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Carnival vs Royal Caribbean vs Norwegian: How To Know Which Cruise Line is Best for You

New to cruising? Or maybe it has been a few years since you’ve boarded a ship, due to the worldwide pandemic plaguing your travel plans. Deciding on a cruise line is more complicated than ever with so many options from which to choose.

Travelers are very different in terms of what they expect in a cruise experience. There are those out to party but on a budget. A family-friendly ship might be the criteria. Then, again, rest and relaxation could be what floats your boat, so to speak.


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If you need a primer on what to expect during this new season afloat, here are some contrasts and comparisons of the industry’s three largest cruise lines, Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line. While these brands do have other lines that fall underneath their parent companies, this summary focuses on only the ships operating under these brands.

Some will fit your travel needs, some might not.


With 25 ships, Carnival has long been known as the party boat. Perhaps not the best reputation, unless you are truly looking for over-the-top festivities at sea. Over the years Carnival has launched slogans such as “Choose Fun” and, more recently, “The Fun Ones.” With Shaquille O’Neal’s official status as Chief Fun Officer, you can deduce that Carnival is all about having a good time.

John Maddox, Cruises & All-Inclusive Resort Specialist with Tropical Getaways, states, “Carnival tends to skew more to a ‘party’ type crowd…it’s a more active cruise without as much attention to the luxury side.”

In that vein, one can book a short, weekend trip with the intent to party all weekend long, or choose a longer, more sophisticated itinerary on one of Carnival’s newest ships.

The consensus among travel advisors consulted is that Carnival is the most budget-conscious option. Jesse Morris, Owner of We Book Travel, LLC, an independent agency in Avoya Travel Network, states, “Carnival is, most of the time, the lowest priced of the big three, but they offer significant value in certain areas.”

Morris goes on to say, “When it comes to cuisine, Carnival typically offers more included options than the other two. Guy’s Burger Joint (the best burger at sea in my opinion) is included at no additional cost.” He further explains that Royal Caribbean and Norwegian have similar restaurants but at an extra charge.

Guy Fieri's Burger Joint aboard Carnival Breeze
Guy Fieri’s Burger Joint aboard Carnival Breeze. (photo via Carnival Cruise Line)

Ships, such as the newly launched Mardi Gras, offer a more diverse collection of dining options, entertainment and ports. The first roller coaster at sea, the Bolt, is an experience you will not find on other cruise lines. Because of the ship’s sheer size, one can join in the fun or escape to a quieter venue for a more relaxing experience.

Cost comparison researched on the Carnival website shows a seven-day Caribbean cruise out of Miami in December 2022, aboard the Carnival Celebration from $519 per person for an inside cabin. In addition, taxes, fees and port charges add up to $141.76 per person.

Royal Caribbean

Linda Farlow, Owner of Treasured Escapes and Travels, states that “the number one requested cruise line is Royal Caribbean.”

In terms of family travel, RCI’s private island, CocoCay, is a favorite among kids of all ages. Located 55 miles north of Nassau, this spot offers an ample amount of free venues, including five food and drink locations, and beautiful beaches with complimentary lounge chairs and umbrellas. For an extra fee, the island is home to a hot air balloon ride, waterpark, zip line and private overwater cabanas.

Linda says, “They [clients] also choose this cruise line for the entertainment, dining options, and the big open promenade area.”

Royal Caribbean International's Perfect Day at CocoCay
Royal Caribbean International’s Perfect Day at CocoCay in the Bahamas. (photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean International)

With 26 ships afloat and more to launch in 2023, Royal Caribbean boasts that their Oasis Class of ships are touted as the world’s largest cruise ships. They include The Perfect Storm group of waterslides with the Ultimate Abyss, the “world’s tallest slide at sea.” The 40-foot-long surf simulator, Flowrider, is a family favorite, along with rock climbing walls and a splash park for the little ones.

In terms of entertainment, Morris states, “Royal has their AquaTheater (the most unique entertainment at sea, in my opinion) and Ice Skating.” The outdoor AquaTheater, located on the Oasis Class of ships, features the deepest pool at sea with 30-foot diving platforms. Shows include high dives, acrobatic stunts, and light shows with the ocean serving as a backdrop.

With a full array of dining options, including Johnny Rockets, even picky teens will be more than happy with their delicious options. Both complimentary and specialty buffets and restaurants offer quality family time around the table. If adult-only time is preferable, check out Chef’s Table for multiple courses paired with the proper wine.

Cost comparison researched on the Royal Caribbean website reveals a seven-day Caribbean cruise out of Miami in December 2022, aboard Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas starting from $460 per person for an inside cabin. In addition, taxes, fees and port charges total $140.59 per person.


Pride of America, NCL, Norwegian Cruise Line, Hawaii cruises, NCL hawaii
Two cruisers paddleboard in front of NCL’s Pride of America ship in Hawaii. (photo via NCL)

Multi-generational travel is growing in popularity with active grandparents wanting to travel, together with the kids and grandkids, in search of adventure. Norwegian Cruise Lines’ 19 ships offer the perfect solution for shipboard activities and destinations to please everyone.

On board entertainment is an area where NCL is moving up. With Broadway shows like Kinky Boots, Six and Jersey Boys, cruisers are exposed to full-scale shows they might expect to see in New York City. Morris states, “Norwegian is upping their game rapidly. I saw Jersey Boys on board a Norwegian ship and was blown away at the quality.”

The newly launched Prima will highlight “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” for a blast from the disco past.

While the adults are watching Broadway-caliber shows, the kids can be zooming around the Bliss Speedway on a two-level racetrack or participate in a laser tag battle under the stars. The Entourage Teen Club offers movies, dance parties, and a chance to hang out with no adults allowed. Parents can relax in the Mandara Spa while checking out the Snow Room and a steam or a soothing massage.

NCL’s Haven provides a private sanctuary in terms of luxury accommodations which can keep the adult traveler out of touch with the younger set, if they so choose. Located at the top of the ship, this pricier option is inaccessible to other cruisers and includes its own restaurant, private concierge service and 24-hour personal butler. Described as a ship within a ship, this aspect of cruising is unique to NCL when being compared to Carnival and Royal Caribbean.

Morris commented, “Norwegian does a great job of ‘growing’ with the client as well, as they can upgrade their experience to the Haven without having to change ships in most cases.”

Cost comparison, which was researched on the Norwegian website shows that the seven-day Caribbean cruise out of Miami in December 2022, aboard the Norwegian Bliss starts from $599 per person for an inside cabin. In addition, taxes, fees and port charges add up to $208.94 per person.

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