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Holland America vs. Royal Caribbean

Dori Saltzman
Melinda Crow

Last updated
Jul 27, 2023

Read time
9 min read

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.

On This Page

Holland America Line vs. Royal Caribbean: Fleet Size, Ships, and Ages

Holland America Line Fleet

Royal Caribbean Fleet

  • 26 ships, five built before 2000, 2 currently under construction

  • Oldest: Grandeur of the Seas (1996)

  • Largest: Wonder of the Seas (5,734 passengers)

  • Smallest: Grandeur of the Seas (1,992 passengers)

Holland America Line vs. Royal Caribbean: Pricing

Holland America Pricing

  • Pricing is dependent on the ship, destination and length of cruise; when compared to Royal Caribbean cruise prices, Holland America's prices overall are lower. We compared balcony cabins on 7-night sailings in popular destinations like Alaska, Northern Europe and Caribbean during peak seasons (including Christmas week in the Caribbean) and found Holland America to have lower prices, though this hasn’t always been the case.

  • 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 Pricing

  • Prices on newest ships and those from Miami are often significantly higher than prices for rest of the fleet; this is especially evident on European sailings and on lower-priced Caribbean cruises from Galveston, Tampa, and Port Canaveral

  • Cruise fares are inclusive of nearly half of the line's alternative restaurants

  • All entertainment is included, except lunch- and dinner-theater shows

Holland America Line vs. Royal Caribbean: Passenger Demographics

Holland America Line Demographics:

  • Couples, solos and groups of friends, with an average age range of 50s to mid-70s seeking a more subdued experience

Royal Caribbean Demographics

  • 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

Holland America Line vs. Royal Caribbean: Itineraries, Destinations and Homeports

Holland America Line

  • Sails seasonally from 33 ports across the globe, with 11 homeports on the North American mainland, with no ships stationed at any port year-round

  • Offers seasonal cruises to the Caribbean, Hawaii, Canada and New England, Europe, Mexico, as well as through the Panama Canal and along the Pacific Coast

  • Private island (Half Moon Cay) in the Bahamas

  • Has one of the strongest Alaska programs in the industry featuring multiple ships (often a fleet of five or six) 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

  • Sails from 38 homeports globally, with 16 homeports on the North American mainland, some year-round and others only seasonally

  • Offers year-round sailings to the Caribbean, Mexico, and the Bahamas

  • Offers seasonal cruises to Bermuda, Alaska, Hawaii and Europe

  • Private island experiences at Perfect Day at Coco Cay, Bahamas and at Labadee, Haiti

  • Sails ships year-round in Asia

  • Exotic cruise itineraries visit South America, the Middle East, the South Pacific and world cruises


Holland America Line vs. Royal Caribbean: Cabins

Holland America Line: Cabins

  • 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, complimentary in-room dining, premium ensuite breakfast menu and more

  • Unique cabin designs include 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, Nieuw Statendam and Rotterdam have cabins specifically designed and priced for solo travelers, as well as a selection of family-specific oceanview cabins, including some with two baths

Royal Caribbean Cabins

  • 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 select ships); and studio cabins designed for one traveler (on select 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

Holland America Line vs. Royal Caribbean: 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)

  • Main dining room menus feature signature dishes from members of the line's Culinary Council, including chefs David Burke, Rudi Sodamin and Jacques Torres

  • No more than four alternative restaurants on any ship (all for a fee), except on Koningsdam and Nieuw Statendam, which have more

  • 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 and flexible My Time dining

  • Vast array of alternative restaurants with some included in the cruise fare

  • Has one celebrity chef partnership: Jamie Oliver, whose Jamie's Italian is on three Quantum-class ships, plus Harmony of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas

  • At least one formal night per cruise requiring passengers to dress up for main dining room dinner

Holland America Line vs. Royal Caribbean: Pool Deck Fun

Holland America Line: Pool Deck Fun

  • Most ships have one main pool with a retractable roof and an aft pool; most also have a for-fee indoor hydrotherapy pool and/or a top-deck, adult-only pool

  • Most ships have at least five whirlpools

  • Minimal pool games on warm-weather sailings

Royal Caribbean: Pool Deck Fun

  • All ships have at least two pools, with some having three or four

  • 18 ships have the FlowRider surf simulator, while 14 have the kids' H2O Zone or Splashaway Bay

  • 12 ships have wet and/or dry slides

  • Poolside fun might include pool volleyball or sexiest man and belly flop competitions

  • Adults-only Solarium offers a quiet sun deck alternative

Holland America Line vs. Royal Caribbean: Sports Deck Fun

Holland America: Sports Deck Fun

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

Royal Caribbean: Sports Deck Fun

  • All ships have basketball courts and rock-climbing walls; most also have mini golf courses

  • The five Quantum-class ships have indoor skydiving; the five Oasis-class ships have ziplines

Holland America Line vs. Royal Caribbean: Indoor Fun

Holland America: Indoor Fun

  • 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 on Koningsdam and Nieuw Statendam

Royal Caribbean: Indoor Fun

  • Daily schedules typically include trivia, bingo, dance classes, scrapbooking sessions, origami lessons, cupcake decorating and jewelry-making classes

  • 14 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, team sports 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

Holland America Line vs. Royal Caribbean: Nightlife

Holland America Line Nightlife

  • Five ships offer B.B. King's Blues Club, a high-energy, nightly show in the Queen's Lounge, highlighting the Memphis music scene

  • Select cruises also feature Lincoln Center Stage, which brings high-quality live chamber music to the high seas, while seven have 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 Nightlife

  • Seven ships feature Broadway or London West End musicals

  • 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 and theme dance parties

Holland America Line vs. Royal Caribbean: Families

Holland America LIne: Family Focus

  • 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 six-year-olds, seven- to 12-year-olds, and 13- to 17-year-olds

  • Family-friendly educational programs are available through the line's partnership with BBC Earth

  • Only two ships in the fleet (Koningsdam and Nieuw Statendam) offer family-specific cabins

Royal Caribbean: Family Focus

  • Genuinely family-friendly

  • The kid’s clubs is divided into three groupings of smaller kids, three- to five-year-olds, six- to eight-year-olds and nine- to 12-year-olds, tweens and teens have their own program

  • 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 kid’s club, so parents can enjoy the remainder of the meal kids-free

  • There is also a Late-Night Party Zone group babysitting for three- to 11-year-olds

  • 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

Holland America Line vs. Royal Caribbean: Tradition vs. Innovation

Holland America Line

  • 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

  • Expects to install Starlink Wi-Fi on its ships soon

  • Offers a smartphone app with pre-boarding features like shore excursion purchases, boarding documents and onboard information along with the ability to make dining reservations

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 Wi-Fi backed by Starlink technology

  • Dining and entertainment reservations can be made via the line’s smart phone app, which provides daily schedules along with restaurant menus, access to stateroom account information, boarding passes and a virtual muster prior to departure

Publish date March 13, 2023
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