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I go on a cruise once a month. New cruisers keep missing out on these 5 underrated things.

16 May 2024

I go on a Royal Caribbean cruise just about once a month, and it provides me with the privilege of experiencing so many different ways to enjoy a cruise.

Matt cruises on Icon of the Seas

Whether I'm on the newest and biggest cruise ship in the world, or enjoying a classic cruising experience on a smaller, older vessel, it remains my favorite way to travel and see the world.

On any cruise I go on, there's always a majority of cruisers who are brand new to cruising.  Or it's their second or third sailing ever, with large gaps of time between each voyage.

New cruisers are fun to talk to, because I get to see their approach to Royal Caribbean, and what they like to do.  I try especially hard not to have a jaded "been there, done that" attitude towards cruising, and new cruisers reinforce what makes a cruise a fun choice for a vacation.

Read more: 5 things people that cruise a lot would tell first time cruisers if they could

Two cruise ships at CocoCay

But someone new to cruising could easily overlook some of the best activities that are totally underrated.

I thought of five things to do on a cruise that are worth considering that I see newbies missing far too often.

Eating beyond the buffet


While I love the cruise ship buffet, there are often so many other great alternatives to explore for breakfast or lunch.

The Windjammer is a staple, and I'll go there at least once every cruise.  But new cruisers often overlook the other choices they have.

Considering the Windjammer can get very busy, it's a good idea to embrace alternatives.  Depending on the ship you're on, there can be other complimentary choices at Solarium Bistro, Aquadome Market, Park Cafe, Sorrento's, or Cafe Promenade.

Solarium Bistro

If your ship has them, my top three alternatives are:

  • Solarium Bistro
  • Aquadome Market
  • Park Cafe

Use the Windjammer as a backup, and try out these other places.  You might find your new favorite restaurant.

Staying onboard in port

Freedom of the Seas pool

If your cruise has a port stop you just cannot find a fun shore excursion that really jumps out at you, consider staying on the ship. On port intensive cruises, a day off from touring may sound like the perfect day.

By staying on the ship, you'll be able to take advantage of a significantly less busy ship.  This is the perfect time to hit the water slides, pools, and hot tubs because there will be barely any other passengers around.

When you choose to sail on one of Royal Caribbean's biggest ships that are packed with so many cool things to do, be sure to make time for them all without the crowds.

Read more: 5 best reasons to stay onboard the ship while in Perfect Day at CocoCay



While I've never played pickleball, it's become a smash hit among veteran cruisers.

Royal Caribbean has been known for offering lots of activities on its ships, and pickleball has joined the ranks of the rock climbing wall, FlowRider, and ice skating.

Pickleball is a paddle sport that combines elements of tennis, ping pong, and badminton. 

Pickleball court

You can find pickleball games ready to go on the ship's sports court in the morning hours. Refer to the Royal Caribbean app for specific hours. There's usually an open play session every morning, where the equipment is provided for you, and it's first-come, first served for court space.

There's no cost to playing pickleball, and it's a fun opportunity to meet other people.

Top Tier event

Top Tier party

This tip is really for someone that has taken a few cruises, but there may be large gaps between sailings. Maybe you went as a kid and are now trying it again as an adult.

If you're at least Platinum tier (30 cruise points) in Royal Caribbean's Crown & Anchor Society, you can on attend the Top Tier event on sailings 5 nights or longer.

At the top tier event, you will get a speech from the Captain, Hotel Director, and Cruise Director, while enjoying a complimentary glass of champagne. They recognize new Pinnacle members and top cruisers onboard.

Top Tier

The free booze is a nice touch, especially if you don't have a drink package.

But the real value in the event is the cruise line takes time to thank you for your patronage, and the speeches by the ship's Captain and Hotel Director can provide interesting anecdotes and insight into what's happening on the ship and within the fleet.

It's a quick event, usually 30 minutes long, and you could leave at any time if you were utterly bored.

Take a behind-the-scenes tour

Bridge of a cruise ship

Royal Caribbean offers behind-the-scenes tours that have an extra cost, but are really worth it.

Referred to as the "All Access Tour", you can book it before your cruise on the Royal Caribbean website.

The All Access Tour is a 2-hour walking tour of many areas of the ship, and costs extra. It's eye opening how much work occurs to keep the ship functional and optimal.

Icon of the Seas galley

You'll visit areas such as the ship's kitchen (referred to as a galley), the bridge, engine room, theater, and more.

This tour showcases how much a ship is more like a floating city than hotel, and it's really interesting to see it all.

Planning a cruise? Start here:

9 reasons to stay up late instead of waking up early on a cruise ship

20 Jan 2024

At night, any given cruise ship's atmosphere will drastically change. While activities are going on throughout the day, such as belly flop competitions on the pool deck or general trivia in one of the lounges, the ship truly comes alive at night. 


Everyone has different vacation preferences. Perhaps you are someone who enjoys peaceful mornings onboard before the majority of passengers have awoken from their slumbers. On the other hand, maybe you're the kind of person who would rather stay up late and make your way to the Windjammer for breakfast's last call. 

Here are 9 reasons you should consider staying up late instead of waking up early on your next cruise. 

You can see the many shows onboard

Royal Caribbean is known for its entertainment, especially on newer ships. 

From jaw-dropping high-diving spectaculars to Broadway-style musicals and even original production shows, you might find yourself struggling to fit everything in, especially on a shorter cruise! 

Shows aren’t offered during the day, so you will have to plan them around dinner. You’ll either have to attend the early show and have a later dinner or vice versa. Either way, you won't be in bed by 9:30 or 10:00pm if you hope to catch one of the onboard shows. 

Theme parties typically happen later at night

Longer cruises have theme nights, such as White Night, 80s Night, etc. These themes are accompanied by fun events, including parties!

Whether they’re on the top deck or within the ship’s Centrum or Royal Promenade, you surely won’t want to miss all the fun that happens during them.

To figure out your cruise's theme nights, you will want to refer to a past Cruise Compass. Not only will this help you figure out the themes, but it will also give you a look at everything that was offered, from the onboard shows to live music, dining times, Adventure Ocean operating hours, and more. 

You can try your luck for a late-night win at the casino

Casino bar

Casino Royale comes alive at night. What better time to try your luck than after a post-dinner cocktail (or two) from the Schooner Bar? 

You don't have to be an experienced gambler to put $20 into a random slot machine and hope for the best! In fact, this is one of my favorite evening activities while on a cruise. Gambling during the day just isn't the same!

Even if you just walk away with just $100, that's money that you didn't have when you started! Perhaps it'll convince you to splurge on a last-minute shore excursion or place a deposit for a future cruise

Read more: I gambled enough in Royal Caribbean's casino to get free drinks and a cruise

The following day is a sea day

There's no harm in staying up a little bit later than usual when you don't have a schedule the next day. Even though you should check out the Cruise Compass to see what activities are being offered, you should not feel pressured to do any. 

Sea days are meant to be relaxing. After a few long days ashore, there's nothing wrong with spending your day sleeping in and/or napping by the pool, especially if you attended some late-night programming the night before. 

Even if sleeping in isn't the most exciting activity, there's no better feeling than waking up well-rested. 

Read more: 10 mistakes to avoid making on a cruise ship sea day

You should stay up later if you took an afternoon nap

Pool deck and slides on Harmony

Early mornings on cruise ships are rather peaceful. 

Whether you're seeking a quiet coffee break or simply want to walk around before the majority of passengers have rolled out of bed, there are lots of pros to being one of the first awake. This, however, can make it rather difficult to stay awake later. 

When I cruised onboard Freedom of the Seas, my partner and I ended up almost sleeping through dinner after we woke up early to make the most out of our time at Perfect Day at CocoCay


If you're someone who wants to enjoy both peaceful mornings and late nights, consider taking an afternoon nap. 

This will give you the energy to catch that late comedy show or fully enjoy an AquaTheater spectacular without having to fight to keep your eyes open. 

Hot tubs aren't as busy at night

When dinnertime rolls around, the majority of passengers will begin to flock from the pool deck back to their staterooms to freshen up. If you're someone who loves avoiding crowds, then this is the ideal time to hang out on the top decks. 

Of course, staying out later isn't an option if you have an early dining time, especially if you are excited about that night's menu offerings. 

Even after dinner when the pools are closed, there's usually a hot tub or two still open, making it a great time for a late-night dip! 

You can dance the night away at the ship's nightclub

Unlike on land, cruise ship nightclubs don't have a cover. This means that you can dance to your heart's extent every night of the cruise without racking up some hefty entrance fees, as is the case in some cities like Las Vegas or New York. 

Even if nightclubs aren't your usual scene, you should check your ship's out at least once! I have found the vibe to be pretty different than those on land. In fact, I think they're more fun and welcoming than high-profile clubs. 

Sometimes, there will be 18+ events in these spaces, too, such as a silent disco. When I cruised onboard Allure of the Seas with friends, this was one of our favorite aspects of the 8-night cruise! 

Some nightlife venues aren't centered around dancing, either, such as Icon of the Seas' Dueling Pianos bar. 

If you haven't had time to catch up with friends and family yet, there's no better time than an after-dinner cocktail at one of the ship's many bars and lounges

Schooner Bar on Odyssey of the Seas

Perhaps you're traveling with a large group and people broke off into groups to spend their day ashore in different ways. Some, for instance, might want to relax on the beach, whereas others will want to do something a little bit more exciting, such as an ATV tour or zip lining through the tree's canopies. 

On the other hand, it's easy to spend an entire day onboard and not see anyone in your travel party, as everyone has different interests. 

Regardless of the reason you haven't seen your crew as much as you would have liked throughout the day, there's no reason you cannot catch up over some after-dinner drinks while listening to live music. 

You'll have to stay up later to cram in as much fun as you can on shorter sailings

Some cruises are as short as 3 or 4 nights. If you want to make the most of your time onboard, you'll have to be willing to sacrifice sleep to a certain extent. 

If, for instance, your cruise is only 3 nights, likely, you will not have a day at sea. Instead, you will have two days in port, followed by evenings onboard. 

On ships like Allure of the Seas or Utopia of the Seas, this can make it difficult to cross everything off of your list. In fact, you will have to be strategic with your time and utilize embarkation day for some activities, such as the Flowrider, rock climbing wall, zip line, or mini-golf. 

Doing those things right off the bat will free your evenings for other events like shows and pre-planned programming (i.e., game shows, trivia, karaoke, etc.). 

Ultimate Abyss: Royal Caribbean's cruise ship dry slide

08 Oct 2023

Royal Caribbean has a reputation for offering incredible activities on cruise ships, which includes its 10-deck-high slide.

Ultimate Abyss slide

The Ultimate Abyss has quickly become a hit with guests who flock to give it a try.

Towering 150 feet above sea level, it is a dry slide that sends guest plummeting down a 10-story slide.  To say it is a thrill ride on the high seas would be an understatement.  We felt it was our intrepid duty to try this gargantuan slide out ourselves, and report back what it is all about.

What is Royal Caribbean's Ultimate Abyss?

Vertical look at the Ultimate Abyss

The Ultimate Abyss towers 150 feet above sea level at the aft of and offers a 100 foot drop.

The Ultimate Abyss is made up of two separate cylinders, a reflection of one-another, each with a diameter of approximately 2.6 feet and constructed of stainless steel.

Guests will twist and turn from deck 16 all the way down to deck 6, where they will exit on the Boardwalk.

Riding the Ultimate Abyss

It's only available on the Oasis-Class ships, with the exception of Allure of the Seas.

As if a 100 foot drop was not scary enough, there is a glass platform at the ride launch area to remind guests just how high up they are. Prior to going down the Ultimate Abyss, guests can take one last look at the Boardwalk, which is 10 decks below them, and then count their blessings and slide down.

During the ride down, you could reach a speed of up to nine miles per hour as they twist and turn in a serpentine-like movement.

There will be a new Ultimate Abyss on Utopia of the Seas, as Royal Caribbean wants to take back the title of the longest dry slide at sea.

How to ride

Entrance to Ultimate Abyss

The entrance to the Ultimate Abyss is located on deck 16, near the very back of the ship.  It can be found by simply walking all the way to the aft of the ship on deck 16.

There is no means of signing up in advance, simply enter the queue when the ride is open and wait your turn.  In addition, there is no waiver to sign to participate.

You must be at least 44 inches tall and weigh no more than 300 pounds.

As you get closer to the entrance, you will be instructed on how to ride properly.  The important thing to know is to keep your elbows in and legs straight.  Not following these instructions can lead to a nasty (and painful) burn on your arms during the ride.

Right before climbing the stairs to the slide entrance, guests will take a mat that they will ride in.  At the top, the mat is placed at the very beginning of the slide, and the guest will enter the mat, placing their feet and most of their legs in the mat opening.  Then, grab the mat handle, lean back and head down when instructed.

Ultimate Abyss

During the ride, guests descend at a rate of up to nine miles per hour, through a variety of twists and turns.  While the slide is dark inside, there are spontaneous audio effects played at different parts of the ride, along with lighting effects.  All of this combines to provide a multi-sensory thrill.

At the conclusion of the ride, you will come to a stop along a long straightaway on the Boardwalk.  Step out, grab the mat and place it in the receptacle for used mats.

There is an on-ride photo option, where guests can get a photo of themselves that is taken just as they are about to end the slide ride.

How much does it cost to ride the Ultimate Abyss?

Ultimate Abyss

There is no cost to ride the Ultimate Abyss. It's free!

What's it like to ride?

Ultimate Abyss

The Ultimate Abyss lives up to its billing as a multi-sensory thrill ride.  Most guests that ride agree it is not as scary/intense an experience as one might think by looking at the slide.

The amount of turns, and the angles at which they occur, contribute to slowing guests down to a pace that is far more tolerable than a simple plunge.  It is quite common to be apprehensive at the top of the slide, but we found the ride down to be slower than we expected (which is not a bad thing).

Rides on the Ultimate Abyss are complimentary, and offered during most times of the day.  Lines certainly can develop for the Ultimate Abyss, especially on sea days and in the afternoons. To ensure a short wait, try to ride just as the ride opens or during dinner hours (after 5pm).

Ultimate Abyss

Ultimate Abyss is a lot of fun to ride, and definitely worth a few rides over the course of a cruise.  It is easy to get apprehensive about the experience, but the ride is big on fun and not as intense as one might imagine.

Which cruise ships have the Ultimate Abyss?

Abyss on Symphony
  • Oasis of the Seas
  • Harmony of the Seas
  • Symphony of the Seas
  • Wonder of the Seas
  • Utopia of the Seas

Allure of the Seas does not have the Ultimate Abyss yet.

Royal Caribbean is getting rid of the Sky Pad on all of its ships

22 Mar 2023

There's only a few days left to experience the Sky Pad before Royal Caribbean retires it.

In an update to travel agents, Royal Caribbean announced it would replace the venue with an unnamed new activity.

Beginning March 31, 2023, Royal Caribbean will begin removing the trampoline experience.

It's not clear what will replace it, but it will become something else.

Sky Pad on Mariner of the Seas

"Starting in April, the Sky Pad will retire the bungee Virtual Reality experience and become a new versatile venue for exciting onboard activities."

Royal Caribbean says  all of the activities hosted in the Sky Pad venue will continue to be complimentary and included in your cruise fare. This sounds like the large yellow sphere structure itself will not be removed (at least not immediately), but the trampolines will be likely taken away.

Royal Caribbean did not say why they are making the change.

The Sky Pad is a trampoline where guests put on a virtual reality visor to engage in a game as they jump. 

Once inside, participants bounce up and down on the trampolines with the aid of the bungee cords. As you jump on the trampoline, you jump in the game. 

Similar to the FlowRider surf simulator and sky diving simulator, it was meant to offer guests a gravity-defying fun top deck experience.

The first cruise ship to get the Sky Pad was Independence of the Seas during her Royal Amplification, and it spread to a few other ships.

The ships with a Sky Pad include:

  • Independence of the Seas
  • Mariner of the Seas
  • Spectrum of the Seas
  • Odyssey of the Seas

In 2019, Royal Caribbean temporarily suspended Sky Pad on all ships as part of a safety review. It's unclear if that pause was related to a guest that was injured on the activity and sued Royal Caribbean.

While on Mariner of the Seas, the guest's harness snapped off and he fell to the deck.

What will replace the Sky Pad?

Skypad at night

Royal Caribbean did not say what we can expect to find in the space going forward.

One thing is certain: whatever does go in the space will not have an additional cost and included in your cruise fare.

Royal Caribbean's signature activities

Wonder of the Seas pool deck

While the Sky Pad may be going away, there's still other great activities you can look forward to enjoying onboard.

Royal Caribbean is known for the array of onboard activities, including a few "I can't believe they put it on a cruise ship" offerings.

Miniature golf courses, surfing simulators and basketball courts are common on the biggest Royal Caribbean ships.

Rock wall

Rock wall

With varying difficulty levels, the rock wall is suitable for both kids and adults alike. 

Royal Caribbean makes sure your safety is paramount - that’s why we provide all the essential safety equipment including helmets, harnesses and shoes for every climber. All you need to bring are a pair of socks! 

Climbers must be at least 6 years old and complete a waiver prior to climbing. Best of all, it’s free and there’s no need to make advance reservations! 

The rock-climbing wall has been designed with both novice and experienced climbers in mind. For those looking to take their skills up a notch, there is advanced climbing sessions and speed-climbing competitions.  Royal Caribbean also hosts teen tournaments, which are a great way for young adventurers to explore their limits safely. 

Surf Simulator

Guest and crew member on FlowRider

Ready to catch that perfect wave? Royal Caribbean has you covered! With the incredible FlowRider surf simulator onboard some of their ships, you can experience the thrill of surfing in a controlled environment without ever having to leave the comfort and safety of your cruise ship. 

The FlowRider is a self-contained artificial surf area with an incredible 34,000 gallons per minute pumped in order to create realistic waves. Whether you’re looking to try boogie boarding or stand-up surfing, there’s something for everyone. 

Best of all, it’s open for free during scheduled periods during the day. Plus, if you want more than just free play time, private and group lessons are also available for an additional fee. 

But before you hop on board, be sure to check out the height requirements: 52 inches for boogie boarding and 58 inches for stand up surfing. 

Currently, the FlowRider is available on Quantum class, Oasis class, Freedom class and select Voyager class cruise ships. 

Zip Line

Ready to soar like an eagle?  Then you’re looking at the right attraction.  Oasis class ships boast a thrilling zip line that offers a bird’s eye view of the Boardwalk neighborhood.  This isn’t for the faint of heart; it stretches out a whopping 82 feet between two points and rises 9 decks high in the air. 

In order to participate, guests must be at least 52 inches tall and weigh no more than 275 pounds; children must also meet minimum weight requirements — 75 pounds or higher — for their own safety.  Plus, it’s free to use!  All you need is a signature on the waiver before boarding your flight. 


Located in the Boardwalk of Oasis Class ships, this full-sized, traditional carousel was hand-crafted and designed with turn-of-the-century carousels as its basis - right down to the very last detail. The original artwork scenery panels on the rounding boards feature custom painted scenes that pay homage to seaside boardwalks of the past. 

But, this is more than just a stunning tribute - it’s also a lot of fun!  18 figures are suspended from stainless steel poles along with one ADA accessible chariot created from poplar wood. There are 11 traditional carousel horses, including one Royal Caribbean lead armored horse complete with the crown and anchor logo. 

Water slides

Royal Caribbean has a wide variety of water slides that can offer the perfect mix of thrills and relaxation.

If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, they have some awesome speed and racing slides. There's also a spiral water slide on some ships that take you spiraling around each other until you reach the pool below.

Sky diving simulator

Are you looking for an unforgettable adventure while on your next cruise? Look no further than Ripcord by iFly! Located on board the ship, passengers can experience the thrilling sensation of skydiving without having to jump out of a plane. 

The complimentary flight starts with a short video tutorial teaching the basics of skydiving techniques. After that, all you have to do is change into the provided skydiving apparel and get ready for an action-packed one minute ride in the Ripcord by iFly wind tunnel! 

For those looking for an even more exciting experience, two minute rides are available at The North Star at a cost of just $49.99 per person. Advanced flying classes may also be offered onboard which comes with a separate fee. 

North Star

Onboard any of Royal Caribbean's Quantum Class ships, you'll find a unique experience that allows you to take in all the wonders of the sea from above. The North Star is a glass-enclosed observation pod that rises 300 feet above the deck of your ship, offering breathtaking 360° views of the horizon and beyond. 

The best part? During port visits, access to The North Star is completely free! You can book a time slot for yourself and up to three guests throughout most of the day. 

While at sea, each ride up The North Star comes with a cost of $29.99 per person, but it's well worth it for one-of-a-kind sights from up high. Soar above your cruise ship and take in stunning views that could only be made possible by this amazing feat of engineering! 

Royal Caribbean accidentally sells cruise ship passenger VIP pass and refunds purchases

14 Mar 2023

It turns out the amazing deal Royal Caribbean has for a new VIP pass was indeed too good to be true. 

Side of Navigator of the Seas

Over the weekend Royal Caribbean added a new package to its website that appeared to be a new extra cost pass. It included WiFi, exclusive tours and more at a bargain price.

Unfortunately, it was too good to be true. 

On Monday, Royal Caribbean sent guests an email to inform them that Premier Pass was a "system glitch" and was never intended to be put on sale in the first place.

Premier Pass logo

Premier Pass listed all sorts of benefits, such as dinner with an officer, internet access, and more.

Royal Caribbean removed the Premier Pass option, cancelled all purchases, and will issue refunds.

In the email sent to guests that purchased Premier Pass, the cruise line admitted the benefits sound incredible, but are, " all things that would be operationally unsustainable" to actually offer.

Royal Caribbean International Assistant Vice President of Guest Experience, Aurora Yera-Rodriguez, wrote in the email, " In reading all of the social media threads – I’ve seen many guests mention that it was “way too good to be true”, and unfortunately, that’s the truth."

The email alludes to the fact so many people purchased the pass simply by way of word of mouth, which also made it impossible to carry through with.

Royal Caribbean is offering guests $50 USD Onboard Credit as a way of making up for the mistake.

Unfortunately, it looks like some people got more onboard credit than they should have received, because the system gave them $50 per person initially.


Anyone that spent the money immediately on a new purchase, received an email to inform them that the purchase they made was no longer paid in full and they needed to make up the difference.

"Just got the same email- now I OWE Royal $100!!," is what Carlyn3 posted after encountering the onboard credit error.

Cruise fan reactions

Pool deck on Oasis of the Seas

As soon as the emails went out, cruisers shared their thoughts on the mix-up.

On the Royal Caribbean message boards, there were plenty of comments on the cancellation.

Rakaia wrote, "Hey, $50 I didn't have before. I'll take it."

Montemy2419 posted, "Nice of them to give the gesture because if they didn't give a little something then the backlash would of been bad."

Wilson wrote, "This is a hot mess."

Shore excursion price mistake

Minutes after the email was sent about Premier Pass, another email went out to anyone that booked an Atlantis Aquaventure Waterpark tour. 

There was a price mistake for this popular Bahamas shore excursion, and purchases will also be cancelled and refunded.

Just like the Premier Pass, anyone that booked the Aquaventure at the mistake price will receive $50 USD Onboard Credit.

Another glitch

This week's issues are not Royal Caribbean's first notable internet sale error.

The most notable one was in 2019 when Royal Caribbean's website listed the Deluxe Beverage Package for $18 per day, per person.

At the time, the drink package was usually listed for $40-50 per person, per day (it now costs significantly more than that).

Royal Caribbean went on to honor that pricing goof.

Royal Caribbean launches new cruise VIP package

11 Mar 2023

UPDATE MARCH 13: Royal Caribbean canceled and refunded any Premier Pass purchases.

UPDATE MARCH 12: It appears this package is a mistake and was never intended to be sold to Royal Caribbean guests.

On Sunday morning, Royal Caribbean's social media channels shared updates with guests that the package was mistakenly offered.

Thanks to Michael Poole for providing this screenshot.


If you want to get an all-in-one add-on for your Royal Caribbean cruise that includes a bunch of extras, there's a new option for you.

top deck of a Royal Caribbean cruise ship

Royal Caribbean is now offering Premier Pass, which is a new priority access program.

Royal Caribbean's original add-on perks package, The Key, is still available, but Premier Pass offers a different set of amenities aimed at offering the, "newest and most innovative vacation package."

Purchasing Premier Pass gets you VIP access, internet access, and service amenities you might not otherwise get unless you stayed in a suite or had an upper echelon Crown and Anchor Society level.

Premier Pass logo

Here's what's included with the Premier Pass:

  • Welcome bottle of Veuve Clicquot
  • Priority embarkation and debarkation
  • Inside Access tour (two guests)
  • Officer's lunch (two guests)
  • Unlimited internet access (two devices)
  • Captain's toast and photo
  • Wine pairing with sommelier (two guests) - wine is complimentary
  • Laundry service (one bag per stateroom)

Basically, it's a way to board the ship faster and get VIP treatment at select events.

Premier Pass description

This new package includes some perks of The Key, but excludes priority activity access. Instead, it has more experiences and tours as part of its deal.

"Introducing Premier Pass, our newest and most innovative vacation package for 2 guests. It offers a series of unique cruise experiences to elevate your vacation to the next luxurious level. Purchase the Premier Pass before you sail and enjoy VIP access to the ship, including priority boarding. You’ll have a bottle of Veuve Clicquot waiting in your stateroom when you arrive - just our way of saying Welcome aboard.

Your pass includes our most popular Inside Access Tour where you’ll discover the inner workings of the ship from the bridge to the engine room. Your pass also includes a meal with one of the ship’s officers, complete with a photo of you and the captain.

During your sailing, you’ll savor an exclusive food and wine pairing. Keep in touch with unlimited internet access for two devices. Look your best in every port with personal laundry service on board."

Cruise Planner on an iPad

The new option is located under the "Packages" tab in the Cruise Planner, although I was only able to spot it for one of my upcoming cruises on Mariner of the Seas. RoyalCaribbeanBlog reader Bob Rogers spotted it for his Allure of the Seas cruise, so it's possible it's only available on select ships so far.

The cost of the Premier Pass is advertised for both of our sailings at $88.99 and it covers two guests.

How can I buy the package?

Premier Pass in Cruise Planner

You must purchase Premier Pass online before your cruise begins. 

After a cruise is booked, go to Royal Caribbean's site, log in to your account and click on "Cruise Planner." 

Why buy Premier Pass?

The appeal of any VIP package for a cruise is a way to enjoy added benefits without spending the money for a suite or having sufficient loyalty program points.

Buying Premier Pass gets you VIP benefits at a more affordable price, especially for new cruisers.

Stock VIP pass

In short, the Premier Pass is all about getting exclusive benefits, if you value them. It's a way to feel like a VIP on your cruise, especially on embarkation and disembarkation day.

Like The Key, it's not essential to have, but it's certainly a nice add-on for those that want something special and wouldn't otherwise have similar benefits.

How is Premier Pass different than The Key?

Key entrance

It appears thus far, The Key and Premier Pass will both be offered, as both options were available on sailings I was able to see Premier Pass listed.

Having not tried Premier Pass yet, it seems based on the description they are some benefits that are similar with most not.

First and foremost, one Premier Pass purchase is for two people, whereas The Key has a per-person price.

Additionally, The Key must be purchased prior to sailing by each guest age 6 or older assigned to the same stateroom. There is no such requirement of Premier Pass.

The Key is priced per night of the cruise, whereas Premier Pass is a fixed price for the entire voyage.

Both passes include Internet access for the duration of the cruise. Both will get you on the ship faster with priority embarkation, as well as priority disembarkation.

Beyond that, the list of benefits diverge from each other.

What's included with The Key

  • Priority access into the terminal (within booked arrival time) on Day 1.
  • Carry-on bag drop off and delivery to stateroom. Drop-off your carry-on bags in the Main Dining Room until 1:30pm.
  • Private time at onboard activities including Rock Climbing, FlowRider and more.
  • Priority departure at tender ports of call from ship-to-shore.
  • Exclusive welcome lunch in the Main Dining Room featuring the Chops Grille Lunch menu.
  • Seats in the exclusive VIP seating section at shows in the Main Theatre, Aqua Theater, Studio B and Two70 (reservation is needed).
  • VOOM ® Surf & Stream 1 Device high speed internet.
  • On debarkation day, enjoy an exclusive à la carte breakfast and choice departure.
water slides on Symphony

What's included with Premier Pass

  • Welcome bottle of Veuve Clicquot
  • Priority embarkation and debarkation
  • Inside Access tour (two guests)
  • Officer's lunch (two guests)
  • Unlimited internet access (two devices)
  • Captain's toast and photo
  • Wine pairing with sommelier (two guests) - wine is complimentary
  • Laundry service (one bag per stateroom)

Reserved times for shows and activities are at the heart of what The Key offers, whereas Premier Pass includes more experiences.

I learned how to surf on a weekend cruise. Here is my advice if you want to try it too

31 Jan 2023

On all of my cruises, one thing I have never made it around to was trying the FlowRider. While I’ve enjoyed watching others try it, I hadn’t taken the plunge for myself. I set out to find out if I could really learn to surf on a 3-night cruise.

Learn to surf on cruise ship

Royal Caribbean is known for many things, but one of the activities that they are known for the best, is the surf simulator better known as the FlowRider. The FlowRider has 30,000 gallons of rushing water, mimicking what it is like to surf on the ocean. I’ve seen boogie boarders struggle to stay on, so watching stand up surfers being able to stay up has always been impressive.

When I noticed that Royal Caribbean offers a FlowRider surf lesson for my upcoming 3-night Liberty of the Seas sailing, I decided to sign up and find out if it is possible to learn to surf in only 3 days. 

Prior to getting onboard, I had some nerves about attempting to try it.

As a previous spectator of the FlowRider, I’d been scared about falling and hurting myself, or not being able to actually stand up on the board, especially in front of a crowd of people watching.

While I couldn’t guarantee that those wouldn’t happen to me, I did take the one preventative measure I could, purchasing a rash guard and swim shorts to wear over my bathing suits to prevent any “wardrobe malfunctions”, which the force of the water has been known to cause. 

Trying out free sessions first

With my nerves in full force, I decided that I should head straight to the FlowRider after getting on board to get my feet wet, hoping to beat the long lines and spectator crowds.

The first session was a "Mixed Wave" session on embarkation day.

It turns out that they only allow you to try stand up surfing during their mixed wave sessions, which were offered only once a day.

On the third day, the other sessions offered were “Boogie Boarding” or “Advanced Standup Surfing” only. 

The first Mixed Wave session was at 3pm, so I made my way to the FlowRider for my first attempt.

Upon arriving I had to sign a lengthy waiver, which included many safety videos about how to properly fall to avoid injury. Once I finished signing those, I was given a blue wristband.

It turns out that everyone who wants to attempt to surf during open sessions is given a blue wristband. You’re then given 1 “turn”, consisting of 2 attempts to prove that you can stand up on your own.

If you pass, you’re given a white wristband and can continue surfing during both the Mixed Wave and Advanced Standup Surfing sessions. 

I had assumed that while I would be limited to my one turn at a time, that once I fell twice I would be able to get back in line and try again. They told me that they didn’t allow this due to trying to limit injuries from guests not being able to stand up and getting knocked over time and time again.

At that point I was glad that I had booked a lesson, as it was a dedicated hour for a small group to try as many times as you could. 

With it being the first day, the lines were very low with only 5 of us out there. Three of the other riders were very experienced, and even brought their own boards with them to ride on. I was the only one trying to stand up for the first time. 

When signing the waiver I saw that everyone has to prove that they can ride the boogie board before attempting to stand up, so when my turn was up I headed over to the boogie board. The staff told me to go out into the middle of the FlowRider on the board, and then come back to the sidelines.

I'm not sure what the thought process behind that was, but nevertheless after my 15 second ride, I was deemed worthy to try stand up surfing.

Years ago my husband had tried surfing, and the instructors held his arms to help get him out into the water, from which he was able to stay up for a while. I was expecting that they would do the same for me, but I learned that after the shut-down, they no longer could hold guests' arms to guide them out into the FlowRider.

This meant that once you got yourself onto the board, you had to bend over and bounce backwards into the rushing water, and then try to stand up and steady yourself.  

Of course, with this not being the lesson I booked, I also got very minimal instruction from the staff. They can’t be spending the whole open session training people how to stand up, with the typically long lines of people waiting to take their turn. I was hoping for some more tips and guidance, but they gave me the basics and sent me out on my way.

On my first attempt, I got knocked off my board in just a few seconds. I rode the waves up to the back and made my way back down for my second attempt.

Hoping that now I had a feel for the water I would be able to stay on longer and at least make it farther out into the waves.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, and after around 10 shaky seconds I was knocked off for my second time. While walking to bring the board back to the front of the line, one of the instructors not-so-encouragingly told me to stick to boogie boarding. 

With my single turn being over, I couldn’t try again until the next mixed wave session which was the next day.

While I understand that they’re trying to limit injury, it was frustrating that the line was so small and I couldn’t keep trying until the session was over. This made me more nervous that I wouldn’t be able to learn to surf in just three days if I was only getting 1 turn per session. 

Trying again on day 2

On the second day, I woke up early to head out for another surfing session.

There were only three other people there for the session, and the instructors seemed a bit more relaxed and willing to offer me guidance, which I very much needed.

During my first attempt, I wiped out again after about 10 seconds.

Nicole learning to surf

Before starting my second attempt, I received even more instructions from not only the staff, but also other surfers who had mastered stand up surfing. With their tips, I was able to stand up and surf for 45 seconds on my own. 

Knowing that my single turn was over, I headed to dry off and watch the rest. The staff ended up letting me try for a second turn, citing that they were in a good mood that morning.

I took them up on it, and was able to again stand up for around 45 seconds on my next two attempts. This still wasn’t good enough for a white bracelet, so I had to wait until my lesson later that evening to ride again. 

Trying a private surfing lesson

At 8pm on the second day of the cruise, we headed back up to the FlowRider for my lesson, which was a group lesson. There were 7 of us total, with no one having tried to stand up before.

During the lesson we again had to prove that we could ride a boogie board, but this time they had us get up onto our knees on the board and navigate the board across the FlowRider.

This seemed much more useful than my boogie board test out earlier in the cruise, and truly gave us a feel for how the littlest of movements in your body can affect how your board turns. 

With that out of the way, it was time to try standing up again.

For the lesson, the instructors use a rope that both they and the rider hold onto while on the board. This imitates the holding onto each other's arms that they used to do during open sessions, and allowed them to help us out into the middle of the FlowRider.

Immediately I realized how much more efficient using the rope was was than trying to bend over and stand up while in the middle of the waves. 

The instructor that wasn’t holding the rope was on the sidelines giving us tips to stand up straight, open our chest, put our weight onto our back leg and more to keep us up.

We exclusively held the rope for our first two attempts, which were well over a minute each. On our third attempt, we were instructed to drop the rope once we got out to the middle, where it was time to put our lesson to the test. 

Our biggest pieces of training were:

  1. Put all of your weight in your back leg
  2. Stand up straight with your chest open
  3. The slightest shift in weight will dictate where your board goes

With the training behind me, I stayed out there and upright for almost two minutes.

I was able to focus on my form, and attempt to navigate back and forth across the area. I even got a spin in there, though it did ultimately cause me to fall off at the end.

I went out for my last attempt of the trip, and not only was able to stand up and stay on, but also was able to walk off on the side rather than falling off the board. 

With 7 people in the group, and the lesson being only an hour, we didn’t get as much time to ride as I would have hoped. However, even with the limited time, the instructors were able to help all 7 of us learn how to surf on the FlowRider. 

Does it hurt when you fall?

Falling on the FlowRider

If you're like me, you're worried about falling and how much it hurts when you lose your balance on the FlowRider and hit the pad.

I was pleasantly surprised at how cushy the pad was, and it had quite a bit of bounce to it, designed with falling in mind.

In the waiver and lesson, they stressed the importance of holding your head once you fall and riding the wave back up, to limit head injuries.

Though I didn't notice any pain in the moment, I did start to develop bruises on my elbows from falling on them. However, these were minor and I was anticipating much worse injuries. 

Can you really learn to surf on a cruise ship?

If the timing of the private lesson works for your schedule, it is the best way to learn how to stand up. Not only do you get the use of the rope, but you also get specific advice to help you. And of course, you get more than one turn during the lesson. 

While I’m not ready to go out and invest in my own board quite yet, and my bruises are still healing, I am happy to know that I was able to learn how to surf on a 3-night cruise.

Who knows, maybe you’ll catch me out there on my future cruises! 

Royal Caribbean added new cruise ship activities for Gen-Z cruisers and I tried them out

18 Jan 2023

Recently, Royal Caribbean soft launched their new Hyperlink Program onboard select vessels, and after reading some mixed reviews, I decided to see what the activities were all about while sailing on Symphony of the Seas.


Hyperlink targets guests between the ages of 18-25 and aims to bridge the gap between the Fuel teen club, which is limited to guests 12-17, and other more common adult activities where drinking is more present.

Since I'm only 23, I'm within the age range for this program, so I attended at least one Hyperlink activity everyday while on my cruise to see what I thought. 

I wanted to check out the activities and share with all of you my opinions on how well it all worked.

First impressions


On the very first night, there were two Hyperlink activities: a social gathering near the Solarium Bar, followed by a private table event at the Attic. 

Since I was on my first solo cruise, I was looking forward to the opportunity to get to know other guests around my age. 

When I arrived, the Hyperlink "promoter," who was dressed up in a suit and tie, greeted me and shook my hand. A small speaker playing some of today's hits provided good background noise, and everyone entered a raffle where names would be pulled at the very last event to win "a free cruise or keychain, but probably a keychain." 

There were about ten other attendees present already, so everyone restated their names and where they were from. This kept occurring throughout the event whenever other people would arrive. 

I did notice, however, that while we all said our ages when introducing ourselves, they were never checked by the promoter. In theory, someone who looks like they are between the ages of 18 and 25 could have shown up without question. 

Most of the guests at the social event were under 21, and those who were over the age of 21 arrived drink in hand and did not stay for long, especially those who were looking forward to continuing the gathering in the Attic. 

I ended up meeting a nice guy from Colorado who became my buddy for the week. In fact, we've been in contact since the cruise already! 

A large group of attendees stayed in the Solarium rather than heading down to the club event, myself included. It was nice to get to know everyone instead of heading to a venue where conversation would be minimal. 

Other events offered

Throughout the week, there was at least one Hyperlink event per day, all happening after 10:30pm.



The second night's activity was international beer trivia in On Air. It was supposed to begin at 11:30pm; however, it didn't start until closer to 11:45, and the same promoter was the host of the event. 

The room was packed, but once again, no ages were checked. The parents of the friend I made the night prior even stopped in for a little bit.

Additionally, everyone came in groups. If you showed up solo, I think it would've been hard to find a team to play with. There wasn't any real time to talk with others. 

I really didn't find this theme suitable for guests 18-20. Even though I am 23, I am not a beer drinker. In fact, I avoid it at all costs. 

Personally, I think it should have been something more universal, like music or movie trivia. 

In total, the event lasted twenty minutes, as it ended at 12:05am. I'm surprised at how well my new friend and I did; we got eight out of twelve correct, albeit many (if not most) were just great guesses. 

"Frat" games


The next night's event took place in the alcoves located in the forward of the ship off of the running track on deck five. 

I believe that both cup pong and flip cup were supposed to be played, but because of how popular the event was, there was barely enough time to let everyone play cup pong. 

The same friend and I made accompanied me to all the Hyperlink events the rest of the week, which made them more enjoyable, as there weren't any more "get to know each other" opportunities; everyone arrived in pairs or groups. 


At this point, I noticed a recurring theme: ages were not going to be checked. The promoter assigned teams without so much as asking a single person their age. 

The energy at this event was high: loud music was playing; people were screaming and yelling; and you could tell some had a few drinks prior to coming. 

Thus far, the events seemed to be more targeted towards passengers ages 21-25, rather than 18-25, as I felt like this event was not appropriate for the ship to be promoting for those under 21. 


Spotlight Karaoke

It was on this cruise I discovered how much I enjoy watching people sing karaoke. Prior to this trip, I usually skipped the karaoke events, as they were often very crowded, and it was difficult to find seating if you didn't arrive ahead of time. 

I was looking forward to the Hyperlink karaoke night because I figured it would be a smaller, more "exclusive" event! 

It turns out that they merged it with "adult" karaoke; however, ages were not checked at all. It was truly just another karaoke night with the only difference being that the same Hyperlink promoter was the host. 

Hyperlink was never even mentioned, and before every song, the promoter would say this was "for you, for me, [and] for everybody!" 

That being said, I really enjoyed myself! The promoter's energy carried the event, as it was evident that he was enjoying himself.

He was often seen dancing off to the side, and at one point, he even ran across the stage throwing tissues! It was quite entertaining. 

'70s club night


Just like the previous night, the event at Studio B's "RED" nightclub was merged with the overarching event. Technically, though, it was just a "meet up" that was scheduled to last thirty minutes. This time,  I never even saw the promoter. If he was there, he was buried in the sea of people on the dance floor. 

About fifteen minutes before it began, there was already a decent sized line. And because this was in a nightclub, all SeaPasses were scanned, so everyone was over 18.

It was nearly impossible to find anyone else who had been to other Hyperlink activities because of how crowded it was. 

Right at the beginning of the dance floor was a bar, and nearly every attendee visited it or carried in another drink. 

Game night


Game night had so much potential! It was slated to be held in the Card Room on deck 14, but when I arrived there were only a few people there; the promoter was nowhere to be found. 

A good age range showed up, too; two 23-year-olds, two 19-year-olds, and one 18-year-old, including myself and friend, were there and ready to play some card games. 

This event would have thrived with some enforcement, like setting up multiple game stations that were ready when people arrived. 

In reality, most people left within ten or fifteen minutes. 

Farewell event


The last activity was another meet up with a DJ, but this one was located in Dazzles.

The overall age of attendees was younger than the RED nightclub event, but that's probably because it was 12:00am, and everyone had to be off the ship in roughly nine hours. 

It was similar to the last clubbing experience, down to the fact that there was no promoter to be found, even though there was supposedly a raffle. 

Now, this could have actually happened, but since it was the last night and I had an early morning, I did not stay longer than fifteen minutes. 

Final thoughts on Hyperlink


The Hyperlink Program is a great idea, but it is lacking in execution.  

None of these activities truly seemed to bridge the gap for those who were between 18 and 20. Rather, they just encouraged drinking behavior (i.e., beer trivia, cup pong, nightclub events). 

Plus, I think that if events are going to be targeted towards a specific age group, there needs to be some method verification, and there should be staff present at every Hyperlink advertised activity. 

Perhaps, even, Royal Caribbean should focus solely on those 18 to 20, as anyone over 21 can partake in all events throughout the cruise ship and most likely are using the time to drink.

Not that I am a sports girl, but I know that exclusive sporting events would've been widely popular, but they were not offered on my sailing. 

All events that were offered were late at night, and sports could be a way to provide entertainment during the day as well-- I found myself struggling to stay awake every single night and would have loved a few events during the day. 

I think, too, that they should have more opportunities for social interaction and meeting new people throughout the week.

Like I said earlier, I am a huge fan of the idea of Hyperlink; I just hope that Royal Caribbean uses feedback from guests to continue improving it! 

Royal Caribbean experiments with new entertainment for younger Millennial guests

03 Jan 2023

If you're between the age of 18 and 25, there's now more activities for you to do on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship than before.

Allure of the Seas

Royal Caribbean has quietly unveiled a new activities program aimed at an age group that has traditionally found itself on the periphery of things to do on a cruise ship.

The new activities are referred to as the Hyperlink program, and they aim to bridge cruise ship activities following the teen club age to the more common adult offerings.

Symphony of the Seas aft aerial

Speaking to travel agents on Wonder of the Seas last week, Royal Caribbean Director of Entertainment Activities & Media Operations, Ken Rush, talked briefly about the new option.

"We have been doing we've been doing a trial on the Symphony of the Seas of what we're calling the Hyperlink program, which is going to be a new program for the 18 to 25 year olds. So we're doing that right now and it's coming."

Since then, the program has been spotted in the Cruise Compass of other ships across the fleet, including Odyssey of the Seas and Wonder of the Seas.

It's not clear yet which ships offer it or not.

Addressing a need

Teen club on Wonder of the Seas in Social100

For many young adults on a cruise, they see a gap in programming that appeals to them once they are too old for the teen club.

Royal Caribbean limits the teen club to passengers 17 years and younger, which means anyone between the age of 18-20 is found in a middle ground of being too old for the teen club, but not old enough to drink.

Examples of events

Rock wall on Allure of the Seas

In looking through the Royal Caribbean app, we can see examples of the events the Hyperlink program includes.

Similar to the teen events, there are now special events listed that cater only to guests between the age of 18-25.

It appears the goal is to gather passengers of this age so they can meet and spend time together with the intention of fostering new friendships.

Just like other events, there's no pre-registration needed. Guests of this age can simply show up at the selected time and location.

Royal Caribbean's activities staff curate the event, just like other events onboard.

More for millennials

Symphony of the Seas pool deck

There are an estimated 80 million millennials in the United States, making them the largest generation currently.

The Hyperlink program is aimed at guests at the younger end of the spectrum, as the millennial generation spans anyone born between 1980 and 2000.

An estimated 32% of millennials have already taken a cruise in the last five years, and Millennials seem to like the idea that cruises are transportation and accommodation in one. The appeal of leaving your bags unpacked the entire trip has caught on, and cruise lines are highlighting this as they expand their offerings.

While millennials may not make up the majority of cruise passengers right now, getting them on board will become increasingly more important as they get older.

Royal Caribbean brought back the behind-the-scenes tour: here's what it's like

01 Sep 2022

Royal Caribbean has brought back its behind-the-scenes tours that provide a look at areas of its cruise ships passengers aren't allowed to see most times.

All Access tour badge

The All Access Tour is one of the last activities to return to service since cruises restarted last year due to the close proximity of guests and crew members. In the last few weeks, the tour is operational again and I decided to try it out while sailing on Mariner of the Seas.

The All Access Tour is a 2-hour walking tour of many areas of the ship, and costs extra. The goal is to provide a glimpse of what goes on while guests are enjoying their vacation to make the cruise ship function.

It's as much educational as it is eye opening to how much work goes on to keep the ship functional and optimal.

The tour was conducted on a sea day, and all guests are required to sign a waiver as well as wear a KN-95 mask, which Royal Caribbean provides.

Guests also have to wear pants and closed-toed shoes. Unlike the masks, this requirement was in place pre-2020 as well.

The tour visits 6 key areas along the way

  • Galley
  • Engine control room
  • Waste management
  • Laundry room
  • Food provisions
  • Bridge
  • Royal Theater

Guests are given an ear piece to wear during the tour, which makes hearing what is being said much easier. In the past I've done this tour without the ear piece and it makes things much simpler.

At each location, the tour leader usually hands off the narration to another crew member that works in the area you are visiting to explain in greater detail what goes on.

Prior to visiting the engine control room and bridge, the ship's security will pat down each guest since these are sensitive areas of the ship.

Photos are allowed in almost every area of the tour, minus the main I-95 crew corridor on deck 1 because there are posters on the wall with security information posted.

In the galley, you get to visit two galleys, which provides a look at a working galley that was serving breakfast at the time and another galley preparing for meals later in the day.

You get to see how they plan meals for guests and crew, which include seeing pastries, produce, and various cooking stations.

It's a round-the-clock operation to have the right logistics of getting food prepared and moved around the ship.

We also got to see where the food provisions are stored.

The engine control room is the heart beat of the ship, and we got to see all the controls for the systems that keep the ship moving and comfortable.

The trash area shows how waste is separated and disposed of properly. Royal Caribbean not only follows international maritime regulations, but actually goes above what's required as it relates to disposal.

To get to the laundry room, we had to go below the ship's water line and two decks below deck 1. I don't think I've ever been to this deck before.

There are machines for cleaning towels, sheets, table cloths and more.

This is also where laundry gets done for both guests and crew.

The highlight of the tour is going up to the bridge, where you can see the command center for Mariner of the Seas.

We got to not only see the primary bridge area, but also the bridge wings that allow for control during port operations.

The final stop was the Royal Theater, where we walked on stage and then headed backstage.

They explained both the technical operation of the show with rigging, lights, and scenery, as well as the cast prep for the performances.

In all, the All Access tour delivers on showing pretty much all the backstage areas you would want to see in order to fully appreciate how a cruise ship operates.

The tour doesn't include crew member quarters, restaurants, or bars. I think Royal Caribbean wants to limit the behind-the-scenes views to operational needs and let crew relax in those other areas.

It's insightful to see how a ship works, and if you've ever been curious about a cruise ship functions, then this is the tour for you.

I paid $86.99 per person for the All Access Ship tour when I purchased it prior to my cruise.

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