First Time Cruisers

What should I expect on my first Royal Caribbean cruise?


You booked your first Royal Caribbean cruise and excited to get onboard and start your adventure, but you may be feeling a little apprehensive about what awaits you as well.

It is natural to be curious what a cruise vacation is all about, so we have some important things to know about planning your first Royal Caribbean cruise.

You can (and should) pre-plan

While a Royal Caribbean cruise is pretty easy to navigate and have a great time, you really should take some time before the cruise and plan ahead.

Royal Caribbean rewards guests who pre-purchase select activities, packages and offerings with discounts and advanced access. Moreover, by planning ahead, you can not only learn a lot about what the ship offers, but waste a whole lot less time.

One of the biggest mistakes first time cruisers make is not doing enough research before the vacation, and then lamenting lost opportunities. 

There is a lot of things to do, see and experience during your cruise, so do not let a potentially amazing family experience pass you by simply because you were not aware it was an option.

More: Check out our 2020 Royal Caribbean cruise planning guide for an in-depth starting point.

Check-in before your cruise

You can check-in before the cruise and save time at the terminal with Royal Caribbean's online check-in.

If your ship supports check-in via the app, be sure to use the app to check-in to potentially take advantage of Expedited Arrival.

Even if Expedited Arrival is not available for you, completing online check-in before your cruise will make things go quicker in the cruise terminal, and that means getting onboard sooner.

You should also download the Royal Caribbean mobile app (free on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store) to not only assist with check-in, but help plan your cruise. Depending on the ship you are sailing on, there are a variety of features available through the app.

Read: How to complete Royal Caribbean online check-in.

The ship has a lot of things to do

If you were not already aware, Royal Caribbean packs a ton of things to do on their cruise ships. These floating cities are an incredible place to spend your cruise vacation, and many first timers are unaware of the scale of activities.

The best strategy for keeping up with everything you can do onboard is to read the Cruise Compass. Each evening, your stateroom attendant will deliver to your stateroom the Cruise Compass, which is a daily guide to the news, events and activities that will be occurring on your ship the next day.

The Cruise Compass is more than just knowing what time bingo is at.  It offers you insight into the next day's weather, which bars will have drink specials, shore excursion information and much more.

Most importantly, there is a chronological listing of events from the early morning to the late evening. Each event has a time, event name, location and possibly brief description listed. There will also be an indication if this event costs extra.

Some events are not repeated while other activities can change daily, so it is in your best interest to track what is happening so you do not miss any of it.

More: We keep an archive of past Cruise Compasses to give you a ballpark idea of what to expect on your sailing.

Staterooms and why size does not matter

More than likely, the cabin you booked is going to be much smaller than hotel rooms on land. 

Royal Caribbean's cabins are quite comfortable, and there is still a good amount of storage space and cozy accommodations.

The reason why the smaller size of the room does not matter much is because in reality, you will spend a lot less time in the room than you think.

With so many activities, entertainment and places to visit, cruise cabins are most often used as a place to sleep and shower, rather than a spot you spend a great deal of time. Moreover, there is a tremendous amount of public space on each ship, where you feel drawn to during the day and evening.

Food, Glorious Food!

In terms of dining, you will find an incredible amount of dining choices day and night while on Royal Caribbean. Certainly any concerns of there not being enough food to eat will quickly be forgotten.

Royal Caribbean includes a great deal of food in the cruise fare, in addition to specialty dining options that cost extra.

Complimentary food is available for all meals, and time inbetween. Simply put, there is plenty of great food included in the cost of your Royal Caribbean cruise. One can easily go an entire food and enjoy nothing but food that has no additional cost from morning to night. After all, that is what the concept of a cruise has been for a long time.

In addition to all the food that is included in your cruise fare are specialty dining options, that carry with it an extra cost to enjoy the food there. The exact amount extra will vary from restaurant to restaurant, and ship to ship.

In most cases, the specialty dining options offer a greater variety of food choices than what is available at complimentary dining locations. Royal Caribbean has designed its specialty restaurants around themes or cuisines (Italian, steakhouse, sushi, etc).

More: All about food on Royal Caribbean.

Serving Up Gold Anchor Service

The crew onboard your ship are amazing, and will do whatever they can to ensure you have a great cruise.

From your stateroom attendant, to dining room waiters, to the activities staff, you will find crew members that are dedicated, friendly and compassionate. It seems there is a smile and friendly, "hello" around every corner of the ship.

The crew wants you to have a fantastic cruise, so if there is something missing, broken, or could be improved, do not hesitate to speak to a crew member about how it can be made better.

If you do encounter an issue, or think there can be an improvement, do not hesitate to talk to a crew member about your concern.

Shows every night

If you were worried about being bored on a Royal Caribbean cruise, you will quickly discover that there is plenty to do while onboard.

Each evening, there will be stage productions, featured entertainers, live music and more to enjoy.  Quite often, you have multiple entertainers and shows available to see overlapping each other, which means you have a lot to enjoy.

Royal Caribbean's entertainment is the cruise line's secret weapon, because they have been upping their game over the last few years to bring guests the kind of shows and spectacles you would expect to find in Las Vegas or New York.

Select ships offer full Broadway shows, comedian performances, Latin bands, DJ parties and newly released films to enjoy. 

You should plan your evenings to combine a show or performance along with a great dinner meal.

More: Entertainment on Royal Caribbean cruise ships.

Themed nights & what to wear

What to wear on your Royal Caribbean cruise is usually a source of frustration by new cruisers, because they want to be prepared and specifics on what to wear are a bit vague.

There are dress codes each evening that only pertain to the main dining room. When you see things like "formal night" or "casual" dress code, those refer to the appropriate attire to be worn during dinner in the main dining room.

Elsewhere on the ship, you can wear whatever you please. Specialty restaurants have their own dress codes, which supersede the main dining room dress code. In general, these are more relaxed.

In addition, there may be themed nights on select evenings of your cruise. These are very much optional, but there can be 70s, 80s or other themed dance parties going on during the cruise. Royal Caribbean does not publish what they are, or when they are, in advance, so your best bet is to read a past Cruise Compass from the ship and itinerary you are sailing on to get an idea what to expect.

The good news is cruising these days is a far cry from the "old days" of cruising in the last century when ball gowns and tuxedos with tails and top hats.  Royal Caribbean is pretty open about what you can wear throughout the cruise but at dinner time, there's still a few elements of formality left to consider.  And for those that don't want to dress up beyond t-shirts and shorts, Royal Caribbean has options for you as well.

Read: What clothing do I wear on my Royal Caribbean cruise?

Oh, the Places You'll Go!

Of course, your cruise will take you to some amazing places around the world.  Your best bet is to research the ports of call you will visit, and make plans before you arrive.

Shore excursions are a major part of any Royal Caribbean cruise because a large part of your overall vacation is exploring the ports of call you will visit.  You have just a few hours at each stop, but it should be enough to get a taste of the city you are visiting.

Before you even look at one shore excursion, you should research the most popular activities in each port. 

When looking at shore excursion options, you can book tours through Royal Caribbean or on your own. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks, so I advise to consult both.

The key is to determine which tours you want to book, and reserve it in advance. In some cases booking in advance will save you money, and everyone can benefit from having the luxury of time to consider all options.

Read: How to book a Royal Caribbean shore excursion


Remember that awesome service the crew provides to you? They deserve a reward for the hard work put in daily to make your cruise better.

On Royal Caribbean, gratuities apply to all passengers. Royal Caribbean charges $14.50 per person, per day for most guests. This rate applies to interior cabins, ocean view, balcony and junior suites. The cruise lines charges $17.50 per person, per day for guests in grand suites and above.

You can also opt to go to Guest Services to have the gratuities adjusted. Guests have until the morning of their departure to make changes to the gratuities they pay.

ReadWhat you need to know about gratuities on Royal Caribbean.

How To Avoid Getting Sick on a Cruise


Worried that you might get sea sick or catch a virus on a cruise? Many first time cruisers have that concern, but with a few easy steps, you can remain healthy and having a great time onboard!

Unfortunately cruise ships are often the subject of the media's attention when there is a rare case of an illness onboard, but the reality is according to the Centers for Disease Control, between between 2008 and 2014 approximately 18/100ths of one percent of cruisers became ill on a cruise ship.  That’s 0.18%. 

The idea that a cruise ship is some sort of magnet for easily spreadable diseases is just plain wrong. Royal Caribbean spends a great deal of time and effort to thoroughly sanitize their cruise ships, and illness outbreak is rarer than anywhere on land.

Follow these steps to help keep you and your family healthy, safe, and having a fabulous time onboard!

Prevent getting seasick

Royal Caribbean's cruise ships are massive vessels that are not easily jostled to a point where you can get queasy easily.

There are some easy to follow steps for lowering the chances you would get seasick in the first place, as well as easy remedies. If you ask cruisers that go on a lot of sailings, they will tell you concern over getting seasick is pretty low on their worry list.

Wash your hands (again and again)

You will hear the cruise line tell you to wash your hands over and over again (heck, they produced an ear worm song about it), and it is because washing your hands before meals and after using the restrooms is the best way to stay healthy onboard.

Whenever possible, take the time to stop and wash your hands, especially before eating. Many illnesses are spread by physical contact, so be sure to take a few seconds and wash thoroughly with warm water.

One thing I like to do is buy a bottle of liquid soap (this link contains an affiliate link) to keep in my stateroom bathroom to make washing hands easier.

Stay hydrated

In this age of drink packages, it is very easy to skip drinking enough water. Combined with warm temperatures in the Caribbean or Mediterranean, and dehydration becomes a large threat.

Meal time is always a good point to take a break from alcoholic beverages and have a glass of water (or two). Keep in mind that most drink packages include bottled water.

The bottom line is you want to keep up with drinking water, even if you do not feel thirsty. Water helps cleanse your body and keep you feeling your best.

Get enough sleep

Nothing weakens your immune system faster than not getting enough sleep. Royal Caribbean offers so much to see and do on their cruise ships, so it is easy to "burn the candle at both ends" and try to wake up early and stay up late to do it all.

Make sure you take naps or sleep-in now and then to ensure your body has time to recover from all the fun from the day before.

Pack sunscreen

If there is one mistake many first timers overlook it is packing (and subsequently applying) sunscreen while on their cruise. Getting a sun burn will put a real damper on your fun.

It is easy to neglect to bring any sunscreen, so buy some at home (and save money compared to buying it on the ship). Whenever you are outdoors in the morning or afternoon, be sure to apply sunscreen and re-apply every few hours.

Be sure to get a sunscreen that has a high-SPF, and invest in a reef safe sunscreen (link contains affiliate link) to avoid being denied entry to some beaches.

Use your knuckle or elbow

When touching any common surface, like a button, be sure to use your knuckle or even an elbow instead of your finger.  This simple tactic will signficantly help avoid coming in contact with a virus.

Be sure to use the automatic door openers at public restrooms when going in or out of them. While they are labeled for handicap use, anyone can (and should) use them to activate doors and avoid touching door handles. If you do have to touch a door handle, grab a paper towel before doing so.

Where should I spend my money on a Royal Caribbean cruise?


Every vacation dollar counts, and first-time cruisers often want to know what is really worth spending a little bit (or a lot) extra on for their Royal Caribbean cruise.

Ultimately, this is a very subjective question, but here are a few areas that I think one can make a compelling argument for spending more on, and a few areas you can definitely save your cash.

Worth spending extra!

Shore Excursions

When you go on a cruise vacation, a big draw of cruising is being whisked away to different ports of call from the comfort of your ship. With that in mind, what you do on shore is a major component to the vacation, and what you should be spending your money on after the cruise fare.

The ports you visit offer a variety of activities to do, from snorkeling, to zip lining, to food tours, to nature hikes and more. In short, the places your ship will visit offers a taste of the very best you can experience and spending money on a tour that takes you to somewhere beautiful or immerses you in another culture is a worthwhile cost.

Whether you book your shore excursion through Royal Caribbean or on your own, every cruiser should allocate extra room in the vacation budget for what you will do on shore.

Specialty Dining

While there is plenty of fantastic complimentary food included in your cruise fare, there is also a great deal of equally awesome food in cuisines and cooking styles not otherwise available on the ship to enjoy.

Specialty dining on Royal Caribbean has gone from a neat little side offering, to a major component of the dining experience onboard. While you do not need to eat only at specialty restaurants, I do think indulging in a restaurant or two during your cruise is a fantastic way to enhance the vacation.

What makes specialty dining more compelling as something truly worth spending your money is the advent of dining packages. A specialty dining package allows you to enjoy multiple (or even unlimited) specialty restaurants for half the price of paying for them individually. If you plan on spending extra on specialty dining, invest in a dining package to reap greater rewards.

Escape Rooms

Perhaps the best activity to be added to Royal Caribbean ships in recent years is the escape room game.  Available on more and more Royal Caribbean ships, escape rooms are a timed challenge where a team of guests compete to solve a series of riddles and clues that will "unlock" the sequence to the primary puzzle.

Royal Caribbean teamed up with one of the leaders in escape room games around the world, and the result has been an ever-increasing challenging and entertaining activity for nearly all guests to enjoy.

Escape rooms do come with an additional cost, but because they are so well-themed and developed, I think it is worth spending extra for to see if your family is up to the challenge.

Honorable Mentions

For the right person, these add-ons are also worth the cost of buying on a Royal Caribbean cruise:

  • Drink Packages: If you can drink enough every day of your cruise, there is no doubt that a beverage package will save you money on drinks. If your cruise visits Perfect Day at CocoCay or Labadee, then the value proposition increases dramatically.
  • Voom WiFi: For those of us that like to be connected and checking in online (that's me), an internet package is a great option. Plus, it helps keep in contact with other guests onboard.

Save your money


Full disclosure: While logically this argument makes sense, I tend not to follow my own advice. 

Logically, the casino is somewhere that statistics show you are much more likely to lose your money than win it back. Sure, the casino can be fun (especially if you start winning), but if there was one place you ought to skip and spend your money elsewhere, it is probably here.

Art auctions

While art auctions are a staple of many cruise lines, they also carry an unfortunate reputation for long processing times and subjective thoughts on perceived value of the pieces available.

At the end of the day, you are better off buying your art elsewhere and spending that art auction money on something else onboard.

Your thoughts

What do you think is definitely worth spending extra on during a cruise? Is there something we included you think is (not) worth the money? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

What is free on cruise ships?


Royal Caribbean offers a tremendous amount of value in its cruises by including a great variety of dining, activities and entertainment. Many first-time cruisers are curious what is included and costs nothing extra. While splurging a bit here and there helps enhance the vacation, many guests primarily rely on what is free on the cruise.

Here is a comprehensive look at what you can expect to be included with your cruise fare when it is your turn to hit the seas.

Free vs Paid

Before we list everything that is free on a Royal Caribbean cruise, you should understand the basic structure of how Royal Caribbean offers things to do for guests.

First and foremost, a Royal Caribbean cruise is not all-inclusive. Your cruise fare includes a great deal of offerings, but it is purposefully priced to include the basics, and provide guests the choice to indulge in specific add-ons.

Royal Caribbean is fairly transparent about specifying what costs and extra, and the key for new cruisers is to learn the basics to make the process smoother.


The cruise fare you pay covers some core aspects of your vacation. This is the heart of what you are paying for, and primarily what gets you onboard.

When you book a cruise, what you are chiefly paying for is your stateroom cabin. Similar to picking a hotel room on land, your cruise cabin is your home for the duration of the cruise vacation. Additionally, you are paying for ocean transportation onboard the ship that brings you to each of the ports of call you are scheduled to visit.

Keep in mind that things like government taxes, fees is in addition to the base cruise fare.  Your invoice from Royal Caribbean will specify all of these charges at the time of booking.


You can expect a great deal of complimentary food and drink on Royal Caribbean, to the point that you can eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, along with plenty of snacks, without paying anything extra. 

The daily cruise newsletter, known as a Cruise Compass, includes a full list of venues that are included with your cruise, venues that cost extra, and hours of operations for both. Before a cruise, you can review a past Cruise Compass to get an idea of what to expect on your sailing.

Every ship has different dining venues, but you can expect free food in:

  • Main Dining Room
  • Windjammer buffet
  • Casual dining restaurants such as
    • Cafe Promenade
    • Sorrento's Pizza
    • Boardwalk Dog House
    • Park Cafe
    • Cafe Latte-tudes
  • Johnny Rockets (for breakfast on Oasis Class ships only)

The listed venues may on occasion list additional items that cost extra, but this is an add-on option to consider and the vast majority of the menu at these venues cost nothing extra.

In short, you will not struggle at all to find an overwhelming amount of free food onboard at all hours of the day or night. 


Just like the food, you will find a set of beverages available for no extra cost through the day or night at a different locations onboard. 

  • tap water
  • milk
  • tea
  • coffee (regular and decaf)
  • lemonade
  • iced tea
  • flavored waters
  • juices (at breakfast and not fresh squeezed)
  • Hot chocolate (via instant packets)

In some specific examples, there can be additional beverages available for limited times at no extra cost. This can include champagne on formal night, cocktails at a Crown and Anchor event and more. You will have to be vigilant in your event research to recognize when complimentary drinks will be served.


Most entertainment on your cruise is included with your fare. Live music, production shows, karaoke, concerts, in-room television programming (minus pay-per-view) and game shows are just some of what you expect to enjoy for no extra cost.

It may surprise you to know that even the full-length Broadway shows available on some ships is totally free to see, and you can go back again and again to see it. Considering traveling versions of these Broadway shows near your hometown will often cost hundreds of dollars per seat, the fact Royal Caribbean includes them with your fare is incredible.

Things to do

Throughout the day and evening, Royal Caribbean offers its guests a wide variety of activities that cost nothing extra.

Of course, there are opportunities to relax and enjoy time by the pool, hot tub or sit in a chair on one of the outside decks to enjoy the view of the ocean going by. Access to the ship's pools, water slides and hot tubs are always complimentary.

It is impossible to list all the free things to do on a Royal Caribbean cruise, because it varies from ship to ship and different activities may be offered on different sailings.  There are, however, some pretty common things to do across Royal Caribbean's fleet that you can enjoy for no additional cost:

  • Basketball court & group activities (soccer, volleyball, basketball, etc)
  • Mini golf
  • Rock climbing wall
  • Shuffleboard
  • Trivia
  • Dance classes
  • Demonstrations (cooking, napkin folding, etc)
  • Competitions (dodgeball, belly flop competition, etc)
  • Pool side movies
  • FlowRider surf simulator
  • Ice skating (on ships with Studio B)
  • Sky Pad
  • Laser tag
  • Dance parties
  • Zip line (Oasis Class ships only)
  • Bumper cars (Quantum Class ships only)
  • Carousel (Oasis Class ships only)
  • Jogging track
  • Fitness center
    • Free weights
    • Exercise machines
    • Some fitness classes

In short, there is always some activity occurring, and plenty of other things to do that you can enjoy at your leisure.

Kids Programming

Royal Caribbean's Adventure Ocean is at the heart of the kids programming available on any Royal Caribbean ship, and it is nearly all included with your cruise fare.

Adventure Ocean is available to all children between the ages of 3 and 17 years old.  You can register your children at any point in the cruise (although it is best to register them on the first day) and drop them off at a supervised area of the ship.

Adventure Ocean has no cost for its services, with the exception of if the kids remain at Adventure Ocean past 10pm.  From 10pm to 2am, there is an hourly charge.

If your child is between 6 and 36 months old, there is a nursery available on nearly all Royal Caribbean ships. The nursery always has an hourly fee for its services, that will vary in price depending if it is daytime or nighttime. 

In addition to Adventure Ocean, there are usually family centric activities listed in the Cruise Compass, such as family karaoke, scavenger hunts, arts and crafts and more.

Private Destinations

If your Royal Caribbean cruise visits one of its private destinations, like Perfect Day at CocoCay or Labadee, then access and many offerings cost nothing extra.

Just like any port of call your ship visits, these private enclaves are a place you can walk off the ship and walk around at your leisure.  Both CocoCay and Labadee offer multiple beach options that cost nothing extra. CocoCay even has a large swimming pool you can spend time at for no charge.

At Perfect Day at CocoCay, this is what is free to enjoy:

  • Splashaway Bay
  • Captain Jill's Galleon
  • Skipper's Grill
  • Chill Grill
  • Snack Shack
  • Oasis Lagoon pool
  • Beach chairs, umbrellas and towels
  • Chill Island
  • South Beach
  • Sports Courts
  • Select fitness classes
  • Freshwater showers
  • Tram service
  • Beach access wheelchairs

At Labadee, this is what is free to enjoy:

  • Adrenaline Beach
  • Nellie's Beach
  • Columbus Cove
  • Lunch buffets
  • Beach chairs, umbrellas and towels
  • Tram service
  • Freshwater showers
  • Beach access wheelchairs

How many formal nights on a Royal Caribbean cruise?


You might be wondering how many formal nights there are going to be on your Royal Caribbean cruise. Part of planning a Royal Caribbean cruise is being prepared for the different activities and events onboard, including formal nights. 

On select evenings of a Royal Caribbean cruise, the dress code in the main dining room is a little bit fancier, with the cruise line encouraging guests to dress their best. 

There are anywhere from 1-4 formal nights during a Royal Caribbean cruise, and the exact number depends on the length of your itinerary.

  • 3-5 night cruises: one formal night, usually on day 2.
  • 6-10 night cruises: two formal nights.
  • 11-14 night cruises: three formal nights, Days vary by ship and sailing.
  • 15+ night cruises: Three or four formal nights, Days and number vary by ship and sailing.

How to cancel a Royal Caribbean cruise


While it is not something anyone wants to even think about, there may be a need to cancel a Royal Caribbean cruise. Regardless of the reason, here is what you need to know on how to cancel a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Know the cancellation policy

Before you cancel, you should be aware of the terms of cancellation you agreed to when placing that initial deposit.

Cruise Fares

There are two types of cruise fare deposits: refundable and non-refundable.  

If you booked refundable cruise fare, and are outside of final payment, you can cancel for a full refund of your deposit and any money paid.

If you booked a non-refundable cruise fare, and are outside of final payment, you will receive a Future Cruise Certificate in the amount of the cruise deposit, less a $100 per guest change fee. Such Future Cruise Certificates can be applied towards your future Royal Caribbean cruise vacation when reserved within 1 year of the issue date. Thereafter, the Future Cruise Certificate will expire and becomes invalid.

Cancellation Window

Once you pass the final payment date, cancellations that occur may incur a cancellation charge that depends on how close to sailing you decide not to cruise.

(including Holiday sailings)
75 days or more prior to the first day of the CruiseNo charge (except for Nonrefundable Deposit amounts)
74 to 61 days50% of total price
60 to 31 days75% of total price
30 days or less100% of total price (No refund)


(including Holiday sailings and Cruisetours)
90 days or more prior to the first day of the CruiseNo charge (except for Nonrefundable Deposit amounts)
89 to 75 days25% of total price
74 to 61 days50% of total price
60 to 31 days75% of total price
30 days or less100% of total price (No refund)

How to cancel a cruise

Once you determine you want to cancel your cruise, you need to contact whomever you booked your cruise with to make the change.

If you booked directly with Royal Caribbean via its website or on their site, you can call Royal Caribbean to cancel the reservation. There is no longer an option to cancel cruises via the cruise line's website.

If you booked the cruise with a travel agent, and/or any website other than Royal Caribbean's site, you must go through your travel provider to cancel the cruise.

Can I get a refund on my Royal Caribbean cruise?

You may be able to get a refund for your cruise, depending on how far in advance you cancel you cruise and the type of cruise deposit booked. It is critical you understand the terms and conditions of your cruise contract before booking a cruise to prevent any surprises if you decide to cancel later on.

Refer to the chart above for specific cancellation charges, but if you inform Royal Caribbean at least 90 days prior to your sailing date for 5-night or longer cruises (including Holiday sailings and Cruisetours), or 75 days for 1-4 night cruises (including Holiday sailings), you may qualify for a full or partial refund.

The type of cruise fare deposit on the reservation and timing of the decision to cancel will ultimately dictate how much of a refund you will receive.

Where do I get my Royal Caribbean luggage tags?


Before you arrive for your first Royal Caribbean cruise, you will need luggage tags so that your luggage can be delivered onboard the ship.  

Here is the important information for how to get luggage tags for your Royal Caribbean cruise.


As part of the pre-cruise check-in process, you will find printable luggage tags that you can affix to your luggage.  These tags tell the Royal Caribbean crew members which deck and stateroom to deliver the luggage to later in the day.

When you print out your eDocs, there is a luggage tag that is specific to the guest, ship, sailing date, stateroom and deck number.

Once you print out copies of the luggage tags, you simply fold the tags, loop them around the handle of the bag and staple the ends together.

Alternatively, if forget your luggage tags, generic bag tags are available at the pier on the day of boarding. 

Some guests opt for luggage tag holders, which can be purchased online and provide additional protection of the tag from being accidently ripped off. I recommend these luggage tag holders (disclosure: I make a small comission for someone that buys tags via this link).

How to book a Royal Caribbean shore excursion


With your first cruise coming up, you might be wondering how to book a Royal Caribbean shore excursion. After all, your cruise ship will take you to different ports of call to explore on your own and you do not want to miss out all that you can do while in the area.

In each port you visit, Royal Caribbean provides a variety of shore excursion options for guests of all activity levels, interests and ages. 

Here is what you need to know to book a Royal Caribbean shore excursion.

Why book Royal Caribbean's shore excursions

The best reason to book your shore excursion with Royal Caribbean is the convenience and reliability the cruise line provides. 

There are two primary means of booking a shore excursion: online via Royal Caribbean's Cruise Planner site, or onboard the ship at the shore excursion desk or via the app.

Booking a Royal Caribbean shore excursion is simple, especially for families and groups. Select the excursion you are interested in, select how many people will be participating and pay the price and that is it.  

Royal Caribbean thoroughly reviews its tour operators, whether it’s the guide on a sightseeing tour or the one that provides proper equipment and ensure the safety of gear used on active excursions like scuba diving, quad riding, and zip lining. Because guides are locally based, you’ll get an authentic experience from an expert in a safe, trusted environment.

The other major reason to book your excursion with Royal Caribbean is the cruise line guarantees you will not miss your cruise ship in the event your tour is delayed in returning.  The cruise line coordinates with trusted, local guides and private transport to build the day around the ship’s own schedule. As a result, there is no risk you will not return before the ship departs for the next destination. And if by chance your excursion gets stuck in a traffic jam, the ship will wait for you. Considering the alternative is you have to fly/drive yourself to the next port of call to catch up with the cruise, that is a big deal.

How do I book a Royal Caribbean shore excursion?


The easiest way to book a shore excursion is to do so before the cruise on Royal Caribbean's website.  Simply log into Royal Caribbean's site, find your cruise booking and purchase your tour before the sailing begins.

Once in your sailing, select the Shore Excursions tab. From there, you can narrow down the results based on the port, interests, time of day, activity level, age, wheelchair accessibility and more.

You can book tours for family and friends as well. All you need to know is their last name and reservation number.  As you proceed through the booking process, there will be an option to add guests from another reservation.


If you prefer to call Royal Caribbean and already have a cruise booked, you can call 1-800-398-9819 for pre-cruise planning assistance.

Royal Caribbean allows guests to book their excursions up to a few prior to the beginning of the sailing.  All you need to know is who is participating in the excursion, and a form of payment.  Full payment is required when reserving a shore excursion.  In the event your ship skips the scheduled port call, Royal Caribbean will refund your money.  


Alternatively, you can wait to book shore excursions onboard the ship.  There is a dedicated shore excursion desk onboard the ship (usually near Guest Services), where you can speak with staff members, view pamphlets of available options and ask questions.

Keep in mind that the excursion desk onboard the ship is commonly busy with other guests who are trying to book excursions, or asking questions, and this can lead to long lines.

Private Tours

A relatively new and lesser-known option is Private Journeys, which offers private tours that are organized by Royal Caribbean.

Private Journeys is a shore excursion option offered directly by Royal Caribbean, where guests can create a completely customized shore excursion in any port your ship visits.  You provide Private Journeys with an idea or basis of what you want to do, and then they work with local tour guides to come up with an excursion.

In the weeks and months leading up to your cruise, you and your Private Journeys representative will custom craft a tour for you and your family.  Just like a group tour, these tour operators are vetted and organized by the cruise line.  All you have to do, is show up.

We have tried Private Journeys twice (in Belize and Curacao), and think it is a great choice for anyone that wants to tour at their own pace, and like the benefits of what Royal Caribbean provides.

Can I cancel my excursions?

You may cancel purchase(s) made via Cruise Planner up to forty-eight hours prior to the cruise departure date. Excursions can be modified or canceled up to 48 hours prior to port arrival without penalty. Tours involving flights, trains, special events, overnight stays, hotel stays and Private Journeys must be canceled 30 days prior to sailing to avoid cancellation penalties. Other restrictions may apply.

 In the event a tour is canceled, a full refund will be provided to the guest’s onboard account.

No refunds are made for failure to use all of the described services included in the excursion price.  

The most important advice I give my family after they book a cruise


There is a lot of advice doled out across this blog, and each anecdote, recommendation or tip is aimed at improving the cruise experience.  So when an uncle, cousin or parent asks me for advice on what they should do for an awesome Royal Caribbean cruise, here is what I tell them.

Fly into your cruise embarkation port at least one day early

When it comes to travel, there are always going to be certain factors involved in the trip that you have no control over: weather, canceled flights, flat tires, et al. With that in mind, do not let a travel delay put your cruise vacation in jeopardy. The last thing you want to do is plan to fly into the departure city of your cruise the same day your cruise leaves.

By planning to arrive to your departure port at least one day early, you assure yourself that a travel delay will not impact your ability to get on your cruise. Having an extra day or two provides a buffer to account for travel delays.  You really do not want to be that person in the airport losing their mind because the latest delay means the entire vacation is in jeopardy.

As an added bonus, by arriving to your embarkation port at least a day early, that means you get to start your vacation sooner!  And in many cases, the port you are departing from has its own cultural and historical attractions that you can explore.

Do online check-in before the cruise

Another tip aimed at saving you time is to complete your online check-in before the cruise.  

Royal Caribbean's Online Check-In is a pretty simple tool to save you time at the pier and greatly simplify the entire check in process. 

You simply need to go to the Royal Caribbean web site to check in and complete the steps.  If your ship utilizes the new Royal Caribbean app, do the check-in via the app to make check-in even easier. 

At the end, you will have access to print out your SetSail Pass (your cruise boarding pass), as well as luggage tags. 

Arrive to the cruise terminal early

If you subscribe to the theory that time is money, then you definitely want to arrive to your embarkation port early.  By arriving early, you will beat the big crowds that descend upon the cruise terminal later in the day, and you also get the added benefit of having some extra time onboard the ship.

Royal Caribbean may send you an email about boarding times, but those are suggestions and not enforced at all. If you followed our earlier advice about arriving to your port city early, then likely your hotel will have a check-out time in the early part of the morning, which is the perfect excuse to head to the cruise port.

If you are wondering what time constitutes, "early", we are talking about sometime between 10am and 11:30am. The earlier you arrive on embarkation day, the earlier you will board the ship. And the price you paid for the cruise is the same whether you get onboard at 11am or 2pm, so may as well get the most time possible.

Pre-book your entertainment

If you are sailing on an Oasis or Quantum Class ship, you can pre-book select shows before the cruise via the Cruise Planner website.

The best reason to book certain activities or entertainment in advance is to guarantee a spot for you and your family. It costs nothing extra to reserve entertainment ahead of time. By having a reservation, you will be assured of a seat for that performance, provided you arrive on-time.

By booking these activities early, you can ensure you have the time and day that you want all lined up.

There is no set timeframe when entertainment becomes available for booking on Oasis or Quantum Class ships. It is usually closer your sail date, so check the Cruise Planner periodically for if the option appears.

If you are sailing on another class of ships, there is no option to pre-book entertainment. Instead, show up to the theater 10-20 minutes before show time to get a seat.

Make dining reservations once onboard the ship

These days, Royal Caribbean's dining packages are an incredibly popular option because it allows guests to enjoy a number of specialty restaurants for a reduced rate.  If you purchase a dining package, then you probably know you cannot make reservations for restaurants prior to the cruise.

If you purchase a dining package, be sure to make reservations once you get onboard and do so on the first day of the cruise.  In general, you will find plenty of availability, but do not languish in making a reservation to avoid missing out on the most popular times.

Here is what to know about Perfect Day at CocoCay

I suppose Royal Caribbean's marketing strategy is working well, when one of the questions my uncle asked me recently about his cruise was what to do at Perfect Day at CocoCay

Royal Caribbean's revamped and impressive private island in the Bahamas is catching a lot of attention and how to tackle your day there is a good first-timer question.

There are three primary areas of Perfect Day at CocoCay:

  • Beach (Chill Island/South Beach)
  • Pool (Oasis Lagoon/Splashaway Bay)
  • Water Park (Thrill Waterpark)

It is quite easy to move between any of these areas, but I feel most families will gravitate towards one or the other.  The key is to plan ahead which you want to do first and then go from there.

The decision to purchase water park admission is also something to consider prior to the cruise. Not only will you save money if you purchase admission prior to the cruise, deciding on going to the water park or not before you arrive on the island will ensure you waste less time.

Beyond that, there is plenty more Perfect Day at CocoCay tips and secrets, but at its heart, your visit there is about enjoying time in and out of the water.