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12 Cruise Misconceptions That Seriously Need to End

A recent Mediterranean sailing with Royal Caribbean turned everything I thought about cruising on its head. Here’s what we’re still getting wrong about vacationing on the high seas.

waterslidesSBW Photo/Courtesy Royal Caribbean

Cruise myth: There’s nothing to do but eat, drink, and lie around

The Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas, a ship that debuted earlier this year, is like an amusement park, pool party, spa, downtown bar scene, and Broadway show all rolled into one. I brought several novels to read on a recent Mediterranean sailing, but they stayed stowed in my cabin as I explored the ship’s sky-high zip line, 40-foot rock-climbing walls, and high-speed water slides; braved the Ultimate Abyss (at 10 stories, the tallest slide at sea); watched surfing lessons on two wave simulators; chilled in the infinity hot tubs overlooking the Mediterranean; and visited the extremely entertaining “Bionic Bar” (a robot mixes your drinks and, sometimes, hilariously messes up). And that was just a fraction of the activities. It wasn’t a question of “what should we do?” It was “what should we do next?”

hibachiSBW Photo/Courtesy Royal Caribbean

Cruise myth: The food is plentiful and awful

I had envisioned standing in line for a buffet piled with rubbery meat and overcooked green beans, but instead, my family fought over which of the 20-plus eateries to try for dinner. There was Asian-inspired Izumi Hibachi & Sushi, Chops Grille for steaks and burgers, Jamie’s Italian (where we had incredible fresh pastas and some of the most decadent desserts ever), El Loco Fresh for tacos and burritos, and Hooked Seafood for New England-style mussles, clams, and other fresh catches of the day. Between meals, the kids grabbed pizza, coffee, and other bites at cafés that stayed open late, and of course we had the iconic cruise experience of dinner in the main dining room with an impressively diverse menu. These are the best all-inclusive cruises for a truly relaxing vacation.

fancy cocktailsSBW Photo/Courtesy Royal Caribbean

Cruise myth: Eating is functional, not fun

On the ship, dining is not just food; it’s entertainment. We’ll never forget our meal at Wonderland, molecular gastronomy cuisine inspired by the magical whimsy of the classic tale, Alice in Wonderland. We had to “brush” a tablet with water to reveal the menu, and then we were blown away by course after course of wild, fantastical creations that were as delicious as they were imaginative, like baby vegetables that appeared to be growing in edible “soil” and “pebbles,” and a ball of chocolate ganache that melted before our eyes. At Izumi Sushi & Hibachi, we watched chefs chop and toss food dramatically into the air—and directly into our mouths (luckily, they have good aim).

harispraySBW Photo/Courtesy Royal Caribbean

Cruise myth: Evenings are a snooze

Nights are when the ship is most alive. We saw a Broadway-quality production of Hairspray, an original production called Flight (in which a pilot “flies” a Wright Brothers replica plane out over the audience), an Aqua Theater show called HiRo with Olympic-level high divers, and an ice-skating extravaganza with leaps, lutzes, and elaborate costumes. Plus, there were outdoor movies shown on a three-story screen. We ran out of time to check out the Escape Room, the casino, the comedy shows, the live jazz lounge, and the Playmaker’s Sports Bar and Arcade, but they all got high marks with our fellow travelers. Find out the best cruise for you, according to your zodiac sign.

fireworksSBW Photo/Courtesy Royal Caribbean

Cruise myth: The entertainment is cheesy

So much of ship-life on the Symphony of the Seas is sophisticated that even the traditionally cheesy touches, like a conga line across the pool deck, a “sexiest man contest,” a week-long karaoke competition, and evening fireworks, feel surprisingly charming and delightful.

water parkSBW Photo/Courtesy Royal Caribbean

Cruise myth: The ship is no place for kids

Actually, today’s cruises are incredibly kid-friendly. My teens loved going to the two arcades, game room, and Teen Disco. They played glow-in-the-dark laser tag, watched magic shows, and frequented the 24-hour self-serve ice cream machine, because apparently there is never a bad time for ice cream. For the younger set, there’s Splashaway Bay, an aqua park with waterslides, water cannons, fountains, pools and whirlpools, plus Adventure Ocean kids’ clubs for ages 3–5, 6–8, and 9–11. Did you know there are amazing and wacky-themed cruises for every interest and hobby?

central parkSBW Photo/Courtesy Royal Caribbean

Cruise myth: Every floor is basically the same

Not even close. Ships these days have distinct “neighborhoods.” On the Symphony of the Seas, a floor called Central Park has sophisticated landscaped gardens, upscale restaurants with outdoor tables, and live jazz music. The Royal Promenade is like a busy downtown with shops, cafés, bars, bands playing sing-alongs, giant balloon-drops, and lively dance parties. The Boardwalk takes you back to traditional sea-side entertainment with a carousel, games, an outdoor theater, a bar/arcade, and a Sugar Beach candy shop.

rock wallSBW Photo/Courtesy Royal Caribbean

Cruise myth: You’re destined to give in to gluttony

It’s tempting to park yourself in a chaise longue by the hot tub sipping martinis all day, but healthier pursuits beckon. There’s a running track, a climbing wall, mini golf, a spa and fitness center, dance classes, ice skating, salsa and merengue dancing, several adults-only pools, plus ping pong tables. Those are great options if you haven’t already walked for miles on a daytime excursion—and at that point, you’ve earned some serious pool-side lounging. Don't miss these other secrets cruise lines won't tell you.

excursionsCourtesy Tripp Reynolds

Cruise myth: The excursions are generic and unmemorable

Sure, we visited some of the greatest hits of Europe—the Pantheon, the Coloseum, and the Trevi Fountain in Rome, the Leaning Tower in Pisa, and the ruins of ancient Pompeii in Naples—but this was no drive-by tourism. Through the genius of the excursions, we got a real taste of what the destinations were like. We experienced Rome with Gladiator lessons, Sorrenti with an authentic pizza-making workshop, and Mallorca with a scavenger hunt at La Granja de Esporles, a lush 17th-century mansion. And let’s face it, greatest hits are called greatest hits for a reason. They’re simply the best of the best. Check out some of the breathtaking views you can only get on a Mediterranean cruise.

sunriseSBW Photo/Courtesy Royal Caribbean

Cruise myth: It’s a hassle to come and go from the ship

I’d been warned about long, tedious lines to get on and off the ship. Not so. With staggered excursion times and multiple gangways, we waltzed easily off the ship at each port. While we did need our Sea Pass (like an ID and credit card in one) to come and go, on board we were able to tap wrist bands (RFID-enabled waterproof silicone bands) to charge drinks, get towels, and unlock our stateroom door (no cards—or pockets—needed). This is an amazing innovation for kids and seniors, by the way. No lost key cards!

surpriesCourtesy Tripp Reynolds

Cruise myth: There are no surprises

Yes, there’s a set cruise schedule printed and delivered to your room the previous night and scrolling on screens throughout the ship, but we were pleasantly surprised over and over by delightful touches of spontaneity: a piano man performing randomly in elevators, a floating bar on “Main Street” that rises and falls, rounding the corner to find piano stairs (like the ones in the movie Big), nightly flash sales set up like street-side vendors, and impromptu zumba parties. The ship felt alive, and so did we, along with it. Ready to book a sailing? Here's exactly what you should pack for a cruise.