We’ve been on, well, a lot of cruises. We just love cruising! The convenience of paying for your room + food + travel all in one. Lots of activities and great entertainment, and did I mention the food already? Well, this won’t be the last time you hear about food because hello, it’s a cruise! But what cruise line is actually the best? Let me breakdown two top cruise lines, the pros and cons of each. For a full cruise packing list + how to plan for a cruise and save some $$$ check out this post.
Cruising on the New Ship vs. Older Ship
Both Norwegian Cruise Line & Royal Caribbean Cruise Line have a large fleet of cruise ships. Some of their older boats are smaller, have less amenities, but still are a good time! Most of the on board activities planned by the staff will be the same, belly flop competition, Newlywed Game, trivia, ect. All of the ships will have a buffet + a main dining room. Some of the older ships will have a few specialty dining options, while the newer ships will have several specialty dining options. Pros to a new ship regardless of the company is there’s more activities on board such as go cart racing, bumper cars, obstacle courses, slides and sometimes better live shows.
On board the Norwegian Escape in March, the shows were the best we’ve seen on any cruise ship! Cons to a new ship, capacity. Not much of an issue in 2022 as most cruising ships are sailing at 40-60% capacity, but having been on a newer ship when it was sailing at 90% capacity pre-2020, we had to wait over an hour each night to get a seat at the dining room. While the ship was bigger, and contained more common areas & restaurants than its smaller sister ships, the overall feeling was the addition of common areas still needed to be bigger.
Both Norwegian and Royal Caribbean have a large buffet called the Windjammer. This buffet serves 3 meals a day. Breakfast is typically the same foods each day from omelet stations to quick serve pancakes and oatmeal. Lunch and Dinner however have a huge variety with different dishes being made each day, and some staples like Burgers & Hotdogs can be found everyday. While the food found in both buffets is similar in taste and variety, Royal Caribbean offers and do it yourself salad bar for lunch and dinner, while Norwegian has a chef available to fix you a salad or a pasta dish where you pick the toppings. Norwegian Escape & Getaway (I’m not sure about the other ships) also have a crepe station available for breakfast & dinner, which if you know me, you know that is a big positive in my book.
If you are one who likes to eat at all times of the day, Norwegian cruising is definitely the clear winner as they are open from 7am until 11pm straight. At times only one side of the buffet is open as we switch from breakfast to lunch, but if you are hungry, you can get yourself some food. Royal Caribbean has set meal windows. From 8-11 breakfast, 11-3 Lunch, closed 3-6pm, and dinner 6-9pm. Yes you heard me right, closed at 9pm! No late night buffet snacking for Royal Caribbean cruising.
O’Shehans vs. Pizza Parlor
Royal Caribbean does have food options open past 9pm located in their promenade. One is at Cafe Promenade which has a few cold sandwiches, a Starbucks, and some desserts. The other option is pizza from their ____. It is open 24/7 so if you do get the late night muchines pizza is available & doesn’t cost extra.
Norwegian has a restaurant called O’Shehans which is also complimentary and open 24/7 but its more pub style sit down and be served. There you will find the most delicious chicken wings, spinach and artichoke dip as well as hamburgers, sandwiches, and other hot dishes.
If you get the dining package (for tips on cruising packages that are worth it vs. a rip off check this blog post), be sure to book your reservations at the specialty restaurants day one!
On Royal Caribbean we enjoyed Giovanni’s which is authentic Italian, while Fettuccine Alfredo isn’t on the menu, you can ask and they’ll make it for you ;). Their Filet Minigon is divine.
Sabor has amazing guacamole + shrimp tacos.
We however, were slightly disappointed with Chops Grille as a few of their side dishes felt like they could be found in buffet. It didn’t seem to live up to the extra cost.
On Norwegian, however, their Cagneys has the most amazing truffle fries and filet miingon. We have a tradition of sitting waterside, at sunset as we leave our last port. It’s a magical night where we reminiscence on our cruise as we sail off into the sunset with a delicious meal.
The big differences between Royal Caribbean & Norwegian
The Haven –
Norwegian has a VIP section of their boat called the Haven. It’s in the thousands per person but comes with your own butler, pool, restaurant, bar. Basically everything is exclusive and just for Haven guests. There’s also a limited number of guest rooms that are part of the Haven so it feels like you are on your own private cruise! Is it worth it? I have not personally made the investment, but from those who have they say it’s incredible. Royal Caribbean doesn’t have anything like the Haven on their boats. They do have suites, but not with exclusive amenities.
The Vibe Beach Club –
Royal Caribbean does have a pool deck section with adults only 16+, with 2 hot tubs, 1 pool, a bar, and plenty of pool loungers that is free of charge, but loungers do fill up quickly. There are a few open floors, without a pool nearby, where you can layout and sunbathe, but it is often windy, hot, and crowded.
Norwegian has a private place with a capacity of around 100 guests in their Vibe Beach Club, fellow Vibe veterans will probably be mad that I’m sharing this hidden gem as it isn’t publicized much, but you can purchase a pass on day one for around $125-150 a person, and have access all week. Padded loungers, misters, hot tub, umbrellas, bar, snacks with usually only a dozen or so other cruisers using it at the same time as you.
Flow Rider & Ice Skating Rink –
Want a little thrill and a few laughs, Royal Caribbean is the only fleet of ships to have a Flow Rider surf/boogie Board space on board. It is also the only fleet to have an ice skating rink on board with a fantastic ice show. Be sure to show up early to the open skate as time slots fill up quickly and there’s only two days available for you to come and ice skate.
Price Point –
For most cruises with the exception of a few cruise deals, the prices for a Royal Caribbean cruise are about $200+ more per person for a 7 day cruise. Having only sailed on Carnival & Norwegian we viewed Royal as having superior entertainment, amenities, food, and experience. But to be completely honest I would say the food on both ships is equal in quality, but Norwegian wins in their availability! Us west coasters are hungry for more than just pizza at 9:30pm eastern time which is 6:30pm pacific time! Entertainment is better on Norwegian, amenities are about the same, and experience on board was slightly better on Norwegian although I do truly felt like they were both willing to do anything to go above and beyond to serve their cruisers, but at a cheaper price, Norwegian is where it’s at!
In the end, it’s a matter of what is most important to you! Sailing Royal isn’t a bad experience and if that’s all you’ve ever sailed you would have a GREAT time, but having sailed both multiple times, my preference is still Norwegian (despite that one time my ship ran aground, but that’s a whole other story for another time).
I have yet to sail on Disney or Princess which is hear both are incredible. My only carnival experience was 10 years ago and all I remember was the entertainment + food wasn’t amazing (I have heard their newer ships are comparable to a Royal). Hopefully this helps as you are planning for your own vacation!