Two of the cruise industry's biggest players go head to head as Cruise Critic breaks down what's on offer from each line in a number of categories, including fleet, pricing, cabins, dining, entertainment, family and more. Find out which line is best for you.

In a Nutshell

Carnival Cruise Line
Budget-conscious, family-friendly cruise line with a we-don't-take-ourselves-too-seriously casual vibe that's all about having fun

Royal Caribbean International
Focus on the "wow" factor with high-tech entertainment and activities, a vast array of dining choices and an emphasis on family togetherness

Fleet | Pricing | Demographics | Itineraries | Cabins | Dining | Pool Deck Fun | Sports Deck Fun | Indoor Fun | Nightlife | Family Focus | Tradition vs Innovation

Fleet size, ship sizes and ages

Carnival Cruise Line

  • 27 ships by end of 2019, eight built before 2000
  • Oldest ships: Carnival Fantasy (1990), Carnival Ecstasy (1991)
  • Smallest ships: Fantasy Class (2,052 passengers) -- Carnival Ecstasy, Carnival Elation, Carnival Fantasy, Carnival Fascination, Carnival Imagination, Carnival Inspiration, Carnival Paradise, Carnival Sensation
  • Largest ship: Carnival Horizon (3,960 passengers)

Carnival Cruise Line Ship List

Royal Caribbean International

  • 26 ships by end of 2019, seven built before 2000
  • Oldest ships: Empress of the Seas (1990), Majesty of the Seas (1992)
  • Smallest ships: Empress of the Seas (1,602 passengers), Grandeur of the Seas (1,992), Rhapsody of the Seas (1,998)
  • Largest ships: Oasis Class (5,400 to 5,518 passengers) -- Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas, Symphony of the Seas

Royal Caribbean International Ship List


Carnival Cruise Line

  • Has a reputation for some of the lowest fares in the industry
  • Pricing includes most of the alternative restaurants.
  • Most entertainment included, with the exception of 3D Thrill and IMAX theaters (only available on select ships)

Royal Caribbean International

  • Prices on Royal Caribbean's newest ships are significantly higher than prices for other ships in its fleet
  • Pricing includes only about half of the line's alternative restaurants
  • All entertainment is included, with the exception of lunch or dinner theater shows
  • Last minute discounts only available on cruises of four nights or less
  • Free Bloody Mary or Mimosa during the sea day brunch on one ship (Empress of the Seas)


Henri's Dance Club on Carnival Conquest (Photo: Cruise Critic)
Carnival Cruise Line

  • Families and couples in their 30s to 60s
  • About half of all passengers are 35 to 55 years old.

Carnival Cruise Line Forums

Royal Caribbean International

  • Families, plus couples and singles in their 30s to 50s
  • The median age is low 40s, but it's slightly lower on shorter cruises and slightly higher on cruises of 10 nights or more.

Royal Caribbean International Forums


Carnival Cruise Line

  • Has 17 homeports on the North American mainland from which cruise ships depart regularly, if not always year-round
  • Offers standard Caribbean, Bermuda, Bahamas, Mexico, Alaska and Hawaii itineraries
  • Will begin offering Europe cruises in 2020
  • Has two ships sailing out of Australia regularly but can only be booked through the line's Australian division
  • No exotic itineraries

Royal Caribbean International

  • Has 14 homeports on the North American mainland from which cruise ships depart regularly, if not always year-round
  • Offers standard Caribbean, Bermuda, Bahamas, Mexico, Alaska and Hawaii itineraries
  • Cruises Europe nine months out of the year, offering Baltic, Northern Europe and Mediterranean cruises out of ports throughout the continent
  • Stations ships in Australia and Asia
  • Exotic itineraries include those visiting South America, the Middle East and the South Pacific


Carnival Cruise Line

  • Among the industry's largest standard cabin sizes
  • Has a relatively simple cabin structure with not a lot of cabin type options (exceptions being Carnival Vista and Carnival Horizon, which have many cabin types to choose from)
  • Eight ships have Cloud 9 Spa rooms, which include free fitness classes and access to the thermal suites and Thalassotherapy pool, as well as discounts on spa treatments when the ship is docked in port
  • Suite privileges limited to priority embarkation and debarkation
  • Has limited family cabins, including some with connecting doors; Carnival Vista and Carnival Horizon have the line's largest selection of family-specific cabins with their Deck 2 Family Harbor that include insides, oceanviews and balconies that can hold up to five people

Royal Caribbean International

  • Offers a large variety of cabin categories, especially on its newest ships
  • Innovative cabin options include Virtual Balcony inside cabins. (Giant TV screens give the impression of floor-to-ceiling windows.)
  • Offers comprehensive tiered suite privileges, including free drinks and specialty dining (on Quantum- and Oasis-class ships only), priority boarding and disembarking, reserved theater seating, VIP pool seating where available, and more
  • Has some of the largest suites in the mainstream cruise category, including some duplex options
  • Has many family cabin options, including those with connecting doors, as well as family-size cabins that include full baths


Guy's Burger Joint on Carnival Triumph (Photo: Cruise Critic)
Carnival Cruise Line

  • Offers fixed and flex dining options
  • Each ship has just a handful of specialty restaurants, and most -- like Guy's Burger Joint and BlueIguana Cantina -- are included in the cruise fares. Others cost extra with cover charges ranging from $15 to $35. Only a handful of ships have more than three or four specialty dining venues
  • Has a partnership with celebrity chef Guy Fieri, whose Guy's Burger Joint is found on 24 ships in the fleet and whose Guy's Pig & Anchor Bar-b-Que is on five ships (seven by end of 2019)
  • At least one formal night per cruise, asking passengers to dress up for dinner (or eat in the buffet where casual is acceptable)

Royal Caribbean International

  • Offers fixed and My Time dining options
  • Extraordinary array of specialty restaurants with few included in the cruise fares: Sorrento's pizzeria and the Cafe Promenade are two that are complimentary
  • Has a partnership with Jamie Oliver, whose Jamie's Italian is on the two Quantum-class ships as well as Harmony of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas
  • At least one formal night per cruise requiring passengers to dress up for dinner (or eat in the buffet where casual is acceptable)

Pool Deck Fun

Carnival Cruise Line

  • All ships have at least one pool; many also have an aft pool
  • The WaterWorks water park, featuring a variety of water slides, is onboard 16 ships; another seven have a single water slide
  • Lots of poolside fun, including traditional cruise ship contests like hairy chest, sexy legs and belly flop
  • Lots of branded food and drink venues around the pool deck, including Guy's Burger Joint, RedFrog Rum Bar and the BlueIguana Tequila Bar

Royal Caribbean International

  • All ships have at least two pools, with some having three or four
  • At least one FlowRider surf simulator is onboard 15 ships, and the kids' H2O Zone or Splashaway Bay is on 12
  • Will be adding water slides to all ships over the course of several years; several already have
  • Poolside fun can include sexiest man and belly flop competitions, but some ships will have little poolside activity.

Sports Deck Fun

Carnival Cruise Line

  • Most ships have mini-golf courses and several have basketball or volleyball courts
  • Five ships have ropes courses (seven by end of 2019)
  • Carnival Vista and Carnival Horizon feature SkyRide, a pedal-powered, open-air aerial bike ride, in which riders race each other on hanging recumbent bikes around an 800-foot suspended track, some 150 feet above the sea

Royal Caribbean International

  • All ships have basketball courts and rock climbing walls, and most also have mini-golf courses.
  • The three Quantum-class ships have indoor skydiving; the four Oasis-class have ziplines.

Indoor Fun

Carnival Cruise Line

  • Daily indoor fun includes trivia, bingo, cooking demonstrations, dance classes, the interactive Hasbro the Game Show, cocktail mixing contests and martini tastings.
  • Select ships have 3D Thrill and/or an IMAX theaters (cover charge required).

Royal Caribbean International

  • Daily indoor fun includes trivia, bingo, napkin folding demonstrations, dance classes, scrapbooking sessions and jewelry-making classes.
  • On Oasis-, Quantum-, Voyager- and Freedom-class ships, the Promenade is the place to people-watch, hit a shop, or grab a bite to eat or beer to drink.
  • 12 ships have indoor ice skating rinks
  • Royal's three Quantum-class ships have the SeaPlex, an indoor activity center that plays host to bumper cars, roller skating, trapeze classes and an arcade


Carnival's Punchliners Comedy Club (Photo: Cruise Critic)
Carnival Cruise Line

  • Playlist Productions theater shows are short (think 30 minutes), highly visual musical performances that run several times an evening and on multiple days. They're available on 24 ships (26 by end of 2019)
  • The Punchliner Comedy Club, found on all ships, offers nightly family-friendly and adults-only comedy routines
  • Dive-In Movies offered poolside
  • All ships feature nightclubs with DJs trained by DJ Irie, the official DJ of the Miami Heat
  • The onboard Piano Bar is a hoot-and-holler sing-along good time, while the Sports Bar is perfect for catching a game or having a brew

Royal Caribbean International

  • Seven ships feature Broadway (or London West End) shows: Anthem of the Seas ("We Will Rock You"), Oasis of the Seas ("Cats"), Liberty of the Seas ("Saturday Night Fever"), Allure of the Seas ("Mamma Mia"), Independence of the Seas ("Grease") and Harmony of the Seas ("Grease"); and Symphony of the Seas ("Hairspray")
  • All ships also feature musical revue-style song-and-dance shows, as well as occasional performances by comedians and magicians.
  • Select ships in the line's Vision and Radiance classes have evening aerial shows.
  • The four Oasis-class ships feature AquaTheater gravity-defying diving and acrobatic performances.
  • The three Quantum-class ships feature Two70, a three-deck-high lounge and performance space featuring stunning acts that combine digital visuals with music, dancing and acrobatics.
  • The onboard Schooner Bar provides a nautical-inspired casual spot for a pre-dinner drink (or post-dinner piano sing-along), while Bolero's, with its Latin beats, is a spot for salsa dancing and sipping mojitos.
  • All ships feature a nightclub for nighttime dancing.

Family Focus

Carnival Cruise Line

  • Genuinely family-friendly
  • Seuss at Sea incorporates several events, including the Green Eggs and Ham breakfast, Seussapalooza costume parade with characters from Dr. Seuss' most beloved books and movie screenings of Dr. Seuss classics. Carnival Freedom, Carnival Vista and Carnival Horizon have Dr. Seuss' Bookville, a whimsically decorated reading and play space for kids and parents.
  • Kids clubs include programs for smaller kids, tweens and teens.
  • Teen girls can get their hair done or a mani/pedi at the teen-only ZSPA.
  • Teens can learn to DJ with the Spin U program.
  • Nighttime baby-sitting (for a fee) with the Night Owls program

Carnival Family Cruise Reviews

Royal Caribbean International

  • Genuinely family-friendly
  • With My Family Timing Dining, kids ages 3 to 11 are served their meals first and then picked up by kids club staff so parents can have the rest of dinner to themselves.
  • Kids clubs include programs for smaller kids, tweens and teens.
  • Royal Babies and Tots Nursery (on select ships) is for babies ages 6 to 36 months; a fee applies for daytime and nighttime sessions.
  • Pre-order diapers, wipes, cream and baby food through the Babies 2 Go program.
  • Many different family-friendly cabin configurations

Royal Caribbean International Family Cruise Reviews

Tradition vs Innovation

Amateur surfer putting on a show on Freedom of the Seas' Flowrider (Photo: Cruise Critic)
Carnival Cruise Line

  • Known for sticking with cruising traditions like set dining times, poolside fun and North America-based cruising
  • Newest ships have a few innovations, including the ropes course (the first at sea for any line was on Carnival Breeze) and SkyRide (a mid-air, suspended bike course), which debuted on Carnival Vista in 2017

Royal Caribbean International

  • Known for constantly innovating the cruise industry with first-at-sea features like rock climbing walls, ice skating rinks, the FlowRider surf simulator and vertical tube skydiving, among others