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I sailed in an interior cabin on Carnival and a balcony room on Royal Caribbean. Here's the one I'd pick next time.

22 Aug 2023
Allie Hubers

Within the last year, I sailed on two of the most popular cruise lines in the world: Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line. While Royal Caribbean is known for its innovative and resort-style mega ships, Carnival Cruise Line is best known for having affordable cruise fares to sail on the cruise line's FUN ships.  

(Left: Royal Caribbean balcony guarantee stateroom on Jewel of the Seas. Right: Standard inside cabin on Carnival Cruise Line's new Carnival Celebration). 

To appeal to a wide demographic, both cruise lines offer a variety of cruise ship cabins to choose from when booking a cruise vacation. Everything from budget-friendly inside cabins to spacious, luxurious suites are available on each cruise line.

Last fall, I sailed on Carnival Cruise Line’s newest ship, Carnival Celebration, during one of its inaugural sailings in the Caribbean. This modern cruise ship debuted some of the cruise line’s chicest, most stylish accommodations to date. During my week onboard, I sailed in the cruise line’s standard inside cabin with my sister.  

Similarly, I just returned from sailing on one of Royal Caribbean’s older cruise ships, Jewel of the Seas. During this 12-night European cruise, we opted to upgrade to a balcony guarantee stateroom so we could enjoy the scenery while sailing around Iceland. This vacation was taken with my husband, who prefers to have a balcony if it’s within our budget. 

When comparing these two cabins, there is one stateroom category that I’d choose again in a heartbeat while the other one left a little to be desired. 

As an avid-cruiser for most of my life, I have stayed in all different types of cabins on a variety of cruise ships. Some of these cabins were fantastic, while others left me disappointed and frustrated. Everything from the cabin’s storage to the bathroom size and cabin’s location can play key roles in determining whether a stateroom is one that I would choose again. 

Read moreThe 5 best cabin locations on a cruise ship

Most of the time, you can find me sailing in an inside cabin because I prefer to spend my money on excursions, specialty dining, internet packages and more. Also, choosing a cheaper cabin option usually saves me thousands of dollars compared to other staterooms categories, which means I can cruise more frequently.

However, sometimes I do splurge on a higher-end stateroom. This is usually when I plan to cruise somewhere very scenic, like Iceland, Norway or Alaska. I find there to be great value in booking a balcony so I can marvel at the scenery without needing to leave my room.

One of the most obvious differences was the price between Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line's accommodations.

My balcony guarantee cabin on Royal Caribbean was more expensive in comparison to the inside cabin on Carnival Celebration. 

To start, newer ships tend to be more expensive when the vessel first debuts because the ship is in high demand. With Carnival Celebration just entering its inaugural season, the price was likely inflated compared to a typical 7-night sailing onboard Carnival Celebration.  

(Standard inside cabin on Carnival Celebration)

My inside cabin on Carnival Celebration was $1,300 for the 7-night Caribbean sailing. This was the second sailing for the brand-new cruise ship, which should be noted. However, it was the absolute cheapest cabin available onboard. This adds up to be about $92.85 per person for each day of the Carnival cruise. 

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

On the flip side, my balcony guarantee staterooms was right around $3,000 for the 12-night cruise to Iceland. Jewel of the Seas is one of the older vessels in Royal Caribbean’s fleet; however, Iceland is an expensive destination and the cruise was a longer itinerary, which can drive down the price sometimes. At a daily cost, this was $125 per person per day to sail with Royal Caribbean. 

A guaranteed balcony means that you select the category of stateroom you desire, but you do not get to choose your balcony’s location. Once the cruise departure approaches, you are typically assigned a cabin number at random. 

(Balcony on Royal Caribbean)

Had we booked an inside cabin on Jewel of the Seas (which we originally did before upgrading to the balcony), this would have cost $2,700. This adds up to be around $112.50 each day for an inside cabin onboard the same cruise. 

I’d also like to note that these prices do not include gratuities, which are automatically applied each day of your cruise unless you choose to prepay. 

Regardless, it was more expensive to sail with Royal Caribbean even if I had stayed in a comparable inside cabin. This is not surprising, as Carnival Cruise Line is the most affordable cruise line in the industry while Royal Caribbean is almost always more expensive. 

The ship’s age was a key factor in comparing these two staterooms, as Carnival Celebration was brand-new while Jewel of the Seas was worn and tired looking.

It is pretty hard not to be wowed by a brand-new cruise ship. Even as someone who typically sails with Royal Caribbean, staying in a new cabin onboard Carnival Celebration was quite impressive. I was surprised by how thoughtfully designed the inside cabin was, even though it was the cheapest category available onboard. 

First, Carnival Celebration, being the newest ship for the cruise line, featured very stylish and functional staterooms. The cabin was modern with light wood and blue accents. Of course, the carpet, furniture and beds had only been used by a few people before us. Everything felt spick-and-span, as it should!

(Inside Cabin on Carnival Celebration)

We appreciated the little details in our inside cabin with Carnival too, like having a USB plug at our bedside and numerous outlets to use on the vanity. 

On the other hand, our balcony cabin on Jewel of the Seas was nearly 20 years old with little updates made in the last decade. While the decor was certainly dated, there were other aspects of the balcony guarantee cabin that we did not particularly like either. 

(Worn table on Royal Caribbean)

The furniture was certainly worn down in our cabin, as was our balcony. Additionally, the carpet was far past its expiration date, with a few obvious stains throughout. Finally, our balcony itself had very dry wood that looked poorly maintained - I was almost worried about getting splinters!

(Balcony view on Royal Caribbean)

It was pretty clear that Royal Caribbean had not updated these staterooms on Jewel of the Seas in many years - and refurbishment was long overdue. But, we anticipated our cabin to look outdated because of the ship's age and we planned to spend most of our time exploring Iceland. 

Along with price, another obvious difference between Royal Caribbean’s balcony cabin and Carnival’s inside cabin was the size. 

It should come as no surprise that our balcony guarantee with Royal Caribbean was more spacious than the inside cabin with Carnival Cruise Line.

The balcony guarantee on Jewel of the Seas was 180 square feet. This is about 10 square feet bigger than an inside cabin on the same ship. Our balcony was an additional 27 square feet, which is a little larger than a standard balcony onboard due to the location of our cabin as well. Overall, it was pretty spacious and we comfortably moved into the cabin for our 12-night adventure!

Read more8 reasons to book a balcony cabin

When comparing to Carnival’s inside cabin, this cozy stateroom was only 162 square feet. The stateroom was noticeably smaller than Royal Caribbean's especially when we noticed there was no place to sit other than our beds. In comparison, our balcony cabin with Royal Caribbean featured a loveseat and a small coffee table. Having this extra place to sit, along with chairs on the balcony, made the cabin feel much more spacious. 

(Inside cabin on Carnival Celebration)

Finally, Carnival’s inside cabin had exposed bunk beds. Even though it was just me and my sister sailing together, this cabin could technically accommodate four people. The unused bunk beds made the space above our beds feel more cramped, as the beds could not be tucked into the ceiling like I’ve seen on other cruise ships. 

Royal Caribbean’s bathroom design was one our least favorite parts of the cabin, while Carnival Cruise Line’s spacious shower was a highlight. 

Let me first set the record straight that a cruise cabin bathroom absolutely does not make or break my overall experience! However, when comparing these two cabins, the bathroom discrepancies really emphasized areas of improvement for Royal Caribbean.

As we had expected, our bathroom on Royal Caribbean was equally as outdated as our stateroom. This meant that we had the dreaded capsule-style showers. My husband is 6’4 and I am 5’11, so these tiny showers are not well suited for taller-than-average cruisers.

(Left: Shower on Royal Caribbean. Right: Shower on Carnival Celebration)

Much to the contrary, our budget-friendly cabin on Carnival featured an unusually large shower for such a tiny cabin. I would guess that our shower in this inside cabin was double to triple the size of our shower with Royal Caribbean. 

(Shower on Carnival Celebration)

The bathroom overall felt more spacious and well-designed on Carnival compared to our balcony cabin with Royal Caribbean. Perhaps this is an industry shift towards more comfortable stateroom bathrooms, but the improved shower situation was a welcomed change for this unusually tall cruise writer. 

The deal breaker for us was the undesirable cabin location onboard Royal Caribbean, which is a huge disadvantage to booking a guaranteed stateroom.

Anytime you book a guaranteed cabin, you take a huge gamble. In all honesty, I started to sail in guarantee cabins more frequently in the early post-pandemic cruising and I think this gave a false perception. 

(Balcony stateroom on Royal Caribbean)

Much to my delight, I never had much of an issue with a bad stateroom location when cruises first restarted after the pandemic; however, I have realized this is no longer the case. People are booking cruises far in advance - thanks to built-up cruise credits - and choosing the best cabin locations.

With ships filling up to capacity for most itineraries these days, guaranteed cabins are pretty much guaranteed to be terribly located onboard. Within the last year, I’ve had some pretty horrible cabin locations when booking guaranteed cabins. 

Back in March, I booked an inside cabin guarantee on Celebrity Silhouette and ended up right next to a Crew Service door. Each morning at 4am, I was woken up by the crew members starting their day and shuffling around the decks. I slept so terribly that I ended up getting sick and rundown by the last night because I was not able to get quality sleep each night. 

(Celebrity Silhouette inside cabin directly next to crew service door)

After this experience, I seriously contemplated whether I wanted to move forward with our upcoming balcony guarantee selection on Jewel of the Seas. However, it was an additional $1,000 to choose a balcony location on our sailing. Unfortunately, most of the cabins were in undesirable locations because the sailing date was approaching, so we opted to take the risk. 

(Room service on Royal Caribbean balcony)

As you can probably guess, we ended up with a horrible balcony location on our Royal Caribbean cruise. Our balcony was obstructed, although it was not categorized as such. This did not bother us, as we had only spent $300 to upgrade. But, we were located directly above one of the music lounges onboard, which greatly impacted our sleep. 

Each evening, our stateroom would thump and shake to the music playing from the live band and singers down below. We had to start planning our evenings around when the music would start and stop at the Safari Club. Some evenings, music played well past midnight and we couldn’t sleep with the loud bass that echoed throughout our cabin. 

(Watching the midnight sun in Iceland off our balcony on Royal Caribbean)

With our inside cabin on Carnival, the mid-ship location was perfect. We were surrounded by staterooms, so there was no source of unwanted noise. I slept perfectly in this pitch-black cabin. 

Gambling with a guarantee stateroom is not in my future cruise plans, especially during highly-anticipated vacations or long cruise itineraries.

When comparing these cabin experiences on Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line, there is an obvious winner in my book. I’d pick the inside cabin on Carnival in a heartbeat, but another guaranteed stateroom with Royal Caribbean is not in my future. 

(Carnival Celebration inside cabin)

Being able to comfortably sleep is a top priority for me when I am on vacation. Getting rundown and aggravated (at the consequences of my own prior decisions, I know) is not how I want to spend vacation. If anything, I need to sleep more than normal because we typically spend our days in port exploring new places.

(Beds and nightstands in Carnival's inside cabin)

I am no longer comfortable risking a bad cabin location to save extra money on a cruise vacation, especially on a longer itinerary. My husband and I both agreed that we would spend the extra money to ensure we could choose our cabin location in the future. In fact, we upgraded our cabin for next summer already because we did not want another terrible guarantee location. 

Even though our cabin on Carnival Celebration was tiny, it had everything we needed for a comfortable stay. We weren’t kept up late with loud music from the bars or lounges. Most importantly, I was able to get restful sleep each evening onboard thanks to our cabin’s prime mid-ship location. Rest and rejuvenation are crucial for a fantastic vacation - and guaranteed cabins simply cannot guarantee any of that. 

More on picking a cruise cabin

Allie Hubers has been cruising since she was a tiny toddler. What started as a yearly vacation with family quickly turned into a passion for travel, cruising and adventure. Allie's been on nearly 30 cruises all over the world. She even studied abroad on Semester at Sea, sailing the world on a ship while taking courses for college and visiting 4 continents.

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