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Princess Cruises vs Carnival Compared

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Princess Cruises and Carnival Cruise Line are popular choices for cruise vacations. Both cruise lines are owned by Carnival Corporation & plc., but they offer very different experiences for passengers.

It’s easy to become stuck when choosing a cruise line for your next cruise vacation. This guide serves to help you determine which factors are most important to you and help you choose the right cruise line.

Princess Cruises vs Carnival: At a Glance

Princess Cruises vs Carnival Compared

Princess Cruises offers a more sophisticated and upscale feel. The cruise line is traditional yet easygoing. They strike a balance between luxury and mainstream vacationing that works to create a calming vacation.

Carnival Cruise Line is a family-friendly cruise line with budget-friendly prices. The high-energy atmosphere and family-friendly offerings are popular with families and young couples. The cruise line promotes a casual approach that’s popular with American families.

Cruise Ships

Two large cruise ships tied to pier
COZUMEL, MEXICO – DEC 8: Two large cruise ships tied to pier on December 8th 2010.

Princess Cruises

Princess Cruises operates a fleet of 15 cruise ships ranging from 91,627 GT to 145,000 GT. The oldest cruise ship in the fleet is Grand Princess, built in 1998, while the newest cruise ship, Discovery Princess, debuted in January 2022.

The cruise ships have upscale, elegant decor and a more intimate atmosphere.

Princess fleet consists mainly of mid-sized ships. While there aren’t as many bells and whistles, the cruise ships offer quieter, more relaxed sailings with a bit of elegance.

Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival Cruise Line operates a fleet of 24 cruise ships. The oldest cruise ship in the fleet, Carnival Sunshine, was built in 1996 while the newest ship, Carnival Celebration launched in 2022.

Carnival’s cruise ships range in size from the smallest vessel Carnival Elation at 71,909 GT, to the largest, Carnival Celebration, at 181,808 GT.

The fleet of large cruise ships offers plenty to see and do. The bright color decor is reflective of the party atmosphere aboard Carnival cruises.

Carnival’s ships are an excellent choice for those looking for adventure or an all-night party.

Which to Choose

Both cruise lines offer plenty of medium and large ships. If you like big ships with lots of thrills and amenities, Carnival’s largest cruise ships are some of the biggest and most innovative.

But if you prefer quieter, more intimate vacations, you’ll want to choose Princess Cruises. Their upscale decor and smaller ships provide a quieter, more relaxing vacation.

Demographics

Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

Princess Cruises

Princess Cruises caters to a more mature demographic, attracting older couples, friends, and families. Their popular Alaskan cruises are a big draw for older couples.

While you will find families and younger kids sailing with Princess, the cruise line’s primary demographic is the 50+ market.

Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival Cruise Line’s demographic consists mostly of families and couples. They’re known as the “fun cruise line” and are a popular choice for young families with kids and teens.

You can expect the cruises to be full of families and kids during the summer and Christmas break.

The average age of passengers on a Carnival cruise is less than 50 years.

Who to Choose

Carnival and Princess cater to different demographics. If you’re looking for a party or a younger crowd with kids and teens, you’ll want to stick with Carnival. For a quieter, more mature crowd, choose Princess.

Activities & Entertainment

Entertainers on a Princess Cruise ship performing a dance by the pool

Princess Cruises

Princess Cruises offers plenty of traditional cruise activities like dance lessons, live music, casinos, shopping, pools, and hot tubs.

The cruise line also offers enrichment programs like cooking classes, wine tastings, seminars, and art auctions.

The cruise line has nightly shows featuring comedians, magic acts, and their take on The Voice, properly named “Voice of the Ocean.”

Princess Cruises has a partnership with Oscar winner Stephen Schwartz which delivers three Princess exclusive shows. The shows are only available on select ships but offer an incredible experience.

Rendering of Carnival's BOLT roller coaster with two passengers riding
Rendering of BOLT (Rendering Credit: Carnival Cruise Line)

Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival cruise ships offer various activities and entertainment options for passengers of all ages. As a family-focused cruise line, Carnival offers something for everyone to enjoy.

Their ships offer mini-golf, water parks, pool-side movies, water slides, rope courses, casinos, sports courts, karaoke, and live game shows.

The newest ships in the Excel-class feature Bolt, the first roller coaster at sea.

The Playlist Production theater feature 30-minute musical performances twice a day. And every ship has a Punchliner Comedy Club with evening family-friendly routines and adult-only, late-night laughs.

Who to Choose

Older adults will fit right in with the more sophisticated and laid-back activities on Princess Cruises. The activities and entertainment on Carnival are a perfect fit for young adults and families.

Food

Passenger eating at Norwegian Cruise Line Moderno Specialty Restaurant Brazilian Steakhouse
(Photo Courtesy: Norwegian Cruise Line)

Princess Cruises

Princess Cruises offers a sophisticated dining experience. Every Princess cruise ship has a traditional main dining room with early and late dinner seatings.

The food on Princess Cruises is outstanding, with authentic and locally inspired dishes and traditional favorites.

Like other mainstream cruise lines, Princess cruise ships have specialty restaurants, also known as for-a-fee dining. Specialty restaurants like Crown Grill and Kai Sushi provide a more upscale dining experience with menu options not found in the complimentary restaurants.

Though foodies may prefer specialty restaurants, the complimentary restaurants provide excellent quality food. Unless you really want to try a specialty restaurant, you won’t go hungry sticking to the complimentary dining venues like the World Fresh Marketplace and International Café.

For a more intimate experience, guests staying in a balcony cabin receive a free Ultimate Balcony Dining experience.

Every Princess cruise has at least one formal night requiring passengers to dress up for dinner in the main dining rooms.

Shaquille o'neil's the big chicken restaurant
The Big Chicken (Render Courtesy: Carnival Cruise Line)

Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival Cruise Line is known as “America’s cruise line,” and it’s reflected in their menus. The restaurants on Carnival cruise ships offer plenty of American favorites. Think burgers, pizza, wings, and steak.

Unlike other cruise lines, most of the alternative restaurants are free.

Specialty dining at Guy’s Burger Joint and BlueIguana Cantina are included with your cruise fare. However, some alternative restaurants, such as Seafood Shack, Bonsai Sushi, and The Steakhouse, have an added fee.

Carnival has partnerships with celebrity chef Guy Fieri to produce menus for Guy’s Burger Joint and Guy’s Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que.

There’s also the Big Chicken by Carnival’s Chief Fun Officer Shaquille O’Neil.

Who to Choose

This one comes down to personal preference. Carnival Cruise Line is for you if you prefer to dress casually and enjoy fried foods and American favorites. Princess Cruises is best for passengers looking for fine dining and upscale menus with better food quality.

Nightlife

Live music on a Princess cruise ship

Princess Cruises

You’ll find live entertainment around the ship. There’s live music at nearly every bar and lounge, from laid-back piano to small-act music shows.

Every Princess cruise ship has a nighttime dance club.

Night-Club-aboard-a-cruise-ship

Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival is definitely a party ship.

The ship comes to life at night with live music, singing, and dancing.

If you’re not a partier, you can find quiet spaces around the ship or enjoy an evening movie on the pool deck.

Who to Choose

Princess Cruises is best for those looking for low-key nightlife. If enjoying a drink while listening to live jazz piano sounds like a fun night, Princess is for you.

Carnival is best for partygoers. The ship becomes quite loud and crowded at night as passengers drink and dance the night away.

Kids & Families

Camp Discovery on Princess Cruises

Princess Cruises

Princess Cruises has a surprisingly good offering for families with kids. The cruise line’s partnership with Discover Channel provides educational programs for kids with themes around Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, the Science Channel, and the Learning Channel.

Children can participate in the kid’s clubs, where they are divided into age groups. The kid’s clubs are led by expertly trained crew members who provide age-appropriate activities for kids and teens.

Some cruise ships have teen-only hot tubs. And all of Princess’ cruise ships offer a kids’ splash pool.

Camp Ocean kids club on Mardi Gras cruise ship

Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival’s family approach provides plenty of activities for kids. The cruise line is often voted one of the best cruise lines for families.

Their ships have water slides, video arcades, mini-golf, and kid’s clubs.

The kid’s clubs divide children into three age groups; Camp Ocean for kids aged 2 to 11, Circle ‘C’ for tweens aged 12 to 14, and Club O2 for teens aged 15 to 17.

Carnival partnered with Dr. Suess, which provides the kid’s program Dr. Seuss at Sea. The program includes various activities with themes from Dr. Suess’ popular kid’s books.

Some activities include Story Time, the Suess-a-palooza Parade, and a special Green Eggs and Ham breakfast.

Teens can get saloon treatments a the teens-only ZSPA or learn to DJ at Spin U.

Nighttime babysitting is available through the Night Owls program for an added fee.

Who to Choose

Carnival Cruise Line consistently offers fun vacations for the whole family with nonstop fun and entertainment. They’ve made a name for themselves with their impressive offering for families and kids.

But Princess Cruises shouldn’t be ignored. They offer an incredible kids club, with educational components for kids of all ages. If your kid prefers quieter vacations, Princess Cruises is an excellent choice.

Cabins and Accommodations

Balcony Cabin on Princess Cruise ship with upscale, modern decor

Princess Cruises

The cruise line offers a large selection of cabin styles with upscale decor inspired by high-end hotels.

Guests booked in suite accommodations receive exclusive perks and privileges, including a free dinner at a specialty restaurant, priority embarkation and debarkation, free laundry services, and more.

Princess has limited family cabin cabins making it difficult for families to book single-stateroom accommodations. Select Princess cruise ships offer adjoining cabins with connecting doors as an alternative option for families. However, families must book two cabins to use the connecting doors.

Rendering of Mardi Gras' balcony cabin
Mardi Gras’ Balcony Cabin (Render Courtesy: Carnival Cruise Line)

Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival offers large standard cabin sizes with brightly colored decor.

The decor on most Carnival cruise ships feels a bit tacky and outdated. Thankfully, the cabins on new Carnival cruise ships like Mardi Gras offer a significantly improved style.

The newest ships offer almost 30 different cabin categories, including many family cabins. Families can book family-specific cabins or adjoining cabins with connecting doors.

Several cruise ships offer Cloud 9 Spa rooms which include access to the spa’s thermal suites, thalassotherapy pool, free fitness classes, and discounts on spa treatments.

Unlike Princess Cruises, the special perks for guests with suite accommodations only include priority boarding and debarkation.

Who to Choose

The cabins on Princess Cruises tend to be more comfortable with modern, upscale decor. However, the sizes of standard cabins are smaller than those on Carnival, and families have limited options.

Carnival’s cabin accommodations are slightly larger, with several family-sized stateroom options. The decor on older ships is a bit outdated, but you’ll find a comfortable experience on the newest ships.

Itineraries

Princess Cruise ship docked in Juneau Alaska
Photo by Danika Perkinson on Unsplash

Princess Cruises

Princess Cruises offers itineraries around the world. They offer one of the largest Alaska cruise programs in the industry, along with Caribbean, Bahamas, European, and Australian itineraries.

The cruise line offers world cruises that span multiple months visiting several dozen ports and countries.

They offer year-round sailings in Australia and Asia and more exotic cruises to South America, India, Africa, and the South Pacific.

Carnival Magic Departing Miami cruise port

Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival cruises departing from ports around the globe, but they primarily sail Caribbean, Bahamas, and Mexican itineraries.

The vast majority of their sailings depart from the mainland USA.

The cruise line doesn’t offer any world cruises or exotic sailings but does provide a handful of Alaskan and European itineraries.

Carnival has two cruise ships that sail year-round Australian itineraries.

Who to Choose

Princess Cruises offers more destinations and itineraries, including several exotic destinations and world cruises. Princess Cruises is an excellent choice if you’re looking to explore more remote, less-traveled destinations.

Princess Cruises are one of the most popular cruise lines for Alaskan sailings, with one of the largest itinerary selections in the cruise industry.

Carnival Cruise Line offers more Caribbean sailings than any other cruise line. Carnival offers the largest selection of itineraries if you’re looking for a Caribbean or Bahamas cruise.

Price

A view from the funnel of Crown Princess departing from Charlotte Amalie on Saint Thomas

Princess Cruises

Princess cruise fares are in line with the industry average. The cruise line runs frequent sails throughout the year, including discounts on beverage packages, specialty dining, and additional booking incentives like onboard credit.

The cruise fare includes dining in most shipboard restaurants, standard drinks, and most activities and entertainment.

Specialty dining restaurants and Princess Cruises drink packages cost extra.

Carnival Liberty Cruise Ship in Miami on the top open decks with water slide and pool with Miami city skyline in background

Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival Cruise Line offers some of the lowest fares in the cruise industry, especially on shorter sailings.

Like Princess, Carnival’s cruise fare includes meals at standard restaurants, basic drinks, and most entertainment and activities on the ship. But Carnival also provides several alternative restaurants at no extra charge.

But the base cruise fare covers almost everything you need on a Carnival cruise. Despite the low fares, very few items cost extra on a Carnival Cruise.

You will need to pay extra for things like the CHEERS! beverage package, WiFi, and IMAX theatres.

Who Wins?

There’s no debate here. Carnival Cruise Line offers some of the lowest cruise fares in the industry. But what makes Carnival the clear winner is the lack of upsells, additional packages, and overall nickel and diming found on other cruise lines.

The price of a Princess cruise isn’t far behind. But there may be more upsells than on Carnival.

Overall: Who Wins?

There’s no clear winner in the battle of Princess Cruises vs Carnival.

Both cruise lines offer completely different experiences. Choosing the best cruise line depends on your vacation preferences and personality.

Princess Cruises is best for quieter, more sophisticated vacations. The cruise line offers a higher level of service, food quality, and an upscale atmosphere.

Carnival Cruise Line is best for families, young couples, and active travelers. Their ships are high energy with a party atmosphere and a wide range of entertainment options. They offer plenty of fun and games for children and teens and offer one of the best kid’s programs in the cruise industry.

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Author

Marcello De Lio

I’ve been cruising since I was 11 years old. I love the freedom that cruising provides, meeting new people, and exploring amazing new ships. I love to share my passion for cruising and travel with readers.

2 thoughts on “Princess Cruises vs Carnival Compared”

  1. I’m going on my first Princess in2023. I have been on Carnival twice and was looking for a less party atmosphere and attitude. I enjoyed both cruises but would like to try a different experience. I hope my 18 yr. Goddaughter will have a good time but this is here first cruise so she will have no point of reference.

    Reply
    • It sounds like Princess is exactly what you’re looking for! My first cruise was with Princess when I was 12, and I had a blast. I’m sure your 18-year-old goddaughter will love it. Princess offers less thrills and partying, but there’s still plenty to see and do.

      Reply

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