In this post, I hope to provide an impartial look at Carnival vs Norwegian in multiple areas. Feel free to chime in under the comments, and make suggestions on which Norwegian ship I should try next!
When booking cruises, I tend to look at Carnival’s offerings first. Why? Because they have Blue Iguana tacos. No, seriously… those tacos are life-changing. I have a hard time imagining myself a ship without chicken tacos piled with lettuce, salsa, cheese, and cilantro. But I think I’m beginning to understand that you can’t choose a cruise based on one, absolutely nirvanic food item.
Carnival actually didn’t really work for our Spring Break trip this year. So we ventured out to Norwegian and went on the Sun to Key West and Havana, Cuba. We sailed mainly for the itinerary, and the open bar and other perks didn’t hurt matters at all either.
Even after this cruise on the Sun, I have very little basis for comparing the cruise lines in their entirety; I know that all lines have a gamut of different ships with their own vibes, features, and quirks. For this blog entry, I’ll compare and contrast the Norwegian Sun with the Carnival Pride. It’s the Carnival ship that I’ve sailed on most recently, and is only slightly larger than the Sun.
Let the Carnival vs Norwegian battle begin!
There was definitely more fanfare and “hoopla” on the Pride when first boarding. The staff was high-energy and excited, and that made me excited to be on board and get the fun started. We “dinged” onto the ship right into the atrium. There was music playing and the atrium bar was hopping. There were plenty of crew members directing guests to the elevators and letting them know what deck lunch was on.
On the Norwegian Sun, there was… well, there was one very friendly crew member who appeared after we walked down the promenade deck after “dinging” onto the ship, trying to figure out how to actually enter the dang ship. She pointed us to the door we should enter through, and the five of us went in and were greeted with… nothing. There was a staircase and a bank of elevators. There was no hubbub, no excitement, and no happy greetings. We were excited to be on the ship no matter what, but this was something that we did all note.
So clearly, Carnival wins this round of the Carnival vs. Norwegian game. It turned out that we were on deck 6 aft, and we needed to get to deck 11 to find lunch. Perfect segway into a section about food, right?
I’m a not-very-picky, picky eater. There are lots of food that I just WILL NOT eat, but the stuff that I do eat, I’m not very particular about. For example, I don’t eat beef or pork (except bacon – I choose to think of bacon as manna from heaven rather than pork). I’m a chicken, turkey, and seafood girl. If you put chicken in front of me, there’s a 95% chance I’m going to eat it without any complaints. So, take this section with a grain of salt if you’re a real foodie, which I am absolutely not.
The buffet on the Sun was TINY, and the food was not bad, but I did find it to be a bit repetitive. The indoor portion of the buffet, the Garden Cafe, is on the starboard side of the ship. There are two lines with the same items on each, and they meet in the middle at the fruit and dessert section. Omelets or hand-made pasta dishes are only available on one of those lines, so that side tended to get more congested.
In addition to the Garden Cafe, the Moderno Churrascaria, on the port side, converts to a semi-buffet for lunch, with pasta and pizza, along with some other select items. O’Sheehan’s sports bar is right behind the Moderno. It is open 24 hours a day, and has a small buffet in the afternoon as well. The Great Outdoors Cafe is aft. It features barbecue items, sandwich fixings, a variety of wraps, salads, desserts, and some vegetarian options. The best part about the Great Outdoors was that you could get turkey burgers, which are not available at Guy Fieri’s burger place on Carnival.
In contrast to the Sun’s setup, the Pride has a really large buffet. There are multiple lines and featured, themed food items that change out daily. Pride’s buffet also has a dedicated pizza spot (they make omelets there at breakfast time, helping to keep the lines less crowded), a deli, Guy’s burgers, and of course – *trumpets playing and angels singing* – BLUE IGUANA TACOS.
Buffet-wise, Carnival seems to have more variety, but the turkey burgers were a great plus on Norwegian. The food seemed about comparable in taste and quality – other than the tacos, of course. Carnival also has the edge with bacon – it was easier to find really crispy pieces.
Norwegian Cruise Lines does freestyle dining, so there are no set seating times for dinner in the main dining rooms. This was not a shock to our system, as we always do anytime dining on Carnival. We ate at the Four Seasons dining room every night except one, and the food was pretty good. We missed the shrimp cocktail appetizer that is offered each night on Carnival, but other than that we thought they were pretty comparable.
The one area where we thought Norwegian fell short was in service in the Four Seasons. The staff on any cruise ship is over-worked, underpaid, and probably highly stressed, and we would never begrudge any of them an off day or an off moment. However, the dining room staff seemed a little standoffish and not very friendly. We are a very easygoing bunch of ladies, and not high maintenance at all; but somehow we felt like we were bothering the staff sometimes.
We were a group of 11, in 5 separate rooms. On two out of the three nights we dined in the Four Seasons, we were made to sit at two separate tables in spite of expressing our willingness to wait for a larger table that would accommodate all of us. On both occasions, we were flat out told no. This was a disappointing for us. On the Carnival Pride, we found all of the dining room staff to be very friendly and accommodating.
It’s a draw on food flavor, and I’m giving Carnival the edge in service and food variety; especially the Blue Iguana Cantina.
On Carnival, we buy the Cheers! Package. Around $52 dollars a day per person, it includes up to 15 alcoholic beverages with a price of up to twenty bucks, as well as unlimited non-alcoholic beverages. This may seem a little pricey, especially since anyone over 21 in a room must buy the package. But, it’s actually pretty easy to break even. Six or so alcoholic beverages, a few bottle waters or sodas, a specialty coffee drink or two, and you’re more than ahead of the game. You order whatever beverage you want, hand over your Sign and Sail card, sign the receipt which reads a total of “$0.00” (unless you’re still in US waters, then you pay taxes), and go on about your day.
The Norwegian sailing we went on was open bar. You could go up to any bar, order any drink that was included, grab your drink, and roll out. No cards to swipe, no receipts to sign. That was outrageously convenient! But we did tend to have a difficult time finding drinks that we truly enjoyed, whereas on Carnival all of the drinks were generously poured and tasted great. We tip generously no matter what cruise line or sailing, so I can’t consider that as a possible reason. It just seemed that on the Norwegian Sun, it was difficult to order a drink in the first place, and then it wasn’t made with the same care as on Carnival.
Possibly, the open bar setup led to a higher volume of bar customers, thus impacting drink quality. I can’t say for sure, I just know that once we found Jerome in the atrium bar, who made a MEAN mojito, we treasured him for the duration of the cruise and drank his yummy mojitos every chance we got. We didn’t branch out much from the mojitos, because we didn’t have the confidence that the drinks would be good. My sister did drink some Bahama Mamas, and she liked them. Maybe Jerome just has the magic touch.
On Norwegian, we also noticed a lack of staff members floating around in different areas taking drink orders to bring to you. On Carnival, they are everywhere. It wound up not really mattering to us, because we were chilling with Jerome and didn’t really venture off from his home base. But it was quite noticeable on deck.
One thing that Norwegian has going for it that Carnival needs to get on board with (no pun intended), is the Frose. Oh. My. Goodness. Frose is frozen rose, and it was served out of the type of frozen drink machines you can find at Fat Tuesday or Wet Willie’s. A delightful rose-pink color, it came out perfectly slushy and rose-tasting. YUM! I did enjoy quite a few of those on the pool deck. Not quite as life-changing as a Blue Iguana Cantina taco, but a close second.
Overall, Carnival has the edge on drinks, even with the open bar included. I will have to go on another Norwegian sailing with the regular drink package, and compare the drink situations then.
My last cruise on the Carnival Pride (check out our entries here) was in an ocean view room, and for this Norwegian Sun cruise we were also in an ocean view. Carnival’s rooms are bigger by a lot, with much more closet and storage space. Both rooms had little sofas, but there was no room for a coffee table on the Sun.
The bathrooms were comparable, but I found that Carnival offered more bathroom storage than Norwegian in the form of shelving along both sides of the mirror. Stateroom showers are notoriously small, but I did find that it was easier to work out a leg-shaving system on the Sun. However, the shower curtain on the Sun had a LOT of stick-to-your-body-ness, and I find that to be repulsive and shudder-inducing every time. I could not figure out a way to stop that darn shower curtain from attaching itself to my body parts, and I hated that. Carnival has the definite edge over Norwegian in staterooms, due to the larger floor plan and more storage.
The Norwegian Sun is far from one of the newer, huge, and action-packed ships that Norwegian has recently launched, but it did offer some entertainment options that we tried.
The audience-participation show we saw on the Sun was the Newlywed Game, hosted by cruise director Jeimy. It was funny and cute, but I have to give Carnival the edge because there was more interaction with the audience on Carnival’s similar show and Carnival seemed to have offered more such shows on our sailing.
Carnival wins for stand-up comedy, hands-down. We had one comedian on the Sun, who was chuckle-to-yourself funny, but not laughing-out-loud funny like most of the comedy performers we saw on Carnival. The comedy club on the Carnival Pride is also in a more intimate comedy-club-like location, Butterflies Lounge. The comedy on Norwegian was in the theater. That guy was NOT funny enough to fill up a whole theater. I know that comedy is highly subjective, but isn’t all of this?
We did hit up the all-white deck party on night on the Sun. It got LIT; the DJ did a great job and Jeimy, the cruise director, was energetic and looked phenomenal. The only problem was, it was over just as quickly as it started. Crew members started pulling tables and chairs literally out from under people. The pool bar closed down. The DJ packed up his equipment and rolled out. And it wasn’t even 11:00 PM! There was a definite, “go to bed, people” vibe, and we weren’t feeling it. At all. We ventured to the Bliss Lounge which was supposed to be set up as a nightclub… crickets. Based on this, Carnival definitely keeps the party going later into the night.
We are not big-show production people on any cruise line, so we have no basis for comparison. I do know that many people I chat with about it think that Norwegian does a much better job than Carnival.
Photographers and Photo Gallery
I tend to buy at least one portrait per cruise from the photo gallery on board. If I’m with the girls, I need a group picture, and if I’m with my husband, I need at least one of us gazing into each other’s eyes all corny-like.
On the Pride, there were photographers roaming the ship and catching sweet moments during dinner in the main dining room, upon disembarking at the ports, and at their fancy backdrops every evening. There are so many backdrops to choose from! We go to at least one of those backdrops on “cruise elegant night,” and get a few pics taken. No need to worry about taking too many; you only pay for what, if anything, you choose to buy.
The Norwegian Sun had the photographers at the ports, but we didn’t spy any cameras anywhere else except the limited number of backdrops set up around the ship. We had chosen the free ten prints as one of our perks, so that we could gift some pictures of us to our mom, so we were really working hard to find places to strike a pose. Unfortunately, a lot of the poses that the photographers put us in were a little awkward, if not straight up stupid-looking. Also, when we took our group picture on elegant night (the last night of the cruise), the lighting wasn’t adjusted properly and an otherwise-lovely picture wound up looking uneven and washed out. Bummer.
But, Norwegian is a clear winner with how they display pictures so that cruise guests can find them and decide which they love and want to buy. They have a binder system as well as computers set up for this purpose. On your freestyle card, you can find your bookcase and binder number for photos. Head to the sleekly-decorated photo gallery area, find your bookcase, and then locate your binder number in that bookcase. Voila! A hard copy of each of your snapshots at your fingertips.
You can also enter your cabin number on one of the touch-screen computer monitors to pull up your pictures. You can sort them, designate which ones are your personal favorites, and order your choices right there on the computer. This photo gallery setup is an awesome upgrade from having to walk around the photo area on the Pride, searching diligently for your pics, which are placed on display with little rhyme or reason. I HATE THAT.
Other Carnival ships have digital galleries and even the ability to see and order all of your pics from the Carnival Hub app. Not the Pride though… so Norwegian is clearly the winner here. However, the photos on the Pride were much higher-quality and just looked better. I’ll call it a draw.
The Norwegian Sun offered a Cuba-centric souvenir shop along with a jewelry store and a large gift/liquor/cosmetics shop. Nothing in any of the stores really knocked my socks off, and I’m a super-shopper, so Lord knows I tried and tried to find stuff to spend money on. I don’t usually buy jewelry on board, so I have little to no basis for comparison between the ships’ jewelry offerings or prices.
Little souvenir items, such as magnets, key rings, and lanyards, were plentiful but not as eye-catching as on Carnival. I also couldn’t find any pens to buy, which was a bummer. Pens are some of my favorite souvenirs to bring back. People can always use a pen, and they take up almost no space in your luggage. I found PLENTY of pens in Key West, though.
There was less apparel overall available for purchase on board, but what was there was cute, standard stuff. There were t-shirts and baseball caps with the Norwegian logo or the names of the ports we went to. Norwegian did have a $10 “blowout” sale on apparel and accessories, but seemed to offer less variety than Carnival. Carnival had more hats, costume jewelry, wallets, clutches, and the like; much more fun to look through if you’re a bargain hunter.
In terms of liquor, the prices on Carnival were MUCH lower than on Norwegian, and the selection to was bigger. The prices on Norwegian were precariously close to what I would pay at home for a bottle of liquor; definitely not worth purchasing and then having to schlep home on an airplane. So, no liquor purchases for me this cruise.
I hope you enjoyed my Carnival vs Norwegian entry. Carnival wins in the categories of Embarkation, Drinks, Staterooms, and Onboard Shopping. Norwegian took the title in Photo Gallery, and I’ll call it a draw on Entertainment, Food, and Photos. I’m looking forward to trying another Norwegian cruise to further refine my opinions. Thanks for reading!