When comparing Princess versus Royal Caribbean, you’ll find that both are well-established mainstream cruise lines with modern fleets, but the two lines have some significant differences. One is nostalgically aligned with a 1970s TV series and attracts passengers who prefer a more traditional cruise experience. The other offers its guests over-the-top entertainment and adrenaline-rush thrills.
So which of these two popular U.S. cruise lines will best suit your vacation style? Read on for a head-to-head comparison of Princess versus Royal Caribbean.
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Princess vs. Royal Caribbean: Meet the cruise lines
Familiarity is what draws many Princess Cruises passengers back time and again. This is a cruise line that markets itself with the theme from “The Love Boat” four decades after the TV show’s last episode aired. Its loyal cruisers likely watched the show when it premiered.
That’s not to say that Princess, which operates 15 ships, isn’t forward-thinking, as evidenced by its wearable Medallion technology that allows passengers to open cabin doors, pay for onboard purchases, order drinks to their exact location and easily track down family members around the ship. It’s just that Princess’ onboard experiences and partnerships have taken a more reserved and educational approach, especially when it comes to kids activities.
The cruise line’s next-generation ships, however, promise something more. When Princess debuts the 4,300-passenger Sun Princess in February 2024, the ship will introduce Park19, a high-energy zone spread over three top decks. The area will feature nine engaging family-friendly activities, including the Sea Breeze Rollglider and The Net ropes course.
Innovation and excitement have long been the calling cards of Royal Caribbean and its fleet of 26 ships. In addition to offering some of the biggest thrills at sea — looping waterslides, simulated sky diving and glow-in-the-dark laser tag — the cruise line operates the five largest ships in the world.
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Guests booking a cruise on Royal Caribbean should expect a lively onboard vibe with activities and entertainment for all ages. These are massive ships, so if theme parks, all-inclusive resorts and Las Vegas casinos are your thing, you’ll feel right at home.
Size of ships
Let’s start with Royal Caribbean, which over the past two decades has become synonymous with the term “megaship.” The soon-to-be 11 vessels in its Oasis and Quantum classes can accommodate 4,100 to 5,700 passengers at double occupancy, and as many as 5,500 (Quantum) and 7,000 (Oasis) at capacity.
When Icon of the Seas debuts, it will carry 5,600 guests at double occupancy, and up to 7,600 at capacity. The new ship will feature eight neighborhoods (including the new family-centric Surfside) and offer more cabins and suites that can accommodate four or more passengers than any other ship in the fleet.
The remainder of the Royal Caribbean fleet — older ships in the Vision, Radiance, Voyager and Freedom classes — carry 2,000 to 3,900 guests at double occupancy.
Princess has maintained a relatively unflashy fleet with just three classes of ships — Royal, Grand and Coral — and none of its ships rank in the top 40 of world’s largest ships. When Sun Princess debuts, however, it will be the cruise line’s first megaship. Its sister ship, Star Princess, will launch in 2025, and both vessels will be larger than Royal Caribbean’s Quantum-class ships.
Currently, the largest Princess ships are its six Royal-class vessels introduced between 2013 and 2022. They accommodate 3,660 passengers at double occupancy.
The seven Grand-class ships carry 2,600 to 3,100 guests, while the two smallest ships, Coral Princess and Island Princess, accommodate around 2,000 guests at double occupancy.
If it’s a megaship experience you’re seeking, Royal Caribbean has plenty of options. The closest Princess can offer will be Sun Princess. On the other hand, if you enjoy a large ship (3,000-plus passengers) with a less chaotic vibe (fewer kids, no splashy slides), Princess’ Royal-class ships might be a good match.
Who is on board?
Both Royal Caribbean and Princess attract a cross-section of mostly U.S. travelers looking for a mainstream cruise experience offering good value and a variety of onboard dining options. But that’s where the similarities end.
Royal Caribbean skews decidedly younger and welcomes far more families with children than Princess. Parents with active kids and teens are drawn to its ships’ expansive kids clubs, multiple pools, splashy waterparks and exciting onboard activities, many of which are included in the cruise fare.
The bar and lounge offerings on Royal Caribbean’s ships also make them popular with young couples and groups of friends, especially bachelor and bachelorette getaways on shorter sailings to the Bahamas and Caribbean.
Princess, on the other hand, is stronger with couples, including older couples who enjoy the brand’s lower-key ambience and consistency. With its “The Love Boat” affiliation, Princess has always played up onboard romance and has been a popular option for honeymoons, anniversaries and destination weddings.
That’s not to say that there aren’t any kids onboard. To the contrary, Princess’ programming partnership with Animal Planet and Discovery appeals to parents with youngsters and teens who are fascinated by the natural world and won’t miss theme-park-style attractions. Princess ships do feature multiple pools, just not waterslides.
The difference is clear: For onboard excitement for all ages, opt for Royal Caribbean. For a more low-key vibe with a focus on destination-inspired discovery, Princess is the better option.
Cabins and suites
This category is a bit like comparing apples and oranges — one is basic yet satisfying and the other is zesty with lots of segments.
Princess’ cabin and suite offerings are among the industry’s most straightforward. Most ships offer standard inside cabins, ocean-view cabins, balcony rooms, mini-suites and suites. Royal-class ships have few or no ocean-view cabins without a veranda. They do have Deluxe Balcony cabins, which are slightly larger than standard verandah rooms and have a sofa bed to sleep two additional guests.
Until the line debuted its 1,873-square-foot Sky Suite in 2019 aboard Sky Princess, its largest accommodations were classically designed one-bedroom suites in several categories measuring 440 to 879 square feet, followed by 323-square-foot mini-suites offering a bigger balcony and a shower/bathtub combo.
Three Royal-class ships (Sky Princess, Enchanted Princess and Discovery Princess) have Sky Suites, which feature two bedrooms, two bathrooms and slightly more outdoor balcony space (roughly 1,000 square feet) than indoor living/sleeping space. These ships are also the only three in the Royal class to offer a small number of 172-square-foot Premium Oceanview cabins with generously sized windows.
Grand-class ships offer something unique: a two-bedroom family suite, which is a mini-suite and inside cabin combined with a shared living space in between. It can sleep six to eight passengers.
All Princess ships offer accessible cabins, but none currently have single cabins for solo travelers. Sun Princess will feature inside cabins for single occupancy.
Sun Princess will also debut an entirely new concept called the Signature Suite Collection. This grouping of 50 suites, the most ever offered on a Princess ship, will have exclusive access to a private restaurant, two-deck lounge and sun deck overlooking the ship’s wake. Sun Princess will also feature “cabana” mini-suites offering extra relaxation space and direct access to a shared sundeck with hot tubs solely for cabana guests.
Royal Caribbean offers four main stateroom categories — inside, ocean-view, balcony and suite — and all ships have accessible rooms, but there are many subcategories. Passengers booking Oasis- and Quantum-class ships can choose from almost two dozen options. The vast majority of cabins on these newer ships have private balconies.
The line’s Oasis-class ships also feature balcony staterooms without ocean views. That’s because they overlook the Boardwalk, an open-air interior dining and entertainment neighborhood, or Central Park, an onboard green space featuring live plants and several restaurants.
Passengers booking a cruise on 11 of Royal Caribbean’s ships can pay a bit extra for a “Virtual Balcony,” an inside stateroom featuring an 80-inch high-definition screen offering real-time exterior views.
Six Royal Caribbean ships (Brilliance of the Seas, Anthem of the Seas, Quantum of the Seas, Ovation of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas and Spectrum of the Seas) also offer cabins designed for solo travelers. These range from a 101-square-foot Inside Studio Stateroom to a 199-square foot Studio Oceanview Stateroom with Balcony.
Top-tier accommodations are known as Royal Suite Class. Considered to be some of the most spectacular suites in the mainstream cruise sector, they are available on Oasis- and Quantum-class ships and range from relatively modest 290-square-foot junior suites to two-level, 1,800-square-foot Royal Loft Suites that rival a contemporary penthouse apartment. Priced well above other staterooms, these concierge-serviced suites appeal to wealthy travelers, especially those cruising with their families, who prefer the lively ambience of a large ship to a smaller luxury vessel.
The two-level Ultimate Family Suite — a vibrant and playful option for families with younger kids and a generous budget — is available on Wonder of the Seas, Symphony of the Seas and Spectrum of the Seas.
All Royal Suite Class guests enjoy access to exclusive venues, such as the Coastal Kitchen restaurant and a private sundeck. Amenities and VIP perks vary by the Royal Suite Class category booked.
When Icon of the Seas debuts in early 2024, it will offer 28 cabin and suite categories, including 14 completely new accommodation types. This ship was designed with families in mind and 80% of its staterooms will be able to be connected or offer enough space to accommodate larger families.
While Princess is finally starting to elevate its suite accommodations for top-tier guests, it still lags far behind Royal Caribbean in offering innovative stateroom design.
If you want to enjoy authentic Italian-inspired cuisine or excellent steakhouse dining, both Princess and Royal Caribbean have you covered. There’s other overlap as well, but the differences between the dining options on each cruise line are primarily a matter of options, including the free ones.
Princess has long held the distinction — at least among its fans and several cruise websites — of having some of the best pizza at sea: fresh-from-the-oven individual pies served at Alfredo’s Pizzeria (also known as Gigi’s Pizzeria on some ships). Better still, this sit-down eatery on all Royal-class ships, as well as Grand Princess and Sapphire Princess, is complimentary. Takeaway-style Slice Pizzeria is featured on all other ships.
What other complimentary dining options does Princess offer? The sit-down main dining room and the buffet-style World Fresh Marketplace (Horizon Court on some ships) both serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. Guests can also enjoy casual burgers and chicken sandwiches at the poolside Trident Grill for lunch; it also serves barbeque and smokehouse specialties for dinner.
Some ships have The Salty Dog Grill, serving burgers, hot dogs, tacos and pulled pork sandwiches. International Café, located in the Piazza, is open 24 hours a day for snacks such as croissants, salads and sandwiches.
Beyond its celebrated pizza, Princess also has an Italian specialty restaurant, Sabatini’s Italian Trattoria. As its name implies, Sabatini’s serves traditional Italian classics based on authentic family recipes at an additional per-person cost. Prefer a steakhouse? Princess has two: Crown Grill, on most of its ships, and Sterling Steakhouse, on Diamond Princess and Sapphire Princess.
Other extra-cost specialty dining venues, with availability varying by ship, are: Bistro Sur La Mer (a modern French bistro), The Catch by Rudi (an upscale seafood restaurant and raw bar by Princess’ head of culinary arts Rudi Sodamin), The Salty Dog Gastropub (a casual comfort-food eatery available on Discovery Princess, Crown Princess, Emerald Princess and Ruby Princess), Chef’s Table (an intimate multi-course tasting menu with wine pairing), Crab Shack (a pop-up seafood eatery on ships cruising Alaska itineraries), Ocean Terrace (a sushi bar and sashimi bar) and Bayou Café (a New Orleans-style venue on Coral Princess and Island Princess).
Princess now offers Dine My Way, which allows passengers to customize their dining preferences and times via the MedallionClass app on their smartphone. There are no longer traditional early and late seatings for dinner on Princess ships, a traditional way of cruise dining that Royal Caribbean maintains for those who prefer it.
Royal Caribbean is known for featuring a wide array of specialty dining concepts — more than 18 — across its fleet, while at the same time offering passengers who don’t want to pay extra a surprising number of complimentary options, especially on its newer ships.
In the included column is the main dining room with themed menus that change nightly. The Classics section, offering selections such as grilled chicken breast and herb-crusted salmon every night, has been removed, although some of these favorites do appear at times on the new menus. As a result, this revamped format can limit options for picky eaters. (Princess, too, has tweaked its main dining room menus, but Princess Favorites are still offered nightly.)
When booking a cruise, Royal Caribbean passengers must choose between traditional dining (either an early or late seating for the entire cruise) or more flexible My Time Dining. With the latter, they can reserve a table of any configuration at any time or just show up at the main dining room and wait in line for a table.
The buffet-style Windjammer Marketplace is the other main complimentary dining venue on all Royal Caribbean ships. But passengers with kids and those on a budget will also appreciate the line’s fun, casual eateries, which are also free. These vary by ship, with Oasis and Quantum-class vessels having the most.
Options include Dog House for grilled frankfurters, Sorrento’s for pizza (not as good as Princess’), El Loco Fresh for tacos and burritos, Noodle Bar for quick-serve Chinese dishes, Café Promenade for 24-hour snacks, Park Café for grab-and-go sandwiches and Vitality Café for healthy salads and wraps.
Royal Caribbean’s specialty restaurant lineup also varies from ship to ship, although Chops Grille, offering a steak and seafood menu, is aboard most vessels. Newer ships feature as many as 12 extra-cost specialty dining options, but older ships may have as few as three.
Options include Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen for family-style classics, Jamie’s Italian by Jamie Oliver for a Tuscan-inspired menu, Wonderland for inventive modern cuisine, Izumi for sushi and Japanese specialties, 150 Central Park for modern American fine dining and the recently introduced The Mason Jar for southern cuisine.
Royal Caribbean passengers can purchase specialty dining packages at a discounted price prior to sailing.
While both lines offer a varied dining lineup, Princess comes out on top for overall food quality while Royal Caribbean has an edge when it comes to free eateries that kids will love.
Do you want to be seriously wowed or subtly wooed? There’s no escaping the in-your-face excitement of Royal Caribbean’s onboard attractions. Princess, meanwhile, takes a more old-school (but still lively) approach to keeping its guests happy.
Embracing the notion that cruise passengers love a good pool, Princess designed all of its ships with multiple options — but not a single one has a waterslide. Four Royal-class ships (Discovery Princess, Enchanted Princess, Sky Princess and Regal Princess) have a pair of large pools with lively music and concert videos on a big screen, plus a smaller aft Wake View (or Terrace) Pool and a quieter, adults-only Retreat Pool.
Aft pools are also featured on several Grand-class ships, such as Crown Princess, Grand Princess and Caribbean Princess. Other vessels, including Majestic Princess and Sapphire Princess, have a covered Calypso pool, and even the smallest, Coral Princess and Island Princess, have three pools.
When Sun Princess debuts, it will feature two main Lido Pools, a Wake View Pool and a forward-facing Sea View Pool, as well as a pool in the adults-only Sanctuary, which requires a daily fee.
Princess is also known for its nightly (weather permitting) Movies Under the Stars, which lets guests relax on loungers by the pool as they watch feature films and snack on free popcorn.
Guests seeking wellness-focused relaxation can head to Princess’ signature Lotus Spa. The venues do vary by ship, with some Grand-class vessels featuring a Lotus Spa Pool, while Royal-class ships offers The Enclave thermal area with a large hydrotherapy pool, hammam and Roman-style caldarium (at an added cost).
Princess ships also offer modern fitness centers as well as a sports court, mini-golf, ping pong and shuffleboard. As noted above, Sun Princess will break the mold with its Park19 zone, designed to attract more activity-seeking families with attractions such as the hang-glider-inspired Sea Breeze Rollglider, a ropes course, climbing structure and a water park.
Most Royal Caribbean ships are famous for offering all kinds of adrenaline-rush activities, including multiple pools and splashy waterparks. Icon of the Seas will have a total of seven pools, including Royal Bay, the largest pool at sea.
Passengers aboard the cruise line’s popular Oasis-class ships can scream their way down 10 decks of corkscrew spirals on the Ultimate Abyss slide, get swept away on The Perfect Storm waterslides or try simulated surfing with FlowRider. The rock climbing wall and zip line are two other ways to overcome a fear of heights, while less-intense activities include ice skating, mini-golf, pickleball, laser tag and escape rooms.
Quantum-class ships offer an almost completely different lineup of attractions. In addition to the FlowRider and the rock climbing wall, active thrills include the sky-dive simulator RipCord by iFly and a two-level SeaPlex with a sports court/bumper car rink/laser tag maze and areas dedicated to Xbox and virtual-reality gaming. Quantum-class ships also have the North Star, a pod-like sightseeing capsule that extends above the ship. If you’re looking for a waterslide, you won’t find any on ships in this class.
Older Freedom-, Voyager-, Radiance- or Vision-class ships also offer some thrill-based activities such as waterslides, the FlowRider and the rock climbing wall, with the former two classes offering more options than Radiance- and Vision-class ships.
Pool areas, except for the adults-only Solarium Pool on many Royal Caribbean ships, tend to be more raucous than on Princess. Royal Caribbean passengers seeking a quieter escape can head to a more remote sun deck or to the Vitality Spa, where thermal suite passes are available at an extra cost.
Yes, there’s an obvious difference when it comes to these two cruise lines’ onboard attractions. Princess ships are designed mainly for relaxing and socializing. Royal Caribbean guests can embrace exhilarating rushes and gravity-defying challenges — hence its greater popularity with families.
Some children are fearless and can’t sit still, while others enjoy discovering cool things about the world and making new friends as they do. By now, you’ve probably figured out which cruise line best suits each personality.
Princess takes a hands-on learning approach to its kids programming, which is built around partnerships with Discovery and Animal Planet and focuses primarily on enjoying and understanding the wonders of nature.
The Camp Discovery kids program features unique spaces for junior cruisers by age: The Treehouse for ages 3-7, The Lodge for ages 8-12 and The Beach House for ages 13-17. Activities range from scavenger hunts and basketball tournaments to hands-on science challenges and theme weeks inspired by Discovery’s Shark Week and various Animal Planet series. All programming is complimentary during port days. Fees apply on sea days and babysitting for kids age 3-12 is available for an hourly fee.
There’s no onboard arcade, but the kids and teens clubs do offer popular video-game consoles (PlayStation, Nintendo and Xbox). Teen activities revolve around video- and court-game tournaments and theme parties in The Beach House hangout space.
Conversely, Royal Caribbean’s approach to its onboard experiences for kids and teens relies heavily on active play, especially water-based. A number of ships also feature Battle for Planet Z, a laser-tag game appropriate for kids age five and older. Royal Escape Rooms (available on seven ships and soon Icon of the Seas) are also fun for families with kids age 12 and older.
Related: The 7 best cruise ships for kids
The Adventure Ocean youth program on Royal Caribbean ships features individual spaces and activities such as art and science projects, games and parties designed for three groups: ages 3-5 (Aquanauts), 6-8 (Explorers) and 9-12 (Voyagers). The program is free during the day and early evening, but there’s an hourly rate after 10 p.m. The Royal Babies & Tots nursery accommodates little ones ages 6 to 36 months for drop-off (for an hourly fee).
Younger kids accompanied by parents can enjoy the Splashaway Bay aquapark, while those who are four feet or taller can brave the twists and turns of The Perfect Storm’s waterslides. On Oasis-class ships, the Boardwalk’s nostalgic carrousel is popular with younger kids.
Activities for teens include hanging out in The Living Room or Fuel teen club, competing for the highest score at the arcade (at an added cost) or trying the rock climbing wall or FlowRider. Depending on the ship, they can also brave the Ultimate Abyss and/or Perfect Storm slides or play court sports or video games in the SeaPlex.
Whether your child will enjoy the activities on Princess vs. Royal Caribbean depends on their interests. If they’re into learning and discovery, they’ll be happy on Princess. But if they’re more excited by active thrills and would happily spend hours swooshing down waterslides, Royal Caribbean is the better choice.
There’s cruise-ship entertainment and then there’s Royal Caribbean cruise-ship entertainment. It’s almost impossible to top, so let’s start there.
The entertainment line-up on Royal Caribbean’s newest ships includes Broadway musicals such as “Hairspray” and “Mamma Mia!”, cover bands playing top hits of the ’70s and ’80s, high divers leaping into an onboard pool and multimedia spectacles that combine live performances with a high-tech assist.
Enjoying a hit Broadway show at sea — for free — is a great value for sure, but to see one guests need to book an Oasis-class ship. All other vessels offer colorful, high-energy production shows with musical and pop-cultural themes nightly in their onboard theaters.
Oasis-class ships also offer two unique forms of entertainment: Thrilling high-dive performances in the AquaTheater and professional ice shows in Studio B. The ice rink is also aboard Royal Caribbean’s Freedom- and Voyager-class ships.
Quantum-class ships feature something edgier: Two70, a multi-level performance space where big-screen technology and daring acrobatics combine into a unique multi-sensory experience. These ships also feature Music Hall, where cover bands perform hits by legendary rock bands such as Bon Jovi and Journey.
Love a game show and the chance to be a participant? Royal Caribbean has some side-splitting adults-only competitions focused on love and marriage.
When Icon of the Seas debuts, it will offer many passenger favorites (Music Hall, a revamped ice arena and Playmaker’s Sports Bar & Arcade) plus exciting new entertainment venues. These include AquaDome, home to a next-level AquaTheater featuring robotic arms and state-of-the-art projections.
Princess’ onboard offerings might seem tame by comparison, but its old-school entertainment has a certain charm that the line’s repeat cruisers love.
There are original production shows with elaborate stage sets and costumes in the Princess Theater, lively sing-alongs in the Crooners piano bar, karaoke nights, live jazz paired with craft cocktails, street entertainers in the Piazza, headliner comedians and world-class illusionists.
The Piazza, a multi-deck atrium on all Royal-class ships as well as six Grand-class ships, is a glamorous social hub. It’s home to several bars and eateries and features family-friendly daytime events such as Puppies in the Piazza and nightly musical performances and dancing.
Princess also loves a good game show, and some of its ships invite passengers to play a version of Deal or No Deal or The Voice of the Ocean. They are also asked to wear white and gold and join the Love Boat Piazza Party for a night of music, dance and a love-themed game show.
Just as with its onboard activities, Royal Caribbean leaves competitors in its wake when it comes to entertainment. But Princess scores points for being a creative crowd-pleaser without the benefit of dramatic spaces and tech-enhanced theatrics. Will Sun Princess change that? It looks that way since the ship’s glass-enclosed, multi-purpose entertainment space, The Dome, promises acrobatic performances by starlight.
Both Princess and Royal Caribbean can take you to places all over the globe, but each also excels in specific regions.
Princess is known for well-established itineraries from Southern California to the romantic ports along the Mexican Riviera (year-round) and Inside Passage cruises from Seattle and Vancouver to Alaska (May to September). For the latter, it offers seven-night sailings and 10- and 11-night cruisetours that combine a one-week sailing with stays in several of its Princess Wilderness Lodges. Princess is also a leader in Japan cruises, offering 5- to 18-day itineraries.
Other regions where Princess offers itineraries include the Caribbean, Asia, Hawaii & the South Pacific, Australia & New Zealand, South America & Antarctica, the Panama Canal, Hawaii, the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, New England & Canada and the California Coast. Princess also offers 100-plus-day world cruises. Its ships visit 330 ports in more than 100 countries on all seven continents.
Royal Caribbean is the dominant cruise line in its namesake Caribbean region, cruising there from multiple U.S. ports year-round and visiting Perfect Day at CocoCay, its private island in the Bahamas. But the cruise line also offers dozens of itineraries in the Mediterranean, Greek Isles, Alaska, Canada & New England, South America, Asia and Australia & New Zealand. In all, Royal Caribbean’s ships visit more than 300 ports of call on itineraries spanning three to 14 nights.
Royal Caribbean has an edge in the Caribbean, while Princess is a top choice for Alaska and offers more itineraries in Asia, Australia & New Zealand and the South Pacific. Both offer a wide range of 7- to 10-night sailings in Europe from April through October, although Princess also offers longer 16- to 28-day itineraries in the region.
Despite similar fares for most seven-night sailings, these two major cruise brands couldn’t be more different. Princess offers an onboard experience that, while not overly exciting, feels more sophisticated and upscale, with notably better food quality. On the other hand, Royal Caribbean ships deliver a lively vibe, wow-factor thrills and innovative entertainment for all ages while sacrificing some of the more relaxing aspects of a vacation at sea.
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