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Which is the Best Royal Caribbean Ship For You?

By Dori Saltzman
Cruise Critic Senior Editor
  • Perhaps you've seen the TV commercials featuring cruise passengers dancing with Shrek and Fiona, giving a surf simulator a try or hovering in the air in a skydiving vertical tube. Looked like a blast and so you headed to Royal Caribbean's website to plan your cruise. But as your search commenced you found the line has 23 ships, in seven classes. Questions arose. Are all the ships the same? What's a ship class? How do I know which one is best for me?

    Picking the right Royal Caribbean ship can be confusing, so Cruise Critic has broken down the line's seven ship classes, outlining the best-known attractions and available activities of each. We also explore the differences among classes and between ships in the same class. Whether you're a foodie, family, pool aficionado or another type of traveler, we can help you find the Royal Caribbean ship that best fits your needs.

    First, a quick note: All Royal Caribbean ships share a few common spaces and services. All have an upper-deck buffet, multiple pools, rock-climbing walls, elaborate and well-regarded kids' clubs that divide children into age-appropriate groups, and a wide selection of suites (though the newest ships have the most lavish options).

    Photo: Cruise Critic

  • 1

    Oasis Class: Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas

    Among Royal Caribbean's newest ships, these behemoths can carry more than 6,000 passengers at full capacity and feature a dizzying array of entertainment, activities and dining. Oasis and Allure continually top the list of Royal Caribbean's most popular -- and most expensive -- ships, and Harmony is expected to take its place at the top of the list when it launches in spring 2016.

    Amenities

    Divided into seven themed neighborhoods (Entertainment Place, Central Park, Youth Zone, Boardwalk, among others), the three Oasis-class ships are designed to prevent crowding and keep passengers busy all day long. FlowRider surf simulators, a zipline, rock-climbing walls, four swimming pools, 10 whirlpools, an H2O water park, plus afternoon AquaTheater stunt diving shows, Broadway-style musicals in the theater at night and dozens of restaurants and bars provide enough stimulation to prevent a single moment of boredom. Additionally, all three Oasis-class ships feature an ice-skating rink, fully functional carousel, the DreamWorks Experience (which brings characters from movies like "Shrek," Po from "Kung Fun Panda" and the "Madagascar" menagerie to the ship), 3D movies and the Royal Babies & Tots Nursery. Oasis-class ships feature the full Royal Suite Class experience, which gives suite passengers a host of perks (depending on suite level) that can include butler service, free Internet, free specialty dining and drinks, ensuite dining options and free access to the spa's thermal room.

    Differences Between Ships Within the Oasis Class

    Oasis and Allure of the Seas are virtually identical with the main difference being Oasis of the Seas features the Broadway musical "Cats," while Allure of the Seas features "Mamma Mia!" Harmony of the Seas is differentiated from Oasis and Allure, with a handful of restaurants not found on the others -- Jamie's Italian, a trattoria-style eatery from celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, and Wonderland, which lets diners discover a variety of whimsical molecular gastronomic creations. Harmony of the Seas also boasts several multi-deck water slides, the Abyss (the tallest regular slide at sea) and an Escape Room, in which cruisers are given 60 minutes to solve a collection of puzzles that lead to the way out of the room. The Broadway show on Harmony is "Grease."

    Best For

    If you want the Royal Caribbean experience you've seen in TV commercials, the Oasis-class ships are for you. Adrenaline junkies, groups of friends and families with varied tastes and cruisers who don't want to feel like they're on a ship, will love any one of the three Oasis-class ships. While options for rest and relaxation are available, the three Oasis-class vessels are more appropriate for cruisers who want to be constantly engaged in some activity or another. Cruisers who don't like Oasis-class ships say the ships are too crowded and they spend most of their time planning their day rather than actually enjoying their day. Other complaints include the need to book shows and dining ahead of time, standing in line and having to be on time in order to not lose an already-booked spot at a show or dinner. Cruisers who particularly enjoy being able to see the ocean also struggle with the Oasis-class ships as there are so many indoor spots where the outdoors is never visible.

    Photo: Cruise Critic

  • 2

    Quantum Class: Anthem of the Seas

    Like the massive Oasis Class, the Quantum Class features a dazzling array of activities, entertainment and dining, but Quantum ships are smaller, hosting just over 4,000 passengers. Of the line's three Quantum-class ships, only one -- Anthem of the Seas -- is marketed to Western travelers. Quantum of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas are Asia-based ships and are only appropriate for cruisers based in Asia, or Westerners who want an Asia-immersive experience (with the language and programming onboard primarily in Chinese).

    Amenities

    Anthem of the Seas is overflowing with things to do. Surfing, skydiving, bumper cars, roller skating, circus classes and evening shows in multiple venues (London's West End musical "We Will Rock You" is the main attraction), keep cruisers busy from sun up to way past sun down. Add in the North Star, a glass-enclosed capsule that lifts cruisers into the air and out over the side of the ship for phenomenal 360-degree views and dramatic photo ops, and parades with a cast of DreamWorks characters, and you'll find it hard to fit it all into a weeklong cruise. Additionally, Anthem of the Seas has several pools and whirlpools, more than 15 eateries and features the full Royal Suite Class program.

    Best For

    Similar to the Oasis-class ships, Anthem of the Seas is perfect for cruisers who want to stay busy all day long, though opportunities for relaxation are always available as well. (One difference between the two classes is that Anthem has a much more sophisticated feel than Oasis, with eye-catching artwork and elegant decor.)The large variety of entertainment and dining will keep cruisers of varied tastes happy. Families will appreciate the wide selection of kid-friendly spaces and activities, and parents with toddlers will love the Royal Babies & Tots Nursery, which offers for-fee babysitting. Don't look to Anthem of the Seas for low-cost cruises; prices for Anthem sailings are regularly among the line's highest. Complaints about Anthem of the Seas are the same as those about Oasis-class ships -- too crowded and too much planning required.

    Photo: Cruise Critic

  • 3

    Freedom Class: Freedom of the Seas, Independence of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas

    Royal Caribbean's three Freedom-class ships, launched between 2007 and 2008, were the first ships to introduce the FlowRider surf simulator to the cruise industry. Each carries a bit more than 3,600 passengers and are some of the line's most popular and active ships. Fares for cruises on these ships, while not the highest, are also not at the lowest end of the line's pricing.

    Amenities

    All Freedom-class ships feature four pools and six whirlpools, some of which are cantilevered over the edge of the ship (meaning they extend past the ship's edge); an ice-skating rink for free skating during designated hours and serves as the venue for professional ice shows; FlowRider surf simulators on the top deck, along with a rock-climbing wall and mini-golf; the Royal Promenade, a long corridor filled with dining, drinking and shopping venues; the adults-only Solarium for peaceful (and quiet) dips in the pool; and a 24-hour Cafe Promenade, where cruisers can grab a quick sandwich or pastry at no extra cost any time of the day. Families will also appreciate the Freedom-class' H2O water park for kids and the Royal Babies & Tots Nursery, which offers for-fee babysitting for kids under 3.

    Differences Between Ships Within the Freedom Class

    The differences between the three ships are slight. Families might like Freedom of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas, which both feature the DreamWorks Experience and a 3D movie theater; Independence of the Seas has neither of these. But Broadway fans (or fans of Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta's sing-a-long movie classic) might prefer Independence of the Seas, which features a full-length production of "Grease," the musical. Both Freedom and Liberty feature standard main theater song-and-dance revues.

    Best For

    The three Freedom-class ships are best for couples, groups of friends and families who want a big ship with lots of entertainment and dining choices, but might not want to be sailing with 5,000-plus cruisers. Suite cruisers will find a watered-down version of the line's Royal Suite Class on all three of the Freedom-class ships; if you want a luxe suite experience, you'll need to go for one of the line's newer ships.

    Photo: Cruise Critic

  • 4

    Voyager Class: Adventure of the Seas, Explorer of the Seas, Navigator of the Seas, Voyager of the Seas

    Many of Royal Caribbean's most iconic ship features made their first appearances on the Voyager Class group of ships. Built between 1999 and 2003, the five ships in the class were the first to have the Royal Promenade indoor shopping and dining boulevard, rock-climbing walls and ice-skating rinks. The ships were also the line's first foray into carrying more than 3,000 passengers, paving the way for the larger Freedom-class ships. Please note that Mariner of the Seas is a strictly Asia-based ship, marketed primarily to the Chinese market. It is not the best choice for most North America or European cruisers.

    Amenities

    Cruisers will find lots to do on the Voyager-class ships. All have three pools, six whirlpools, an ice-skating rink, rock-climbing wall and mini-golf. All also feature a Royal Promenade where cruisers can enjoy people-watching, have a drink in a pub, stop at the Cafe Promenade for a quick snack or go shopping.

    Differences Between Ships Within the Voyager Class

    The five Voyager-class ships are nearly identical in terms of size and passenger count, but there are a few significant differences between them when it comes to onboard activities. Most notably, Explorer of the Seas, Navigator of the Seas and Voyager of the Seas now boast FlowRider surf simulators. Adventure of the Seas has an in-line skating track. It also has only two alternative dining venues, both free. Navigator has six alternative dining venues (the most in this class) and is the only Voyager-class ship with a Sabor Modern Mexican restaurant. Voyager of the Seas, which has five alternative eateries, is the only ship in the fleet with the Tavern Gastropub. Voyager of the Seas offers the DreamWorks Experience; the other three ships do not.

    Best For

    Like the Freedom-class ships, Voyager-class vessels are best for cruisers who want an active cruise experience without having to be on a massive ship. But because Freedom-class ships took the Voyager-class concept to another level with more restaurants and a larger Promenade, the Voyager-class ships maintain a bit more of the midsized ship feel -- not too overwhelming, but not cramped either. Families with small kids should note that none of these ships offer the Royal Babies & Tots Nursery or babysitting. Also, because they are slightly older, the Voyager-class ships tend to be more moderately priced than the Freedom-, Oasis- and Quantum-class ships.

    Photo: Cruise Critic

  • 5

    Radiance Class: Brilliance of the Seas, Jewel of the Seas, Radiance of the Seas, Serenade of the Seas

    Built between 2001 and 2004, the midsized (approximately 2,000 passengers) Radiance-class ships are characterized by their connection to the sea via bow-to-stern ocean views. With over three acres of glass on each ship, cruisers can see the ocean from almost any vantage point, whether you're on a glass exterior-view elevator, in the two-level glass-enclosed dining room, or lounging beneath a retractable glass roof by one of the Radiance-class ship's three pools.

    Amenities

    Because they are smaller, the Radiance-class ships have less to offer in the way of bells and whistles than the line's newer ships. Cruisers will find rock-climbing walls and mini-golf courses onboard the four Radiance-class ships, as well as three pools and three whirlpools, but no crazy on-deck activities like surfing. Fun on Radiance-class ships is had primarily through traditional cruise ship activities like trivia, bingo, silly pool games and dance classes. Most Radiance-class ships have a decent selection of eateries, though which restaurants are available varies from ship to ship with Jewel of the Seas having the smallest selection. Cruisers will find a decent selection of cabin types (ranging from small insides to opulent suites with a piano in them) on Radiance-class ships, including family options in ocean-view and suite styles. Cruises on Radiance-class ships tend to be more moderately priced than those on Freedom-, Oasis- and Quantum-class ships, but more expensive than those on Sovereign- and Vision-class ships.

    Differences Between Ships Within the Radiance Class

    Cruisers seeking a greater variety of dining choices, while sticking to the smaller ships, will want to check out Brilliance, Radiance and Serenade of the Seas, which each feature about 10 included and extra-fee restaurants; Jewel of the Seas has only six (three of which carry an extra fee). The first three ships also feature a Royal Babies & Tots Nursery, with for-fee babysitting, while Jewel of the Seas does not.

    Best For

    The four Radiance-class ships are best for cruisers looking for a smaller "big" ship with a focus on relaxation and casual fun. If you're looking for the Royal Caribbean you see in TV commercials, you won't get it on the Radiance-class ships. But if you don't need a lot of stimulation, can be content with port visits and some old-fashioned cruise entertainment, the Radiance-class ships could be a great choice.

    Photo: Cruise Critic

  • 6

    Sovereign Class: Majesty of the Seas

    The oldest -- though not smallest, with more than 2,000 passengers-- ship in Royal Caribbean's fleet, Majesty of the Seas is the line's only Sovereign-class ship left. It does short warm-weather sailings all year long, giving it a bit of a party atmosphere.

    Amenities

    Majesty of the Seas has just two swimming pools and two whirlpools, as well as a rock-climbing wall. The ship has several included dining venues, such as the main dining room, Windjammer Cafe buffet and Sorrento's Pizza; the onboard Johnny Rockets requires a small extra fee.

    Best For

    Majesty of the Seas is one of Royal Caribbean's best values at sea and is perfect for cruisers looking for short, inexpensive getaways to warm weather. If you're looking for the line's latest amenities and attractions, and a huge variety of cabin types, Majesty is not the ship for you.

    Photo: Cruise Critic

  • 7

    Vision Class: Enchantment of the Seas, Grandeur of the Seas, Vision of the Seas, Rhapsody of the Seas, Legend of the Seas

    The Vision Class is not a distinct class, but is instead three sets of two-ship classes grouped together under the heading of Vision Class. Each pair differs from the others in size and design but generally speaking, all are midsized ships built in the '90s and carry from just under to just over 2,000 passengers. Like the Radiance Class, these ships are characterized by lots of glass offering greater views of the ocean from interior spaces.

    Editor's Note: Splendour of the Seas, a Vision-class ship, will be leaving the Royal Caribbean fleet in spring 2016 and is therefore not included in this piece.

    Amenities

    Though all of the Vision-class ships have received updates over the years, the ships do not have a large variety of onboard attractions. All have rock-climbing walls, swimming pools and whirlpools, though the pool numbers vary by ship; all offer a small selection of alternative restaurants with some offering significantly more than others. (All feature a Ben & Jerry's.) Onboard life is not the main reason cruisers choose most of the Vision-class ships, as most are the line's destination vessels, sailing in areas like Alaska, Europe and Australia. Exceptions include Enchantment of the Seas, which sails short Bahamas cruises year-round, and Grandeur of the Seas, which sails Caribbean cruises most of the year. Families will appreciate that all Vision-class ships have a Royal Babies & Tots Nursery with for-fee babysitting.

    Differences Between Ships Within the Vision Class

    Only one Vision-class ship -- Enchantment of the Seas -- has more than two swimming pools; it also has six whirlpools. Enchantment is the longest ship in the Vision Class, having been stretched in 2005 to add an additional 73 feet to the ship's length. Vision of the Seas and Rhapsody of the Seas also have six whirlpools, but both have two swimming pools only. The remaining ships in the class have two swimming pools and four whirlpools. Grandeur of the Seas has the largest selection of alternative restaurants with seven options beyond the main dining room and Windjammer Cafe. Vision of the Seas has six alternative restaurants; both Rhapsody of the Seas and Legend of the Seas have just one. Legend of the Seas is the only Vision-class ship with mini-golf.

    Best For

    The Vision-class ships are best suited for people seeking a more traditional cruise experience that stresses the main dining room and entertainment through activities like trivia, bingo, dance classes and song-and-dance revues in the main theater. Fans of Vision-class ships appreciate the emphasis on relaxation rather than manic activity. These destination-focused ships are also the best Royal Caribbean choice for cruisers choosing their sailings based on where they want to go, with itineraries to Alaska and the Mediterranean. In particular, Legend of the Seas is the best choice for Australian cruisers who wish to stay Down Under. Vision-class ships that sail in the Caribbean generally carry a lower price tag than the newer ships sailing that region; those that sail in Alaska and Europe are rarely low-priced.

    Photo: Cruise Critic

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