Carnival vs Royal Caribbean

If I didn’t stir the pot enough with my what to wear on formal night post, I am sure to ruffle a few feathers over which cruise line is better… Carnival or Royal Caribbean. This debate can get down right nasty and it seems the two sides don’t really like each other much (even though they are both excellent cruise lines). Carnival fans think Royal Caribbean food is terrible and their cabins too small and Royal Caribbean fans think Carnival cruisers are just a bunch of drunks that like to cruise on inferior ships. Is Royal Caribbean better than Carnival? Let’s find out in a head to head duel to the death. Okay… maybe not to the death… but at least until we crown the first unofficial heavy weight Cruise Legs champion. For this contest we will compare Royal Caribbean to Carnival in ships, food, price, onboard activities and cabins… may the best cruise line win.

Oasis of the Seas Aqua Theater from Waaay Up © by Paul Dickerson

Best Cruise Ships – Royal Caribbean

If you ever get into an argument with a Carnival fan that refuses to say the Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas is better than any ship Carnival has to offer then you need to just walk away and let them live in their fantasy world. The best Carnival cruise ship, the Dream, doesn’t even come close to the Royal Caribbean Freedom class much less the Oasis class. It’s not even a close second.

While Royal Caribbean keeps coming up with new things that make you say “Wow!” like the wave rider, ice rinks at sea, aqua theaters, inside balcony cabins, zip lines and bars that move between levels, Carnival’s main improvements have been the addition of water slides and even more neon.

Best Cruise Ship Activities – Royal Caribbean

Since we just mentioned some of the awesome activities onboard the Royal Caribbean ships lets go ahead and declare the obvious winner for the best activities on a cruise ship. With Royal Caribbean you can go surfing, rock wall climbing, rollerblading, ice skating or you can ride a Ferris Wheel, hop a ride on a floating bar or even take a ride a zipline. You can even catch daily parades on the promenade deck featuring some of Dreamworks best animation characters such as Kung Fu Panda or the Penguins of Madagascar. Still not enough… then head to the back of the Oasis class ships to catch a dive show at the Aqua Theater.

The main Carnival cruise activities center around the pool decks and their party like atmosphere. Carnival recently did a great job of upgrading some of their older Fantasy class ships with water parks and they have expanded on these water parks in their newest ships providing some of the best slides at sea. Carnival also borrowed a page from their Sister line Princess Cruises and has began installing large TV screens by the pool where you can watch movies or even watch live sports. I will also give Carnival the nod for best comedians. Some of the funniest comedians I have seen anywhere have been on a Carnival cruise ship.

Best Cruise Line Food – Royal Caribbean

It’s funny to hear fans of these two lines argue over the quality of food in the main dining room as neither in my opinion is even close to being the best cruise food at sea. In my opinion that award goes to Celebrity and it seems that the readers of Porthole Magazine would agree with me as they have awarded Celebrity with that award as well. As for our contenders, there isn’t much difference in the main dining room although the chocolate melting cake certainly helps give Carnival Cruise Line food a slight edge. But what Carnival gains in points for the melting cake, they give back with the horrible nightly skits. Please just let me eat in peace.

Both cruise lines are also the same when it comes to specialty restaurants and usually only have one or two on each ship such as a steakhouse or Italian restaurant. Having eaten at these on both lines I can say this is basically a draw as they seem to be on the ship because every other line is doing it and they want to put it in the brochure.

Where Royal Caribbean food starts to pull away is in small alternative eateries such as Johnny Rockets (small additional fee) and places like the Seaview Cafe (no additional fee) on the Serenade of the Seas which is a great non crowded hideaway to grab a bite to eat as the ship sails away. The Oasis of the Seas and the Allure expand the options even more with several eateries located among the “neighborhoods” such as an ice cream parlor, Rita’s Cantina and the Park Cafe. Even though some of these places have small additional fees, it’s still nice to have options from the normally so-so lunch buffets offered on the ship.

To be fair Carnival does offer buffet alternatives such as a sushi bar, a deli and a fish and chips location on some ships but they are typically all on the main Lido deck around the buffet dining area and it feels more like a Vegas buffet food station than a different place to eat.

Navigator of the Seas Balcony Cabin

Cruise Ship Cabins

Carnival cruise fans second biggest complaint against Royal Caribbean is for the size of the cabins. After a closer look however this may not be so true. The stigma comes from the two oldest Sovereign class Royal Caribbean ships which offer some of the smallest rooms at sea and are quite frankly two bad cruise ships. Because they cruise the small 3 and 4 night sailings many first time cruisers start with one of these ships and then they are left with a bad taste for RCL.

When comparing two middle of the road ships for each line it is a different story all together. To keep this a fair fight lets just compare balcony cabins and keep the suites out of the contest. After all this competition is turning ugly enough for Carnival. There is no need to mention how great the spa suites and loft suites are on the Oasis (oops! maybe we just did). The Carnival cruise ship cabins on the Glory weigh in at 185 sq ft plus a 35 sq ft balcony while the Royal Caribbean cabins on the Navigator of the Seas weighs in at 188 sq ft for the main cabin and 50 sq ft for the balcony….huh? But I thought Carnival cabins were so much bigger than RCL. Seems the actual numbers don’t agree.

I’d also like to throw out another cabin difference that I mentioned in my Navigator of the Seas review. Carnival balcony cabins come with an out swinging door to the balcony as opposed to a sliding door on the RCL ships. This may not sound like much but the sliding doors give you a much better view, allow you to leave the door open at night and don’t require anyone sitting on the balcony to move every time you open the door.

Cheapest Cruise Line – Carnival

Carnival finally keeps this contest from being a Royal Caribbean clean sweep and proves they may even be the smartest cruise line in the process. While cruise passengers are paying a premium for all of the amenities onboard the Royal Caribbean ships, Carnival has kept their improvements smaller and their prices lower. In the process they have strengthened their spot as the world’s largest cruise line by appealing to the masses where it counts… the pocket book.

More times than not I have even chosen to cruise with Carnival over Royal Caribbean based on price alone. Considering the cheapest 7 night Carnival cruises in September start around $500 compared to $850 for the cheapest 7 night Royal Caribbean cruises for the same period it becomes tough to justify the difference. Although to fair I always find myself wishing I was on Royal Caribbean after I board the Carnival ship.

Overall Winner (in a land slide) – Royal Caribbean