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Royal Caribbean vs Princess to Alaska: which cruise line is better?

13 Jul 2023
Jenna DeLaurentis

Among the cruising community, Princess Cruises is supposedly the “best” cruise line for Alaska cruises, so I wanted to see how it compared to Royal Caribbean.

Jenna tried Princess Cruises after sailing only on Royal Caribbean to Alaska

It’s no secret that I love cruising to Alaska—I’ve cruised to the Last Frontier five times in the past two years. After four cruises on Royal Caribbean, however, I figured it was time to try something new, so I booked a cruise on the Royal Princess, a Princess ship launched in 2013.

Prior to booking my cruise, I heard that Princess Cruises was a market leader for Alaska cruises. Not only do they have a permit to visit Glacier Bay National Park, but they offer special enrichment activities throughout the sailing, designed to immerse passengers in the state’s cultural and natural wonders.

Because I’ve enjoyed my Royal Caribbean cruises to Alaska so much, I was curious as to how Princess would compare to Royal Caribbean’s Alaska offerings.

During my 7-night cruise, I compared the food, cabins, entertainment, service, and ship design of each cruise line to see how they stood apart from each other. Would it be worth sailing on Princess, a line that puts a large focus on Alaska, or would I regret not cruising on Royal Caribbean?

Here’s what I found out.

I paid $2,494 for an interior cabin on the Royal Princess during the peak season. It was slightly more expensive than my Royal Caribbean Alaska cruises.

I always thought a cruise on Princess would be much more expensive than a Royal Caribbean cruise, but that was not the case.

My 7-night Alaska cruise on the Royal Princess came out to $2,494, or $1,247 per guest, as my sister joined me on this sailing. The cruise fare reflected the price of 2 adults in an interior cabin, and it included taxes, fees, and gratuities.

To put this price into perspective, here’s what I paid for an interior cabin on my previous Alaska cruises:

  • Ovation of the Seas (October 2021): $727 total (end of season and solo guest)
  • Radiance of the Seas (August 2022): $1,118 (2 guests and last-minute deal)
  • Quantum of the Seas (May 2023): $1,856 (2 guests)
  • Ovation of the Seas (June 2023): $2,182 (2 guests)

Related: What is the cheapest month for an Alaska cruise?

My cruise departed on June 17, so it was right at the start of Alaska’s peak summer season. So while it was the most expensive of all my Alaska cruises, the price may have been cheaper if I sailed in the shoulder season or found a last-minute deal.

I was shocked at how poorly my Princess cruise ship was designed for an Alaska itinerary compared to Royal Caribbean’s ships.

Because Princess is revered for their Alaska cruises, I was flabbergasted at the design and layout of the Royal Princess. It was, to be blunt, terribly designed for cold weather.

I’ve sailed on three Royal Caribbean ships to Alaska: Radiance of the Seas, Quantum of the Seas, and Ovation of the Seas. All three of these ships were designed for cold weather, with indoor pools, lounges with large windows, and indoor activities like a sports court and movie theater.

When I boarded the Royal Princess, I was shocked to find out there were no indoor pool spaces on the ship. Furthermore, there were hardly any indoor lounges with windows looking toward the outside—most windows in lounges looked toward the promenade deck with views blocked by lifeboats.

Thankfully we had excellent weather for most of the cruise, so it was possible to sit on the outdoor decks to watch Alaska’s scenery. If we hadn’t, though, it would have been challenging to enjoy the views without freezing or getting soaked in the rain.

Related: The best time to visit Alaska

On my Royal Caribbean cruises to Alaska, I spend most of my time lounging in the adults-only Solarium, a climate-controlled space with massive floor-to-ceiling windows in all directions.

Other venues, like the Two70 lounge with its 270 degree window views, are much better designed for Alaska compared to the Royal Princess’ dark, enclosed venues.

I couldn’t believe the Royal Princess was built just a year before Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas. Although the Royal Princess had some pretty spaces, it seemed years older than the innovative design and layout of Quantum of the Seas.

My cabin on the Royal Princess was better than the cabins I’ve had on other Alaska cruises.

Like most cruises, I booked an interior cabin on the Royal Princess, and it was the best cabin I’ve had on any Alaska cruise thus far. While I usually expect inside cabins to be extremely small, I was impressed with not only my cabin’s size, but its layout.

Most interior cabins on Royal Caribbean cruises are small and compact. On most of my Alaska cruises, my interior room has consisted of a bed, a small chair or couch, and a desk. All furniture was placed in the same area and there was little walking space around the room.

On my recent Quantum of the Seas cruise, I was lucky enough to stay in an interior room built for four guests. These interior rooms are bigger than a standard interior cabin, but it still appeared small compared to the room I had on the Royal Princess.

Related: I always stay in an inside cabin on a cruise ship. Here's why I actually like these rooms

My Royal Princess cabin had two separate spaces in the room: a sleeping area and a closet/bathroom space. The sleeping area had two twin beds, a big desk and vanity area, drawers, nightstands, and a full-length mirror. It also had a large TV, and I was pleased to find out that on-demand movies came at no extra charge.

Behind this part of the cabin was a “walk-in closet” space that connected to the bathroom. It was nice to have this separate closet space as it allowed for easy changing when sharing a room, and it helped to separate the cabin into two areas.

The only thing missing in the room was a plush chair or couch—we had to sit on either our beds or the small desk chair. Nonetheless, the room’s spacious layout made up for the lack of an additional seating area.

I loved spending time in my interior cabin, something I almost never feel about other inside rooms.

While food is subjective, I preferred most of the food on Royal Caribbean compared to Princess.

When reading online reviews about Princess before my sailing, I heard fantastic things about the cruise line’s food. I was expecting the food to wow me, but that was not the case.

Food is, of course, subjective, but I found that overall, I preferred the food on Royal Caribbean over Princess. I enjoy the themed cuisine menus each night on Royal Caribbean’s Main Dining Room menu, and their buffet is the best I’ve tried on any cruise line thus far.

The Main Dining Room on Princess tended to offer more upscale dishes—oxtail soup and five-spice duck breast, to name a few. Although the dishes we did try were tasty, my sister and I rarely found the menus appealing, so we ended up at the buffet more nights than not.

The buffet on Princess offered both standard American and international options, and while there was a lot of variety, I found the overall quality of food to be higher at Royal Caribbean’s Windjammer buffet. The desserts, in particular, were extremely subpar at the buffet, a disappointment for my sweet tooth!

That being said, the ramen noodle station at the buffet was on par with what I would expect from a specialty restaurant on Royal Caribbean. In fact, it was probably the best food I’ve ever had from a buffet on both land and sea.

It was easy to see where Princess allocated extra funds compared to Royal Caribbean.

Although I found the food to be overall better on Royal Caribbean, I noticed a few ways where Princess spent extra on dining compared to the latter.

The buffet had a far wider range of condiments and toppings, whether sriracha for Asian dishes or nutella for French toast.

The soft serve ice cream machine, as another example, had a new flavor each day in addition to vanilla. During the week we enjoyed banana, strawberry, pineapple, vanilla, and chocolate ice cream, and they even had a toppings bar with sprinkles and chocolate sauce.

Royal Caribbean, on the other hand, tends to only offer chocolate and vanilla, and the ice cream station is only open for a short portion of the day. On Princess, we could enjoy ice cream anytime from 11AM to 10PM.

Another plus was that Princess offered complimentary room service, which was a nice perk compared to Royal Caribbean’s $7.95 room service charge.

Related: Royal Caribbean room service guide & tips

Although we were disappointed with the cruise line’s supposed deliver-to-anywhere feature in the app (the food almost never came), we managed to have a few orders delivered throughout the cruise.

It was evident that Princess spent a little more on these small touches, and it definitely enhanced my dining experience.

My Princess cruise shined in its Alaska-themed activities, although Royal Caribbean still offers more to do overall.

Princess runs a program called North to Alaska during their Alaska itineraries, which is an enrichment program designed to immerse passengers in the Alaska experience. This is a huge selling point for their Alaska cruises, and I was interested to see how it compared to Royal Caribbean’s programming.

Unsurprisingly, Princess shined in its Alaska offerings. Although Royal Caribbean may occasionally host Alaska-themed events on its itineraries, it’s nothing like what is offered on Princess.

During our cruise, I attended a “Meet the Sled Dogs” program, during which an Iditarod trainer boarded the ship with sled dog puppies. After a brief presentation about these active pups, passengers were able to meet the puppies in the ship’s atrium.

Related: Best things to do on an Alaska cruise

In addition to the sled dog programming were lectures on Alaska’s glaciers and wildlife along with kid-friendly activities like storytime with the ship’s mascot, Stanley the Bear. As far as food goes, the buffet and Main Dining Room put a focus on Alaskan cuisine during the sailing, which was another nice touch.

I was impressed by the North to Alaska programming, but I still found the activity offerings onboard limited compared to what is offered on Royal Caribbean. It’s hard to beat the activities offered on a Royal Caribbean cruise, from surfing simulators to bumper cars, sushi classes, trivia, and game shows.

While the Royal Princess still offered daily activities, they were not as frequent or varied compared to what I’ve experienced on Royal Caribbean.

I found the service on Princess to be adequate, but it lacked the family feel of a Royal Caribbean cruise.

I was neither impressed nor unimpressed with the service on my Princess cruise. Don’t get me wrong, I met some incredibly friendly crew workers, but at times the service was definitely lacking.

Aside from our favorite ice cream attendants, who exclaimed “My ladies are back!” whenever my sister and I would get in line for a cone, and our welcoming stateroom attendant, I was disappointed with the level of service onboard.

Many crew members did not appear happy to help us with problems when they arose. And, after witnessing a few inpatient crew members in the buffet nearly yell at passengers, I was too intimidated to ask questions about a particular dish if I didn’t know what it was.

Additionally, I missed hearing “Welcome Back!” after getting onboard after a port day, and I found myself missing the service I’ve experienced on other cruises. Perhaps I’m just used to the over-the-top friendly service on Royal Caribbean, but I was genuinely surprised with the more stand-offish service on Princess.

Like food, service is subjective, and one passenger’s experience could be different from another. It’s entirely possible we just encountered some crew members at a stressful time, and my experience should not be a reflection of the hard-working crew as a whole.

Visiting Glacier Bay National Park was a highlight of my Princess cruise, and this experience is not possible on Royal Caribbean.

One major difference between cruising to Alaska on Princess vs Royal Caribbean is visiting Glacier Bay National Park.

The primary reason I booked a cruise on the Royal Princess was to visit Glacier Bay National Park. Royal Caribbean does not have the permit to enter the park, so unfortunately you cannot visit Glacier Bay on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Although you can visit destinations like Hubbard Glacier and Dawes Glacier with Royal Caribbean, I heard great things about Glacier Bay and was determined to check it out.

Related: Hubbard Glacier vs Glacier Bay: which glacier is better to see on a cruise?

The national park certainly lived up to the hype. I was awestruck by the glaciers in the park, especially the 200 foot high Margerie Glacier, which spans nearly a mile wide. We spent the entire morning sailing around the park, visiting several glaciers right after each other.

Because it was a national park, park rangers came onboard during the day to provide information about the park and answer questions. I thought this was a special touch as it allowed visitors to learn more about the destination they were visiting.

Visiting Glacier Bay was the highlight of our time on the Royal Princess, although I wouldn’t necessarily suggest booking a Princess cruise over Royal Caribbean only to visit Glacier Bay. 

Royal Caribbean’s itineraries still visit impressive destinations, and the advantages of a Royal Caribbean Alaska cruise still outweighed a visit to Glacier Bay.

I found entertainment on Princess and Royal Caribbean to be comparable, and I wouldn’t choose one line over the other for entertainment.

I do not place much importance on entertainment when I cruise, and truthfully, I almost never attend production shows. Instead, I tend to favor live music and other programming like game shows.

For the purposes of this review, I dragged myself to a few entertainment shows, and boy am I glad I did!

I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of entertainment shows on the Royal Princess. I saw two production shows while there, each of which focused on singing and dancing instead of a traditional play.

The singers were so talented I couldn’t believe they weren’t a part of an opera on land. Even though I didn’t understand the storyline of the productions (if there even was one), I would have watched the shows multiple times just to hear the casts’ impressive voices.

Live music was abundant around the ship as well, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to a live band play relaxing music during our ship’s sailaway from Skagway. I hadn’t seen this type of classy entertainment during sailaway on a Royal Caribbean cruise, and it created a truly magical atmosphere while sailing through breathtaking scenery.

Related: 50 best Alaska cruise tips

Royal Caribbean’s entertainment, on the other hand, is more technologically-focused than the traditional shows on the Royal Princess. On Royal Caribbean cruises you’ll find ice-skating shows, high diving performances, drone shows, and technology-focused productions.

Although not all of these performances are found on ships sailing Alaska cruises, I still find the entertainment on Royal Caribbean’s Alaska itineraries to be more forward-thinking than traditional.

Overall I enjoyed my cruise on the Royal Princess, but I don’t think I would book another Princess cruise over Royal Caribbean.

Despite the complaints listed above (this is a review, after all!), I enjoyed my time on the Royal Princess. While I did not love the ship’s design as a whole, I still liked certain aspects of the ship, including the Outrigger’s Bar in the ship’s aft and the elegant, multi-story atrium.

Other than the dozen ice cream cones I enjoyed throughout the week and the buffet’s delightfully spicy ramen station, I haven't been daydreaming about any of the food I had onboard. It’s not that anything was inherently bad, but nothing blew my mind, either.

The main reason I wouldn’t book a cruise on this ship again over Royal Caribbean, though, lies in the lack of indoor viewing spaces around the ship. Sure, I’m visiting Alaska, but that doesn’t mean I want to stand in the cold for a week!

I appreciate the varied amount of indoor spaces on Royal Caribbean’s ships to Alaska, whether the indoor pool or Viking Crown Lounge. There is a clear connection to Alaska’s scenery on a Royal Caribbean cruise, but you had to intentionally seek this out on my Princess cruise.

Related: The best spot for sailaway on every Royal Caribbean cruise ship

Perhaps I would have enjoyed cruising on the Majestic Princess more than the Royal Princess, as that ship has an indoor pool, but I still think it’s hard to beat the design of one of Royal Caribbean’s Quantum Class ships when it comes to Alaska.

I’m happy to have spent another fun-filled week in Alaska, and to have experienced the state’s majesty with my sister. Visiting Glacier Bay was nothing short of a wonderful experience and it's something that is unattainable on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

If there’s anything I learned last week on the Royal Princess, it’s that there is a cruise line for every type of traveler. While I wouldn’t consider myself a Princess cruiser, I’ll still admit they put out a great product with their Alaska itineraries, even if it didn’t entirely match my cruising style.

Jenna DeLaurentis enjoys exploring new ports of call around the world on a cruise ship, learning about new cultures, discovering beautiful landscapes, and trying diverse cuisine. She loves to get active while at port, whether cycling through mountains in the Caribbean or scuba diving under the sea.

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