Carnival vs. Royal Caribbean: How do they compare?by Fran Golden | September 16, 2016
If you’re shopping for a sunny Caribbean cruise, chances are ships by these lines will come up in your research. After all, both lines cater to everyone from small kids to retirees, as well as millennials and baby boomers, with a couple dozen ships that hold thousands of passengers each.
Both also offer fun, lively vacations that are packed with activities and entertainment options. So how do the two lines stack up against each other? Here's our take.
For decades, industry giant Carnival has delivered casual, unpretentious fun for the young and young at heart (think poolside dance parties) at an affordable — and often bargain — price. A lot has changed and the new ships are less gaudy and — dare we say it — even tasteful. The line has made efforts to become more family-oriented, with activities such as family game shows, plus new family accommodations on Carnival Vista. If you haven't tried Carnival in awhile it may be time to revisit this budget-friendly option.
Royal Caribbean has for years operated under the theory that bigger is better. To us, the big crowds are both a plus and a minus. There are actual parades down the indoor promenade on the larger ships, but finding a lounge chair on deck can be a challenge especially on the larger ships, where you may be one of more than 6,000 on board. These cruises are about being active and sometimes even sporty, with activities that would fit right in at any amusement park or modern fitness center. The ships include the largest vessels in the world, and they are so big you can actually get lost. Keeping a copy of the deck plan handy or downloading your ship's app with maps is recommended.
Carnival focuses a lot of its ships on cruises to close-to-home sunny vacation places such as the Caribbean, Bahamas, and Mexico, sailing from a wide variety of ports across the country, conveniently spread out so that many passengers can drive to the ship. A smaller number of ships sail around Alaska, Hawaii, and New England, and new ships tend to debut in the Mediterranean. Carnival Spirit is in the South Pacific serving the Australia market.
Royal Caribbean also has a wide variety of ships in the Caribbean and Bahamas out of close-to-home ports, though they also offer more ships in far-flung corners of the world including China and Southeast Asia, Australia/New Zealand, Europe, and the Middle East. Some of these ships have been tailored to meet the needs of the local market — such as Quantum of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas, which cater to Chinese passengers.
Carnival has some of the best sale fares in the industry, both on older ships and even on the new builds. For budget hunters, these rock bottom prices are a dream come true.
Royal Caribbean’s rates start higher, and the line discounts their newer ships less often and, when they do, the prices are still higher. Often, when you do see a deal, it’s for an “inside balcony,” which is a cabin category unique to Royal. These staterooms have verandas, but instead of looking out over the ocean they look out over, say, the shopping mall-like Promenade in the middle of the ship.
Want to see how food, cabins, and activities compare? Click to read on.
Fran Golden is a Cleveland-based contributor to ShermansCruise who also writes for USA Today.