Royal Caribbean vs. Carnival Cruise Line: Which Cruise Line is Best For You?

royal caribbean vs. carnival cruise line

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If you’re in the market for a cruise vacation, two of the most popular cruise lines are Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Cruise Line.

But which one is right for you? We examine the significant differences between Royal Caribbean vs. Carnival Cruise Line.

Three ships in NASSAU BAHAMAS
Three cruise ships docked in Nassau, Bahamas.

Types of ships

The Royal Caribbean fleet is known for its massive and imposing ships, with features like rock climbing walls, ice skating rinks, bumper cars, and even zip lines.

They also have many dining options, from casual cafes to upscale restaurants.

Carnival, on the other hand, has a slightly more laid-back vibe. It has some unique features, including the famous BOLT roller coaster on its Excel class ships (Mardi Gras, Carnival Celebration, and Carnival Jubilee), a themed WaterWorks water park, and several themed bars and lounges.

If you’re looking for a more extravagant experience, Royal Caribbean may be the way to go, but if you prefer a more relaxed atmosphere, Carnival might be a better fit.

View of Symphony of the Seas' zip line
View of Symphony of the Seas’ zip line (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean)

Destinations

Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line offers a variety of destinations, from the Bahamas and the Caribbean to Europe, Alaska, Australia, and beyond.

Royal Caribbean also offers itineraries to exotic destinations, like the South Pacific, Asia, and the Middle East.

On the other hand, Carnival tends to stick to more traditional cruise destinations.

Both cruise lines have their private island in The Bahamas. Royal Caribbean has Perfect Day at CocoCay, while Carnival shares Half Moon Cay with Holland America Line.

Royal Caribbean at Cococay, Bahamas, during daytime
Royal Caribbean at Cococay, Bahamas, during daytime (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean)

Popular ports for both lines in the U.S. include Port Canaveral, PortMiami, Galveston, New Orleans, and Los Angeles.

If you’re looking for a more unique and off-the-beaten-path itinerary, Royal Caribbean may be the better choice.

Cruise line vibe

Another factor to consider is the overall vibe of each cruise line. Royal Caribbean attracts a slightly more upscale and diverse crowd, mixing families, couples, and solo travelers.

On the other hand, Carnival is known for its party atmosphere and tends to attract a younger crowd.

Royal Caribbean may be the way to go if you’re looking for a more relaxed and sophisticated experience. But Carnival may be the better choice if you’re looking for a fun and lively atmosphere with plenty of nightlife options.

Interior view of Carnival Sunshine
Liquid Lounge transforming into the nightclub on Carnival Sunshine

Onboard activities

Regarding onboard activities, Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line offers passengers a wide range of entertainment options. However, some notable differences between the two cruise lines are worth considering.

Royal Caribbean is known for its innovative and adrenaline-pumping activities, such as rock climbing walls, surf simulators, and zip lines. They also have many entertainment options, including Broadway-style shows, ice skating performances, and acrobatic shows.

On the other hand, Carnival Cruise Line caters more to families and offers a variety of fun activities for kids, such as water slides, mini-golf, basketball courts, and arcade games.

Carnival also partners with Dr. Seuss, meaning passengers can enjoy themed green eggs and ham character breakfasts, parties, and storytime sessions.

Dr. Seuss Bookville on Carnival Freedom
Dr. Seuss Bookville on Carnival Freedom (Photo courtesy of Carnival)

Both cruise lines also have spas with salon services and, depending on the vessel, may have a thermal suite add-on.

Royal Caribbean may be the better choice if you’re looking for an upscale feel and a wide range of innovative activities.

However, Carnival Cruise Line may be the way to go if you’re traveling with kids or looking for a more cost-effective option.

Regardless of which cruise line you choose, both offer a great selection of onboard activities to keep you busy.

Entertainment

Yes, Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line offer different entertainment options.

Royal Caribbean is known for its Broadway-style shows and innovative attractions like ice-skating rinks, rock-climbing walls, and surfing simulators. There are also themed parties, parades, and live music performances.

Carnival Cruise Line focuses more on comedy, karaoke, trivia, poolside contests, and game shows. They also have a popular water park called WaterWorks and a signature attraction called SkyRide (on Vista-class ships), where guests can ride bikes on a suspended track.

Both cruise lines offer plenty of options to keep passengers entertained, but the specific offerings vary depending on the ship and itinerary.

View of Skyride at Carnival Panorama
View of Skyride at Carnival Panorama

MORE: 12 Things to Know Before Sailing Royal Caribbean

Food and drink

Yes, the food options differ between Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line.

Both cruise lines offer a wide selection of dining options. While Royal Caribbean is known for its upscale feel and gourmet cuisine, Carnival Cruise Line offers a more casual dining experience.

Royal Caribbean’s main dining room features a varied menu with options like lobster bisque, filet mignon, and baked Alaska.

The cruise line also offers specialty restaurants like Jamie’s Italian, where passengers can enjoy Italian dishes created by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. Upscale specialty venues like Wonderland and 150 Central Park are also available (both on select ships).

Interior view of Jamie's Italian restaurant at Anthem of the Seas
Interior view of Jamie’s Italian restaurant at Anthem of the Seas (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean)

Additionally, Royal Caribbean offers a variety of casual dining options like Johnny Rockets and the Windjammer buffet.

Carnival Cruise Line’s main dining room offers a less formal atmosphere with steak, seafood, and pasta options.

The cruise line also offers specialty venues like Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse, Cucina Del Capitano Italian cuisine, and Bonsai Teppanyaki hibachi.

Carnival also has a variety of casual dining options like Guy’s Burger Joint, created by celebrity chef Guy Fieri, BlueIguana Cantina serving tacos and burritos, and the Lido Marketplace buffet.

Front view of Blueiguana Cantina Carnival Celebration
Front view of Blueiguana Cantina Carnival Celebration

While the food options differ between Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line, Carnival provides more options included in the price of your cruise.

Cabins

When comparing Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line, one of the main factors that passengers consider is the quality of the cabins.

While both cruise lines offer a range of accommodation options, it’s important to keep in mind that there are some notable differences between the two.

Firstly, Royal Caribbean tends to offer more luxurious and upscale cabins on its newer ships, with a greater emphasis on premium amenities and features.

This is particularly evident in their suite offerings, such as private balconies, dedicated concierge services, and exclusive access to restaurants and lounges.

A royal loft suite on Anthem of the Seas
A royal loft suite on Anthem of the Seas (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean)

In comparison, Carnival Cruise Line tends to focus more on affordability and accessibility, with a broader range of cabins available at lower price points.

While this means the cabins may not be quite as nice, plenty of comfortable and well-appointed options exist, including balcony cabins and suites.

Both cruise lines offer a range of cabin categories, though, from interior and ocean-view rooms to more spacious suites with additional amenities.

Family cruising

Regarding family cruising, one of the key factors to consider is the kids and teen programs offered by cruise lines.

Carnival is known for its family-friendly atmosphere, which extends to its kids and teen programs.

The cruise line offers three different age groups for toddlers to teens: 2-5, 6-8, and 9-11.

Each age group has dedicated space and activities, such as arts and crafts, games, and movies.

circle c carnival cruise line
Circle C (Photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line)

For teens, Carnival offers two age groups: 12-14 and 15-17. The cruise line’s teen program is called Club O2 and provides a range of activities such as dance parties, video games, and sports tournaments.

The cruise line also offers a dedicated teens-only lounge called Circle C.

Royal Caribbean’s kids and teen program, called Adventure Ocean, is divided into six age groups from Royal babies up to teens: 6 months-36 months, 3-5 years old, 6-8 years old, 9-11 years old, 12-14 years old, and 15-17 years old.

Each age group has its own dedicated space and activities designed to cater to that age group’s specific needs and interests.

Royal Caribbean offers teens two age groups: 12-14 years old and 15-17 years old.

The cruise line’s teen program is called Teen Club, which provides various activities such as dance parties, karaoke, video games, and sports tournaments.

The cruise line also offers a dedicated teen-only lounge called The Living Room.

royal caribbean adventure ocean kids' club
Adventure Ocean (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean)

When comparing the kids and teen programs of Carnival and Royal Caribbean, both cruise lines offer a great variety of activities for children and teenagers.

However, Royal Caribbean’s Adventure Ocean program stands out for offering activities for children as young as six months old, which can be a great advantage for families with young children.

Additionally, Royal Caribbean’s program is divided into more age groups, allowing for more age-appropriate activities and a better overall experience for children and teenagers.

Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean offer great options for families looking for a fun cruising experience.

While Carnival has a more laid-back and casual atmosphere focusing on family-friendly activities, Royal Caribbean’s newer ships offer a more upscale feel with high-tech features and specialty dining options.

Pricing

Regarding the cruise fare for Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line cruises, there are a few key differences to consider.

Overall, Royal Caribbean tends to be a bit more expensive than Carnival, but a few factors can impact your cruise’s cost.

serenity sundeck with loungers

One major factor that can impact the price of a Royal Caribbean cruise is the ship you choose.

Some newer, more upscale ships, like Oasis-class ships (Symphony of the Seas and Wonder of the Seas, among others), can be expensive, while older boats or those with fewer amenities may be more affordable.

Similarly, the time of year you cruise can also impact the cost. Royal Caribbean’s prices tend to be higher during peak travel seasons like summer and holidays, while prices may be more affordable during off-peak times.

Regarding Carnival, the prices tend to be more consistent across ships and seasons.

While there may be some variation based on factors like the length of the cruise or the cabin you choose, you’re generally more likely to find affordable fares on Carnival than on Royal Caribbean.

One thing to remember with both cruise lines is that while the initial fare may seem affordable, there are often additional costs to consider. Royal Caribbean and Carnival charge extra fees for specialty dining, drinks, and shore excursions, so include these costs into your budget when comparing prices.

What is the best way to compare Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line cruise packages?

If you’re planning a cruise vacation and considering Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line, comparing their cruise packages is essential to make an informed decision.

Here are the best ways to compare Royal Caribbean vs. Carnival Cruise Line:

  1. Passenger experience: Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line cater to families, couples, and solo travelers, but Royal Caribbean is known for its upscale feel. On the other hand, Carnival Cruise Line offers a more casual and laid-back atmosphere.
  2. Dining: Royal Caribbean offers a more diverse selection of options, including specialty restaurants, while Carnival Cruise Line focuses more on the main dining room experience. If you’re a food enthusiast, Royal Caribbean may be the better choice (depending on the ship).
  3. Price: Both cruise lines offer a range of fares, but Royal Caribbean tends to be more expensive overall. However, Royal Caribbean may offer more value for your money with its luxurious amenities and activities.
  4. Onboard: Both cruise lines offer a variety of onboard activities, but Royal Caribbean is known for its adventurous options, such as zip lining and rock climbing. On the other hand, Carnival Cruise Line offers more traditional activities, such as mini-golf and poolside games.
  5. Overall experience: The best way to compare Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line is to read reviews from past passengers and compare the specific features and amenities that matter most to you. Consider your budget, preferred level of service, and desired activities before deciding.
carnival breeze upper deck aerial
(Photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line)

Overall, when it comes down to Royal Caribbean vs. Carnival Cruise Line, it comes down to you and your family’s personal preferences and priorities.

READ NEXT: 8 Tips, Hacks, and Ways to Save Money on a Carnival Cruise

Carnival Spirit Ship Tour

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