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Norwegian Cruise Line vs Royal Caribbean

Compare ships, pricing, destinations, onboard facilities and shore excursions between Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean.
Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) Royal Caribbean
Where do they cruise?
What type of ships do they have? Large & Mega Cruise Ships Large & Mega Cruise Ships
How many passengers are on board? 1936 - 4266 1,602 – 5,606
What type of cruise line are they? Contemporary Contemporary
What are they known for?
  • Freestyle Cruising, no fixed dining times
  • Award-Winning Entertainment
  • Top Deck Innovation, including racetracks at sea
  • Something for everyone
  • Entertainment packed ships
  • State of the art onboard experiences and thrills
What is the average cost per day?
  • Interior: $200
  • Oceanview: $253
  • Balcony: $339
  • Suite: $646
  • Interior: $200
  • Oceanview: $237
  • Balcony : $297
  • Suite: $696
Are fares all inclusive? No No
Are gratuities included? No. Guests can elect to pre-pay or pay on board. For AU & NZ guests on departures sailing from AU & NZ ports departing from October 2020, service charges will be included in cruise fare Yes
Are there any additional gratuities payable on board? Yes. 20% gratuity added for spa and salon services, beverage purchases, specialty restaurant dining and entertainment-based dining Yes. An 18% gratuity is added to spa services and bar bills
Can I get any reciprocal loyalty club benefits? No. Latitudes Only Yes. Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean International, and Azamara offer reciprocal benefits to members enrolled in their loyalty programs
What is the onboard currency? USD USD
What language is spoken on board? English English
Who cruises with them?
  • Couples, solos and families
  • Freestyle cruisers who like to holiday on their own schedule
  • Families & couples
  • Semi-retired or retired
What is the average passenger age? Primary age group is 45+. Multi-generational facilities make for a widespread demographic. On shorter cruises and during school holiday periods, expect more families on board Average age 45 years. There is something for all ages on board, so demographic is broad from families, to couples, and those over 60 years.
Are they good for families? Children are accepted from 6+ months (12+ months on select cruises) and there are dedicated programs and facilities available for children Children are accepted from 6+ months (12+ months on select cruises) and there are dedicated programs and facilities available for children
Are there children’s programs? Yes. Complimentary. Onboard youth programs offer activities for age groups from six months to 17 years of age. Yes. Complimentary. The Adventure Ocean Youth Program offers activities for age groups between ages 3-17 years, and the Babies and Tots Program accommodates children from 6 months – 3 years
Is there childcare and/or babysitting? Group sitting services are available for a fee. Guppies Nursery available on Norwegian Escape only. Charges apply Yes. A fully staffed nursery is available on select ships (for 6 months – 3 years). Late night group babysitting with the Youth Staff in the Adventure Ocean Facilities is also offered (subject to availability) for toilet trained children aged 3 – 11 years. Charges apply
What are the accommodation options? Interior, Oceanview, Balcony & Suites. Studios available for solo travellers. Interior, Oceanview, Balcony & Suites. Studios available for solo travellers.
Are there accessible staterooms? Yes Yes
Are shore excursions included? No No
What types of onboard activities are available for free? Guests can enjoy activities such as sports court games, use of outdoor pools and hot tubs, select onboard presentations, the ropes course and ziplining free of charge So many! Most RCI ships offer a plethora of thrilling onboard activities that may include sports courts, a rock climbing wall, waterslides, a surf rider, sky diving simulator and observation capsule on deck and a range of classes from language, to dancing and crafts. Some ships have an internal deck dedicated to a games space or an ice skating rink. Onboard activities will differ by ship
Are there any onboard activities that I need to pay for? Yes. Activities such as specialty onboard seminars, go-kart sessions on the racetracks, laser tag, games in the video arcade and the bowling alley incur additional charges Specialty onboard seminars may attract a charge. Activities such as games in the video arcade incur a fee, and some onboard thrills may offer one-time complimentary use only (subsequent use may incur a charge)
Is there free evening entertainment? Yes Yes
Is there any paid evening entertainment? Yes. Dinner and lunch theatre entertainment incur additional charges. Paid experiences include Cirque Dreams and Dinner shows as well as Wine Lovers the Musical which includes wine tasting Some themed dinners may have a surcharge. In suite on demand movies are available for purchase
Are there complimentary dining options? Yes Yes
Are there specialty restaurants? Yes. Charges Apply. However, a Specialty Dining Package is currently an option with NCL’s Free at Sea Promotion, so if eligible, guests may choose to have this included in their booking Yes. Charges apply. The range of specialty restaurants may differ between ships
Are there dining packages for purchase? Yes Yes
Are non-alcoholic beverages included? No. However, a Beverage Package is currently an option with NCL’s Free at Sea Promotion, so if eligible, guests may choose to have this included in their booking Iced water, tea, coffee and lemonade included. Soft drinks and other non-alcoholic beverages must be purchased.
Are alcoholic beverages included? Yes. Select standard spirits, international beers and wines. Complimentary alcohol is not included in room service No. All alcohol beverages must be purchased.
Can I purchase a beverage package? Yes Yes. A range of beverage packages are offered for non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages
Is there room service? Yes. Complimentary 24/7. Charges apply for alcohol orders Yes. A convenience charge applies to each order, except continental breakfast items. Grand Suites and higher category staterooms do not pay a convenience fee
Is there Wi-Fi on board? Yes. Charges apply. However, a Wi-Fi Package is currently an option with NCL’s Free at Sea Promotion, so if eligible, guests may choose to have this included in their booking Yes. Charges apply
Can I purchase Wi-Fi packages? Yes Yes
Is there a Spa? Yes Yes
Are spa and salon services available? Yes. Charges Apply Yes. Charges Apply
Is there a gym? Yes Yes
Are there group fitness classes? Yes. Charges apply Yes. Included complimentary. Select special training classes may incur additional charges
Is there personal training available? Yes. Charges Apply Yes. Charges Apply
Is there a self-service laundry? No No
Is a laundry service available? Yes. Charges Apply Yes. Charges Apply
Is there a casino on board? Yes. Except on Pride of America Yes

Please Note: There may be additional inclusions and privileges for select stateroom and suite guests or select loyalty member tiers. Activities and entertainment vary by ship, itinerary and departure and are a guide only.

The Verdict

Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean are similar in many ways. They are both contemporary lines with big ships that cater to a broad demographic. They are innovative in their own right, each boasting their own flagship amenities and both continuing to evolve their market offering to be bigger or more ground breaking than their last.

They service similar destinations around the world, with Norwegian’s round trip Hawaiian cruises being a unique offering that differentiates them from RCI (and all other lines) in this region. Aside from this distinctive itinerary, you can explore much of the world with either Norwegian or Royal Caribbean - albeit with some port variations. If both offer a voyage you are interested in, choosing between the two may come down to the ship that is best suited to you.

Which ships will suit me best?

The Fleets & Onboard Innovation

Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) and Royal Caribbean International (RCI) both boast a contemporary fleet of large and mega ships. Both have 10 large ships apiece, with Royal Caribbean taking the mega ship crown with 17 to Norwegian’s seven.

Both lines pride themselves on their onboard innovation, with this being a particularly strong pillar of the RCI brand. Royal Caribbean ships are constantly evolving to have more ‘wow factor’ thrills and activities. On board guests will find anything from surf and skydiving simulators to multi-story waterslides. They have also designed their Oasis Class ships around the ‘Neighbourhood’ concept, a unique layout with seven distinct zones speaking to different interests (eg. Pool and Sports Zone, Youth Zone, Entertainment Place etc.). This is particularly helpful given that the Oasis Class ships are over 360 meters long, carry roughly 6,700 guests at maximum capacity (5,500 at dual occupancy), and have 16 passenger decks to navigate.

Norwegian has introduced some firsts of its own to the NCL fleet, with a standout concept being ‘Freestyle Cruising’. This revolves around having no set dining times and therefore the flexibility to set one’s own schedule. This is the case on every ship, and every sailing. On select ships, travellers will also find other innovations such as The Waterfront (an oceanside promenade on Breakaway and Breakaway Plus ships) and NCL’s standout Go-Kart Racetrack which weaves its way around the top deck of Norwegian Bliss, Joy and Encore.

With both lines, big ticket amenities tend be found on their larger and newer ships. You’ll notice standouts on RCI’s Oasis and Quantum/Quantum Ultra Classes and NCL’s Breakaway Plus and Breakaway Class ships. If any particular features are important to you, then your decision may come down to ship specific facilities rather than choosing one cruise line over the other.

The Staterooms/Suites

Guests cruising on either RCI or NCL ships can choose from a wide array of accommodation options. Choices range from inside, oceanview and balcony staterooms to suites, and there are also studio staterooms on select ships (on both lines) designed and priced specifically for solo travellers. Each also has its own unique offering that sets them apart.

RCI’s distinctive offering includes their take on the classic ocean facing balcony. While there are still plenty of these across the fleet, some ships within the Oasis, Quantum/Quantum Ultra, and Voyager Classes also offer Virtual Balconies (inside staterooms with screens that replicate floor to ceiling windows). Neighbourhood Balcony Staterooms that face inward to the centre of the ship, instead of facing the ocean, are also available on Oasis Class ships.

As for NCL, one of its standout accommodation spaces is The Haven. This exclusive area of the ship is home to an enclave of luxurious suites and social spaces for guests of The Haven only. They also pioneered the studio stateroom for solos, and they continue to lead the pack with their offering for single passengers.

Which is better for families?

Royal Caribbean is a genuinely family friendly cruise line, with comprehensive children’s programs and a plethora of facilities and activities designed with families in mind. They also have accommodation options to suit large groups, from interconnecting staterooms to their standout family suites. Everything has been thought of, including My Family Time Dining which ensures children are served promptly before heading to the evening’s Adventure Ocean Youth Program activities. Parents can even pre book supplies such as nappies, wipes and baby food through the Babies2Go program so that they don’t have to pack these for the trip. Plus, with such a wide range of facilities on board RCI’s expansive ships, there truly is something for everyone. This makes it a great option for intergenerational families of varied ages and interests.

NCL is also a popular option for families, and for good reason. There are accommodation options to suit different family configurations, comprehensive youth programs available, and you’ll have plenty of family friendly amenities at your fingertips when cruising with children on Norwegian. However, although they are a great option for families, they do not claim to be family specialists. They have everything you need for a rewarding family holiday (and then some), but Royal Caribbean have a few extra bells and whistles when it comes programs and amenities dedicated to families. If you don’t need these additional features, you can’t go wrong family cruising with either NCL or RCI.

Which is better suited to couples?

Despite Royal Caribbean’s strong family offering, it has something for everyone, including couples. There is no need for the romantics to shy away from an RCI cruise. Thrill seekers will appreciate the action packed activities just as much as the youngsters and families, romantics can enjoy a private ride in the North Star observation capsule, indulge in a couples’ spa treatment, or relax in the adults only Solarium (age restrictions not applicable on China sailings). Plus, you can finish each day sipping cocktails at one of the bars or with an epic date night complete with dinner and a show – think Broadway and live bands, multimedia theatre and aerialists at Two70, and dive spectaculars at the Aqua Theatre.

Couples cruising on Norwegian can also be as active or as relaxed, and as social or private, as they choose. From challenging your partner on the racetrack or taking a romantic stroll along The Waterfront to chilling out at the adults only Spice H2O – it’s up to you. Nightly entertainment and great dining options make a romantic evening easy and thoroughly enjoyable on NCL. You’ll get to enjoy Broadway style shows, comedic performances, and music and dance revues (as you will on RCI), but you’ll perhaps find a few more intimate venues as well. For a little more exclusivity and privacy, a suite in The Haven is a popular option.

Both RCI and NCL ships are brimming with so many options that guests can choose to participate in the activities that interest them – and tailor their cruise experience to suit their preferences. Once again, the decision may not be determined by brand, but by ship specific offerings.

Which caters better for solo travellers?

Cruising is a great holiday option for solo travellers, and both NCL and RCI have planned events for solo guests to mingle and get to know each other. Both also offer studio staterooms on select ships. These are designed for single passengers and priced accordingly (no single supplement is required).

Norwegian pioneered the studio concept for solo cruisers and champions it with more solo staterooms on offer. All studios, except for those on Pride of America, have exclusive access to a Studio Lounge within the private complex for studio guests only. This designated social space allows guests to mingle with other solo travellers. The downside is that all solo studios are all inside cabins – guests wanting to cruise in an oceanview, balcony or suite will have to pay a single supplement in order to do so. If being in an inside cabin doesn’t bother you, then NCL leads the pack with its offering for solo travellers.

Royal Caribbean also has studio staterooms for solos, however, there are less across the fleet and they aren’t confined to their own complex. This means there isn’t the same style of exclusive social space but affords RCI to have more stateroom varieties. Some inside studio staterooms have a virtual balcony which is a nice touch, and there are also studio balconies with a private open-air veranda.

Another consideration between the lines is the dining options available. Given that NCL has ‘Flexible Dining’ you are free to dine with whomever you choose, whenever you choose. This may be great for you to meet different people throughout your cruise, and you may find yourself with the same or different fellow passengers on any given night. You can also have this experience with RCI’s My Time Dining option, however, their Traditional Dining option allows you to select a preference of table size and you’ll dine with the same people each night. Which is best for you depends on your preference and the dining program you feel most comfortable with.

Who provides the best value - Royal Caribbean or NCL?

When it comes to price and value, there isn’t much of a difference between the two. You’ll have similar inclusions in both cruise fares (dependent on current promotions), and you’ll have to budget for similar things like your alcohol, Wi-Fi, specialty dining, and shore excursions.

You may find the newer ships or those with more bells and whistles come with a higher price tag, and each line regularly runs different promotions which sees discounted fares or additional inclusions available. Royal Caribbean often has a host of varied promotions, from reduced prices to bonus onboard credit, while Norwegian’s Free At Sea Offers (which adds a number of perks dependent on stateroom) are a staple for the line, so keep an eye out for these deals when weighing up which cruise fare is the best value for you.