How Do Cruises on Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line Differ?

If you’ve ever taken a cruise — or even just looked into booking one — you’ve probably heard of both Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line. Both of them have huge cruise ships and a wide variety of itineraries and activities. But how do they differ? Does one have better offerings than the other? And which one should you choose for your next cruise?

Ahead, get all the information you need to know about how Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line differ.

Both Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line sail to the most popular destinations

The Royal Caribbean's latest cruise liner 'Anthem Of The Seas', the third largest ship in the world

A Royal Caribbean cruise ship. | Ander Gillenea/AFP/Getty Images

Cruise Critic reports that Norwegian Cruise Line sails out of 12 North American ports. It has Caribbean, Bermuda, Bahamas, Mexico, and Alaska itineraries, plus seasonal cruises to the Mediterranean and Northern Europe. It’s also the only major cruise line to offer all-Hawaiian-islands cruises departing from Hawaii. And it makes some stops in South America, Asia, Australia, India, and the Arabian Gulf.

Royal Caribbean, on the other hand, sails out of 14 North American ports. It offers Caribbean, Bermuda, Bahamas, Mexico, Alaska, and Hawaii itineraries. Plus, it travels in Europe year-round, with Baltic, Northern Europe, and Mediterranean itineraries. The cruise line also offers cruises to Australia and Asia, and select itineraries in South America, the Middle East, and the South Pacific.

Both cruise lines think ‘bigger is better’

As Cruiseline.com reports, both Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line seem to agree that “bigger is better.” Each cruise line has prioritized bigger ships, with more dining options, lots of entertainment venues, and practically endless activities. And both cruise lines have designed their ships to ensure that you can take advantage of all of those offerings, placing dining and entertainment venues together for easy navigation.

Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line also offer similar standard cabins. But where they differentiate themselves is in their special offerings. Royal Caribbean has a Royal Suite Class on its newest ships, and those ships have more than 30 categories of cabins. Norwegian’s most modern ships, however, have a greater number of staterooms that can fit a family of five. Plus, the cruise line offers the option of booking adjoining rooms, which may appeal to larger groups.

Royal Caribbean is a more family-friendly cruise line

Cruise Critic reports that Norwegian Cruise Line aims to offer “freestyle cruising,” enabling passengers to do what they want when they want to do it. The publication characterizes Royal Caribbean, on the other hand, as a more “family-friendly cruise line that aims to wow passengers with high-tech entertainment and activities.” While Norwegian cruises tend to attract travelers aged 35 to 65, Royal Caribbean’s passengers are slightly younger, usually in their 30s to 50s with a median age in the low 40s.

But taking a cruise gets expensive, especially with a big family. Cruise Critic explains that Norwegian Cruise Line’s prices are comparable to industry standards, but the cruise line is known for nickel-and-diming passengers onboard. On Royal Caribbean, you can expect to pay much higher fares on the newest ships than on other ships in the fleet. Plus, Royal Caribbean doesn’t typically discount last-minute cruises, except for cruises of four nights or fewer.

Norwegian pioneered the freestyle dining idea

Big cruise ship Norwegian Sky

A Norwegian Cruise Line ship. | photosvit/iStock/Getty Images

Cruiseline.com notes that Norwegian Cruise Line pioneered the idea of freestyle dining, “which means no fixed dining times or pre-assigned seating,” according to the cruise line. Norwegian also claims that it’s the only cruise line to offer the “freedom and flexibility” of this kind of dining. But Cruiseline.com points out that Royal Caribbean adopted the concept in the form of the Dynamic Dining program on its Quantum-class ships.

Select ships from both cruise lines offer as many as 18 or more dining options. And on both cruise lines, some of those meals are included in the price of your cruise, while others cost an extra fee. Royal Caribbean and Norwegian offer a range of options, from casual to fine dining. Each also has a line of celebrity chef restaurants. And in either case, making reservations is a good idea.

You won’t get bored on either cruise line

Whichever cruise line you choose, you won’t get bored. Cruiseline.com reports that both cruise lines offer activities such as zip-lining, rock-climbing, basketball, and mini golf right on the ship. However, Royal Caribbean pulls ahead with extra activities, such as simulated skydiving, ice-skating, roller-skating, and bumper cars.

Both cruise lines offer an array of Broadway musicals. But Cruiseline.com reports that Norwegian pulls ahead of Royal Caribbean with a variety of smaller music venues, including one for dueling pianos, jazz and blues clubs, venues for a comedy troupe, and even original productions. On the other hand, Royal Caribbean offers high diving and acrobatic performances and ice skating shows. And for children, Royal Caribbean also offers activities and parades with DreamWorks characters.

Which cruise line comes out ahead?

According to Cruiseline.com’s assessment, Royal Caribbean comes out ahead of Norwegian Cruise Line, thanks to its array of activities (and the DreamWorks experience for passengers traveling with children). However, the publication also reports that if you want an upscale ship-within-a-ship experience, Norwegian Cruise Line’s The Haven is the better choice for you.

Cruise Critic reports that both cruise lines have introduced their fair share of innovations. Norwegian Cruise Line made a splash when it switched from cover charges to a la carte pricing in most of its restaurants. And Norwegian also introduced ropes courses, water parks, Go-Kart race tracks, laser tag, and alfresco dining to its ships. Similarly, on Royal Caribbean, the “onboard experience is constantly evolving thanks to first-at-sea innovations,” including rock-climbing walls, ice-skating rinks, a surf simulator, and vertical tube skydiving.

Read more: These Surprising Things Are a Complete Waste of Money on a Cruise

Check out The Cheat Sheet on Facebook!