On Dec. 10, 2023, Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas departed on the Ultimate World Cruise, the line’s first-ever around-the-world sailing – a 274-night voyage that’s set to call on 60 countries. Because the sailing is one of the longest cruises in the industry’s history, it’s understandable that people who aren’t regular cruisers might be curious, particularly if they didn’t know voyages like this one were a thing.
What I can’t understand, though, are the complaints, the worry and the manufactured drama that have, so far, stemmed from the sailing. From wide-eyed reports of — gasp — being charged for bottled water to allegations of cliques forming among passengers, the world cruise has people talking.
Social media is largely to blame, with new-to-cruise influencers posting TikTok content about things that are new to them but not necessarily new in the world of cruising. That, in turn, has led to other non-cruisers’ viral obsession with content that’s coming from the vessel on a daily basis.
Here, I’ll tackle some of the complaints and debunk a few cruise myths about this sailing.
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World cruises are a new concept
No, they aren’t. When influencers began posting about the Ultimate World Cruise on social media, people lost their minds over the idea of nine months at sea. Although this is Royal Caribbean‘s first-ever world cruise, long sailings that cover much of the globe have been happening for more than 100 years.
Several lines offer them annually, and they often sell out. They last for months at a time, visit dozens of locations and cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. (It’s rumored that the most expensive suite for Royal Caribbean’s full nine-month trip cost the occupants more than $700,000.)
I should also mention that it’s common for crew members’ contracts to last up to nine months, so that much time at sea is fairly routine for people on ships, even if they aren’t there for vacation.
Related: 11 epic around-the-world cruises
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You have to book the entire voyage
You don’t. As the cast of characters slowly takes shape through TikTok posts, there has already been at least one claim of a passenger departing the cruise early, as though this is some kind of reality show.
There are many reasons — including emergencies and bad behavior — why someone might leave the sailing prematurely. However, it’s likely many early departures that will happen on this voyage were planned that way.
That’s because cruisers are able to book just a portion of the world sailing, choosing from four segments of up to 60 days each or any of 17 shorter individual sailings that range from nine to 28 days.
There’s a caste system on board
Some of the recent posts make it seem as though there’s a Titanic-esque system in place that prevents people in the least expensive cabins from using the same facilities as the rest of the general ship population. This is not true.
The preferential treatment everyone seems to be complaining about is called loyalty status, and we know a thing or two about that here at TPG.
The more loyal you are to the brand (in the case of Royal Caribbean’s Crown and Anchor Society, the more nights you’ve sailed with the line), the more perks you receive. They might include small things like priority boarding, the use of a dedicated onboard lounge, free Wi-Fi or laundry, and a welcome cocktail reception when the sailing begins.
It’s similar to obtaining airline lounge access, early check-in at hotels or line-skipping privileges at Disney World. Any time you’ve paid for something, even in a roundabout way through loyalty, there are privileges. But, in the end, everyone on the vessel has access to the same general bars and lounges, spa and fitness facilities, entertainment options, restaurants, pools and outdoor decks.
Plus, by the end of the voyage, everyone who was there for the full nine months should have reached at least Diamond Plus, the second-highest status, due to the length of the sailing.
Generally, the perks for being booked in a suite are more exclusive than they are for having high loyalty status. Although it’s not available on Serenade of the Seas, Royal Caribbean’s dedicated suite enclave, the Suite Neighborhood (found on Oasis Class and Icon Class vessels), offers special dining rooms, lounges, sun decks and concierge services for passengers booked in the most expensive cabins.
Drinks are free
I’ll forgive you for not knowing this if you’ve never cruised before. Big-ship cruise lines like Royal Caribbean are not all-inclusive like resorts. While your base fare includes your cabin, meals in multiple restaurants, use of onboard facilities and entertainment, it does not cover alcoholic beverages, specialty coffee, soda or bottled water.
Cruise lines don’t hide the fact that most drinks aren’t included. You have only yourself to blame if you didn’t do your homework before boarding.
With Royal Caribbean, you can order and pay for drinks a la carte or purchase a soda or alcohol package for a per-day cost for the entire length of the voyage.
Free drinks generally include iced tea, lemonade, drip coffee, tea and tap water. The tap water is purified and safe to drink, so if you’re someone who needs a bottle of water, bring a reusable one with you.
The ship is running out of supplies
Contrary to what certain recent posts about wine list changes might have you believe, the ship will not run out of food and drinks. Sure, some items might be crossed out on menus if they’re unavailable, but that’s not unusual when traveling. It doesn’t mean food or drinks are running low in general. It just means the particular item you like might not be available.
The folks who handle cruise provisioning have it down to a science. They know exactly how much of everything — from eggs to toilet paper — a ship will need for a given period of time. They also know when and in which ports they’ll need to restock. However, that doesn’t mean all brands can be procured in all places when they do so.
It’s entirely possible that your favorite food, wine or brand of spirits won’t be available, but it’s not a reason to worry. The line will find something to substitute for it whenever possible. I assure you that you won’t run out of options for eating or drinking, even on a nine-month voyage.
Cruise ships never break
Like any other machine, cruise ships require and receive regular maintenance because sometimes mechanical issues arise. These can range from engine room issues to more minor problems like clogged toilets or balcony doors that stick when you open them.
Every few years, each vessel goes in for extensive work. This includes both aesthetic improvements like replacing carpeting and mechanical maintenance on engines and other parts essential for the ship’s safe operation.
In between, vessels receive regular tune-ups from an entire team of onboard engineers and maintenance employees; they work below deck to ensure everything runs smoothly and to fix problems when something goes wrong.
In early January, reports of an onboard leak … well, leaked. Serenade of the Seas sailed through a storm, and some of the rainwater made its way into the onboard fitness center. Ships are constantly surrounded by water, and rough weather can bring all sorts of unexpected outcomes. Fortunately, the crew is trained to quickly and efficiently handle these types of messes if they happen, and the bridge — the captain’s control center — is equipped to detect storm systems that are truly dangerous and alter course to sail around them.
Related: Are cruise ships safe?
Cruise itineraries don’t change
Speaking of storms, earlier this week, Serenade of the Seas had to alter its course a bit on the way to Antarctica to avoid rough seas, which are typical in that region — especially this time of year. Many internet users were shocked about the change in itinerary, but if you follow the cruise industry, you know that itinerary changes and port substitutions happen all the time.
Ultimately, the captain’s top concern is safety, which means the ship will divert wherever necessary in order to keep the vessel, passengers and crew out of harm’s way.
Cruise ships can switch up their itineraries for a number of reasons, including medical emergencies, unrest in planned ports of call, mechanical issues or, most commonly, weather conditions.
When this happens on a voyage that’s already underway, cruise lines will usually refund port taxes and fees for any ports missed, as well as shore excursions purchased through the cruise line. However, per the terms and conditions that every passenger agrees to in order to sail, cruisers are not entitled to additional compensation in these cases.
You’ll get sick on the ship
It’s possible but unlikely. One influencer — who freely admits she’s never cruised but did live in a dorm room once — created a bingo card for the sailing. It lists several ridiculous scenarios like “stowaways,” “pirate attacks,” “COVID outbreak,” “2nd COVID outbreak” and “mass norovirus.”
The reality is that cruise ships have always had some of the most stringent health protocols anywhere, thanks to requirements put forth by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the 1970s as part of the ongoing Vessel Sanitation Program.
In 2019, 30 million passengers took a cruise, but only 1,201 cases of gastrointestinal illnesses were reported to the CDC. It seems like a lot, but it’s actually just 0.004% (four one-thousandths of 1%). While it’s still possible to get sick on a ship, as it is anywhere, the difference is that cruise lines are well-versed in prevention and prepared if illness occurs.
There’s lots of misinformation stemming from the social media reporting on Royal Caribbean’s nine-month Ultimate World Cruise, and most of the drama is coming from people who are new to cruising.
Cruises hold a lot of surprises — some delightful and some frustrating — for newbies. However, just because something is new to you doesn’t mean it’s news.
With that in mind, I’m happy cruising is receiving more attention from a new generation that might not be as familiar with it. Perhaps these online world cruise chronicles will convince someone who hasn’t sailed before to give it a try. Either way, it’s important to get the facts right if you’re going to share information or commentary.
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