Royal Caribbean vs. Carnival: Which Cruise Giant Wins the Battle of the Seas?

When you think about going on a cruise, two big names probably come to mind: Royal Caribbean and Carnival. They’re well known worldwide and dominate the open seas.

These two cruise lines are like the best of rivals, offering amazing trips to numerous places, fun activities for all ages, and all sorts of adventures.

But even though they seem similar, there are some differences that might help you pick the one that’s just right for you.

Let’s dive into the fun battle between Royal Caribbean and Carnival to see which one you might want to hop aboard for your next vacation!

Royal Caribbean vs Carnival

Royal Caribbean vs Carnival


Tackling fleet sizes, Royal Caribbean boasts an impressive array of ships. It’s not just about numbers; it’s the variety and the cutting-edge technology that they incorporate.

From the world’s largest cruise ships in the Oasis class to the adventurous Quantum class, Royal Caribbean ships are floating cities brimming with activities and amenities.

The sheer scale of Royal Caribbean’s Oasis and Icon Classes is so vast that they’re cleverly segmented into neighborhoods. Imagine strolling through an authentic Central Park complete with actual trees or reveling in the pleasures of a lively Boardwalk.

Here, merriment is always in the air with carousels and thrilling slides, not to mention a state-of-the-art theater where you can be mesmerized by daring high-dives.

Carnival has a more family-focused approach. Their ships are known for a fun atmosphere and are designed to cater to all ages.

Carnival’s approach to grandiosity is no less spectacular, with their largest liners, including the Mardi Gras, Carnival Celebration, and Carnival Jubilee, each boasting a collection of themed zones.

Aboard Mardi Gras, for example, you can sway to the rhythms of jazz in an environment inspired by New Orleans’ own French Quarter.

With a fleet that’s recently expanded with its innovative Excel-class ships, Carnival is dedicated to affordable, lively vacations that appeal to both the young and the young at heart.

On the more modest side, both lines provide vessels that comfortably host between 3,000 and 4,000 passengers.

No ship, regardless of its size, neglects to deliver the full cruise experience. Brace yourself for an array of luxurious amenities ranging from bustling casinos, serene pools, and live entertainment to indulgent spas, vibrant dance halls, and an assortment of bars.

Both Carnival and Royal Caribbean guarantee that your ocean voyage will feel like a retreat to an indulgent resort—a world where both relaxation and entertainment await at every deck.


Rest easy knowing you have an abundance of room options to choose from. Royal Caribbean’s accommodations range from cozy interior rooms to expansive suites with private balconies.

If cruising solo, you have the option of single cabins that mean you won’t be paying double just to have your own space.

Royal Caribbean Standard Balcony room
Royal Caribbean’s Standard Balcony Stateroom

Now, if it’s spaciousness you’re after, Carnival’s standard cabins are notable for their generous size, leading the industry in room to relax and enjoy your cruise. Comfort meets style in rooms designed with warm accents and all the necessary amenities.

While slightly less geared towards solo travelers, Carnival still provides a variety of room types, including budget-friendly interior cabins and suite options for extra luxury.

For those cruising with family, certain ships offer Family Harbor cabins, complete with access to a communal lounge perfect for family time.

Carnival Standard Balcony Stateroom
Carnival Standard Balcony Stateroom

Meanwhile, sailing on one of Carnival’s latest ships treats you to an elevated experience with increased availability of suites, including some that provide daytime access to an exclusive pool area.

If you’re planning to book a standard room, you’ll find that both Royal Caribbean and Carnival offer similar quality and comfort. However, it’s a good idea to explore the special room options each cruise line offers.

These unique rooms might give you the chance to enjoy a balcony view at a lower cost, or you could opt for a themed suite that adds an extra touch of magic to your journey.

Each cruise line has its own set of exclusive accommodations that could make your trip even more memorable, without necessarily breaking the bank.

Destinations and Itineraries

Source: @johnhealdccl

When choosing between Royal Caribbean and Carnival, the destinations they visit and the creativity of their itineraries might just tip the scales.

Each line charts its own course across the seas, offering distinct journeys that beckon travelers with the promise of adventure and discovery.

Royal Caribbean is renowned for its diverse array of destinations, particularly its voyages across the Caribbean Sea.

These cruises range from short 3-7 night jaunts to longer excursions, docking at popular spots like the Bahamas and Cozumel.

What sets Royal Caribbean apart are its private destinations, such as Labadee in Haiti—a secluded resort offering everything from pristine beaches to exhilarating zip-line adventures.

Another exclusive stop is Perfect Day at CocoCay in the Bahamas, where guests can enjoy an action-packed waterpark and relaxing beach areas.

For those drawn to the old world charm and natural beauty of Europe, Royal Caribbean offers itineraries that explore the Mediterranean’s rich history and the Baltic Sea’s breathtaking vistas, with trips typically lasting 7 nights or more.

Carnival Cruise Line, on the other hand, provides a treasure trove of tropical paradises within the Caribbean, with itineraries ranging from quick 4-night getaways to more leisurely 8-night sails.

For those looking westward, Carnival’s cruises to the Mexican Riviera promise sun-soaked adventures in ports like Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta, perfect for 6-night escapes.

While Carnival may not offer private islands like its competitor, it prides itself on delivering unique shore excursions that immerse travelers in the local culture and scenic beauty of each port, ensuring a memorable experience at every stop.

In essence, your preference for destinations and the way you wish to explore them could very well make the decision for you.

Private Island Experiences

Royal Caribbean’s Private Island: Perfect Day at CocoCay

Perfect Day at CocoCay is Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas, known for its thrilling and chill experiences. It’s an adventurous paradise featuring:

  • Thrill Waterpark: Home to Daredevil’s Peak, the tallest waterslide in North America, along with several other slides, wave pools, and a kid-friendly obstacle course.
  • Up, Up and Away: A helium balloon ride that offers breathtaking views of the island from 450 feet in the air.
  • Oasis Lagoon: The Caribbean’s largest freshwater pool, complete with swim-up bars and in-pool loungers.
  • Chill Island: A serene beach escape with crystal-clear waters and powdery white sands, perfect for relaxation.
  • Coco Beach Club: Offering an upscale experience with overwater cabanas, a private beach, and an exclusive restaurant.

Royal Caribbean has designed Perfect Day at CocoCay to offer a balanced mix of adrenaline-pumping adventures and serene relaxation spots, catering to all ages and preferences.

Carnival’s Private Island: Half Moon Cay

Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

Half Moon Cay is Carnival’s private island in the Bahamas, consistently rated as one of the best private islands in the Caribbean. It epitomizes the idyllic beach day with features like:

  • Stunning, award-winning beaches: With powdery white sand and crystal-clear turquoise waters, the beaches are perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and beach sports.
  • Horseback riding by the sea: Unique to Half Moon Cay, guests can ride horses along the beach and even through the surf.
  • Water sports: Including snorkeling, kayaking, and paddleboarding, allowing guests to explore the island’s vibrant marine life.
  • Private cabanas: Available for rent, offering a private slice of paradise with added comforts and amenities.
  • Nature trails: For guests interested in exploring the island’s natural beauty on foot or by bike.

Half Moon Cay focuses on delivering a pristine beach experience in a more laid-back and natural setting, making it ideal for guests looking to unwind and soak in the beauty of the Bahamas.


Each cruise line brings its own strengths to the table, making your dining experience a key part of the adventure.

Carnival Cruise Line shines with its expansive selection of included dining options, creating a gastronomic landscape that’s as inclusive as it is diverse. The line’s commitment to quality and variety is evident in both its complimentary and specialty dining offerings.

For meat enthusiasts, the steakhouses on Carnival ships are a must-visit, offering premium cuts in an elegant setting. Asian cuisine lovers will find themselves at home in JiJi, where the flavors of the East are celebrated with flair.

But the culinary delights don’t stop there. Carnival’s collaboration with celebrity chefs brings an extra layer of excitement to your dining options.

Guy Fieri’s poolside burgers at Guy’s Burger Joint, the varied tastes at BlueIguana Cantina, Shaq’s crispy fried chicken, and the Italian pizzas offer a taste of the familiar with a twist. For those with a love for Indian cuisine, the main dining room’s nightly vegetarian options are a testament to Carnival’s attention to diverse palates.

Adding to the experience, selected ships feature New Orleans bistros by Emeril Lagasse and in-house breweries, offering a unique blend of culinary exploration and craft beverages, though these experiences come at an additional cost.

Royal Caribbean, on the other hand, invites guests to embark on a culinary journey that spans the globe without leaving the ship.

The Windjammer Marketplace buffet and traditional main dining rooms are at the heart of the complimentary dining experience, offering a range of familiar and comforting dishes designed to please every palate.

For those seeking a more specialized dining experience, Royal Caribbean’s array of specialty restaurants provides an opportunity to indulge in everything from sushi to Italian cuisine, albeit for an additional fee.

Noteworthy is Jamie’s Italian by Jamie Oliver, offering rustic Italian favorites in a casual setting. For a taste of Americana, Johnny Rockets serves up classic burgers and milkshakes, though it’s important to note there is a charge for this nostalgic experience.

Both Royal Caribbean and Carnival excel in providing a dining experience that is both broad and nuanced, catering to the tastes of every traveler.

Whether you’re drawn to the comprehensive, inclusive offerings of Carnival with its celebrity chef partnerships and diverse cuisine options or the global culinary exploration facilitated by Royal Caribbean’s specialty venues and buffet, your cruise will undoubtedly be a journey worth savoring.

Onboard Activities

Both cruise lines pull out all the stops to ensure that your days at sea are filled with excitement, laughter, and awe-inspiring performances.

Royal Caribbean sets the bar high with its array of Broadway-style shows, where the glamour and talent could easily be mistaken for a night out in New York City.

But the entertainment doesn’t stop there. Guests can marvel at ice-skating performances that turn the rink into a stage of glacial beauty, and acrobatic shows that defy gravity and capture the imagination.

For those seeking a dose of adrenaline, Royal Caribbean offers unique experiences such as surf simulators and skydiving simulators, allowing you to catch a wave or soar through the air without ever leaving the ship.

The adventure continues with rock climbing walls, the FlowRider surfing simulator, ice skating, and even zip lines, ensuring that every moment is filled with excitement. Not to be overlooked, the Ultimate Abyss slide and the North Star observation pod offer breathtaking thrills and views, respectively.

Carnival Cruise Line, on the other hand, ensures that fun is at the heart of your vacation. The Punchliner Comedy Club promises a night of belly laughs, while live music and dance shows keep you moving to the beat.

But Carnival’s sense of adventure shines through with its WaterWorks parks, featuring twisting waterslides and splash zones for a splash-tacular time.

For those seeking a unique thrill, the Bolt sea-bound roller coaster offers high-speed excitement with ocean views.

Additional adventures include outdoor ropes courses, sky-high bike rides, and even indoor trampoline parks, ensuring that every day is filled with new and exciting challenges.

Both cruise lines also cater to those looking for relaxation or a flutter of excitement with amenities like casinos, spas, and pools, ensuring that whether you’re seeking adrenaline, entertainment, or a moment of peace, there’s something onboard for you.

Whether you’re drawn to Royal Caribbean’s innovative and high-flying activities or Carnival’s fun-filled and diverse entertainment options, your cruise vacation promises to be an unforgettable journey of discovery and delight.


Both cruise lines have mastered the art of sea-bound entertainment, offering a variety of shows and activities that cater to every taste and age group.

Royal Caribbean transforms your evenings into an unforgettable Broadway experience. Picture yourself tapping your feet and singing along to the timeless hits from shows like “Grease,” “Hairspray,” and “Cats.”

These aren’t mere performances; they’re Broadway productions at sea, meticulously adapted to enrich your night without keeping you out too late.

For those who crave the thrill of the extraordinary, Royal Caribbean’s AquaTheaters are the stage for heart-stopping acrobatic and high-diving performances, all set against the vast backdrop of the ocean. Meanwhile, ice skating shows bring a cool twist to onboard entertainment, combining grace and skill on a glistening rink.

And for a fusion of technology and performance art, the Two70 theaters on Quantum Class ships offer a spectacle where robotics and live actors create an immersive storytelling experience.

Royal Caribbean also knows how to get your feet moving with places like Boleros, a vibrant salsa club where the rhythm of the music invites you to dance the night away under the stars.

Carnival Cruise Line offers its own brand of unforgettable nights with Playlist Productions. These high-energy performances distill the essence of musical theatre into shorter, dynamic shows that blend popular tunes with dazzling choreography.

Comedy takes center stage at the Punchliner Comedy Clubs, showcasing Carnival’s commitment to laughter with a lineup that makes it the largest employer of comedians worldwide.

The musical journey continues throughout the ship, with live bands playing everything from soothing jazz to electrifying rock ‘n’ roll, ensuring there’s a beat for every moment of your journey.

Interactive entertainment is a Carnival hallmark, from the spirited competition of “Family Feud” to lively poolside games and music trivia that bring guests together in laughter and play. Each day and night, Carnival transforms the cruise into a celebration of fun, music, and community.

On both Royal Caribbean and Carnival cruises, the promise isn’t just a journey across the ocean but an immersion into a world where entertainment is crafted to surprise, delight, and engage.

Whether it’s the allure of Broadway at sea, the pulse of live music, or the laughter shared in a comedy club, your time onboard is an adventure in entertainment.

Kids Activities

Children Playing, Adventure Ocean

Royal Caribbean takes child-friendly adventures to the next level with its Adventure Ocean program. This initiative is a haven for kids aged 3 to 12, inviting them to embark on a journey of exploration and discovery.

Through engaging activities and challenges, children have the opportunity to become mini-scientists, artists, and explorers, all while earning special badges that celebrate their achievements.

But the fun isn’t limited to just the older kids; Royal Caribbean has thoughtfully designed spaces for babies and toddlers, providing a safe and stimulating environment for the youngest guests to play and learn under the careful guidance of trained professionals.

This inclusive approach ensures that families with children of all ages can enjoy a stress-free vacation, knowing their little ones are engaged in enriching and entertaining experiences.

Carnival Cruise Line, on the other hand, invites kids to dive deep into ocean-themed fun at Camp Ocean. This program caters to children from 2 to 11 years old, offering a wide range of activities that celebrate the wonder of the sea.

Adding a sprinkle of magic to the mix, Carnival’s partnership with Dr. Seuss transforms the cruise into a floating storybook. Interactive character experiences, story times, and themed breakfasts featuring beloved characters from Dr. Seuss’s world ensure that imagination and fun are always on the menu.

For tweens and teens, Carnival provides exclusive spaces that are perfectly tailored to their interests and social styles.

These areas boast video games, cozy seating, and versatile spaces that adapt to everything from laid-back hangouts to high-energy dance parties, giving older kids the freedom to enjoy their vacation in their own way.

Both Royal Caribbean and Carnival understand that a family vacation is about creating lasting memories for every family member, no matter their age.

With their dedicated children’s programs, safe and engaging spaces, and a wide array of activities, parents can relax and indulge in the adult-focused amenities of the cruise, secure in the knowledge that their kids are having the time of their lives.

This commitment to family-friendly fun ensures that a cruise vacation is a richly rewarding experience for adventurers of all ages.

Pricing and Value

Royal Caribbean positions itself slightly higher on the pricing spectrum, a reflection of its commitment to innovation and the comprehensive range of facilities aboard its fleet.

The price of a journey with Royal Caribbean can fluctuate significantly, influenced by factors such as the chosen destination, the length of the cruise, and the specific ship.

This variance underscores the brand’s appeal to those seeking a cruise experience that’s enriched with state-of-the-art amenities and exclusive onboard activities.

Carnival, in contrast, sails a course that’s more budget-friendly, offering an appealing array of options for those looking to maximize fun without stretching their wallet too thin.

Carnival’s approach is especially attractive to families and budget-savvy travelers, offering a compelling mix of entertainment and relaxation at a value that’s hard to beat.

Included Amenities

The ticket price is just the beginning; the true value of a cruise comes alive through the myriad of experiences and amenities included.

Royal Caribbean dazzles with its adventurous offerings:

  • Surf simulators and rock-climbing walls for the thrill-seekers.
  • Ice-skating rinks and multiple pool areas that cater to all ages and preferences.

Carnival counters with its own brand of onboard excitement:

  • Exhilarating water slides and poolside movie nights under the stars.
  • Comedy clubs and themed parties that ensure every night is an event.

Both lines generously incorporate basic dining options and a diverse array of entertainment into the base fare, allowing guests to enjoy much of what the ship has to offer without additional costs.

Additional Costs

The voyage beyond the ticket price can encounter seas of additional expenses, from gratuities and specialty dining to excursions and beverage packages.

  • Gratuities are an expected expense on both lines, contributing to the staff’s livelihood who make your stay memorable.
  • Specialty dining venues offer culinary explorations beyond the included meals, featuring gourmet dishes and celebrity chef creations at an extra charge.
  • Excursions and special activities, whether onshore adventures or onboard exclusives like spa treatments, enrich your cruise experience with additional costs.
  • Beverage packages can be a wise investment for those looking to enjoy unlimited soft drinks or alcoholic beverages, offering convenience and potential savings.

Deciding between Royal Caribbean and Carnival doesn’t have to feel like navigating through a storm.

By considering both the upfront costs and the value of the experiences each line offers, travelers can chart a course to a cruise that not only fits their budget but also fulfills their dreams of an unforgettable sea adventure.

Whether you’re drawn to the innovative allure of Royal Caribbean or the accessible fun of Carnival, your perfect cruise awaits on the horizon, promising a treasure trove of memories and experiences.

Loyalty Programs

If you plan to take many cruises, the loyalty programs offered by Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line can add a significant layer of value to your experience. And sticking with one cruise line will have it’s perks.

Both programs are designed to reward returning guests, but they do so in ways that reflect their unique brand philosophies and guest experiences.

Carnival’s VIFP Club is all about enhancing the fun aspect of cruising. Starting as a Blue member and progressing up to Diamond status, the program injects each cruise with extra joy through perks that range from complimentary beverages to priority boarding.

The more you cruise with Carnival, the more points you gather, leading to richer rewards like onboard credits and exclusive VIFP parties. This program is tailored to recognize and reward the festive spirit of Carnival’s guests, making each cruise more enjoyable than the last.

Royal Caribbean’s Crown & Anchor Society, on the other hand, emphasizes exclusivity and premium experiences as you move from Gold to Pinnacle Club status.

The rewards system is structured to offer tangible benefits that enhance the convenience and luxury of your cruise experience.

Perks like priority check-in, balcony discounts, and access to exclusive lounges with complimentary refreshments are designed to make loyal cruisers feel special and valued.

For those who appreciate a sense of prestige and enjoy being recognized for their loyalty, Royal Caribbean’s program is incredibly appealing.

Both loyalty programs offer their own versions of special treatment:

  • Carnival’s VIFP Club perks include welcome back parties, priority embarkation, and complimentary drinks, enhancing the social and fun aspects of your cruise.
  • Royal Caribbean’s Crown & Anchor Society benefits focus on improving the cruising experience with practical amenities like priority check-in, onboard booking bonuses, and exclusive events, adding a touch of luxury to your journey.

Your preference might depend on what you value more: Carnival’s approach is perfect for those who love being part of a fun-loving community, with perks that celebrate the joy of cruising.

Royal Caribbean’s program, meanwhile, caters to those who prefer a more refined set of benefits that elevate the cruise experience itself.

Which One Is Right For You?

Choosing the best cruise line between Royal Caribbean and Carnival ultimately depends on what you value most in a vacation. Royal Caribbean leads with its innovative ships and adrenaline-pumping activities, making it ideal for those seeking a high-tech, adventure-filled journey.

Its offerings cater to both families and individuals who crave cutting-edge entertainment and a wide range of onboard experiences.

Carnival, however, shines with its budget-friendly options and a focus on fun, lively atmospheres that appeal to families, first-time cruisers, and those looking for a more relaxed, festive experience. With its diverse dining options and engaging entertainment, Carnival excels in providing a joyous and accessible cruise experience.

In general, if your dream cruise includes the latest and greatest in ship design and technology, along with a plethora of activities for all ages, Royal Caribbean is the way to go.

But if you’re after great value, a fun atmosphere, and a cruise experience that delights with its variety of dining and entertainment options, Carnival will likely be your ship of choice.

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