Royal Caribbean versus Carnival Cruise Lines | Live Work Travel USA
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Royal Caribbean vs. Carnival

Part 2 of my 3-part Cruise Vacation series.

I didn’t have any desire of taking a cruise for years. My wife however kept mentioning it, so one year I finally gave in and I just loved it. Up until now we took a total of 3 cruises and I’m sure there will be more. However, there are some important differences between all the cruise lines. Up until the time I’m writing this, we tried out Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Lines, so my article will be about these two lines to help making a better decision for you and your family or friends. My experience is based on the “Freedom of the Seas” (Royal) and Carnival Dream (Carnival) and this comparison reflects my own opinion along with many helpful facts about both ships.

Cost

A cruise with Carnival is definitely cheaper than a similar trip with Royal. You’ll get a nicer room for the money on the Dream and the ship is 3 years newer than the Freedom. You will also probably get a stateroom with balcony on the Dream where you would only get a room with window on the Freedom for the same price. Look out for specials during US holidays to save some money on the stateroom and potentially get some onboard credit as a bonus.

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Size & Space

Both vessels can carry almost the same amount of passengers (3,600+) and crew (1,360+), although the Freedom is with a tonnage of 154,407 a little bigger than the Dream (128,000 tons). You will notice that the Freedom feels a lot less crowded than the Dream because of that size difference and the amount of public space offered to its guests.

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Crowd

Based on the lower price for Carnival cruises, it attracts slightly more families and younger people than on Royal. Families with older kids however tend to book the Freedom more than the Dream, because there’s just a lot more fun activities for teenagers and active adults.
Points for both since this can’t be judged.

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Dining

Obviously this depends on everyone’s personal taste. We liked the food on Royal’s casual dining buffet a little better. It seemed to be more international, better variety and a much better layout of the buffet area with lots of small food isles for easy access without long lines. Carnival has a good variety too, also international but with a stronger focus on American classics like hot dogs, pizza and burgers. Same with the kind of desserts, even though they also offer some more exotic ones. Both vessels offer a variety of other restaurants to dine in.

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Staff

Both cruise lines hire employees from all over the world and everybody is extremely polite and helpful. Royal’s captain from Norway was pretty funny and we enjoyed his frequent announcements on the Freedom, that were always good for a laugh. Carnival’s captain from Italy was more quiet and kept it to only a handful of announcements on the Dream.
Slight advantage for Royal but not enough to have a clear winner.
Restaurant staff on both ships will frequently entertain you with singing and dancing between main course and dessert. Don’t worry, it’s a group activity targeted to the whole restaurant, and you won’t get single shows right at your table. It’s fun to watch and shortens the wait until dessert.

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Services & Amenities

Both ships offer a variety of amenities like Arcade, Beauty Salon/Barber Shop, Dry Cleaning, Hot Tubs, Library, Outdoor Movie Screen, Spa, Internet Center, Bars/Lounges, Casino, Disco/Dancing, Elevators, Shops, Cell Phone Service and Wireless Internet.
On top of that the Freedom of the Seas offers a 3D Movie Theatre, Chapel and several touchscreen kiosks to navigate on the ship and pull the daily agenda. Royal is also well known for its “Royal Promenade” – a very elegant strip mall with shops, cafés and restaurants on each side. Carnival Dream has paid self serve Laundromats while Freedom offers a laundry service that they charge for.

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Athletic Facilities

Let’s start out with facilities that both ships offer, such as Basketball Court, Golf Simulator, Ping Pong Tables, Mini-Golf Course (bigger on Dream), Running Track, Fitness Center and Swimming Pools.
Active people have a clear advantage on the Freedom due to additional features like Rock Climbing Walls, Ice Skating Rink (yes, you heard right) and the one and only “Flowrider” – a surf simulator, where you can challenge yourself in flow- and body boarding. You can even get paid lessons to learn surfing on the Flowrider. The signature feature of the Dream are the water slides and they have a small kids splash area. Freedom has a pretty big kids splash area, more pools but no slides.

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What cruise line is for you?

I’m absolutely sure you will have a great time on either one of these ships. They offer a lot and you will only have good memories of your vacation. It’s also great for family reunions. If you’re cruising with young kids I see the advantage with Carnival, because of the nicer daycare and several water slides, although both cruise lines are totally kids friendly. Active couples, groups of friends or just everybody who is up for a healthy challenge is definitely going to enjoy Royal Caribbean. For people who prefer a ship with a few more quiet areas, a stylish promenade with cafes and shopping, and a kids free pool area, Royal might be the better choice for you.

Have you been on any of these ships yet? What was your experience? Please comment below.

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12 Responses to “Royal Caribbean vs. Carnival”

  1. Andy says:

    Great post and recommendation. But after reading your experience, I think both cruise line have excellent service. I guess it is up to our personal taste and liking..

  2. Seth says:

    Nice assessment Daniel. My wife and I have been on 2 Royal Caribbean cruises and 1 Carnival. Both were nice overall, but at the end of the day I think we REALLY liked Royal Caribbean a lot better. Great food, entertainment and a very good overall experience.

  3. Dan says:

    Thanks Seth. Yes, my wife and I loved Royal Caribbean, too. However we took one for the team in the last 2 cruises. And that team was all about our little daughter, who had loads of fun with the water slides on Carnival. :)

  4. Stacey Trombley says:

    My husband and I are team Royal all the way. Our first two were with Royal, one on the Freedom and one on The Enchantment (an older smaller ship which sailed from Baltimore), loved them both. Then we tried The Carnival Pride, mostly to compare the two. It was also an older smaller ship out of Baltimore. Not to be compared with The Freedom, we knew that going in. But this ship should have been sent to dry doxk A LONG time ago. There were holes in the decrative molding. Numerous leaks from the ceiling (water dripped on me while in line at the buffet) the speakers were crackly and LOUD. The lines at the buffet were crazy. You waited 10 minutea for each section so you better pick one or two kinds of food. Forget getting chinese, pizza and a salad. It would take a half hour if not more. Plus the service was not even close to as good as Royal. We had a few great people, but a few bad ones too..

    I could go on but I’ll stop there. I saw a lot of similarities in the two, still a great vacation but from what we experienced Carnival can’t even compete with Royal Caribbean. Doubt we’ll be straying from them again.

    • Dan says:

      Yes, my wife and I are definitely Team Royal, too :)
      We just love the food and all the activities so much more than on Carnival, even though we had two good experiences on Carnival so far. Our daughter however will really miss the long water slides from Carnival when we’re going on our next cruise with Royal this year. But as soon as she grows old enough to enjoy the Flowrider, she’ll be Team Royal all the way – I guarantee :)

    • Thomas Shortt says:

      I’ve been on Carnival 7 times and will always cruise on Carnival. For the price, you can’t compare the two. I can get a balcony for two on Carnival for the price of an inside cabin on Royal. I love the food on Carnival and never had an issue with the service. Maybe you should try a newer ship.

      • Dan says:

        We went on the Carnival Dream, which was fairly new and I agree, the prices are usually more affordable on Carnival. The routes are slightly different though.

        • Thomas Shortt says:

          It all depends on what you are looking for in a vacation. I’m not into the shows. I am looking for good food, good service and a clean ship. I always get that with Carnival. I’m going on the Carnival Breeze in June 2014. Awesome Ports.

          • Dan says:

            Nice! The Carnival Breeze is on my list as well for some cruise in the future. My daughter just loves water slides.

          • hopefirst says:

            Are you looking for good food, good service and a clean ship? that is exactly what you will never find in Carnival. horrible ships, service and food!

  5. Thomas Shortt says:

    I’ve been on several Carnival Cruises. I’ve always wanted to try Royal but for the big price difference I don’t see if I will ever sail Royal. I’ve always had a great time on Carnival. Always satisfied with my room (balcony). If I were to try Royal, I would have to settle for an inside cabin because of the price. I have never gone hungry on Carnival and was always satisfied with the food. The wait staff is amazing and always called me by my name. Very Pleasant. Carnival offers a great price compared to Royal. Some of the big ships are too big with Royal. If you are looking for a good deal for a vacation, I would definitely try Carnival over Royal.

    • Dan says:

      Thomas, I agree, the food on Carnival is really good also. Royal’s benefits are the kind of activities that they offer for teens and adults like climbing walls and the Flowrider (surf simulator). No matter what cruise line your going with, it’s always a great time.

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