Cruising is a fairly new experience for me. I am not an expert. I don’t have vast knowledge about ship classes and varying itineraries, but I have learned enough to know that sailing on one cruise line does not necessarily prepare you for the experience you will have on another.
Separate cruise lines approach the adventure of cruising a bit differently. The “cruising ethos” can vary significantly from levels of inclusivity and amenities to the design of itineraries and even the design of the ships, themselves. For families who choose to venture with Royal Caribbean, there are a few things you should anticipate.
MY TIME DINING
Royal Caribbean chooses to handle their inclusive dining experience with flexibility. In addition to giving you options between counter service, buffet-style dining, and a sit-down restaurant, they operate under a system they call “My Time Dining.” The concept is simple. If your choice is to dine in their full-service restaurant, then you are welcome to show up at any time during certain hours without notice (just as you are with their counter-service and buffet option). A reservation is not required. A “seating time” is not assigned.
In my opinion, this is a preferred dining system. Even children who are accustomed to a daily schedule and are fairly predictable can become unpredictable on a cruise. The nature of vacation simply lends itself to that. Having the freedom to play mealtime “by ear” while retaining the option of an elegant meal in a full-service restaurant gives parents a peace of mind that shouldn’t be overlooked.
There are childcare facilities to entertain kids while parents indulge in other activities. Nurseries that care for children up to three years of age come at an extra cost, but the service of facilities is inclusive for kids aged 3-17 years. Kids are divided so that they are always among peers and catered to in an age-appropriate manner, meaning your six year-old won’t be playing alongside your 15 year-old. In addition to this, each adult supervising your child has a formal degree related to child development and is equipped to be hands-on and interactive.
Free play is obviously an option for kids who prefer to choose their own entertainment. However, organized activities are a staple of all of the childcare facilities onboard. Games, parties, contests, and even an occasional “outing” all compose the daily schedule, so don’t be surprised if your 5 year-old tells you how she was a pirate for the afternoon and took the dining room hostage with the rest of her crew.
FRIDGE OR NO FRIDGE
If you are not in a suite, your stateroom does not come equipped with a mini-fridge. For families with multiple children, space in the stateroom is at a premium, so from one angle this can be seen as an advantage. Fresh food and drink are always available at other locations on the ship without having to store it for yourself. From another perspective, though, it is nice to have a few cold, bottled waters and snacks in your room for convenience. This way when your little one is napping and you can’t leave the room, there is no element of crisis when your thirst needs to be quenched or your stomach needs to be quieted.
Be aware that Royal Caribbean does provide mini-fridges for your stateroom upon request (regardless of stateroom category). There is no extra cost either. And while the cruise line does not permit you to bring beverages (outside of 2 bottles of wine) onboard, you are welcome to fill your own containers with the drinks and food they provide and bring them back to your stateroom. This is a smart strategy for families with higher-maintenance snack habits.
COMPLIMENTARY DRINK OPTIONS
Obviously beverages are available at all times onboard, but not all types of beverages are complimentary. In addition to alcoholic drinks coming at an extra cost, soft drinks do as well. Drink packages can be purchased that would make these beverages “inclusive,” but outside of purchasing these packages the beverage options are water, tea, coffee, lemonade, and some juices.
This may not be agreeable to all, but as a mom that generally limits soda consumption for her family, I find this arrangement really advantageous. It eliminates me fussing with a younger child when I have denied him a caffeinated drink in favor of juice. Anything that can help me avoid confrontation when on vacation is a plus in my book.
PRIVACY IN CLOSE QUARTERS
There are many different stateroom categories. Naturally each category has different features. For larger suites on Royal Caribbean, among those features is a privacy curtain. For families bunking in smaller staterooms, it is not. The only privacy to be found in the more moderate accommodations is in the bathroom. For this reason, it might be wise to pack a robe or other items that help preserve modesty in the context of an audience.
CASINOS AND KIDS
The casinos are a hot spot on Royal Caribbean cruises, but their games are (understandably) not available to kids. Kids are welcome to walk through the casinos. They are even welcome to stand beside you while you play, but they are not welcome to join. Being out in international waters does not change the cruise line’s policy in regards to children and gambling, so don’t hand your teen some cash and send her off to the slot machines. It isn’t going to happen.
Families with kids tend to accumulate laundry quickly. Royal Caribbean ships do not have public laundry facilities where parents can just run in and take care of a load. Enough clothes need to be packed to carry everyone through the voyage. However, should laundered clothing become an urgent situation, this can be handled by the crew for a fee. This is actually a great option if the expense can be afforded, and this way the work can get done without taking away from a day of family fun on the seas.
END OF THE LINE
Knowing what to expect always helps pave the wave for smoother sailing, especially when it comes to the needs of families with children. If you have any tips of your own that you would like to share, leave a comment below and tell us about your experience on cruising with Royal Caribbean.