Royal Caribbean vs Carnival
After nine cruises on Carnival, one on Cunard, one on Princess, and one on Royal Caribbean, it was time to give Royal Caribbean a try again. It has been about 21 years since my first Royal Caribbean experience. There was nothing wrong with that first cruise in fact it was a blast and the service was excellent. It came down to trying to stay with one cruise line to accrue the most benefits, the more you sail the more perks you get. At the point that we started sailing with Carnival, they had the best pricing.
Carnival has let us down the past two cruises we took. So let’s compare our last cruise on Carnival Splendor (2015) and our most recent cruise on Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas(2016). Carnival Splendor has a guest capacity of about 3000 and Liberty of the Seas is just over 3600 so, Liberty is a bit larger ship.
The Ports –
Starting with the ports, it is a comparison of New York Terminal vs Galveston Terminal. As you know the cruise line does not control anything except checking you in, taking your luggage and getting it on the ship. The Port Authority in each location runs everything else.
In NYC incoming passengers had to wait until the majority of exiting passengers had left the area. That was the only hold-up. Once we got into the terminal the lines moved rapidly and the staff was very pleasant and ready to offer any help. We were bused in from the airport so did not have to deal with any parking here so, cannot comment on that.
Galveston was a disaster. The streets near the pier were very congested with traffic. After we got to the port, parked, and baggage unloaded, it took us nearly an hour to just get to security. Passengers who had express boarding were told they had to get in the longest line instead of express. There were only chairs near the entrance to the terminal, so people in line got really tired and irritated. Once we cleared security we were rushed to the check-in counters. Fortunately, there were no long lines here. However, the clerk that helped us was very abrupt and would not answer all our questions, just rushed us through.
The Buffets –
Once on-board the Carnival Splendor, the buffet was open and servers were walking around offering drinks. On Liberty of the Seas there were no servers. We found a bar, which was serving limited drinks due to Texas liquor laws while in port. Then we headed to the buffet area. We got seated and, just as Bob went for food, they announced the buffet would be closing in 10 minutes and all guests were required to attend the lifeboat drill. Yet they continued letting guests in and seating them even though they would have no time to eat. Bob shared a bit of what he chose from the buffet as we had to rush to the drill.
The Grand Buffet on the Splendor is good, with a variety of cuisines. We found, quite often, some offerings seemed to be made from leftovers of the previous day’s dining room menu. The buffet is located in the center of deck 9 between the two pools. I have always thought kids in swim attire traipsing through the buffet was a bit odd on all Carnival ships. The seating areas are divided into what could be called cubicles, harder to maneuver around. The food is separated into two areas at opposite ends of the central kitchen area. Usually crowded with long lines down the walkways on either side. The dessert selections are extravagant.
The Windjammer Buffet on Royal Caribbean, when we got to properly enjoy it, is quite good, if a bit spicy. They serve a good variety of cuisines; American, Oriental, Caribbean, Jamaican, Vegan, a nice variety of salads and some desserts. Quite often it included the same selections being served in the dining room. The buffet is located at the front of deck 11. It is a spacious U-shaped area with the food located around the inside of the U and easily accessible. There was never a long line or crowding. There were no kids running around in swim wear, in fact they had a suggested attire of no swimsuits and shoes were a must.
The Dining Rooms –
I would like to say that the Dining room is where Carnival shines. Not on this particular cruise however. While the food was good, the service was not. We always felt rushed and that the servers did not have time for us. The bar server only came to our table one time during the entire cruise. There were always dirty spotted glassware on our table. The partitions between the tables were dusty for the duration of the cruise. I do not think it was ever cleaned beneath our table, as there was a spoon under it the whole cruise.
The Dining room on Liberty of the Seas was a bit disappointing as well. Granted, we only tried it once but, we checked the menu each day, and found it lacking. The one night we tried it was the first formal night. They served a Half Roasted Chicken as one of the choices. Really, one of the messiest things there is to try to eat, on a formal night. May as well have served Barbecue Ribs. Lobster is available every night, for an additional fee. I never had to pay for lobster on Carnival, although it is only available one night.
Both ships offer a serve yourself, soft ice cream dispenser. Carnival offers two, either one or both available 24 hours. Royal Caribbean has only one with limited hours, never when we wanted it. The line was always long and full of kids as it is near the pool.
The Shopping –
There is a big difference in the shopping venues on the two ships.
Carnival has two shops on either side of the central lobby and elevator area into which they stuff all the available merchandise, watches, jewelry, liquor, clothes, souvenirs, and all. When they have a special sale promotion it is set up on tables in the narrow aisles between the shops and the railing overlooking the lobby. This essentially blocks the walkways and access to the elevators.
On Royal Caribbean there is a wide central promenade area with separate shops for each line of merchandise and other bars and food vendors mixed in between the shops. This feels much like a city street or pedestrian mall. True, special promotions are still set up in this area, but it is a much broader area so the walkway is not blocked.
The Activities –
Activities aboard either ship are similar. Both have spas, hot tubs, pools, water slides, kids areas, adult areas, outdoor movie screens, mini-golf, fitness center and running tracks. Royal Caribbean also has a rock climbing wall and the Flowrider®, a on-board surfing attraction on which guests can “surf” on a high speed current of water. Both have trivia contests at various times throughout the cruise, audience participation games, a sexiest/hairiest man contest, a cocktail making contest, and deck parties.
The main pool on Splendor has a retractable cover so this area can be used in any weather for parties and other activities. The pool area on Liberty of the Seas is open to the weather and unusable in inclement weather, which we did experience on our cruise.
The central promenade area on Liberty of the Seas serves as the main party area with street parties and parades.
The Photographers –
The ship’s photographers on Carnival are everywhere, in the dining room, in the walkways, on the pier, outside the theater, pretty much everywhere except your cabin. They are always insisting they take your picture or just taking pictures without asking. In some instances they make you feel it is required. Other than for your boarding pass, no photos are ever required. The photos are displayed openly on racks for all guests to see, look through, and comment on while trying to find their own pictures to decide whether to buy copies or trash them.
While there are photographers on Royal Caribbean, they are more considerate, less pushy and fewer of them. You can just walk by them and not be cajoled into getting your picture taken. Yes, you must have a picture taken for your boarding pass. The photos you do have taken are displayed discreetly on a computer terminal and only you have access to see your pictures.
Getting Around on Board –
On Carnival you have to carry around you daily schedule of events so that you know what time activities are planned and where they are located. It is up to you to figure out how to find the room or area the venue is in.
The Liberty of the Seas has an interactive map on the walls by the steps and elevators on all the floors. No more carrying the schedule around and losing it. This is a great tool if you are lost, trying to find a venue or needing the time of a performance; or, just simply trying to get back to your cabin.
Royal Caribbean vs Carnival – Overall Impression –
There you have it, a brief snapshot of two different ships and cruise lines. Both have their positives and negatives and we are not trying to recommend one over the other, just sharing what we experienced.
Both cruise lines have many other ships already sailing and even newer and bigger ships setting sail in the next few months. Our experience on these two is not necessarily what you would experience on another ship or another cruise.
Overall, we found the crew on Liberty of the Seas to be the friendliest, most attentive we have ever experienced.
One more thing –
If you purchase alcohol on board or in a port, you expect it to be tax free and duty free, which it is, unless you go over the allotted amount. However, beware the taxman in Galveston, he is waiting right on the pier. Remember those Texas liquor laws I mentioned earlier? They want to collect their state liquor taxes on your purchases and, they are not cheap!