Royal Caribbean Vs Carnival: Which Is Best?

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There are several cruise companies in the world, but the two biggest are the Royal Caribbean Group and the Carnival Group. And while each company owns several brands, the biggest are the ones they are named after – Royal Caribbean International, and Carnival.

A comparison image showcasing Royal Caribbean's Icon of the Seas with its sleek, modern design on the left versus Carnival Jubilee with its classic blue hull and red funnel on the right, both cruise ships sailing on the open sea, symbolized by a vibrant 'VS' in the center indicating a competitive edge.

The cruise lines are two of the biggest rivals in the world of cruise, since they have a lot of crossover in terms in style of cruising, audience, destinations and more. But there are some key differences – and it could be those which help you choose between them, if you’re not sure which is the right cruise line for you.

So, let’s delve into the blockbuster clash between Royal Caribbean and Carnival and determine which is the best cruise line – at least, which is best for you.

The Royal Caribbean and Carnival fleets are the largest in the world. Royal Caribbean’s is marginally bigger, with 27 ships currently sailing for the cruise line and another three under construction. Carnival is just one behind with 26 ships, and one more that’s currently sailing for Costa Cruises and will join Carnival in 2024.

Royal Caribbean Ships

Aerial view of Royal Caribbean's 'Icon of the Seas' cruise ship, displaying its colorful deck attractions, including water slides and pools, as it navigates through the ocean with its name prominently displayed on the bow.

Royal Caribbean has eight classes of ships:

  • Icon Class – the biggest cruise ships in the world accommodating up to 7,600 guests
  • Oasis Class – six mega ships that can accommodate around 6,800 guests
  • Quantum Ultra Class – two modern ships accommodating 5,500 guests
  • Quantum Class – three ships accommodating 4,900 guests
  • Freedom Class – three ships accommodating 4,400 to 4,900 guests
  • Radiance Class – four ships accommodating 2,500 guests
  • Voyager Class – five ships accommodating 4,000 guests
  • Vision Class – four ships accommodating 2,400 to 2,700 guests

The oldest ship in the fleet is Grandeur of the Seas, which first launched back in 1996. The newest ship is also the biggest in the world – Icon of the Seas, which launched in January 2024. 

Read more: Royal Caribbean Ships By Age

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 ships:

  • 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 currently sailing for Carnival is the Carnival Sunshine, which first launched as Carnival Destiny in 1996. The newest ship is Carnival Jubilee of the Excel Class, which launched at the very end of 2023.

Read more: Carnival Cruise Ships by Age 

Which to Choose?

In terms of the size of the fleet and of the ships specifically, there’s very little to choose between Royal Caribbean and Carnival.

The smallest ships and the oldest ships are very similar, and it’s only when looking at the biggest ships that Royal Caribbean has an edge – but you certainly couldn’t ever accuse Carnival’s Excel Class of not being “big enough”.

The destinations that both cruise lines sail to are very similar, with only a few minor differences. As you’d expect, the Caribbean and Bahamas are the most prominent regions for both lines, but there are plenty of options around the world for guests further afield or who want to explore other destinations.

Here’s a look at all of the cruises you can book with both Royal Caribbean and Carnival.

Royal CaribbeanCarnival
Alaska9619
Australia & New Zealand2936
Bermuda77
Canada & New England81
Caribbean & Bahamas47254
East Asia361
Europe10724
Hawaii79
Mexico & Latin America840
Middle East & South Asia30
Pacific Northwest40
Panama Canal524
South Pacific1424
Transatlantic229
Transpacific55
Note: Royal Caribbean’s data is a little misleading in the Caribbean since that’s the number of itineraries, not dates – there are hundreds of sailings repeating the same itineraries.

Royal Caribbean Destinations

Ovation of the Seas cruise ship docked at Sydney Harbour, framed by blooming purple Jacaranda trees, with the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House in the background during clear weather.

When cruising with Royal Caribbean, you certainly aren’t short of choice for destination and for embarkation port – there are 35 places you can sail from, the most of those being in North America. The biggest embarkation ports for the cruise line are in Florida (Miami, Port Canaveral, and Fort Lauderdale).

The cruise line does offer cruises from the UK with one ship stationed there each summer. In 2024 that’s Anthem of the Seas, and then in 2025 it’s Independence of the Seas.

Royal Caribbean does have two private island destinations that guests can visit around the Bahamas and Caribbean, including Labadee and Perfect Day at CocoCay.

Carnival Destinations

A person joyfully jumping into the clear tropical waters from a wooden pier, with a Carnival cruise ship anchored in the background near a lush, green coastline under a blue sky with scattered clouds.

The choice of embarkation ports for Carnival is a little more limited than Royal Caribbean, although there are still plenty of options – there are 21 ports you can sail from, again mostly based in the US. The same Miami ports are popular, although Carnival also offers more cruises from Galveston.

Carnival doesn’t have a ship homeporting in the UK for any length of time. Some cruises from the UK are available, but the ship will move around Europe for the summer, so your options are a little more limited if you’re looking to sail from the UK.

Carnival’s private islands and resorts include Princess Cays and Half Moon Cay, offering a similar range of activities to Royal Caribbean’s islands. 

Which to Choose?

The choice of destinations really isn’t too different between Royal Caribbean and Carnival. I’d suggest that, if you wanted a cruise around Europe, you’ll find better options with Royal Caribbean – not just the UK-based ships, but there are usually ships homeporting in Barcelona and Rome too for the summer.

Carnival, meanwhile, offers slightly more variety for Central America and Mexico. But for a Caribbean cruise, you’ll need to base your decision on something other than the itineraries because both Royal Caribbean and Carnival are all over this region.

When booking a cruise with either Royal Caribbean or Carnival, you really aren’t short of cabin options. There are a wealth of different staterooms and suites to choose from, even on the smallest ships in the fleet. 

You’ll always be able to pick from the standard types of stateroom – inside cabins if you’re on a budget, or oceanview or balcony cabins if you’re happy to pay a little more to get a view of the ocean. Both cruise lines have different perks for booking suite-level accommodation, too.

Royal Caribbean is slightly better than Carnival when it comes to solo passengers, but only a few ships in the fleet have single cabins to book. Usually, you’ll have to pay the full two-person price for a double room instead. On Carnival, that’s always the case.

Royal Caribbean Staterooms and Suites

Here are some of the more unique stateroom and suite options for Royal Caribbean:

Virtual Balcony Staterooms

Interior of a Virtual Balcony room on Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas, equipped with a large bed, contemporary furnishings, a work desk, and a floor-to-ceiling high-definition screen simulating a real-time ocean view.

On some of the newer Royal Caribbean ships, you’re able to book a Virtual Balcony Stateroom if you’re not able to afford the full price of a balcony stateroom. These are inside rooms, but on one wall there’s a digital screen that projects a live view of the view from the ship.

While it’s not the same as having natural light to wake up to, it is useful if you want to keep track of the time of day, since interior staterooms are so dark when you have the lights switched off.

Interior Balcony Staterooms

The cozy Boardwalk View Stateroom with a Balcony onboard Harmony of the Seas, featuring a plush queen-sized bed with a teal runner, a sitting area, and a balcony overlooking the bustling boardwalk area of the ship.

On the Oasis-class ships and the newer Icon-class ships, it’s possible to book a balcony stateroom that doesn’t have a view of the ocean. Instead, these rooms face inwards, with the balcony above either the Central Park or Boardwalk areas of the ship that run through the centre.

The benefit of these rooms is that you still have your own space to enjoy with fresh air, and you aren’t paying as much – an oceanview balcony is always more expensive. The downside is that it’s not as private, since you’re facing other staterooms across the ship.

Ultimate Family Accommodations

The vibrant and playful Ultimate Family Townhouse on Royal Caribbean's Icon of the Seas, featuring a two-level suite with a slide, modern living area, colorful decorations, and large windows offering a panoramic ocean view.

Royal Caribbean has always catered well for families, but the Ultimate Family accommodation options on select Oasis-class, Quantum-class and now Icon-class ships really are something else. It’s like they’ve given some kids the brief of designing their dream suite, and then just built it from their sketches and notes.

Think slides that run from the upstairs to the lower floor, staircases that play musical notes as you climb them, games consoles, popcorn makers, karaoke and so much more. These suites truly are special.

But then, they would have to be – expect fares of around £20,000 per person, per week.

Carnival Staterooms and Suites

Here are some of the more unique options on a Carnival cruise ship:

Cove Balconies

Cove Balcony stateroom on Carnival Horizon with a cozy bed, tropical-themed bedding, elegant bedside lamps, and a balcony door open to sea views, inviting a relaxing cruise experience.

Most cruise ship balcony staterooms are higher up a ship, but Cove Balcony cabins on a Carnival ship are a little lower – they’re the closest you can safely get to the water. They’re also sheltered, with the sides and bottom half of the railing all being made from solid steel, and a smaller opening. It’s like an alcove rather than a fully exposed balcony, hence the name. These are more affordable balcony options, and they’re good if you really value privacy too.

Cloud 9 Spa Staterooms & Suites

Cloud 9 Suite on Carnival Vista, showcasing a large bed with green accents, matching sofa, elegant wall-mounted lights, and a window offering natural light and sea views, creating a serene and comfortable space for guests.

Most of the Carnival fleet offers Cloud 9 Spa staterooms and suites. These rooms are themed around the spa onboard the ship, and include extra amenities related to relaxation, along with a decor that is soothing. You get a bunch of perks for booking these rooms too, including exclusive spa packages you can book and free access to the Thermal Suite onboard.

Family Harbor Staterooms & Suites

A spacious Family Harbor Suite on Carnival Vista, featuring a large bed with colorful geometric-patterned bedding, a porthole window with ocean views, and a cozy seating area, perfect for a family vacation at sea.

Family Harbor accommodation options are designed with families in mind, as you’d expect. They have classic nautical theming, but more importantly, you also get to make use of the Family Harbor Lounge close to the rooms, ideal for breakfast or for snacking during the day. The lounge has a selection of board games for families to enjoy too.

Havana Staterooms & Suites

The Havana balcony room on a Carnival cruise ship features a curved ceiling light, modern furnishings with a sofa, and a balcony that offers expansive views of the sea, complemented by vibrant aqua and orange color accents that evoke a sense of tropical luxury.

Choosing a Havana stateroom or suite on a Carnival ship grants you access to the Havana area, an outdoor space that’s quieter and has its own pool and bar. You can book Havana Cabana rooms which include a secluded private cabana space on the Havana, too.

Which to Choose?

If you’re just going to book a regular stateroom, there’s not really anything to choose between the two cruise lines. But it’s worth checking out the unique accommodation options on both ships, which can either let you enjoy a balcony experience without paying full price, or a suite with special theming to enhance your cruise.

The food options on both cruise lines are very similar – whatever type of cuisine you enjoy, you’ll be well catered to.

Royal Caribbean Food

The upscale 150 Central Park restaurant on Harmony of the Seas cruise ship features elegant dining arrangements with beige upholstered chairs and crisp white tablecloths. The room is warmly lit, highlighted by an eye-catching, vibrant butterfly wing mosaic art on the wall, providing a luxurious dining atmosphere.

Royal Caribbean offers an extensive range of casual and speciality dining options. Alongside the Main Dining Room and the Windjammer buffet restaurant, you’ll have a lot of choice for breakfast, lunch and snacks during the day, while at night you can dine in steakhouses, sushi restaurants, fresh seafood restaurants and more.

Carnival Food

Elegantly set tables await guests in the main dining room of the Carnival Dream cruise ship, featuring rich wooden accents, a striking red and amber chandelier, and a grand double staircase, all creating a luxurious and inviting ambiance for a memorable dining experience.

Carnival works in the same way – you have your Main Dining Room, your buffet restaurant, and then a selection of other options for casual and formal dining that you can choose between, including steak, seafood, Asian cuisine and more.

Which to Choose?

There’s no way to really separate the two cruise lines when it comes to dining. In the past, I would’ve said that the only real differentiator would’ve been Royal Caribbean had better options for vegans. But in late 2023, Carnival rolled out a new vegan menu across the fleet, and so now there’s not really anything between them.

If you like your cruises to be packed with fun activities each day, then both Royal Caribbean and Carnival are excellent choices.

Royal Caribbean Activities

A guest enjoying the FlowRider surf simulator aboard Quantum of the Seas, with onlookers observing from behind a clear viewing panel and a person suspended in the skydiving simulator above, all set against a backdrop of the ship's distinctive blue and yellow funnel.

The sheer range of things you can do on a Royal Caribbean cruise is amazing. You’ll never struggle to find something to keep you not just busy, but to genuinely thrill you. With Royal Caribbean, the ships are as much the destination as the places you’ll visit.

Alongside the cruise traditional of art auctions, casino gambling, dance lessons and more, some of the features across the fleet include:

  • Ice skating
  • Escape rooms
  • FlowRider surfing simulators
  • Skydiving simulators
  • Rock climbing walls
  • Epic dry slides across multiple decks
  • Dodgems at sea
  • Thrill-seeking water slides
  • Zip lines
  • Bungee trampolines

Carnival Activities

The Mardi Gras cruise ship's top deck is bustling with excitement, featuring the first roller coaster at sea, 'BOLT.' Passengers are enjoying a thrilling ride in a red car on the blue track, with the expansive blue ocean in the background. The deck also hosts a colorful water park area, with guests enjoying the sun and fun activities.

Carnival doesn’t have quite the variety of Royal Caribbean but it’s still far ahead of most other cruise lines when it comes to onboard activities.

Many ships have thrilling waterslides, or at least a splash zone where younger kids can have an amazing time getting interactive with water. There’s always a video arcade, and a casino for the adults, along with games, workshops and more. Carnival also partners with Build-a-Bear on many ships in the fleet.

In terms of innovative attractions, Carnival has the Skyride on some of the newer ships, which is a pedal-powered ride around the top deck that offers amazing views. And the Excel Class has Bolt, the first Roller Coaster at Sea – so if you like thrills, you’ll love this.

Which to Choose?

While Royal Caribbean has slightly more to offer during the day on the latest ships, Carnival is still excellent. It might come down to whether you’re more excited by a roller coaster at sea, or by a surfing or skydiving simulator.

Remember that, on both cruise lines, only the newest and biggest ships offer all of these activities. You’ll need to check each ship individually to see what’s on offer, and the older ships don’t have anywhere near the facilities of the newest ones.

The two cruise lines take a slightly different approach to entertainment, giving you a clear choice when deciding between them.

Royal Caribbean Entertainment

The Royal Theater on Quantum of the Seas, ready to entertain guests with its vast seating arrangement in maroon tones, under a starry ceiling, facing a large, inviting stage with a blue screen, capturing the essence of a maritime theatrical experience.

Royal Caribbean’s entertainment includes a mix of live theatre shows, musical performances (including intimate ‘gigs’ in bars), comedy and more. The theatre shows are particularly special, since the cruise line licenses big Broadway spectaculars. If you want to see shows like Grease, We Will Rock You, Mamma Mia!, and more, then Royal Caribbean is the cruise line to pick.

Carnival Entertainment

Two families face off in a lively game of 'Family Feud Live' on a Carnival cruise ship, set against a professional stage backdrop with colorful lights and scoreboards displaying their points. The audience, immersed in the excitement, watches as contestants eagerly anticipate the next question.

Carnival does have live theatre shows, but they are not the big-name musicals you already know and love elsewhere. That doesn’t diminish their quality though, and while you may not be familiar with the stories, you’ll have a fantastic time.

What Carnival does license is big game shows, turning them into interactive games that the family can join in with. The two big ones are Family Feud and Deal or No Deal, and let by the talented Cruise Directors onboard, you’ll love seeing guests win fabulous prizes or even taking part yourself.

Which to Choose?

The quality of the singers, bands, comedians and other entertainers on each cruise line is pretty much on a par, so it comes down to whether you really want to see musicals that you already know, or if you like the idea of taking part in famous game shows.

With two cruise lines so tailored to families, there has to be great facilities just for the kids – and neither cruise line disappoints.

Royal Caribbean Kids’ Facilities

The colorful and inviting Adventure Ocean kids' area on Icon of the Seas, designed with boat-shaped bookshelves, bright geometric shapes, and playful seating on a wavy blue carpet, creating a fun learning and play environment for children.

The Adventure Ocean kids’ clubs on Royal Caribbean are packed with educational, fun activities. Guests are split into age-appropriate groups, so the teens are stuck with younger children, and they each have their own spaces suited to their age range. Kids will love trying experiments in the Adventure Science Lab, getting creative in the Imagination Studio, or watching a movie in the kids-only Adventure Theater.

Carnival Kids’ Facilities

Camp Ocean children's play area on Carnival Horizon, featuring ocean-themed decor with sea creature illustrations, play structures, and a whimsical, underwater ambiance.

Carnival has a partnership with Dr. Seuss Enterprises to bring many favourite Seuss experiences into the kids’ clubs and throughout the cruise, including meet-and-greets and parades. Camp Ocean also has loads of activities for kids to enjoy, while Circle C (12-14) and Club O2 (15-17) cater to the teens in your group, with chilled hangout spaces, karaoke parties and even the Carnival prom.

Which to Choose?

There’s little between the cruise lines for kids’ facilities – both are excellent. If your kids love Thing 1 and Thing 2 and the Cat in the Hat, then perhaps Carnival has the edge, otherwise the experiences are broadly similar across both cruise lines.

The two cruise lines have some crossover with demographics, but there are a few key differences.

Royal Caribbean Demographics

A family selfie with two adults and two children smiling in the foreground, with a Royal Caribbean cruise ship moored in the background at a scenic port surrounded by lush greenery and mountains.

Royal Caribbean guests tend to be families – mostly with parents in their 30s or 40s, but you will get some younger families too, though Royal’s pricing can sometimes exclude some younger parents. There will be a lot of couples too, and some solo travellers and groups of friends, but the latest ships in the fleet are definitely family-oriented.

Carnival Demographics

Guests enjoying a hot tub on the deck of a Carnival cruise ship, with ocean views and umbrellas in the background.

Carnival has a similar demographic to Royal Caribbean, although cruise fares on some of the smaller ships can sometimes be well suited to younger families as well. There are also plenty of adults who enjoy a Carnival cruise without children, and the cruise line has a bit of a reputation for party-lovers. During Spring Break, the ships can get pretty rowdy.

Despite the lack of single rooms, a lot of solo guests do enjoy a Carnival cruise too, especially those who’ve been loyal to the cruise line for a long time and like to cruise to meet new people or even meet up with old friends onboard.

The big one – how do the two cruise lines compare on price?

Royal Caribbean Prices

Royal Caribbean cruises are rarely ‘cheap’, but the price will vary greatly depending on your chosen itinerary and especially the ship. Understandably, if you want to try the biggest ships with the best features, you’ll need to pay more.

As a guide, a 7-night cruise on Wonder of the Seas (one of the biggest and best ships in the fleet, but not the very newest) will cost you between £100/$130 and £130/$165 per person, per night for an Inside Stateroom.

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Carnival Prices

Carnival’s cruises appear super-cheap when you’re browsing, but that’s because taxes and fees are only added once you’ve started the booking process. Still, they do offer good value and are typically lower prices than a Royal Caribbean cruise.

A 7-night Caribbean cruise on Carnival Celebration, a ship that’s similar to Wonder of the Seas though not quite as big, would cost you between £85/$105 and £105/$135 per person, per night for an Inside Cabin with fees included.

NEW DEALS JUST RELEASED!

See the latest Carnival cruise offers…

The Verdict

It’s tough to make the call between these two cruise lines. It comes down mainly to whether there are specific features on the ship that you want to try out, or the type of demographic you want to cruise with.

Carnival’s fares can appear much cheaper than Royal Caribbean’s, especially when comparing some of the newer ships, but the difference isn’t huge once you take into account all the fees and taxes when booking. They do tend to be cheaper overall, though.

Most families will have a great time on either cruise line, but if you want the very best daytime activities then I’d choose Royal Caribbean. If you’re adults who want more of a party cruise, especially for a weekend break, Carnival is likely to cater to you better.

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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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