Both Carnival and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines are known for their exciting, family-friendly vacations, popularity, and affordability. I am a loyal Carnival passenger, but when Royal Caribbean's Perfect Day at CocoCay opened, I just had to check it out.
Royal Caribbean is an amazing cruise line, with some of the best on-board sports activities and technology, but these are the differences that I only realized after cruising on both cruise lines last year.
We sailed on a 4-Night Bahamian cruise on Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas in February 2020 (right before the shutdown). It departed from Port Canaveral with two stops at Perfect Day at CocoCay, and one stop in Nassau.
10 reasons Carnival wins me over:
1. The Staterooms: On the Mariner, I had a standard inside stateroom. There was a mirror on every wall, including behind the bed. The décor looked outdated with dark teal accents, and wood trim. There weren't plugs near the nightstands to charge my phone or GoPro. I love Carnival's USB plug outlets near the bed. The TV was smaller, and the unremovable hair dryer was in the desk, not in the bathroom. This seems trivial, but trust me, it's hard for others to watch TV when there's a hairdryer going.
Royal Caribbean only had a few TV channels, while Carnival had Nickelodeon, Discovery, various news, sports, and pay per view movies. Carnival stateroom hosts leave you fresh pool towels and towel animals when they clean the room. I didn't receive either of those on Royal.
|Carnival Sunshine Stateroom|
|Royal Caribbean - Mariner of the Seas Stateroom|
2. Ship Décor: Carnival’s style is to Key West, as Royal Caribbean's is to NYC. Carnival is brighter, more colorful, and more festive. Royals décor is more subdued, bold, and modern with lots of stainless steel. When cruising in the Caribbean I prefer Carnival's tropical atmosphere. Royal Caribbean had some very tacky art in hallway and staircase, and it didn't fit within a central theme, in my opinion. The promenade was gorgeously designed, although small, and hard to get through when there were crowds.
3. Lido Movies: On Royal Caribbean, the Aquatheater LED screen was much smaller than the Seaside Theater screens on Carnival. There weren't any good seats facing the screen either. The closest seats actually had their backs to the screen. Mariner only played 3 movies in rotation, including one kids movie, and they were all older. Carnival played films that were either still in the theaters, or very recently released, and each night a different film was shown. In my experience they play a kids movie first, and then a PG-13 or R rated one later on, which is great for my family. My kids like to night swim and watch (which is kind of hard when the early movie is not appropriate for kids.) Carnival has free popcorn and blankets for movie nights while Royal Caribbean did not. This may not be fleet-wide, but it was a bummer for us.
|Carnival Towel Animals|
4. Towels: Complimentary pool towels are so convenient while swimming, sunbathing, and taking to the beach. I have always loved Carnival's huge, plush towels with their logo. If you wanted to keep one, or if you misplaced one, it was a $12 charge. Royal Caribbean's towels were small, thin, and didn't have a logo, but were $25. Needless to say, I didn't buy one!
5. Wi-Fi: Carnival's Wi-Fi is cheap and fast. I cannot complain about their coverage at all. It started at $6.80/day just for social media (nice to keep in contact with family back home, share pics, and get some news) and $10.20/day for the upgraded email package. Royal on the other hand, had terrible coverage with their VOOM service, which they claim is the fastest at sea, and had very spotty reception. It took 10 minutes to upload one photo to Instagram and cost me $20 per day! I had better luck on the islands using my phone's data plan.
6. Ice Cream: On Carnival, the 24-hour, all-you-can-eat soft serve dispensers have vanilla, chocolate, twist, strawberry or banana, and even frozen yogurt for your enjoyment. On Royal, they only had chocolate, vanilla or twist (ice cream only) at various times of the day. There was a Ben & Jerry's onboard but it was an extra charge, and only open certain times of the day.
7. Fast Food: Two words- Guy's Burgers. If you only sail on Royal, then you're seriously missing out on this treat. What’s a cruise without lots of good food? FREE food, crafted by a celeb chef at that! Carnival has much better free food options, hands down.
Guy’s Burger Joint, for one, is where you can get free, unlimited, gourmet burgers with triple fries (my family's favorite). There is also the Blue Iguana Cantina which has free tacos and burritos, and a huge toppings bar! Pizzeria del Capitano which delivers to your room, and is open 24/7 has free, hand tossed pizza. There are a few other places where you can grab a bite without an extra charge too. Royal does have a number of choices for fast food restaurants, but they can be an additional $15-20 per person. Even Johnny Rockets, the quick burger and shakes restaurant, is an extra charge. It's no where near as good as Guy's either (says my husband who's had both). Royal had a pizza café open only certain hours, which served half of a mini pizza vs. Carnival's 10" pie.
8. Vegetarian options: I must be spoiled by Carnival's excellent vegetarian offerings in the main dining room because I was disappointed on Royal at dinner. I often crave Carnival's vegetarian dishes at home, especially their Indian food. But, on Royal Caribbean I found the same vegan entrée offered every night. I did not come back to the dining room for the rest of the cruise. I enjoyed the more diverse buffet offerings instead.
9. Desserts: One of the best parts of a cruise buffet is the unlimited desserts! Am I right?? But Royal Caribbean's offerings were seriously lacking in taste and variety. They offered a few types of cookies, Jell-O, and a couple fruit pies. Carnival had an entire bar of desserts, such as bread pudding, 3 layer cakes, fresh cookies, cupcakes, cake pops, parfaits, and of course, soft serve and fro-yo. While Royal had more variety in their buffet entrées, Carnival killed it with desserts. Speaking of killing it - the Chocolate Melting Cake in the main dining room is heavenly!
|Carnival Chocolate Melting Cake - a must-have dessert|
10. Cruise Directors: Carnival has the best Cruise Directors ever and they are crucial for an enjoyable cruise! By the end of our 9-Day cruise on the Sunshine, our Cruise Director Emma knew my kids by name. I laughed so much on the Liberty with Carnival's "Donkey" Salazar. When we were stuck at sea during Hurricane Humberto, Cruise Director Mikey Gibson calmed our fears and kept us informed. They are interactive, funny, and really know how to hype up the guests. They are at every trivia, game show, deck party, and even eat in the buffet with the guests. Royal's Director was unremarkable. I only saw him once, and I don't even remember his name. This may not be true across the fleet but it was for us.
Honorable mention- Trivia: If you are a trivia buff like me, having a great selection of games is important. I have won a couple Carnival trophies in my day doing trivia. With Carnival, you actually get a souvenir/prize. No prize was offered on my Royal cruise. Also, on Carnival, they have great daily themes like Harry Potter, Star Wars, Friends, The 90's, and The Office trivia. The staff and the guests dress the part and get REALLY into it! On Royal, there were only a few "general trivia" offerings but I barely made it through due to how boring it was!
|Trivia prizes and treats from our Cruise Director|
Don't get me wrong, I had an incredible time on my Mariner of the Seas cruise (I got to dive with sharks in Nassau!), but these small differences really added up for me, keeping me loyal to Carnival. I feel it's only fair to mention some things Royal Caribbean has over Carnival.
Where Royal Caribbean Wins:
- They have shower doors instead of flimsy shower curtains.
- You can go to the bow (front) of the ship while in port and see the helicopter pad.
- You can view the bridge (where the officers/Captain control the ship) through a small window while in port.
- Perfect Day at CocoCay, their private island, is insanely fun and beautiful! Their beaches were pristine and clean. We saw so much wildlife, and the buffet was huge.
- They offered flavored water in the buffet which was really good.
For a free price quote and planning help for your next cruise vacation, visit KingdomKonsultant.com.
You can find Summer cruising the Caribbean when she's not at Walt Disney World. She is a gold-level Carnival VIFP, who specializes in group bookings on all cruise lines. You can email Summer at firstname.lastname@example.org.