Two of the biggest cruise lines in the industry are Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, and it is likely that if you’ve heard of one, you have probably heard of the other.
Both these cruise lines have a lot of similarities, but they also have some key differences as well. When it comes to style, amenities, and itineraries, there can be a lot to consider when choosing which cruise line to sail with for your next vacation.
As always, these thoughts and opinions are my own. I recognize that everyone has their favorites when it comes to cruising, and that everyone’s desires for their vacation will be very different. These are just some of my own observations and opinions when it comes to comparing these two cruise companies and lines!
Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines are two of the largest cruise lines in the world, and both brands have pretty large fleets! At the time of writing, Royal Caribbean has 28 ships in operation, including the newest vessels: Utopia of the Seas and Icon of the Seas.
Although Royal Caribbean has significantly more ships than Norwegian Cruise Line, both cruise lines are considered two of the largest in the world!
Additionally, both lines show no sign of slowing down when it comes to ship production. It is likely that we will see even more new ships on the horizon in the years to come from both these large cruise lines.
This is evident through Royal Caribbean placing orders for additional Icon Class ships prior to Icon of the Seas' launch, as well as Norwegian ordering four more Prima Class ships to be delivered through 2028.
Style and aesthetics
(Observation Lounge found onboard Norwegian Bliss ship)
When it comes to style and aesthetics, Norwegian Cruise Line tends to be more understated and modern, while Royal Caribbean thrives off of bright colors and eye catching design.
Both of Norwegian Cruise Line’s newer vessels, Norwegian Prima and Norwegian Viva, display examples of sophisticated and relaxing Scandinavian design, while Royal Caribbean’s newer vessels focus on displaying an atmosphere of fun and excitement to its guests.
(Example of Family Suite found onboard Royal Caribbean ship)
These two cruise lines are much different when it comes to their branding. In recent years, Norwegian Cruise Line has drifted towards more modern and sleek design, ushering in an atmosphere of relaxed sophistication.
Royal Caribbean’s newer ships are all about fun and excitement and are stocked full to the brim with new and exclusive onboard activities and amenities for guests to explore.
Onboard amenities and activities and entertainment
(Musical "Six" onboard Norwegian Bliss)
When it comes to onboard activities and amenities, both Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line are two cruise lines that really shine compared to other mainstream lines!
From industry leading entertainment, unique activities, and so much more, both lines do a great job at offering plenty for guests to do while onboard. Their newer ships are so large and have so many onboard activities that you sometimes need a full sea day or two just to take in everything that they have to offer.
Both cruise lines do a great job of providing industry firsts onboard their ships when it comes to onboard activities.
For example, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Speedway at Sea is one of the most unique things cruise passengers can do during their vacation. These real life speedways resemble a true racetrack and give guests the rare opportunity to really race while sailing the high seas. This experience does come at an extra cost to passengers and is only available on some of the newer Norwegian Cruise Line vessels.
Royal Caribbean is no stranger to firsts, either. One of the most unique forms of entertainment offered onboard their Oasis and Icon Class ships are the AquaTheater Shows. These impressive shows feature awe inspiring entertainment that truly rivals cirque du soleil.
In addition to water shows, several Royal Caribbean ships feature ice shows. The talent displayed at these shows is exceptional, and I highly recommend checking out at least one ice show performance while onboard if you have the opportunity with Royal Caribbean.
In addition to the ice shows, guests are able to experience ice skating themselves while at sea! During specific times during cruise sailings, guests are able to tryout ice skating on the ice rink on Royal Caribbean ships that offer this amenity.
Both select Royal Caribbean and Norwegian ships offer Broadway-style shows at sea. While sailing with Norwegian, I have been able to see "Six" and "Jersey Boys," both of which are available to be seen onboard Norwegian Bliss, as well as "The Choir of Man," which is performed onboard Norwegian Encore. All these shows feature truly impressive acting, singing, and dancing.
('Choir of Man' show onboard Norwegian Encore)
On Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas, you will find "Cats;" "Grease" is on Harmony and Independence of the Seas; "Hairspray" on Symphony; "Saturday Night Fever" on Liberty of the Seas; and "We Will Rock You" on Anthem of the Seas.
When it comes to other unique outdoor activities, guests will find no shortage on either of these cruise lines. Passengers can try their hand at rock climbing on the multi-story climbing walls onboard some of Royal Caribbean’s ships, and if passengers want to get involved in friendly competition, Norwegian Cruise Line’s outdoor laser tag courses may be a fun option during a sea day.
It is important to note that for both Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean, guests will find the most, as well as latest and greatest, onboard activities and amenities onboard the newer cruise ships from both these cruise lines.
To experience the very best and greatest that a cruise line has to offer, the newest ships are typically the best choice. You'll find the most things to do onboard Royal Caribbean's Quantum, Oasis, and Icon Class of ships, as well as Norwegian Cruise Line's Breakaway and Prima Class.
Pools and top deck fun
(Pool deck onboard Oasis of the Seas)
If you are someone who is looking for exciting and groundbreaking pool amenities, Royal Caribbean may be the perfect cruise fit for you.
With the introduction of Royal Caribbean’s newest ships, guests will be truly blown away when it comes to not only the pool features but also the number of pools onboard. When Royal Caribbean’s newest ship, Utopia of the Seas, debuts in July 2024, she will have the most amount of pools onboard a cruise ship at sea.
Onboard many of Royal Caribbean’s ships, even some of the oldest vessels, guests can find a fun and complimentary water activity: the FlowRider. This is an awesome opportunity for guests to try out wave surfing at sea!
(Pool deck onboard Norwegian Encore)
Norwegian Cruise Line also does a great job of providing not only pools and hot tubs onboard, but fun and thrilling water slides as well!
One of my favorite water slides at sea is the Ocean Loops slide that is available on some Norwegian Cruise Line ships, such as Norwegian Encore and Norwegian Bliss. The Ocean Loops slide features a multi-story free fall drop and two inversion loops for guess to experience.
I will say, this slide is very thrilling but may not be for everyone; if you are someone who loves a good adrenaline rush, I recommend making the Ocean Loops water slide a must-do while onboard!
Kids zones and adult-only areas
Both Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean market themselves as cruise lines that are capable of providing a wonderful cruise vacation to everyone in the family; they strive to provide new and exciting things for guests of all ages to explore while onboard.
Everything from family-friendly fun to adult-only spaces, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line cater to both!
(Example of the adults-only Solarium onboard Royal Caribbean)
Many of Norwegian Cruise Line’s and Royal Caribbean’s ships have dedicated splash zones and shallow pool areas special for children. This can be a great place for families to hangout in the sun and enjoy a day at sea together!
However, it is important to note that all little ones playing in the children’s splash zones must be toilet-trained in order to play in the pools. Additionally, if a child’s water area is something that is a must do for your family, I recommend double checking which ships you would like to sail on for your cruise vacation, as not every ship features a child’s splash zone.
(Pool deck of Norwegian Getaway)
When the adults are ready to enjoy some peace and quiet, they can head to the adults only pool areas onboard both Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean.
Royal Caribbean shines when it comes to adult-only pool areas, as they are featured onboard almost all of their ships. This adult only area onboard Royal Caribbean ships is often times called the ‘Solarium’. This area features comfortable lounge chairs, a small pool, usually at least one hot tub, and often times a bar area.
(Spice H2O venue onboard Norwegian Bliss ship)
Onboard Norwegian ships, guests can find the adults area at the Spice H2O venue. This location is usually at the back of the ship, and features at least one hot tub, a bar area, lounge chairs, and sometimes a small pool or shallow wadding pool. It is important to note, that the Spice H2O venue is not always just for adults, children and those guests under 18 years old are sometimes allowed but it is usually only during certain times of the day.
Aside from pool areas, many Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line ships have kids clubs onboard. These kids' clubs areas are children-only zones where younger guests can play and interact with other children their age. Most of the time it is complimentary to enroll children in these clubs, and it can be a great way for kids to meet friends their age during vacation. Enrolling children in the kids clubs is also a great way for parents to enjoy their vacation while the kids have fun of their very own!
(Example of kids club onboard Norwegian Prima ship)
The kids clubs are often arranged based off of the child's age. For example, on both Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line there is also a teens club that is reserved just for those guests who are high school age. Check your specific ship's guidelines and availability to learn more about the kids clubs onboard each ship.
Food, Cuisine, and Dining
(Specialty dining restaurant onboard Norwegian Encore)
Truly one of the best parts of cruising is the food!
There is no shortage of choices when it comes to dining onboard a Norwegian Cruise Line ship. Every ship has at least two main dining restaurants, and several specialty restaurants. Onboard many of Norwegian’s newer vessels guests can find up to four complimentary dining venues and 10+ specialty dining locations! Norwegian offers cuisine of almost every kind onboard, and not just at the restaurants. Norwegian Cruise Line’s buffets are some of our very favorites of any cruise line.
Norwegian Cruise Line does a great job of providing many healthy as well as more indulgent options at their buffets. If you have followed along with some of our other Norwegian Cruise Line articles, you will know that we really enjoy the Indian Cuisine section onboard Norwegian’s newer ships such as the Norwegian Bliss and Norwegian Encore.
(Room service in your stateroom is something offered on both Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line!)
One of my favorite things I enjoy about dining onboard Norwegian Cruise Line ships, is that guests are able to eat whenever and wherever they want onboard each day of their voyage. This means that there is no assigned dining time or location for and passengers of Norwegian Cruise Line. I greatly appreciate the dining flexibility because it gives guests the chance to catch a show when they want, or explore the ports of call a little longer. Norwegian Cruise Line calls this ‘Freestyle Cruising’. They specialize in giving their guests the freedom to make their cruise vacation exactly the way they want.
The complimentary restaurants, ‘Taste’ and ‘Savor’ found onboard many of Norwegian Cruise Line’s ships are a great dining option. These two restaurants offer a more intimate restaurant dining experience, rather than the large traditional main dining room found on many cruise lines. I prefer this method of dining when it comes to dinner on a cruise ship, and definitely recommend checking out these restaurants if they are available on your next Norwegian Cruise Line sailing.
I have had the privilege of sailing with Royal Caribbean a couple times now, and have always found something appetizing and delicious onboard! Something I will say that I have noticed when it comes to food when comparing Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, is that Norwegian appears to offer more complimentary dining options than Royal Caribbean. Royal Caribbean tends to offer just one or two main dining restaurants onboard, in addition to the buffet.
However, when it comes to the two cruise line’s older ships, I would say that Royal Caribbean has the better food onboard. I was a little surprised to discover that the food onboard the Norwegian Sun was not what I had come to expect from Norwegian Cruise Line’s quality. While sailing on Mariner of the Seas, I was always served something tasty.
A pro for Royal Caribbean when it comes to food, is that the portion sizes are larger on Royal Caribbean than Norwegian Cruise Line.
If I had to make a choice between the two cruise lines when it came to food, I would say Norwegian Cruise Line has the best options onboard their newer ships. Such as the Breakaway Class, Breakaway Plus Class, and Prima Class. While Royal Caribbean is very consistent across the cruise line, and has some great food offerings onboard their older vessels as well.
Drinks, Lounges, and Nightlife
Both Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean deliver when it comes to fun nightlife!
When it comes to nightlife Royal Caribbean thrives. This cruise line offers plenty of bars and lounges for guests to explore, as well as live music at multiple venues every night of a cruise sailing.
Norwegian Cruise Line has many bars and uniquely themed lounges to explore as well. Live music can be found being played late into the night, as well as comedy shows just for adults and silent disco parties for both adults and guests of all ages.
When it comes to nightlife, both these cruise lines do a great job of making sure there is something entertaining for guests to do and see every night of their sailing. Similar to food, if given the choice, I would say for the best nightlife variety onboard a Norwegian ship I would choose a newer vessel from the fleet. While even many of Royal Caribbean’s older ships have some great and entertaining nightlife.
Norwegian Cruise Line does have some of the most unique bars onboard a cruise ship that I have seen. Such as the Skyy Vodka Ice Bar. This incredible venue features cocktails and mixed drinks with Skyy Vodka and offers amazing ambiance from all the ice features. If you are someone who has visiting one of the world’s ice hotels on their bucket list, I recommend checking out the ice bar onboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Getaway ship!
Onboard both Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, I recommend taking a look at the ship’s daily itinerary for a list of nightlife activities being conducted each night of the cruise.
Arguably the most important aspect of cruising is the itinerary. For this reason, most of the time I recommend that prospective cruise guests look at itineraries they would be interested in sailing on, and then from there choose the cruise ship and cruise line.
Both Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line have cruise itineraries that travel all over the world. Whether it is to Northern Europe, South America, or the Bahamas, those looking to cruise can find all of these fun vacation itineraries on both Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean.
If you are looking to visit truly unique destinations, I would recommend checking out Norwegian Cruise Line specifically. Guests looking to visit interesting and engaging locations such as Africa, parts of the Middle East, and more should consider a cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line.
Royal Caribbean lives up to its namesake and has some really great itineraries in the Caribbean and Bahamas. As well as itineraries that sail all over Europe, including beautiful destinations such as the Greek Isles and Spain.
Often times cruise lines, specifically Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line use some of their older vessels to sail to some of the most incredible destinations. Because of this, I would say never rule out choosing an older ship for an epic cruise line vacation!
For example, this fall I will be sailing onboard the Norwegian Star with fellow Cruise Blog writer and best friend Allie. We are very excited for this trip, and will be sailing the British Isles for 10 days on a truly amazing cruise itinerary. The Norwegian Star is an older ship but one of the only vessels that conducts this type of itinerary in the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet.
As I have stated, I highly recommend choosing a cruise line vacation first based on the itinerary, and then by the cruise line and ship. After all, cruising is first and foremost about traveling and seeing new and interesting places.
Before I embarked on my first cruise, I had no idea that some cruise lines own their very own private islands! Since then, I have been able to experience all of Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line’s private islands.
Both Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean both have their own designated private islands. Currently, Royal Caribbean has one private island called ‘Perfect Day at CocoCay’, and Norwegian Cruise Line has two private islands called ‘Great Stirrup Cay’ and ‘Harvest Caye’.
All of these private islands feature beautiful white sand beaches, dining and food locations, unique shore activities, and plenty of relaxation for guests to enjoy ashore.
(Public pool at CocoCay)
‘Perfect Day at CocoCay’ and ‘Harvest Caye’ are the two biggest of these three private islands. Both of which in addition to several beach areas, also have large pools for guests to swim in. CocoCay recently underwent a huge refurbishment, and is now one of the most prime locations in the Caribbean for cruise guests to visit and enjoy.
Harvest Caye is a truly unique private island, as this destination is right off the coast of Belize. In addition to beaches and pools for guests to explore, passengers of Norwegian Cruise Line can also visit a small animal sanctuary ashore Harvest Caye. See more of what we thought about Harvest Caye here. Check our our article here for a direct comparison between Royal Caribbean's CocoCay and Norwegian Cruise Line's Harvest Caye!
(Views from Great Stirrup Cay)
Because these locations are private islands managed by the cruise lines, it means that travelers can only visit these destinations with the cruise lines. Guests wishing to visit CocoCay must sail with Royal Caribbean on an itinerary that visits the island. Similarly, passengers wishing to visit Great Stirrup Cay and/or Harvest Caye must sail with Norwegian Cruise Line on an itinerary that visits one or both of these islands.
(Views at Harvest Caye)
Soon, Royal Caribbean will be opening a brand new private beach destination. This new private cruise destination will be called, ‘Royal Beach Club’. More information about this newest Royal Caribbean destination can be found here.
We have always enjoyed our visits to cruise line private islands. However, it is important to note that these destinations may not be for everyone. Think of them as beautiful beach resorts. If you are someone sailing on a Caribbean or Bahamas cruise itinerary it may be likely that you will visit one of these locations. For those looking to explore a new culture, sample authentic foods, of see natural wonders, I would recommend choosing a different destination. However, if you are someone who is open to experiencing some great fun, an exclusive travel destination, and relaxing by some of the prettiest beaches, then I would recommend seeing these private islands for yourself!
Staterooms and Cabin Categories
(Example of standard interior room onboard Norwegian Cruise Line)
One of the biggest pros about choosing large-scale cruise ships, is the fact that there is almost always something for everyone onboard. This includes staterooms and cabins.
When it comes to choosing a stateroom onboard Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, prospective guests will be able to find a stateroom to fit any budget or need. From standard interior rooms, to expansive and luxurious suites, guests have many options when sailing with these two cruise lines.
(Example of a suite onboard Royal Caribbean)
For those guests looking for an added measure of luxury and exclusivity to their cruise, Norwegian Cruise Line’s ‘The Haven’ can be a great option. The Haven is Norwegian Cruise Line’s luxury ‘ship-within-a-ship’ concept. The Haven is not just a series of beautiful suites, but also exclusive areas designated just for guests staying in a Haven category room. Including a lounge, bar, pool area, and restaurant. Staying in this exclusive area of the ship is often quite expensive but comes with perks that can not be experienced any other way onboard Norwegian Cruise Line. It is important to note that The Haven is not available onboard every Norwegian Cruise Line ship. If you are someone interested in staying in The Haven, I recommend filtering which ships have these stateroom categories onboard before booking a cruise with Norwegian.
(Example of The Haven room onboard Norwegian Prima)
Guests looking at sailing on Royal Caribbean, who want to experience an exclusive stateroom category, but also are looking at keeping to a budget should consider a Promenade View Room or a Central Park View Room. These rooms are often times quite affordable, but offer a unique cruise experience to guests. Similar to an ocean view stateroom, these rooms feature a window. But instead of the window looking outward towards the ocean, the window is interior and gives guests a look out onto either the Promenade or Central Park, depending which is featured onboard the Royal Caribbean ship. These rooms are typically cheaper than an ocean view room, but are fun in that they offer an interesting stateroom experience that is rather unique to Royal Caribbean.
Both Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line have a loyalty program that gives their repeat cruisers special perks the more they cruise with the line.
Royal Caribbean’s loyalty program is called the ‘Crown & Anchor Society’, while Norwegian Cruise Line’s loyalty program is called ‘Latitudes Rewards’.
On both these cruise lines guests earn points towards their loyalty program with every cruise they take. For example, with Norwegian Cruise Line guest earn 1 point for every night they spend on a cruise. The amount of points guests earn can also be increased to 2 points or more per night depending on special stateroom categories such as suites or studio staterooms.
(Example of Crown & Anchor Society benefits with Royal Caribbean)
Some of the benefits of various reward categories include discounts on drink packages, discount on shore excursions, priority check-in, exclusive cocktail parties, discounts at the duty-free shops onboard, discounts on photos, discounts on the internet or wifi packages onboard, and much more during a cruise.
Royal Caribbean’s Crown & Anchor Society rewards program is very similar to that of Norwegian Cruise Line’s Latitudes Rewards. The more guests cruise the more rewards and perks they have access to. This is just one of the ways that these two cruise lines encourage guests to continue cruising with them over and over again.
(Example of Latitudes Rewards benefits with Norwegian Cruise Line)
Once a passenger cruises with Norwegian Cruise Line and/or Royal Caribbean for the first time they are automatically a member of that cruise line’s loyalty program. For every subsequent cruise thereafter guests will earn points and work their way toward the next loyalty tier to achieve even more rewards for their next cruise vacation.
Conclusion and Thoughts
Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines have so much to offer their cruise guests, and there is no shortage of things for passengers to explore about these two cruise lines.
Both these large scale cruise lines specialize in offering something for everyone onboard their ships, and are great about being a cruise line that caters to the whole family. Because of this, both Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean can be a good option for a multi-generational vacation.
(Exclusive Cabanas for rent on Royal Caribbean's CocoCay)
These two cruise brands have no shortage of onboard amenities and while they have a lot of similarities, they also have some key differences. I recommend exploring both these two cruise lines further before booking a cruise voyage.
No matter which of these two cruise lines guests choose, they are sure to have a fun and exciting cruise vacation! We hope that this article was helpful, and that it introduced you to some of the differences and similarities between these two cruise lines. We at Cruise Blog wish you a very happy cruise and smooth sailing on your next cruise vacation!