HAL v Royal Caribbean

While Holland America and Royal Caribbean both offer terrific cruise vacations and are beloved by fans, the onboard experiences you get from them are totally different.

Generally speaking, Holland America appeals to an older demographic that prefer fine dining, live music and a subdued evening atmosphere -- though the line is trying to change its reputation by livening up its onboard offerings. Royal Caribbean attracts an active crowd that is both young and young-at-heart. While the line attracts plenty of kids and younger professionals, age on Royal Caribbean is less a matter of years lived and more a matter of who's going to be the first one to sign up for the belly-flop competition (or if not sign up, at least get a front row seat). Cruisers often say Holland America is the line they take without their grandkids, while Royal is for the whole family.

To help you pick the cruise line that fits your needs, Cruise Critic pits Royal Caribbean vs. Holland America in a head-to-head comparison. There is no winner -- except you and your cruising party (even if you're a party of one) when you find the line that's the perfect match.

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

Holland America's Eurodam

Fleet size, ship sizes and ages

Holland America

  • 14 ships, four built before 2000
  • Oldest: Maasdam (1993)
  • Largest: Koningsdam (2,650 passengers)
  • Smallest: Prinsendam (835 passengers)

Royal Caribbean

  • 25 ships (by the end of April 2016), eight built before 2000
  • Oldest: Empress of the Seas (1990)
  • Largest: Oasis Class, which includes Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas and Harmony of the Seas (5,400 to 5,488 passengers)
  • Smallest: Legend of the Seas (1,832 passengers)
Pricing

Pricing

Holland AmericaView Holland America Deals

  • Pricing is dependent on the ship, destination and length of cruise; when compared to Royal Caribbean cruise prices, Holland America's prices are generally higher except when compared to Royal Caribbean's newest ships and highest level suites
  • Prices include meals in the main dining room and a handful of casual venues, but all alternative restaurants cost extra
  • All nightly entertainment is included

Royal Caribbean View Royal Caribbean Deals

  • Prices on newest ships are significantly higher than prices for rest of the fleet, with last-minute discounts only offered on short (four nights or less) sailings
  • Cruise fares are inclusive of nearly half of the line's alternative restaurants
  • All entertainment is included, except lunch- and dinner-theater shows
  • Starting April 2016, prices for cruises on Empress of the Seas will include a free Bloody Mary or mimosa at the daily brunch
Couples on a cruise ship

Demographics

Holland AmericaView Holland America Roll Calls

  • Couples, solos and groups of friends, with an average age range of 50s to mid-70s

Royal Caribbean View Royal Caribbean Roll Calls

  • Median age is low 40s, but can be lower on shorter cruises and somewhat higher on cruises of 10 nights or more
  • The line draws families, couples and solo travelers
Noordam passengers on an Alaska cruise

Itineraries/Destinations/Homeports

Holland AmericaView Holland America Itineraries

  • Sails seasonally from nine homeports on the North American mainland, with no ships stationed at any port year-round
  • Offers seasonal cruises to the Caribbean, Bermuda, Hawaii, Canada and New England, Europe and Mexico, as well as through the Panama Canal and along the Pacific Coast
  • Has one of the strongest Alaska programs in the industry with a wide range of cruise itineraries and cruise tours
  • Exotic cruise itineraries include Asia, Australia, the South Pacific, South America, Antarctica and world cruises

Royal Caribbean View Royal Caribbean Itineraries

  • Sails from 10 homeports on the North American mainland, some year-round and others only seasonally
  • Offers year-round sailings to the Caribbean, Mexico, the Bahamas and Europe
  • Offers seasonal cruises to Bermuda, Alaska and Hawaii
  • Sails ships year-round in Australia and Asia
  • Exotic cruise itineraries visit South America, the Middle East and the South Pacific
Royal Lost Suite

Cabins

Holland America

  • Between 23 and 38 cabin categories, depending on ship, all divided among six basic categories
  • Higher-level suite perks (Neptune and Pinnacle Suites only) include priority tendering, free laundry and pressing services, access to the Neptune Lounge, canapes served nightly, free mimosas with ensuite breakfast, free bottled water on embarkation and more
  • Unique cabin designs includes Lanai rooms, which are technically oceanview cabins but have sliding-glass doors that open directly onto the public Lower Promenade Deck with deck chairs just outside the door
  • Koningsdam is the only ship in the fleet with cabins specifically designed and priced for solo travelers, as well as a selection of family-specific cabins

Royal Caribbean

  • Offers between eight and 24 cabin categories, depending on ship
  • Unique cabin designs includes Virtual Balcony inside cabins in which wall-sized TV screens give the impression of floor-to-ceiling windows (on seven ships only); and studio cabins designed for one traveler (on four ships only)
  • When compared to Holland America, Royal Caribbean offers larger suites, including some ships with two-floor accommodations
  • Suite privileges include priority boarding and disembarking, reserved theater seating and VIP pool seating, where available. Oasis- and Quantum-class ships feature Royal Suite Class, a tiered perks program that goes well beyond the line's regular suite privileges, including free gratuities, specialty dining and alcoholic beverage packages for the highest suites
  • Several family cabin choices on all ships, including some with connecting doors, as well as rooms with full baths
Steak Dinner at the Pinnacle Grill on Noordam

Dining

Holland America

  • Main dining room options include traditional (same time and tablemates every night) and the flexible As You Wish program (choose when you want to eat, sit at different tables each night)
  • No more than four alternative restaurants on any ship (all for a fee), except on Koningsdam, which has more
  • Pinnacle Grill offers special evenings where the menus are taken over by famed restaurant Le Cirque or Michelin-starred chef Jonnie Boer
  • All sailings have one or more Gala Night (depending on length of cruise), requiring passengers to swap out casual wear for formal attire

Royal Caribbean

  • Main dining room seating options include traditional, flexible My Time and Dynamic Dining (dependent on ship)
  • Vast array of alternative restaurants with some included in the cruise fare
  • Has two celebrity chef partnerships: Michael Schwartz, whose menu items can be found in 150 Central Park (Oasis-class ships only) and Michael's Genuine Pub (Quantum-class ships only); and Jamie Oliver, whose Jamie's Italian is on two Quantum-class ships, plus Harmony of the Seas
  • At least one formal night per cruise (except on Quantum-class ships) requiring passengers to dress up for main dining room dinner
The lido deck hot tubs and pool on Eurodam

Pool Deck Fun

Holland America

  • Most ships have one main pool and an aft pool; five have a for-fee indoor therapeutic pool and five have a top-deck, teen-only pool
  • Most ships have at least five whirlpools
  • Minimal pool games on warm-weather sailings

Royal Caribbean

  • All ships have at least two pools, with some having three or four
  • 10 ships have the FlowRider surf simulator, while 12 have the kids' H20 Zone or Splashaway Bay
  • Will be adding water slides to all ships (except Majesty of the Seas) over the course of several years
  • Poolside fun might include pool volleyball or sexiest man and belly flop competitions
  • Adults-only Solarium offers a quiet sun deck alternative
Ziplining on Oasis of the Seas

Sports Deck Fun

Holland America

  • Almost all ships have a jogging track and basketball court; most also have either a volleyball or tennis court

Royal Caribbean

  • All ships have basketball courts and rock climbing walls; most also have mini-golf courses
  • The three Quantum-class ships (two sail in Asia year-round) have indoor skydiving; the three Oasis-class ships have ziplines
Rembrandt Wine Tasting on Eurodam

Indoor Fun

Holland America

  • Daily activities include a blend of educational programs (through partnerships with BBC Earth and the Digital Workshop Powered by Windows) and fun activities like trivia, arts and crafts and dance classes
  • Cooking demonstrations and interactive classes are offered through the Culinary Arts Center, while wine lovers can enjoy tastings at the onboard Wine Tasting Bar (on most ships); the most in-depth wine-tasting and blending experience, created through a partnership with Chateau Ste. Michelle, can be found only on Koningsdam

Royal Caribbean

  • Daily schedules typically include trivia, bingo, dance classes, scrapbooking sessions, napkin- or towel-folding demonstrations and jewelry-making classes
  • Nine ships have an indoor ice skating rink with set hours
  • Quantum-class ships feature the SeaPlex, an indoor activity hub with bumper cars, roller skating, trapeze classes and an arcade
  • The Royal Promenade is the hot spot for grabbing something to eat or drink, shopping and people watching on Oasis-, Quantum-, Voyager- and Freedom-class ships
B.B. King's Blues Club on the Eurodam

Nightlife

Holland America

  • Seven ships offer B.B. King's Blues Club, a high-energy, nightly show in the Queen's Lounge, highlighting the Memphis music scene
  • By the end of April 2016, three ships (Koningsdam, Eurodam and Oosterdam) will feature Lincoln Center Stage, which brings high-quality live chamber music to the high seas, as well as Billboard Onboard, where pianists, a guitarist and a DJ play chart-topping hits from the past 50 years
  • Theater shows include musical revues, illusionists and comedians
  • Nightly live music takes place in most lounges, from classical quartets to duos offering light tunes

Royal Caribbean

  • Four ships feature Broadway or London West End musicals: Anthem of the Seas ("We Will Rock You"), Oasis of the Seas ("Cats"), Liberty of the Seas ("Saturday Night Fever") and Allure of the Seas ("Mamma Mia!"); two more (Independence of the Seas and Harmony of the Seas) will feature "Grease" by June 2016
  • Evening entertainment on all ships include main theater revue-style song-and-dance shows, as well as intermittent acts by comedians and magicians and live or DJ'd music
  • Select Vision- and Radiance-class ships (seven total) feature evening aerial shows in the atrium
  • Oasis-class ships feature gravity-defying AquaTheater diving and acrobatic performances
  • Quantum-class ships feature Two70, a multistory lounge and performance space showcasing multisensory shows combining digital visuals with music, dancing and acrobatics
  • All ships have nighttime dance clubs
DreamWorks performance on Allure of the Seas

Family Focus

Holland AmericaHolland America Family Cruise Reviews

  • Multigenerational families are common during the holidays and summer break, but families are not the line's main demographic
  • Club HAL is divided into three groups: three- to seven-year-olds, eight- to 12-year-olds, and 13- to 17-year-olds
  • Five ships have a top-deck teen hangout spot with teen-only pool
  • Family-friendly educational programs are available through the line's partnership with BBC Earth
  • Club HAL After Hours babysitting is available from 10 p.m. until midnight for kids aged three to 12; at other times, and for children under five, limited babysitting is subject to availability
  • Only one ship in the fleet (Koningsdam) offers family-specific cabins

Royal Caribbean Royal Caribbean Family Cruise Reviews

  • Genuinely family-friendly
  • The kids clubs is divided into three groupings, for smaller kids, tweens and teens
  • Families will enjoy the DreamWorks Experience (on select ships only), which includes screenings of DreamWorks films, plus character parades, meals and meet-and-greets
  • Parents can take advantage of the My Family Time Dining program, in which children ages three to 11 are served first and then escorted to the kids club, so parents can enjoy the remainder of the meal kids-free
  • Select ships offer the for-fee Royal Babies and Tots Nursery for babies ages six to 36 months
  • Baby food, diapers, wipes and cream can be pre-ordered through the Babies 2 Go program
  • Large choice of family-friendly cabin configurations
The North Star on ANthem of the Seas

Tradition vs Innovation

Holland America

  • Pretty much the most traditional of the North America-based cruise lines, with an emphasis on main dining rooms, dressing well, live music and an overall dignified vibe
  • Is experimenting with partnerships, including teaming up with Lincoln Center and Billboard to offer innovative music venues on select ships, as well as with BBC Earth to bring a variety of educational programs to all ships

Royal Caribbean

  • Known for being technological pioneers with first-at-sea attractions that include rock climbing walls, ice and roller skating rinks, the FlowRider surf simulator and vertical tube skydiving, among others; also boasts some of the fastest Internet at sea on ships that feature Voom WiFi

Holland America

Royal Caribbean