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Whether it’s your first time cruising or you’re a veteran at this type of travel, it can be difficult to decide which cruise line is the best fit for you.
With so many different companies to choose from — each with its own ships, entertainment, destinations and personality — finding the cruise experience that fits your needs can take some research.
Let’s compare two of the most popular cruise line options, Norwegian Cruise Line versus Royal Caribbean, to see how they stack up against one another.
The main differences
Just looking for the facts? Here’s a quick breakdown of the differences between Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line.
From $170 per person.
From $149 per person.
Up to 5,734 on board.
Up to 4,266 on board.
Sporty and family-friendly.
Casual and resort-like.
» Learn more: Tips for getting the best deal on your next cruise
Here’s what you need to know about Royal Caribbean, from ship and room size to the activities you can expect on board.
Royal Caribbean doesn’t just have more ships — it has bigger ones, too. The cruise line’s largest ship, the Wonder of the Seas, has room for 5,734 guests. The Icon of the Seas, a new ship that will launch in 2024, will carry a maximum of 5,610 guests across its 20 decks.
Suffice it to say that if you want big, you can have it with Royal Caribbean.
Of course, there are also options to sail on smaller ships, such as the Grandeur of the Seas, which caps out at 1,992 guests.
When comparing NCL versus Royal Caribbean, you’ll want to also think about room types. Aboard Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas, for example, you can expect to find varying levels of accommodations, including suites, balcony rooms, virtual balcony rooms, ocean view rooms and interior rooms.
You won’t get the option for a virtual balcony on every ship, so in general expect to choose between suites, balcony rooms, inside rooms and ocean view rooms when cruising with Royal Caribbean.
Food and drink
Royal Caribbean allows guests to either choose an assigned dining time or to eat whenever they like — you’ll make your selection during the booking process.
The cruise line offers guests a wide variety of dining options aboard its ships. On the Wonder of the Seas, for example, there are 21 outlets from which to choose, including the main dining room, 11 specialty restaurants, a variety of cafes and casual spots.
Be aware that specialty restaurants charge an extra fee.
» Learn more: Are cruises all-inclusive?
Royal Caribbean’s ships are big for a reason. They’re built to host a whole bunch of amenities, including pools, live entertainment, spas, fitness centers, casinos, lounges, bars, clubs, shops and more.
If you’ve ever thought, “I’m at sea and the only thing I wish I could do was go zip lining,” Royal Caribbean has heard your plea. The Wonder of the Seas has this option, along with mini golf, waterslides, karaoke, arcades, surfing, ice skating and rock climbing.
Who Royal Caribbean caters to
Royal Caribbean offers a slightly more upscale experience than Norwegian, as well as higher-end options when it comes to suites and dining.
Still, there will be a lot of overlap between clientele. If you like to have things to do while cruising — whether with family or friends — Royal Caribbean is a cruise line to consider.
» Learn more: 5 things to know about the Royal Caribbean credit card
Norwegian Cruise Line
Just like Royal Caribbean, Norwegian has a variety of offerings for its passengers. Find out more about its ships, rooms, dining options and activities.
Norwegian Cruise Line has varying sizes of ships across its fleet. This means that you’ll get to experience different activities, cabin types and dining options depending on which ship you’re aboard.
The Norwegian Encore, built in 2019, is one of the cruise line’s newer ships. It can hold a maximum of 3,998 guests, and although there are some ships that can hold more guests, none are as large.
The Norwegian Sun, meanwhile, holds a maximum capacity of 1,936 guests — the least of any ships in Norwegian’s fleet.
Again, the types of rooms you can expect to find will vary, based on which ship you’re sailing.
Aboard the Norwegian Encore, for example, you’ll find seven different room types, including several different types of suites, ocean view and interior rooms and studio rooms for solo travelers.
» Learn more: What to know about the Norwegian Cruise Line credit card
Food and drink
Norwegian is known for its casual approach to cruising.
Unlike other cruise lines, Norwegian has done away with assigned meal times and tables for guests. Instead, you can choose to have your fill at the buffet or sit down in a dining room whenever you’d like.
There are also options for specialty restaurants aboard these ships, though these come with an additional fee.
Like other cruise lines, you can expect to find a plethora of pools, fitness clubs, spas, bars, dance clubs, shops and casinos aboard Norwegian ships.
The activities available to you are going to depend on your ship, but the state-of-the-art Encore includes options like go-karting and waterslides, as well as a virtual reality gaming zone and live entertainment.
Who Norwegian caters to
No comparison of Norwegian Cruise Line versus Royal Caribbean is complete without talking about who should take these cruises.
We already mentioned that Norwegian has done away with the traditional dining setups you’ll see on other cruise lines. It also has some of the newest ships among North American carriers, which means those looking for a variety of activities and a casual setup will want to consider Norwegian.
» Learn more: The best cruise lines
Norwegian or Royal Caribbean recapped
We’ve broken down the differences between these two cruise lines, including what you can expect on board and who might enjoy these types of cruises.
In the end, a true comparison between Royal Caribbean versus Norwegian has less to do with how the pair stack up — after all, they’re both focused on activity-loving, younger crowds — but which option works best for you.
Royal Caribbean has more ships and can carry far more passengers, but its destinations are limited compared with Norwegian.
Deciding where to go and what kinds of activities you enjoy will help you choose the best cruise line for your situation.
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