Royal Caribbean's reputation as one of the best family-friendly cruise lines has been established for years. Gravity-defying slides, water parks, FlowRider surf simulators and pools sprawl from one end of a Royal Caribbean ship to the other (not to mention arcades, entertaining shows and more).
Until recently, Royal Caribbean hasn't truly melded their family offerings with their higher-end accommodations. While the line’s first true “suite neighborhood” debuted on Wonder of the Seas in early 2022, the vibe there is distinctly adult.
Things are about to change, though, with the arrival of Icon of the Seas in 2024. For the first time, luxury family-friendly suites that come with all sorts of perks and extras will sit in their own kid-friendly neighborhood.
Read on for more details about how Royal Caribbean is helping families live the suite life.
Wonder of the Seas is the first ship in Royal Caribbean's fleet to offer a suite neighborhood, separated from the rest of the ship on Decks 17 and 18. The vibe is calm, chic and exclusive, and while the suites themselves are posh, the overall atmosphere isn't the most kid friendly. The exception, of course, is Wonder's massive Ultimate Family Suite, a colorful two-story room with its own interior slide and separate sleeping areas for kids.
Even so, this new suite neighborhood has allowed multi-generational families to sail with Royal Caribbean by providing flexible ways for families with different styles to travel together. "The grandparents may be quite affluent and want to have some exclusivity, so they'll book a suite in the suite neighborhood," Royal Caribbean president Michael Bayley said aboard Wonder of the Seas in December 2022. "Their kids -- who now have kids -- will be in one of our other stateroom categories, and then next door they'll have their kids."
According to Jay Schneider, Royal Caribbean's chief product innovation officer, newer ships in the fleet will continue to balance suites with even more family activities. "You'll see new types of suites coming from us," he told Cruise Critic. "Some are big and bold like the Ultimate Family Suite on Wonder of the Seas. Some of them will be what I call moderately bold (meaning they're not three stories tall). We continue to add more and more family-centric suites."
To help close the gap between kid-approved action and family accommodations, the Surfside neighborhood will debut on Icon of the Seas. This is the first neighborhood dedicated entirely to families with children aged 6 and under in Royal Caribbean's fleet.
"Surfside is absolutely focused on young families," said Bayley. "Every single experience is designed to make their little kids happy. All of the water features and slides are appropriate for 6 and under. There's even a dedicated cruise director for Surfside. Every single stateroom designed around Surfside is a family-friendly accommodation. Whether it's a balcony room with dedicated space for kids in terms of bunk beds or the family suites."
What does that mean? For starters, there will be a wide array of cabins spread across seven decks sitting right next to and overlooking the Surfside's splash zones, pools, slides, arcade games and casual eateries.
Royal Caribbean will also roll out a new cabin category in the Surfside neighborhood: Surfside Family Suites. These will feature one-and-a-half bedrooms and allow some privacy between adults and kids (including a split bathroom). The kids' section will be in bunkbeds, perpendicular to each other, complete with their own built-in TVs with wireless bluetooth connectivity. While these are the star of the Surfside neighborhood show -- in addition to the three-story Ultimate Family Townhouse -- families with more modest budgets will find traditional balcony, infinite family balconies and interior rooms as well.
Families staying in Surfside Family Suites can also expect the same perks as they'd find in the suite neighborhood: access to the exclusive Coastal Kitchen for breakfast, lunch and dinner; upgraded bath amenities; concierge service or Royal Genies for dinner and excursion bookings; and more.
While Surfside aboard Icon of the Seas is largely meant for families with children under 6 -- the popular Splashaway Bay and Baby Bay form the centerpiece of the neighborhood -- it's a fine place if you have a teen in tow as well.
Aside from Icon's Ultimate Family Townhouse, which is decked out in bright kid-friendly colors, rooms and suites in the neighborhood have the same sharp look as other cabins and suites on Royal Caribbean's newest ships. In addition to pools, a candy shop, and plenty of teen-friendly grab-and-go food, Social 020 is part of Surfside and is where teens can gather to play video games or just hang out and be teenagers.
Additionally, all of Royal Caribbean's teen-friendly high-octane offerings -- including the tallest waterslides at sea -- will be collected together at Thrill Island, which sits on the top aft deck just above the Surfside neighborhood.
The upgrades and changes on Wonder of the Seas and forthcoming Icon of the Seas are really just the beginning, as Royal Caribbean continues to refine and diversify the types of family vacations and experiences that it offers.
"People are buying experiences," Royal Caribbean CEO Jason Liberty told Cruise Critic. "The younger you are on this curve of Baby Boomers, Gen X and Millennials, the more you value experiences and moments and memories with your family."