NCL v RCL

Cruise Critic looks at Norwegian versus Royal Caribbean to break down the offerings for each line.

In a Nutshell

Norwegian Cruise Line

Laid-back cruise line designed around a concept of "freestyle" cruising (doing what you want, when you want, including no set dining options) with more for-fee options than most other cruise lines

Royal Caribbean International

Family-friendly cruise line that aims to wow passengers with high-tech entertainment and activities and a vast array of free and for-fee dining choices

Find a Cruise

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

Norwegian Sky in the Bahamas

Fleet size, ship sizes and ages

Norwegian Cruise Line View All Norwegian Ships>>

  • 16 ships, two built before 2000
  • Smallest: Norwegian Sun (1,936 passengers), Norwegian Sky (2,004 passengers)
  • Largest: Norwegian Escape (4,248 passengers), Norwegian Epic (4,100 passengers)
  • Oldest: Norwegian Spirit (1998), Norwegian Sky (1999)

Royal Caribbean International View All Royal Caribbean Ships>>

  • 25 ships, seven built before 2000
  • Smallest: Empress of the Seas (1,602 passengers), Grandeur of the Seas (1,992), Rhapsody of the Seas (1,998)
  • Largest: Allure of the Seas (5,492 passengers), Oasis of the Seas (5,400 passengers), Harmony of the Seas (5,488 passengers), Symphony of the Seas (5,518 passengers)
  • Oldest: Empress of the Seas (1990), Majesty of the Seas (1992)
Pricing

Pricing

Norwegian Cruise LineView Norwegian Cruise Deals>>

  • Cruise fares are generally comparable to industry averages, but has a reputation for nickel-and-diming onboard
  • Base fares include nearly half of the restaurants offered onboard
  • Most entertainment included (exceptions are lunch and dinner theaters, which are only available on select ships)
  • Offers "all-inclusive" cruise fares that include all drinks (soft and alcoholic) onboard two ship in its fleet (Norwegian Sky, Norwegian Sun)

Royal Caribbean InternationalView Royal Caribbean Cruise Deals>>

  • Prices on newest ships are significantly higher than prices for other ships in its fleet
  • Does not discount cruise prices at the last minute, except on cruises of four nights or less
  • Cruise fares include about half of the onboard restaurants
  • All entertainment is included, except lunch and dinner theater shows
  • Offers a free Bloody Mary or Mimosa at brunch on sea days on one ship (Empress of the Seas)
Demographics

Demographics

Norwegian Cruise LineView Norwegian Cruise Line Roll Calls >>

  • Families and couples aged 35 to 65
  • Larger numbers of solo cruisers on ships that offer Studio cabins designed for one person (Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Escape, Pride of America)

Royal Caribbean InternationalView Royal Caribbean Roll Calls >>

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

Itineraries/Destinations/Homeports

Norwegian Cruise LineView Norwegian Cruise Line Itineraries >>

  • Has 12 homeports on the North American mainland where ships depart regularly, if not year-round
  • Offers Caribbean, Bermuda, Bahamas, Mexico and Alaska itineraries
  • Sails seasonal Mediterranean and Northern Europe itineraries
  • Only major cruise line to offer all-Hawaiian-islands cruises departing from Hawaii
  • Exotic offerings include stops in South America, as well as Asia, Australia, India and the Arabian Gulf

Royal Caribbean InternationalView Royal Caribbean Itineraries >>

  • Sails out of 14 homeports on the North American mainland on a regular basis, if not year-round
  • Sails Caribbean, Bermuda, Bahamas, Mexico, Alaska and Hawaii itineraries
  • Cruises in Europe year-round, offering Baltic, Northern Europe and Mediterranean cruises out of several European ports
  • Has year-round ships in Australia and Asia
  • Exotic itineraries include South America, Middle East and South Pacific sailings
Cabin Norwegian's Pride of America

Cabins

Norwegian Cruise Line

  • Impressive range of cabin categories, even on the smaller ships; sizes are typical of industry standards, though balconies on the Breakaway Class are notably small
  • Four ships have spa cabins, which feature spa-like decor and free access to the onboard saunas and steam rooms
  • Six ships (Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Getaway, Pride of America) offer Studio cabins, which are inside cabins sized and priced for solo travelers
  • 10 ships have the top-deck Haven suite complex with exclusive access to a private courtyard and pool; of these ships, five also have a private lounge and dining room for Haven passengers
  • Suite privileges include priority embarkation, debarkation and tender boarding; butler and concierge service; an exclusive breakfast location; daily canapes; and sparkling wine, bottled water and fruit gifted on embarkation day
  • Large variety of family cabins on most ships, including suites, oceanviews, balconies and inside choices

Royal Caribbean International

  • Has large variety of cabin categories, from eight styles on the smallest ship to 24 on the largest ships
  • Seven ships offer Virtual Balcony inside cabins (not all insides will have the virtual balconies), with giant TV screens that give the impression of floor-to-ceiling windows
  • Comprehensive, tiered suite privileges include free Internet and specialty dining (on Quantum- and Oasis-class ships only), priority boarding and disembarking, reserved theater seating, VIP pool seating where available, and more
  • Offers some of the largest suites in the mainstream cruise category, including duplex options
  • Offers several family cabin options, including those with connecting doors, as well as oversized cabins with full baths
Dining Room on Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas

Dining

Norwegian Cruise Line

  • Freestyle dining means you can eat at any onboard restaurant at any time during open hours, reservations may be required
  • All ships have a free pub/restaurant or diner that is open 24 hours a day; 11 also have an included Asian eatery
  • All ships but one (Norwegian Sky, which has only three) have four to six extra-fee specialty restaurants including a steakhouse, Italian, French, Japanese hibachi and Brazilian, as well as sushi; all but two are priced per item
  • Five ships (Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Joy and Norwegian Escape) feature The Waterfront, an outdoor area offering alfresco seating for several restaurants and bars
  • Partnered with Jimmy Buffet to bring an at-sea Margaritaville to four ships (Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Bliss), as well as to the line's private Great Stirrup Cay private island
  • One optional formal night on weeklong sailings

Royal Caribbean International

  • Depending on ship, offers fixed and flexible My Time dining options
  • Large choice of specialty restaurants with just a handful included in the cruise fare, including Sorrento's pizzeria and the Cafe Promenade
  • Has a celebrity chef 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 sailing requiring passengers to dress up for dinner (or eat in the buffet where casual attire is acceptable)
Waterpark on Norwegian Getaway

Pool Deck Fun

Norwegian Cruise Line

  • At least one large pool or two smaller pools, as well as four to six outdoor hot tubs onboard all ships
  • Child-specific pools on all ships
  • Several ships have pool and water slide combos, with six having multislide Aqua Parks
  • Some poolside fun, but pool decks are primarily for lounging

Royal Caribbean International

  • At least two pools on every ship, with some having three or four
  • 13 ships have at least one FlowRider surf simulator; 12 ships have the kids' H2O Zone or Splashaway Bay
  • Will be adding water slides to all ships over the course of several years; so far five ships have them
  • Poolside fun may include sexiest man and belly flop competitions
Rock Wall on Norwegian Getaway

Sports Deck Fun

Norwegian Cruise Line

  • Most ships have a basketball court, and either mini-golf or golf driving nets
  • Four ships have rock-climbing walls, three of which also have a ropes course. Another ship, Norwegian Escape, has a large ropes course but no rock climbing wall
  • Two ships (Norwegian Joy, Norwegian Bliss) have a two-level Go-Kart track, as well as a Laser Tag arena

Royal Caribbean International

  • Every ship has a basketball court and rock-climbing wall; most also have mini-golf courses
  • Quantum-class ships have indoor skydiving; Oasis-class ships have zip lines
Royal Promenade on Freedom of the Seas

Indoor Fun

Norwegian Cruise Line

  • A typical daily schedule includes trivia, bingo, dance classes, the interactive "Deal or No Deal" show, and beer and wine tastings
  • Select ships offer full-size or miniature bowling onboard
  • Some ships offer complimentary sessions in a circus-themed escape room; participants must work together to escape within a specified time frame
  • Most ships have a wall-sized Wii screen in the atrium for group Wii play.

Royal Caribbean International

  • A typical daily schedule may include 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 grab a bite to eat or beer to drink, people-watch or indulge in a little retail therapy.
  • Indoor ice skating rinks are available on 12 ships.
  • Quantum-class ships feature the SeaPlex, an indoor activity center with bumper cars, roller skating, trapeze classes and an arcade.
White Hot Party on Norwegian Sky

Nightlife

Norwegian Cruise Line

  • Full-scale Broadway shows on five ships: Norwegian Breakaway ("Rock of Ages"), Norwegian Getaway ("Million Dollar Quartet"), Norwegian Epic ("Priscilla Queen of the Desert"), Norwegian Escape ("After Midnight" and "Million Dollar Quartet"), and Norwegian Bliss ("Jersey Boys")
  • All ships feature comedy acts at least once per cruise, with four offering nearly nightly comedy in a dedicated comedy club
  • All ships offer musical revue-style song-and-dance shows several times per sailing; Norwegian Epic and Norwegian Bliss offer a Beatles cover band in The Cavern Club
  • Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway feature an extra-fee "Cirque Dreams & Dinner" dinner theater show, while Norwegian Epic has a Supper Club dinner show
  • All ships have at least eight bars and lounges

Royal Caribbean International

  • Broadway or London West End productions on seven ships: 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"), Symphony of the Seas ("Hairspray") and Independence of the Seas and Harmony of the Seas (both have "Grease")
  • Evening entertainment includes musical revue-style song-and-dance shows, as well as occasional performances by comedians and magicians on all ships
  • Select ships in the line's Vision and Radiance classes (seven total) offer evening aerial shows in the atrium
  • Oasis-class ships feature gravity-defying diving and acrobatic performances in the outdoor AquaTheater
  • 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
  • Schooner Bar is the spot for post-dinner piano sing-alongs, while Bolero's, with its Latin beats, is a spot for salsa dancing and sipping mojitos
  • Every ship has a nightclub for dancing
Parade on Mariner of the Seas

Family Focus

Norwegian Cruise LineNorwegian Family Cruise Reviews>>

  • Programming for kids is divided into four groups: ages 3 to 5, 6 to 9, 10 to 12, and 13 to 17
  • The Guppies program offers programming for parents and their babies and toddlers, ages 6 months to two years, while the Guppies Nursery (only on Norwegian Escape and Norwegian Bliss) lets parents drops their little ones off to be cared for.
  • Extra-fee evening and port day group baby-sitting are available for kids ages 3 to 12

Royal Caribbean InternationalRoyal Caribbean Family Cruise Reviews>>

  • Genuinely family-friendly
  • Three kids clubs for smaller kids, tweens and teens
  • The onboard DreamWorks Experience (available on select ships) features character parades and meals, as well as screenings of DreamWorks films
  • Parents can have most of dinner to themselves via My Family Time Dining, wherein kids ages 3 to 11 are served their meals first and then picked up by kids club staff leaving parents on their own to finish their dinner
  • Royal Babies and Tots Nursery (only 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
The North Star on Royal's Quantum Class Ships

Tradition vs Innovation

Norwegian Cruise Line

  • Norwegian Cruise Line bucked tradition in 2015 when it switched from restaurant cover charges (the industry norm) to a la carte pricing in all but two of its specialty restaurants; other innovations have included ropes courses, water parks, Go-Kart race tracks, laser tag and the alfresco dining area, The Waterfront, most of which are only available on the line's newest ships

Royal Caribbean International

  • Onboard experience is constantly evolving thanks to first-at-sea innovations like rock-climbing walls, ice skating rinks, the FlowRider surf simulator and vertical tube skydiving, among others

Norwegian Cruises

Royal Caribbean Cruises