View of the front of the Crown Princess cruise ship from a boat on the water

Cruising: Princess vs. Carnival vs. Royal Caribbean

View of the front of the Crown Princess cruise ship from a boat on the water

With the abundance of choices these days, choosing the perfect cruise can be a tough task.

I’ve been on quite a few Caribbean cruises and, although there are many similarities between the well-known cruise lines, there are also subtle differences—which can have a big impact on your trip.

In this post, I’m breaking down some of the best features of Princess, Carnival, and Royal Caribbean cruises to help make your decision-making process a bit easier.

View from beach at Princess Cay with cruise ship docked in the background

The best ships

I think most people would agree that Royal Caribbean is notorious for their innovative ships. Where else can you rock climb, surf, or ice skate at sea?

I cruised on the Liberty of the Seas and was overwhelmed with the amount of activities offered onboard. The ship itself was massive and extremely impressive.

One thing I hadn’t seen on other cruise lines is the Royal Promenade, a feature that’s unique to some of Royal Caribbean’s larger ships. It’s an indoor promenade complete with boutiques, restaurants, bakeries, and specialty shops. It’s also a hub for parades, parties, and performers throughout the day and in the evening.

Additionally, you can book a stateroom that overlooks the Royal Promenade, which is an awesome feature.

Royal Caribbean ships are tastefully decorated and offer a whole host of beautiful spaces to spend time in, including the dining room, grand theatre, and several lounges. There’s also a decent nightlife scene at ship’s lounges, piano bars, and nightclubs.

The top deck and water slides of a Carnival cruise ship

Best value for money

It’s rare to find a cheaper rate than on a Carnival cruise, so I chose them as the best cruise line for overall value.

Even though you’re paying less than a Royal Caribbean or Princess Cruise, the amenities and quality of Carnival Cruises are still comparable to its main competitors.

Carnival has the most laid-back and fun attitude onboard—and the best deck parties. They definitely live up to their “fun ships” tagline.

Carnival isn’t just for kids, though. I found this cruise line to have a diverse mix of passengers, ranging from families with young children to middle aged couples to young adults.

View from beach with Carnival cruise ship docked at Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

Best food

Unfortunately, I can’t choose a clear winner for this category. All three cruise lines have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to meal offerings onboard, so I’ll try to point out the bests and worsts of each.

Princess

The good:
-The best pizza at sea
-Some inconsistency with the fine dining meals, but overall a good fine dining experience
-Best breakfast buffet options

The bad:
-Repetitive lunch options

Royal Caribbean

The good:
-The best late night snack offerings
-Good fine dining experience overall
-Great variety of lunch-time buffet options

The bad:
-Very crowded buffet areas and limited seating at times

Carnival

The good:
-Excellent alternative lunch options (especially the create-your-own stir-fry area and the burrito bar)
-Delicious dessert buffet

The bad:
-Limited opening hours of most of the snack options
-It can be difficult to eat if you want to have a light snack before a late dinner seating

View from the top of a Carnival cruise ship filled with people while docked in Miami, Florida
Best overall experience

Princess is my choice for the best overall cruising experience. From the friendly and fun staff, to the entertainment, to the food and activities, Princess is the clear winner.

My first ever cruise was with Princess and I was (un)lucky enough to catch the dreaded norovirus. If you’re not familiar with the norovirus, it’s a nasty little gastrointestinal bug with flu-like symptoms that’s easily spread in confined areas.

So, I actually spent half the cruise quarantined in my room eating boiled potatoes and watching the same few movies repeatedly—which was not the vacation I was expecting.

Even though the norovirus isn’t exclusive to Princess, or cruises in general, I was terrified to vacation with them again. However, my second Princess cruise fully exceeded my expectations, and definitely made up for that first terrible cruise experience.

The food was great, the itinerary was excellent, and the entertainment and activities were some of the best I’ve experienced at sea.

Keep in mind: for most of the cruises I’ve been on, I was travelling with a large group of family and friends. I’m also a Millennial who values things like great food and beautiful beaches. I care less about the staterooms, entertainment options, and on-board activities.

Happy cruising!

2 Comments

  1. Hi! I know I’m quite late to this post as I found it through Pinterest, but I was surprised to hear your pick was Princess overall! We’re looking at booking our first cruise and it looks like there is so much more to do on a Royal Caribbean than Princess. It seemed like Princess was overall nicer, but not much to do on board unless you love Broadway or like watching movies all day. Thoughts? Thank you!

    1. Hey Kelly, sorry for the late reply! I would agree there’s more to do onboard Royal Caribbean, I’ve just had really fantastic experiences with Princess overall which is why I chose them. But, I also generally travel with large groups on cruises, and I haven’t been on a cruise for quite a few years now, so I’m not as up-to-date with this latest Royal Caribbean/Princess ships! I hope you have a great cruise!

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