7 Differences between Royal Caribbean and Carnival
I have been on my fair share of cruises. Plenty of people have been on far more than I have, but I do like to think of myself as an experienced cruiser. And after our recent Royal Caribbean cruise I noticed some large differences between Carnival and Royal and thought I should share them. Before I start; I feel I should let you know that I am Platinum (10+ cruises) on Carnival, and this might be part of why I have had so many good experiences with them. But I’ve also had plenty of cruises with them before I was Platinum, and the only Royal cruise I’ve been on was in a Grand Suite – with similar perks to my Platinum status on Carnival. With that said, let’s go over some of the differences I have encountered:
To me one of the first things you notice as a huge difference between Royal and Carnival are the ships themselves. Carnival has some very large ships; and some of them are nicely themed, and decently attractive. However a good portion of them are very retro neon, gaudy, and just plain unattractive – to me. Some people may love their style, I find it unappealing. This doesn’t stop me from having fun, but it definitely is not the most upscale or attractive ship on the sea. Royal on the other hand has the largest cruise ships in the world. They are a floating city, and the winner for sure in this category for me. Not only are they big, but they are beautiful marvels of human engineering! If it is very important to you that the ship you are on is classy then you’ll probably love Royal Caribbean. And, in addition to the theming, the other reason Royal wins this category is because their ships have some incredible attractions on board. The Oasis of the Seas, for example, has two Flo Riders, a rock wall, and ice skating rink, a carousel, a central park, and more! Carnival on the other hand is trying to keep up, but is lagging far behind. Royal even has a robot bar..! Sorry Carnival, but you don’t have a robot bar!
I’m aware that some people may disagree with me here, but I think the food goes easily to Carnival. Comparing the main dining rooms it is pretty clear that Carnival’s food is better. They have more variety, presentation, and flavor. I think the people who say Royal has better food like the specialty restaurants on Royal. But there is no reason I should have to pay even more money just to have good food. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be specially restaurants, but everything costs money on Royal. Even burgers, coffee and ice cream! It’s almost like their dining room is bad so that you’ll want to go spend money at a restaurant. I enjoy Carnival’s food in the main (free) dining room, but also love to spend a night at their steak house everytime I cruise with them. It’s a fun thing to choose to go from great food, to amazing food. But on Royal it felt like I had to spend money at every meal or have terrible food. And again, this may be a matter of personal taste. And I have talked with people on both sides of this topic. But for me, this one goes to Carnival. Though, Carnival does have a that one ship (Magic) with the free Indian food counter! So that might add to why they win for me.
The ticket price difference between Carnival and Royal is huge. Carnival is definitely a cheaper vacation on all fronts. It is much cheaper to book your cruise with Carnival, and then when you add on all the fees, on ship charges, and specialty restaurants that Royal has it becomes an even bigger price difference. Very little is free on Royal; all the restaurants cost money, the on ship tours and classes cost money. Heck, even the room service has an $8 fee! After cruising with Carnival so many times I was completely floored with how often we needed to take out our wallets to pay for something. I have never expected cruising to be cheap but I am just used to the cost being upfront, and was very frustrated that the upfront cost was so much higher and then they still needed me to pay for everything… everything that I am used to being given for free on Carnival. So yes, price easily goes to Carnival.
Shows is an easy win for Royal Caribbean. The shows on Carnival are just not that good. Honestly I didn’t really like most of the shows on Royal either, but they were definitely better. First off, just the concepts are better. They have a dive show which was way too artsy for me, but the diving was amazing. I just did not think it had a story but it was sold as having one … maybe I am just too uncultured for this show. They also had an acrobatics show that, again, I was too uncultured to find the story – but the acrobatics were amazing. The music during Royal and Carnivals show are a bit old for my taste but I realize that I am not their audience. I did enjoy the ice skating show a whole lot, but to be fair on Carnival I really enjoy when they have a magician. So there is really only one show I like on both cruise lines. And while I might not have enjoyed them I can definitely say that Royal’s were better.
I have never had a single bad experience on Carnival out of my 12 cruises with them. I have also had absolutely amazing experiences with Carnival. One time my husband forgot his tie for formal night so we called the special phone number for Platinum members and asked where to rent one. They didn’t have a place to rent one on board so a crew member actually brought us one of his own personal ties. I mean you can’t ask for better than that! On Royal Caribbean, which I have only sailed once, I had no less than 5 bad customer service moments. Three of these were really bad. We had a lady yell, yes yell, at me and my 4 year old because we were walking the wrong way. I did not know where I was going and was actually walking the wrong way – but a simple “excuse me” would have solved her problem. And it was strange that she thought scaring my child by screaming at her and I was the best option. Now I still loved that cruise and the concierge staff on the 17th floor lounge definitely fixed or made up for those bad experiences – but I was definitely left wondering how it would have gone if I was not staying in a suite. This also might be a problem of me being from the south. I am used to people smiling and being chatty. The staff on Royal were much less willing to stop and talk to me, and it almost felt like they were trying to be fancy by having the staff not be too friendly. But I am originally from Texas and now live at Disney World, so I think people are being friendly when they stop to talk and don’t like me if they don’t at least wave. Either way Carnival has better customer service especially if you are looking for more friendly ship staff.
I love a good loyalty program and both of these cruise lines have some nice programs that lead to really good perks. Unfortunately, it takes a really long time to get to the good perks on Royal. With how much more a Royal cost than a Carnival, and how many more cruises you would have to go on to get to the same perks, Carnival is just a better program. After 10x 7 day cruises you get amazing perks with Carnival; special check in where you skip the line, in room gifts, a special help desk, disembarking first, and my favorite FREE laundry. To get these same perks on Royal you would have to spend at least 80 days at sea but you still don’t get the really good perks. No FREE laundry, no special help desk or phone number. You don’t get those until you’re Pinnacle, which is 700 days at sea. Holy two years of my life! So for me and my frugal self Carnival wins the loyalty program.
There is a reason that Carnival is called the fun ships and I recently found out that is something worth making into a slogan. Now Royal is fun, and I had a lot of fun on the zipline and more fun watching my husband fall down on the Flo Rider, but it is the atmosphere on Carnival that makes them fun. I don’t know quite how to explain it, but Royal just sort of has the feeling that they are trying really hard to be classy. I like classy, I really do – but there is a time for classy and a time for a fun crazy deck party and Royal just rarely thought it was time for the crazy deck party. It took us work to find a place with music for our age group… 30’s… and that music did not start till late. The problem with this is we have a child so we don’t really do late that well. It seemed like acoustic music playing in a park while people drank wine was sort of the feeling that Royal is trying to, and succeeding at, in maintaining. And that definitely works for some people. Carnival on the other hand is ice sculptures on the deck, deck parties, and hairy chest contests. I don’t go on a cruise to feel fancy, I go to take a break from real life and let loose a little. Carnival is the FUN ships and they take this category hands down.
So in conclusion it comes down to what you are looking for. If you don’t mind spending more to feel sophisticated then Royal all the way, and I am a little jealous of your wallet. I would love to go on those amazing ships more but the problem is I am really just going on a ship to hear the sound of the waves, look at the vast sea and let my hair down a little. So in conclusion Carnival wins for me and my family, but I would love to hear your opinions. In the comments please let us know if you have had a slightly different experience or even the complete opposite. I hope that my going on too many cruises will help your family pick the right one so that you can all have a magical vacation.