Royal Caribbean's ships are the most action-packed in the industry, with a plethora of complimentary "wow" activities including -- depending on the ship -- rock climbing walls, ziplining, ice skating, simulated surfing and skydiving, thrill slides and more. While the adrenaline rush is free, many other indulgences come with a fee. Here are some ways to save.
Before You Book
Search for deals.
Royal Caribbean holds sales throughout the year that include reduced fares and perks such as shipboard credit, which you can use for drinks and other expenses. Sometimes there's an offer of free gratuities or specialty dining. You may find a kids-cruise-free promotion or deals targeting a specific ship or specific routes. It's easy to find the latest Royal Deals, which are listed front and center on the line's home page at royalcaribbean.com. Scroll down the page and there's a spot to sign up for emailed deal alerts. Consulting a travel agent will help you determine which offer is best for you.
See if you qualify for special discounts.
If you are a member of the U.S. military or a police or fire department, you may qualify for a discount on select sailings. There might be reduced rates as well for travelers ages 55 and up.
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Look for deals on older ships.
While ships such as Symphony of the Seas, Royal Caribbean's newest and one of the largest ships in the world, are packed with the latest and greatest attractions, you pay extra for the whizbang factor. Older ships also offer thrilling activities -- for instance, ice skating rinks, rock climbing walls and FlowRider surfing machines on the Voyager class -- but at fares often less than the newer ships.
Get a Royal Caribbean-branded Visa card.
An easy way to save is to sign up for Royal's Visa credit card and earn points you can use for onboard credit. You might find an offer, such as 10,000 Bonus Points if you sign up and use the card to make a purchase within the first 90 days. You can cash in those points for $100 in onboard credit.
Drive to the pier.
While Royal Caribbean does not set sail from as many domestic homeports as competitor Carnival Cruise Line, if you're near places such as Bayonne (New Jersey), Galveston, New Orleans, Baltimore, Boston, Seattle or ports in Florida, you can save by driving to your ship rather than flying. If you do drive, look for off-site parking, which is cheaper than parking at the pier.
Before You Cruise
Pack enough clothes to avoid laundry.
Royal Caribbean does not offer self-service laundry, so pack what you need to avoid send-out laundry fees. If you know you're likely to run out of T-shirts and undies, look for a notice of a midcruise laundry special, where you pay one price for as much clothing as you can jam into a send-out laundry bag.
Bid for an upgrade.
Once booked, select cruisers are invited to go online and bid for a cabin upgrade. (If you're a repeat cruiser or signed up to receive marketing emails from the line, you stand a better chance of receiving an invite.) It's up to you whether or not you decide to bid, and how much. It doesn't cost money to try, and you might snag a bargain on a fancier room. You pay only if your bid is accepted.
Consider a specialty dining package.
The best way to save at extra-fee specialty restaurants, such as 150 Central Park, Izumi and the Chops Grille steakhouse, is to not indulge at all and stick to all the free dining options (of which Royal offers many). But, if you're a foodie wanting to experience everything culinary on the ship, consider prebooking a dining package.
There are different plans: Chops plus one other restaurant, three restaurants, five restaurants and unlimited dining at any of the specialty restaurants. The latter represents a savings of about 40 percent if you prebook the plan and do specialty dining every night of your cruise. You can also purchase a plan once onboard, but there could be limited availability at that point. Prices vary by ship and length of the cruise.
Look at booze options.
If you are planning to indulge big time on the ship, Royal's deluxe, bottomless beverage package, which costs $63 to $70 per person, per day (the price varies by sailing), can be a cost savings. Though you can purchase a package onboard, you'll likely receive discounted offers pre-cruise that will save you more.
The package covers cocktails, wine by the glass and such premium brands as Belvedere Vodka, Maker's Mark and Patron Silver. The plan also covers freshly squeezed juice, canned soda, cappuccinos and other premium coffee drinks (excluding Starbucks), and bottled water, and includes discounts on bottles of wine.
If you're only going to have a couple of cocktails over the course of your cruise, paying a la carte is the cheaper way to go. Look for drink specials (outlined below).
Buy a soda package or BYO.
If you're a big soda drinker, consider the line's Classic Soda Package. The onboard price is $12.99–$15 per person, per day, but look for discount offers that encourage you to book pre-cruise. You get a Coca-Cola souvenir cup to fill at special soda fountains; the package does not cover cans from the bar. Alternatively, there's a Refreshment Package ($29–$38/day) that includes premium coffee drinks, freshly squeezed juice, bottled water, fountain drinks and nonalcoholic cocktails.
You can save more by bringing your own soda or water. The line's allowance is 12 standard (17-oz.) cans, bottles or cartons of nonalcoholic beverages per stateroom -- in your carry-on bags.
Bring your own wine.
For wine- and Champagne-lovers, you can bring onboard two standard-size bottles in your carry-on luggage. There is no fee if you consume the beverages in your cabin (bring a corkscrew!), but there's a $15 corkage fee if you bring your wine to a dining room or bar. (If you don't finish a bottle, Royal crew will cork it and store it for your next meal.) The line's alcohol policy bans other bring-your-own booze.
Price shop for shore excursions.
Royal Caribbean offers discounts of between 5 percent and 25 percent for prebooked shore excursions. If you're planning to go the organized tour route, you'll want to see what is on offer rather than waiting until you are onboard to book. Compare what the line is proposing to deals on tours at third-party websites such as Viator.com (a sister company of Cruise Critic) and shoretrips.com.
Pack your own sports equipment.
If you're planning to snorkel on shore, including at Royal Caribbean's thrilling revitalized Perfect Day at CocoCay beach resort in the Bahamas, you can save by packing your own water sports equipment. Note that if you don't have your own snorkel vest, you will be required to rent one. Royal also allows passengers to bring onboard and store in your stateroom (for use on shore only) a surfboard, skateboard or bike.
Prebook an internet package.
The best way to save on internet is either to turn off your smart device completely or take advantage of free Wi-Fi at restaurants, cafes and visitor centers on shore. But, for those who can't live without Wi-Fi, Royal offers discounts of 20 percent or more on its high-speed VOOM service when you book a package before your cruise. VOOM is billed as the "fastest internet at sea."
Onboard Your Cruise Ship
Look for drink specials.
For those who didn't indulge in a drinks package, the best way to enjoy a cocktail without overpaying is to go with the cocktail of the day, typically priced $2 to $4 less than average drink prices. Other bar specials might pop up throughout your cruise, such as two-for-one cocktails, beer buckets (pay for four and get five) and reduced price 10-cocktail packages.
Skip the fee-based sweets and ice cream.
The Sugar Beach shop has an eye-popping assortment of candy and ice cream at premium prices. Just say no. Satisfy your kids' sweet cravings (or your own!) with unopened treats brought from home. For ice cream, head to the self-service, soft-serve stations on the pool deck.
Indulge in free eats.
You don't need to pay extra for a decent cup of Joe. Just go to the Cafe Promenade, where the free coffee is worth savoring -- It's better than what's at the buffet. For another money-saving hack, if you're on an Oasis-class ship, eat breakfast at Johnny Rockets. There's usually a charge for burgers and other eats at the retro-cool eatery, but breakfast is free and the Patty 'n Eggs includes a beef, turkey or soy Boca patty.
Book your next cruise onboard.
There are perks for booking your next cruise on the ship, or within two months of your sailing. NextCruise offers include up to $600 off your next cruise or the same amount in future shipboard credit.