Carnival vs. Princess: How do they compare?

by Fran Golden

Carnival vs. Princess: How do they compare?

by Fran Golden

Both Carnival Cruise Line and Princess Cruises serve everyone from couples to families, but that’s where the similarities end. That said, more than Carnival, Princess’s passengers tend to change based on seasonality, with the numbers of kids on board skyrocketing in the summertime and over holidays and waning to just a few on, say, long January sailings. With Carnival, the passenger rosters are a bit more homogeneous, but you'll find more 20- and 30-somethings on the shorter sailings.

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Carnival Sensation, Crown Princess / Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises
Tacos at BlueIguana Cantina
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Food: Carnival

In the main dining rooms on Carnival ships, you can choose between traditional and anytime dining, and Carnival does a good job with flavors that pop. On newer ships, there's creativity at the buffets, and the line wins points for excellent complimentary poolside eats — including decadent (if calorie-laden) burgers created by TV Chef Guy Fieri. Fee-based options include steakhouse, Italian, sushi, Asian, and seafood specialty restaurants.

In the main dining rooms on Carnival ships, you can choose between traditional and anytime dining, and Carnival does a good job with flavors that pop. On newer ships, there's creativity at the buffets, and the line wins points for excellent complimentary poolside eats — including decadent (if calorie-laden) burgers created by TV Chef Guy Fieri. Fee-based options include steakhouse, Italian, sushi, Asian, and seafood specialty restaurants.

Pizza on Ruby Princess
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Food: Princess

Princess also offers traditional or anytime dining, and the food in the main dining rooms is usually solid, if not particularly memorable. You'll do better choosing featured dishes by celebrity TV Chef Curtis Stone, who also has a popular specialty restaurant, SHARE, on select ships. The line's for-a-fee Italian and steakhouse restaurants deliver bang for your buck, but our favorite is the complimentary, hand-tossed Neapolitan-style pies at Alfredo's Pizzeria.

Princess also offers traditional or anytime dining, and the food in the main dining rooms is usually solid, if not particularly memorable. You'll do better choosing featured dishes by celebrity TV Chef Curtis Stone, who also has a popular specialty restaurant, SHARE, on select ships. The line's for-a-fee Italian and steakhouse restaurants deliver bang for your buck, but our favorite is the complimentary, hand-tossed Neapolitan-style pies at Alfredo's Pizzeria.

Carnival Dream's show lounge
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Nightlife: Carnival

Lively piano bars, Caribbean-themed pubs, R-rated comedy acts, and late-night dance parties (with prime DJs) are all part of the scene on Carnival ships. High-energy Playlist show productions are kept short for a crowd that often wants to go get their drink on. (As for us? Our preferred activity is people-watching with a cocktail at the Alchemy Bar.) Carnival Live! brings big-name performers such as Little Big Town and comedian Jay Leno on board select cruises for live concerts. (Spring for a VIP ticket, and you can meet the star, too.)

Lively piano bars, Caribbean-themed pubs, R-rated comedy acts, and late-night dance parties (with prime DJs) are all part of the scene on Carnival ships. High-energy Playlist show productions are kept short for a crowd that often wants to go get their drink on. (As for us? Our preferred activity is people-watching with a cocktail at the Alchemy Bar.) Carnival Live! brings big-name performers such as Little Big Town and comedian Jay Leno on board select cruises for live concerts. (Spring for a VIP ticket, and you can meet the star, too.)

Movies Under the Stars on Ruby Princess
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Nightlife: Princess

Princess passengers like to enjoy a cocktail with conversation, or maybe some oysters and Champagne. The hub of activity is the Piazza atrium with bars, cafes, and live entertainment every night. The ships' casinos attract a crowd, too, as does Movies Under the Stars, the equivalent of a drive-in movie at sea. The line recently gave its entertainment lineup a boost by partnering with Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz for four well-received original stage shows.

Princess passengers like to enjoy a cocktail with conversation, or maybe some oysters and Champagne. The hub of activity is the Piazza atrium with bars, cafes, and live entertainment every night. The ships' casinos attract a crowd, too, as does Movies Under the Stars, the equivalent of a drive-in movie at sea. The line recently gave its entertainment lineup a boost by partnering with Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz for four well-received original stage shows.

WaterWorks on Carnival Breeze
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The Verdict

Carnival is about casual, American-style fun cruising at a fair price. The ships carry thousands of young — or young at heart — cruisers who can only be described as down to Earth. Carnival doesn't try to be fancy, though its newest ships are surprisingly nice. (Our advice? If you're looking at an older ship, be sure to choose one that's been updated with the latest amenities.)

Vs.

Tradition reigns on Princess cruise ships, which attract slightly older American, British, and international passengers looking for a customary cruise with some contemporary updates. The classic experience may read as old-fashioned, even sedate, to some cruisers, but others will love the combination of activities and opportunity for rest. Summertime and holiday periods attract families, but these ships are mostly designed with grown-ups in mind.

Carnival is about casual, American-style fun cruising at a fair price. The ships carry thousands of young — or young at heart — cruisers who can only be described as down to Earth. Carnival doesn't try to be fancy, though its newest ships are surprisingly nice. (Our advice? If you're looking at an older ship, be sure to choose one that's been updated with the latest amenities.)

Vs.

Tradition reigns on Princess cruise ships, which attract slightly older American, British, and international passengers looking for a customary cruise with some contemporary updates. The classic experience may read as old-fashioned, even sedate, to some cruisers, but others will love the combination of activities and opportunity for rest. Summertime and holiday periods attract families, but these ships are mostly designed with grown-ups in mind.

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