Which is the best Royal Caribbean cruise ship?
If you are looking for the best Royal Caribbean cruise ship, you have plenty of great choices to consider.
Royal Caribbean offers cruises around the world on more than two dozen ships that will provide a great family vacation.
Narrowing down the best ship means finding the right ship for you, depending on your personal tastes, budget and who is cruising with you.
The best ship depends on you
Picking the best ship is a lot like picking out the best movie or best restaurant: it is a subjective choice based on a variety of factors that every person weighs differently.
Since no one likes to hear that the answer is "it depends", here is as objective a breakdown as possible of what to look for in the best Royal Caribbean cruise ship.
Amenities, activities, and accommodations
At the heart of any cruise ship is what the ship offers onboard, and where you will call home during your vacation.
Royal Caribbean's cruise ships have four basic types of staterooms: inside, oceanview, balcony and suite cabins. These types of cabins offer varying amount of living space and luxuries, and the some ships have more impressive cabins than others.
Ultimately, the decision for which room you want is a question of what you can afford, but the larger and newer ships tend to offer the most expansive and luxurious accommodations.
What you do onboard is what makes Royal Caribbean stand out, and you will find various signature activities, fun things to do and multitudes of dining choices across an expansive layout.
Each cruise ship is made up of a different combination of onboard offerings and over the last decade, Royal Caribbean has varied these amenities considerably from ship to ship. So it behooves you to figure out which are the most important and pick the right ship for you.
Best ship: Symphony of the Seas or Oasis of the Seas
These are the largest cruise ships in the world, and they simply offer the latest and greatest that Royal Caribbean is known for onboard.
The four Oasis Class ships (with Wonder of the Seas eventually joining the fleet sometime beyond 2021), have FlowRider surf simulators, zip lining, rock climbing, waterslides, clubs, specialty and complimentary restaurants and scenic evening strolls.
There is no shortage of things to do on an Oasis Class ship, including waterslides, Ultimate Abyss slide, two FlowRiders, mini-golf, zip line and more.
There are seven neighborhoods on an Oasis Class ship, including Central Park outdoor space and the seaside-inspired Boardwalk.
The shows on an Oasis Class ship are the best in the fleet, with three different theaters offering entertainment throughout your cruise. Watch a full Broadway show (such as Mamma Mia or Hairspray), check out the thrills of the AquaTheater performances, and be dazzled by ice shows in Studio B.
Oasis Class ships also have the most dining options of any Royal Caribbean ship, such as Chops Steakhouse, Izumi Hibachi and Sushi, Portside BBQ, classic Italian and much more.
Where they sail: Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas offer 7-night Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises that include stops at the private destination of Perfect Day at CocoCay.
Best ship: Anthem of the Seas or Ovation of the Seas
The newest class of Royal Caribbean ship does not compromise on entertainment, dining, or things to do with the Quantum Class ships.
Looking for some incredible things to do on a cruise ship? How about a skydiving simulator, or smash bumper cars into your fellow guest vehicles. Then there is the observation capsule that takes you 300 feet in the air for breathtaking, 360-degree views.
The Quantum Class ships are the only ones that feature Two70, which is a large circular space at the back of the ship where you will not only find a great view of the ocean, but also floor-to-ceiling screens that can transform the space along with their Roboscreen technology.
Music Hall is the perfect venue for anyone that loves live music performances, where cover bands perform and you can dance the night away.
The Royal Esplanade is located in the center of the ship and features dining and shopping opportunities.
Where they sail: Anthem of the Seas sails primarily from Bayonne, New Jersey to destinations in the Caribbean, Bahamas, Bermuda, New England and Canda. She also started spending summer in Europe, sailing from Southampton, England for the summer, visiting coastal towns along the Mediterranean, Northern Europe and the Canary Islands.
Spectrum of the Seas is the newest Royal Caribbean cruise ship and sails from Shanghai, China to destinations in China and Japan.
Quantum of the Seas offers cruises to China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Beginning in 2021, she will start sailing to Alaska.
Ovation of the Seas splits her time between Alaska cruises out of Seattle, as well as cruises down under in Australia.
Best ship: Freedom of the Seas or Independence of the Seas
One of the most versatile cruise ships in Royal Caribbean's fleet, the Freedom Class vessels combine large size with lots to do onboard. In fact, the Freedom Class ships have been upgraded in the last few years with waterslides and other new features onboard.
You will find Splashaway Bay aquapark for kids on all three ships, along with Perfect Storm waterslides on Independence and Freedom. Liberty of the Seas has her own set of water slides, including the only ship to feature a boomerang slide.
Independence of the Seas is the only Freedom Class ship to offer the Sky Pad virtual reality bungee jump trampoline experience.
If you are looking for dining, Independence has Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade, Izumi Hibachi & Sushi and Fish & Ships, a poolside eatery where guests can grab quintessentially British seaside treats. Freedom of the Seas launched the first Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen specialty restaurant concept in the fleet, that features made-to-order pizzas, freshly made pastas and a wide selection of wines and limoncellos.
All three ships offer great shows onboard, including ice skating performances in Studio B. Independence of the Seas has its own Broadway show with Grease, while Liberty of the Seas has Saturday Night Fever Broadway show.
Where they sail: Independence of the Seas sails four and five night cruises the Caribbean from Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale), as well as three and four night Bahamas sailings from Port Canaveral.
Liberty of the Seas sails from Galveston, Texas and offers seven-night cruises to the Western Caribbean.
Freedom of the Seas is homeported in San Juan, Puerto Rico, but will transition to Bayonne, New Jersey in 2021.
Best ship: Navigator of the Seas or Mariner of the Seas
One of the best values in Royal Caribbean is the Voyager Class ships. These multifaceted vessels are a great choice for first-time cruisers, as well as anyone on a limited budget. They are still "big ships" and offer plenty to do onboard, but at a fraction of the price of their mega ship sister vessels.
The Voyager Class is perhaps the most varied ships in the fleet, as the Royal Amplification process has added so many new and different options to these ships.
Mariner and Navigator of the Seas received the most striking changes in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Mariner of the Seas has a Sky Pad and Perfect Storm waterslides. Navigator has The Blaster aqua coaster, the longest waterslide at sea, and Riptide, the industry’s only head-first mat racer waterslide. Both ships also now feature Battle for Planet Z and Royal Escape Room: The Observatorium.
There are plenty of other additions to both vessels, including hibachi on Mariner and Hooked Seafood specialty restaurant on Navigator. Both ships have a Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade, as well as a Bamboo Room Polynessian-themed bar.
The other Voyager Class ships also have their own share of fun onboard, including a FlowRider surf simulator, mini-golf, rock climbing wall, ice skating rink and shows each evening. Adventure of the Seas has its own set of water slides that were added a few years ago.
Where they sail: Mariner of the Seas offers short sailings to the Bahamas from Port Canaveral. Navigator of the Seas also offers short sailings to the Bahamas from Miami.
The other Voyager Class ships move around a bit more, offering cruises around the world. Adventure of the Seas will sail from Galveston and Bayonne in the winter, in addition to cruises in Europe from Copenhagen and Stockholm in the summer.
Explorer of the Seas also splits time between North America and Europe, with cruises from Rome in the summer, and Galveston or Miami in the winter.
Voyager of the Seas offers cruises in Australia or China, depending on the cruise season.
Best ship: Brilliance of the Seas or Radiance of the Seas
An underrated, yet impressive class of ships is the Radiance Class ships that combine sleek elegance with varied itineraries around the world.
Just because they are smaller than other ships, does not mean they compromise on the fun onboard. Royal Caribbean added new features and amenities to these ships, and you will find an outdoor movie screen, full-scale entertainment productions in the three-story theater, and plenty of restaurants, bars, clubs and lounges.
Radiance class ships are popular with Royal Caribbean veterans for their elegant offerings and relaxing atmosphere. In fact, Radiance Class ships have one of the best adults-only Solarium areas across the entire fleet.
Where they sail: The Radiance Class ships are world travelers, offering lots of places to visit. Brilliance of the Seas spends her winters in Tampa with short sailings to the Caribbean, along with cruises from Boston and Miami.
You can cruise on Jewel of the Seas from Amsterdam to Northern Europe in the summer, while choosing between cruises from Galveston or Miami to the Caribbean.
Radiance of the Seas offers some really interesting cruises, including open-jaw sailings (one-way) to Alaska in the summer. She then transitions to Australia and sails the South Pacific.
Serenade of the Seas also splits her time between Australia and Alaska itineraries.
Best ship: Grandeur of the Seas or Enchantment of the Seas
Royal Caribbean uses the Vision Class ships to offer cruises to the most exotic locations around, because they can fit almost anywhere.
Like the Radiance Class, Vision Class ships still offer plenty to do onboard and have amenities such as a rock climbing wall, great pool deck, poolside movie screen, specialty dining and a grand Atrium area.
The lounges on these ships are equally impressive, and many repeat cruisers love the warm and thoughtful staff onboard these ships.
Where they sail: Vision of the Seas offers cruises in the winter from Fort Lauderdale, and Barcelona in the summer.
Rhapsody of the Seas calls Tampa and Venice/Ravenna, Italy home, with cruises to the Western Caribbean and Greek Isles.
Enchantment of the Seas (the last Royal Caribbean ship to be stretched) offers cruises from Galveston, Baltimore and San Juan.
Grandeur of the Seas sails year-round from Baltimore.
Empress of the Seas
Empress of the Seas is the smallest and oldest ship in Royal Caribbean's fleet, but she maintains Royal Caribbean's high standards and received a big update when she rejoined the fleet in 2016.
The appeal of cruising on Empress of the Seas is two-fold: fantastic prices and a throwback to the old style of cruising. You can enjoy a classic cruise experience for an incredibly low rate.
Empress also sails some very interesting routes, such as down the St. Lawrence River in Canada.
If you are looking for something different and out of the ordinary when it comes to mainstream cruising, Empress of the Seas is a compelling choice.
Majesty of the Seas
Similar to Empress, Majesty of the Seas exemplifies a classic cruising experience (even though when she debuted, Majesty was considered a new kind of mega cruise ship).
While she may be an older ship, she makes up for her age in offering great getaway cruises the Bahamas at low prices. Do not judge these ships by their age alone, because they still offer a fun atmosphere onboard, with an impressive pool deck and dining choices.
You will find pools, whirlpools and even a Splashaway Bay aquapark for kids onboard. Royal Caribbean updated her in 2016 to offer more for families to enjoy.
What should you look for in the best cruise ship?
When you want to find the best Royal Caribbean cruise ship for you, the key is to understand what the ship offers and what it does not offer, and then weigh that against how much it will cost you.
Some important considerations you should look at in any ship is what it offers in:
- Kids Programming
- Signature activities (waterslides, Broadway shows, thrill attractions, open spaces, et al)
- Where it is sailing
If you want a never ending array of "things to do," then lean towards taking a cruise on the larger ships.
If your idea of a good time is lounging by the pool and exploring the ports of call you visit, then any size ship will be fine.
The important thing to remember is to figure out if the ship you are looking at has a FlowRider, particular specialty restaurant or something else important to you onboard the ship.
My recommendations for the best ships
If you just want to know which ships I think might be best for certain people, here are my top picks for best Royal Caribbean ships.
- Best ships for new cruisers and families: Oasis of the Seas, Symphony of the Seas or Anthem of the Seas
- Best ship if on a budget: Mariner of the Seas or Navigator of the Seas
- Best ship if you don't care about crazy activities: Brilliance of the Seas or Empress of the Seas
- Best combination of value (price for what you get): Freedom of the Seas or Navigator of the Seas
- Matt's favorite ships: Harmony of the Seas, Navigator of the Seas, Brilliance of the Seas