Royal Caribbean vs. Carnival: The Ultimate Showdown

google news icon 150px
Royal Caribbean vs Carnival Cruise Line

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. We may receive compensation when you purchase via my links at no cost to you. See my disclosure for more information.

Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Cruise Line are the undisputed titans of the cruise industry. They are two of the biggest and most-traveled cruise lines worldwide and two of the best cruise lines for families.

Royal Caribbean dazzles with its “wow factor” – think enormous ships and unique activities like surf simulators and zip-lining. It’s all about grandeur and innovation. In contrast, Carnival offers a more casual vibe, perfect for a relaxing, fun-filled trip with its budget-friendly and family-oriented approach.

Royal Caribbean vs. Carnival Cruise Line: At a Glance

Carnival Valor and Mariner of the Seas are docked together in PHILIPSBURG SAINT MARTIN
Mariner of the Seas (Left) and Carnival Valor (Right)

Here’s a quick overview comparing Royal Caribbean vs. Carnival Cruise Line at a glance:

CriteriaRoyal CaribbeanCarnival Cruise Line
FleetLarger and more innovative ships. Known for groundbreaking design and technology.Large ships with a focus on classic cruise experiences.
ActivitiesOffers a wide range of unique activities like surf simulators, skydiving simulators, rock climbing, and ice skating.Focuses on traditional cruise activities such as pools, water slides, and mini-golf.
EntertainmentLively entertainment, including comedy shows, musical performances, and acrobatics.Lively entertainment, including comedy shows, musical performances, and themed nights.
DiningCasual dining atmosphere with plenty of variety. Most specialty restaurants cost extra.Casual dining atmosphere. Focus on traditional American favorites.
NightlifeVibrant nightlife with a variety of bars, clubs, and lounges. Offers sophisticated options like jazz clubs and wine bars.Known for its fun and energetic nightlife with themed parties, dance clubs, and live music venues.
FamiliesExtensive family-friendly activities and facilities, including Adventure Ocean kids program and family cabins.Strong family orientation with Camp Ocean, Seuss at Sea, and family-friendly entertainment.
CabinsThere is a wide range of cabin types, from standard to luxury suites, many with unique features like virtual balconies.Offers a range of cabin options, focusing on comfort and value. Known for spacious standard cabins.
ItinerariesItineraries around the globe, including sailings to the Caribbean, Bahamas, Alaska, Europe, and Australia.Focuses on popular Caribbean and Bahamas cruise destinations. They lack options for exotic destionations.
Private IslandsOwns and private our favorite cruise line private island, Perfect Day at CocoCay.Has private islands like Half Moon Cay, known for beautiful beaches and relaxed atmosphere.
CostGenerally higher in price compared to Carnival, but offers more innovative features and activities.More budget-friendly, offering great value for a more traditional cruise experience.

Fleet Size

Carnival Vista and the Royal Caribbean International ship Allure of the Seas docked in PHILIPSBURG SAINT MARTIN
Carnival Vista (Left) and Allure of the Seas (Right)

Our Pick: Royal Caribbean.

Although both cruise lines have a similar number of ships, Royal Caribbean is the clear winner.

Royal Caribbean offers a cruise experience filled with innovative features and activities, ideal for those who seek adventure and cutting-edge technology. On the other hand, Carnival provides a more traditional, relaxed, and budget-friendly cruise experience, perfect for families and those new to cruising.

Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean is renowned for its impressive fleet, boasting some of the cruise industry’s largest and most innovative ships. Royal Caribbeans cruise ships, including the groundbreaking Oasis-class vessels, the world’s largest cruise ship, Icon of the Seas.

Royal Caribbean’s cruise ships push the boundaries of innovation with unique attractions like FlowRider surf simulators, skydiving simulators, and rock-climbing walls. Accommodations on Royal Caribbean ships are equally impressive, with innovative options like the Royal Loft Suite or cabins with virtual balconies displaying real-time ocean views on LED screens.

The cruise line attracts diverse passengers, particularly those drawn to a technologically advanced and activity-rich cruise experience. Royal Caribbean’s ships offer something for everyone to love.

Carnival Cruise Line

In contrast, Carnival Cruise Line’s fleet is characterized by cruise ships prioritizing a classic, family-friendly cruise experience. Carnival’s vessels are large but pale compared to Royal Caribbean’s largest cruise ships.

The ambiance on Carnival ships is decidedly fun and casual, with amenities that include water slides, mini-golf courses, and poolside movie screens. While they may not match the technological advancements of Royal Caribbean, Carnival ships offer an environment with traditional family fun.

Carnival’s fleet particularly appeals to families, first-time cruisers, and those seeking a budget-friendly, fun-packed vacation.

Activities

Royal Caribbean FlowRider and Carnival Cruise Line SkyCourse
Both cruise lines have plenty of fun onboard activities

Our Pick: Royal Caribbean.

Royal Caribbean emerges as the clear winner for those seeking an extraordinary and diverse range of activities. While Carnival offers a fun experience with its traditional cruise activities, Royal Caribbean takes the concept of onboard entertainment to the next level.

Even though they are the top cruise line for at-sea thrills, they aren’t slowing down.

Each new ship brings brand-new experiences for passengers and continues to build upon the innovation of its predecessors. As part of Royal Caribbean’s Royal Amplified program, the cruise line updates nearly every ship in its fleet. So, no matter the ship’s age, you will find heart-racing onboard activities.

Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean truly sets a high bar when it comes to onboard activities. They continue to be the innovation leader, emphasizing the “wow factor” with zip lining, bumper cars, 300-foot observation pods, and more.

Royal Caribbean cruise ships are a hub of exciting activities, offering many unique experiences that are hard to find elsewhere in the cruise industry. You can let your inner child run free surfing on the FlowRider surf simulator or experience the thrill of skydiving in a simulator.

For those who prefer traditional sports on a cruise ship, there are rock-climbing walls, basketball courts, pools, mini-golf, and ice-skating rinks.

Adults looking for a quiet getaway will feel relaxed at the Vitality Spa or the adults-only Solarium, which has a large pool deck with hot tubs and a full bar under a large glass canopy.

Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival Cruise Line offers a more traditional set of activities focusing on basic family fun. Carnival’s ships have features like water slides and mini-golf courses, which are a hit among families and young travelers.

While the activities might not match the cutting-edge variety found on Royal Caribbean ships, they nonetheless provide a thoroughly enjoyable experience, especially for those looking for a traditional cruise holiday.

Recently, the cruise line has begun to innovate with the launch of BOLT, the world’s first roller coaster at sea. You’ll also find live game shows, mini-golf courses, and a sports deck complete with a ropes course.

Adults can find much-needed relaxation at the onboard spa or Serenity Adult-Only Retreat, a kids-free lounge area with a full bar.

Entertainment

Royal Caribbean's AquaTheatre and Carnival Cruise Line's Punchliner Comedy Club

Our Pick: Draw.

Both cruise lines offer different entertainment styles, each incredible in their own respects. While Royal Caribbean’s high-tech entertainment is truly mind-blowing, Carnival succeeds with its spin on traditional cruise ship entertainment that keeps the party going all night. Each cruise line provides a different experience that comes down to personal preference.

Royal Caribbean

Royal’s entertainment options stand out because of their spectacular and high-tech flourishes. Passengers enjoy Broadway-style shows comparable to what you’d see in New York’s theater district, bringing a touch of grandeur and artistic excellence to the sea.

Additionally, Royal Caribbean ships often feature high-tech shows, including spectacular ice-skating performances and aquatic theater shows in the unique AquaTheater. The entertainment extends beyond these large productions, with live music, comedy shows, and interactive experiences that keep guests entertained throughout their journey.

The Two70 entertainment venue, for example, is a cutting-edge multimedia concert experience with video projection and moving screens controlled by robotic arms.

Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival Cruise Line, often called the ‘fun ships,’ offers entertainment that aligns with its lively and upbeat brand image. Carnival’s entertainment roster includes stand-up comedy shows and energetic musical performances that range from rock bands to solo artists.

While less flashy or tech-focused, their entertainment is a big reason passengers return time and time again. The Punchliner Comedy Club features R-rated and family-friendly shows from talented and well-known performers. Classic disco parties and piano bars are also popular nighttime venues.

While Carnival’s past stage shows may have been lackluster, they have made significant strides in bringing quality shoes to the stage at sea. Their Playlist Productions features LED screens and special effects, bringing high-energy stage shows to life. Their shows include “America Rocks,” “Amor Cubano,” “Flick,” “Epic Rock,” and “Heart and Soul.”

Carnival’s ships also host themed nights and deck parties that encourage guest participation, creating an environment that’s both interactive and entertaining. Their high-energy entertainment always keeps passengers dancing and singing night after night.

While the entertainment on Carnival might not have the same production value as Royal Caribbean, there’s never a dull moment on board.

Dining, Bars & Lounges

Specialty Dining on cruise ship

Our Pick: Tie.

Both cruise lines offer various dining and drinking experiences, each excelling uniquely. Royal Caribbean stands out for its diverse culinary options and sophisticated bar settings, while Carnival shines with its fun, relaxed dining atmosphere and American favorites.

The choice between the two ultimately comes down to personal preference: Royal Caribbean is best if you prioritize culinary diversity and sophistication, but Carnival is better for fun, casual dining, and drinking experience.

Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean offers a diverse dining experience catering to various tastes and preferences. Their ships feature a variety of dining options, from casual buffets to formal dining rooms, and include a selection of specialty restaurants.

Royal’s specialty restaurants provide cuisines ranging from Italian to Asian fusion, providing an upscal dining experience at a cost.

The wide selection of specialty restaurants may disappoint cruisers who prefer the all-inclusive approach to cruising. I often feel pressured by crew members to purchase Royal Caribbean’s specialty dining packages.

Royal Caribbean’s bars and lounges are as diverse as their dining options.

From sophisticated wine bars and cozy pubs to lively dance clubs and unique venues like the Bionic Bar with robotic bartenders, there is something to suit every mood. The drinks’ quality and the bartenders’ expertise contribute to an exceptional bar experience, making it a perfect choice for those who enjoy exploring different types of beverages in various settings.

Carnival

Carnival Cruise Line excels in offering a traditional American dining experience that is both enjoyable and relaxed. Carnival provides everything from casual eateries to upscale dining.

Their main dining rooms offer traditional and contemporary dishes, while the buffet options are extensive and varied. Carnival also features specialty restaurants, including popular choices like Guy Fieri’s burger joint, Shaquille O’Neil’s Big Chicken, and seafood options. Unlike Royal Caribbean, Carnival offers several alternative eateries for free.

Carnival Cruise Line’s approach to bars and lounges focuses on creating a lively and engaging atmosphere. Their ships feature a range of options, including themed bars, poolside bars, and nightclubs. The vibe is consistently upbeat, with a focus on fun and entertainment.

Carnival is well known for its signature cocktails and festive drink menus, making its bars a go-to spot for those looking to enjoy a lively night out.

Nightlife

Night-Club-aboard-a-cruise-ship

Our Pick: Carnival.

In the battle of nightlife between Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line, Carnival emerges as the clear winner for those seeking a fun and energetic nightlife. While Royal Caribbean offers a sophisticated and polished experience, Carnival takes the crown for its unbeatable, high-energy environment.

Carnival’s ability to create a consistently lively and entertaining nightlife scene makes it the top choice for passengers who prioritize a vibrant and festive evening experience during their cruise.

Carnival is the clear winner after sailing on both cruise lines, with an unbeatable nighttime party at sea.

Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean offers a diverse and vibrant nightlife scene on its ships. Passengers enjoy various options, including sophisticated wine bars, lively dance clubs, and unique lounges.

The entertainment is varied, from live music performances to DJ-led dance parties, ensuring that there’s something for every taste.

Royal Caribbean’s larger ships boast impressive venues like the AquaTheater, Two70 Theatre, and ice rinks, where nighttime shows are a visual spectacle. The nightlife is extensive and diverse, with a more upscale and polished feel, catering to a wide range of preferences.

While Royal Caribbean’s nightlife is fine for most cruise-goers, it’s not quite the party atmosphere some travelers desire.

Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival Cruise Line, often called the ‘fun ships,’ truly shines regarding nightlife. The emphasis is on creating a high-energy, engaging party atmosphere that encourages guests to let loose and have fun.

Carnival’s ships feature a variety of lively venues, including popular themed bars, karaoke lounges, and nightclubs that keep the party going well into the night. The energy is infectious, with activities like deck parties, live music, and dance competitions involving everyone.

Carnival’s approach to nightlife is all about fun and inclusivity, making it a hit among passengers looking for a lively, less formal evening experience.

Kids & Families

Kid on a cruise ship with binoculars

Our Pick: Royal Caribbean.

Royal wins due to its drop-off daycare for babies and tots, a service not offered by many cruise lines. In addition, their ships have activities and adventures for kids of all ages, so you won’t need to worry about your family members getting bored at sea.

Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean stands out with its comprehensive family and kids programs, tailored to entertain and engage children of all ages. Royal Caribbean’s Adventure Ocean program is among the cruise industry’s best kids’ and teen clubs.

Adventure Ocean offers age-appropriate activities and educational programs. The activities are not just fun but also creatively designed to be enriching, including science experiments, art projects, themed parties, and a DJ academy.

One of the unique features of Royal Caribbean is its paid nursery service, which caters to the youngest cruisers, infants, and toddlers. The Royal Babies & Tots service is a game-changer for parents, providing professional care for babies as young as six months, allowing parents to enjoy some personal time with the assurance that their little ones are in good hands.

Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival Cruise Line offers a robust family and kids program, primarily through its Camp Ocean. Carnival’s kids club provides a fun and safe environment for children to play and learn. Carnival’s ships also feature family-friendly amenities like water slides and pools, which are big hits among younger passengers.

At Camp Ocean, kids are divided into three groups: Penguins (ages 2 to 5 years), Stingrays (ages 6 to 8 years), and Sharks (ages 9 to 11 years). Kids enjoy fun-filled activities with their group, including arts and crafts, singing, dancing, toys, games, movies, and video games.

When the sun goes, the club offers Night Owls, where kids get to stay up late having fun while their parents enjoy themselves well into the night – fees apply.

Cabins and Accommodations

Our Pick: Draw.

Royal Caribbean was the clear winner in the past, with its modern, upscale decor, family cabins, and range of cabin choices. But Carnival has closed the gap with its newer ships, offering more stateroom options and larger staterooms.

Royal Caribbean impresses with its innovative design elements and luxurious suite options, catering to those looking for a high-tech or more upscale accommodation experience. On the other hand, Carnival excels in providing cozy, comfortable, and value-focused cabins, perfect for families and those who prioritize comfort and simplicity in their cruise accommodations.

Royal Caribbean

The artwork above the bed on Symphony of the Seas balcony cabin
Ocean View Stateroom with Balcony onboard Harmony of the Seas. (Photo Courtesy of Royal Caribbean International)

Royal Caribbean’s cabins are designed to cater to a wide range of preferences and budgets, offering everything from standard interior rooms to luxurious suites.

One of the standout features of their cabins is the innovative design elements, such as virtual balconies in interior rooms, which display real-time ocean views on high-definition screens. This feature is particularly appealing for those who want a view without the price tag of a balcony room.

The suites on Royal Caribbean ships are a highlight, offering spacious layouts, luxurious amenities, and additional perks like access to exclusive lounges and dining areas. Families can also find larger cabins that accommodate larger groups comfortably. The standout cabins are the Oasis-class Ultimate Family Suite and the Icon-class Ultimate Family Townhouse.

The interior decor is a little more upscale and elegant compared to Carnival. The sleek color palette resembles what you might find in a modern, upscale hotel.

Carnival Cruise Line

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

Carnival Cruise Line is known for its comfortable and efficiently designed cabins. The cruise line’s focus on maximizing space and comfort makes it ideal for families and those looking for a cozy, inviting space to relax after a day of activities. Carnival’s cabins are generally bright and cheerfully decorated, aligning with the line’s fun and upbeat brand image.

Carnival also offers a range of cabin categories, from basic interior rooms to more upscale suites. While they might not have the high-tech features of Royal Caribbean’s cabins, they are well-regarded for their cleanliness, comfort, and value. The suites on Carnival ships provide extra space and amenities, making them an excellent option for those looking for a bit more luxury.

Itineraries

Beautiful panoramic shot of Carnival Liberty, Mariner of the Seas cruise ships in Prince George Wharf at sunset

Our Pick: Royal Caribbean.

Royal Caribbean takes the win, offering more destinations, itineraries, and sailing durations with something for everyone to love. Carnival Cruise Line is starting to expand beyond the sunny Caribbean with more Alaskan, Australian, and European sailings—an excellent move in our books.

Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean offers a broad and diverse range of itineraries across the globe. Their itineraries include popular destinations, including the Caribbean, Bahamas, Alaska, Europe, Asia, and even transatlantic voyages.

One of the standout aspects of Royal Caribbean’s itineraries is the inclusion of exotic and less-traveled destinations, offering unique experiences to travelers seeking new adventures.

Additionally, Royal Caribbean often features longer cruises, which allows for more in-depth exploration of the regions they visit. Their itineraries are well-planned, including a mix of popular tourist destinations and hidden gems, ensuring a comprehensive travel experience.

Carnival Cruise Line

While offering a wide range of destinations, Carnival Cruise Line focuses more on popular and traditional cruise destinations, particularly in the Caribbean and Bahamas. Carnival is known for its fun and sun-oriented itineraries, making it a favorite for those looking for a classic beach vacation experience.

They offer a variety of short and long cruises, with many options for 3- to 7-day trips, which are ideal for first-time cruisers or those looking for a quick getaway. While Carnival does sail to other destinations like Alaska and Europe, its strength lies in its extensive Caribbean offerings.

Private Islands

Our Pick: Royal Caribbean.

Royal’s CocoCay is in a league of its own. Even before the extensive renovation, the island was home to more thrills and activities than any other private island in the business.

In line with its ships, the island provides diverse activities, from high-thrill balloon rides to relaxing private cabanas over the crystal blue ocean. The island is so popular that many vacationers only sail on itineraries that visit the popular private island.

Coco Beach Club, the exclusive beach club at Perfect Day at CocoCay. After the renovaton
Royal Caribbean’s CocoCay Private Island (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean International)

Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean offers an exceptional experience with its private islands, most notably Perfect Day at CocoCay in the Bahamas. The island has been transformed into an ultimate vacation getaway with features like Thrill Waterpark, home to the tallest waterslide in North America, a 1,600-foot zipline, and a helium balloon ride offering panoramic views.

Additionally, CocoCay provides a range of relaxing beachfront areas, infinity pools, and private cabanas, including overwater cabanas in the exclusive Coco Beach Club. This blend of adventure and luxury on a private island setting sets Royal Caribbean apart in terms of offering a unique and versatile island experience.

After a mega $250 million upgrade, CocoCay has more than enough amenities for up to 6,000 cruisers daily. The opening of South Beach and the VIP Coco Beach Club provides plenty of space for sports-loving travelers or laid-back relaxation.

Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival Cruise Line's Half Moon Cay

Carnival Cruise Line’s private island experiences, such as Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas, are focused more on the natural beauty and serene beach experience. Half Moon Cay is known for its stunning white-sand beaches, crystal-clear waters, and various water sports activities.

While it doesn’t boast the same level of high-adrenaline attractions as Royal Caribbean’s CocoCay, Half Moon Cay offers a more laid-back, traditional beach day experience. The island provides amenities like beachside cabanas, various dining options, and nature trails, making it a perfect destination for those looking to relax and enjoy the natural beauty of the Bahamas.

Cost

Our Pick: Carnival.

Carnival Cruise Line has built its reputation on affordable cruises for the entire family. And they deliver. Carnival cruise fares are among the lowest in the industry. The base cruise fare on a Carnival cruise includes many onboard dining and entertainment options.

While sailing with Royal Caribbean International can undoubtedly be worth the additional cost, we don’t like the added expenses for dining and activities that we feel should be standard. We often find ourselves pushed to spend more on Royal Caribbean ships than Carnival.

In general, it isn’t easy to compare costs as prices vary depending on the destination, ship, itinerary, and time of year. Both cruise lines are pretty equal in pricing, but Carnival tends to be a bit more affordable.

Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean is best known for its innovative fleet, offering various amenities and activities for cruisers of all ages. Royal Caribbean’s cruise fare typically includes your cabin, standard meals in the main dining room and buffet, some beverages (like water, tea, and lemonade), and access to most onboard activities and entertainment. Specialty dining, Voom WiFi, soda, and alcoholic beverages cost extra.

You can find plenty of budget-friendly sailings on Royal Caribbean’s older cruise ships but expect to pay a lot more if you want to sail on their newest vessels.

Prices on Royal Caribbean’s newest ships are significantly higher, especially during peak traveling season. Although much of the dining and amenities are included, plenty of activities and specialty restaurants cost extra.

One major inconvenience is that I feel the cruise line is very pushy with their add-ons. Think dining packages, WiFi, spa treatments, and the Deluxe Beverage Package. From the moment you step on board, you’re bombarded by crew members asking you to upgrade your cruise package.

It’s not enough to ruin a cruise vacation, but it’s definitely an inconvenience.

Carnival Cruise Line

Often hailed as the more budget-friendly option, Carnival offers some of the lowest fares in the cruise industry. Carnival’s cruise fare includes accommodation, basic dining options, and most entertainment and onboard activities.

Carnival is renowned for its value for money, providing a fun and relaxed atmosphere without a hefty price tag. However, like Royal Caribbean, specialty dining, certain onboard activities, and premium entertainment might incur extra costs.

But unlike Royal Caribbean, I don’t feel nickel and dimed when I sail. Carnival’s cruise ships offer several complimentary alternative restaurants, and I don’t find the staff as pushy trying to get us to upgrade.

The Winner

A view of the pool deck from the top deck of symphony of the seas

In comparing Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean is the superior choice for travelers seeking a diverse and innovative cruise experience. With its technologically advanced and activity-rich fleet, Royal Caribbean caters to adventure enthusiasts and those seeking cultural experiences. Their ships boast unique attractions, diverse dining options, and cabins with innovative features like virtual balconies.

Royal Caribbean’s itineraries stand out with their inclusion of exotic destinations, and the private island experience at Perfect Day at CocoCay offers an unmatched blend of excitement and relaxation.

While Carnival provides a fun and budget-friendly option, Royal Caribbean’s dedication to innovation, variety, and quality makes it the top choice for a memorable and all-encompassing cruise vacation.

Royal Caribbean is the clear winner for those seeking an unparalleled cruise experience that combines adventure, luxury, and unique experiences.

Marcello De Lio
Marcello De Lio

Marcello's been cruising since he was 12 years old. He loves the freedom that cruising provides, meeting new people, and exploring amazing new ships. Marcello created High Seas Cruising to share his passion for cruising and travel with readers and grow a community of passionate voyagers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *