Royal Caribbean vs Carnival – Which to Choose?

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If you’re planning a cruise and stuck between Royal Caribbean and Carnival, it’s a good idea to compare their offerings. Both cruise lines cater to various travellers, including families and solo adventurers.

However, there are key differences in their passenger experiences. Royal Caribbean is renowned for its upscale feel, while Carnival Cruise Line offers a laid-back atmosphere perfect for those seeking a more relaxed holiday.

Comparative image showcasing two cruise ships side by side with 'Royal Caribbean' on the left and 'Carnival' on the right, highlighting the differences in design and size between the two leading cruise lines.

In this article, I’ll compare all the most important details to help you decide which cruise line would suit you best. However, if you just want a quick snapshot, here is a table with all the details:

CategoryRoyal CaribbeanCarnival Cruise Line
Fleet Size26 ships, including some of the largest in the world25 ships, including older, smaller ships
Signature AttractionsTallest slide at sea, ice-skating rinksFrench Quarter, live jazz club
Itineraries240+ destinations in 60+ countriesFocus on Caribbean, Mexico; also Australia and the Pacific
Onboard ActivitiesRock climbing, surf simulators, zip linesWater slides, mini-golf, basketball courts, BOLT roller coaster
Cabins and SuitesLavish options, including loft suitesLarger standard cabins, Havana Cabins with private pool
Dining OptionsDiverse options, specialty diningCasual dining, eateries by celebrity chefs
EntertainmentBroadway-style shows, unique experiences like ice skatingPlaylist Productions theatre shows, comedy club
CostsLuxurious experience, diverse budget optionsMore affordable, value-focused
Family AtmosphereActivities for all ages, specialty diningFamily-friendly, water parks, kids’ clu

Examining the fleet size of both cruise lines is vital in understanding their capacity and offerings. Royal Caribbean’s fleet is expansive. Its 26 ships include some of the world’s largest cruise ships.

On the other hand, Carnival Cruise Line’s 25 ship fleet includes older, smaller ships like the Carnival Elation.

Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean’s fleet is impressive, divided into seven classes with 26 ships. Despite the diversity in classes, there are common features across the fleet. The signature Royal Caribbean attractions are available on about half of these ships. These attractions include the world’s tallest slide at sea and ice-skating rinks.

It’s also worth noting that the Royal Caribbean has some of the largest cruise ships in the world, offering an abundance of onboard activities and amenities. However, it also offers around 13 smaller, more intimate ships for a more peaceful journey across the sea.

From adrenaline-pumping adventure parks to tranquil spa experiences, the Royal Caribbean fleet promises an unforgettable cruise for every type of cruiser. So whether you’re seeking an action-packed thrill ride or a serene retreat, Royal Caribbean’s extensive fleet has something to offer.

Recommended reading: Royal Caribbean Ships by Age.

A person skillfully surfs on the Flowrider aboard Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas, with the ship's distinctive smokestack in the background, under a bright blue sky
FlowRider surf simulator on Anthem of the Seas

Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival Cruise Line is a leader in contemporary cruising with 25 ships. Each ship provides fun and memorable vacation experiences. They may not be as large as the Royal Caribbean ships, but they do not lack quality, comfort, or fun.

Both cruise lines offer two sizes of mega-ships. Carnival’s smaller ships carry two to four thousand passengers. Comparatively, their larger ships can accommodate over five thousand guests.

Although Royal Caribbean wins the battle of size with some of the world’s largest ships in their fleet, Carnival’s ships hold their own with unique features too. Each ship, no matter the size, qualifies as a floating resort. Every cruise has onboard casinos, live entertainment, pools, elaborate spas, lively dance clubs, and bars.

Related reading: Which is the best Carnival Cruise ship?

The serene Patio Pool on Carnival Celebration during golden hour, featuring modern showers mimicking sleek sculptures, warm wood decking, and an inviting pool area, all set against the tranquil backdrop of the open sea.
Patio Pool on Carnival Celebration

When cruising, the journey is just as important as the destination. Both Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line offer a plethora of exciting itineraries. Each cruise line offers an array of destinations, from tropical paradises to arctic adventures.

Royal Caribbean Itineraries

Royal Caribbean is renowned for its adventure-packed itineraries, offering journeys to more than 240 destinations in over sixty countries on six continents. From the icy glaciers of Alaska to the tropical beaches of the Caribbean, Royal Caribbean offers a variety of experiences to suit every traveller’s taste.

They provide their cruisers with expansive coverage of all aspects of the Royal Caribbean experience. Whether you’re a frequent cruiser or a first-timer, there’s always something new and exciting with Royal Caribbean. Their itineraries ensure every journey is filled with adventure, discovery, and relaxation.

The cruise ship 'Ovation of the Seas' glides through the icy waters of Alaska, with the majestic backdrop of snow-covered mountains and glaciers reflecting the clear blue skies.
Ovation of the Seas in Alaska

Carnival’s Itineraries

When it comes to choosing a cruise, the destination is everything. Carnival Cruise Line offers a wide range of exciting destinations to choose from. With 25 ships operating two to thirty-one-day voyages, they depart from every coast in the U.S. However, the Carnival Cruise Line is best known for its Caribbean cruises.

Their North American homeports, such as Miami, are the launching point for voyages to the Caribbean and Mexico, with stops at breathtaking destinations like Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas. For those wanting something more exotic, Carnival ships also sail to the Mexican Riviera.

Carnival Cruise Line Australia also provides cruises from Sydney and Brisbane to New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. This extension of the Carnival family offers a unique experience, allowing passengers to explore the wonders of the Pacific in true Carnival style.

The Carnival Sunrise cruise ship docked at Grand Turk, with the island's stunning turquoise waters and lush landscapes in the background, embodying tropical travel and leisure.
Carnival Sunrise docked at Grand Turk

Onboard activities are a crucial part of the cruise experience. I mean, if you’re going to spend all that time on a ship, you’ll definitely go stir-crazy if you have nothing to do. Fortunately, Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line offer their passengers a wide range of options.

Royal Caribbean Onboard Activities

Royal Caribbean is known for pushing the envelope when it comes to onboard activities. One of their most popular attractions is their FlowRider surfing simulators. These offer a fun and safe way for passengers to try their hand at surfing without ever leaving the ship. This unique feature sets Royal Caribbean apart, offering its passengers a unique and exhilarating experience.

In addition to their FlowRider simulators, Royal Caribbean also offers a Category 6 Waterpark on many of their ships. This fun-filled attraction features a variety of water slides, splash zones, and pools, perfect for both kids and adults. With these exciting onboard activities, it’s clear that Royal Caribbean is committed to providing its passengers with a cruise experience that is anything but ordinary.

On top of this, they have rock climbing, shows at the AquaTheatre, Broadway Style Shows, Spas, Sports Courts and more.

Recommended reading: Best Royal Caribbean Ships for Kids.

The AquaTheatre on Harmony of the Seas during twilight, featuring a dazzling water show with fountains illuminated by purple lights, surrounded by an outdoor amphitheater with tiered seating and a pink water slide overhead.
AquaTheatre on Harmony of the Seas

Carnival’s Onboard Activities

Thrill-seekers and cruise enthusiasts love Carnival for its vast array of fun-filled deck attractions. From swimming pools and water slides to sports courts and mini-golf, there’s always something to keep you entertained on deck. But the highlight is undoubtedly BOLT, the world’s first roller coaster at sea. A truly unique experience, it combines the thrill of a roller coaster with unparalleled ocean views.

And when it’s time to unwind, there are numerous places to relax and enjoy a refreshing drink. The Burger Joint, RedFrog Rum Bar, and the Blue Iguana Tequila Bar are among the favourites, offering a wide selection of beverages and tasty bites. Whether you want a day filled with adrenaline-pumping activities or a laid-back afternoon soaking up the sun, Carnival’s deck attractions will surely deliver.

The Blue Iguana Tequila Bar on Carnival Ecstasy, featuring a vibrant Mexican-themed decor with a straw roof, colorful tiled bar, and wooden stools, set against the serene backdrop of the ocean.
Blue Iguana Tequila Bar on Carnival Ecstasy

When it comes to cabin choices, both Royal Caribbean and Carnival offer diverse options. However, the standard cabins on Carnival ships are among the largest in the cruise industry, a point in their favour for those who value more space. But Royal Caribbean is not far behind, boasting an impressive selection of cabin categories, including their extravagant loft and family suites.

Royal Caribbean Cabins

Royal Caribbean is renowned for its lavish cabin offerings, each designed to give guests a truly indulgent break. Cruise-goers can choose from multiple cabin categories, ensuring there’s something for all preferences and budgets. From cosy interior cabins to spacious suites with private balconies, there’s a perfect haven for everyone.

For those of you who want to splash out on extra luxury, there are two-story loft suites available offering a luxurious multi-level living experience at sea. For families, the two-story Ultimate Family Suites come equipped with slides and game rooms, providing endless entertainment for kids and a relaxing retreat for parents.

For those seeking the ultimate in luxury, suites with private concierges are available, ensuring a truly pampered and personalised cruise experience.

Interior of the Ultimate Family Townhouse on Royal Caribbean's Icon of the Seas, featuring a bold red slide, multicolored hanging lights, and a cozy living area with a plush yellow chair and gray sectional sofa. The room is bathed in natural light from floor-to-ceiling windows that offer a panoramic view of the sea.
Ultimate Family Townhouse on Icon of the Seas

Carnival Cabins

Carnival’s cabins and suites offer comfort and a touch of luxury. Among their specialty cabins are the Havana Cabins. These cabins are more than just a place to sleep. They come with the added perk of a private pool and deck area at the stern of the ship for guests to relax and enjoy.

Carnival’s Family Harbor rooms make family travel nothing short of easy and comfortable. Available on select ships like the Carnival Jubilee, these family cabins have inside, oceanview, and balcony options and can comfortably accommodate up to five people. Whether you’re looking for a private retreat or a family-friendly space, Carnival’s cabins cater to your needs while providing a touch of indulgence.

The d├ęcor in Royal Caribbean cabins tends to be more upscale and luxurious, while Carnival cabins offer a more relaxed and casual atmosphere. Ultimately, the choice comes down to personal preference and what you value most in your cruise accommodation.

Recommended reading: Carnival Suite vs Balcony Stateroom.

Elegant Havana Cabana Suite on Carnival Vista with a large bed adorned with white linens and a vibrant orange and teal runner. The room features a tropical patterned carpet, wood-finished bedside tables, and decorative pillows that add a pop of color. Slatted doors open to a private cabana area, inviting natural light and offering a glimpse of the outdoor seating and hammock.
Havana Cabana Suite on Carnival Vista

Food plays a significant role in the overall cruise experience. Both Royal Caribbean and Carnival have casual and formal dining options. They offer a range of eateries onboard its ships, providing a wide range of choices for every palate.

Royal Caribbean’s Food & Drink Options

Royal Caribbean offers diverse food options, promising a different culinary experience with every meal. The cruise line’s vision to provide an expansive culinary expertise is evident in its dining offerings. Royal Caribbean is a gastronomic paradise for people who love trying new dishes and flavours.

However, the free meals aboard the Royal Caribbean tend towards snacks and buffet-style breakfasts and dinners. Often, the better meals at Royal Caribbean’s promenade are inside the expensive restaurants. So, if you want to try something new aboard a Royal Caribbean ship, be aware that you’ll have to empty your wallet a bit.

Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver has contributed to the culinary experience at Royal Caribbean, providing various dining options for passengers to enjoy. Whether you’re looking for a hearty meal in one of their dining rooms or a quick bite at a casual eatery, there’s something for everyone.

An inviting charcuterie board with a selection of cured meats, olives, and cheese, presented on a wooden plank supported by canned tomatoes, set on a table at Jamie's Italian restaurant onboard Harmony of the Seas, with a red tufted booth in the background.
Jamie’s Italian onboard Harmony of the Seas

Carnival’s Food & Drink Options

One of the highlights of any cruise is the food, and Carnival certainly doesn’t disappoint. With culinary options designed to cater to every palate, dining aboard Carnival is a gastronomic adventure. Between Carnival and Royal Caribbean, the former offers arguably the more economical dining experience without compromising taste or quality.

Their menu boasts delectable dishes from celebrity chefs like Emeril Lagasse and Guy Fieri. These culinary maestros have added their unique touch to Carnival’s dining choices, ensuring that each meal is a memorable experience.

Gourmet BBQ salmon garnished with fresh herbs and a crispy onion ring, accompanied by a golden pastry and a glass of white wine on a polished wooden table in Carnival Cruise's main dining room.
Emeril Selects ‘BBQ Salmon’ in Main Dining Room

Onboard entertainment is an integral part of any cruise. Carnival and Royal Caribbean both offer a plethora of entertainment options designed to keep passengers engaged and entertained. From exciting escape rooms that challenge your problem-solving skills to fun-filled family feud games, there’s never a dull moment on these cruises. However, these two cruise lines have their own distinctive styles of entertainment.

Royal Caribbean’s Entertainment Options

Royal Caribbean offers an array of exciting options for the night owls. From their well-stocked bars to their comfortable lounges, the fun doesn’t stop when the sun goes down.

Royal Caribbean offers unique experiences like roller skating and indoor ice skating rinks for those seeking more active entertainment. Carnival Cruise ships may have their own attractions, but the expansive offerings at Royal Caribbean ensure that there’s something for every type of passenger.

The Bamboo Room on Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas, showcasing a vibrant tiki bar ambiance with colorful lighting, eclectic tropical-patterned furniture, and a warm, inviting atmosphere for guests enjoying drinks and conversation.
Bamboo Room on Mariner of the Seas

Carnival’s Entertainment Options

When the sun sets, Carnival Cruise Line comes alive with thrilling nightlife experiences. The energy on board is electrifying, with a variety of entertainment options to keep you on your toes. From dazzling theatre shows to hilarious comedy routines, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

One of the highlights is the Playlist Productions theatre shows. These short, visual, musical performances run multiple times an evening and on several days. If you want a good laugh, the Punchliner Comedy Club is a must-visit. Found on all ships, it offers nightly comedy routines. You can opt for family-friendly ones or adult ones.

Furthermore, select ships offer Dive-In Movies poolside on outdoor LED screens for a unique movie experience. And for those who love to dance, the ships feature nightclubs with skilled DJs to keep the party going.

Carnival Sunrise's pool deck set up for Dive-In Movies, featuring rows of blue loungers facing a large outdoor screen, with a tranquil pool reflecting the early evening sky.

Choosing between Royal Caribbean and Carnival often boils down to cost. Both cruise lines offer many experiences and amenities, but their pricing strategies can differ. To make an informed decision, it’s essential to consider the overall value offered by each cruise line, the cost of the cruise itself, and any additional expenses such as onboard activities and dining options. In the following sections, we’ll delve deeper into the pricing of both Royal Caribbean and Carnival to help you find the best fit for your budget.

Royal Caribbean Pricing

One of the key aspects of planning a cruise vacation is understanding the pricing strategies of the chosen cruise line. Royal Caribbean, for instance, strives to provide a luxurious cruising experience, and their prices reflect this. However, they also offer a range of options to cater to different budgets.

The price of a Royal Caribbean cruise varies based on several different factors, including ship, time of year, destination length of the cruise and the number of guests. You also have to note that gratuities (tips) are not included in the price, along with certain drinks, and you have to ensure you’re budget allows for this.

Carnival Cruise Pricing

Carnival Cruise Line, known for its laid-back atmosphere, offers a range of pricing options. But all things considered, this cruise line has positioned itself as a more affordable choice compared to Royal Caribbean. With a focus on value, Carnival provides a variety of packages to cater to different budgets and preferences.

Sure, you could opt for specialty restaurants and exclusive activities, which would add to your overall expenditure. But if you’re content with the main dining room experience and the standard onboard activities, you’ll find Carnival’s pricing quite reasonable. Therefore, whether you’re planning a cruise for the first time or are an experienced cruiser, Carnival Cruise Line’s diverse pricing can accommodate your budget and desired experience.

The biggest cruise ships in the world belong to Carnival and Royal Caribbean. From game shows and comedy clubs to IMAX theatres and Broadway shows, both cruise lines offer activities for kids and families.

Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean stands out in the cruise industry with its unique family-friendly facilities. The line’s ships are filled with activities that cater to all age groups. For instance, the Ultimate Abyss, the tallest slide at sea, offers an unforgettable experience for older kids and adults. Meanwhile, younger children can participate in various games and activities designed specifically for their age group.

Not just adrenaline-pumping activities, Royal Caribbean also has several specialty dining options where families can enjoy a meal together. From pizza parlours to ice cream and even a variety of international cuisines, there’s something for every palate.

The Ultimate Abyss slide entrance on Royal Caribbean's Harmony of the Seas, depicted as a towering angler fish sculpture with shiny scales and a whimsical design, against a clear sky backdrop with the ocean horizon in the distance.
Ultimate Abyss on Harmony of the Seas

Carnival

Carnival Cruise Line, often less expensive than the Royal Caribbean, is another excellent choice for families planning a cruise. The line is known for its family-friendly atmosphere, with a wide array of activities designed to keep kids entertained. On Carnival ships, families can enjoy everything from water parks to mini-golf and even exclusive kids’ clubs that offer a variety of fun and educational activities.

But the fun doesn’t stop when the sun goes down. Families can enjoy an evening at the comedy club or watch a movie under the stars at Carnival’s seaside cinema.

The Punchliner Comedy Club on Mardi Gras, featuring a chic, dimly lit interior with emerald green walls, modern spherical lights, and plush brown seating, ready for an evening of entertainment.
The Punchliner Comedy Club on Mardi Gras

You May Also Be Interested In…

If you’re comparing Carnival to other cruise lines, you may also be interested in these articles: Carnival vs MSC, Norwegian vs Carnival, Carnival vs Princess or Disney Cruise vs Carnival.

The Bottom Line

Whether it’s Royal Caribbean or Carnival, the ultimate decision between the two popular cruise lines for families depends on what you’re looking for in your vacation. For those seeking an upscale feel with a focus on arts and crafts and an array of dining options, Royal Caribbean might be your go-to. Even their oldest ship brims with luxury. They’re known for providing a broad spectrum of activities, particularly their kids’ clubs, which are a hit amongst younger passengers.

However, if a more laid-back party atmosphere is what you’re after, with a strong emphasis on the main dining room experience, Carnival Cruise Line could be the one for you. Their cruise port is always buzzing with activity, creating a casual and fun-filled environment. The decision is yours to make. Either way, they are both good choices.

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I'm Hannah and I've been cruising for as long as I can remember.

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