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Norwegian Cruise Line vs. Carnival Cruise Line: Which is Right for You?

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If you're considering a cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line or Carnival Cruise Line, you're looking at two big-ship brands offering lots of onboard activities and attractions at an affordable price. Both lines focus on fun-in-the-sun itineraries in the Bahamas and Caribbean, sailing from U.S. ports. Norwegian also has the only ship that sails year-round in the Hawaiian Islands. Let's compare Norwegian vs. Carnival to see what they have in common, and what they don't, to help you find the cruise that's right for you.

Onboard Activities and Attractions

Norwegian Cruise Line's 19 ships carry from just over 1,900 passengers to around 4,200 passengers, while Carnival Cruise Line's larger fleet has several 2,100-passenger ships, though most Carnival ships carry 3,000 to 4,000 passengers. Norwegian's ships are topped by multilevel go-kart racetracks, ropes courses, and laser tag arenas, while Carnival's newest ships have real roller coasters. Both lines offer a wide range of activities and attractions for all ages.

Cabin Choices

Norwegian is particularly innovative in its cabin choices, offering The Haven, a boutique hotel located within the larger ship, with exclusive access to a gated complex for suite guests. Norwegian also has accommodations for solo travelers and families, while Carnival offers the largest standard cabins in the industry and impressive suite accommodations. Both lines have a variety of options to suit different preferences.

Dining Options

Carnival is known for its tasty food at sea, including extra-fee specialty dining venues. The line offers a range of complimentary restaurants, including poolside burgers by Food Network star Guy Fieri. Norwegian's "Freestyle Cruising" dining concept allows guests to eat whenever they want at multiple restaurants, with many options available for an additional cost. Both lines provide a variety of dining choices to satisfy all appetites.

Kids and Family Activities

Both Norwegian and Carnival have well-established kids' programming, with dedicated play areas and activities for different age groups. Norwegian's Splash Academy and Circus School keep kids entertained, while Carnival's Camp Ocean, Circle C, and Club O2 cater to different age ranges. Both lines offer fun activities for families to enjoy together.

Onboard Entertainment

Norwegian Cruise Line brings Broadway and West End shows to its ships, as well as creating its own productions and featuring interesting acts from around the world. Carnival focuses on comedy and live music, with its Punchliner Comedy Clubs hosting over 27,000 live performances a year. Both lines offer a variety of entertainment options, including games and contests tied to popular TV shows.

Atmosphere and Price

Carnival strives to offer affordable and fun cruises for everyone, with a casual and carefree atmosphere. Norwegian's "Freestyle Cruising" attracts all ages with its casual and less traditional vibe. Norwegian's prices are typically higher than Carnival's, but often include value-added perks as part of the line's Free at Sea promotion. Both lines cater to different preferences and budgets.

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Norwegian has ships that sail to destinations around the world, including the Caribbean, Bahamas, Alaska, Europe, and more. Carnival focuses mainly on North America, with cruises to the Caribbean, Bahamas, Bermuda, Alaska, and Canada/New England. The line also offers limited sailings in Europe and Australia. Depending on your desired destination, you can choose the line that suits your travel plans.


As a first-time cruiser, you can't go wrong with either Norwegian Cruise Line or Carnival Cruise Line. Norwegian offers innovative attractions and a contemporary cruising experience, while Carnival provides great food and a "Fun Ship" experience in a casual environment at an affordable price. Consider your preferences and budget when choosing between the two lines, and get ready for an unforgettable cruise vacation.