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Royal v Carnival Comparison / Big Ship v Small Ship


rsharp83
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I’ve been loyal to Royal since my first cruise on Allure. I like the product that Royal offers and the ships are great. Especially the Oasis Class. I originally posted this in the Carnival thread since it’s a comparison of my Carnival experience vs my past Royal sailings. But I thought it might offer insight on the Royal board as to what Carnival does for those that are interested. If you don’t care about the differences, then this won’t be a thread you should read. If you are considering a possible Carnival cruise, then this could be helpful information.

 

Carnival Glory was my first cruise that wasn’t Royal Caribbean. I likely would not have booked Glory on my own and I likely would not have chosen to sail out of New Orleans. Those choices were made by the convention planners and I was along for the ride. So, Carnival it was, and we were on the Glory.

 

In June 2019 I sailed on Royal’s Harmony of the Seas, one of the largest and newest ships in the world. To compare Glory and Harmony head to head is completely unfair. Glory is an older, smaller ship that has limited amenities. Harmony is a mega-ship with all the gee wiz stuff you could ever want. They are just different kinds of ships.

 

What I do want to do is note some differences between the two lines and compare and contrast. These are just my observations. My sample size from Carnival is obviously limited while my Royal knowledge is broader. Royal ships I’ve sailed: Oasis, Allure, Harmony (All mega ship Oasis Class), Liberty, Adventure and Jewel. The most comparable RC ship to Glory is the Jewel. I found Glory and Jewel to have a similar layout and some of the same limitations that the newer larger ships don’t have.

 

The one HUGE difference I noted between Carnival and Royal

“Washy Washy”. Any Royal cruiser will know exactly what this phrase means. You simply cannot escape Washy Washy. It is everywhere all the time. There is a song, a video, announcements, and crew members who constantly say it to you. Sometimes they even post crew members in the bathrooms to remind you, “Sir, could you please wash your hands.” In the newer Royal ships, you cannot even enter the buffet without going through a washing station where the crew will make sure you wash your hands and then sanitize them. Sanitizer is everywhere.

 

On Carnival, not a single word. Nothing about washing your hands was said. There were some sanitizer dispensers, there were some small towels by the bathroom door exits to use as you grabbed the door handles. But other than that, no emphasis at all on hand washing and prevention of spreading noro virus or other germs.

 

Now, should I conclude that Carnival cruisers are just cleaner and have better hygiene practices than Royal folks? I doubt that is the case. And when I first cruised, I was stunned at the number of times I heard a crew member tell someone exiting the bathroom to, “Please wash your hands”.

 

This was just interesting to me. I am not bashing Carnival for its policies or practices concerning hand washing. I was just surprised. But it did make me think twice as I navigated the buffet lines.

 

Sell me something!

I can’t be sure of the “why”. I only know that the Carnival crew did almost no “upselling”. I was only advised a few times the first day or so that I could buy a drink package or eat at a steakhouse. No crew came to my table at lunch trying to sell me something. No one was hawking upsells in the hallways.

 

On Royal the upsell is constant and sometimes unrelenting. Buy a specialty dining package, a drink package, excursions, etc. Especially on the big ships where they have a lot of things to upsell. And maybe that is the “why” of the Glory’s limited upsells. Glory just doesn’t have much to sell. They have a steakhouse, chefs table and a drink package as the only real upsell opportunities. Perhaps on other larger Carnival ships there are more upsell things to offer? But the hard sell was pretty much non-existent on Glory. I liked not being hounded.

 

Apps, Tech and Internet

Both Royal and Carnival have Apps for your phones. You can do a variety of things on the apps and you can communicate by texting through the apps while on board for a small fee. We had iPhones on both recent trips, so we bypassed the app and used iMessage instead. We also purchased internet plans on both cruises.

 

I give the edge on the app to Carnival HUB. It’s easy to use and navigate. The schedules for everything going on were there and they were correct! Royal never had the right things on the app schedule and there were a lot of things showing up that just made no sense on our trip. At one point nearly all the shows and entertainment were showing up only on day 7! It wasn’t reliable. Carnival HUB did its job and only a couple of times did it not load, and I had to try again. Royal always tries to be flashy with their tech but often they overreach what they can reasonably deliver. While we are talking tech, the Carnival website was easy to use, and it seemed to actually work. The Royal website is notoriously awful.

 

As for internet, the advantage here goes squarely to Royal. The VOOM packages they offer are very good. Connections even on the huge ships are solid and reliable. Plus, the Royal mid-level internet is far superior to the Carnival mid-level service. Carnival’s top level was described as the one you needed to Skype and stream video and movies etc. I didn’t need to Facetime or watch Netflix, so I chose the mid-level that described itself as being appropriate for social media, emails etc. Well, Carnival considers streaming not just things like Netflix. Any video of any kind is blocked on the mid-level package. So, any little Facebook clip or Twitter video would be blocked. Loading anything was very slow.

 

Food…

I hesitate to even mention food. It’s such a divisive topic and people get all crazy about food. I am not a particularly picky person when it comes to food. I’m in no way a foodie and I can usually find something to eat on a cruise that I like without much problem. I’ll highlight some things I liked and didn’t like about the food on the Glory and compare a little bit to food I’ve had on Royal.

Lunch on Carnival was great! Not that Royal is bad, but the Carnival quick food lineup is fantastic. You can go get a custom-made burrito or go to the deli for a sandwich made on the spot. Yes, the buffet is open for lunch, but you can largely ignore it. Go upstairs and get BBQ, real honest to goodness BBQ. I’m from the Kansas City area, we have BBQ. Carnival had very good offerings and signatures sauces that were excellent. The pizza has long been a downer for me on Royal. It’s just not very good. Carnival pizza was very good. Thin crust, some variety, fresh and hot because it doesn’t last long when it comes off the oven. And they’ll deliver to your room for $5.

 

But the star of the lunch lineup is Guy Fieri and his burger joint. Those burgers are the bomb and the fries are outstanding. I could eat at that place every day; I came really close to doing that. Royal only wishes they had a place this good for lunch. While Royal goes for named chefs on their specialty dining venues, Carnival offers up Guy’s burgers for no extra cost. PS – The signature BBQ sauces also belong to Guy.

 

The buffet. Here the advantage goes to Royal. At least on the Glory the buffet offerings were pretty limited and often they were the same things being served in the main dining room. I always look at the main dining menu and expect the buffet to offer alternatives. If I didn’t find it appealing on the main menu then why would I want it in the buffet? My observation was that at least two of the dishes each night were the same at the buffet and in the dining room. I also noticed a lack of ethnic foods being served. Royal just has a wider variety of foods in their Windjammer buffet each night, alternatives to the main dining menu, ethnic offerings for the non-Americans, and themes for their nightly dinner.

 

Carnival sea day brunch is a big hit. Some very good choices for lunch and breakfast foods. Yes, it’s busy and you must wait, but the wait was rewarded with a good meal. A great banana cream pie was on the menu and that was worth the trip all by itself.

 

Dinner is up and down on both Royal and Carnival. I had nothing terrible or awful. It was mostly good on Carnival and Royal. For some, the main dining will never be good enough but I’m not one of those people. I cannot really give an advantage here either way. However, Carnival did feature unique items on several nights and encourage you to try a small portion. I had Braised Ox Tongue one night. It was delicious and I would certainly have it again. They also offered some dishes that were related to the places we were visiting. I didn’t try one of those offerings but maybe next time I will. The Carnival wait staff seems to perform more often than on Royal. This is a negative for me, but I know a lot of people like the singing waiters thing.

 

Steak

We hadn’t planned on eating at the Steakhouse, but we wound up there and I am glad we did. I’ve eaten at Royal’s Chops steakhouse several times. Each time has been a little less satisfying. Lot’s of cuts to the menu, the portions, and the service over the last few years. They have also continually added extra fee things to the menu which is another upcharge over the upcharge you are paying to eat at Chops in the first place! I’m not a big fan of Chops. It’s an average steakhouse at best.

 

The experience at Carnival’s steakhouse was first rate. The sea salt bread was melt in your mouth good, so good that a meal of bread and butters would be fine! I had the pork belly and wow. The sauce was delicious, I could have simply had the sauce it was so good. We also were treated to a “complements of the chef” appetizer. I know they do this for everyone, but it still felt special when it was delivered to the table as a surprise. It was some sort of fried won-ton kind of thing with cherry jelly. So good. When it came to the steaks, fantastic. A cowboy and a rib-eye that are both 18 oz monsters! The filet mignon was really nice as well. All our steaks were cooked perfectly. The sides were also excellent; Parmesan onion rings, wasabi whipped potatoes, BBQ beans, etc. For a finisher we chose “Art at your Table.” It’s an all or nothing choice, meaning everyone at the table must do it. JUST DO IT! A chef brings out a large flat surface and begins drawing on it with creams and syrups, making designs. Then more little candies and fruity things. Then large white chocolate globes filled with cake, creams, ice cream etc. It’s a feast of flavors. Everyone just digs in and eats!

 

Sweets that stood out over the week: Vanilla creme brulee, S’Mores parfait, tiramisu cake, hummingbird cake. In fact, every day there are lots of cakes at the lunch buffet. They are really good, and they don’t serve them at dinner. At dinner it is back to the gelatinous desserts and spongy cake things.

 

Big Ship Vs. Little Ship

My bias is up front, I love the big Oasis class ships. I have sailed 2 smaller ships in Jewel and Adventure. Glory seems to fall in between these two but is more closely comparable to Jewel. I have the same issues with both Glory and Jewel compared to all the other ships I’ve sailed. I don’t like the design of traffic flow or the way you must navigate around on them.

 

Glory has decks 3, 4, and 5 that are the main hubs of the ship. Those decks house shopping, guest services, excursion desk, casino and the main walkway from the theater at the bow to the dining and lounge areas on the stern. The casino is right in the midst of the path everyone uses. The casino is wide open as you pass by and that means the smoke goes everywhere. There are some lounge type seats and couches along the opposite wall but those are totally exposed to the constant smoke. There is a performance stage tucked along that wall and I pity the poor performers that have to sing and play there. If you want to sit and listen, you do so from either side. In front of the performer is a casino and all the noise that accompanies gaming action. In-between is the main walkway, and it’s pretty narrow. What makes it even narrower is the fact that just beyond the performance area is the photo area. At least 4 photographers are set up along the walkway each evening with various backdrops and all their lighting and flash equipment. Oh, and let’s not forget the Art salesman hawking his wares that are also displayed in this same area. By the time you get all that stuff set up and start taking pics and showing off artwork, there is no room to actually walk! It’s beyond ridiculous. And the way the entertainment schedules are set up you have people walking to the theater and then back to the comedy club or piano bar every hour or so.

 

That brings me to a point. I hear people all the time say something like, “I never want to sail on one of those big ships, they must be so crowded.” Well I will tell you right now that NOTHING I have experienced on the big Oasis ships even compares to the crowdedness I experienced on Glory trying to make it through the casino/art/photography gauntlet multiple times every night. And god forbid there is someone on a scooter or that has mobility issues in your path. Yes, the big ships have more passengers, but they have way more open space to maneuver around. They also have higher ceilings and a variety of paths to use to get from A to B. On Glory the only way to avoid the gauntlet was to go up to one of the higher floors (at least deck 6) and walk the stateroom hallways to avoid smoke and crowds.

 

One area that Glory had a good design for was the outside smoking section. You could completely avoid that area with no issues of getting where you wanted to go. In fact, it was several days before I actually happened upon the outside smoking area while roaming in places I hadn’t looked at yet. That was a nice positive for Glory.

 

Entertainment

Again, I have a bias here. The Oasis ships have an insane amount of topflight entertainment. I compare it to a floating version of a Las Vegas resort hotel. A rundown of just the production show options would include: 2 ice skating shows; 2 full stage production musical shows, one of them being a former Broadway hit show the other being an original show unique to the ship; a massive outdoor acrobatic and water show with divers and aerialists. Comparable to Cirque de Soleil shows. There is also another show in the aqua theater during the day that is more playful and comedic. Beyond all that you have comedy club, headliner performers, bands, piano bar, individual musicians, etc. Unless you have seen it you really just cannot understand the level of activities and entertainment that are available on an Oasis class ship. Yes, I have high expectations when it comes to the entertainment on board.

 

I knew Glory would not be able to match that level of entertainment, it is just not designed to do something like that. We went to the first night’s production show called Epic Rock. It was fine and not unlike many other shows on a variety of cruise ships. The staging was minimal except for a larger video backdrop that did most of the work for setting the tone for whatever song was being sung. The performers did do some interactive things with the video which was good. Overall the show was fine. It was kind of a karaoke with action vibe though. The vocal talent (at least on Oasis class) is far superior. 

 

We didn’t go to the other production shows that week for a couple of reasons. The next one was Motown music and they weren’t going to dance or do any performance other than singing. Perhaps because the seas were rough and the boat was rocking quite a bit. We did catch a few minutes of the Latin music show later in the week. It looked to be staged much like the rock show. Content of the shows didn’t interest us enough to make a point to rush from dinner to get to the show. And dinner was delayed at least once preventing us from getting to the show because the wait staff was too busy singing and dancing around the dining room to actually get our food to us in time for us to get to the show.

 

The other reason we didn’t see many production shows was comedy. The comedy club area was aft and held about 300 people in a lounge kind of seating arrangement. Instead of doing an hour-long comedy set the schedule was multiple 30-minute sets. Moving back and forth between the theater and comedy club would result in not getting a good seat for comedy. Lots of people either stayed in the comedy club between shows or didn’t venture very far so they could get back to the club at least 20 minutes ahead of time and before the theater show ended. Thus, in order to get a good comedy seat, we skipped the shows. The comedians were great. Over the cruise we had four different ones, and each was funny in their own way. Early shows were family safe, later shows were 18+ and for people not easily offended. We especially enjoyed the later shows. Therefore, comedy took up most of our evening time since we usually saw all three sets which took us past 11 pm each night.

 

On Oasis class you are lucky to get one comedy show in per cruise at the comedy club because it is small. On the other hand, there are so many shows to see on Oasis that is likely all you have time to see. 

 

Little Things

Distilled water was available as a room service item and not from your cabin steward. They also charge $3.81 for the gallon of distilled water.

 

One electrical outlet. That is all you get so you’d better plan for that reality. Actually, there is a second outlet in the bathroom that is pretty much useless for anything but an electric razor.

 

My wife and mother-in-law both thought that the balcony cabins on Glory had more storage room than any other ship they’ve sailed on. They put everything away with lots of room to spare! And we are NOT light packers.

 

I had the bubbles soda package, but I really missed the Coke Freestyle machines with the soda mug that Royal has on most of their ships. Carnival is now serving Pepsi and they serve it all from cans.

 

Guest services desk was open 24/7 and were very helpful since we had some special needs concerning a scooter.

 

Balconies are very small compared to newer ships. Balconies are also where you see a lot of the age of the ship because of rust.

 

The Glory was very clean, and you can see they work very hard to keep it looking nice.

 

The décor is a bit dated. Not as much artwork and decoration as the Royal ships have. Royal goes much further with ascetics and art. 

 

Glory staff were very good. Cookie the cruise director is an up and coming young CD who will be on the Glory for the next 3 years. His Q&A session was really good, and you shouldn’t miss it.

 

Serenity adult area is nice and mostly away from the noise and action elsewhere on the pool deck. We got lucky and scored a clamshell on both of the sea days to start the cruise.

 

Final Thoughts

Would I sail from New Orleans again? No. If I am picking my own port it wouldn’t be NOLA. We must fly to any port we sail from so Florida is the first choice since it offers so many more options on ships and cruise lines. I’ve been to NOLA twice and it’s fine but not a place I really need to visit again.

 

Would I sail on Glory again? No. Nothing specifically against Glory. But, for the same price point there are lots of newer better ships out there. If Glory and NOLA are within a short drive, then it’s understandable why you might sail Glory multiple times. However, if you can afford to go to another port and try some newer ships it would be worth your time and money to do that at least occasionally.

 

Would I sail on Carnival again? Yes. In fact, I am booking Carnival Mardi Gras with our big group in June of 2021. One reason we are sailing Carnival is that Royal simply priced us out. The same cruise we did in June of 2019 is now almost $2,000 more expensive. The rate on Symphony out of Miami is over $4,600 for an ocean balcony. That’s out of our price range. So, we have decided to go on the new Mardi Gras. I was holding off booking until I took the Glory cruise as a “test run.” There are certainly things I will miss about a Royal cruise on an Oasis class ship, but Mardi Gras looks to be a close alternative at a much better price. As information on Mardi Gras rolls out over the next year or so I will be reading all I can get.

 

Any day on a cruise is likely better than being at home working. Glory was a more laid back than most of our cruises have been. We had a small group of people and there wasn’t the pressure to see everything and do everything. I noticed lots of people playing cards and other games on the ship. A relaxed atmosphere.

 

Excursions

A word about our activities on the land. We didn’t venture as far as we typically do on a cruise. My father-in-law is recovering from bypass surgery, so we stayed pretty close to the ship on this trip.

 

We had planned a beach day at Mahogany Bay -- the private port for Carnival. However, the rain and weather wasn’t cooperating. We did a spontaneous zip line trip that was located just outside the port area. It’s a good zip line but the better one in Roatan is located elsewhere on the island, South Shore Zip Line. Big difference here as Mahogany Bay is the Carnival version of Labadee or Coco Cay, except it's not. On Royal the private ports are all inclusive to the extent that your drink package works, internet works, and you get free food. No so at Mahogany Bay, nothing is included. It's just like any other port stop except people from the outside can't get into the area or beach. 

 

We never book ship sponsored excursions and therefore we typically get a more intimate experience. We booked a trip to the Mayan Ruins at Lamanai with King David tours. We got to navigate rivers for over an hour looking at crocs, birds, plants, and iguanas in a small boat with 6 people on the tour. We arrived at Lamanai and we were able to avoid the big cattle call groups and get to places ahead of those crowds. Our guide got us to the top of the high temple with just 4 of us in the group! We were up there all by ourselves, it was fantastic. We also got a simple but tasty lunch while other tours just looked at us getting to eat. Good tour I would highly recommend.

 

In Cozumel the weather did corporate and we had a very nice beach club day at Mr. Sanchos. It’s a clean and well-run beach club along the strip of clubs in Cozumel. The food, service and amenities were great for the price. We had a very relaxing day at Sanchos. My favorite Cozumel excursion is The Bar Hop bus that takes you on a tour of beach bars on the undeveloped side of the island. If you’ve never gone to the “other side” it is a must see and the Bar Hop bus is the best way to experience it.

 

Hopefully this review will be useful for a couple of different audiences. Maybe it gives some insights into Carnival for those that only cruise Royal and vice a versa. I hope it might also give a few tips for those who only want to sail on small ships to maybe give one of the mega ships a chance.

 

Thanks for reading and I hope I don’t get flamed to much…but I probably will.

 

Edited by rsharp83
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Great review/comparison.  I like the how you included your likes/dislikes of certain things and your reasonings.  Every person is different and what is important to one person is unimportant to another.  Reviews like yours help me make decisions and level set me in deciding if I want to try a particular ship or cruise line.

 

I have been on Carnival before, actually most of my early cruising was on them, and we have done few in the last few years.  It just so happens most of current cruising is on Royal Caribbean.

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Every Carnival ship I have sailed on I will never sail again (unless there was some extreme discount and the port was convenient).  I am giving the Vista class a shot and will try Mardi Gras.  Carnival was my first love and I hope the newer ships are to my liking.

 

My favorite ships are the Oasis class with Quantum class coming in second.

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Thank you so much for the excellent advice.  I'm 31 cruises in on Carnival and researching like crazy for my first RC on the Harmony in April.  I'm really having trouble navigating the RC site to answer simple questions so I'll start here.  Can we take a small power strip onboard like we can on carnival? 

Do they have a wine package for purchase of several bottles during the cruise - not the all inclusive beverage package? 

What amenities are in a balcony cabin?  Robe, shampoo and conditioner?  

Thanks again for taking the time to post such an excellent comparison!

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We are fans of the Royal Caribbean Oasis class ships.  Enjoy the entertainment and food- Have sailed about 12 times on Royal- freedom class also good- but didn't like Quantum or explore class.Our favorite is the Harmony.

 

We sailed on 5 Carnival cruise ships and disliked them all.  We do enjoy Celebrity ships, M class and especially the S class ships-  The edge is also an interesting experience and will sail on it again in a few weeks.

 

We like sailing out of Florida- but enjoy a no fly cruise in August out of New Jersey. 

 

Also tried Princess three times- not good- fair at best- and NCL with the exception of the Haven, will never sail again on that line.

 

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5 hours ago, GB Chicago said:

Thank you so much for the excellent advice.  I'm 31 cruises in on Carnival and researching like crazy for my first RC on the Harmony in April.  I'm really having trouble navigating the RC site to answer simple questions so I'll start here.  Can we take a small power strip onboard like we can on carnival? 

Do they have a wine package for purchase of several bottles during the cruise - not the all inclusive beverage package? 

What amenities are in a balcony cabin?  Robe, shampoo and conditioner?  

Thanks again for taking the time to post such an excellent comparison!

You can take a small power strip as long as it is not surge protected (the likelihood of security personnel being able to tell the difference is highly suspect and there is a good chance of confiscation)

Royal does not have a wine package any longer (I do miss it)

Balcony cabins will have pretty much everything you are used to having, robes are by request.

 

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On 2/1/2020 at 4:01 PM, rsharp83 said:

Glory has decks 3, 4, and 5 that are the main hubs of the ship. Those decks house shopping, guest services, excursion desk, casino and the main walkway from the theater at the bow to the dining and lounge areas on the stern. The casino is right in the midst of the path everyone uses. The casino is wide open as you pass by and that means the smoke goes everywhere. There are some lounge type seats and couches along the opposite wall but those are totally exposed to the constant smoke.

Thanks for the comparison.  We have sailed the last 9 times with RCCL after our only sailing with Carnival, on the Valor.  I agree with almost everything you wrote here, especially the comments about the food.  We really did not like the decor on the Valor at all compared to RCCL's ships.  Maybe it was just the Valor, but it really was poor compared to RCCL.

 

I also love how easy the RCCL ships are to navigate.  Forcing everyone through that hallway with a bar on one side and the casino on the other was horrible.  There was no other way to get the dining room without avoiding that smoke stench in that congested area.

 

We will stick with RCCL over Carnival, but that said, I am not opposed to trying Carnival again on the right ship, with the right itinerary, for the right price.  Some things like that burrito bar, sandwiches made to order, and pizza were great on Carnival.

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