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Norwegian Cruise Line vs. Carnival Cruise Line
Norwegian Cruise Line vs. Carnival Cruise Line
Carnival Cruise Line vs. Royal Caribbean International
Carnival Cruise Line vs. Royal Caribbean International (Photo: Carnival Cruise Line/Royal Caribbean International)

Carnival Cruise Line vs. Royal Caribbean International

Carnival Cruise Line vs. Royal Caribbean International
Carnival Cruise Line vs. Royal Caribbean International (Photo: Carnival Cruise Line/Royal Caribbean International)
Dori Saltzman
Contributor
Aaron Saunders
News and Features Editor
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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 casual, 'we-don't-take-ourselves-too-seriously' vibe that's all about having fun.

Royal Caribbean International

Focus on the "wow" factor with big ships, 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

  • Ships: 24

Carnival Cruise Line Ship List

Royal Caribbean International

  • Ships: 24

Royal Caribbean International Ship List


Pricing

Carnival Cruise Line

  • Has a reputation for some of the lowest fares in the industry
  • Pricing includes some, but not all, alternative dining venues
  • Most entertainment included, with the exception of 3D Thrill and IMAX theaters (only available on select ships)
  • Discounts, specials and reduced deposit offers are frequently available
  • Solo occupancy pricing can be generous, particularly at lower cabin grades

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
  • Single supplement pricing tends to be higher, except for dedicated solo occupancy cabins


Demographics

Both lines draw a wide range of fun-loving travelers (Photo: Cruise Critic)

Carnival Cruise Line

  • Primarily families, couples and singles in their 30s to 60s
  • About half of all passengers are 35 to 55 years old
  • Families with children increase on sailings of one week or less

Carnival Cruise Line Forums

Royal Caribbean International

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

Royal Caribbean International Forums


Itineraries/Destinations/Homeports

Carnival Cruise Line

  • Has 17 homeports in North America from which cruise ships depart regularly, if not always year-round
  • Offers standard Caribbean, Bermuda, Bahamas, Mexico, Alaska, Hawaii, and Canada and New England itineraries
  • European and transatlantic sailings are sometimes offered
  • Has two ships sailing out of Australia regularly but can only be booked through the line's Australian division
  • Few exotic itineraries, though one-off sailings sometimes occur to reposition ships

Royal Caribbean International

  • Has 14 homeports in North America from which cruise ships depart regularly, if not always year-round
  • Offers standard Caribbean, Bermuda, Bahamas, Mexico, Alaska, Canada and New England and Hawaii itineraries
  • Cruises Europe seasonally, offering Baltic, Northern Europe and Mediterranean cruises out of ports throughout the continent
  • Stations ships in Australia and Asia that can be booked by North American cruisers
  • Exotic itineraries include those visiting South America, the Middle East and the South Pacific


Cabins

Carnival Cruise Line

  • Among the industry's largest standard cabin sizes, even at entry-level grades.
  • Has a relatively simple cabin structure with standard cabin grade options (exceptions being newer ships like Carnival Vista and Mardi Gras, which have many cabin types to choose from)
  • Select 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
  • Newer ships (Carnival Horizon, Vista, Panorama) offer separate Havana Cabins that include a private pool and deck area at the stern of the ship.
  • 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 LED 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, but also some of the smallest standard cabin categories.
  • Has many family cabin options, including those with connecting doors, as well as family-size cabins that include full baths


Dining

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

Carnival Cruise Line

  • 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 $38, or are priced a'la carte in the case of Bonsai Sushi. 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 across the fleet and whose Guy's Pig & Anchor Bar-b-Que is on seven vessels.
  • Mardi Gras offers new dining venues curated by Rudi Sodamin of Holland America Line, and famed chef Emeril Lagasse.
  • At least one formal night per cruise, asking passengers to dress up for dinner (or eat in the Lido Marketplace, where casual dress 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 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 Windjammer Buffet, where casual dress 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 most ships; some older ships have just one waterslide.
  • Newer ships like Carnival Horizon, Vista and Panorama offer large waterpark venues for kids, outdoor fitness and activity centers
  • 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
  • Mardi Gras offers BOLT, the world's first roller coaster at sea.

Royal Caribbean International

  • All ships have at least two pools, with some having three or four
  • 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
  • Seven ships have ropes courses, with three more coming, including Carnival Radiance and Carnival Celebration.
  • Carnival Vista, Horizon and Panorama 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.


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.
  • Seuss at Sea activities are offered for kids, including a parade through the vessel culminating in story time in the theatre
  • Carnival Breeze, Horizon and vista have the 3D Thrill Theatrel, while Carnival Vista and Carnival Horizon offer an IMAX theatre (cover charge required).
  • Comedy Clubs offered aboard all vessels, with G-rated and R-rated shows.
  • Plenty of live music offered in lounges onboard, particularly during the pre-and-post-dinner hours.

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 Quantum-class ships have the SeaPlex, an indoor activity center that plays host to bumper cars, roller skating, trapeze classes and an arcade


Nightlife

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.
  • Standard cruise evening gameshows and diversions, including the popular Love and Marriage Show.
  • The Punchliner Comedy Club, found on all ships, offers nightly family-friendly and adults-only comedy routines
  • Dive-In Movies offered poolside on select ships with outdoor LED screens (most of the fleet).
  • 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 (come early, or it will be standing room only!), 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 performed in the ship's atrium.
  • The Oasis-class ships feature AquaTheater gravity-defying diving and acrobatic performances.
  • The 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 (though anytime dining is also available), 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, and the BOLT onboard roller coaster, which debuted aboard Mardi Gras in 2021.

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

Updated May 14, 2021

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