The best Royal Caribbean cruise ship for every type of traveler


What’s the best Royal Caribbean cruise ship? We get this question a lot, and our answer always is the same: It depends.

What sort of traveler are you? Royal Caribbean is the world’s biggest cruise line, and it has more ships than any other major line, including vessels in a wide range of sizes and with a wide range of amenities.

They all have a lot in common. However, they also have some major differences that make them more or less appealing to different types of travelers.

Some Royal Caribbean ships — such as the line’s Oasis-class vessels and soon-to-debut Icon of the Seas — are built with far more family-focused activities than others. Some, such as the one-year-old Wonder of the Seas, have added features that appeal to luxury-loving travelers. Other Royal Caribbean ships operate on particularly low-cost itineraries that are best for budget travelers.

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In short, the best Royal Caribbean cruise ship for you, if you’re traveling with children, might not be the same as the best Royal Caribbean cruise ship for a solo traveler or the best Royal Caribbean cruise ship for a retiree.

Here, we list our top picks for the best Royal Caribbean cruise ships for five different types of travelers.

Icon of the Seas: Best ship for families

An artist’s drawing of Icon of the Seas. ROYAL CARIBBEAN

The best Royal Caribbean ship for families is one that has yet to debut. It’s coming soon, though, and it’s going to change the game for family travelers at sea.

Scheduled to debut in January 2024 and already available to book, Icon of the Seas will be the biggest cruise ship in the world — more than 6% bigger than the biggest Royal Caribbean ships currently at sea. That means greater space for the family fun zones that are a hallmark of Royal Caribbean ships, from children’s clubs to water parks.

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However, it’s not just its larger size that makes Icon of the Seas the best Royal Caribbean ship for families. The cruise line has designed the vessel — the first of a new class of ships — specifically to cater to families in a bigger way.

For starters, Icon of the Seas will have an increased number of cabins that offer extra bunks to accommodate families with multiple children, including new room designs. Some family suites will even feature separate rooms for the kids.

Related: The 5 best cruise lines for families

Many of these family-friendly accommodations will be near a new-for-the-line outdoor “neighborhood” called Surfside, which is dedicated to families with young children. As announced late last year, Surfside will feature splash areas for babies and kids, pools and lounge spaces for parents, family-friendly eateries and shops, and a bar with “mommy and me” matching mocktails for kids and cocktails for grownups.

Icon of the Seas will also feature the largest water park ever built on a cruise ship, with a record six top-deck waterslides and a cool new ropes course. Your teens will never want to sail on another ship.

Icon of the Seas is just the first of three family-focused sister ships Royal Caribbean has on order for delivery by 2026 that will make up its new Icon class.

Wonder of the Seas: Best ship for luxury lovers


There’s no doubt about it, Wonder of the Seas is the Royal Caribbean ship to book if you’re looking to live the high life (and are willing to spend big bucks to do so). Unveiled in 2022, the world’s biggest cruise ship (until Icon of the Seas arrives) is the first and only Royal Caribbean vessel with a private suite complex for the fancy set — a swanky hideaway with an upscale private lounge, restaurant and sun deck.

If you book a suite in the complex, you’ll be getting a luxury experience of the sort you won’t find anywhere else in the Royal Caribbean fleet.

Related: What’s it like in Wonder’s suite complex? We spent $11,000 to find out

Called the Suite Neighborhood, the complex offers some of the biggest (and priciest) suites at sea, including the sprawling, two-deck-high Royal Loft suites that measure more than 1,500 square feet.

A booking for one of the suites also comes with a bevy of perks, from complimentary Wi-Fi to private beach access at Labadee, Royal Caribbean’s private beach destination in Haiti. Among the best perks: Access to private concierges who set up shop daily in the suite complex and will ensure you get prime seats at the ship’s shows or a table at the always crowded Mason Jar eatery. On a ship that can carry more than 6,000 people, such reservations are a must.

Note the suite complex is a gated community — one where you’ll only be surrounded by other swells who have paid top dollar for exclusivity. Nobody can get into the area unless they have a keycard showing they’re a resident.

Related: The 8 best cruise lines for elegance and exclusivity

With access to a stylish rooftop pool and loungers at the suite area’s private sun deck and higher-level food in its private Coastal Kitchen eatery, you may never want to leave the enclave. However, this being Royal Caribbean, you’ll also have access to a seemingly endless array of amusements from waterslides to aerial water shows just steps away.

Freedom of the Seas: Best ship for budget travelers

Freedom of the Seas docked at Perfect Day at CocoCay. ROYAL CARIBBEAN

Freedom of the Seas is the Royal Caribbean ship to pick when you’re looking for a quick and affordable getaway — something that isn’t a big commitment and won’t break the bank.

Based in Miami, the 16-year-old vessel operates short three- and four-night voyages to the Bahamas that are often on sale for just $250 per person or less. That’s not per day, mind you, but for the entire cruise. It’s a lot more affordable per day than the two ships mentioned above, which are the belles of the ball in the Royal Caribbean fleet and command significantly higher rates.

For would-be Royal Caribbean cruisers, Freedom of the Seas serves as a sort of “test the line” ship. Its short sailings and low pricing mean you’re not out a lot in time or money if you don’t have the time of your life. It caters heavily to first-time cruisers as well as Florida locals who can book on short notice and drive into the port for a quickie escape.

One of three ships in the line’s Freedom class that date to the mid-2000s, Freedom of the Seas is no longer the creme-de-la-creme of the Royal Caribbean fleet (though it was when it debuted). At around 156,000 tons, it’s about 30% smaller than Royal Caribbean’s newer Oasis-class ships and has fewer venues, from bars and restaurants to entertainment spaces.

Related: The 6 classes of Royal Caribbean ships, explained

That said, Freedom of the Seas still has a huge amount to offer for all sorts of travelers, from couples to families with kids. The ship was, notably, the first in the Royal Caribbean fleet to feature a FlowRider surfing simulator on its top deck — now a signature attraction for the line.

The vessel also has multiple pool areas, a water park, a miniature golf course and a rock climbing wall on its top deck. It also has one of Royal Caribbean’s signature Royal Promenades in its interior — a mall-like space filled with eateries, bars and shops.

The only things you won’t find are the most over-the-top Royal Caribbean attractions found on newer Royal Caribbean ships, such as zip lines, skydiving simulators and bumper car pavilions.

Quantum of the Seas: Best ship for solo travelers

Quantum of the Seas. ROYAL CARIBBEAN

Royal Caribbean isn’t particularly known as a major draw for solo travelers. In recent years, it’s doubled down on the family market more than ever. That doesn’t mean that solos aren’t welcome on its ships or won’t have a great time.

If you’re looking for the best Royal Caribbean ship for solo travelers, you’ll want to start with Quantum of the Seas and its Quantum-class sisters. It’s the class of ships where Royal Caribbean made the most effort to appeal to solo travelers.

In designing the vessels, Royal Caribbean took a page from solo-targeting Norwegian Cruise Line’s playbook and added several cabins specifically for solos. Quantum of the Seas offers 28 of these dedicated studio cabins, each measuring from 101 to 119 square feet.

What’s more, unlike Norwegian’s solo digs, some of these cabins are ocean-view rooms with balconies. Others have a virtual balcony that, at first glance, looks like a veranda but is actually a digital screen projecting a real-time view of the outside. (It may sound corny, but it works.)

Related: The best cruise ships for solo travelers

While the solo cabins on the Quantum-class ships don’t come with a dedicated solo lounge as they do on Norwegian ships, solo travelers will find Royal Caribbean-hosted meetups for solo travelers on the vessels. It’s a great way for single travelers to find others in the same boat, so to speak.

There’s also quite a bar scene on Quantum-class ships, with a lot of counter-style seating in bars that are a great place to find other solo travelers. We recommend one of the two large bars at the Music Hall, where you can make new friends while sipping musically inspired cocktails and listening to live bands. If the Music Hall is too noisy for chatting up other solos, head to the sometimes quieter Schooner Bar.

In addition, Quantum of the Seas ships is particularly known for its unusual range of activities, from skydiving simulators to bumper cars that you can enjoy just fine as a solo traveler.

Rhapsody of the Seas: Best ship for retirees

Rhapsody of the Seas. ROYAL CARIBBEAN

For older travelers looking for a Royal Caribbean ship that isn’t jammed full of children, it’s hard to beat Rhapsody of the Seas.

Dating to 1997, Rhapsody of the Seas is one of Royal Caribbean’s oldest and smallest vessels, and it lacks nearly all the gee-whiz attractions for families found on newer Royal Caribbean ships. You won’t find big water parks, kiddie splash zones, zip lines or bumper car pavilions on this ship.

For the most part, its top deck only offers pools, whirlpools and sunning areas, as is typical for ships built in the 1990s. As a result, it draws far fewer families than the vessels above and caters more to an older crowd of mostly couples.

Rhapsody of the Seas is also the ship that Royal Caribbean deploys on some of its most destination-focused itineraries, the type that have particular appeal to retirees looking to see more of the world.

Related: The 7 best cruises for seniors who love to travel

Over the next two years, for instance, Rhapsody of the Seas is sailing out of such less-common home ports as Colon, Panama; Cartagena, Colombia; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Haifa, Israel; and Limassol, Cyprus.

The sailings out of Colon and Cartagena offer the chance to visit Southern Caribbean ports such as Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao that aren’t on most Royal Caribbean itineraries in the Caribbean. The sailings out of San Juan will also get you into the Southern Caribbean, while the sailings out of Israel and Cyprus offer a destination-heavy tour through the Eastern Mediterranean, including stops at multiple Greek islands.

At 78,808 tons, Rhapsody of the Seas is a third the size of the biggest Royal Caribbean ships. Expect a more intimate experience than what you’ll find on the bustling Oasis-class, Quantum-class and Freedom-class ships mentioned above.

The vessel is one of four in the line’s Vision class, featuring ships much smaller than the typical Royal Caribbean vessel. With this class, the experience has more to do with the ports the ships visit than the onboard experience.

Bottom line

Royal Caribbean is the world’s largest cruise line, with a large fleet of ships that cater to a wide range of traveler types.

While its biggest focus of late has been on the family market, it has ships that will appeal to luxury travelers, budget travelers, solo travelers and retirees as well.

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