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Comparing Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines & Carnival Cruise Lines

Which cruise line do I prefer, and why?

I see many people in various cruise groups the difference between Royal Caribbean and Carnival. I have also had a bunch of my friends ask me which cruise line we prefer the most. We are platinum cruisers with Carnival, and new cruisers with Royal Caribbean.

We have sailed on every class of Carnival ship, so it’s easy to compare ships equally. We sailed on Adventure of the Seas with Royal Caribbean, which is comparable to the Dream Class ships with Carnival.

The Ships

Carnival Magic
RCL Adventure of the Seas
Class
Dream
Voyager
Gross Tonnage
128,000
137,276
Length
1,004'
1,020'
Beam Width
122'
157'
Passenger decks
14
14
Passengers (double occupancy)
1,367
1,185
Crew
1,367
1,185
Passengers to Crew Ratio
2:7
2:6
Space Ratio (tons per passenger)
35
44

If I am comparing the ships themselves without anything else taken into consideration, I think I would lean toward Royal Caribbean. The ship itself seems less crowded and there’s no long waits anywhere. The décor of the ship is much better than the Magic and there seems to be more thought into the décor around the ship. It’s very eloquent and catchy. The promenade deck on Adventure of the Seas has me sold. Carnival doesn’t have anything that can compare to this. I really love the open, street feel of the promenade deck. 1 point to Royal Caribbean for winning the ship battle.

The Cabins

Carnival Magic
RCL Adventure of the Seas
Balcony Square Footage
185 sqft
164 sqft
Balcony size
35 sqft
51 sqft
Number of cabins
733
280
Cabin capacity
4
4

The cabins on Royal Caribbean have much more storage places than the Magic. In the bathroom on the Magic, there are 3 small shelves on the wall, on AOS both mirrors open up for much more storage. In the main cabin/desk area, the Magic has several drawers to store stuff in. However, AOS has the same amount of drawers plus more cabinets, plus the mirrors open up for storage as well. The nightstands beside of the bed on the Magic has a cabinet the opens. AOS has the cabinet plus a drawer. Both ships have closets. AOS has 1 closet with adequate storage space and shelving. However the Magic has multiple closets with shelving and more closet storage space. Overall, AOS has much more storage in the cabin than the Magic. 

In the bathroom, on Carnival they provide body wash as well as shampoo. The shower has a curtain and that’s it. On AOS, there’s an actual shower door which is nice. However they only have 1 “all-in-one” liquid they ask you to use for body wash as well as shampoo.

The bedding on AOS was rock hard. I’ve never slept on a bed as hard as I had on the AOS. I am not sure why they were so hard. That was a big complaint from my friends as well. The bedding on Carnival is some of the best bedding in the cruise industry. In fact many people come home from their cruises and order the Carnival bedding. It’s like sleeping on a cloud. It’s super soft and fluffy. Carnival wins the bedding war hands down.

The balcony on AOS was built like a cove balcony on the Dream Class ships. It’s not open like regular balconies but it’s more enclosed. Personally we prefer the cove balcony but it could be a deal breaker for some, especially those who like the open air balconies that Carnival offers.

Included with AOS is 2 loungers and a tall table on the balcony. The tall table is nice to eat on and sit things on, Carnival only offers a very small table. However in the cabin, Carnival gives you a table at the couch, and there was no table in our cabin which sucked.

The couch on AOS was cloth whereas Carnival has leather couches. Leather is much easier to keep clean and doesn’t show much. The cloth couch on AOS was showing stains and other dirt. Carnival cabins seemed much cleaner partly due to this.

Both ships include a mini-fridge and self controlled A/C. Both ships have adequate A/C to keep you cool.

AOS has a sliding balcony door, which if it’s not locked will let in a breeze and you can hear the ocean. Carnival has doors that swing open, which unfortunately guests let them slam at night, which is frustrating.

We like the AOS cabins because of the storage space and shower doors, but Carnival gets the point for having a larger cabin and much more comfortable bedding and the sense of cleanliness.

The Entertainment

The entertainment on both ships are both very good, though very different. I know the larger Royal ships have Aqua Theater as well as Broadway plays like Grease & Mama Mia. However I can only compare what AOS has vs what the Magic has. The ice skating show on AOS was phenomenal, especially with the flips and stuff that they do. The ice skating was fantastic and my favorite show ever on a cruise ship. However when you compare the main theater, it was much different. AOS had several shows, which included a singer with band, as well as the singing and dancing. Their “Can’t Stop The Rock” show was very disappointing and was not rock at all. Carnival has a rock show as well, which includes electric guitars, the band, and actual rock songs from artists like Bon Jovi, Journey, etc. The main shows on Royal were very disappointing. We really enjoy the shows on Carnival as they have much more energy and action in them.

When it comes to games, both of the ships have very similar or the same games. Both ships have “Love & Marriage”, which is one of my personal favorites to watch. AOS is very tame and keeps it very family friendly. Carnival makes it more geared toward adults and don’t tip toe around certain things. Both ships have a version of Family Feud. AOS has “Friendly Feud” which is the same concept, though Carnival actually has Family Feud, so their structure is better. Carnival also has licensing rights with Hasbro to have Hasbro game shows such as Connect 4, Simon Says and other games on the ship. It’s more structured and professional. Both ships have a version of Quest. Again, AOS has “The Crazy Quest” is very watered down and tame. It’s something you could take your children to. Carnival has “Quest” and it’s definitely for adults only. It’s much more fun and interactive.

Both ships have an arcade, which all of the games seemed to be working on AOS, whereas Carnival always has about 20% of their games broken. Both ships also offer plenty of trivia to have fun at. With AOS when you win trivia, you get a koozie. With Carnival, you get a golden ship on a stick or another prize. Carnival has better prizes.

When it comes to entertainment, Carnival wins this battle by far. There is always something going on, more shows to pick from, and the entertainment is just better. 1 point for Carnival

Activities

Both ships have a plethora of activities you can choose from. Both ships have putt-putt and plenty of water slides and kids water areas. They both also have basketball courts. The Magic has sports square which has pool tables, foosball, cornhole and the sky ropes course. AOS has Flow Rider, a rock climbing wall, corn hole, table tennis and ice skating. Royal seems to have more deck activities so they get the point for this one.

The Food

The food is where the night and day difference comes in. We ate in the main dining room each night, every morning for breakfast, most days for lunch as well. We did eat Johnny Rockets one day for lunch. We also had the Chops menu once on AOS and have eaten in the steakhouse on the Magic so this can be a fair apples to apples comparison.

We always eat breakfast in the main dining room on Carnival and AOS. Breakfast is very similar on both cruise lines, but I think I would give Carnival the edge here for the juices and larger menu. They are very similar though. For lunch, Royal Caribbean has the advantage since they have lunch in the main dining room. Carnival closes the main dining room at lunch, except for sea day brunch. Royal wins this one because it’s nice to have a good sit down lunch.

For dinner, it’s a nightmare on AOS. Both cruise lines have “Anytime Dining”. With Carnival, “anytime dining” means just that, anytime dining. The main dining room is open between 5:15pm and 9pm and you can go when you get hungry. You open the Carnival app and click “check-in” when you’re ready to eat, and it alerts you when your table is ready. You go to the dining room and straight to your table. You can request the same wait staff each night, you just have flexibility. With Royal, “anytime dining” is NOT anytime dining. You have to have a reservation (or go and wait on a table to open) and the earliest you can go is 6:45pm. That’s way later than we’re used to eating. When you go to the dining room, you have to check in with the hostess and then wait. Everyone is gathering together and many people crowded around waiting. It was a nightmare on AOS and that was our biggest complaint. If we sail RC again we’ll pick an assigned dining time though we like flexibility of eating when we get hungry, not being told when we have to eat.

The food on Carnival is a much higher quality of food. It tastes much better than Royal food. Also with desserts, Royal seemed to have mostly cakes and tarts. Carnival has a larger selection of desserts. Also with Carnival, they have port specific menus. Royal seemed to rotate their menus. With Carnival, you can get shrimp and steak every night. You cannot with Royal. The portions are also larger on Carnival than Royal.

As far as secondary food venues, Royal has the cafe on the promenade deck where you can get sandwiches and pizza. They also have Johnny Rockets which I am a huge fan of Johnny Rockets on land. It’s excellent on the ship as well. Royal also has Chops and Giovannis Kitchen which we didn’t eat at either of those. However, Carnival has Guy’s Burgers owned by Guy Fieri, Blue Iguana (tacos), Pizzeria del Capitano (pizza), Cucina del Capitano (Italian), the deli, JavaBlue Cafe, the taste bar, Guy’s Pig & Anchor (BBQ), and the steakhouse. Both ships have a buffet. Carnival has the lido buffet which is open most of the day, and AOS has Windjammer which has limited hours. They were even closed when we came back from port, which was a disappointment.

As far as drink packages, Royal has a middle-of-the-road drink package which includes milkshakes, sodas, mocktails, etc. They also have the Coke Freestyle machines which is FANTASTIC. I wish Carnival had this. Carnival only has a soda package and an all inclusive package. They are far behind when it comes to their packages and lack of freestyle machines.

Carnival has many more food outlets, better food quality, later food options and more flexibility for eating. You can always get free food on Carnival with many options to choose from. Carnival wins the food battle hands down. 1 point for Carnival.

The Casino

We spend a lot of time in the casino and usually donate quite a bit of money to the cruise lines through the casino. On AOS, it was a small casino and everything was so close together. You also could hardly walk through the casino because of how crammed everything was. The machines did not seem to pay out much. As I walked through, most of the winnings were under $20. On Carnival, it’s not uncommon for people to win thousands of dollars. I am sure it happens on AOS as well, but the casino seems to pay out more on Carnival. The casino is also much larger on Carnival and more spread out so you can maneuver around without crawling over someone. The actual games themselves are very similar if not identical on both cruise lines. We did not spend as much in the casino on AOS as we would on Carnival because of this. We walked out only winning $120.

Photos & other staff

When it comes to photos, Carnival is far beyond Royal in this department. Carnival has photos setup every night on multiple decks with numerous backdrops to choose from. They also have their photographers at each port taking photos for you. While AOS has port photographers, we only saw this once. Royal only has a handful of photographers with 3-4 backdrops, some duplicates. When you get pictures taken, Carnival does slight edits on their photos to ensure they look as professional as possible. Royal doesn’t do this, and many of our photos had flash glare on my sons glasses and they look very washed out. We had a photo package on Royal and were disappointed with the quality of the photos. Carnival wins the photo war.

When it comes to “other staff” such as guest services, Royal has many people working guest services and the line moves fast and efficiently. Carnival typically only has 3-4 workers and the line can be super slow. Royal wins the staffing department. Overall because of the photos, I am going to give a point to Carnival for this one. 

Embarkation / Debarkation

Embarkation & debarkation is another night-day difference. With Royal Caribbean we had The Key, and before becoming platinum with Carnival we always purchased Faster To The Fun, which are both very similar.

With Royal, we arrived at the port at 9:45am. Our Uber driver dropped us off with the porter where we gave our luggage and went inside. We made 1 stop at a lady to take a photo of our Passports, ask us a few questions, then sent us upstairs to the security area where they did the x-ray, then sent us up to a waiting area where we waited less than 5 minutes. From there, we were sent to board. They scanned our boarding pass once more, and we were onto the ship. From the time we were dropped off until the time I had both feet on the ship was less than 10 minutes. It was very, very efficient and fast. Royal also uses digital boarding passes within their app, which is GREAT!

With Carnival, you have to wait in long lines outside, go through multiple inspection points, talk to multiple people, sit, wait, go to more inspection points, move, stand in lines, and wait. Plus you have to print out a physical boarding pass. Who wants to print a physical boarding pass in 2023? Carnival is so inefficient and slow and behind the times when it comes to embarkation.

On debarkation, with Royal we had a special breakfast (or waiting area if we didn’t want breakfast). Everyone had a designated area (theater, lounge, etc.) to wait in while they waited. As soon as your group is called, you are to debark. We walked straight off the ship, to the terminal to grab our luggage and call our Uber. From the time our group was called to the time we were in an Uber was less than 20 minutes.

With Carnival, everyone seems to gather in one spot, and you’re assigned a tag number. Once your number is called, you debark. It bottlenecks in so many areas and takes forever to debark. You’re always in lines waiting. Again, Carnival is so lost when it comes to debarking. Royal gets a point here for terminal efficiency.

Conclusion

Both ships are more alike than different. One thing we really enjoyed with RCL is the Coke Freestyle machines and the Promenade deck. We also really liked the efficiency when it came to the embarkation and debarkation. One thing we really missed though were the comfortable beds and good food on Carnival. Most of our complaints about RCL were centered around the dining whether it was the quality of food, the lack of efficiency when it came to sitting at dinner, or the lack of food venues. Also, alcohol didn’t seem to flow as freely on RCL as it does on Carnival. With Carnival, everyone always seems to have a frozen concoction in their hand walking around, you didn’t see that much on Royal. We really, really enjoyed our RCL cruise and will definitely book other RCL cruises, but perhaps try larger ships. However, Carnival still seems to be our number one preference slightly. We’re sailing on the Celebration next (Carnivals largest and newest ship as of this post) and are eyeing the Icon of the Seas in the future. Those 2 will be fun to compare.

Sorry I could not compare kids clubs or shore excursions. My kids never attended any kids clubs on the ships because they do not like them, and we never do excursions through the cruise line, we book independent.

Hopefully this will help you decide your next cruise if you’re torn between RCCL and CCL. Of course as always, YMMV. 

Laila