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Caribbean Princess

Princess Cruises vs. Norwegian Cruise Line

Caribbean Princess
Dori Saltzman
Melinda Crow

Mar 16, 2023

Read time
10 min read

Comparing Princess and Norwegian Cruise Line head to head, it’s incredible how many similarities there are. Both are relaxed, mainstream cruise lines that can take you to popular destinations like the Caribbean, Mexico or Alaska, but also have options for cruising in Europe and even more exotic destinations like the South Pacific.

Princess tends to be a little more traditional, though the line has eliminated fixed dining times, allowing guests to dine when and where they choose. Guests on Princess are a bit older than you’d find on NCL, and Princess ships don’t have all the top-deck bells and whistles like slides and water parks.

Norwegian Cruise Line is known for leading the pack when it comes to new ways of doing things. The line was the first to offer multiple dining choices and move away from traditional dining times. NCL is popular with young adults and families looking for ships loaded with enough fun onboard that the ship itself is a destination.

Let's compare the details of cruising with Princess and NCL that can help you decide which cruise line might be a better fit for you.

On This Page

Princess and NCL Fleet Size, Ship Sizes and Ages Are a Close Match

Princess Cruises

Discovery Princess at anchor off Cabo San Lucas (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Norwegian Cruise Line

ncl prima ship exterior starboard cf000258 edit

Pricing On Princess and Norwegian is Similar

Princess Cruises

Island Princess (Photo: Princess Cruises)

• Pricing is in line with industry averages, but sales are offered frequently • Cruise fares include almost one-half of the alternative dining venues on all ships • Pricing includes all theater entertainment • Pricing options available: standard (no extras included), Princess Plus (plus beverage package, Wi-Fi for one device per guest, gratuities, two premium desserts per day, and two fitness classes per cruise), and Princess Premier (premier beverage package, Wi-Fi for four devices per guest, gratuities, unlimited premier desserts and fitness classes, and reserved production show seats)

Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Sun in Victoria, Canada (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

• Prices are generally similar to industry averages (sometimes a tad lower), but the line is known for charging extra for a wide range of things onboard • Cruise fare includes less than half of the restaurants offered onboard • Unlike most cruise ships where for-fee restaurants carry a cover charge, all for-fee eateries, minus two, are a la carte (priced per item), with prices comparable to pricey land-based restaurants • All entertainment included (except for lunch and dinner shows, both of which are only available on select ships) • Offers Free at Sea fares that include open bar (tips are extra), a specialty dining package (based on length of cruise and cabin category; tips are extra), Wi-Fi and shore excursion credits. Free at Sea Plus, boosts each of the four perks for an additional fee

Demographics: Princess Cruises Leans a Bit Older Than NCL

Princess Cruises

Xponential Fitness aboard Princess Cruises (Photo: Princess Cruises)

• Caribbean and Alaska sailings draw families, couples and groups of friends in most age brackets, but with the bulk of passengers a bit older than on NCL • Extended (15+ nights), exotic and world itineraries (primarily offered on Diamond Princess, Sapphire Princess, Sky Princess, Island Princess and Coral Princess) pull in a larger 55-plus crowd, including many in the 70 and up range

Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Epic

• Popular with families and couples, ages 35 to 65 • Larger number of solo cruisers on ships that feature Studio rooms (Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Encore and Pride of America)

Itineraries, Destinations and Homeports Are Similar, Except Princess Offers Extended Sailings

Princess Cruises

Island Princess in Glacier Bay, Alaska (Photo: Princess Cruise)

• Cruises out of 10 North American mainland ports as well as 23 additional global ports depending on season, with no ships staying at a single port year-round • Sails Bahamas, Caribbean, Mexico and Hawaii itineraries from the U.S. • Has private island experience (Princess Cays, Bahamas) • Offers one of the strongest Alaska cruise (with optional land) program in the industry. Often with as many as seven ships in the region for an extended season • Sails European cruises three-quarters of the year, including Northern Europe, Mediterranean and Baltic itineraries from several European ports • Operates world cruises • Has ships sailing in Asia year-round and almost the full year in Australia and the South Pacific • Exotic cruises include South Pacific, Asia, Australia/New Zealand, South America, Antarctica and the Arctic

Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Gem at PortMiami (Photo/Norwegian Cruise Line)

• Sails from 15 ports on the North American mainland on a regular basis • Sails from 46 additional ports across the globe • Offers Caribbean, Bahamas, Bermuda, Mexico and Alaska itineraries • Has private island experiences (Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas; Harvest Caye, Belize) • Offers seasonal Mediterranean and Northern Europe itineraries • Only major cruise line to sail year-round all-Hawaiian island cruises departing from Hawaii • Exotic itineraries include South America, as well as Asia, Australia, India, the Middle East, the Arctic and Antarctica

Princess vs Norwegian Cruise Line: Cabin Choices Are Similar, But NCL Wins for Solo Cruisers

Princess Cruises

Enchanted Princess Balcony Cabin (Photo by Colleen McDaniel)

• Five main room categories, divided into as many as 12 sub-categories to choose from • Distinctive room options include oceanview suites, mini-suites without a balcony, and Sky suites with 700-square-foot balconies (select ships only) • Extensive suite perk program including priority embarkation/debarkation, afternoon canapes, specialty dining mimosa breakfast, and access to Reserve Dining room or a Reserve section of the main dining room (depending on ship) for dinner each night • Limited family room choices include regular rooms with connecting doors, as well as family suites with full baths on select ships

Norwegian Cruise Line

Studio Cabin on Norwegian Encore (Photo: Cruise Critic)

• Cabin sizes are comparable to industry standards, though balconies on the Breakaway-class ships are notably small • Seven main cabin categories, subdivided into as many as fifteen room types, depending on the ship • Seven ships offer Studio cabins, which are sized and priced for solo cruisers • Select ships have spa cabins, which come with free access to the onboard saunas and steam room • More than half of the fleet have the exclusive, key-card-access, top-deck Haven suite complex, which features a private courtyard and pool; of these ships, six also have a private lounge and dining room for suite passengers • Suite privileges include priority embarkation, debarkation and tender boarding; butler and concierge service; a suites-only breakfast location; complimentary sparkling wine, fruit and bottled water on embarkation day; and free daily canapes

NCL Ships Have More Dining Options, But Fewer Included Eateries

Princess Cruises

Botticelli Dining Room on Crown Princess

• One to three main dining rooms, all serving through the flexible Dine My Way program • Growing selection of alternative restaurants on most ships; some like International Cafe are included in the cruise fare, while others such as the Salty Dog Gastropub cost extra • Specialty for-fee restaurants generally include a steakhouse, Italian and sushi, most with a flat cover charge • Partnership with three-Micheline Star Chef Emmanuel Renaut and the “Duck Master” Chef Richard Chen • Food and drinks can be ordered for delivery throughout the ship using OceanNow • Passengers in balcony rooms can take advantage of the for-fee Ultimate Balcony Dining, an in-room, fine-dining experience • At least one formal night per sailing (5 or more nights) requiring passengers to dress up for dinner (or eat in the buffet where casual dress is acceptable)

Norwegian Cruise Line

Food Republic on Norwegian Encore (Photo: Cruise Critic)

• No early or late dinner seatings; instead, you can eat in any of the restaurants at any time during open hours (reservations for specialty restaurants are encouraged) • Most ships have two free alternative eateries: one Asian-style (lunch, dinner) and one pub/restaurant (breakfast, lunch, dinner) • All ships have four to six extra-fee specialty restaurants including a steak, Italian, French, Japanese hibachi, Brazilian and sushi restaurant; all but the hibachi and Brazilian eateries are priced per item • Breakaway and Breakaway Plus class ships feature The Waterfront, an outdoor space along the promenade on Deck 8 offering alfresco seating for several of the ships' bars and restaurants • One “dress up or not” night on weeklong sailings

Pool Deck Fun: Relax on Princess; Play on NCL

Princess Cruises

The pool deck on Sky Princess is spacious and well designed, with lots of deck chairs (Photo: Colleen McDaniel/Cruise Critic)

• Most ships have at least three pools, including a less-trafficked aft pool, and a minimum of five hot tubs; several ships also have a pool with a retractable roof • Silly poolside games on sea days on ships sailing in the Caribbean • Adults-only Sanctuary (some with pool) offers a quiet sun deck/pool alternative for a half-day or full-day fee • Movie showings daily on upper sun deck as part of Movies Under the Stars

Norwegian Cruise Line

The Main Pool on Norwegian Epic

• Every ship in the fleet has at least one large pool or two smaller pools, as well as four to six hot tubs • Kids' pool or splash pool on all ships • Eight ships have pool and water slide combos; six of these have multi-slide Aqua Parks • Pool decks are mostly for lounging around but on hot-weather cruises there's always some poolside fun to be had

Princess Goes Old School on Sports Deck Fun; NCL is a Scream

Princess Cruises

Sports Court on Emerald Princess

• All ships have jogging tracks and shuffleboard; most also have a basketball court • All ships have a golf area, which might have a practice cage or a nine-hole putting course

Norwegian Cruise Line

Go-Kart Racetrack on Norwegian Bliss

• Every ship has a basketball court; most also have golf driving nets and a handful have mini golf • Nine ships have rock climbing walls; six also have a ropes course and The Plank that allows you to walk out over the edge of the ship while tethered. • Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Joy, Norwegian Encore, Norwegian Prima, and the upcoming Norwegian Viva have a two-level Go-Kart racing track, plus an outdoor laser tag course; both cost extra to use

Both Princess and NCL Have Indoor Fun Well Covered

Princess Cruises

Piazza atrium on Majestic Princess (Photo/Aaron Saunders)

• Daily fun includes trivia, arts and crafts, bingo, dance classes and Voice of the Ocean rehearsals (a singing competition created via a partnership with TV's "The Voice") • Destination-specific lectures and enrichment programs on itineraries in Alaska, Asia, Europe and the South Pacific • Several ships in the fleet have a multi-deck piazza-style atrium, a hub for dining and entertainment

Norwegian Cruise Line

Bowling Alley in The Local Bar & Grill on Norwegian Bliss

• Daytime indoor fun (free and for-a-fee) includes dance classes, bingo, trivia and the interactive "Deal or No Deal" show, as well as beer and wine tastings • Select ships offer full-size or miniature bowling • Several ships have a free circus-themed escape room experience; participants must work together to solve puzzles and "escape" within a specified time frame • Several ships have a wall-sized Wii screen in the atrium for group Wii play

Nightlife Includes Incredible Entertainment on Both Princess and Norwegian

Princess Cruises

Passengers wait for a show in the Vista Lounge aboard Majestic Princess (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

• Select ships feature a made-for-Princess theater shows • All ships have musical revue-style shows, as well as intermittent comedy and magic acts • Piano and small act music shows or DJs available nightly in just about every bar and lounge • Vines wine bar, with its sizeable list of varietals, is the spot for a late-night glass of wine or a wine-and-chocolate pairing • All ships have a late-night dance club

Norwegian Cruise Line

"Welcome Aboard Show" in Stardust Theater on Norwegian Dawn

• Full-length Broadway productions in the theaters • All ships offer comedy acts at least once per sailing, with some ships featuring nightly shows in a dedicated comedy club • Every ship in the fleet features musical revue-style song-and-dance theater shows • Newer ships also feature alternative wine- or cocktail-focused theater shows or dinner/theater shows, for an extra fee • All ships have at least eight to 10 bars and lounges

Family Focus: Both Lines Have Kids Programs, But NCL Has More Family-friendly Cabins

Princess Cruises

Shockwaves Kids Club on Royal Princess

• Three kids’ clubs for smaller kids, tweens and teens • Kid-centric shipboard and shore excursion programs for children themed around Discovery Channel TV shows including Discovery, Animal Planet, the Learning Channel and the Science Channel • All ships have a kids' splash pool • DIY laundry rooms for easy cleaning of kids' clothing • Select ships have two-room family suites

Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Gem kids club

• Kids' programming is divided into four groups: ages 3 to 5, 6 to 9, 10 to 12, and 13 to 17 • The Guppies program on all ships offers scheduled programming for parents and their babies or toddlers, ages 6- 36 months; Norwegian Escape and Bliss have a Guppies Nursery where parents can drop off their babies for babysitting • Family accommodation options include suites, oceanview cabins, balconies and inside rooms

Princess Tradition vs NCL Innovation

Princess Cruises

Crooner's aboard Discovery Princess (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

• Provides a refined, somewhat traditional cruise experience that includes main dining rooms, limited specialty restaurants and song-and-dance revue evening shows • Limited innovations on the newest ships include the SeaWalk, a see-through glass walkway suspended off one side of the ship 16 decks above the water • Medallion Class cruising includes wearable technology for contactless payments and even locating loved ones

Norwegian Cruise Line

Sunbeds on Norwegian Prima's Ocean Boulevard (Photo/Colleen McDaniel)

• Water parks, ropes courses, laser tag, Broadway shows and the innovative alfresco dining area, The Waterfront are among the innovations found only on the newest ships • The newest ships have full-scale Go-Kart racetracks • Historically, has been a line unafraid to experiment with dining, pricing, entertainment and design

Updated March 16, 2023
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