Everyone wants to save money, so when is the best time to buy popular add-ons for your Royal Caribbean cruise?
Drink packages, specialty dining packages, internet, and shore excursions are just a few of the very popular extras lots of cruise fans buy for their cruise vacation.
While you could wait to buy these items on your ship, you will pay more for them because Royal Caribbean typically offers a pre-cruise discount.
A common reason for trepidation to pre-purchase is not knowing fully if someone needs them. After all, Royal Caribbean includes a great deal of food and activities with your cruise fare.
While you can have a very nice cruise without spending extra on a tour, cocktails, specialty restaurants or the spa, these optional purchase will enhance your cruise experience. After all, you're on vacation and this is all about splurging and treating yourself.
If you decide to buy any cruise extra-charge items, it's a really good idea to take advantage of the lowest price possible so your money can go further.
Here is my advice for when to buy these cruise-addons.
Why you should buy extras before the cruise begins
There's a few good reasons you should buy certain cruise add-on's before your cruise, and not all of them are purely related to dollars and sense.
Here's a few compelling reasons to do so.
In many cases, Royal Caribbean promises a discount on select pre-cruise purchases compared to the price onboard.
The discounted savings can vary, with the price of drink and internet packages varying from ship to ship and sailing to sailing.
Break up total cruise cost
When you purchase anything before your cruise via the Cruise Planner site, you will be required to pay for it at the time of purchase. This provides the ability to break up the total cost of the cruise.
When you make purchases onboard your cruise, at the end of the cruise you get a final bill with all of the charges tallied up.
By pre-purchasing certain items, you can pay off parts of the cruise months or years in advance, allowing you to reduce the cruise bill at the conclusion of your cruise. This is incredibly helpful for budgeting to have control of what charges come in on which billing cycles.
Save you time onboard
An intangible benefit to pre-purchasing anything is it saves you time onboard from doing the exact same thing, which means more vacation time back to you.
Taking the time to purchase anything onboard does not take very much time, but every little bit helps, and some purchases on the first day of the cruise can require waiting in a line, such as drink packages.
You can use onboard credit
When you buy something on Royal Caribbean's Cruise Planner site, you can use any onboard credit towards these purchases. This alleviates a primary concern among cruisers in the past that wished to use onboard credit towards any purchases first.
One thing to consider is the onboard credit available for use in the Cruise Planner is limited to onboard credit provided by Royal Caribbean. This means, if you are receiving onboard credit from a travel agent or other source, it may not be available for use online.
Granted, while I have never had any trouble using up onboard credit on a Royal Caribbean cruise, some guests prefer to save their credits for on the ship.
You can re-price if the price goes down
No matter what price you pay today, if there's a lower price at any point before your cruise, you can cancel and rebook it.
Cruise Planner purchases are fully refundable with no cancellation penalties. This means you can book something now and lock in the price, but if there's a lower price later, you can cancel it and rebook online.
This also helps protect you if the price goes up.
Best time to buy Royal Caribbean drink package
You should buy a Royal Caribbean drink package at any point before your cruise because it will be cheaper online.
Royal Caribbean runs many pre-cruise sales, and even when there's not an active promotion going on, the price of an unlimited drink package is cheaper before the cruise that onboard the ship.
You'll find the drink packages available to purchase on Royal Caribbean's Cruise Planner website.
It can be a little confusing to understand how much of a discount you're getting, since Royal Caribbean bases its discounts on an unknown onboard price, and then combines the price of a drink package with a buy one get one 50% off deal.
When you look at the drink package price online, ignore the sale details and look at the price when you add the drink package to the cart.
It's a good idea to keep track of the drink package price, as there's new sale promotions every few weeks. These sales don't always lower the price, but sometimes it can.
Best time to buy a shore excursion
It's a good idea to book your shore excursions at least 2-3 months before your cruise.
Just as important as the fun things to do on your cruise ship are the things you can do in the ports of call you will visit.
Royal Caribbean will list a variety of shore excursions you can pick from in the Cruise Planner, and some of the most popular excursions will sell out before your cruise.
Royal Caribbean will begin listing excursions as early as six months before your cruise (although they can show up even earlier than that).
Many cruisers prefer to book their shore excursions through the cruise line for the convenience and peace of mind Royal Caribbean offers. For that reason, tours can sell out.
I find the majority of people on a cruise don't start really booking tours up until closer to the sail date because they are unaware of all the tips and tricks cruise fans know, so you'll notice things begin to sell out around six weeks before the cruise begins.
Excursions selling out are at a much higher risk in destination cruises, such as Alaska or Europe. If you are booked on one of these sailings, it's a good idea to start booking up tours as much as 3 months before you sail.
You could always reserve a tour on your own, and outside tours do not sell out nearly as early. If you go on your own, it's a good idea to book these 1-2 months before the cruise.
Best time to book a Perfect Day at CocoCay or Labadee activity
Due to the popularity of Royal Caribbean's private destinations, you're going to want to book something fun here to do even earlier than shore excursions.
It's a really good idea to book a cabana as much as 4-6 months before your cruise to assure yourself of one, and get a lower price. Cabanas have become the hottest selling commodity at either Perfect Day at CocoCay or Labadee, so you're going to want to act fast to get one.
Read more: Guide to CocoCay Cabanas
The days of cabanas going unsold are pretty much gone, so act quickly if you want one. Just like everything else in the Cruise Planner, they're refundable if you change your mind later.
Another hot ticket is the CocoCay water park, which can sell out. The entire water park selling out is less likely, but the price going up certainly is common. So book that 3-5 months early whenever possible.
The other must-book early add-on is admission to the Coco Beach Club.
If the idea of going to an exclusive area of CocoCay appeals to you, then book your admission before it sells out. I suppose the word is out about this place, because it's pretty rare for the Coco Beach Club not to sell out before the cruise begins.
Other CocoCay extras like the zip line, helium balloon ride, and aquatic activities rarely sell out, so book them at your convenience.
There is one extra I'd recommend not booking in advance at Perfect Day at CocoCay and that's the Up, Up & Away Helium Balloon Ride. The balloon can only go up in near-perfect wind conditions, and that tends to be fairly rare.
My advice is hold off and if you get to the island and see it going up, run over and book a spot. You might pay more, but I think it's a safer bet than waiting for an almost inevitable refund when it gets cancelled.
Over in Labadee, the zip line is a good idea to book in advance just to get a good time. Zip line rides are based on ride times, and it's a good idea to go in the morning before it gets overly hot or the threat of rain grows.
Best time to book an internet package
Just like the drink package, the price of an internet package is always cheaper before the cruise.
These packages are good for the duration of your cruise, and are limited per device (not per person).
Unlike the drink package, wifi prices rarely change much. So you don't need to book it well in advance. Just book yourself a package at some point before you board.
Best time to book specialty dining restaurants
These days, you absolutely should pre-book a specialty dining package before your cruise, at least a month before your sail date.
Ever since Royal Caribbean restarted cruises after the global health crisis, demand for specialty dining has gone through the roof. A combination of pent-up demand, new dining concepts, and more cash to spend on vacations have lead a lot more people to try specialty dining.
If you are booking an individual restaurant, book it before the cruise. Izumi hibachi is one restaurant you must-book before the cruise because it sells out quite often before the cruise begins.
If your cruise is over a major holiday, such as Christmas, New Years or Valentine's Day, pre-book a specialty restaurant to assure yourself of a spot. Everyone else will be thinking of a special meal on a special day.
Dining packages are just as popular, and it's becoming more commonplace to find dining packages sold out onboard. To be safe, if you want a dining package, buy it a couple months before your cruise.
Best time to book spa services
It's less clear of an advantage when to book a spa service, and it may make more sense to wait and book a spa service onboard on a port day.
Deciding to book a spa service before or after your cruise is not always a crystal clear decision, primarily because the spa services offered online do not always match up with the total services offered onboard.
Spa services are often discounted on the Cruise Planner, with the discount percentage depending on the day and time you select for the service. The most lucrative discounts are usually earlier in the cruise.
The challenge in figuring out whether to purchase or not prior to the cruise, is each day of your cruise will have some spa specials offered. These spa specials are usually combination offers, which are not offered as an option in the Cruise Planner before the cruise. In my experience, the Cruise Planner offers individual services which are good for those that just want a massage, service or therapy.
Royal Caribbean offers an onboard discount on an individual spa service, which varies depending on your Crown and Anchor Society status level.
Best time to book shows
You want to reserve a show as soon as you get onboard the ship.
Royal Caribbean allows guests on all ships to pre-reserve theater shows, but you're going to have to wait until you get onboard to do so.
Once on the ship, reservations open up via the Royal Caribbean app or at Guest Services.
You'll want to log onto the Royal Caribbean wifi and then open up the app and begin making reservations for shows because they will sell out, especially on ships that have must-see shows, such as the Oasis Class or Quantum Class.
There is no cost to make show reservations.
How to check for a price drop
Regardless of which pre-cruise purchase is of interest to you, your best bet is to watch the price online in the months leading up to your cruise in case there is a price drop (or increase).
Royal Caribbean allows its guests to cancel and rebook any Cruise Planner purchase without a penalty. This means that if you purchase something online, and then the price drops before your sailing, you can log back in and cancel the purchase and then immediately rebook to take advantage of the lower price. Similarly, booking in advance protects against a price increase.
Moreover, if you decided to buy something online but change your mind later, you can get a refund on the pre-cruise purchase prior to your sailing.
More cruise advice
- What is the best room on a cruise ship?
- Picking a Cruise Line and Ship
- Avoid these mistakes when picking a cruise ship cabin
- 25 best Royal Caribbean tips, tricks & hidden secrets
- 5 Costly lessons learned on a cruise (and how to avoid them!)
- 15 really cool things to do that you can only find on Royal Caribbean cruise ships
- Ultimate Cruise Packing List