Even if you’re a newcomer to cruising, you’ve probably heard of Royal Caribbean‘s giant Oasis Class ships. They’re more than 20% bigger than any other cruise vessels afloat and like nothing else you’ll find at sea.
When you hear people talking about the wow factor of the “floating megaresorts” of Royal Caribbean, it’s likely they’re referring to these massive ships, which include Symphony of the Seas — the world’s biggest cruise vessel.
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But not all Royal Caribbean ships are similarly supersized. While the line is perhaps best known for giant vessels — it operates 9 of the 20 biggest cruise ships in the world — it also markets some relatively smaller, more intimate ships.
Indeed, Royal Caribbean has eight vessels that are less than half the size of the Oasis Class ships.
If you’re thinking about booking a Royal Caribbean cruise, you’ll find that the line offers a wide range of ship styles and designs.
With the relatively recent removal of two older ships from its fleet, Royal Caribbean — the world’s largest cruise line by passenger capacity — now has 25 oceangoing vessels in all. That’s more than any other major cruise line, and it means that you have a lot of choices when it comes to picking the perfect Royal Caribbean ship for you.
The good news for those of you trying to get a handle on all the options is that the 25 ships can easily be bunched into just six groups of vessels that have similar amenities. If you know one member of the group, you know them all.
These six groups, which were constructed around the same time to the same basic design, are known in cruise industry lingo as “classes” and each has its own look and feel.
An introduction to Royal Caribbean ships
For the most part, Royal Caribbean operates big, bustling megaships that will appeal to people who like a megaresort experience. The company has built its brand around offering vacationers a ton of diversions on its ships, whether for dining (some vessels have more than 20 distinct places to grab a bite) or entertainment. They’re lively and fun.
But just how over-the-top the megaresort experience on a Royal Caribbean ship is varies from class to class.
The line’s four Oasis Class ships are unlike anything else you’ll find at sea when it comes to size, amenities and capacity. They each can hold more than 6,600 passengers with every berth full.
Somewhat smaller in size, but still giant by any measure, are the line’s four Quantum Class and three Freedom Class vessels, which each have total capacities ranging from around 4,500 to 5,600 passengers. With room for around 3,800 passengers at maximum occupancy, the line’s five Voyager Class vessels are relatively large, too.
Together, the 16 vessels of these four classes — Oasis, Quantum, Freedom and Voyager — make up Royal Caribbean’s big-ship fleet. The line’s remaining eight vessels, split among two classes, are smaller, with maximum occupancy topping out around 2,500 passengers.
While no longer the focus at Royal Caribbean, the smaller ships, which in general are the line’s older ships, allow it to offer itineraries to places that aren’t as easy for big ships to visit. Not all ports in the world can handle a ship the size of Symphony of the Seas.
The smaller ships also appeal to a subset of Royal Caribbean fans who prefer more intimacy in a cruise vessel and don’t mind giving up some onboard amenities to get it. They also often are less expensive to sail on, on a per-day basis.
As you might expect, the biggest Royal Caribbean ships have the most amenities. With each step down in size, you’ll find fewer restaurants, bars, entertainment venues and attractions. But even the smallest of Royal Caribbean ships still have quite a bit to offer.
If you’re sailing with the line for the first time, it’s important to understand that not all of Royal Caribbean’s signature attractions and venues are on all its ships. For instance, while every Royal Caribbean vessel now has one of the line’s iconic climbing walls (some have two!), only the 16 ships of the line’s big-ship classes have a FlowRider surfing simulator. Only the 12 ships of the Oasis, Freedom and Voyager classes have ice skating rinks.
Ships in class: Quantum of the Seas (2014); Anthem of the Seas (2015); Ovation of the Seas (2016); Spectrum of the Seas (2019); Odyssey of the Seas (2021)
Size: 168,666 to 169,379 tons
Unveiled in 2014, the Quantum Class is Royal Caribbean’s newest class, and perhaps its most innovative class ever.
In addition to a wide range of restaurants, bars and showrooms, the five ships in the class feature some of the most unusual new attractions you’ll find at sea, including bumper car pavilions (yes, somehow they found room for these) and skydiving simulators.
The ships also have glass-enclosed capsules mounted on mechanical arms that will take you soaring into the sky for bird’s-eye views. They’re called the North Star rides, and they may be the oddest attractions ever added to the top of a cruise ship.
Quantum Class ships are also home to unusual, multilevel entertainment spaces with floor-to-ceiling glass walls called Two70. The spaces feature live aerial performances as well as moving “roboscreens” that take part in the shows. At certain times of the day, the glass walls transform into an expansive ambient surface called Vistarama that projects real and imagined scenes.
All the above are in addition to many of the core Royal Caribbean attractions you’ll find on most of the brand’s ships, including pools, rock-climbing walls, casinos, spas and Broadway shows. But don’t expect all of the classic Royal Caribbean features on Quantum Class ships. For instance, you won’t find ice skating rinks, though they’re a staple of most big Royal Caribbean ships. Quantum Class ships also don’t have waterparks.
The Quantum Class ships aren’t quite as big as Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class vessels (and thus don’t have quite as much room for things like ice-skating rinks). But at around 169,000 tons, they’re still among the biggest ships at sea, with a significant number of venues.
They also can carry a lot of people. Most of the ships in the class hold 4,180 passengers at double occupancy — 4,905 if every berth is filled. Among the exceptions is Spectrum of the Seas, which was specifically built for the China market with some design differences. It can hold up to 5,622 passengers. The newest ship in the series, Odyssey of the Seas, can hold up to 5,498 passengers.
One more big difference between the ships of the Quantum Class and other big Royal Caribbean ships is that Quantum Class ships are designed to be more versatile.
If you look closely at their deck plans, you’ll notice that more of their main attractions are indoors, protected from the elements, than the ships of, say, the Oasis or Freedom classes.
One of the two main pool areas on each of the Quantum Class ships is enclosed, for instance. So are the bumper car pavilions, which double as roller-skating rinks and also can be used as indoor basketball courts. This allows Royal Caribbean to send the ships to cooler regions of the world such as Alaska and Northern Europe where the temperatures aren’t always conducive to outdoor activity.
Royal Caribbean also has used some of the Quantum Class ships for sailings out of China.
Ships in class: Oasis of the Seas (2009); Allure of the Seas (2010); Harmony of the Seas (2016); Symphony of the Seas (2018); Wonder of the Seas (coming in 2022)
Size: 226,838 to 228,081 tons
If you’re the kind of person who loves nothing better than a big, bustling resort with every sort of amusement known to humans, then this is the cruise ship class for you.
As mentioned above, the Oasis Class ships are more than 20% bigger than any other cruise vessel afloat, and for big-ship lovers, there’s really nothing quite like them.
Each of the Oasis Class vessels has three separate main pool areas, a kiddie splash zone, surfing simulators, a miniature golf course, a basketball court and even a zip line. And that’s just on their top decks. Inside the vessels, you’ll find more lounges, bars, restaurants and shops than you can imagine, plus huge casinos, spas and showrooms with real Broadway shows. They even have indoor ice-skating rinks, just in case you want to get your Michelle Kwan on.
What you won’t find on the Oasis Class ships is intimacy. These are vessels that can carry as many as 6,780 passengers when every berth is filled. They operate with around 2,200 crew. That means you could be sharing your vacation with nearly 9,000 people.
If the above sounds downright insane to you, it is. But keep in mind that the biggest megaresorts on land are even bigger. The biggest resort in the U.S., The Venetian in Las Vegas, has 7,092 rooms. That means it can hold more than 14,000 guests, assuming two people per room.
By that measure, Oasis Class ships are almost small.
Oasis Class ships also don’t necessarily feel as crowded as they are. Royal Caribbean’s designers are masters at creating vessels that can carry thousands and thousands of people but still feel relatively uncrowded — at least in some areas. You can have a quiet afternoon reading a book on a bench in the tree-lined Central Park area of Symphony of the Seas while just a few decks above thousands of vacationers are frolicking away at the ship’s pools.
Note that there are a few differences from ship to ship in the Oasis Class series. For starters, the two newest and largest ships in the series — Harmony of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas — have a few additional attractions and venues. Among them: The Ultimate Abyss, a terrifying slide that drops nine decks (Royal Caribbean says it drops 10 decks, but don’t be fooled; the line is counting a nonexistent Deck 13).
There also are giant waterslides on three of the four ships. Only Allure of the Seas is missing them. There are plans to add waterslides to Allure of the Seas, but they were put on hold after the coronavirus-caused cruising shutdown of 2020.
A handful of restaurants also are different from ship to ship in the series.
There currently are four Oasis Class ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet. But a fifth vessel in the series — Wonder of the Seas — is scheduled to debut in March.
Currently under construction at the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard in St. Nazaire, France, Wonder of the Seas will be the biggest Oasis Class vessel yet at 236,857 tons. It’ll be able to carry up to 6,988 passengers — the most ever for a Royal Caribbean ship.
Ships in class: Radiance of the Seas (2001); Brilliance of the Seas (2002); Serenade of the Seas (2003); Jewel of the Seas (2004)
Size: 90,090 tons
Not sure that you want to sail on a megaship with 6,000 people but still want a vessel with a good amount of features and activities? The Radiance Class ships may be the perfect solution.
At 90,090 tons, the four vessels in the series are less than half the size of Royal Caribbean’s massive Oasis Class ships but still big enough that they have a lot to offer.
Each of the vessels has more than a half-dozen places to eat including a main restaurant, casual buffet, steakhouse, Italian restaurant and Asian venue.
You’ll also find three pools on each of the ships, whirlpools, a rock-climbing wall, a miniature golf course, a sports court and an adults-only solarium. Each of the ships also has a theater, spa, casino and multiple bars and lounges.
What you won’t find on the ships, because of their smaller size, are all the gee-whiz attractions such as ice-skating rinks, surfing simulators, giant waterslides and bumper cars pavilions that Royal Caribbean has put on its bigger vessels. If you can’t live without those sorts of features on a cruise ship, then the Radiance Class probably isn’t for you.
Each of the Radiance Class ships holds a bit over 2,100 passengers at double occupancy (plus a few hundred more with every berth filled). That’s less than half the amount of passengers you’ll find on the biggest Royal Caribbean ships.
That makes them perfect for cruisers who want to get away from the sort of crowds that are on the biggest megaships without giving up many of the amenities that big ships have to offer.
Ships in class: Freedom of the Seas (2006); Liberty of the Seas (2007); Independence of the Seas (2008)
Size: 154,407 to 156,271 tons
As recently as 2009, these were the biggest cruise ships in the world, and they’re still quite big as compared to almost all other cruise vessels afloat.
While no longer on the list of the top 20 biggest cruise ships — they’ve been displaced by Royal Caribbean’s Oasis- and Quantum-class vessels, as well as a few ships from other lines — they offer a classic big-ship experience with lots of restaurants, bars, showrooms and deck-top attractions.
The Freedom Class ships, notably, were the first Royal Caribbean ships to feature a FlowRider surfing simulator on their top decks — now a signature attraction for the line. Each of the vessels also has multiple pool areas, a waterpark, a miniature golf course and a rock-climbing wall on its top decks, which are among the most activity-packed at sea.
Indeed, the top decks of Freedom Class ships are more loaded with attractions than any other Royal Caribbean vessels except the Oasis Class vessels. You just won’t find several of the most over-the-top attractions that are atop Oasis Class ships, such as zip lines.
On their interiors, Freedom Class vessels have the mall-like Royal Promenade spaces filled with eateries, bars and shops that have become standard on bigger Royal Caribbean ships. They also have large casinos and spas.
At around 156,000 tons, the Freedom Class ships are about 31% smaller than the Oasis Class ships, a significant step down in size. They’re nearly 8% smaller than the Quantum Class ships.
They also carry significantly fewer passengers than the Oasis Class ships. Freedom of the Seas and Independence of the Seas carry around 3,900 passengers at double occupancy (closer to 4,600 with every berth filled). Liberty of the Seas can carry several hundred more.
Ships in class: Voyager of the Seas (1999); Explorer of the Seas (2000); Adventure of the Seas (2001); Navigator of the Seas (2002); Mariner of the Seas (2003)
Size: 137,276 to 139,999 tons
The Voyager Class ships are similar to Freedom Class ships, but shorter in length. Or, put another way, the Freedom Class was a stretched version of the Voyager Class.
Like the Freedom Class vessels, the Voyager Class ships have many of Royal Caribbean’s signature attractions, including rock-climbing walls and ice-skating rinks. In fact, the ships were the first at Royal Caribbean to have those attractions.
Voyager Class ships also were the first to feature a mall-like Royal Promenade with bars, cafes and shops in their interiors. They also each have several specialty restaurants in addition to their main dining rooms and casual buffets, including a version of Royal Caribbean’s signature Chops Grille steakhouse and an Italian restaurant.
One of the main differences between the Voyager Class and the Freedom Class is that the Royal Promenades on Voyager Class ships are shorter. The top-deck areas of the Voyage Class ships also are more truncated as compared to the Freedom Class vessels.
There also are fewer cabins on the Voyager Class ships, resulting in fewer passengers on board a typical sailing. Most of the ships carry around 3,100 passengers at double occupancy — about 800 fewer than the typical Freedom Class ship.
At around 139,000 tons, the ships are about 11% smaller than the Freedom Class ships.
There are also some variations in attractions between the five Voyager Class vessels. Navigator of the Seas has a relatively new waterslide zone that’s home to The Blaster, the longest waterslide at sea. You won’t find that on the other ships, though most of them have different waterslides. Only three of the five ships — Voyager of the Seas, Navigator of the Seas and Mariner of the Seas — have laser tag courses. Adventure of the Seas is the only vessel in the class with a kiddie splash zone.
In a major overhaul of Mariner of the Seas in 2018, Royal Caribbean added a new attraction called SkyPad. It’s a virtual reality bungee-trampoline experience.
Ships in class: Grandeur of the Seas (1996); Rhapsody of the Seas (1997); Enchantment of the Seas (1997); Vision of the Seas (1998)
Size: 73,817 to 82,910 tons
Dating to the 1990s, the Vision Class ships are the smallest at Royal Caribbean, and they offer fewer onboard attractions and amenities than is typical for the line’s vessels.
In general, they appeal to cruisers looking for a more intimate experience on a cruise ship than what you’ll find on the big Royal Caribbean ships. They also draw cruisers who care more about the destinations that they visit on a cruise than onboard attractions.
Along those lines, Royal Caribbean often sends some of its Vision Class ships to Europe in the summer to operate port call-intensive itineraries. The vessels also often sail longer trips in the Caribbean that take in less-visited southerly islands. In both cases, the allure of the cruises has more to do with the ports the ships visit than the onboard experience.
Vision Class ships also sometimes are based in secondary ports such as Baltimore or San Juan, Puerto Rico, that might not warrant a larger vessel.
Except for rock-climbing walls, the Vision Class ships have none of the signature Royal Caribbean deck-top attractions such as surfing and skydiving simulators. For the most part, their top decks are filled with pools, whirlpools and sunning areas, as is typical for ships built in the 1990s. All of them have at least two pools and six whirlpools, except for Enchantment of the Seas, which has three pools and six whirlpools. Enchantment of the Seas also has a bungee trampoline area, something none of the other vessels offer.
In addition to main restaurants and casual buffets, each of the ships has at least one and often several additional specialty restaurants such as the line’s signature Chops Grille steakhouse and Italian eatery Giovanni’s Table. Rhapsody of the Seas has the biggest selection of dining; Enchantment of the Seas has the smallest. Three of the four vessels — all but Enchantment of the Seas — have an Izumi Asian restaurant.
Each of the ships varies slightly in size. Grandeur of the Seas is the smallest of the four vessels, measuring around 74,000 tons. Enchantment of the Seas is the biggest, measuring around 83,000 tons (it was, notably, lengthened by 73 feet in 2005).
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Featured image courtesy of Royal Caribbean.