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Norwegian vs. Carnival: How do they compare?

by Fran Golden | August 31, 2016

Norwegian Cruise Line and Carnival Cruise Line are industry giants when it comes to great big ships with broad audiences and low price tags. They both go after a similar cruisers — couples, singles, retirees, groups of friends, and both small and multi-generational families. So, basically anyone who is looking for a lively cruise experience at an affordable price point.

But, when you're shopping for a cruise, the two start to blur together very quickly. So how can you compare the ways that these two lines — which look very similar to someone who hasn't cruised with either line yet — are actually different from one another? Read on to find out our evaluations of the strengths and weaknesses of each, and how you can figure out which is the right choice for your next cruise vacation.

Atmosphere

This fleet is one of the newest in the industry and the line's three newest ships are some of the largest ... and loudest. If you love a Vegas-style resort, with lots to see and do, you'll enjoy these ships. Newer vessels have giant Megatrons on the not especially well-designed pool deck and in the interior atrium, resulting in echoing throughout the ship. There's a lot of activity both on deck and inside, where the casino — which is popular with many guests — is also largely open, adding to the noise. 

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For decades the industry giant has delivered casual, unpretentious (and, yes, sometimes noisy) fun for the young and young at heart at an affordable price. Picture hairy chest competitions and poolside dance parties, and you've got the scene nailed. 

Itineraries

Norwegian ships cruise to the sunny shores to our south — Caribbean, the Bahamas and Mexico — from home ports around the United States, including Boston, New York, Port Canaveral, and Miami. They also cruise around the Mediterranean, northern Europe, and South America.

In addition, the line owns Pride of America, the only ship that cruises the Hawaiian Islands year-round. Norwegian Joy, debuting in 2017, will serve the China market.

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Carnival, in comparison, sticks close to home. The line offers a wide variety of choices in the Caribbean, Bahamas, and Mexico from easily accessible homeports across the U.S, from ports such as New York City, Baltimore, Charleston, Galveston, Miami, and New Orleans.

They also offer seasonal cruises in Alaska, Bermuda, and New England/Canada. New ships — such as this year’s Carnival Vista — tend to debut in Europe with a season in the Mediterranean. Carnival Spirit also serves the Australia market. 

Cabins

On Norwegian you'll find everything from basic inside cabins to suites in The Haven, a luxury-ship-with-in-a-mainstream-ship concept that provides travelers with their own pool, sun deck, and restaurant. The newer ships offer studios for solo cruisers with access to a shared lounge. Family cabins are located near the kids clubs, and spa cabins are near the spa.

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Carnival's standard cabins are larger but pretty basic. A few exceptions: There are some spa suites with complimentary access to spa facilities, and Carnival Vista has both family cabins (with access to a shared lounge) and Havana Club accommodations with hammock chairs on private decks and a palapa-lined pool.

Want to see how food, activities, 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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