I just got back from my first time sailing on Norwegian Cruise Line. I’ve sailed most recently on Royal Caribbean, so I thought I’d give you my thoughts as a comparison.
All cruise lines have their ebbs and flows on pricing and promotions, so it’s hard to compare apples to apples on this one. This time around, Norwegian had a higher price than most cruises I’ve been on, but it was also a different situation. When I’ve sailed on Royal Caribbean I’ve looked for the best deals during the time frame I want to go. For this cruise, some friends booked and then invited us along. So rather than being able to price shop and look for the best dates, I booked the date and ship they’d already chosen.
Just a note on pricing: Norwegian and Royal Caribbean often have sales & promotions. If you’re wanting to find out more about those, contact me and we’ll have a conversation. It’s too much detail to go into in this post.
Cruise lines make it so convenient to download their app and enter in your information. Both Royal Caribbean and Norwegian are pretty similar. I did notice that Royal Caribbean requires a passport picture downloaded, while Norwegian just requires the passport number to be entered. Otherwise, both were easy as expected.
The boarding process was similar. Both cruise lines require choosing a cruise check-in time prior to boarding (so everyone doesn’t show up all at the same time). Both have porters outside the ship to take your luggage to your cabin. Both have some lines and waiting involved, but I can’t say that one cruise line was better than the other.
Onboard the ships
It’s difficult to compare ships in broad strokes (Norwegian vs. Royal Caribbean), because the age and size of the ship make a HUGE difference overall in how the ship looks and feels. Going on the newest ship of any cruise line will be a far different experience from sailing on an older ship. With that said, Royal Caribbean ships tend to have a huge, open couple of decks where the shops are all located, which tends to be their gathering space, vs. Norwegian’s smaller gathering area, which has a nice, homey feel of a lounge, with chairs and tables grouped together. On our Norwegian ship of 4000+ guests, the area tended to be crowded and I felt like I was surrounded by a LOT of people. Royal Caribbean’s larger spaces, although they do fill up with people, didn’t feel as much like I was surrounded by thousands of other cruisers.
Both ships have pools for adults and kids. I like the layout of Royal Caribbean’s adult pool area a little better than Norwegian’s because it was removed and was quieter. Norwegian’s pool deck was one big party, with kids and adults. Norwegian has an exclusive area called The Haven, which cut into some of the space that Royal Caribbean uses for their pool deck. It’s fabulous if you’re a Haven guest, but feels a little more crowded than Royal Caribbean if you’re not.
Depending on the age and size of the ship, you might have some really great activities onboard. Some Royal Caribbean ships offer Flo-Rider surf simulators. Our Norwegian ship offered a slick track racetrack. My suggestion is to look at what each ship offers before booking, especially if you want something specific.
This needs to have its own category for me. I always need to be able to check e-mails and do a little bit of work while on vacation. Both cruise lines offer on-board Wi-Fi. Norwegian’s promotion right now includes free Wi-Fi, which includes 150 minutes per person of included connectivity. My husband and I both got the free Wi-Fi, but I soon discovered that you get what you pay for (“free” in this case equaled terrible), and upgraded the package to the paid Wi-Fi. I was not impressed with the Wi-Fi connection the entire week. Several times I had to visit the guest services help area for them to help me troubleshoot the Wi-Fi issues I was having.
In contrast, Royal Caribbean’s paid Wi-Fi has worked well for me and I haven’t had any issues connecting. It’s hard to know if I’m actually comparing apples to apples on this—maybe, since the Norwegian ship was at capacity, that adversely affected the Wi-Fi, and in contrast, the last Royal Caribbean ship I was on wasn’t sailing at full capacity. So perhaps there would have been the same issues with any cruise ship. In my experience, though, I’ve had a good experience with one and a not-so-good experience with the other.
Dining & Food
Both cruise lines have generous buffets with lots of choices. Royal Caribbean has one huge main dining room for both scheduled and unscheduled dining times. Norwegian, known for its “freestyle” cruising, has three smaller dining areas which you don’t need a reservation for, but just line up to be seated. Food offerings are different at each of these restaurants; all offer menu service. Royal Caribbean’s main dining room offers a different menu each evening.
Both cruise lines offer additional specialty restaurants which require a reservation and an additional surcharge.
Some people really love the freestyle aspect of Norwegian’s dining; it allows you to eat at any time and not be locked into a specific reservation for dinner. Norwegian also tends to be less dressy at dinner, which is often appealing.
On the other hand, I really missed having “my” wait staff on Royal Caribbean, the same people every night who know what I like to eat, and who do a fabulous job of creating comraderie and service. Onboard the Norwegian ship, I felt anonymous; I missed the feeling of being expected and important to my wait staff. So in this arena, you just have to weigh the pros & cons of convenience vs. pampering.
I love that ice cream is included in Norwegian’s food choices, both hard scoop and soft-serve. That was a HUGE plus, in my opinion. Royal Caribbean has soft-serve at no additional cost, but the lines are always super long and it feels less accessible. The food service I received on Norwegian at all of the restaurants (free or paid) was slow every night, with the exception of the specialty steakhouse restaurant, which was absolutely superb.
The food on Norwegian is very good, but I like Royal Caribbean’s food a little better overall, with the exception of Cagney’s, the steakhouse on Norwegian. That steak and food were as good as any I’ve ever eaten, and better than most!
Since Covid, I’ve felt like shipboard entertainment has been a little lacking on all cruise lines (except Disney). It’s probably a result of losing employees while all of the ships were shut down, and they just haven’t gotten back the talent that they had pre-Covid. Comedy is funny but not that funny; shows are good but not exceptional, in my opinion. However, Norwegian had a show called Choir of Man which featured a group of guys with amazing musical talent. It was a very satisfying experience.
Both cruise lines offer some great options for excursions, with similar pricing. I didn’t notice any huge differences in excursion offerings.
I actually hesitate to do a comparison like this because although I’ve sailed on both cruise lines, my experience is still my experience. Overall, my recommendation is to look more specifically at the ship and the itinerary rather than the cruise line. The activities on board and in port will help make your cruise a fun time, no matter which line you’re sailing with. And of course, making memories and connections with the people you’re traveling with also makes all the difference!