When I first learned I had the opportunity to travel on Royal Caribbean’s newest and biggest cruise ship, I felt two things: excitement (I had never traveled outside the U.S. or Canada before) and fear, mostly because I kept picturing Jack from “Titanic” slowly drifting to the bottom of the ocean. But regardless of my conflicting emotions, I knew I couldn’t pass up traveling on one of the most impressive ships in the world, especially for my first cruise.
The Wonder of the Seas is the fifth ship in Royal Caribbean’s Oasis class, coming in at 236,857 gross tons. At 1,188 feet long and 210 feet wide, it has earned the current title of the largest cruise ship in the world. It can hold up to 6,988 guests and has about 2,300 crew members from worldwide servicing it. And with 18 decks, there’s plenty to do at all times.
Now that I’m back, I’m glad that I faced my fears and set sail on the cruise of a lifetime. Here’s how it went.
Construction for Wonder of the Seas began before the pandemic, but when COVID-19 hit, Royal Caribbean made sure to consider all possible aspects of health and safety. Wanting guests to have the “safest possible vacation,” the cruise line worked closely with a team at the University of Nebraska to study airflow through the rooms and ships to create a healthier cruise experience. There are more than several sanitization stations on board, and the buffet-style restaurant, Windjammer Market, has an entire row of sinks for guests to wash up before getting their food. (As you enter, the staff chants “washy-washy before yummy-yummy;” eventually, they had the kids saying it, too.)
In my opinion, Royal Caribbean’s COVID policies are more than fair and straightforward. All guests over the age of 12 must be vaccinated to board the ship, and although the cruise line isn’t mandating booster shots at this point, they are strongly recommending them. A negative COVID-19 test is also required to board, to be taken 48 hours before embarking, and a health questionnaire must be completed within 24 hours of departure. All crew is vaccinated and must take regular COVID tests while working. Masks are entirely optional for vaccinated guests; I wore mine, but most guests did not.
Those who catch COVID during the cruise will be required to stay in their rooms, and food and drink will be delivered to their door at mealtimes. Royal Caribbean takes it a step further by covering all costs related to onboard medical care and travel home. If you test positive before the trip and cancel before 48 hours, they’ll give you a “Future Cruise Credit” that matches 100 percent of whatever you paid. That, at least, should quell some COVID concerns for those hesitant to book a cruise again.
Upon arrival to Port Everglades, we were hustled through security. They had us put all of our bags through a luggage scanner and walk through metal detectors. After we had the all-clear, we lined up as they checked to make sure we had all of our travel documents: passport, boarding pass, vaccination card, health questionnaire, and negative COVID test. Having the Royal Caribbean app made this part a bit easier—they gave us the option to upload photos of our travel documents before boarding. Once our documentation was all checked out, we were guided upstairs. The staff took my picture before boarding, which was then attached to my Royal Caribbean account. Whenever I used my SeaPass card (which serves as both a room key and credit card for onboard purchases), my photo was pulled up, so staff and crew could quickly identify me. Then, it was time to board the ship.
As it was the inaugural sailing, I expected some setbacks here and there. And setbacks are what we got.
When we boarded, they asked everyone to report to their muster station, where each passenger’s assigned lifeboat is located. The ship is huge, so finding my way around initially was super challenging, and almost everyone on board was confused about where to go. Luckily, the staff was super helpful in pointing everyone in the right direction. After reporting to our muster stations, they started going through what would happen in the event of an emergency; this demonstration admittedly quelled a majority of my fears about the ship.
After the demonstration, I was free to head up to my room. It took me a while to find mine (I didn’t realize that the first number of the four-digit room number was the floor, and the last three were the actual room numbers), and that’s when I hit my first snag: The keycard left outside of my room didn’t work. After several attempts (I even tried using the Royal Caribbean app, which can also be used as a keycard), I went to guest services with all my luggage. When I got there, I realized I wasn’t the only one with this problem. The guest services line was long enough that it started jutting into the main walkway. And it wasn’t just keycard issues that people were having. There were missing drink packages, problems with prepaid excursions, and more. I was anxious to leave that line as soon as I could.
Luckily, the team also expected that something like this would happen, and there was plenty of staff on hand to help people as soon as possible. I was in the middle of the line and had been waiting for about 20 minutes when a staff member approached me and offered her assistance. (Always expect a bit of chaos on boarding day, she told me.) After that, the hard part was over, and I was finally able to put my luggage down.
I couldn’t have been more impressed with my room. I stayed in a balcony stateroom (facing the ocean), and if you’re going to sail, this is the way to go. The room itself was both nice and spacious—it came with a full-sized bed with plenty of storage space, a safe, access to the thermostat, and a couch. But it was the balcony that stole the show. I enjoyed an excellent breakfast there, I did some work, and I watched the sunset; there was no better place to look up at the stars at night and enjoy the sound of the ocean.
The room, as amazing as it was, wasn’t perfect. The first night, I woke up to the sound of jiggling doorknobs and a slamming door. I panicked, thinking someone was trying to get in my room, but soon realized it was just my neighbors. While I couldn’t hear them in their rooms, I definitely heard them every time they came in and out. Also, there wasn’t any water in the rooms, nor was there an iron and ironing board. For passengers who’ve purchased a drinks package, I recommend picking up a complimentary cup at one of the many onboard restaurants and filling it up before taking it back to your room; otherwise, consider packing an extra water bottle (and a travel steamer).
For those returning to Royal Caribbean, Wonder of the Seas still includes some of the brand’s signature specialties. The rock climbing walls and zip lines are both waiting for you on the boat, as well as FlowRider, the surf simulator, and The Ultimate Abyss, the tallest slide at sea.
But what’s so appealing about being on the biggest ship in the world is partaking in all the new experiences that set Wonder of the Seas apart from Royal Caribbean’s other cruise ships. From a Southern-style restaurant to a new suite neighborhood, you won’t be disappointed with anything that’s on Wonder.
The Mason Jar
If you’re a fan of Southern eats, the Mason Jar serves up dishes like lobster and crawfish gumbo and fried chicken. They offer a fantastic brunch, too—a first for Royal Caribbean—and the people loved it: Seating at the Mason Jar was booked solid throughout my whole trip. I did manage to snag a spot during brunch, however, and got to try the breakfast biscuits and the Sweet-Tooth Cinnamon Roll. Both were delicious and super filling; I had to take the cinnamon roll to go (it was still good when I went back to it that night). If you’re there for dinner, you’ll be treated to a live country band from California (and probably some country dancing, too).
Royal Caribbean has several different neighborhoods on their vessels, which are themed areas that offer unique experiences. The Wonder of the Seas offers the standard seven of the Oasis class—the Boardwalk, Central Park, Royal Promenade, the Pool and Sports Zone, Entertainment Place, the Youth Zone, and Vitality Spa and Fitness—in addition to a brand new neighborhood, the Suite Class Neighborhood. This exclusive neighborhood features a private whirlpool, plunge pool, sun deck, bar, and the Coastal Kitchen restaurant and is available only to passengers who’ve booked a suite. The Suite Class Neighborhood also includes the Ultimate Family Suite, built to fit a family of 10. It’s every kid’s dream room.
The coolest part about Royal Caribbean is the designated play spaces for kids, and they’ve taken it a step further on Wonder. The Wonder Playscape is the new, outdoor family-themed area, and it is something to behold. My inner child was amazed at everything they packed into it—tons of games, slides, spring riders, puzzles, and more. It isn’t in an entirely enclosed area, but it has its own designated section, making it perfect for families to watch their little ones.
The Vue Bar
Also new to Wonder is the Vue Bar, located on deck 15. Overlooking the water, it’s a colorful new edition to the ship and a great spot to settle in when the weather is nice. Just be careful—if the wind picks up, you might just get blown away.
Who would’ve ever thought that we’d be able to see an entire ice routine on a boat floating in the ocean? “365: The Seasons on Ice” is one of the newest shows on Wonder, and admittedly my favorite one. Projecting different colors and images on the ice, the show takes you through each season of the year, and the skaters deliver a choreographed skate to the many songs of the season. A lot of the songs are right on the nose (i.e., Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” during their summer routine), but the familiarity of the music makes it that much more enjoyable. This is something you want to check out, whether you’re an ice skating fan or not.
Royal Caribbean can add another feat to their repertoire: the biggest and best all-women aqua show at sea. “InTENse” takes place in Wonder’s Aqua Theater, located at the back of the Boardwalk on deck 6. It is a stunning sight—it’s an open-air theater, and the background scales up about three decks high. With projections on the walls and back screen, loud techno music, and performers suspended dozens of feet in the air, the entire show aims to give guests an incredible experience. Did I mention the all-women cast? That aspect was unintentional, Nick Weir, the line’s senior vice president of entertainment, said during my tour of the practice studio. “Out of all the candidates we saw, the ones that fit the roles the best were women,” he said.
“Voices” was the only new entertainment addition that I did not get to see. Described on their website as “a show that delivers a dynamic combination of virtual and live performances—in real-time,” the show brings together singers and dancers from all over to perform in the world’s “largest theatrical venue at sea.”
As a first-time cruiser, I had no idea what to expect on Wonder. I knew it was big, and I heard of some things that Royal Caribbean offers, but even then, my expectations were obliterated. I can’t think of any place, resorts included, that provides the same things that this cruise did. With just the standard package, you can have dinner, see a show, hit the pools, and take a turn at karaoke—all for no additional charge.
While the ship is large, it doesn’t feel as big as it looks. Depending on how fast you walk, it would probably take about five to seven minutes to go from forward to aft on deck five, where it’s all connected. The worst part, and the thing that’ll consume the most of your time, is waiting for the elevators, especially during days at sea. Even though the longest I waited was probably around five minutes, sometimes I had to wait for the next one because there were just too many people on it, especially on the entertainment decks.
The entire staff was pleasant and wonderful, from the bartenders to the waitstaff. They were all super engaging and ready to accommodate, and each had their own unique stories. The woman who cleaned my room greeted me every morning with a smile and by name and was always ready to chat about what I did onboard the previous day.
All of the food was excellent, both at the complimentary and specialty restaurants (I’m still dreaming of the lobster thermidor at 150 Central Park and the New York strip steak from the Main Dining Hall). Sorrento’s pizza was also a highlight, as there was nothing quite better than getting a slice after a show or dance party. It was the perfect late-night bite—and this is coming from a New Yorker very serious about her pizza. The buffet, Windjammers Market, was usually packed, but I didn’t have to wait long for food at all. There were so many stations to choose from, and there were doubles of each station on either side of the restaurant.
On this sailing, we stopped at Labadee, Haiti; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Nassau, The Bahamas; and Perfect Day at CocoCay, also in the Bahamas. Labadee and Perfect Day were both places meant for relaxing and soaking up the sun, and that’s exactly what I did: I had some delicious drinks and enjoyed the beautiful ocean water. Through the Royal Caribbean app, I signed up for an on-shore excursion in San Juan, where a tour guide led us around Old San Juan and took us to make mofongo from scratch. It cost me around $129, but it was worth it to learn more about the city, its culture, and Puerto Rico’s culinary scene. I didn’t get to explore Nassau as much as I would have liked, but we did end our day there with a giant party on the dock, which was a blast.
A couple of days before the end of the cruise, all guests received a QR code that led to a quick survey about disembarking. Then, on our last night, they sent around departure information and a luggage tag with a number on it. There are two ways to disembark—you can either take your luggage with you off the ship or have the staff take your luggage down to the port for you. If you decide to handle your own bags, you can pretty much disregard the bag tag and leave the boat anytime before 9 a.m. or whenever the ship clears through customs. It’s the fastest way to get off and head to the next destination.
Those who want their bags taken down for them will attach the luggage tag to their bag and leave it outside their room before 11 p.m. on the last night. The number on the bag tag lets passengers know when to head down and pick up their luggage (smaller numbers are earlier and larger ones, later times) the following morning. As I chose this latter option, I headed to my designated waiting area (based on the tag number) and waited for my number to be called. Once it was called, my bag was ready at the port, and I was free to leave the ship.
I then hopped on one of the many shuttles that Royal Caribbean offers (you have to purchase a seat on the shuttle before the trip) to Miami International Airport, which I flew out of that evening.
The experience I had on Wonder of the Seas is one that I’ll never forget. In fact, I was so impressed that I might start planning a cruise for my 30th birthday—it’d be fun to head back on Wonder, but there are already rumors flying around about their next Oasis-class ship, and it might be even better.
Royal Caribbean. “Wonder of the Seas Fact Sheet.” Accessed March 14, 2022.
Royal Caribbean. “Royal Caribbean Group, In Collaboration with the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the National Strategic Research Institute, Release Study on Cruise Ship HVAC System.” February 26, 2021.