Head to Head: Carnival vs Royal Caribbean

When it comes to the biggest players in the cruising industry, it doesn’t get much bigger than Carnival and Royal Caribbean. However, who would come out on top if we put them head to head?

Today, that’s what we’re going to do. We’ll compare these two titans in the cruising world and see which one is victorious.

Let’s grab our judging sheets and get started!

About Carnival Cruise Lines

In one corner, Carnival Cruise Lines has been in operation since 1972. During that time, they’ve weathered the turbulent seas of the cruise industry and risen to the top. They’re one of the largest and most popular cruise lines.

They currently have 24 ships sailing the open seas. They offer cruises from two to 31 days and sail to destinations like The Bahamas, Alaska, Mexico, Hawaii, and Europe.

During these adventures, they prioritize fun. You’ll find activities, including themed parties, to entertain passengers of all ages.

Here are some Cruise Ship Terms Everyone Should Know.

A Carnival cruise ship in the port of Miami.

About Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines has an equally impressive track record in the other corner. The company started in 1968, and their first ship set sail in November of 1970. They had a trio of vessels cruising the seas within the next few years. 

Today, they have 26 ships operating worldwide and will release Icon of the Seas in 2024. Like Carnival, it didn’t take long for them to grow into one of the most popular brands in the industry. They’re making waves in the industry and not looking back. They continue to push the envelope when it comes to innovation.

On board their ships, you can sail to epic locations like the Caribbean, Europe, Alaska, Asia, South America, and the Middle East. Like Carnival, they have many activities and entertainment options while on board to ensure you have a good time.

A Royal Caribbean ship in port somewhere in the Bahamas.

Head to Head: Carnival vs. Royal Caribbean

So, who would come out on top in a head-to-head showdown between the two? Let’s look and see in this Carnival vs. Royal Caribbean battle.


When it comes to the itineraries, it’s a close battle. They sail to a large number of the areas. Royal Caribbean focuses a lot on the Caribbean, Mexico, and Alaska. However, Carnival focuses on the Caribbean and Mexico. 

Since both companies own private islands in the Bahamas, it’s too close to call. We’re going to call this one a tie. They both have so many ships sailing to so many places it’s easy to find a cruise going somewhere that fits your style.

Size of Ships

The next category we’ll look at is the size of their ships. While both brands have many vessels, Royal Caribbean edges out Carnival by having slightly more. Not only do they have more, but their ships are massive.

When you base it on gross tonnage and passenger capacity, Royal Caribbean has five of the largest ships in the world.

Royal Caribbean’s largest ship can hold upwards of 7,000 guests. However, the largest Carnival ship has around 5,200 passengers. As a result, we’re going to have to declare Royal Caribbean the winner in this category. While they may have won this battle, we’re far from done.

A Carnival Cruise ship with a roller coaster and water slides on the top deck.

Cabins and Suites

Both Carnival and Royal Caribbean offer an extensive selection of cabins and suites. They do a fantastic job of providing something for just about every demographic. They also do a great job keeping their rooms in good working order.

However, Royal Caribbean offers one incredible feature that Carnival does not. Recently, Royal Caribbean has added virtual balconies to their interior rooms. These allow those choosing interior spaces to be able to have a view. While nothing will replace an actual balcony, it’s enough to tip the scales in their favor.

Onboard Activities

Again, you won’t lose when it comes to onboard activities on either cruise line. They both offer a tremendous amount of activities for all ages to enjoy. There’s something constantly going on whether you’re an early riser or a night owl. You’ll find game shows, live entertainment, and casinos on both cruise lines.

However, Royal Caribbean offers something that Carnival does not: the FlowRider. You’ll find this surfing simulator on several of their larger ships. Some of the largest ships feature a couple of these adrenaline-inducing devices.

Additionally, Royal Caribbean also offers indoor skydiving aboard their boats. For us, this is enough to give them the win in yet another category.

A Royal Caribbean ship with a roller coaster on the top deck.

Food and Drinks

There’s a severe problem if you go hungry on either ship. Both offer a tremendous amount of food options, including buffets. Overall, Carnival tends to provide more specialty venues on their vessels. They’ve partnered with Guy Fieri and Emeril Lagasse to treat passengers’ taste buds.

Unlike Royal Caribbean and their Johnny Rockets, these specialty restaurants are complimentary.

Again, the food on both ships is superb, and you’ll find something delicious available around the clock. However, we like not feeling like we’re getting nickel and dimed once we board a cruise ship.

The fact that Carnival offers these specialty venues complimentary is enough for us to declare them the winner in this category.

Be sure to read 5 Rudest Things You Can Do on a Cruise before your next trip.

Who Wins: Carnival vs. Royal Caribbean

Since this is a competition, we have to declare a winner. Overall, Royal Caribbean takes the prize as they won the most categories.

However, it’s worth mentioning that we didn’t discuss prices. Royal Caribbean is slightly more expensive than Carnival on cruises under a week. However, the expenses tend to increase quickly for adventures that are more than a week.

So, while we’re declaring Royal Caribbean the winner, you can’t go wrong with either brand. They both offer tremendous value and quality products. Many happy cruisers disembark and are excited about booking their next adventure.

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