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A Complete Guide to Royal Caribbean Cruises

Royal Caribbean cruise logo

Royal Caribbean is the second largest cruise line in the world and actually predates its larger rival Carnival by several years. Royal Caribbean Cruise Line was founded by 3 Norwegian shipping companies in 1968. Carnival wasn’t founded until 1972. Royal Caribbean was also the original Norwegian-owned cruise line. The royal in Royal Caribbean refers to the Norwegian monarchy, and fleet-wide standards like the Viking Crown Lounge should be a dead giveaway, but the majority of cruisers assume it has something to do with the British crown. Possibly because the United Kingdom still governs the British Virgin Islands and Bermuda.

Almost 50 years later and Royal Caribbean has one of the most varied fleets in the cruise industry. Not only has it built the gigantic Oasis, Freedom, and Quantum class ships, which are the biggest and most technologically sophisticated ships in the world, but it also has the 24-year-old Majesty of the Seas still cruising. It is also bringing the Empress of the Seas back into service after a long stint with sister cruise line Pullmantur in Europe. The Empress was built in 1989 and is old enough that it precedes the “of the Seas” naming convention, having last sailed with Royal Caribbean as the Nordic Empress.

This makes telling cruisers what they can expect on a Royal Caribbean cruise difficult. About the only comparison that can be made between the 1,186 feet long Oasis of the Seas, and the 691 feet in length Empress of the Seas is that the food and service are consistently good on both ships.

The Smaller Side of Royal Caribbean Cruises

Royal Caribbean's Majesty Of The Seas

The smaller middle-aged Royal Caribbean ships are still definitely worth your attention. Royal Caribbean routinely updates its ships so the majority of them have gone into dry-dock at least once in the last five years. This keeps the ships competitive. In the case of the Majesty of the Seas, it has put the ship on the cutting edge of technology. The Majesty having received Royal Caribbean’s Voom internet package in 2015.

While not precisely cheap, the Voom internet package is among the more reasonable internet packages available at sea. It is also the only one that allows cruisers to surf the net at speeds comparable to what is available on shore. This opens up these small ships and their short-term weekend cruises to people who can slip away from the office, but can’t afford to be completely out of contact for very long. It’s a smart choice on the part of Royal Caribbean that opens up cruise vacations to more people in our increasingly connected world.

It also must be kept in mind that these older ships were the grandest ships in the world when they first set out to sea.  The Majesty of the Seas is a Sovereign class ship, and when the Sovereign of the Seas debuted it was the largest cruise ship afloat. If you’ve cruised before then you’re familiar with the central atrium most cruise ships have. It was the Sovereign, the Majesty, and their sister ships that created the model. Other cruise industry standards, like putt-putt golf, first came on Royal Caribbean’s Vision class ships, of which Port Canaveral fixture Enchantment of the Seas is a proud member. Internal promenades that go the length of the ship got their start on the Voyager of the Seas, and the other ships in that class. The Freedom of the Seas—also a long term Port Canaveral resident—was the ship that took the title of world’s largest passenger vessel from the Queen Mary 2. Every cruise ship has a story, and with Royal Caribbean’s long history there are a lot of stories to tell.

Port Canaveral Fly Snooze Cruise

These storied smaller ships make for amazing for 3 and 4-day cruises over long weekends. Imagine coming back from a Bahama cruise to compare notes with everyone else in the office’s staycation, and you have the right idea. The occasional 5 and 7-day cruise is available on these ships, and if you’re on a budget and looking for a vacation that roams without a lot of stress, they are a good choice.

The Biggest Ships

Oasis of the seas, the largest ship in the world, dwarfing another cruise ship

The Freedom of the Seas is the biggest ship sailing out of Port Canaveral currently, and as previously mentioned it is the ship that stole the title of world’s largest from the Queen Mary 2. In design, it’s an expansion of the preceding Voyage class of ships with a central atrium and long promenade, but with the additional space being used for features that cruisers might not necessarily associate with cruising. For instance, there is an ice skating rink on board. Other ships in the class have bumper cars and roller rinks.

The Freedom of the Seas has been surpassed for the title of world’s largest. The Oasis of the Seas is even bigger. Not only does it have an ice skating rink, it has things you would never think to see on a cruise ship. Like a two-level promenade with a carousel prominently displayed in the center of the upper level. Or the pleasing to the eye, but startling to see, trees in the Central Park district. It also makes good use of the promenade by having staterooms look out onto the promenade or central park in the center of the ship rather than go without a connection to the outdoors. Which isn’t to say there aren’t interior rooms. There just aren’t many on the upper decks. With a full 18 decks of space, it’s hard to describe the scale of the Oasis class ships

The design philosophy behind the build was to create discrete neighborhoods within the ship. A derogatory term applied to cruise ships in general, but Royal Caribbean took the insult, changed it from “floating building” to “floating city”, turned it into a design concept, and ran with it. With two additional Oasis class ships cruising, and a fourth being built, it can be said that these ships are a success.

The Quantum of the Seas is also a big ship, and so are its sisters. However, they’re not as big as the Oasis, nor even as big as the Freedom. Their mandate was to be the most advanced ships in the world rather than the largest. We suspect the name Quantum of the Seas is a nod to this. Voom internet made its first appearance on the Quantum of the Seas. In spite of their smaller size, they actually offer cruisers more to do than even the Oasis class of ships. They do so by doing away with the central atrium and promenade deck that has become a standard on most cruise ships. Large open spaces still exist on the ship; they’re just less formally defined than is usual, and they tend to pull double duty. The overall effect is subtly different than cruising aboard most ships, and it allows the Quantum class to have even more aboard than the preceding Freedom class in spite of being smaller. Many of their most popular features are being added to the Oasis and Freedom class of ships, so in effect, the Quantum class is a test bed for Royal Caribbean’s newest features.

Typically, Royal’s large ships like the Oasis, Freedom, and Quantum class are on longer voyages of at least 5 days, and more often 7 to 14 days. Booking one of these ships is a serious commitment to cruising, both in terms of time and money. They’re definitely for those that are certain that they will enjoy cruising. However, if you’re an inexperienced cruiser then these giant ships with all of their features are great because they have all of the amenities you would expect to find on land.

Vacation like Royalty on a Private Caribbean Paradise

Labadee Resort by a Port in Haiti

Royal Caribbean is also a leader in private resorts in the Caribbean. The first, Coco Cay, is in the Bahamas, and it is usually a stop on every short cruise going to the Bahamas. It’s a resort built specifically to cater to Royal Caribbean cruisers and passengers will find no shortage of things to do on the beach, or in the water. If you’re looking to eat, drink, and make merry, then Coco Cay has everything you need, and the convenience of it not being hard to get back to the ship.

Royal Caribbean’s second private resort is Labadee. It is on a remote stretch of shore along the northern coast of Haiti. Although it’s frequently mistaken for a private island, it is really a private island resort on a peninsula off of the mainland. It is very lovely, and it has things like an alpine coaster, sheltered turquoise bay, and sheer scenic presence you won’t find at any other cruise resort in the Caribbean while also having most of the standard features.

It has also been the subject of some controversy. Protests against the Haitian government have kept ships from docking early in 2016 and have canceled other ships planned calls at Labadee. This has garnered Royal Caribbean no small amount of criticism. Security is also prominent at the perimeter of the resort, although you do need to make an effort to look for the fence. However, to be fair to Royal, they are the only cruise line who has been willing to dock in Haiti, or deal with Haitian government at all, and they do make an effort to spread tourist dollars to the Haitian people that live near the relatively remote resort. There have also been very few incidents at all since the line created the resort in 1986. Despite the controversy, Labadee is a safe place to visit, and most cruisers have a great time.

Port Canaveral and Royal Caribbean

Two cruise ships docked

The hallmark of Royal Caribbean, as a cruise line, is trying new things. The Crown and Anchor has revolutionized the cruise industry several times since the line began.

Royal Caribbean has two ships at Port Canaveral, the Enchantment of the Seas and the Freedom of the Seas. The Enchantment of the Seas arrived in 2013. The Freedom of the Seas has been sailing out of Port Canaveral since 2011. They both will be leaving in 2016, and they are going to be missed.

The Enchantment will be replaced by the Majesty of the Seas, an older ship of the Sovereign class that did so much to change the cruise industry in the early 90s. It is smaller, but it is undergoing a comprehensive refit that will see it updated with fleet-wide standard features, and it already has been upgraded with the best data package available at sea.

The Majesty is going to be a perfect ship for weekend vacationers sailing to Coco Cay and Nassua, Bahamas.  With its new connectivity, it’s going to be one of the best ships for those who are looking to spend a three or four-day weekend on the Bahamian beaches. Another plus is that the cruise director from the Enchantment will be staying in Port Canaveral and taking over on the Majesty of the Seas. Making this one of the most entertaining mid-sized ships in the world.

When the Freedom of the Seas leaves it will be replaced by the Oasis of the Seas, and that is exciting. It’s the largest ship that has ever sailed out of Port Canaveral, and it goes nearly everywhere in the Caribbean on 7 and 8-day cruises. If that wasn’t enough excitement, it has over 20 dining venues, a 3D movie theater, and the Crown and Anchor’s famous Broadway reviews. Royal Caribbean has been launching a not-so-quiet revolution since the Oasis class was built. At the same time, Port Canaveral has been launching a less noticed, but no less significant overhaul of its cruise facilities.  The arrival of the Oasis of the Seas in Port Canaveral is the culmination of years of effort on the part of the port. It has become the world’s second busiest cruise port, and has aims of beating Miami to become the busiest.

It is well suited to do so with a location that is not only convenient to island destinations like the Bahamas and Bermuda, but also to Orlando and its theme parks. Port Canaveral is at most a 45-minute drive away from everything a cruiser could want.

To help plan a Royal Caribbean cruise vacation that begins by flying into Orlando, or driving to a beach hotel near Port Canaveral call Go Port to take care of all your on shore needs before and after your cruise begins.

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