closer you can get to the end of the month, the less you'll pay as a result of lessening demand and cooler temperatures.

If you prefer fewer crowds and lower pricing…

Empty Skagway street

If a cruise with fewer crowds is important to you, it might be a good idea to avoid Alaska cruises in June, July, and August. Not only will there likely be more guests onboard during the summer, but in the ports you are visiting as well. If you are looking for a more quiet experience onboard and on shore, consider cruising to Alaska in May or September.

Plus, as prices are cheaper in the shoulder season, it can be an excellent opportunity to upgrade your stateroom category or splurge on add-ons like excursions, dining packages, or beverage packages.

A suite that costs $2000 per person in May may cost upwards of $3300 per person in mid-July. Such a large price difference allows you to enhance your Alaska cruise experience in other ways, whether booking a once-in-a-lifetime helicopter tour or kayaking through fjords.

However, it’s not necessarily a good idea to pick a cruise based solely on price. While price should definitely be a consideration, it’s important to consider other factors before choosing an Alaska cruise.

If you want the best weather…

If having the highest chance of warm temperatures and sunny days is important to you, cruising to Alaska in the peak summer months is your best bet.

Weather can get fairly warm in June, July, and August, which can make port days more comfortable. It’s not uncommon for the weather to be nice enough for t-shirts in the summer as opposed to the raincoats and down jackets you may have to wear in early spring or fall.

That being said, while the shoulder season in Alaska may lead to cooler temperatures and more rain, packing appropriately will keep you dry and warm when exploring Alaska’s ports.

White Pass train in Skagway

Additionally, June, July, and August may come with more crowds, but offer several more hours of daylight compared to in the fall. This can be a huge advantage for Alaska cruises in the summer.

More hours of daylight on an Alaska cruise means more time to sightsee, whether in port or when sailing through the Inside Passage. Juneau, for example, sees around 18 hours of daylight in June compared to just 12 in September.

If you’re hoping to spot wildlife…

If spotting wildlife is a priority for you on an Alaska cruise, pick your sailing date carefully. June, July, and August are fantastic times to cruise Alaska to view wildlife, as these months bring the highest chances of spotting whales, bears, and salmon.

If you plan to book a whale watching excursion or want to see bears, you may be left disappointed if you cruise to Alaska at the very end of the season.

Nothing is guaranteed

No matter how much planning you do before selecting your cruise dates, it’s very important to remember that nothing is guaranteed on an Alaska cruise. Sure, it may be more common to view Alaska’s wildlife in the peak of summer, but it’s also possible you’ll see little to no wildlife at all on your cruise, or that you will see a plethora of wildlife in the shoulder season!

Likewise, while weather should be colder during the shoulder seasons of May and September, Alaska’s weather is quite unpredictable. You might be surprised with warm days in September or chilly, rainy days in July! Packing for all seasons is a must when cruising to Alaska.

In addition, sailing in the shoulder season does not necessarily mean there won’t be crowds onboard. While it’s possible the ship will not be sailing at 100% capacity, it’s unlikely you will encounter an empty ship. Plus, Royal Caribbean will adjust prices according to demand, so if a shoulder season cruise is not selling well, prices may drop until more people book the cruise.

Whatever month you choose for your Alaska cruise, though, is sure to bring the opportunity to visit charming towns, explore phenomenal nature, and make memories with family and friends. There’s no right or wrong time to cruise to Alaska, but having an idea of the pros and cons of each season should help decide which time of year works best for you.

Read more on when to cruise to Alaska:

What it's like to go on an Alaska cruise in the early season

What it's like to go on an Alaska cruise at the end of the season

What is the best time to cruise to Alaska? (month by month)

Things I wish Royal Caribbean would copy from other cruise lines

05 Jan 2023
Matt Hochberg

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.

Two cruise ships docked side by side

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.

Two ships side by side

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

Pinnacle Lounge on NCL Sky

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.

Starbucks on NCL Sky

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

Blue Iguana

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.

El Loco Fresh

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.

Guy's Burger

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

DCL cabin

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.

DCL Split bath

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!

Surfside family suite

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 moreGuide to Icon of the Seas cabins and suites

Celebrity: Include gratuities in cruise fare

Crew member smiling at the bar

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.

Celebrity Beyond

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

Princess cruise ship in Alaska

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.

Princess Alaska itinerrary

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.

Radiance of the Seas in Alaska

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

Ocean Cay evening

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.

Ocean Cay at Dusk

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.

15 free things to try on your next cruise

04 Jan 2023
Matt Hochberg

A cruise vacation offers one of the best values you can get right now compared to almost any trip.

Oasis of the Seas and CocoCay

Whether you are sailing to the Caribbean, Alaska, or Europe, cruise ships are among the best priced vacation options because of everything you get included with your cruise fare.

Even Royal Caribbean recognizes how good of a deal a cruise is these days. Last month, Royal Caribbean Group CEO Jason Liberty talked about the value proposition a  cruise vacation enjoys, "The value gap between a cruise and land based vacation during the pandemic expanded quite a bit."

"We're still at a significant value to what it would cost for you to have anything close to a similar experience on land."

A big component of what makes a cruise so darn enticing is everything that comes with it, including some fun activities.

Royal Caribbean has built a reputation over the years as the cruise line to go to when you want to enjoy lots to do on a ship. The cruise line is known for being a leader in "I can't believe they put that on a cruise ship."

So in the spirit of sharing that value, here's a list of some free things you can do on Royal Caribbean cruise ships so that you can make sure you enjoy all of it on your next cruise.

Go rock climbing

Royal Caribbean first made a name for itself in onboard activities when they added a rock climbing wall to its cruise ships.

Now a staple of any Royal Caribbean ship, the rock wall is an opportunity to challenge yourself to get to the top of the wall.

There are even multiple courses on each wall that provide varying degrees of difficulty so you can keep increasing the stakes to reach the top.

Play mini-golf

I can't think of another family-friendly activity not involving water that resonates so well as mini-golf.

Most Royal Caribbean cruise ships have a mini-golf course, where you can play 9 or more holes as often as you like.  Some ships even have the course traverse two decks, adding more to the experience.

Just like mini-golf on land, the choice of keeping score or keeping it casual is up to you.

Sing karaoke

Spotlight Karaoke

Usually if you go to a karaoke bar on land, there's an expectation of a drink minimum, but not on Royal Caribbean.

Karaoke is one of the most popular evening activities, where you can see who has real skills, who thinks they have real skills, and who is clearly on stage just to have a good time.

You'll find  karaoke held almost every night (some ships have a dedicated karaoke lounge), and the song library are usually extensive enough to find something you know.

Oasis of the Seas Live Blog - Day 1 - Embarkation Day | Royal Caribbean Blog

Don't hesitate if you think you might want to sing, because the sign up list tends to fill up fast.

If you have kids, look for special family and teen karaoke sessions, where the crowds can be more tolerable.

Try the water slides

Teenagers on cruise ship slide

For a long time, Royal Caribbean didn't really have water slides on their ships, but that's changed quite quickly.

Royal Caribbean offers water slides on most ships (although the Quantum Class notably doesn't have any), and these slides are open every day of your cruise to enjoy.

It's easy to label water slides as something for the kids, but adults will find these equally fun.

Learn to surf

Guest and crew member on FlowRider

If your Royal Caribbean ship has a FlowRider, you might try your hand at stand-up surfing.

Available on a first-come, first-served basis, the FlowRider is another signature activity on most Royal Caribbean ships where waves are simulated using powerful water jets.

To be honest, the mastering the FlowRider is more akin to skate boarding than perhaps surfing, but it's still a terrific physical challenge and something you can do over and over again (provided you wait in line for another turn).

Enjoy live music every night

Matt Hochberg | Royal Caribbean Blog

Royal Caribbean's live musical entertainment is second-to-none in the cruise industry.

Every night you'll find plenty of live musical acts, including a guitarist, piano bar player, and live bands.

Much of this live music is meant to get the crowd into the experience, whether singing along or dancing to the music. 

A lot of cruisers will bar hop to check out the various live acts each evening. Sometimes one performer is so good that you want to spend all evening enjoying it.

Challenge your noggin at trivia

Schooner Bar on Odyssey of the Seas

An underrated cruise ship activity are daily trivia sessions.

On any day of the cruise, Royal Caribbean will host all sorts of trivia sessions on a variety of topics. They can be general trivia, geography, music, favorite movies and more.

While there are cheap prizes if you win, the real fun of trivia is competing against other guests to see who know more on the topic.

On longer sailings, Royal Caribbean organizes progressive trivia, where each trivia session counts towards an overall score.

See Broadway show

Grease Broadway musical on Royal Caribbean cruise ship

Select Royal Caribbean ships offer Broadway shows that are the exact show you would have seen on The Great White Way, and included in your cruise fare.

The musicals available on Royal Caribbean include Mama Mia, Hairspray, Grease and more!

There  is no cost to making advanced reservations, and you certainly could wait to get a seat onboard if you so choose.

On other Royal Caribbean ships that don't have a Broadway show, there's still musical and dance acts that perform in the theater. While these lack the plot of a full show, they still incorporate a great deal of musical melodies you're likely to know.

Watch a new release movie

You can watch classics and recently released films on the ship's movie screen.

These movie screens are giant, and you can pull up a chair from just about anywhere on the pool deck to watch it with your family. Many cruisers opt to stay in the pool and watch the movie while floating.

On Radiance Class ships, there is actually a dedicated movie theater with movies throughout the day.

Bungee jump

Combine virtual reality and a bungee experience and you get the SkyPad.

The SkyPad straps guests into bungee chords, where you can bounce up and down with an optional VR helmet on to provide the sensation of moving through an augmented reality world.

Ice skate

On Royal Caribbean ships that have an ice skating rink, guests can put on a pair of ice skates and hit the ice rink during their sailing.

Check the Cruise Compass for open skate sessions during your sailing.  Royal Caribbean will provide you with complimentary ice skate and safety equipment rentals.  Just be sure to pack long pants and socks.

Ride the carousel

Guests of any age (that means you) can enjoy a ride on the carousel in the Boardwalk for no additional cost.

The carousel is just plain fun for kids and adults. Eighteen figures are suspended from stainless steel poles along with one ADA accessible chariot are rideable.

Be sure to also check out the carousel at night because like the fairs of the past, nighttime is when these rides really shine when they are all lit up.

Sky dive (safely)

Royal Caribbean Blog - Unofficial blog about Royal Caribbean cruises

The Quantum Class ships offers every guest one time in the  iFly by RipCord "indoor" skydiving simulator.

RipCord by iFly is a skydiving simulator that will be a first for cruise ships.  Rather than descend from 10,000 feet in the sky, RipCord allows guests to get the sensation of skydiving without the incredible risk.

Set in a recirculating indoor vertical wind tunnel, guests can feel like they're falling from the heavens in a safe environment.  You wear the gear and goggles as if you were jumping out of an airplane, so it's as authentic an experience as you can get without the airplane.  Trained instructors are with you the whole time in a totally controlled environment.

Try a zip line

Zip line on Wonder of the Seas

On Oasis class ships, guests can soar 9 decks above the Boardwalk neighborhood, stretching 82 feet from end to end.

Passengers must be at least 52" tall to participate and weigh a maximum of 275 pound, also must at least weigh 75 pounds.

The zip line is free and guests must sign a waiver.

Weekend in the Bahamas

Ship at CocoCay

If your cruise happens to visit Perfect Day at CocoCay, it's hard to overlook the value of what a day here gets you as part of the cruise.

Royal Caribbean's private island in The Bahamas is more than just a plot of sand with an umbrella nearby. There's multiple beaches, a pool, and lots of food to keep you busy at no additional cost.

So many cruises from the United States now visit CocoCay, and that means you get an entire day to take advantage of what you can do there.

The "Perfect Day" moniker may be a marketing tool, but there's real truth to how much fun you can have while visiting. In fact, so much of the experiences found at CocoCay are included with your cruise fare.

23 Do's and Don'ts for your Royal Caribbean cruise in 2023

04 Jan 2023
Jenna DeLaurentis

Cruising in 2023 is mostly back to normal following the pandemic-induced changes implemented across the industry in 2021 and 2022. Pre-cruise testing has been almost entirely abolished, ships are sailing at full capacity, and new ships are being constructed.

Symphony of the Seas docked at CocoCay

Nonetheless, there are still a few new changes–as well as evergreen advice–to be aware of before you cruise in 2023. Remaining flexible with policy changes, purchasing travel insurance, and arriving at your embarkation port the day before your cruise begins are all just as important in 2023 as they were in previous years.

Here’s our list of the top 23 Do’s and Don’ts for your Royal Caribbean cruise in 2023.

1. DO remain flexible

Flexibility is key when it comes to planning a Royal Caribbean cruise. Itinerary changes, ship changes, and unexpected weather conditions can alter your vacation plans.

Whether you miss a port due to a storm, a show gets canceled, or your favorite specialty restaurant is fully booked, it’s important to remain flexible.

Keeping an open mind when changes occur is essential to avoid a small change ruining your vacation. If your port stop in Mexico gets canceled, for example, consider splurging on something onboard (a spa treatment, perhaps?) instead of sulking in a pool chair.

Staying flexible ensures you can still have an enjoyable vacation even if unexpected changes occur.

2. DO book refundable cruise fare

If you’re planning a cruise in 2023, be sure to book a refundable cruise fare, especially if the sailing is far in advance.

Refundable cruise fares allow you to receive a full refund of any deposit/money paid towards your vacation prior to final payment date. If you put down a $500 deposit on a cruise, for example, but later have to cancel the reservation, you’ll receive the deposit back with no penalty.

Related: Royal Caribbean refundable versus non-refundable cruise fares

Non-refundable fares, on the contrary, do not provide a full refund of your deposit. Instead, you’ll receive a future cruise credit in the amount of the deposit paid minus a $100 per person service fee on the canceled cruise.

3. DO purchase travel insurance

Travel insurance

If you have a cruise booked in 2023, make sure to purchase travel insurance beforehand. Good travel insurance plans will cover trip cancellation, trip interruption, travel delay coverage, baggage delays, emergency medical coverage, onboard medical expenses, and other unexpected scenarios.

While it’s always recommended to purchase travel insurance before a vacation, it’s especially helpful on a cruise, as the onboard medical center is not covered under most insurance plans that work at home.

Related: Should you buy annual travel insurance plans?

4. DO the online check-in as soon as it’s available

Royal Caribbean’s online check-in opens 45 days before your departure date, and we recommend completing the process as soon as possible.

Checking in on the Royal Caribbean app or website allows you to get ahead of the game in preparation for embarkation day. You’ll provide your documentation information, photo, emergency contact information, etc.

Most importantly, you’ll select a check-in time which indicates when you can arrive at the cruise terminal on embarkation day. The earlier you check-in, the higher chance you’ll have at scoring an early check-in time.

5. DO book with a travel agent

If you’re booking a Royal Caribbean cruise in 2023, be sure to book with a travel agent. Travel agents act as your own personal expert on Royal Caribbean cruises.

Not only can they provide helpful information and resources throughout the booking process, but they have access to Royal Caribbean’s best deals and offers. Plus, a good travel agent will not charge any fees for their services as they get paid a commission through Royal Caribbean.

Related: Top 5 things to look for in a good travel agent for your cruise vacation

6. DO know what’s new for Royal Caribbean in 2023

Symphony of the Seas docked at CocoCay

Royal Caribbean is constantly innovating and building new projects, and there are several new offerings coming to the cruise line in 2023.

First is Hideaway Beach, an adults-only area of Perfect Day at CocoCay, which is set to open in late 2023. We’ll also see the launch of a new Main Dining Room menu, construction finished on Icon of the Seas, and the launch of Royal Caribbean’s first world cruise in December 2023.

Related: What's New and Coming to Royal Caribbean in 2023 & 2024

7. DO remember to do the muster drill

Royal Caribbean introduced their new eMuster safety drill in 2021, which allows guests to review safety information at their own time on the Royal Caribbean app prior to setting sail.

After completing the first two steps on the app, guests must visit their assembly station once onboard, where a crew member will verify you completed the briefing.

Everyone onboard must complete the muster drill before the ship can leave. Therefore, be sure to do this as soon as possible once onboard to avoid being the passenger preventing the ship from leaving!

8. DO confirm necessary documentation

One common mistake far too many first time cruisers make is not understanding which documentation is required to board a Royal Caribbean cruise.

We recommend having a passport for every member of your travel party. If you do not have a passport but are sailing on a closed-loop cruise from the United States, you’ll need the following documents:

  • State-issued ID
  • Official birth certificate

All required documentation can be found on Royal Caribbean’s website here.

9. DO double check for any remaining Covid protocols and requirements

Woman taking covid test

Compared to a year ago, Royal Caribbean’s Covid protocols and requirements are extremely relaxed. In fact, only a few sailings still require a pre-cruise Covid test:

  • Cruises from the US and Caribbean that visit Colombia
  • Transatlantic cruises
  • Cruises from Australia

Protocols are always subject to change, though, so it’s a good idea to keep up to date on any potential pre-cruise testing requirements for your sailing.

10. DO apply or renew your passport ASAP

While passport processing times are not as long as in 2021 or 2022, it can still take several weeks to receive a new or renewed passport.

We recommend that you apply for a passport/renew your passport with plenty of time to spare. Current processing times are 6 to 9 weeks for new passports (3 to 5 weeks expedited) and 4-5 weeks for passport renewals. These estimates do not include mailing times.

11. DON’T be surprised by last-minute policy changes

Oasis of the Seas in Cozumel

While it’s unlikely that Royal Caribbean will reimplement Covid-specific policies like social distancing and mask requirements, it’s always a possibility.

If a new variant or Covid numbers raise alarm, there’s potential for the Covid protocols used in 2021 and 2022 to return on cruises in 2023. This is unlikely to occur, but remaining flexible in case of any changes is recommended.

12. DO book refundable hotels and airfare

Hotel in Cocoa Beach

Just like cruise fare, we always recommend booking refundable rates on pre-cruise purchases like airfare and hotel stays.

Refundable rates only cost slightly more than the non-refundable options, but provide flexibility in case of any expected situations like canceling your cruise or changing the day and time of your flight.

13. DON’T fly to your cruise port the same day it begins

Airplane landing

One of the most rookie mistakes you can make while planning a Royal Caribbean cruise is to fly to your embarkation port the same day your cruise begins.

Weather and air travel is extremely unpredictable. Thunderstorms, staffing problems, tight connections, and hazardous winter conditions can easily cause you to miss a flight. Booking your flight the day before your cruise begins provides a little extra wiggle room in case of any travel mishaps.

14. DON’T wait to book pre-cruise purchases on the Cruise Planner

Cruise planner results

In the past year, Royal Caribbean has raised prices on many of the cruise line’s most popular pre-cruise purchases. From drink packages to specialty restaurants and shore excursions, expect higher prices in 2023.

The Coco Beach Club at Perfect Day at CocoCay, for example, sold day passes for as little as $88 in early 2022. Today, on the other hand, you’ll likely see prices closer to $200!

Related: Coco Beach Club: cost, tips & review

Ship at CocoCay

Because of these price increases, we recommend booking pre-cruise add-ons as soon as possible. This ensures you can lock in the lowest price possible. Plus, if you see that the price of a pre-cruise add-on decreased, you can easily cancel and rebook the purchase with no penalty.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to the Royal Caribbean Cruise Planner site

15. DON’T overlook the new Main Dining Room menu

One of the most controversial changes coming to Royal Caribbean in 2023 is the cruise line’s new Main Dining Room menu. This new menu will feature a themed cuisine each night and will stop offering the same classic dishes previously offered each evening.

Naturally, any change Royal Caribbean announces is met with criticism, and there seems to be a divide between cruisers excited about the new menu versus those against the change.

Related: Royal Caribbean will introduce new main dining room menu in January

Before criticizing the new menu, make sure to give it a try on your 2023 Royal Caribbean cruise. Several new dishes–such as the spaghetti all’arrabbiata or the chipotle-lime-crusted salmon–may end up being your new go-to items.

16. DON’T be surprised by Royal Caribbean policy changes

Radiance of the Seas concierge lounge

Speaking of the new Main Dining Room menu, don’t be surprised if Royal Caribbean announces more changes in 2023.

Any current offerings and policies are always subject to change. 2022, for example, saw many policy changes, including:

  • Diamond Plus no longer allowed in Concierge Club
  • Daily drink vouchers changed from resetting at midnight to resetting at 5AM
  • À la carte restaurants can only be visited once per day with Unlimited Dining Package

Looking back at these changes in 2022, it’s possible that additional policies may change, be added, or be removed in 2023.

17. DO consider packing for a cruise in a carry-on

Carry-on suitcase

Lost luggage is one of the worst mishaps that can happen en route to a Royal Caribbean cruise. If you’re sailing on a short cruise–or are a light packer–consider bringing a carry-on bag to your cruise instead of checking in large suitcases at the airport.

Related: The Ultimate Cruise Packing List

You can fit a surprising number of clothes in a carry-on suitcase, and you can always do laundry halfway through your cruise if you run out of clean clothes. Plus–best of all–you won’t have to worry about your luggage going missing while traveling to the cruise port.

18. DO expect higher prices than last year

Independence of the Seas docked in Nassau

Following the restart of the cruise industry in 2021, cruise fares were lower due to less demand, which continued into 2022. In 2023, though, don’t expect to find cruise fare prices as low as the previous two years.

Related: How much does a cruise cost?

Luckily, there are still many ways to cruise on a budget, including staying in a lower category cabin, sticking to complimentary dining options, and exploring on your own in port versus booking an excursion.

Related: How to plan a Royal Caribbean cruise on any budget

19. DO look for last-minute cruise deals

Voyager of the Seas at dusk

While cruise fares are higher than last year, you’ll still have the chance to find fantastic last-minute cruise deals. Last-minute deals can be found year round, but are most commonly found during non-peak times of the year.

Less busy months for cruises, such as January, September, and October, see less demand, thus opening up the possibility for last-minute deals. 

If you’re looking to cruise on the cheap in 2023, make sure you know the ins and outs of finding last-minute deals:

20. DON'T expect less crowded ships

A year ago cruises were still operating at limited capacity, and it wasn’t uncommon to feel as if you had the entire ship to yourself. Nowadays, however, this is not the case, and you can expect Royal Caribbean ships to operate near 100% capacity throughout 2023.

21. DON’T overlook Royal Caribbean’s older ships

Rhapsody of the Seas in Greece

If you’re planning a cruise in 2023 but aren’t sure which ship to pick, don’t overlook the older ships in Royal Caribbean’s fleet. Older ships, while not as big and modern as the newest ships, offer their own set of benefits.

Whether cheaper cruise fares, more unique itineraries, or a relaxed atmosphere onboard, there are many reasons to book a cruise on Royal Caribbean’s older ships.

For more tips and information about sailing on older Royal Caribbean cruise ships, start here:

22. DO expect ships in new ports

Symphony of the Seas in PortMiami aerial

Several Royal Caribbean ships have been deployed to new homeports in 2023 whereas others will be cruising to new destinations for the very first time.

Harmony of the Seas, for example, will be homeported in Miami for the first time, whereas Brilliance of the Seas will offer cruises to Alaska.

Likewise, Wonder of the Seas will offer Caribbean cruises throughout the summer, a first for the ship as she spent her inaugural summer season in Europe in 2022.

23. DO understand the new à la carte dining change

Royal Caribbean added a daily limit to the Unlimited Dining Package at à la carte restaurants, and this is something to be aware of as you cruise in 2023.

For restaurants with à la carte pricing, each guest with an Unlimited Dining Package will receive a $20 food credit which can only be used once per day.

This means you cannot dine at Playmakers for lunch and dinner on the same day and have both meals be covered with your dining package. You can, however, dine at two separate à la carte restaurants on the same day (Playmakers for lunch and Portside BBQ for dinner), and have both of these included in your dining package.