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Cruise Comparison: Which Cruise Line Has The Best Ship For You, Carnival, Norwegian, Or Royal Caribbean?

Updated on April 16, 2017

If you are planning your first cruise or had a less than desirable experience on your last cruise, you will want to find out what is the best cruise line to make the most of your future cruise experience. There is much more to the best cruise ships than just sleep, eat, and excursions, and you should be well informed to take advantage of all there is to offer.

Some cruise lines only offer certain dining, some have only a few suites, and others are mostly suited for adult passengers. Below I have given comparisons of the three largest cruise lines servicing the continental United States: Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Lines. These cruise lines have ships that visit the Caribbean, Hawaii, and more.

Do you want a quiet cruise, away from noise and distraction or a big 7-day party on the seas? Would you rather have assigned dining in a specific room with a variety of food that changes each day or would you want to have plenty of different restaurants to choose from on a 24 hour basis? Read the cruise lines comparison below so that you can make an informed decision as to what is the best cruise line for you.

Cruise Lines Comparison: Which Has The Best Food

The first thing people who come back from a cruise want to do is show their pictures to everyone. Ocean, ship and fun will fill the pictures, but usually the second or third picture is of food. It is what most people associate with cruising right after the ocean. All cruise ships will offer you more food than you can eat, and for the most part, they are all good. However, there are a few distinctions between Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian cruise cuisine.

Carnival, a line who was known for excellent cuisine years ago, has invested a great deal in bringing their cruise ships up to par. Many people cite Carnival dining as the flashiest and some even say the tastiest. What Carnival lags behind in is choice. Carnival has their main dining rooms which have the same menu that changes each meal and they have indoor and outdoor buffet with a small pizza and sandwich bar. They do not have specific restaurants or theme dining.

The dining on the Norwegian cruises include main dining rooms, indoor/outdoor buffets and also include themed restaurants, such as bistro, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, and Steakhouse cuisine. On exclusive decks where the more expensive suites are, you can also find dedicated dining areas.

My choice for the best all around dining experience is on Royal Caribbean. They have main dining rooms, where you can go at a designated time or reserve the time you want. They also have included themed dining and restaurants. They have Mexican, Steakhouse, Asian, and Italian cuisine and have also added a Johnny Rockets restaurant.

Cruise Lines Comparison: Which Has The Best Service

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I should begin talking about service by saying that the service on almost any cruise will be spectacular. There are crew members moving about everywhere you go looking to make your experience a memorable one. However, there may be some slight difference in service.

In each of the largest ships in their respective fleets, the crew to passenger ratio is slightly different. On the Allure of the Seas , by Royal Caribbean, there is a 1:2.0 crew to passenger ratio, on the Norwegian Epic , there is a 1:2.4 ratio, and on the Carnival Dream a 1:2.7 ratio. You will want to see which ports these ships leave from, however, because they do not visit each of the ports in Florida, much less other ports.

These are not huge differences, and may be easily explained away. However, they may help you some in choosing which cruise is right for you. If you are looking for the most pampering you can get, a higher passenger to crew ratio may not be right for you and conversely if you don't want to be hounded about more drinks and want peace and quiet, the opposite may be true.

Cruise Lines Comparison: Which Has The Best Rooms

In the main three ships that I used to compare these cruise lines, Carnival's Dream , Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas , and Norwegian's Epic, the rooms were all updated from the older ships in each fleet. Each of the cruise lines have gone out of their way to make the accommodations more aesthetically pleasing, but I must say that Royal Caribbean and Norwegian have left Carnival at the port.

Although Carnival has improved greatly by updating their décor and putting many more balcony rooms on its newest ship, the colors and feel are much more drab than those of their counterparts. Carnival uses mostly earth tones, has smaller TVs, and smaller bathrooms on average. They do, however, have some of the most comfortable beds available.

The rooms onboard the Royal Caribbean and Norwegian ships have much more color and better décor than Carnival. The high points for each is the new wavy design of the Norwegian Epic , which gives it a much more modern feel, and sheer size in the Royal Caribbean Allure of the Seas . The Norwegian ship does have issues with their bathroom design which may be more European than most would prefer, but I think anyone could overlook that for a five day trip.

Cruise Lines Comparison: Which Has The Best Amenities

The amenities aboard cruise ships have improved greatly over the past 10 years. Most ships now have massive water slides, added hot tubs, adult only areas, and other recreational opportunities. Although the big three fleets have slightly different focuses, a good time can certainly be had on any of them.

For Carnival, trying to break away from the stiff itinerary feel of years ago has been difficult. If you are not paying attention to the information brought to your room each night on a Carnival cruise, you will find yourself missing many events. Although the Dream has been given many upgrades from the rest of the fleet, the feel of an older fleet is still prevalent.

On a Royal Caribbean cruise, you will find plenty of opportunities. There will be physical fitnesswith climbing, zip-lining, and surfing available, as well as cruise shows that occasionally bring in big stars for entertaining passengers. The ability to make your own schedule is much greater than that on Carnival, but still falls a little short of Norwegian's "freestyle" cruising. With the larger ships being put out by Royal Caribbean, there is also an ability to add more choice in shows, activities, and dining, which makes Royal Caribbean my choice for the amenity packed cruise.

Norwegian Cruise Lines has become known in recent years for its "freestyle" cruising concept. Years ago, they began breaking away from the old school cruise itinerary and began letting their passengers choose when they wanted to enjoy which ever aspect of cruise life. Norwegian has also put a great bit of investment into booking the best entertainment such as the Blue Man Group, and attempts to push the envelop by adding amenities such as a new Ice Bar, the only one like it on a ship.

Cruise Lines Comparison: Which Has The Best Price

Each of these cruises have very respectable pricing and are all within a few dollars of each other. However, when planning your cruise, be careful of choosing one cruise line over another simply due to price alone. You may be disappointed. You will generally find that the newer the ship, the higher the price, along with length of the cruise and where the stops are. If you are looking to shop primarily by price, you will have to be flexible about being on an older ship.

First figure out what lenth cruise you would like to take. For some a 7 day or more cruise is not a problem, yet for others, nausea and cabin fever can set in after a few days. Second decide which line you would prefer and see where they offer cruises the length you want. Once you do that, narrow your choices down by destination and do a little destination research and you are done.


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