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Norwegian Cruise Vs. Carnival Cruise

Updated on May 7, 2016

Norwegian Cruise Versus Carnival Cruise: My Personal Experience

Going on a cruise is one of the most inexpensive vacations you can go on, because it's pretty much all included, except for shore excursions, drinks, and the souvenirs you buy. The average person gains approximately ten pounds on a 7-day cruise. I can see why: both Norwegian and Carnival both deliver the goods at any hour of the day 24/7.

Cruising with both Norwegian and Carnival cruise lines was an experience I could repeat many times over, and I will. Both cruise lines have their pros and cons, but there is definitely one I favor a great deal more than the other.

The ships that I have cruised with were the Norwegian Jewel and the Carnival Miracle. I'm not going to bore you with facts about the ships like how many passengers they hold, or how heavy or how long the ships are, you can find that information elsewhere.

What I will tell you is: from the outside, the Norwegian Jewel looks beautiful, but I wasn't impressed at the interior. Don't get me wrong, it was nice, but it wasn't a wow like the Carnival Miracle. When you walk into the atrium on Miracle, it's all open concept: you look up five floors and see an open glass staircase leading to the steak house restaurant, the atrium has two glass elevators that are operating, and you can listen to the piano playing while grabbing a drink. This was a "wow" for me, I needed a drink just so I could take it all in.

Norwegian Jewel in New York
Norwegian Jewel in New York
Carnival cruise ship docked in St Lucia
Carnival cruise ship docked in St Lucia

What Port Will You Leave From?

The port you leave from will determine how much extra money you will have to spend. Just to get to the ship's port is half the battle. Will you drive there or have to spend extra on a flight?

Something else to consider: the port you plan to leave from will determine the type of people you will be cruising with. If you leave from New York, there is a good chance you will be cruising with a lot of people who live in the Northeast. If you leave from Cape Canaveral FL, the majority of the people you will cruise with will be from the South. It's not really a big deal but I thought it might be worth mentioning.

What Type of Cabin Will You Stay In?

Small stateroom
Small stateroom

Booking a cabin is probably the most important choice will you will have to make. Most people think they will not be spending a lot of time in their room, but that all depends. If you book an inside stateroom with no window or porthole to see daylight, unless you set your alarm, you will have no idea what time of day it is when you wake up.

When you have a small balcony off your state room, it gives you a chance to get away from the crowds, have a little privacy, and hang outside and enjoy the views and the sounds of the ocean. Waking up in the morning, drinking coffee, and watching the whales, dolphins and flying fish was the most striking way to enjoy the morning. It's not every day you get to experience this type of magnificence.

Having a state room with a window is better than not having any natural light at all, but if you spend a little extra for a balcony you will enjoy your cruise a lot more. It's also nice on the days of departure and arrival to have a balcony, because you don't have to fight the crowds for a good view. There will be plenty of time to fight the crowds, like at the chocolate buffet, or at any of the buffets.

When you get close to your departure date, check for any deals to upgrade your room. This is the time to get the best deals. Sometimes you can upgrade your room for a couple of hundred bucks to a much nicer room, one you can actually breathe in. The rooms can be very small and cramped, especially the inside state rooms; I stayed in one room once that was so small, I had to go outside to change my mind. Do yourself a favor, get a decent size room. All right, enough about rooms, but heed my warnings.

Large stateroom with balcony
Large stateroom with balcony
Large stateroom balcony
Large stateroom balcony

Shore Excursions

Private island:  fun in the sun
Private island: fun in the sun

Book your shore excursions long before you leave on your cruise. Shore excursions fill up fast, especially the good ones. If you have your mind set on a specific excursion, like a catamaran ride in St Thomas or zip-lining in St Lucia, book it as soon as possible, these excursions fill up fast and once the tickets are gone they're gone, unless someone cancels. You don't want to find yourself throwing someone overboard just so you can go zip-lining. That might not be a good ending to your trip, plus I heard the food's not so good in the ship's prison. Just kidding, the food's great everywhere on the ship. That was me trying to be funny.

To Freestyle or Not to Freestyle?

When I have to choose again, I will choose not to freestyle. I liked to have the same wait staff each night and the same bar service. You really get to know the people serving you on a personal level, like where they're from, if they have family, and how long they have been serving on the ship. You also eat dinner with the same crowd each night, it’s just another opportunity to meet people at a personal level.

When the wait staff knows they will be serving you for the week, I think it sets a different tone. They are much friendlier and more engaging, knowing that if they serve you well, the tip at the end of the week will reflect how well they did. We were treated like kings and queens. Our bar server walked to the other end of the ship just to get me extra olives for my martini; now that is awesome service, that was Carnival.

Dressing up for dinner a couple of nights is cool. Right after dinner you walk to the photo shoot and have a bunch of pictures taken. My suggestion is to have a bunch of pictures taken because you never know which ones will come out awesome, plus you only pay for the ones you like. So don't be afraid to dress up for dinner, it's a good time. If you don't want to dress for dinner, no problem, food everywhere. So no worries, you will never go hungry on a cruise.

If you're going to do shore excursions, it might be a good idea to take the late dinner so you don't have to rush back, but if you have kids, it's probably a good idea to grab the early dinner, it's one of those things where you have to weigh your options. The late dinner kind of runs into the after-dinner show and it makes it hard to find seats there, so my suggestion is to either eat fast or move over to island time, no worries mun.

I personally like the scheduled dinner times because of the friendly atmosphere and because of the people you meet. Freestyle to me was solitude, and boring. You can eat whenever you want, but I just liked all the camaraderie on Carnival, it really was the fun ship.

The food on both ships was unbelievable. Every night is like eating in a 5-star restaurant, and the deserts were to die for. I think this is where people in general gain all their weight; furthermore, you can order as many dinners as you want, no limit. The food on a cruise is limitless, it's a perfect example of overindulging, and you will, unless you don't like food.

Metropolis Atrium bar (Carnival)
Metropolis Atrium bar (Carnival)
One of the many clubs on Carnival
One of the many clubs on Carnival

You Never Carry Money

Unless you are going off the ship, you never carry money. Norwegian and Carnival are the same in this respect. Before you board the ship, you will be handed a card that looks like a credit card, and it will be your money for the week and also your room key. Everyone gets one, even your kids if they are old enough. Every time you buy something on the ship, you will use this ship card, and at the end of the cruise you will pay it off in full with either cash or credit. There is a safe in your room so you can stow all your personal belongings, wallet, purse and jewelry.

Sun Decks and Swimming Pools

Norwegian pool deck
Norwegian pool deck
Carnival family pool deck
Carnival family pool deck

There are plenty of sun decks, but the swimming pools always seem to be very crowded. The Norwegian cruise had two pools, both in the same area, one was an adult pool and the other was for families, with a water slide in the same area. Norwegian also offered an upper deck for adults only. It was at the top of the ship, very hot and very windy, but that was the price you had to pay not to have kids splashing and running around.

The Carnival cruise on the other hand had two separate pools, one in the center of the ship for families, and an all-adult pool at the back of the ship. The water slide was on the upper deck at the rear of the ship. This set up was much more enjoyable for us: you didn't have to listen to dance music 24 /7 and it was very low key, you could relax, have bar service, and jump in the pool without having to worry about kids running around. Don't take that the wrong way, I love kids and have three of my own, but sometimes it's nice to have a break. Having the adult pool on the back side of the ship was very relaxing. Depending on where you sat, you could have a nice breeze or bake in the sun, totally up to you.

The best part about the pool decks is that when you're leaving, you can stop at the ice cream machine. There is always ice cream available: soft serve, chocolate, vanilla, or swirl, it is your choice. You make your own cone as well, huge or small, again, totally up to you. Just another way to pack on the pounds, but definitely enjoyable.

Cruise Ship Interiors

A place for the kids
A place for the kids

Conclusion

I found the Carnival cruise to be a better cruise than the Norwegian cruise, based solely on my personal experience and the information I share with you here. This is not to say one cruise line is better than the other, I am just sharing my experience, I have friends who liked the Norwegian cruise better than Carnival. I thought that the shore excursions were more informative and personal, the vendors used on the Carnival cruise seem to be more friendly and more interactive with the group; I like to be told where I'm going and what to expect when I get there. The vendors Carnival used exceeded my expectations whereas Norwegian's did not.

The food is pretty comparable and the restaurants were not much different. Norwegian did have ten extra restaurants that specialized in different foods, like a steak house, an Italian restaurant, and a Japanese steak house, but each of the restaurants was extra money (about $10 a head) and I didn't feel they could prepare a dinner any better that the main dining room, so why spend any extra money if it wasn't necessary.

I like the arrangement of the pools and sun decks better on Carnival than Norwegian, just a little bit better planning in my opinion. Some people just want to relax on vacation and not have to worry about kids running around doing cannon balls in their face, so the separate pools are a great option.

I hope this information will help you make an educated decision about what cruise you will go on next, Carnival or Norwegian, if anyone has more information to offer, please leave a comment, it will only help potential cruisers decide which cruise is right for them.

Stingray Tour in Nassau

I took these pictures with an Olimpus underwater camera. I was scared to use my camera under water, but I had no problems, and I was very happy with the results.

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    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago

      Thank you for the useful information. I have only been on one cruise, and that with Princess. It was awesome! Maybe the best time I've ever had.

      I appreciate the comparitive review. Well done!

    • eddiecarrara profile image
      Author

      Eddie Carrara 6 years ago from New Hampshire

      Thanks James, I love cruising, I'm planning another as I write this. I figured giving my opinion on my experience would help people make the decision on which cruise line to vacation on. I hope people keep in mind, it only my opinion, so do your homework before you book it ;0)

    • LadyLyell profile image

      LadyLyell 5 years ago from George, South Africa

      Enjoyed your article as you form very similar opinions to me as to cruising and its ups and downs. In the main it is the ideal way to have a REAL holiday.

      Hope you enjoy your next cruise!

    • eddiecarrara profile image
      Author

      Eddie Carrara 5 years ago from New Hampshire

      Thank you ladylyell, I love to cruise, I have tried 3 cruise lines so far, but I have only been to the Caribbean for all three. My next cruise will be an Alaskan cruise; friends of mine have said it is absolutely beautiful!!! Can’t wait!

    • eddiecarrara profile image
      Author

      Eddie Carrara 5 years ago from New Hampshire

      Hey seothomas, glad to see you enjoyed my pics and hub. I can't wait to take a smaller more unique cruise; the Alaskan cruise is like that. I was in Louisiana for a weekend a few years back and took a river cruise on a paddle boat, that was very cool, but nothing like an ocean cruise. Thanks for the feedback.

    • profile image

      John Anderson 5 years ago

      I agree 100%. We have 2 kids, boy 7 girl 4. I found Carnival much better than NCL all around. NCL was horrible from the grumpy staff to the lousy food and poor layouts of the ship. On NCl, with a 10th level balcony room, While sitting on the toilet, my knees would touch the wall. With the bunk bed down, we would have to duck and go under to try and open the balcony door and then try to enter exit without slamming your head. On carnival, the regular bed was close to the balcony door and the bunk bed was along the wall, makes sense. The food service, taste and quality was terrible. i mean, frozen peas and carrots with my main dinner??? Sticking with Carnival as much as possible.

    • eddiecarrara profile image
      Author

      Eddie Carrara 5 years ago from New Hampshire

      Hey john, It's funny you mention the grumpy staff, it seemed like the NCL staff was ok but the Carnival was fun and friendly, especially at the main seating.

    • Movie Master profile image

      Movie Master 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      What an interesting hub and comparison, I loved all the photos especially the underwater ones.

      I have only been on one cruise, that was a mediterranean one and was a fantastic experience, like you I would love to go on an Alaskan cruise, perhaps you have been now?

      Thank you for sharing and voted up.

    • eddiecarrara profile image
      Author

      Eddie Carrara 5 years ago from New Hampshire

      I wish MM, No I have to put all vacations on hold for a while but I will bring my camera and note book when I do go, and you'll be the first to read about it, lol. Thank you for voting up :)

    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Marisa Wright 5 years ago from Sydney

      Some great tips here! We went on our first cruise with Royal Caribbean last summer and it was fabulous.

      I agree with you about freestyling - one of the joys of cruising is getting to know fellow cruisers, and if you're constantly at a different table every night, you don't get a chance to form friendships.

      Shore excursions - not so much. We booked the cruise company's shore excursions because as first-time cruisers, we were nervous about going it alone - but after seeing what the more experienced cruisers did on their shore visits, we realized we could've done a lot more for a lot less cost ourselves. The trick is to do your research before you leave so you know how to get from the port to the town.

    • eddiecarrara profile image
      Author

      Eddie Carrara 5 years ago from New Hampshire

      You're exactly right Marisa, planning your shore excursions before hand is what we do, buying island gems and jewelry is something my wife likes to do and she know the stores to go to before we even leave port... I just tag along and take pictures,lol. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, it's one way to get my traffic moving in the right direction :)

    • profile image

      Rusti 5 years ago

      Thankyou for the info, I am booking our vacation for our wedding renewal vows.I'm leaning on carnival and yes that is cheap. I don't even mind greyhound as long as we get there a day before we sail.Thankyou for the great pics, your underwater camera is way cool!

    • eddiecarrara profile image
      Author

      Eddie Carrara 5 years ago from New Hampshire

      Hi Rusti, I had that camera for 3 years and I was so scared to use it under water, the first time I used it under water, it was salt water,lol. I just made sure to rinse it good with fresh water. I was surprised at how good the under water pictures came out, much better than the disposable ones. Thanks for the comment, congrats on renewing your vows, take care and have fun on your cruise :)

    • Karen Hellier profile image

      Karen Hellier 5 years ago from Georgia

      I really enjoyed your article and the pictures added a lot. I have actually never been on Carnival because people keep saying it the party ship, and my husband and I go by ourselves and don't want loud, noisy people to have to deal with. We have been on NCL ( The Epic and the Jewel) and I loved it, especially for the price. We found the staff on the Jewel to be excellent...perhaps it's just who is on the ship for staff at the time you go? We have also been on Princess ( my favorite) and Holland America. Any comments on Carnival being the "party ship"?

    • eddiecarrara profile image
      Author

      Eddie Carrara 5 years ago from New Hampshire

      Hi Karen, I love cruisen, as far as Carnival being a party ship, not any more than that any other ship I've been on. People usually cruise so they can let go and have fun without having to worry about the day to day grind, they just want to get away from it all for a few days and that happens on any ship. I found the Carnival wait staff more friendly for what ever reason, it was something that really suck out for me, especially in the dining room. I liked Carnival better, but it is definitely personal opinion.

    • Karen Hellier profile image

      Karen Hellier 5 years ago from Georgia

      Ok, thanks. Makes me not so leery to give Carnival a shot. The prices have always looked pretty good.

    • eddiecarrara profile image
      Author

      Eddie Carrara 5 years ago from New Hampshire

      Hey Karen, I believe they call it the fun ship because there is a lot of activities for the kids, but the adults also have there own spots to hang out and relax if there looking to get away from the crowds. Have fun on your next cruise, and thanks for commenting:)

    • Karen Hellier profile image

      Karen Hellier 5 years ago from Georgia

      No problem on the comments...keep the cruise articles coming. I am totally hooked and am going on a 28 day cruise with my husband in the fall on Princess. We can't wait. The longest cruise we have gone on so far was our honeymoon in 2010...14 days on the Norwegian Epic which was great.

    • eddiecarrara profile image
      Author

      Eddie Carrara 5 years ago from New Hampshire

      WOW!!! I didn't even know they offered a 28 day cruise, the longest cruise I have been on is 8 days, and I always hated walking off the ship, lol. Make sure you take a ton of pictures, I usually take a couple extra camera cards so I can shoot some videos as well, it's always nice to add video clips to a slideshow, it makes it more interesting.

      You can make a cool slideshow at http://animoto.com/ for free , you can add video clips, snapshots, and music. The're 30sec movies but you can upgrade if you want, I upgraded for one year but it wasn't worth the money, I bought video editing software for half the price and no yearly membership, I should write a hub on that stuff, lol :)

    • Karen Hellier profile image

      Karen Hellier 5 years ago from Georgia

      Yes you should. Seriously!!! And include a video you did.

    • Max Dalton profile image

      Max Dalton 5 years ago from Greater St. Louis, Missouri

      Very, very cool. My wife and I just took our first Carnival cruise in December, and it was a lot of fun. Of course, that was before boats started sinking, lol.

    • eddiecarrara profile image
      Author

      Eddie Carrara 5 years ago from New Hampshire

      Hey Max, cruisin is awesome as long as you have a good captain, lol. The only positive thing about that whole shipwreck is that they were so close to land that they could swim to shore, as a lot of people did.

      If they were in the middle of the ocean, it would have been another Titanic disaster, but they never would have hit the reef ether. Thanks for the comment and keep up the good hubs on the techie stuff, love it :)

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 5 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Eddie, I absolutely love the idea of cruising for vacations. It was good to see what you liked and why about the different cruise lines. The photos were great as well, thank you for sharing!

    • eddiecarrara profile image
      Author

      Eddie Carrara 5 years ago from New Hampshire

      It was my Pleasure, NO...Really, LOL. When I went on this cruise, I wasn't even writing on Hubpages yet, on the next cruise will take a lot more pictures and write details day by day because now I know what people want for information. Thanks for stopping by oceansnsunsets :)

    • riyajournalist profile image

      riyajournalist 4 years ago from India

      Wow...awesome, wanna be there...

    • eddiecarrara profile image
      Author

      Eddie Carrara 4 years ago from New Hampshire

      It's a lot of fun riyajournalist, if you ever have the chance, don't pass it up :)

    • profile image

      Marjory Fraser 2 years ago

      Dear Eddie,

      Your review was very helpful. I'vr cruised Carnival and Royal and now was planning to try Norwegian.

      I do not live in the US, but you mentioned something my husband and I were wondering. The crowd that will be on the ship, how do you determine who will come? We did a 5 night Carnival and were unpleasantly surprised by the behavior of some guests: running in the stateroom hallways, knocking on doors, yelling. Nothing like this on Royal. We boarded in Florida, Port Canaveral and Miami. Do you have a tip on what kind of cruise to take to get more considerate guests?

      Thank you again for the review! We are comparing Norwegian Getaway with Carnival Sunshine (7 and 8 nights cruises - Caribbean)

      Greetings

    • eddiecarrara profile image
      Author

      Eddie Carrara 2 years ago from New Hampshire

      Hi Marjory,

      You're welcome :) I guess you could run into inconsiderate people on any cruise, but probably more likely on Carnival, only because it's a party ship and you'll find more unattended kids running around. In my opinion, I thought Royal Caribbean was the most relaxing, but the ships just keep getting bigger and more luxurious, so it's getting easier to find a nice quiet spot to hang out, relax, and enjoy the views.

      Thanks for stopping by to read and comment, it's been a while since my last cruise, and I would love to be able to update this page, it may be time to start looking into the next adventure, maybe Alaska, I heard it's a beautiful cruise. Have fun on your next cruise Marjory, and I hope you have better luck with the guests.

      Cheers!

    • Keisha Hunter profile image

      Keisha Hunter 2 years ago from Paradise and then some

      Awesome hub, awesome pics! I think I need to get me one of those cameras.

    • eddiecarrara profile image
      Author

      Eddie Carrara 2 years ago from New Hampshire

      Yes Keisha, those pics were taken about 5 years ago, I can only imagine how much better the photos would be with today's technology :) Thanks for the comment, I really appreciate it.

    • Taranwanderer profile image

      Taranwanderer 2 years ago

      Norwegian looks like the cruse traveler to take, but I'm still looking. To be sure, it looks like you can't go wrong with either one, and may even want to try both in the coming years...

    • eddiecarrara profile image
      Author

      Eddie Carrara 2 years ago from New Hampshire

      Hi Taranwanderer

      It's good to try more then one because they all have something unique to offer, so if you can afford it, try them all :)

    • profile image

      sminot121969@gmail.com 4 months ago

      Are there any singles on these cruises, or all couples/families?

    • eddiecarrara profile image
      Author

      Eddie Carrara 4 months ago from New Hampshire

      It really all depends on which cruise line you use. If your looking for a singles cruise, I recommend staying away from Royal Caribbean, it's more of a romantic cruise from what I remember, Carnival was a party cruise, and Norwegian was a happy blend. This is just my opinion and things may have changed since my last cruise, so I recommend doing more online searches on this topic. Hope this helps, and hope you have fun on your next cruise ;)

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 2 months ago

      Useful information in the article. Impressive pictures. It does seem a cruise is a complicated way to have a vacation.

    Large stateroom lavatory
    Large stateroom lavatory
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