Royal Caribbean vs Carnival: 2024 Comparison!

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Leo

royal caribbean vs carnival

Hello, Cruise Lovers!

Today, we’re diving into a hotly debated topic within the cruise industry, perhaps the most contested one: which cruise line is better between Royal Caribbean and Carnival.

I’ve noticed that much of the content that is available online, including articles and social media commentary, seems somewhat outdated, with some discussions dating back several years.

Luckily, I’ve had the opportunity to sail with both Royal Caribbean and Carnival in 2024, so I will provide an up-to-date comparison.

Let’s dive in; it’s going to be a bit of a long article so get comfortable!

The ships

royal caribbean and carnival ships comparison
Ships comparison

Let’s start with the ships.

Both Royal Caribbean and Carnival have incredible fleets: very modern and with ships of various sizes, from the smallest to the largest.

In particular, Royal Caribbean currently has a total of 28 ships. The smallest one has a gross tonnage of 73,817 tons, while the largest one has a gross tonnage of 248,663 tons.

On the contrary, Carnival Cruise Line currently has a total of 26 ships. The smallest one has a gross tonnage of 71,909 tons, while the largest one has a gross tonnage of 183,521 tons.

This means that Royal Caribbean has the largest ship among the two.

But what happens if we compare only the larger ones?

If we consider only ships that exceed 100,000 tons, Royal Caribbean has 19 of them, while Carnival has only 16.

The difference is even more visible if we consider ships of 200,000 tons: 6 for Royal Caribbean and 0 for Carnival.

Here’s a summary table:

Total Number of ShipsShips of over 100k tonsShips of over 200k tons
Royal Caribbean28196
Carnival Cruise Line26160

With these numbers we can easily pick a winner when it comes to ships: and it’s Royal Caribbean!

The cabins

The other aspect that I consider crucial is the cabin. It will basically be your home for the next several days so it should be welcoming, spacious, and clean.

When it comes to choice and price range, both cruise lines have many different accommodation options.

Since Royal Caribbean’s ships are bigger, they can offer a bit more choice for larger rooms and suites.

For example, they have multiple two-story suites on modern ships and inside cabins with virtual balconies (not my favorite but still better than nothing).

Two-level stateroom on Symphony of the Seas
Two-level stateroom on Symphony of the Seas
Two level stateroom on Symphony of the Seas
Two-level stateroom on Symphony of the Seas

On the other hand, we must acknowledge that Carnival offers some spacious standard cabins. As you probably know, I’ve traveled with many cruise lines but Carnival cabins are the most spacious in relation to the price.

Plus I love that they have “themed or special rooms” like the Havana Cabanas on Carnival Vista, Carnival Horizon, and Carnival Panorama.

Havana Cabana on Carnival
Havana Cabana on Carnival
Outer Space of an Havana Cabana
Outer Space of an Havana Cabana

Considering all these factors, on the cabin side Carnival wins.

Food and Drinks

It’s time for one of the most anticipated aspects to compare: the food and the drinks!

Please don’t judge me but I like to go on a cruise also because I can eat and drink like there’s no tomorrow 🙂
Well maybe I’m a bit exaggerating but let’s say I like to treat myself!

Let’s start with the food

New York strip steak on Royal Caribbean
New York strip steak on Royal Caribbean

Both cruise lines have good food quality. Maybe Royal Caribbean has slightly higher quality food but it offers fewer choices compared to its competitors.

Last time I was on Royal Caribbean the food was extremely good, but some dishes were proposed almost every evening.

For example, in the updated main dining room menus on Royal Caribbean, you can see the “escargots à la bourguignonne” almost every night. Even on the Mexican-themed menu…a weird choice.

If you want something really different you have to go to one of the extra-fee specialty restaurants, there are many but they are not included in the price of the cruise (which is a very negative thing).

On the other hand, I’ve noticed that Carnival has a slightly lower quality (still good) but, as you can see in the Carnival food menus, they have a much wider and more varied selection.

They have many “special options” that are included in the cruise fare.

For example, Guy’s Burger Joint which prepares some of the best burgers at sea, the Mexican cantina, the Big Chicken, and the Pizzeria.

What about the drinks?

Well, both cruise lines have drink packages you can choose from.

Royal Caribbean has:

  • A soda package: that offers unlimited access to sodas from freestyle machines using an included cup that has a chip on the bottom. (I don’t like the cup thing and would have preferred cans).
  • A refreshment package: that includes all non-alcoholic beverages (including mocktails). I’ve made a full list of all the mocktails on Royal Caribbean if you want to check it out.
  • A deluxe package: an unlimited package that includes alcoholic drinks.

For further information, look at the article where I’ve compared Royal Caribbean’s drink packages.

Royal Caribbean Soda Cup
Royal Caribbean Soda Cup

On the other hand, Carnival has two main drink packages:

  • The Bottomless Bubbles: for unlimited sodas by the glass.
  • The Cheers Package: which includes soft drinks + alcoholic beverages.

A main difference is that with the Carnival package, once you have consumed 15 alcoholic drinks, you cannot purchase any additional alcoholic beverages. 

Is this a negative thing? I don’t know…maybe it’s not. At least I can’t drink more than 15 alcoholic drinks a day, and maybe no one should do it for health reasons. Can you do it? Let me know in the comments.

Who’s the winner for food and drinks? Well, there’s no real difference in terms of drinks, but for the food I have to say that Carnival wins thanks to the variety and diversity of the selection.

Itineraries

When it comes to the itineraries, I think there’s little to no competition.

Most Carnival ships focus on the Caribbean, the Bahamas, and Mexico, offering only a limited number of cruises to Europe, Alaska, or Hawaii.

Therefore, Carnival is an ideal choice if you’re departing from major U.S. ports such as Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Galveston, or Port Canaveral.

On the other hand, Royal Caribbean offers a wider selection of cruises in Europe, along with other regions such as Australia and Asia.

At the same time, it still values its North American itineraries, providing numerous cruises to the Caribbean and the Bahamas, including stops at its private island, CocoCay.

cococay
CocoCay Private Island

So which is the best for itineraries?

As an Italian, I can confirm that Royal Caribbean offers a more extensive range of itineraries in Europe, in addition to its American options. For this reason, Royal Caribbean wins on this aspect.

Entertainment

The last thing that I want to compare with you is the onboard entertainment.

Even though both offer high-quality entertainment, their style is pretty different.

Royal Caribbean opts for more Broadway-like shows such as “Grease” and “Cats”. They’re all well performed, with amazing actors, great costumes and a good scenography.

Greese on Royal Caribbean
Greese on Royal Caribbean

Did I like them? Yes, I did, but in the end, they are still the same shows. When I go on cruise ships I want to see something new, something that leaves me speechless.

I liked the water shows on the Oasis class ships much more. Those are the things I want to see!

Instead, Carnival focuses on “less formal entertainment“. It has shows with singers and dancers, and all of them were pretty good.

They also focus a lot on comedy shows, games, and contests. I loved the shipboard version of Family Feud, it was so fun to watch.

Family Feud on Carnival
Family Feud on Carnival

I think that overall, for entertainment, Carnival is better. There will also be a reason if they sell themselves as the “fun” cruise line.

Final Considerations

Now let’s recap all the votes for every single section in the table below:

ShipsCabinsFood and DrinkItinerariesEntertainment
Royal CaribbeanXX
CarnivalXXX

As you can see from the table, Royal Caribbean scored 2 points for the ships and the itineraries while Carnival scored 3 points for the cabins, food and drink, and entertainment.

I want to stress that the opinions on every single aspect can change based on the point of view of the passenger.

For example, as I said before, I generally prefer Royal Caribbean because it’s more convenient for my location. However, it could not be the same for an American.

In the end, I can assure you that both are excellent companies, so you’ll be in good hands regardless of which one you choose.

My advice is to focus more on the choice of itinerary and ship rather than on the single cruise line.

Please share this article! It can be useful to another cruise enthusiast!

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