The fresh-from-the-oven, oversized Campfire Cookie at Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade took nearly an hour to arrive. My 8-year-old daughter was not pleased. But instead of launching into an epic tantrum or begging for my phone to watch Minecraft videos on YouTube, she rode the nearby carousel and played on the Sky Climber, from which she could also watch the AquaTheater show without tickets.
Those options meant she stayed entertained until our special dessert made it to the table. So, thanks to some smart ship designing, we got to enjoy an ooey-gooey giant cookie with no tears.
Every big-ship cruise line claims to be family-friendly, but Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas truly is designed with families in mind. I admit I was nervous that going on the world’s biggest cruise ship would be overwhelming and overcrowded, but in many ways, it was an ideal family trip.
Here are seven things I loved about traveling as a family on this ship.
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The upper decks are as ADHD as your kid
A typical afternoon on board with my daughter went like this: Head to the top of the ship and ride the Ultimate Abyss slide several times in a row. Come back up to scarf a quesadilla at El Loco Fresh and climb around the Wonder Playscape playground and the Wonder Dunes golf course (but not actually play mini-golf because that takes too long). Run to the cabin, change into swimsuits, and head to the Deck 15 Splashaway Bay water play area.
Pretend to be ninjas while going down kiddie water slides, aiming water cannons at imaginary enemies and racing around in the wading pool. Get bored and move to the other side of the deck where to search for Water-Type Pokemon in the swimming pool. Fuel up with soft-serve ice cream before trying all of the big water slides then relaxing in a hot tub. Complain about being forced to take bathroom and hydration breaks.
Related: How I had the busiest 2 days ever on Royal Caribbean’s new Wonder of the Seas cruise ship
The brilliant planning of Wonder of the Seas’ Pool and Sports Zone is that all your active favorites are close by. For families with older kids, the sports court, FlowRider surf simulator and zip line are also in this area; for families with tots, a separate water play area is reserved for the swim diaper crowd (who otherwise can’t go into pools). Lifeguards are stationed at every pool, so while I did follow my kid around, parents can feel comfortable setting up a base on a lounge chair and letting kids explore freely across all of the zone (which covers much of decks 15 and 16).
My kid wanted to go to the kids club
I have sailed on cruise ships where my kids refused to go to the kids club or were too young, and it was tough. On Wonder of the Seas, my daughter adored Adventure Ocean and played there for a couple of hours every day, usually after dinner so I could get a drink or see a show.
Parents can tour the kids club on embarkation day. The main Adventure Ocean area for the 6- 12-year-old set is a multi-room play area with a science lab, theater, game play room, screening room for movies and video games (with cool, interactive digital-play tables) and a crafts area. Kids can choose the activity they want to do (versus on smaller ships, where only one activity takes place at a time). Video game playing time is limited to 15 minutes.
Related: Best cruise ships for kids
The larger kids complex also houses a nursery for babies and toddlers and a play space for preschool-aged kids. A lighthouse-themed family play area is ideal for parents needing an indoor play space for their kids. Tweens and teens have their own hip hangouts, including a tricked-out sun deck for teens that I wish I could chill at.
And when the kids are occupied at “cruise camp,” that means parents can sneak away for a fancy meal or a glass of wine in Central Park, a massage at the spa or a relaxing soak at the Solarium.
Kid food favorites are everywhere
My daughter’s diet on board Wonder of the Seas consisted of steak, fruit plates, hot dogs, pizza, quesadillas and sugary baked goods. I’m not sure a vegetable crossed her lips during the entire week on the ship.
Wonder of the Seas may have some high-priced date-night restaurants on board, but it has an equal number of fast-food, kid-friendly options. Families can enjoy a variety of places to eat – even if your kid orders the same thing every night for dinner.
Many of the family favorites are free. The included main dining room has a kids menu with the requisite pasta and chicken fingers, and the buffet is the fleet’s largest, with multiple options and a kiddie-height section stocked mainly with fun desserts.
Related: The Mason Jar: A review of Royal Caribbean’s Southern comfort food restaurant
Sorrento’s Pizza is open 24/7 (great for a post-kids club pickup pick-me-up), and El Loco Fresh serves up quesadillas and burritos right by all the sports fun. The Promenade Café and Park Café offer grab-and-go breakfast, sandwiches and snacks. On the Boardwalk, Johnny Rockets charges a small fee for all the burgers, hot dogs and French fries you can eat (milkshakes are extra); Playmakers across the way prices its burgers a la carte. Your kids have tons of play options here to explore while they wait for food.
The only kid-unfriendly feature is that there is a charge for room service beyond continental breakfast.
Even the suites are family-friendly
I’ve seen couples give serious side-eye to kids on luxury cruise ships. I was worried Wonder of the Seas’ Suite Neighborhood would be the same.
Even Wonder’s exclusive suite-only lounge, restaurant and sun deck are welcoming to (supervised and well-behaved) kids. The bar staff at the lounge made my daughter Shirley Temples during cocktail hour, and the wait staff bent over backward to find her Frosted Flakes, bring her berries and make her special chocolate milk every time we visited. By the end, she had made fast friends with our waiter Thomas.
Our Grand Suite was elegant but also could sleep four; most of Royal’s suites are designed with families in mind. A blackout curtain could be pulled to separate the living room and sleeping area into two distinct spaces, so kids can sleep while parents stay up. Wonder of the Seas is also one of just three Royal Caribbean ships with the Ultimate Family Suite, a two-deck, multi-room suite with a game room, Lego wall, in-cabin slide, climbing structure on the balcony and separate parents and kids bedrooms.
The suite sun deck doesn’t have an actual pool, which is a bummer, but the friendly guests in the hot tub struck up a conversation with my daughter and the large daybeds are perfect for family cuddles in the sun.
The crew is amazing
When our waiter at Johnny Rockets found out my daughter was celebrating her birthday on the cruise, she wrote “Happy Birthday” in ketchup on a plate and comped us an order of French fries. The sales clerks at the fancy Central Park jewelry store gave my daughter a palm tree necklace, even though we missed the official event where they were handing them out.
Related: First look at Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas: What I like, don’t like and can’t find on the world’s largest cruise ship
Main dining room waiters cut up her steak and brought her fruit plates as soon as we sat down. One of the servers at Sorrento’s watched our pizza for us when we had to rush to the bathroom mere minutes after sitting down to eat.
In short, all of the crew members we met on board were friendly and went out of their way to be kind to us, especially my child. The service was noticeable, even on a ship with thousands of passengers.
Entertainment is rated E for Everyone — and it’s free
I’ve been on other family-friendly cruise lines (without my kids), where I shuddered at the sum I’d have to pay to keep my kids in laser tag, go-kart and virtual reality play. Wonder of the Seas has equally amazing entertainment options, but most of it is free — a relief to families who need three, four, five or more tickets to everything.
All the theater shows cost nothing, and while my daughter dragged me out of “Voices” after the second song, I think she would sit still for the superhero-themed “Effectors II” when it debuts this summer. She loved the AquaTheater acrobatic diving show, and enjoyed ice skating on a moving cruise ship as much as watching the pros lutz and spin in Royal Caribbean’s version of the Ice Capades.
We watched crew members practicing for the soon-to-launch pirate-themed Promenade parade; some of her favorite kids club youth staff perform in it. It’s sure to be a family hit. On-demand movies in your cabin will cost theater-level prices, but every night, free flicks are screened on the pool deck.
All the active options, from laser tag to water and dry slides to the zip-line and the surf simulator are free of charge. The kids club is free until 10 p.m. The only extra-fee entertainment options I could find are the escape room (which wasn’t ready on our sailing), the nursery and late-night group babysitting.
Tours and port experiences remember families, too
In Puerto Rico, we were pirates. We searched for treasure, sprang our comrades out of jail and captured a fort. The plundering was organized by one of Royal Caribbean’s tour partners and we booked the outing as a family-specific excursion offered by the cruise line.
The other San Juan tours were definitely not kid-friendly, focused instead on long bus rides or local booze. I was relieved to find the family tour, and even if I would have made some changes to the itinerary, my daughter loved it for its multiple snack stops, a kite-flying run-around on El Morro’s front lawn and friend-making with the other young scallywags on the tour.
Wonder of the Seas also called at both of Royal Caribbean’s private beach destinations, Labadee in Haiti and Perfect Day at CocoCay in the Bahamas. Both spots had plentiful beaches with calm waters, kid attractions (waterslides, zip lines, splash areas, coaster rides, etc.) and included barbecue lunches. The ship docks at both places, so when your kid, like mine, freaks out because she can’t clean all the sand off her feet and demands to leave, your cabin is just a tram ride away.
The folks at Royal Caribbean really mean it when they say they want to create a family vacation experience. From the big attractions to the little details, the line’s newest and biggest cruise ship is geared toward families, and it passed our road (er, sea) test with flying colors. I’m just not sure how we’re going to adjust back to life on land without those daily waterslides, free babysitting and post-dinner entertainment.
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Featured image by Erica Silverstein/The Points Guy.