A Deep Dive Into the 9-Month Ultimate World Cruise

Royal Caribbean's nine-month-long Ultimate World Cruise was making waves on TikTok even before the fantasy sprung a few leaks. Everything rocking the boat aboard the Serenade of the Seas:

By Natalie Finn Feb 17, 2024 1:00 PMTags
Watch: Royal Caribbean Passenger Dies Aboard 9-Month World Cruise

If you don't fear cabin fever, perhaps nine months at sea is for you.

But if even the very idea of a 274-night cruise has you reaching for Dramamine, you can always just stay on land and scroll TikTok.

Because much like Taylor Swift's Eras Tour, you can see a lot of what's happening aboard Royal Caribbean's Ultimate World Cruise without shelling out five figures for a plum seat, in this case thanks to some of the younger-than-average cruisers making good use of the free Wi-Fi.

Well, free with the entry-level $53,999 price for passage aboard the Symphony of the Seas, which will reportedly carry 27,000 guests in total over the four legs of the trip, while more than 600 were booked for the entire itinerary.

And, naturally, many people are just making TikToks about the cruise, hoping for some Below Deck-meets-Love Boat-style intrigue, with maybe a little Triangle of Sadness thrown in for schadenfreude.

The Most Dramatic Below Deck Firings Ever

"Imagine eating unlimited cruise food for nine months, like what that's going to do to your body," TikToker Grassmoons pondered on Dec. 14. "I just worry people aren't going to pace themselves and it's going to be really hard on their bodies."

Nevertheless, her post was captioned, "You best believe if I had $60k id be on that ship."

Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Meanwhile, content creator Marc Sebastian predicted "mutiny" in a Dec. 20 TikTok: "There's going to be blood. Someone is going overboard. I want to watch. Bravo, where are you? I need eyes. We're witnessing Fyre Festival, Alabama Rush and no one is rushing there."

Within two weeks after the ship's departure from Miami on Dec. 10, TikToks tagged #UltimateWorld Cruise had been watched more than 54.8 million times, according to NBC News. That number had grown to more than 150 million by the time the clock struck 2024.

And Sebastian, 33, ended up going aboard for an 18-day stretch in January courtesy of Simon & Schuster's Atria Books, which enlisted him to host a virtual book club. His trip included a choppy ride through the Drake Passage ("Drake's best work since hotline bling," he captioned a post), the body of water between South America's Cape Horn and Antarctica's South Shetland Islands. 

Sergio PItamitz/Robert Harding

He also made oodles of TikToks, poking his phone into every nook and cranny of the ship and documenting his experience on, as he cheekily put it, "this floating retirement home with a Cheesecake Factory attached."

The admitted cruise skeptic told NPR before he disembarked, "I really did think at the very beginning that I was going to find a lot of interpersonal drama within the people. But unfortunately, they're all so nice —crazy!—and they are all really kind. There's a really amazing sense of community."

And while the cruise has been going viral since it was first announced in 2021, it made more unfortunate headlines following the death of a passenger this month

The person's identity was not released, Royal Caribbean telling E! News in a Feb. 14 statement, "We are actively providing support and assistance to the guest's loved ones at this time" and would not be sharing further details "out of the privacy of the guest and their family."

According to People, another passenger said in a since-deleted Feb. 11 TikTok that the deceased was an "elderly lady" who'd passed away the previous night.

But since the Ultimate World Cruise has another seven months to go, we may as well dock and unpack what's been happening onboard right here:

Where Does the Ultimate World Cruise Go?

The 274-night Ultimate World Cruise is scheduled to visit more than 150 ports of call in 65 countries on all seven continents, according to Royal Caribbean.

The first leg, the Ultimate Americas, ran from Dec. 10 until Feb. 11 and took passengers around North America, South America, the Caribbean and Antarctica. World wonders on the to-see list included the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro and Machu Pichu.

Leg two, Ultimate Asia Pacific, sails around Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China and India—encompassing sites like the Great Barrier Reef, the Great Wall and the Taj Mahal—through May 9.

The third quarter, Ultimate Middle East and Med, goes till July 10 (and there will be pyramids), while the final leg—Ultimate Europe and Beyond—concludes Sept. 10, also known as the day people disembark, kiss the ground and cry, "Land!!!"

Aside from the whole nine months, or the duration of an entire leg, travelers had the option to book a nine-to-28-night voyage.

How Much Does the Ultimate World Cruise Cost?

What price paradise?

Individual passage for the entire thing starts at $53,999 (minus taxes and fees but including roundtrip business-class airfare and gratuities) for an Interior Stateroom and can run up to $105,839 for a Junior Suite. There's also a price-upon-request tier for "other suite categories."

A "deluxe beverage package," wash-and-fold laundry service and Wi-Fi are among the included amenities.

Meet the Boat

Royal Caribbean enlisted the Radiance-class Serenade of the Seas, which holds 2,490 guests and 891 crew, for the Ultimate World Cruise experience. Built in Germany, she made her maiden voyage in 2003.

The ship boasts 12 passenger decks and nine passenger elevators (six of them glass), multiple pools (including a rain-or-shine option under a retractable glass roof), a fitness center, a spa, mini-golf, rock climbing, restaurants, bars and lounges, shops, an arcade, movies, live entertainment and a nightclub, plus all sorts of classes and activities.

And, according to content creator Marc Sebastien, who spent 18 nights aboard during the first leg of the journey, the ship's godmother—"Did you guys know that ships have godmothers?"—is Whoopi Goldberg.

He showed a photo of the entertainer with a plaque apparently designating her as such in a Jan. 22 TikTok. But he had thoughts, adding, "As an EGOT winner...I just don't feel like this is the right ship for you."

Who Is On the Ultimate World Cruise?

"We are thrilled to be hosting a range of guests from young solo travelers, to couples and families," Dave Humpreys, director of sales at Royal Caribbean International AUNZ, told news.com.au. "We have an impressive number of Gen-Z and millennial cruisers, with a significant number of guests between the ages of 18 to 30 joining us on various legs of this cruise."

But it is still a cruise.

"I would say the majority, like the overwhelming majority of passengers, are retirees [or seniors]," 29-year-old Alé Kenney, who will be celebrating her fourth wedding anniversary with husband Andrew Kenney during the voyage, told TODAY.com in December.

The young couple, who are among the many TikTok enthusiasts aboard, explained that they decided to go for it after Alé's father died of cancer at 57.

"We were like, 'Well, we can do it. We don't have a mortgage right now. We don't have kids yet,'" Andrew said. "We're just in a season of life where we could actually take nine months off and see the world."

Brandee Lake, 46, and sister Shannon, 42, are sharing a state room while on the trip with their retired parents. "We definitely are the youngest Black people on the boat," Brandee told TODAY.com. Shannon added, "I think that's why my TikTok skyrocketed so fast, because I was the first Black person that people were seeing post that was actually on the ship."

Angie Linderman, another young cruiser, said she had tested positive for the BRCA2 gene, which is linked to an increased risk of certain cancers, so there was no time like the present.

"Retirement age is not a guarantee," she explained. "And so [I'm putting] an emphasis on just doing all of the things I can do now while I'm healthy, while I'm able, instead of putting them off in hopes that I can do them later, when in reality that may not happen."

What Happens if There's a Medical Emergency?

News of a passenger death aboard the Ultimate World Cruise in February understandably caused concern among landlubbers seeing the headlines, visions of Agatha Christie mysteries dancing through their heads.

While the cruise line didn't release any details, citing the family's privacy, a content creator on the trip posted (then deleted) a TikTok in which she said the deceased was an "elderly lady."

A 2018 study from the Cruise Lines International Association stated that 50 percent of cruise ship passengers on average were over the age of 50 and almost a third of that group were older than 70. According to the Maritime Injury Guide, which noted that cruise ships tend to carry between 3,000 and 5,000 passengers, it's estimated that around 200 people die on a cruise every year. 

Royal Caribbean explained in its FAQ section that medical staff is booked according to how many people are onboard, and on the Ultimate World Cruise they expected to have two or three doctors, three to five nurses and a medical secretary. (No dentists, but cruise staff will help guests find one in port.) 

Listed onboard equipment and facilities includes cardiac monitors, automated external defibrillators, ventilators, x-ray machines and processors, laboratory equipment, a selection of acute care medications, a regular pharmacy and a variety of minor surgical and orthopedic supplies.

What's the onboard drama factor so far?

Speaking from the ship, passenger Brandee told TODAY in an interview that aired Dec. 27 that after initially being mistaken for a member of the staff—"Apparently it seemed far fetched to some that a Black woman (and family) could be a guest on the once in a lifetime experience," she captioned a TikTok about the encounter—the cruise's hotel director made sure to greet her personally at dinner to find out if all was well.

Otherwise, Brandee added, "everything has been great" and the passengers were turning into "one growing family."

She has continued to post near-daily TikToks, breaking down the at-times complicated logistics and rules regarding cruise lingo such as "independent journeys." She recently reassured concerned commenters who were aghast that she had to run it by the cruise line when she wanted to do her own thing while in Los Angeles that it was a customs issue—though she admittedly LOL'd when asked to "blink twice" if she needed help.

But as of February, nothing too wild had been reported during what looked like the colder portion of the trip. 

And yet those creative TikTokers still managed to crank out content, showing off how they'd decorated their state rooms, reviewing the food, making a farce out of trying to get a towel to stay on a lounge chair when its windy and showing off icebergs (from a safe distance) en route to Antarctica.

Still, maybe whimsysoul's Ultimate World Cruise Bingo game—"lost passport chaos," "COVID outbreak," "staff dates passenger," etc.—will pick up once the weather gets warmer.

Bumps in the Road, er, Water

It hasn't been smooth sailing all the way. The very first scheduled port—Devil's Island (off the coast of French Guiana in South America)—was scrapped due to bad weather, as seen in TikToks compiled by TODAY.

Then, there was a flood up on deck 12 caused by a storm (though, good news for everyone, it appeared to be rain water and not anything... murkier). 

And after all that sailing toward Antarctica, the passengers weren't able to actually set foot on the icy continent. But it looked really beautiful.