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.
Both cruise lines offer something for everyone and are consistently ranked among the best cruise lines for families.
But which cruise line should you choose on your next cruise vacation? Is there a clear winner between Royal Caribbean vs Carnival?
Royal Caribbean is best known for its emphasis on the “wow factor.” Their cruise ships are some of the largest in the world, with innovative activities and entertainment options you won’t find anywhere else. Think surf simulators, zip-lining, ice skating, bumper cars, and more.
Carnival Cruise Line takes a more casual approach. Their more straightforward casual dining and party-friendly atmosphere are perfect for passengers looking for a fun, relaxing vacation. Carnival has made a name for itself with its low prices and family-friendly approach to cruising.
With two incredible choices to choose from, you may be wondering which cruise line is right for you.
To help you pick the best cruise line for your next vacation, we’re breaking down everything you need to know in our Royal Caribbean vs. Carnival Cruise Line comparison.
Table of Contents
Royal Caribbean Highlights: Royal Caribbean is best known for pushing the boundaries of innovation and high-thrill activities.
While a few of their older ships are “smaller,” most of their new vessels can comfortably accommodate 5,000 passengers or more. Many Royal Caribbean ships are among the largest globally, with high-tech entertainment and activities such as the FlowRider surf simulator or the Bionic Bar. Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas is currently the largest cruise ship in the world.
- Royal Caribbean’s newest ships offer so many onboard activities, entertainment, and restaurants you literally can’t experience all of it in one 7-day cruise.
- Throughout the past 30 years, Royal Caribbean has consistently upheld its reputation for innovation in onboard entertainment. Almost every vessel in their fleet features rock-climbing walls and signature FlowRider surf simulators. Newer ships feature even more onboard activities, such as zip lines, 300-foot high observation pods, sky-diving simulators, and massive water slides. You definitely won’t be bored when you sail on one of their ships.
- Royal’s Oasis-class ships are favorites among cruisers, and their newer Quantum-class ships are among the most innovative ships at sea.
- While Royal is an excellent option for outgoing couples, singles, and adventurous families, it is not for cruisers who prefer a quiet getaway.
Carnival Highlights: Carnival’s vessels are called the “Fun Ships” for a reason. This casual, low-cost, family-friendly (and party-friendly) cruise line is one of the best choices for first-time travelers, children, and young adults cruising on a budget.
- Despite their low prices, their service is among the finest in the industry. Their extensive list of onboard dining amenities includes fan favorites like Guy’s Burger Joint, Tandoori Grill, and Blue Iguana Cantina.
- The atmosphere aboard a Carnival cruise is extremely laidback and often feels like a neighborhood pool party. As you might have guessed, these sailings aren’t for anyone looking for a posh and elegant journey on the high seas.
- Carnival’s partnership with Dr. Seuss, the activity-filled Sportsquare and family-friendly games like Hasbro: The Game Show, make it an excellent choice for families.
Royal Caribbean Fleet: Royal Caribbean is perhaps best known for having the largest cruise ships in the world. Their ships regularly break size records, with all five Oasis-class vessels at the top of the list.
Of course, you can pack a lot more people, activities, and amenities onto their larger ships. Although both cruise lines offer some of the most innovative ships in the world, you’ll see in our activities comparison that size does make a difference.
Carnival Fleet: Carnival cruise ships are not nearly as large as those of Royal Caribbean. However, with the launch of Mardi Gras, the gap has narrowed. Carnival Cruise Line has signaled its commitment to innovating by pioneering LNG propulsion and BOLT, the first roller coaster at sea.
Our Pick: Royal Caribbean. Although both cruise lines have a similar number of ships, Royal Caribbean is the clear winner. The size of their vessels is unmatched, but with new Carnival ships like Mardi Gras, the gap is beginning to narrow. Bottom line, if you want to sail on the largest ships in the world, Royal’s Oasis-class is the clear winner.
Royal Caribbean Activities: Royal Caribbean continues to be the innovation leader at sea. The cruise line began with rock climbing walls and the signature FlowRider surfing simulators. Many of their newer ships have upped the “WOW-factor” with zip-lining, bumper cars, indoor ice skating rinks, 300-foot observation pods, and even a sky diving chamber with iFLY’s RipCord.
Every cruise ship in its fleet has a sports center with basketball courts, rock climbing walls, a running track, and a fitness center. Adults looking for a quiet getaway will feel well relaxed at the Vitality Spa or the adults-only Solarium, a large pool deck complete with hot tubs and a full bar under a large glass canopy.
Carnival Activities: Carnival cruises primarily rely on basic fun, with guests happily drinking, sunbathing, swimming, and participating in the occasional belly flop competition.
Recently, the cruise line has begun to innovate with the launch of BOLT, the world’s first roller coaster at sea. Additionally, many of their cruise lines feature the WaterWorks water park with a variety of waterslides, 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.
Our Pick: Royal Caribbean. No one does it better than Royal Caribbean when it comes to onboard activities. They were the first cruise line to emphasize the “WOW-factor” by going bigger and better.
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. And as part of their Amplified program, they’ve updated nearly every ship in their fleet, so no matter the ship’s age, you are sure to find some tremendous onboard activities.
Royal Caribbean Entertainment: Royal’s entertainment options stand out in terms of their spectacular and high-tech flourishes.
The Two70 entertainment venue, for example, is a cutting-edge multimedia concert experience with video projection and moving screens controlled by robotic arms.
The cruise line’s stage shows are incredible and often compared to top Broadway productions. The outdoor AquaTheater on select ships offers unique high diving and aquatic dancing shows.
Royal Caribbean’s older ships have movies, parades, and ice shows. And there’s always the causal entertainment that includes Karaoke at the On Air Club or piano sing-alongs at the Schooner Bar.
Carnival Entertainment: On the other hand, Carnival is known to throw a really great party. Their high-energy entertainment always keeps passengers dancing and singing night after night.
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 that bring high-energy stage show to life. Their shows include “America Rocks,” “Amor Cubano,” “Flick,” “Epic Rock,” and “Heart and Soul.”
Our Pick: Draw. Both cruise lines offer different styles of entertainment that are 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 where neither one is better than the other.
Dining, Bars & Lounges
Royal Caribbean Dining, Bars & Lounges: Royal Caribbean offers passengers basic included options, including the main dining room, Windjammer cafe, and several others around the ship. For an added fee, each ship provides specialty dining restaurants, from classic steak houses to Japanese sushi.
The wide selection of specialty restaurants may disappoint cruisers who prefer the all-inclusive approach to cruising. Royal has partnered with celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver, James Beard, and Chef Michael Schwartz to give passengers incredible dining choices.
Carnival Dining, Bars & Lounges: Both fixed and flexible dining options are available to Carnival passengers. There are fewer specialized eating choices on a Carnival cruise ship, but the provided basic dining options are well-liked by fans. These include long-standing options such as the BlueIguana Cantina, Guy’s Burger Joint, and Guy’s Pig & Anchor Bar-b-Que.
Carnival is no stranger to celebrity restaurant concepts partnering with celebrity chef Guy Fieri, Shaquille O’Neil, and Emeril Lagasse.
Our Pick: Carnival. While the food on both cruise lines is of equal quality, we prefer Carnivals’ more straightforward approach that includes more restaurants in the base fare. Some foodies may prefer Royal’s more diverse restaurant selection if you don’t mind paying the added cost.
Royal Caribbean Nightlife: The nightlife aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise consists of shows in the main theatre, AquaTheater performances on Oasis-class ships, high-tech shows in the Quantum-class’ Two70, and music and dancing in the nautical-themed Schooner bar.
As you may have noticed, Royal’s nightlife consists of high-thrill shows, salsa dancing, and classy, laid-back bar music. While this nightlife is fine for most cruise-goers, it’s not quite the party atmosphere some travelers desire.
Carnival Activities Nightlife: As mentioned previously, Carnival cruises are known for their high-energy nightlife that keeps the party going night after night. Dine-in movies, nightclubs with live DJs, the Sports Bar, the popular Punchliner Comedy Club, and the relaxed Piano Bar provide plenty to do for every traveler.
Our Pick: Carnival. While Royal Caribbean cruises offer some of the best entertainment in the cruise industry, Carnival succeeds in providing a diverse selection of nighttime entertainment. Their ships have a more party-like atmosphere where we feel free to let loose and be ourselves.
Kids & Families
Royal Caribbean Kids & Families: Royal Caribbean has gone after the family market in significant ways. Their massive ships have incredible activities loved by kids, teens, and adults alike, and their kid’s clubs are sure to keep the little ones entertained for hours on end.
The Adventure Ocean children’s clubs on Oasis-class ships include facilities for toddlers, youngsters, tweens, and teenagers. Activities include video games, theater, arts and crafts, and a DJ academy.
The Royal Tots and Royal Babies programs are a favorite for parents of young children. Parents can drop off their toddlers during the day or evening for an hourly fee. Your kids remain supervised while you get some much-deserved relaxation.
Carnival Kids & Families: Carnival is a perennial favorite among families, so it’s no surprise that Carnival’s ships are incredibly family-friendly. From their water park to the sports deck and children’s club, there is plenty of entertainment and activities for everyone in the family.
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 also enjoy themselves well into the night – fees apply.
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 Cabins: On Royal Caribbean, you’ll find a wide variety of cabin styles with some unique to their ships. These include the Royal Caribbean’s virtual balcony interior cabins with floor-to-ceiling screens that project real-time exterior views onto your cabin wall. Large family cabins and two-story lofts are also available on Royal’s ships.
The interior decor is a little more upscale and elegant compared to Carnival. The sleek color palette is similar to what you might find in a modern, upscale hotel.
Carnival Cabins: Carnival offers some of the largest standard cabin sizes of any cruise line. Specialty cabins such as the Cloud 9 Spa room and Havana cabins come with extra perks, including spa services and access to a private pool deck.
In general, the cabins on Carnival are more colorful, vibrant, and joyous than those on Royal Caribbean. The decor feels more festive and enjoyable.
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 cabins. While we still prefer Royal Caribbeans cabin style, we love Carnival’s spacious staterooms.
Royal Caribbean Itineraries: Royal Caribbean’s fleet includes sailings across the globe. Their itineraries include popular destinations like the Bahamas, Caribbean, Meditteranean, and Alaska, and even exotic locales such as Asia, Australia, and South America.
Royal Caribbean also has many extended sailings from 8-14 nights. They even have a world tour that’s perfect for more experienced cruisers who want to explore the world.
Carnival Itineraries: The vast majority of Carnival’s cruises sail the Caribbean, Bahamas, and Mexico, but they do have a few ships sailing itineraries in Europe, Alaska, and Hawaii.
Carnival ships primarily sail from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Port Canaveral, Tampa, Galveston, and New York. One thing Carnival doesn’t generally offer is long cruise itineraries. Most of their sailings are seven nights or less.
Our Pick: Royal Caribbean. Royals’ wide variety of destinations, itineraries, and sailing durations offer something for everyone. Carnival Cruise Line has recently added more exotic destinations to its offerings. An excellent move in our books!
Royal Caribbean Private Islands: Royal Caribbean’s Perfect Day Island at CocoCay in the Bahamas provides an unforgettable experience for passengers.
CocoCay offers beautiful sandy beaches with theme park rides, water slides, and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities such as floating high above the island on a helium balloon ride.
After a mega $250 million upgrade, CocoCay has more than enough amenities for up to 6,000 cruisers a day. The opening of South Beach and the VIP Coco Beach Club provides plenty of space for sports-loving travelers or laid-back relaxation.
Carnival Private Islands: Carnival’s Half Moon Cay is also located in the Bahamas. The island consists of an extensive white sand beach and plenty of activities such as watersports, boat trips, swimming, snorkeling, and relaxing in the sun.
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 a diverse range of 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.
Royal Caribbean Cost: Royal Caribbean offers low fares, with regular discounts throughout the year. It’s easy to find incredibly low fares on their older ships; however, they won’t have the new, cutting-edge amenities found on the newer ships.
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.
Carnival Cost: Carnival Cruise Line has made a name for itself by providing some of the most affordable cruises in the industry. Pricing includes most of the dining options and onboard entertainment and activities.
What’s more, you can usually find sales throughout the year at an even lower cost.
Our Pick: Carnival. Carnival Cruise Line’s built its reputation on affordable cruises for the entire family. And they deliver. Carnival cruises’ 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 certainly be worth the additional cost, we don’t like the added costs for dining and activities that we feel should be standard. We often find ourselves pushed to spend more on Royal Caribbean ships than Carnival.
Overall: Royal Caribbean vs Carnival
When it comes to Royal Caribbean vs. Carnival, our pick is Royal Caribbean International.
Carnival Cruise Line is an excellent option for casual travelers, first-time cruisers, and families. Their affordable Caribbean getaways keep cruisers returning year after year. But, their laid-back atmosphere and lack of innovation might be a little uninspiring for some travelers.
Royal Caribbean International comes out on top thanks to its envelope-pushing innovations and unique attractions. Its record-breaking fleet of large innovative cruise ships keeps us returning year after year for new experiences and thrills.
Does this mean everyone should choose Royal Caribbean? Not exactly. When it comes to travel, everyone is looking for something different. Take this guide as an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of each cruise line when deciding which cruise line is suitable for your perfect cruise vacation.
Both Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Cruise Line are excellent choices, and you won’t go wrong sailing on either cruise line.