It’s been a week since Brian and Nathan got home from their first Royal Caribbean cruise – a three-night sailing from Port Canaveral on the Independence of the Seas, with stops at Perfect Day at Coco Cay and Nassau. Our podcast episode on that cruise is out today, if you want to listen to the full trip report and get Brian and Nathan’s thoughts on how RCCL compares to DCL.

Nathan enjoys some mini-golf onboard the Independence of the Seas

With the benefit of a week since the cruise, Brian wanted to share some takeaways from the experience:

  • Comparing Disney and Royal is the wrong way to think about things, in Brian’s opinion. It’s two completely different cruise experiences. Royal Caribbean felt more like visiting a Las Vegas hotel – lots to do, good to great pools, good food (although not great for some venues), bustling nightlife, and, of course, a casino.
  • Perfect Day at Coco Cay was a great experience for Nathan, but not the best experience for Brian. Nathan loved the waterpark and massive fresh-water pool complex (which Brian also preferred). Both Nathan and Brian enjoyed the food, and found it was on par with Disney from a quality standpoint. Royal edges out Disney for variety of food offerings on Coco Cay. Brian finds the experience at Castaway Cay much more relaxing – all the things to do on Coco Cay meant constantly moving and finding new places to sit; which can be very challenging with two ships at Coco Cay making the island very crowded.
    Perfect Day at Coco Cay lived up to its name for Nathan
  • The food onboard the ship was good, but not great. Disney’s main dining offering far surpasses the food that Brian and Nathan had in their (admittedly limited) main dining experience. Royal’s speciality dining is fun because at least some options (like the Hibachi grill) are family friendly. Royal’s buffet matches Disney in terms of quality, but easily surpasses Disney on food variety (like having multiple Indian dishes available at lunch and dinner).
    Nathan ready to enjoy the Hibachi grill onboard the Independence of the Seas
  • Brian was only able to see the ice skating show onboard (“Freeze Frame”) and did not make it to the main stage production of Grease. Brian found the entertainment offering lacking as compared to Disney for two reasons. First, the shows were not aligned to the dinner seatings, as they are on DCL. So you couldn’t see the show and then go to dinner, or vice versa. You had to choose the show over dinner, unless you had “anytime” dining. Second, the ice skating show, while technically interesting with great performers, was a decades-style musical review that spanned from the 50’s to 70’s. It’s the kind of show he’d have expected to see 10-15 years ago, and seemed in desperate need of an update.
    View of the ice rink from backstage at the ice skating show – Freeze Frame
  • Activities onboard are plentiful from standards like trivia to other more unique activities like ice skating. Brian particularly enjoyed the Observatorium “Escape Room at Sea” experience, finding it well themed and produced, and worth the $89 up-charge. Nathan and Brian also really enjoyed their “all-access” ship tour that included stops at the bridge and engine control room, among others.
    Nathan gets a view of the port-side maneuvering controls on the Independence of the Seas
  • Adult activities onboard are also plentiful with an emphasis on the nightlife, bars and the casino. Brian still found the inclusion of the casino unnecessary for his cruise experience, and the amount of smoking in particular is something that detracted from his experience onboard.
  • The kids clubs pale in comparison to what you’ll find onboard Disney Cruise Line in terms of theming, size and activities. Nathan, however, enjoyed the “Voyager’s” club onboard. In particular, he liked the narrow age range (9-11) and the organized group activities. Brian thought the availability of the club was a bit limited – it closed for portions of the day, and after 10pm there was a $10 per hour charge to use the club.

All-up, Brian enjoyed his cruise on Royal Caribbean, but still prefers DCL for its more luxury feel and experience, and for the spaces where adults can find true relaxation onboard. Brian did find value for his vacation dollar on RCCL, although noted that the gap in total cost between a comparable DCL sailing didn’t seem significant enough (from his POV) to make-up for the downsides from his Royal Caribbean experience. That said, we did just book another Royal Caribbean cruise for Memorial Day weekend 2024 on the Allure of the Seas in a Crown Loft Suite. So, we are both interested in seeing how that cruise compares both to our DCL experience and Brian’s RCCL experience. We also want to take a longer cruise on Royal in the future to see how it compares.

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