Comparing Carnival, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines for Family of 5

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We are looking into doing another cruise with our friends who went on the Disney Fantasy with us last February. Unfortunately Disney cruises are expensive and if we want to continue to do this more than every 3 years we have to look into alternative cruise lines.  Below are breakdowns of the cruises with things like price in mind, soda packages, insurance and prepaid gratuity. There is also a breakdown on what there is to do for the kids and most of the ships referenced are the newer, larger ships.

Mind you when I make reference to kids 1’s, 2’s and 3’s, it means our first born who are 13 (1’s), second born who are 10 (2’s), and you guessed it, the 3’s are the babies who are now 7 years old.  If you want to skip differences and jump to the pricing break down, then scroll towards the bottom of the post.

Differences and Concerns with Kids Clubs

All three cruise lines regarding kids activities are the same in that after 10pm for the 2’s and 3’s there will be a charge of roughly $6/child/hour. Perhaps the 1’s will be the toughest to keep entertained and I worry about that on Carnival.  Carnival and Royal breaks up their teen age groups, our 1’s would be the oldest in their hangout by that time as the age breaks are 12-14 then 15-17.  So I wonder if the 1’s would wind up doing a lot of wandering around the ship, especially on Carnival where there isn’t as much to see or do as there is on the other two? Norwegian teen hangouts are 13+. With all that said, just some quick reading on forum boards, it seems to be typical, no matter which cruise line, that the teens and tweens most of the time use the clubs to meet up with their new found friends then go explore the ship during the day but are more likely to stay in the hangouts at night. It is very important to hit the ice breakers on the first day as groups form quickly.  On Norwegian and Royal, the 2’s and 3’s would be split apart into separate hangouts. Each cruise line have their different things they do. Norwegian does some circus stuff, Royal has Nicolodean, and Carnival has Dr. Seuss. Ultimately I am not worried about the younger ones being bored in these places no matter which one we choose.

Carnival

Overall, to me, it seems like Carnival layout on the top deck is most similar to Disney in that they have a big screen by one main, large pool and will have shows and movies running during the day and also play movies and hand out popcorn at night (they even hand out blankets I believe). They do have some nice looking water slides available. They have a sports area that includes a small ropes course on most ships.  They are the cheapest but they also seem to have the least frills. Read just a few things that cheaper brings out the Walmart people, don’t know how true this is. However I also read that people don’t just keep coming back for the price but the service and other things as well. Carnival seems to have the best nightlife for adults. Of note, Carnival recently were the big winners of #CruiseChat’s Yearly Awards on Twitter.  

Carnival 7 Day Western – Cozumel; Belize; Mahogany Bay, Isla Roatan; Costa Maya, Mexico aboard Magic. Deck 1. Oceanview $2547

Carnival 7 Day Western – Montego Bay, Jamaica; Grand Cayman; Cozumel Mexico. Aboard Breeze. Oceanview $2360

Carnival 8 Day Southern- Grand Turk; La Romana, Dominican Republic; Curacao; Aruba. Aboard Vista. Regular Oceanview $3471, Family Harbor Deluxe Oceanview $5601.

Soda packages are $4.50-6 per person/per day plus 15% gratuity. Alcohol package is $49.95 per person/ per day and if one person in the stateroom orders it, everyone over 21 must also purchase it. Alcoholic drinks are typically $4-6. Soft Drinks are $2. 15% gratuity is added onto each drink. On board gratuity is automatically put onto your stateroom at $12/person/day. So about $420 for five of us. Travel insurance around $350.

Total cost around for Western Caribbean cruise is $3300 without any drink package. Add another $210-250 for a soda package. Comes with On board credit of $125. Add about $1000 to do the Southern Caribbean.

Norwegian

Norwegian is probably most impressive on their top deck/pool area, especially for the kids.  If we go on the ship I think we are (Epic, Escape, or Getaway), there are some pretty cool water slides, a very large sports area complete with a large ropes course and zip line. I can’t quite figure out if there is an adult only pool or not but I think there is.  For certain there is a separate area for adults but it doesn’t have a pool.  The thing it lacks on upper deck is aesthetics, it’s just pools and chairs. Blue, white, and beige all around except for the colorful waterslides.  Their shows seem to be good. Only big screen outdoors is in the back of the ship which is adults only. I could potentially see the 1’s keeping themselves busier on the top deck than with other ships. From what I read, Norwegian is the loosest when it comes to curfews for the teens.

Norwegian is around $3224 for one room or $3521 for side-by-sides with an ocean view on a Western Caribbean cruise on the Getaway going to Honduras, Belize, Costa Maya and Cozumel Mexico. First two guests in each stateroom will have free beverage package (or you can choose dining upgrades, free wifi, or $50 per port for a port adventure) Insurance is around $285/stateroom. There is no prepaid gratuity but you are encouraged to give at your leisure, but 18% gets added to drinks, spas, and salon service. $5.50-$7.50 for soda packages plus 18% gratuity tacked on. $54-69 plus 18% gratuity for alcohol package but everyone must then purchase an alcohol package over 21 years or a soda package.

Total Price is around $3500 which includes 2 drink packages but no prepaid gratuity so  you might want to consider another $200 minimum for tipping and possibly another $160 for an additional 3 soda packages.

Royal Caribbean

Royal probably has the most variety of things to see and do which would be great for the number 1s.  They have distinct areas like a boardwalk, central park, and royal promenade to walk through. The problem there is a lot of shops and many things to do that cost extra. Even the carousel which would be nice if it was free, is not. Free things to do are a rock climbing wall, surf simulator, zip line, ice rink, and an Aquatheatre with high dive acts and water shows (these shows are at night however). I believe Royal is considered to have the better food.  The problem here is their pools are smaller, no water slides, and the kid’s pool area seems to be more of a splash park which didn’t go over so well on Fantasy with the wind blowing, the kids didn’t last long there.  Make no mistake however, this is a huge floating city with plenty to take in. 

Because of limited availability of larger staterooms, a family of five have to call in to Royal or figure out what it would cost to use one stateroom.  I called and also used a travel agent but at the time I asked about Eastern Caribbean (We are now considering West or South) and inside staterooms are around $4000 to $4300, one with a balcony for 5 would be around $4800. Western Caribbean using two staterooms to Cozumel, Mexico; Falmouth, Jamaica; and Labadee Haiti….for $4050 (includes $200 in OBC) Insurance is $177, prepaid gratuities of $271. Drink packages: Soda package-$5.50-8/person/day; $22/person/day for premium, non-alcoholic drinks; Alcoholic packages $42-67.

Total would be around $4500 (two staterooms). Add another $230 roughly for a soda package for all 5.  Comes with $200 on-board credit.

Pricing Breakdown

Basic Cruise Pricing (Oceanview Stateroom)

Carnival – $2400 (7 day Western) – $3500 (8 Day Southern)

Norwegian – $3200-3500

Royal Caribbean – $4000-4300

Insurances

Carnival – $350

Norwegian – $285

Royal Caribbean – $177

Prepaid Gratuity

Carnival – $420

Norwegian – None but bring at least $200 to hand out

Royal Caribbean – $271

Soda Package

Carnival – $4.50 (12 and under)- $6 plus 15% gratuity – roughly $220

Norwegian – $5.50 (12 and under) – $7.50 plus 15% gratuity – roughly $270

Royal Caribbean – $5.50 (12 and under) – $8 – roughly $245

Credits and Bonuses

Carnival – $125/stateroom on-board credit

Norwegian – Get to pick one of the following options:  premium drink package for 2, $50 per port to spend on port adventure, free dining at premium restaurants, or free wifi.

Royal Caribbean – $100/stateroom on-board credit.

 

Totals Based on Insurance, Prepaid Gratuities, Soda Packages, Minus Any Credits/Bonuses

Carnival – $3265 (add $1000 for 8 day Southern Caribean)

Norwegian – $4000

Royal Caribbean – $4463

 

Leaning Towards and UP NEXT

So because of the price and it positive reviews I have been reading lately on service and quality, I am leaning towards Carnival! Surprisingly, when my girls took a silent vote, they also chose Carnival.

UP NEXT I hope to have a breakdown of port adventures. Obviously this will differ for each person based on the ports they decide on but hopefully it will give an idea of what’s out there.

 

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