When planning to take a cruise, your search will probably start with the two giant industries - Carnival and Norwegian. They are the most popular cruise lines in North America, including the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, and for a first time cruiser, choosing one out of the three can be challenging, considering the many similarities they share. For one, they all have big luxurious ships that offer plenty of exciting features and fun activities. They also target the same audience, that is, singles, couples, families with kids, as well as groups of friends. That being said, there are huge differences between the two cruise lines and in this review, we explore the differences to help you decide the best.
If you're looking for affordability in terms of cruise fares, Carnival Cruise Line takes the lead. The reason that it’s the largest and most popular cruise line in America is probably due to the low fares. This means that more people can take vacations at surprisingly low fares. However, this doesn't mean that Norwegian is expensive. They are both affordable but Carnival seems to offer the lowest price. The prices on Carnival Cruise Line include most of the alternative restaurants on each ship while that of Norwegian Cruise Line includes less than half of the restaurants offered onboard.
Carnival Cruise Line makes it easier for cruisers to board their ships thanks to the many ports of departure. While Norwegian departs from dozens of ports, they can't match those of Carnival. This is a huge advantage considering that Carnival has the largest fleet. By serving more ports, Carnival helps millions of people save hundreds of dollars on flying to get to the ships. You see, you have to fly in early (a night before) just in case there are flight delays. This means that you have to look for a hotel room and meals – and if you have a family it will cost you a lot. Carnival Cruise Lines are just a short drive away, which makes them easier to board without the hassle of flying.
Norwegian Cruise Line offers more than 10 choices of dining lineup, but you have to pay to eat in most of the restaurants. There are no set dining times, which means you can eat any time you want at any of the restaurants during open hours. You’ll find one free Italian restaurants on most ships with pub or diner that’s available 24/7. Several ships feature “The Waterfront”, an outdoor setting that offers alfresco seating for a number of bars and restaurants. Plus, you’ll find three to six specialty restaurants if you're ready to part with a few extra dollars. Carnival on the other hand, is known for the delicious meals served at Guy’s Burger Joint and Bluelguana Cantina – which are included in the cruise fares. The partnership with chef Guy Fieri, the owner of Guy’s Burger Joint and Guy’s Pig & Anchor Bar-b-Que has seen the establishment of the franchise on over 24 ships and seven ships respectively. Specialty restaurants are fewer but newer ships come with more options.
Norwegian’s “The Haven” takes perks for cruise guests to another level. Think of it as a resort within another exclusive resort. Not only do you get a top deck Haven suite complex that has exclusive key-card access to a private courtyard and pool, but you also get your own butler and concierge. Some ships even offer a private lounge and dining room. Norwegian has an extensive selection of cabins although cabin sizes are smaller compared to those of Carnival. Currently, nine ships have spa cabins which feature calming décor and free access to onboard steam rooms and saunas. Carnival, on the other hand, offers almost the same services. However, suite privileges are only limited to priority embarkation and debarkation unlike on Norwegian where suite privileges include priority embarkation and debarkation, tender boarding, butler and concierge services, exclusive breakfast location, and complimentary sparkling wine among other services. That said, Carnival has roomy standard cabins with sizeable showers and bedside reading lights. Carnival Vista and Carnival Horizon have well-designed family cabins with access to a private lounge for families.
Entertainment and Fun
Carnival goes big when it comes to entertainment. The party atmosphere – with big discos and piano bars – makes the cruise even more exciting. On most Carnival ships, you’ll find comedy acts like The Punchline Comedy Club – for both families and adults-only – as well as concerts from big stars like Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Hudson to name just a few. The only catch is that you have to purchase tickets for these concerts. The onboard Piano Bar features sing-along good time music while you can catch a game while enjoying a drink at the Sports Bar. Norwegian, on the other hand, is known to fill the party atmosphere with well-known brands like Blue Man Group and Broadway shows. The line also features theater shows and song-and-dance shows several times a sailing. Both ships embrace family fun and you’ll find lots of playrooms divided according to age, water slides, water playgrounds, and rope courses. Cruisers aboard any of the Carnival Cruise Line tend to have more fun thanks to the partnership with Dr. Seuss. All kids of all ages are well catered for, even nighttime babysitting is available for a fee.
Although the Carnival sails out of more ports compared to the Norwegian, it doesn't offer exotic itineraries. The Norwegian does, and the exotic sailings include South America, Australia, Asia, the Arabian Gulf, and India. Both lines offer standard Caribbean, Bermuda, Bahamas, Mexico, Alaska, and Hawaii itineraries, with the Norwegian extending to New England and Canada. The Carnival is set to start sail to Europe as of this year.
To Consider Before Your Purchase
It can be tough to decide which cruise line to choose considering the many similarities on both. But, you want to consider your budget and the availability of certain services. For instance, if you have kids, you might want to go with the Carnival Cruise Line since it's more family-friendly with lots of poolside fun. On the other hand, if you’re traveling solo and you don't need a large space, the Norwegian offers Studio cabins on select ships.
- Pricing – the Carnival offers cheaper fares compared to the Norwegian.
- Departure Ports – the Carnival sails out of more ports than the Norwegian. However, sailing on the Norwegian allows you to see a lot of different ships since they regularly rotate their ships around their ports.
- Dining – the Guy’s Burger Joint is popular aboard the Carnival while you’ll find one free Italian restaurant on most Norwegian ships.
- Cabins – while the Carnival offers roomy cabins, the Norwegian has better specialty cabins.
- Entertainment and Fun – you’ll find lots of fun and exciting activities on both cruise lines. However, the Carnival is more family-focused with plenty of options for kids.
- Itineraries – the Norwegian Cruise Line gives you the opportunity to expand your horizons than the Carnival.
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