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

Norwegian Cruise Line vs. Royal Caribbean International

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

Fleet size, ship sizes and ages

Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Escape (Photo: Norwegian Cruise Line)

  • 17 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

Harmony of the Seas (Photo: Royal Caribbean International)

  • 28 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)


Norwegian Cruise Line

  • Cruise fares are generally a bit higher than industry averages, and has a reputation for nickel-and-diming onboard
  • Base fares include less than half of the restaurants offered onboard
  • Most entertainment included (exceptions are lunch and dinner theaters, and alcohol-included small-stage shows, all of which are only available on select ships)

Norwegian Cruise Deals

Royal Caribbean International

  • 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)

Royal Caribbean Cruise Deals


Norwegian Cruise Line

Cruise Critic Pub Crawl on Norwegian Bliss (Photo: Cruise Critic)

  • 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, Norwegian Encore, Pride of America)

Norwegian Cruise Line Roll Calls

Royal Caribbean International

Belly Flop Contest on Adventure of the Seas (Photo: Cruise Critic)

  • 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

View Royal Caribbean Roll Calls


Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Breakaway at Great Stirrup Cay (Photo: Cruise Critic)

  • 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, Africa and the Arabian Gulf

View Norwegian Cruise Line Itineraries

Royal Caribbean International

Enchantment of the Seas at CocoCay (Photo: Cruise Critic)

  • 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

View Royal Caribbean Itineraries


Norwegian Cruise Line

The Haven Courtyard Penthouse Suite on Norwegian Bliss (Photo: Cruise Critic)

  • Impressive range of cabin categories, even on the smaller ships; sizes are typical of industry standards, though balconies on the Breakaway and Breakaway Plus Class are notably small
  • Five ships have spa cabins, which feature spa-like decor and free access to the onboard saunas and steam rooms
  • Seven ships (Norwegian Encore, 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
  • 11 ships have the top-deck Haven suite complex with exclusive access to a private courtyard and pool; of these ships, seven also have a private lounge and dining room for Haven passengers
  • Six ships have three-bedroom Garden Villas that sleep up to eight people and have shared access to a private outdoor terrace with hot tub
  • 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

The Ultimate Family Suite on Symphony of the Seas (Photo: Cruise Critic)

  • Has large variety of cabin categories, which, depending on ship, can include inside cabins with picture windows overlooking the Royal Promenade, balconies with front row views of the AquaTheater, rooms sized for just one person and massive duplex suites
  • 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
  • Nine ships offer studio cabins sized for one person; depending on ship, balcony, oceanview and inside studios are available
  • 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


Norwegian Cruise Line

Texas Smokehouse Q on Norwegian Bliss (Photo: Cruise Critic)

  • 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
  • Six ships (Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Encore, 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 five ships (Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Star), as well as to the line's Harvest Caye private island in Belize
  • One optional formal night on weeklong sailings

Royal Caribbean International

Jamie's Italian on Anthem of the Seas (Photo: Cruise Critic)

  • Offers fixed and flexible My Time dining options
  • Large choice of specialty restaurants with just a handful included in the cruise fare, including El Loco Fresh, Sorrento's pizzeria and the Cafe Promenade
  • Has a celebrity chef partnership with Jamie Oliver, whose Jamie's Italian is on seven ships (Anthem of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas, Mariner of the Seas, Navigator of the Seas, Ovation of the Seas, Symphony of the Seas and Spectrum 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)

Pool Deck Fun

Norwegian Cruise Line

The Aqua Park on Norwegian Breakaway (Photo: Cruise Critic)

  • 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 seven having multislide Aqua Parks
  • Some poolside fun, but pool decks are primarily for lounging

Royal Caribbean International

FlowRider on Independence of the Seas (Photo: Cruise Critic)

  • At least two pools on every ship, with some having three or four
  • 15 ships (as of May 2020) 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; as of May 2020, 12 ships will have them
  • Poolside fun may include sexiest man and belly flop competitions

Sports Deck Fun

Norwegian Cruise Line

Go-Kart Racetrack on Norwegian Bliss (Photo: Cruise Critic)

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

Royal Caribbean International

Sky Pad on Mariner of the Seas (Photo: Cruise Critic)

  • 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
  • Two ships have a trampoline-based virtual reality bungee cord attraction called Sky Pad

Indoor Fun

Norwegian Cruise Line

Car Simulator in The Galaxy Pavilion (Photo: Norwegian Cruise Line)

  • A typical daily schedule includes trivia, bingo, dance classes, the interactive "Deal or No Deal" show, and beer and wine tastings
  • Two ships (Norwegian Joy, Norwegian Encore) feature Galaxy Pavilion, an extra-fee virtual reality playground that is as popular with adults as it is with kids and teenagers
  • Select ships offer full-size or miniature bowling onboard
  • Some ships offer complimentary sessions in a circus-themed escape room-style experience; participants must work together to escape within a specified time frame; one ship (Norwegian Encore) has an actual escape room

Royal Caribbean International

Royal Promenade on Freedom of the Seas (Photo: Cruise Critic)

  • 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.


Norwegian Cruise Line

White Hot Party on Norwegian Sky (Photo: Cruise Critic)

  • Full-scale Broadway shows on seven ships: Norwegian Breakaway ("Rock of Ages"), Norwegian Getaway ("Million Dollar Quartet"), Norwegian Epic ("Priscilla Queen of the Desert"), Norwegian Escape ("After Midnight"), Norwegian Bliss ("Jersey Boys"), Norwegian Joy ("Footloose") and Norwegian Encore ("Kinky Boots").
  • Two ship (Norwegian Escape and Norwegian Getaway) feature nearly nightly comedy in a dedicated comedy club, while two others (Norwegian Bliss and Norwegian Encore) feature guest comedy acts a few times per sailing in a multi-use comedy club and nightclub space
  • All ships offer musical revue-style song-and-dance shows several times per sailing; Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Joy and Norwegian Encore 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
  • Six ships offer one of two extra-fee (wine or spirits included), high-energy, small-stage shows: Wine Lovers, the Musical or Happy Hour Prohibition, the Musical
  • All ships have at least eight bars and lounges

Royal Caribbean International

Two70 on Anthem of the Seas

  • 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 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

Family Focus

Norwegian Cruise Line

Guppies Playroom on Norwegian Dawn (Photo: Cruise Critc)

  • 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) lets parents drops their little ones off to be cared for; the Guppies play area on Norwegian Bliss and Norwegian Encore is a place for parents to play with their little ones
  • Extra-fee evening and port day group baby-sitting are available for kids ages 3 to 12

Norwegian Family Cruise Reviews

Royal Caribbean International

Royal Babies and Tots Nursery on Allure of the Seas (Photo: Cruise Critic)

  • Genuinely family-friendly
  • Three kids clubs for toddlers (ages 3 to 5), kids (6 to 12) and teens (13 to 17)
  • 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

Royal Caribbean Family Cruise Reviews

Tradition vs Innovation

Norwegian Cruise Line

Water Slides on Norwegian Bliss (Photo: Cruise Critic)

  • 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

Central Park on Allure of the Seas (Photo: Cruise Critic)

  • 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

Updated May 14, 2021

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