I Spent 2 Weeks On a Royal Caribbean 9-Month Cruise. Here’s What Happened

UPDATED: June 29, 2024
PUBLISHED: June 28, 2024
Royal Caribbean ship at sea for a 9-month cruise

When a friend invited me to join her on a Royal Caribbean 9-month cruise, I jumped at the opportunity. The ship was set to sail to over 60 countries across seven continents in 274 nights—about nine months. As soon as the ship set sail in December 2023, it gained notoriety on social media platforms. Guests began documenting their experiences, with more than 70 million posts about the cruise shared on TikTok. I knew I couldn’t pass up the offer to experience it firsthand.

The Ultimate World Cruise is divided into four segments: Ultimate Americas, Ultimate Asia Pacific, Ultimate Africa & Southern Europe and Ultimate Europe and Beyond. I embarked in Singapore for part of the Ultimate Asia Pacific segment, sailing through Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India and the United Arab Emirates. During my time on the cruise, there were 1,970 passengers, with more than 600 staying on for the entire journey. 

Serenade of the Seas was undoubtedly the biggest ship I’d been on—with 13 floors, an indoor and outdoor pool, a casino, an arcade, a gym, a movie theater and a spa. As I surveyed my new home, I still couldn’t imagine sitting on that ship for nine months. It was, after all, a ship.

Embracing onboard activities and social connections

As the days went on, I began to notice connections being made and social groups developing. Many guests had just celebrated the halfway mark of their round-the-world adventure. Nibu Sayed, the hotel director of Serenade of the Seas, mentioned that there were even guest-led activities around the ship.

“This is like a small village,” Sayed says, adding that you may see people playing cards in the smaller room next to the Windjammer dining room every day or a group of three to four people sitting in the Vintages bar with their laptops every day. There’s even a knitting club on board. 

Sayed explains that none of these guests knew each other when they first embarked, but connections were created organically from social events.

Every day, a daily agenda with ship events was delivered to each room. Initially, I didn’t pay much attention. But one night, as I walked out of my room to get some air, I heard the sound of sneakers squeaking and the occasional laughter. Looking down into the central atrium, I found people dancing in silence. It was a silent disco! 

Another time, when we were sailing from one port to another, I was lounging by the pool when I heard the announcement: The belly flop competition was about to begin. People lined up, competing for the crown of belly flop champion. Those of us around the pool were roped in to score each belly flop with a show of fingers.

I began to see the appeal of these events and the reward for those who put themselves out there. These events were connection points, a way to start conversations and relationships. On the ship, I realized how often we miss these places of connection in our everyday lives. Here, the events were just a helpful little push.

One of my favorite connections started with a simple question: “Do you like the sauna?”

That was how Makiko, an elderly Japanese woman, broke the silence as we sat together, sweating in the steam room. At nearly 80 years old, she was an inspiration. She was rock climbing and constantly active on the cruise. She told me that she’d been playing a Japanese instrument, the koto, for ten years. That much time dedicated to a musical instrument was impressive enough, but then I realized that meant she had picked up the instrument in her late 60s.

Makiko wasn’t the only interesting person I met on the ship. Every night, we had assigned seating and shared a table with a Norwegian couple—Johnny and Kirstin. 

Johnny and Kirstin quickly became our close friends. Johnny was passionate about all things maritime, and he explained to us the ins and outs of pilot boats, smaller local boats that help guide ships into port. Soon, we caught his enthusiasm and stayed on the lookout each time we docked, keen to spot these boats.

Exploring cities and cultures by day was incredible, but the other half of the fun was coming back together with our dining companions to swap stories and share our experiences. One evening, after a day out in India, we decided to dine together at a different venue on the ship. Something about that decision solidified our friendship beyond the assigned seating arrangement.

Another time, there was a ventriloquist performing in the theater at night, and the four of us went to the show after dinner. When the ventriloquist was looking for volunteers, I volunteered Johnny. Horrified, he shot me a look, but his horror melted away as he was led on stage to play puppet for the ventriloquist. He adapted to the limelight as quickly as I’d anticipated. Later, he told me that this was his first time on stage. 

The demographics of the people onboard the Royal Caribbean 9-month cruise surprised me. While there were many retirees, there were also families and young couples.

One family I met was particularly memorable. The husband and wife were former Royal Caribbean crew members. They told me that they knew they had to be on board when they saw Royal Caribbean launching a nine-month cruise on Serenade of the Seas. Now, they’re sailing with their children around the world on the same ship that they had met and fallen in love on years ago.

Behind-the-scenes crew connections on Royal Caribbean 9-month cruise

While we were busy exploring on land and enjoying entertainment shows on the Royal Caribbean ship, the crew was working hard behind the scenes to make those events happen. During one of our many conversations, Sayed shared insights into the meticulous planning that went into creating a smooth-running world cruise. 

I asked about the crew selection process, and Sayed said that they sought crew members who were not only skilled but also resilient and adaptable.

The crew members I spoke to explained that their contracts were typically only for six months, not the whole cruise. Many of them spoke highly of their contract on the Ultimate World Cruise, sharing that they could visit many countries without having to go through the tourist visa process. The ship even docked in the home ports of some lucky crew members. They could bring their family members onboard to see the ship, something that most of the crew members I spoke to had never been able to do before. 

The connection between crew members and guests was also different than on typical cruises. 

“Most of the guests who are here for the cruise… treat us like family, [and] we treat them like family,” Sayed says.

Because the cruise was so long, Sayed said that they had to mix things up to ensure the guests didn’t grow tired of the food and entertainment. The food menus had “a 20-day cycle,” and sometimes they even added guest-requested dishes to the rotation. While I was onboard, I saw quite a few dishes with a special note saying they were guest-inspired. Entertainment was also subject to change. Sayed told me that they’ve changed entire schedules based on guest feedback in order to repeat guest-favorite entertainers or offer time slots that worked better for guests. 

“People see that we are willing to adjust [and] make major changes to accommodate them,” Sayed says. “Once they realize that we are here to look after them and we will [move] mountains… to make them happy, they are so chill. They are very relaxed about the whole thing.”

After two weeks on the cruise, I began to understand the relational depth of such an extended journey as a 9-month cruise. I also felt myself opening up more to new connections. This ship had transformed from a sprawling vessel of strangers to a small village, and I found beautiful moments and people when I actively engaged with those around me.

My friend and I had postponed visiting Vortex Nightclub night after night until we realized that it was our last opportunity. Although we had already tucked ourselves into bed, we rallied for that final evening. The dance floor was nearly empty, but of course we tore it up and made a few new friends, too. Our final night summed up the spirit of the cruise—put yourself out there and don’t be surprised by the connections you make along the way. 

Who knows? After a few more weeks on the ship, I might have even signed up for the belly flop competition.

Photo by Viktor Hladchenko/Shutterstock


Iona Brannon is a freelance journalist based in the U.S. You can read more of her work at ionabrannon.com.