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CC Explorer of the Seas Main Pool2

Princess Cruises vs. Royal Caribbean International: Which Cruise Line Is the Best?

CC Explorer of the Seas Main Pool2
Dori Saltzman
Carolina Pirola

May 16, 2023

Read time
13 min read

Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean International are two of the most popular cruise lines in the United States. With itineraries that are often similar, and seemingly infinite things to do onboard both, it may seem hard to pick one. Surprisingly, however, these cruise lines are different on many levels.

To help you decide which one is right for you, Cruise Critic has compared Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean International on a number of criteria including fleets, destinations, pricing, dining, cabins, entertainment and more. Keep reading to see which one you should pick for your next adventure.

Which Is Better: Princess Cruises or Royal Caribbean International?

Woman on laptop (Photo: Jacob Lund/Shutterstock)

Like the case is with most things in life, it's subjective; it depends on what you’re looking for.

Princess Cruises is an easygoing and traditional cruise line without a lot of bells and whistles that aims to help cruisers relax and come back home feeling rejuvenated.

Royal Caribbean International is a 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.

Princess Cruises vs. Royal Caribbean Fleet Size, Ship Sizes and Ages

Wonder of the Seas

Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean International both have big fleets that are kept up-to-date and in good shape. Ships on both fleets receive updates regularly, but extensive refurbishments only happen every five to seven years.

Princess Cruises' Fleet

Princess Cruises currently has 16 ships, three of which were built before 2000. Grand Princess is their oldest ship and was built in 1998. Princess Cruises' smallest ship is Coral Princess, which has a double passenger capacity of 2,000.

Princess Cruises has several ships that count as their largest: Sun Princess (4,300 double occupancy; announced for 2024); Sky Princess, Enchanted Princess and Discovery Princess (3,660 double capacity each), and Royal Princess, Regal Princess and Majestic Princess (all 3,560 double capacity).

Royal Caribbean International Fleet

Royal Caribbean's fleet is much larger than Princess Cruises', which has 27 ships, seven of which having been built before 2000.

Royal's oldest ship is Grandeur of the Seas, which was built in 1996. Royal's two smallest ships are Grandeur of the Seas (1,992 passengers double capacity) and Rhapsody of the Seas (1,998). Royal has three contenders for its largest ship: Wonder of the Seas (5,734 passengers double occupancy), Icon of the Seas (5,610) and Symphony of the Seas (5,518).

Does Royal Caribbean Offer Cheaper Cruise Fares than Princess Cruises?

Princess Cruises at sea (Photo: Princess Cruises)

Royal Caribbean and Princess Cruises spend their budgets differently. While Royal is all about jaw-dropping family-friendly features and massive ships, Princess focuses more on offering a more upscale experience.

That being said, if you are on a budget and are happy to stick to the included features, you’ll find plenty to do on both cruise lines. For those traveling with little ones, you will probably find more free things to do on Royal.

Princess Cruises Fare Prices

Princess Cruises' pricing follows industry standards, but sales are offered frequently. Pricing includes about one-half to one-third of the alternative eateries, depending on which Princess ship you sail on. As an added bonus, all theater entertainment is included in the cruise fare.

Royal Caribbean Fare Prices

Royal Caribbean International's prices on newest ships are significantly higher than prices on other ships in the fleet. Cruise fares include only about half of the line's restaurants, but all onboard entertainment is included (except lunch and dinner theater shows). The line offers last minute discounts only on short (four nights or less) cruises.

Passenger Demographics on Princess Cruises vs. Royal Caribbean

Family stargazing on Princess Cruises (Photo: Princess Cruises)

Demographics vary widely between itineraries, length of the journey and destination on both Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean. Passengers on Princess, however, tend to skew a little older, especially on smaller ships. You’ll find plenty of families and younger groups of friends on Royal year-round.

Princess Cruises' passengers vary greatly by ship and itinerary. Larger ships in the Caribbean and Alaska tend to attract families, couples and groups of friends in most age brackets. Smaller ships, especially those doing more exotic itineraries (Diamond Princess, Royal Princess) pull in an older, 55-plus crowd.

Royal Caribbean International's guests are typically families, couples and singles in their 30s to 50s. The median age of those aboard is low 40s, but is slightly lower on shorter cruises and higher on cruises of 10 nights or more.

Princess Cruises vs. Royal Caribbean International: Itineraries, Destinations and Homeports

Bottom Bay, Barbados (Photo: Simon Dannhauer/Shutterstock)

Having a larger fleet allows Royal Caribbean to offer a wider variety of destinations, itineraries and homeports. However, Princess Cruises offers more itineraries in Alaska and Antarctica.

Princess Cruises' Itineraries and More

Princess Cruises sails out of 10 ports on the North American mainland, varying by season. They sail Caribbean, Bahamas, Mexico and Hawaii itineraries and have one of the strongest Alaska offerings in the cruise industry.

Princess offers cruises Europe year-round, including Baltic, Northern Europe and Mediterranean cruises out of several European ports. The cruise line even operates world cruises and has ships stationed year-round in Australia and Asia. Other itineraries include South America, South Pacific and Antarctica.

Royal Caribbean Itineraries and More

Royal Caribbean International sails out of 15 homeports on the North American mainland regularly, if not year-round. Royal itineraries include Caribbean, Bermuda, Bahamas, Mexico, Alaska and Hawaii.

Royal cruises Europe year-round, offering Baltic, Northern Europe and Mediterranean cruises out of several European ports. Some ships are stationed year-round in Australia, Central America, South America and Asia. Other exciting itineraries include Middle East, Morocco, Egypt and South Pacific journeys.

Are Cabins on Princess Cruises Better Than Those on Royal Caribbean?

Coral Princess Cabins

Although most passengers spend limited time in their cabin, picking the right cabin is key for a positive cruising experience.

Princess Cruises' Cabins

Princess cabins are comfortable and have a decent amount of storage. As a rule of thumb, newer Princess Cruise ships have slightly tighter staterooms than older vessels. All cabins, though, have the ultra-comfortable Princess Luxury Beds.

Princess Cruises also offers an extensive selection of room categories no matter the size of the ship. Unique cabin options include oceanview suites and minisuites without a balcony (on select ships only).

Princess also provides comprehensive suite privileges and perks include a free meal at a specialty restaurant on embarkation night, priority embarkation/debarkation, fresh flowers, free laundry, access to the Club Class dining room or a Club Class section in the main dining room (depending on the ship) for dinner each night, plus breakfast and lunch on sea days, nightly canapes and more.

Note that Princess has limited family cabin options, including standard rooms with connecting doors, as well as family suites with full baths on select ships.

Royal Caribbean Cabins

As a family-friendly cruise line, Royal has a wider array of staterooms that can fit groups of three or more. The cruise line is known for its over-the-top family suites equipped with video games, bunk beds and even slides.

Royal Caribbean also offers other family cabin options, including relatively spacious cabins (by industry standards) with Pullman beds and/or connecting doors.

Royal offers a large selection of room categories, from less than 10 on the smallest ship to more than 20 categories on the largest ships. They have innovative cabin options on select ships, which includes Virtual Balcony inside cabins where giant TV screens give the impression of floor-to-ceiling windows.

Comprehensive suite privileges are offered as well by Royal, which include priority boarding and disembarking, reserved theater seating and VIP pool seating where available; Royal Suite Class on Oasis- and Quantum-class ships is a tiered suite perks program that goes beyond the line's regular suite privileges

Royal has the largest suites in the mainstream cruise industry, including duplex options. They have several family cabin options, including those with connecting doors, as well as larger rooms with full baths on all ships.

What Are the Dining Options on Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean International?

Chef Preparing a Cod Fillet (Photo: Jack Frog/Shutterstock)

Princess Cruises is known for offering great free and for-fee dining options, including multiple main dining rooms on most ships, excellent pizza and pasta venues, a famous steakhouse, and the exclusive Chef’s Table.

Royal Caribbean dining ranges from casual poolside hot dogs and buffet options to high-end Japanese cuisine. Wonderland is one of the industry’s most innovative specialty restaurants, with gourmet creations such as liquid olives, floral yuzu granite, and tamarind spice emulsion.

Princess Cruises Dining

One or more main dining rooms on Princess have flexible Dine My Way seatings. The line has a growing selection of alternative restaurants on most ships with anywhere from a third to half included in the cruise fare such as Alfredo's Pizzeria and the International Cafe.

The popular Ultimate Balcony Dining, an in-room fine-dining experience for breakfast, is available for a fee to all passengers in rooms with balconies.

Princess ships also have at least one formal night per cruise requiring passengers to dress up for dinner (or eat in the buffet where casual dress is acceptable).

Royal Caribbean International Dining

Royal conveniently offers both fixed and flexible My Time Dining options along with an extensive selection of specialty restaurants with a handful included in the cruise fare, including Sorrento's Pizzeria and Cafe Promenade.

Royal has a partnership with Jamie Oliver, whose Jamie's Italian can be found on multiple ships. At least one formal night per cruise requires cruisers to dress up for dinner or eat in the buffet where casual attire is acceptable.

Does Royal Caribbean Offer More Pool Deck Fun than Princess Cruises?

Sky Princess

Royal Caribbean and Princess Cruises offer more than one pool on every ship, but their vibes are different. While Royal Caribbean is known for its loud, rowdy pool decks with music, games and tons of kids, Princess Cruises lido decks are generally more subdued.

Adult-only areas or decks are available on both cruise lines -- but not on all ships.

Princess Cruises Pool Decks

Most Princess ships have at least three pools including a less-trafficked aft pool and several have one with a retractable roof; almost all ships have a minimum of five hot tubs.

All their ships have at least one splash pool for kids and silly poolside games and activities are offered from time to time.

Don't worry: adults can enjoy the adults-only Sanctuary (many with a pool), which offers a quiet pool/sun deck alternative for a half-day or full-day fee.

Evening movies are shown daily on the top sun deck as part of Movies Under the Stars.

Royal Caribbean International Pool Decks

Royal Caribbean ships have at least two pools on every ship, while some have three or even four. Over half of the fleet’s ships have the FlowRider surf simulator; just as many have the kids' H2O Zone or Splashaway Bay.

New and amplified Royal ships have the multi-waterslide Perfect Storm; bigger ships in warm-weather destinations have lots of poolside activities including "sexiest man" and belly flop competitions.

The Adults-only Solarium on Royal ships offers a quiet sun deck alternative for adults.

Princess Cruises vs. Royal Caribbean: Which Cruise Line Has the Best Sports Deck?

Sport Courts on Ruby Princess (Photo: Cruise Critic)

Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean both offer outdoor sports areas, including basketball and volleyball courts, table tennis and jogging tracks. Sports decks are generally on the upper levels of the ship and are free to use.

Princess Cruises Sports Deck

All Princess ships have shuffleboard and table tennis. Most ships have jogging tracks, a Center Court with basketball and volleyball and some golf offering, from a practice cage to a nine-hole putting course.

Royal Caribbean International Sports Deck

All Royal ships have a basketball court and rock-climbing wall; most also have mini-golf. Quantum-class ships have indoor skydiving, and the five Oasis-class ships have zip lines.

What Are the Best Indoor Activities on Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean Ships?

70s Line Dance Class on Enchantment of the Seas

Most first-time cruisers will be surprised to see how much time is spent onboard. Even busy itineraries offer plenty of down time, and Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean have tons of options for those looking to take part in daytime activities, from group games to lectures and dance classes.

Princess Cruises Indoor Activities

A typical daily schedule aboard a Princess cruise might include multiple trivia sessions, arts and crafts, dance classes, bingo and Voice of the Ocean rehearsals (a singing competition created via a partnership with TV's "The Voice").

Destination-specific lectures and enrichment programs, such as North to Alaska and Local Connections, are on most itineraries. Some Princess ships feature a multi-deck piazza-style atrium, which is a hub for dining and entertainment.

Royal Caribbean International Indoor Activities

An average daily schedule on a Royal ship might include trivia, bingo, dance classes, scrapbooking sessions, napkin- or towel-folding demonstrations and jewelry-making classes. Many ships even have indoor ice skating rinks for cruisers to enjoy at their leisure.

On Oasis-, Quantum-, Voyager- and Freedom-class ships, the Royal Promenade (or Royal Esplanade, as it is known on Quantum ships) is the place to grab a bite to eat or beer to drink, people-watch or hit the shops.

Quantum-class ships feature the SeaPlex, an indoor activity center with bumper cars, roller skating, trapeze classes and an arcade. Twelve ships have an escape room for passengers 12 years old and over.

Nightlife on the High Seas: Princess Cruises vs. Royal Caribbean

Two70 on Anthem of the Seas

Although all Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean ships feature night clubs, live music and music-and-dance shows, the nighttime entertainment available on these two cruise lines is rather different.

Royal Caribbean offers stunning performances, including ice skating and water shows and Broadway musicals. Princess Cruises offers a mix of more traditional productions and technology-based entertainment.

Princess Cruises Nightlife

Select Princess ships feature an only-on-Princess theater show, created by Oscar winner and composer of "Wicked," "Pippin" and "Godspell" Stephen Schwartz. All ships offer musical revue-style shows, plus the occasional comedy or magic act.

Piano or small act music shows are available in virtually every bar and lounge each night. Vines is the spot for a late-night glass of wine and good conversation.

5 SKIES” is the line’s most innovative nighttime show, with a virtual reality/video game theme and striking special effects. All their ships feature a nighttime dance club.

Royal Caribbean International Nightlife

Royal offers Broadway or London West End productions on multiple ships. Much like Princess, all ships offer musical revue-style song-and-dance shows, plus the occasional comedy or magic act.

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. Similar to Princess, Royal ships have a nighttime dance club.

Which One’s Better for Families: Princess Cruises or Royal Caribbean International?

7 Reasons Families Will Love Caribbean Princess (Photo: Princess Cruises)

Both cruise lines can be great options for families, but choosing just one really depends on the type of family we’re talking about. If you are traveling with children or thrill-seeking teenagers, Royal Caribbean may be the safest bet. However, if your family is older or you’re looking to keep it mellow, Princess Cruises is most likely a better fit.

Fortunately, both cruise lines offer great kids’ clubs.

Princess Cruises: Great for Families

Princess offers three kids’ clubs for smaller kids, tweens and teens. The line has a partnership with the Discovery Channel provides onboard and shoreside educational experiences for kids and families themed around TV shows on Discovery, Animal Planet, the Learning Channel and the Science Channel.

Every ship has a splash pool for kids, and select ships have teen-only hot tubs. There are DIY launderettes for easy cleaning of kids' clothing often available on each passenger deck. Select ships offer two-room family suites.

Royal Caribbean International: Great for Families

All in all, Royal is a genuinely family-friendly cruise line. The Royal Babies and Tots Nursery is for babies ages 6 to 36 months; daytime and nighttime sessions are available for a fee. Nursery drop off is not available on Jewel, Adventure or Explorer of the Seas, however.

Parents and guardians can pre-order baby food, diapers, wipes and cream through the Babies 2 Go program. Royal also offers a large selection of family-friendly cabin configurations.

Bottom Line: Princess Cruises Offers Tradition While Royal Caribbean Shoots for Innovation

Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean offer two very different ways of cruising: one aiming to keep traditions alive while the other reaching for new and better.

Princess is the more traditional of the two, with a mellower vibe, fewer specialty restaurants and song-and-dance revue-style evening shows. Some ships have a few innovations including the SeaWalk, a see-through glass walkway that hangs off one side of the ship 16 decks above the water.

Royal Caribbean, on the other hand, is all about family-friendly thrills. The cruise line is known for industry innovations, such as the first-at-sea rock-climbing walls, ice skating rinks and escape rooms, and the FlowRider surf simulator. Newest innovations include indoor bumper cars and glass-enclosed pods that offer 360-degree views high above the ship.

Updated May 16, 2023
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