A cruise line comparison

As we fly home from our first cruise on Norwegian, I’m reflecting on the differences – good and otherwise – between them and Carnival, with whom we’ve cruised a few times before.

Overall TL/DR summary: they’re different, not better, it just depends on what you like.

We liked the unlimited bar option that was pretty reasonably priced. While neither of us are heavy drinkers, it’s nice to know you can enjoy whatever you like (aside from some premium drinks that never were an issue) without worrying about the bar tab. I have no idea what Carnival charges for that, if they even offer it.

We did enjoy the option of eating on a dining room, rather than a buffet, whenever we wanted as long as they were open – typically 5 to 9 for dinner. That said, there were occasions when we were turned away from the main dining room or there were long lines for the smaller ones. We also missed the Carnival large tables with people we’d see nightly to swap stories and compare notes. On previous cruises we made friends that we kept in touch with for years afterward… not so much this cruise.

Buffet and dining room food seemed just slightly lower quality than what I recall from Carnival. I’ll temper that by saying it’s been several years since we sailed with them, so that may have changed. I’d love to have seen crab legs some time during the week. You could get lobster, but it was a $25 up charge even with the “free” dining nights in the extra-cost restaurants. The food overall was good, just not great. With over 4,000 passengers and another 1,700 plus crew to feed, one can’t really expect gourmet.

It’s not a big deal, and I’ll say the cabin steward did a stellar job of keeping the room clean and all, but the Carnival style evening turndown and the little towel animals were missed.

On Carnival we’d wake up, slip on our thick cushy robes, and enjoy our bagels with cream cheese and lox on the balcony – delivered with coffee and juice for either no charge or a very small tip. Norwegian charges $9.95, and you are limited to a pretty sparse room service menu. We missed Carnival in the morning, for sure.

I may be working from defective memories, but it seems like there were more entertainment options on Norwegian.

I think pretty much any cruise is going to be a pretty constant upsell. As a shareholder in both NCLH and CCL, I get that. These companies are awash with debt from keeping largely unoccupied ships afloat for a couple of years, and it’s going to be a long road back to profitability. o didn’t find the upsell irritating or distracting on Norwegian. We haven’t sailed with Carnival post-COVID, so I can’t speak to that.

I think we may actually try Disney next, depending on the cost. We got a glowing recommendation from our youngest after he, his wife, and their two kids took a cruise with them. He claims we wouldn’t to suffer little kids running around all the time. I don’t mind kids, just not 24 hours a day, please.