I’ve taken several cruises with the most recent being on Carnival’s Inspiration in July of this year while two years earlier I cruised with Royal Caribbean on their Monarch of the Seas. Both cruise lines offer similar amenities but there are marked differences between the two cruise experiences.
I booked an outside view stateroom on both cruise lines and the square footage of each is very similar while the setup (two twin beds that can be pushed together to form a king, private bathroom, closet and vanity) is exactly the same. Carnival offers movies newly released on DVD playing 24 hours a day on the television (alternating showings of two different movies per day) which is a nice addition for those wishing to spend more time in their stateroom. Royal Caribbean includes a hair dryer in each of their staterooms, the only visible difference. Choosing between cruise lines based on the stateroom is unnecessary.
Between the two ships, Monarch is the larger with capacity for an additional 700 passengers over Inspiration and an additional 7,000 pounds tonnage weight. That said, even with more passengers but a negligible increase in length, the Monarch seemed much more spacious. The decks were wider, allowing for lounge chairs to fit comfortable on either port or starboard decks while the Carnival Inspiration’s decks are much narrower and makes one feel more enclosed.
The drawback to the Monarch is that increased passengers means an increased wait, whether it is eating, swimming or going to the casino.
The Inspiration offers three pools and two whirlpool spas while the Monarch had only two. Consequently, it was nearly impossible to get into the pool while on board the Royal Caribbean ship. Carnival offers a pool slide which was open only for about six and a half hours a day and the line to use it was always long. Royal Caribbean touts their rock climbing walls but again, with only limited hours of use and more passengers, it meant that we were unable to try it out due to the long lines of people waiting their turn.
Both cruise lines offer spa services, neither of which I tried due to their cost. Both also feature fitness services although Royal Caribbean makes this much more accessible by offering various classes in aerobics and yoga, etc. throughout the day while Carnival offered only one class per day.
A casino and several lounges are standard on both cruise lines as is children and teenager’s programs and special “hangouts.
Shore excursion options are vast and varied on both cruise lines.
Hands down winner in this category is Royal Caribbean. Eating dinner in the dining room on the Monarch was truly an epicurean experience with a wide variety of gourmet dishes, freshly baked breads, wine pairings and after dinner aperitifs and desserts. Carnival just cannot compete. Their dining room offerings were more on par with a franchise restaurant and offered very little in the way of seafood, surprising since the ship received its food supplies in its port of departure of Tampa, Florida. Several meals were nearly inedible, the bread was often hard as a rock and our server had no suggestions for wine pairings or after dinner liqueurs.
There was a greater variety of food available on the Monarch of the Seas as well. While Carnival offers 24-hour room service to your stateroom, Royal Caribbean offers dining options at any time of night or day. Based on the quality of the food, I would gladly trade room service availability for Royal Caribbean’s scrumptious buffets and pizza station.
The choice between the two cruise lines comes down to what sort of experience you are seeking on your cruise. Carnival is geared a bit more towards families and the ship certainly had many more children passengers. For a more romantic couple’s getaway, Royal Caribbean would be ideal.
Since I was a past passenger of Carnival, this afforded me an invitation to a private party aboard ship one night. While the free drinks and hors d’oeuvres for an hour were nice, it was nothing to brag about. Approximately fifteen minutes of this time was spent showing us a video touting Carnival and going over its origins and the ideals of its founder. To me this was “preaching to the choir”. Obviously we had all sailed on Carnival before and chose to do so again so why were we being shown a promotional video?
Carnival does, however, seem to have cornered the market on hiring staff based on customer service. The service we received on board the Inspiration was exceptional and we got to know one server so well that I actually cried when we said our goodbyes!
One thing to keep in mind when booking your cruise is the number of days at sea. We were disappointed in our five-day Western Caribbean cruise aboard the Carnival’s Inspiration due to the fact that we were allowed only five hours at our first port of call, eight at the second and we had to endure three days at sea. While the shipboard activities were fun and the staff made sure there was always something to do, it got tiresome to be on the ship instead of exploring new places on land. In this regard, our Royal Caribbean cruise on board the Monarch of the Seas was much more fun as it stopped in three different ports over four days.
So get out there and take a cruise!
- Royal Caribbean: www.royalcaribbean.com