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Carnival vs. Princess: How do they compare?

by Fran Golden | October 04, 2016

Both Carnival Cruise Line and Princess Cruises serve everyone from couples to families, but that’s where the similarities end. That said, more than Carnival, Princess’s passengers tend to change based on seasonality, with the numbers of kids on board skyrocketing in the summertime and over holidays and waning to just a few on, say, long January sailings. With Carnival, the passenger rosters are a bit more homogeneous, but you'll find more 20- and 30-somethings on the shorter sailings.

In addition to differences in cruise mates, you’ll see big differences in atmosphere: Carnival is about affordable fun, while Princess cruises are often nicer and more low-key, with a slightly higher price tag. The Vegas-style gaudiness that bothered some Carnival cruisers in the past is slowly being erased. The new ships are … almost tasteful. Sure, they’re anything but staid — that’s Princess, without a doubt — but the neon lights and brightly colored wallpapers are a thing of the past.

And it should come at no surprise that Princess is more rooted in traditions. After all, this is the line made famous by “The Love Boat.” Even today, the ships have onboard chapels and perform more marriages and vow renewals than any other line. Still, despite the differences in style and energy, the discounted prices aren’t so different that you won’t find yourself trying to decide if Princess is worth the extra money to you. Read on for how to figure that out.

Itineraries

Carnival keeps most of its 25 ships close to home, sailing year-round from U.S. ports to sunny, beachy destinations to our south, including the Caribbean, the Bahamas and Mexico. Carnival Spirit serves the Australian market year-round, while new ships — such as Carnival Vista — tend to be introduced in Europe.

Vs.

Princess’s 17 ships are spread out around the world. Sure, there are plenty of cruises to the Caribbean and Mexico, but the line also has a big presence in Alaska and Europe, plus ships year-round in Australia/New Zealand and Asia. The new Majestic Princess debuts from Shanghai in 2017. Princess also offers World Cruises that traverse the globe.

Daytime Activities

It's like a big, loud beach party on the top deck of Carnival ships, with kids and adults zooming down waterslides, splashing in the pool, line-dancing to DJ-mixed tunes, and grabbing drinks from outdoor bars. Silly contests — such as hairy chest competitions — add to the fun. Kids get their own activities at Camp Ocean (for age 2 to 11), and tweens and teens have separate clubs. Dr. Seuss characters are on board for parades and other participatory events. Adults can escape the noise in the slightly quieter Serenity area, a sun deck done up with cushy furnishings and, on some ships, a small pool or hot tubs.

Vs.

Princess ships have both lively and quiet pools, and adults can also pay a fee to sit in sun or shade at the Sanctuary, a cabana-filled area with butler service. On these ships, more passengers occupy themselves indoors as well, whether they’re taking computer classes, wine-pairing classes, hitting the spa or gym, or attending nature-focused lectures designed in conjunction with Discovery Channel. Kids get age-appropriate playrooms and outdoor play areas, and teens their own indoor/outdoor lounges; these can be packed in August … and ghost towns in February.

Want to see how the food, and nightlife compare? Click to read on.

Fran Golden

Fran Golden is a Cleveland-based contributor to ShermansCruise who also writes for USA Today.

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