Royal Caribbean's Most Passionate Cruisers

We set sail on a Royal Caribbean ship to figure out what about the mega-line floats so many cruisers' boats.

Taking in the New York skyline, after departure (Emiliano Granado)

A cruise is a cruise is a cruise, right? Not if you're a highly selective Budget Travel reader. By a margin of 494 votes, BT readers declared Royal Caribbean International (RCI) king of the cruise lines, praising its cheery staff, good value, diverse itineraries, and whale-size roster of activities. RCI's larger-than-life ships may have something to do with it. The Allure of the Seas, which debuts this December, will share the title of world's largest superliner with its slightly older sister, the 2009 Oasis of the Seas. Meanwhile, nine other ships in RCI's fleet are roughly double the size of the Titanic, with at least 15 decks, plus novelties such as mall-like promenades, water parks, ice rinks, and full-blown parades. Up on the pool deck, a daily carnival takes place with blissed-out septuagenarians in hot tubs, mobs of women doing the Macarena, and parents teaching their kids how to dog-paddle. Hard to imagine, right? We set sail on the 3,114-passenger Explorer of the Seas, part of the company's midsize Voyager class, and on a five-night journey from New Jersey to Bermuda, we asked a range of passengers for their insights into why—exactly—everyone and their mother loves this line. royalcaribbean.com, rates start at $379 per person, double occupancy, for a five-night sailing but more typically are $750 to $1,200 depending on the season, itinerary, and ship.

THE GOOD SPORTS
Angelyn, 16; Bret, 23; Leanna, 20; and Ryan Caldwell, 25; of Thousand Oaks, Calif.

It's no surprise that the four Caldwell kids utterly dominated the Explorer's 34-foot-high rock wall: The southern Californians are accustomed to a steady diet of biking, surfing, and bouldering. Though the gang has rented vacation houses in Mexico and Hawaii, this cruise—their first—surfaced as an ideal way to gather the extended clan, including parents, grandparents, and cousins, following Ryan's graduation from Drexel University in Philadelphia this June. Team Caldwell and friends, all 15 of them, hit the high seas running. "We feasted and exercised round the clock," says Ryan. In addition to daily gym sessions, the family also managed to squeeze in plenty of entertainment, including karaoke and an adult scavenger hunt. On one of the last days, the Caldwells were spotted on the sidelines of a parade headed down the ship's simulated Main Street; they were high-fiving and even hugging employees dressed as monkeys and elephants. Says Ryan: "At that point, we'd all become friends."

Best Tip Bring walkie-talkies. "We didn't have them," says Walt, the Caldwells' father, "and it would have helped us find each other."

THE NEWLYWEDS
Wendy Champion, 29, and Vito Ciancia, 31, of North Brunswick, N.J., minutes after their shipboard ceremony

The fact that Wendy Champion and Vito Ciancia decided to make things official after a 13-year courtship was reason enough for a special ceremony. "We wanted to do something memorable—and affordable," says Vito, a systems administrator at New York University. "And we loved the idea of celebrating with our closest family and friends for several days," adds Wendy, a sales manager for a technical publishing company. So while the Explorer was docked in Bermuda, the wedding party gathered in the white chapel at the top of the ship and the Ciancias said their vows (the legal documents had been signed a few days earlier at City Hall in North Brunswick, N.J.). Wedding pictures were snapped on the pool deck, and then the party of 32 piled onto a chartered catamaran for a day of champagne toasts and snorkeling. Wendy was dressed for the occasion in a white bikini with mrs. ciancia spelled out in rhinestones across the bottom and a veil that somehow managed to stay perfectly in place—even after several jumps into the water. Later that night, as the Ciancias cut their wedding cake in the ship's dining room, the veil remained on, looking remarkably fit for the occasion, especially with traces of seaweed still stuck in it.

Best Tip Pack a watch. "We had a hard time finding clocks on the ship," Wendy says, "and since we weren't using our cell phones, we almost never knew what time it was."

THE CAROUSERS
Matthew Pascarelli, 30, and Lauriel White, 25, of Merrick, N.Y., drinking Lava Flows (a piña colada/strawberry daiquiri combo)

ALLURE OF THE SEAS

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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