Norwegian Cruise Line Vs Carnival: Which Is Best?

Norwegian Cruise Line and Carnival are two very popular cruise lines, sailing to destinations all over the world and offering great food, service and entertainment.

So trying to decide between the two of them can be a little bit tough! If you’ve never sailed with them before, how do you know which one you should pick?

In this guide, I’ll compare both cruise lines on all the essential features, to hopefully make it that little bit easier for you to reach a decision and find the one that’s the best fit for you and your travelling party.


Carnival Cruise ship sailing the sea together

Both cruise lines have a large fleet of ships, though Carnival’s is bigger.

NCL has 19 ships currently sailing, with another four ships on order, due to be delivered between 2025 and 2028.

Carnival’s fleet consists of 26 ships currently sailing, and one more that is due to join.

NCL Ships

Norwegian Viva cruising the ocean with its blue and white majestic color matching the scene of the ocean and sky

There are currently nine classes of ship in the NCL fleet, with a tenth on the way:

  • Prima Plus Class – four ships on order, likely accommodating 3,500 passengers
  • Prima Class – two ships accommodating 3,200 passengers
  • Breakaway Plus Subclass – four ships accommodating 3,900 to 4,200 passengers
  • Breakaway Class – two ships accommodating 4,000 passengers
  • Epic Class –  one ship that accommodates 4,100 passengers
  • Jewel Class – four ships accommodating 2,400 passengers
  • Pride of America Class – one ship accommodating 2,200 passengers
  • Leo Class – one ship accommodating 2,000 passengers
  • Dawn Class – two ships accommodating 2,300 passengers
  • Sun Class – two ships accommodating 2,000 passengers

The oldest ship currently sailing for NCL is the Norwegian Spirit, which was first launched in 1998 as the SuperStar Leo and joined Norwegian Cruise Line in 2004.

The longest-serving ship in the fleet is a tie between Norwegian Sun and Norwegian Star, which both launched for NCL in 2001.

The newest ship in the fleet is the Norwegian Viva, which launched in 2023.

Read more: NCL Ships By Age And Size

Carnival Ships

Carnival Jubilee cruise ship, with its distinctive red and blue funnel, cruises on a calm blue ocean under a partly cloudy sky, showcasing its multiple decks and the iconic water slide on the top deck.

Carnival has nine different classes of cruise ship:

  • Excel Class – three ships that can carry around 5,300 guests
  • Venice Class – two ships accommodating 4,200 guests
  • Vista Class – three ships accommodating 4,000 guests
  • Dream Class – three ships accommodating 3,700 guests
  • Splendor Class – one ship accommodating 3,000 guests
  • Conquest Class – five ships accommodating 3,000 guests
  • Spirit Class – five ships accommodating around 2,200 guests
  • Sunshine Class – three ships accommodating 3,000 guests
  • Fantasy Class – two ships accommodating 2,100 guests

The oldest ship in the fleet is the Carnival Sunshine, part of the Sunshine Class. The ship and class both used to be named Destiny when she first launched in 1996, until a rebrand in 2013.

The newest ship in the Carnival fleet is Carnival Jubilee, which launched right at the end of 2023.

Read more: Carnival Cruise Ships by Size

Which to Choose?

In terms of ship size, there isn’t a lot between the two fleets. Carnival does have bigger ships – the Excel Class is significantly larger than NCL’s biggest Breakaway Plus ships, but it’s not like you could call NCL’s fleet small by any means. 

Across both fleets, you’ll have plenty of choice for dining and entertainment, and neither have small ships with fewer than 1,500 passengers if you were hoping for a really quiet experience with a more intimate feel.


Both NCL and Carnival sail all over the world, with plenty of exciting destinations to get excited over. The cruise lines have a large presence in the Caribbean, but there are many other options should you wish to explore more of the world.

Here’s a breakdown of the itineraries you can enjoy with each cruise line:

Australia & New Zealand1636
Canada & New England191
Caribbean & Bahamas154254
East Asia461
Mexico & Latin America740
Pacific Northwest40
Panama Canal3124
South America120
South Pacific324

NCL Destinations

Ncl cruise ship preparing to dock beside a beautiful island with a bunch of colorful houses.

When you’re cruising with NCL, you really are spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing an embarkation port – there are 56 different options for you to choose from for beginning your cruise.

This includes the major ports that you would expect in North America and Europe, but also global ports such as Manila in the Philippines, Doha in Qatar, and even Le Havre for Paris – a popular port of call, but rarely used for the start of a cruise.

Cruises from the UK are available, departing from Southampton, and you aren’t just limited to cruises during the summer months (though options out of season are a little more restricted – don’t expect to have a lot of cruises available in winter).

NCL does have a private island resort in the Bahamas, called Great Stirrup Cay. A number of cruises to the Caribbean and Bahamas will include this resort, offering guests a relaxing haven without worrying about crowds.

Carnival Destinations

Two kids preparing to swim with a carnival cruise ship docked behind them

Compared to NCL, you’re a little more restricted with the embarkation ports for Carnival – there are 21 available, which is still a good range, though most of these are in the US. Carnival cruises from the big ports in Florida, but also from New Orleans, Texas and LA as well as offering Alaska cruises.

You can book Carnival cruises from the UK but these are very limited – there isn’t a ship that regularly cruises from the country.

Carnival’s private islands include Princess Cays and Half Moon Cay, and both destinations have great spaces to unwind and relax along with a range of exciting activities to try.

Which to Choose?

A lady confused on what to choose on carnival vs NCL cruise ship.

There are certain regions that are better served by one of these two cruise lines. NCL has ships sailing around Africa, the Pacific Coast and South America, which you won’t be able to enjoy with Carnival, along with more choices when it comes to European cruises and cruises to Asia.

Carnival has more options for the Caribbean, Mexico and the South Pacific, so if you want a tropical getaway then you might find a better-suited date or itinerary with them.

Otherwise, it’ll come down more to the price and the features of the ship, so let’s keep going.

Staterooms and Suites

At a basic level, cruise lines aren’t too dissimilar when it comes to accommodation options. You’ll have the option of choosing between inside, oceanview or balcony staterooms, or upgrading to a suite and getting additional perks. 

Room sizes might vary between cruise lines, or there may be some layout quirks, but these tend to be on a ship-by-ship basis rather than at cruise line level.

Between NCL and Carnival, there isn’t one cruise line that clearly outshines the other for these simple choices.

Instead, we can look at the more unique accommodation options available for each cruise line, since they may have more of a bearing on your decision.

NCL Staterooms and Suites

Here’s a look at some of the notable NCL cabins and suites:

1. The Haven

A luxurious-looking interior of the haven with a gold accent.

The Haven is an exclusive zone on NCL ships that’s designed for a bit more luxury. You’ll find high-end suites with private balconies, offering that extra touch of exclusivity. But it’s not just about the room; The Haven comes with added perks to elevate your cruise game.

When you book The Haven, you’re in for a step up in the cruise experience. You have a butler to cater to any requests, and there’s a special lounge and restaurant exclusively for Haven guests.

Plus, don’t miss the private sundeck and pool – your own serene spot on the ship.

2. Club Balcony

Spacious family club balcony suite on a cruise ship, featuring a modern design with a comfortable bed, a large sofa, abstract wall art, a flat-screen TV, and a balcony offering a view of the sea under a soft sunset light.

Club Balcony Suites are what NCL calls their Mini-Suites. These offer a spacious accommodation option, with up to an extra 80 square feet compared to a regular Balcony stateroom, and you get some additional perks and amenities too.

If you want to get a taste of the suite life, without paying the high prices for a stay in The Haven, these are a great option.

3. Studio Rooms

This is one of the best reasons to consider booking an NCL cruise – the cruise line has some of the best options for solo travellers.

Modern Norwegian Cruise Line Bliss studio room, featuring a cozy single bed with stylish cushions, a wall-mounted TV, a sleek vanity area with a sink and mirror, and a window showcasing a view of the sea.

So many cruise lines treat single guests as an afterthought, while NCL is actively increasing the number of solo studio rooms available across the fleet. Not only do you get a great rate, but there’s also a Studio Lounge that’s aimed at solo guests.

Don’t get me wrong – these rooms are tiny! But if you don’t need a lot of space, then being able to cruise without super-high supplements is a big win.

Carnival Staterooms and Suites

Carnival has a range of ‘themed’ staterooms and suites that have additional perks, depending on the type of cruiser you are.

1. Cloud 9 Spa Staterooms

A clean-looking Cloud 9 Spa Staterooms with an eminent white motif . There's also a hanging painting beside the bed with a circular light source above

The Cloud 9 Spa staterooms and suites are located right next to the Cloud 9 Spa on the ship, but it’s not just about the convenience of having the spa on your doorstep.

The rooms themselves are themed around the spa, including themed decor designed to help you feel relaxed. You also get free access to the Thermal Suite when staying in these rooms, and exclusive packages you can book.

What’s interesting is that NCL used to offer something similar, with a range of Spa Staterooms and Suites. But as of January 2024, the cruise line made the decision to remove them, recategorising the rooms as regular staterooms instead.

2. Family Harbor Staterooms

The colorful interior of the Family Harbor Staterooms.

I’m sure you can guess who these staterooms and suites are aimed at. Guests staying in a Family Harbor room will enjoy fun nautical theming in the room itself, and have access to the nearby Family Harbor Lounge, where families can enjoy a relaxed breakfast, snacks throughout the day, and a selection of board games.

Again, NCL has something slightly similar with Family Balcony Staterooms, but they don’t have special theming, nor is there a special lounge either – the rooms are just closer to the kids’ club and pool deck.

3. Havana Staterooms

One of the Havana Staterooms with a properly-sized window facing the ocean for a beautiful seascape view.

Choosing a Havana stateroom or suite grants you access to the Havana area of the ship, which is a peaceful outdoor area with its own pool and bar.

You can also book Havana Cabana rooms, which include a private outdoor cabana space – beautiful and luxurious.

Which to Choose?

If you’re likely to choose a regular stateroom or suite, there’s little to choose between NCL and Carnival.

But the specialist room options are worth exploring. If you do love the spa, or you want a fun family-themed room, Carnival has some great choices, though NCL’s Spa rooms are also good. But for solo travellers, NCL’s options are unrivalled.


Looking for a cruise line that offers plenty of variety when it comes to food? With both NCL and Carnival, you’re unlikely to be disappointed.

NCL Food

NCL was one of the pioneer cruise lines for the concept of Freestyle Dining – abandoning the idea of only having set dining times in the main restaurants, and allowing guests more flexibility on when to eat, and who with.

That concept lives on, so you don’t have to worry about fitting in your evening plans around your set time.

A delicious meal served onboard with flowers as a center ornament.

There are plenty of casual options available onboard too, including the buffet and various venues for a lighter bite.

Plus, each ship has a great range of speciality restaurants to choose between. Like with many cruise ships, you’ll be able to enjoy a great steakhouse, or a seafood venue, but depending on your ship you may also find Mexican cuisine, a Brazilian steakhouse (with carved meats brought to your table), or a fine-dining French restaurant.

Carnival Food

Carnival offers a similar level of variety and flexibility. You can enjoy fixed dining times if you’d prefer that, with a choice of two sittings, or opt for You Time open seating if you’d rather be flexible.

Appetizing chips and burger meal served on carnival cruise ships

Similar to NCL, you have a lot of options for casual and speciality dining, so whether you’re in the mood for a quick lunch or a more formal dinner as a family, you’re very well catered for.

Carnival especially stands out for its more casual venues such as Guy’s Burger Joint and Shaq’s Big Chicken.

Which to Choose?

Neither NCL or Carnival are renowned for having the finest dining at sea, but you’ll still enjoy great food in the main dining rooms, casual venues and speciality restaurants.

NCL perhaps edges it for the variety of table-service dinner restaurants, whereas Carnival’s casual venues are slightly more varied than on NCL. But picky eaters won’t suffer on either cruise line.

Onboard Activities

Both NCL and Carnival are cruise lines known for their fun – but which is the best option?

NCL Activities

NCL ships are packed with activities to enjoy, including bowling alleys, mini golf, some thrilling water slides, rock climbing walls, sports and more.

There’s laser tag and VR gaming too, if you want to enjoy innovative tech-based games, along with the largest ropes course at sea when you’re feeling particularly active.

A dimly-lit bowling alley room on one of Norwegian Cruise Line's cruise ship

But the highlight has to be the go-karting tracks available on the latest ships – and these aren’t simple loops. Race around multi-storey courses with spectacular views out to sea – just don’t get distracted around those tight corners!

go kart track on NCL Bliss

Carnival Activities

Carnival also has some exciting activities unique to the cruise line, including the first roller coaster at sea – Bolt.

There’s also the Skyride, which is a pedal-powered ride around the top deck offering some stunning views. Again, these are only available on the very latest ships, so always check what your specific ship includes.

A passenger enjoys the SkyRide attraction on Carnival Panorama, pedaling a hanging bike along a track high above the ship's deck, offering expansive ocean views and a fun, aerial cycling adventure at sea.

Carnival has a lot of classic activities for guests to enjoy too, including bingo, quizzes, a video arcade for kids (and big kids) and a casino. There are also some great water slides on many of the ships, and splash zones for younger guests.

water slides on a Carnival ship

Which to Choose?

NCL and Carnival love to wow guests with their onboard activities, so if you want this to form part of your decision when choosing between them, you’ll have to go on the specifics – are you more of a go-karting person, or a roller coaster fan? 


Whether it’s game shows, musical marvels, or hearty laughs, both NCL and Carnival provide all the entertainment you could need for your cruise holiday.

NCL Entertainment

NCL has some of the best musicals at sea in its theatres, including licensed productions of Broadway favourites. If you love Jersey Boys or Six, you’re in for a real treat when you see them on selected NCL ships.

There’s also the very popular Howl at the Moon singalong show, and Burn The Floor – the sizzling Latin and ballroom dance company that performs on several ships.

Alongside those, you get great comedy and game shows too, including Deal or No Deal and Wheel of Fortune.

An empty theatre inside one of NCL's cruise ships with a huge blue curtain covering the main stage

Carnival Entertainment

Carnival has a great range of entertainment too, and while you won’t find the big-name licensed musicals onboard, you will get shows that are of the same standard, and that incorporate many of your favourite songs too.

Carnival has a great range of comedians too, and has licensed game shows such as Family Feud and – again –  Deal or No Deal if you want to get up on stage and maybe win some prizes!

The seaside theatre of Carnival glory with an big chess board set as a center piece.

Which to Choose?

There’s very little to choose between the cruise lines for entertainment – both excel in big theatre shows, comedy, and even your favourite game shows.

The only difference is that NCL has a couple of licensed musicals you may already know and love, but these only appear on selected ships anyway, so be careful if you make your decision based on that.

Kids Facilities

If you want to cruise with your whole family, both NCL and Carnival have great kids’ facilities to enjoy.

NCL Kids’ Facilities

NCL offers two different kids’ clubs – Splash Academy for children and pre-teens, and Entourage for those aged 13-17. Each has a range of themed activities, with games, competitions, crafts and more for the younger kids, and plenty of parties, gaming, and movies for the teens.

Vibrant children's playroom at Splash Academy on NCL Getaway, featuring colorful bean bags, interactive games, and whimsical decorations, providing a fun and engaging space for young cruisers.

While kids will generally be grouped by age, be aware that NCL doesn’t have separate spaces for age groups within those categories, so 17-year-olds might be sharing the same hang-out spaces as a 13-year-old.

Carnival Kids’ Facilities

Carnival’s family cruise facilities are bolstered by a partnership with Dr. Seuss Enterprises, so don’t be surprised if you bump into Thing 1 and Thing 2 around the ship – parades and meet-and-greets are a regular occurrence. 

A group of joyful children racing towards the Waterworks aqua park on the deck of a Carnival Cruise ship, with clear blue skies above and the expansive ocean in the backdrop, highlighting the thrill and excitement of cruise ship activities for kids.

The kids’ clubs have themed activities incorporating the characters too, while teens get two separate spaces (Circle C for 12 to 14-year-olds, and Club O2 for 15 to 17-year-olds) where they can hang out and enjoy activities such as karaoke parties and even a Carnival Prom.

Which to Choose?

Carnival’s kids’ facilities are a little better than NCL’s, since you have different spaces for older and younger teens, and then children can enjoy interactions with characters from the world of Dr. Seuss. NCL is still good, and there’s plenty for kids to enjoy around the ship too, but Carnival edges this one.

Cruiser Demographics

There are slightly different demographics onboard the two cruise lines, and this may play a part when deciding on which is right for you.

NCL Demographics

NCL has quite a young demographic onboard, but that’s young by cruise standards – the average age of guests onboard will be between 30 and 50.

You’ll get a good mix of solo travellers, couples and families, and while there’s a fun atmosphere onboard it’s also quite relaxing too. If you don’t want to be constantly partying day and night, NCL’s a good choice – there are plenty of parties to enjoy, but ample quiet spaces too.

Cruise Mummy at the dockside with the Norwegian Breakaway cruise ship moored in the background, under a bright blue sky with some clouds.

Carnival Demographics

The demographic onboard a Carnival ship can vary depending on the season, the ship and the itinerary. It’s definitely a family-fun cruise line a lot of the time, but a lot of younger adults also view it as a party cruise line, especially around Spring Break.

Don’t expect a quiet atmosphere, regardless – whether it’s from kids running wild, or the adults.

Carnival cruisers taking a quick photo with the cruise ship behind them before diving for a refreshing swim


Price is obviously important when choosing your cruise – so let’s compare.

NCL Prices

NCL’s pricing is a little tricky for comparison, because there are several fares available. You can choose a cruise-only fare, or you might prefer to upgrade to the Free at Sea offer, which gets you a selection of extra benefits including free drinks, speciality dining, shore excursion credits and limited free WiFi minutes.

Free at Sea Plus is also available with even better versions of those perks.

Read more: Free at Sea vs Free at Sea Plus

As a guide for just a cruise-only fare, expect to pay between £100/$125 and £150/$190 per person, per night for a cruise on one of the newest ships in the fleet on a 7-night Caribbean cruise.


Don’t miss the latest NCL offers…

One thing to note is that negative reviews of NCL cruises tend to mention the “nickel-and-diming” onboard – as in, the wide range of extra charges you have to pay for different activities or experiences.

In truth, there isn’t a whole lot of difference between NCL and Carnival in terms of the extras you have to pay, but perhaps because Carnival is a little cheaper for the base fare, people are more forgiving.

Carnival Prices

Carnival’s prices are a little easier to understand, though with one caveat – the advertised prices you see when first browsing don’t tend to include port fees and taxes, so always take an advertised price with a pinch of salt.

They are, typically, quite cheap though, unless booking a very popular date on the newest, biggest ships.

As a guide, expect to pay between £85/$105 and £105/$135 per person, per night for a 7-night Caribbean cruise on Carnival Celebration, one of the newer Excel-class ships.


See the latest Carnival cruise offers…

The Verdict

It’s a tough call on whether NCL or Carnival is the best option for your cruise. Both can have a similar vibe onboard, depending on the sailing, and both have great accommodation, dining options and entertainment.

Carnival tends to be a little ‘louder’ onboard, either because of an increased number of families or because of the party atmosphere.

NCL is still very welcoming to families and offers a lot of fun, but with maybe a touch more sophistication, and young couples who want to unwind will likely find that it’s a more relaxing experience.

Remember though that a lot of the best features for both cruise lines are only available on the larger, newer ships – don’t assume that choosing a cruise line is the end of your decision-making, as the specific ship will matter just as much!


Don’t miss these hot cruise offers…

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Cruise Mummy

Jenni Fielding is the founder of Cruise Mummy. She has worked in the cruise industry since 2015 and has taken over 30 cruises. Now, she helps over 1 million people per month to plan their perfect cruise holidays.

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2 thoughts on “Norwegian Cruise Line Vs Carnival: Which Is Best?”

  1. Do you have a guide for wheelchair users?

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