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After 6 Royal Caribbean cruises this year, my wife and I tried Carnival for the first time and here’s what we liked and didn’t like.

06 Sep 2023
Elizabeth Wright

Welcome our guest writer, Mike Scudiero.  Mike is a Royal Caribbean Blog reader who wanted to share his experience trying a Carnival Cruise after years of sailing with Royal Caribbean.

2023 has been the "Year of the Cruise Ship" in my household. Living in Central Florida certainly makes it easier and more affordable to cruise frequently, and we got the “bug” after a post-covid cruise with our kids in 2022.

Royal Caribbean and Carnival in Nassau

Since then, we have taken six different Royal Caribbean cruises and have several more planned between now and early 2025. But tempted by attractive pricing and a rare visit to Bimini, we recently took a 3-day cruise on the Carnival Liberty.

Read moreRoyal Caribbean vs Carnival: Which is a better choice?

While there were several things we both felt Carnival got right and perhaps stood out in a positive way compared to Royal Caribbean, the overall experience reminded us why we prefer Royal Caribbean and will continue to sail with them almost exclusively. 

Things Carnival got right

Carnival Liberty in Nassau

Before I point out the reasons Carnival left us frustrated and less likely to cruise with them anytime soon, let me first offer some positive reasons one might choose Carnival over a similar-sized and similar-length cruise with Royal Caribbean. 

Room numbering


While perhaps trivial, we liked that each side of the ship was divided for room number purposes by “odd” and “even.”

No matter which direction you came off the stairs or elevator when heading back to your stateroom, it was easy to look at the signs indicating which way to odd-numbered rooms versus even-numbered ones. 

Room comforts

Carnival cabin

On this cruise, we opted for the best-priced interior option Carnival had on this sailing. For the age and class of the ship and stateroom, we both felt the beds were more comfortable than a Royal Caribbean bed typically has been on an equivalent sailing.

Also, the mini refrigerator provided was very cold and seemed to be a better option than the coolers provided in Royal Caribbean staterooms, most of which never seem to keep bottled waters cold. 

Towels in room


We appreciated the Carnival method of placing two pool towels in our room up front.

Sure, they will hit you for $25 apiece if you keep them. Still, the idea of having them right there and easily swapped out by the room attendant made this process appear more seamless than on Royal Caribbean ships. 

Stateroom attendant

Carnival Liberty cabin

Even though it was quick, 3-day weekend cruise, our stateroom attendant was highly professional and attentive. He introduced himself on the first night with a firm handshake and asked what, if anything, we needed from him.

I haven’t always found this to be the case with Royal Caribbean, though it certainly seems this is a mileage-may-vary situation from ship to ship, and maybe even cruise line to cruise line.

Some dining options were better


While clearly not an across-the-board situation (more on this below), there were some food offerings that we found much more enjoyable than Royal options.

For example, the Blue Iguana taco bar we felt was tastier than El Loco Fresh. Guy’s Burgers, apparently a staple on all Carnival ships, was one of the best cheeseburgers I’ve had anywhere, let alone at sea. And Pirate Pizza we both agreed was superior to Sorrento’s. All of these options were free and highly enjoyable.

Adults-only pool area

Adults pool on Carnival Liberty

While not necessarily better than the Solarium on Royal Caribbean, we did find the Carnival adults-only pool to be a great option for lounging, and both the pool and hot tubs themselves to be a tick better than the options found on the comparable Royal ships. 


There were pros and cons with the Carnival casino. On the positive side, the position in the ship – with windows overlooking the water on both sides – was a nice change and even included plenty of casual seating along each side.

A small stage was setup and typically had a guitar player performing each night to keep the vibe up. I liked that the craps table was open early each day and that tier points were visible in the Carnival Hub app minutes after you finished playing, whether at a slot machine or table game. 

The Modern Trio Project (ship violinists)


Lastly, the trio of professional violinists that perform in the main lobby each night should not to be missed on Carnival Liberty.

These talented musicians were amazing to listen to, and we hadn’t seen a performance of that caliber on a Royal Caribbean ship that wasn’t an actual theatre/production show. Hats off to those three folks for keeping everyone entertained for a few hours each night.

Things Carnival for wrong

Carnival Liberty in Nassau

Suffice to say, there were plenty of nice features and options available on the Carnival Liberty that might be difference makers for those looking for something different.

That said, we found the shortcomings problematic enough that we missed the Independence of the Seas before even sailing away from Port Canaveral and watching it pass us in the open Atlantic a few hours later. Here are some of the reasons.

Beverage and table bussing service was slower or non-existent


Not only were the bar servers constantly in the weeds, seemingly unable to keep pace with demand, not once the entire cruise, in any bar or pool area, did we have a waiter or waitress come by to take a drink order. And along with that came the piling up of plates and cups on tables.

With Royal Caribbean, we find that we barely finish a drink before there’s a waiter coming to ask if we want another and taking our empty glass away. Not the case at all on Carnival Liberty, at least not this past weekend.

Limit of 15 alcohol drinks per day and signing for every purchase…and Pepsi


At my age and weight, it’s quite possible for me to drink 15 drinks over the course of a day and not be too drunk to safely make it back to my room. The Carnival drink package that caps you at 15 drinks per day is not a good fit for everyone, and it made me appreciate that while Royal may charge more for their Deluxe Beverage Package, there is no such predetermined limit.

Add to it that Carnival requires you sign a receipt for every drink, even sodas and bottled waters, and it was another check in the box for Royal. If nothing else, the receipt issue slows down the overall service at crowded bars, leaving less time to enjoy your vacation.

Lastly on this section, I am the grandson of a Coca-Cola warehouse supervisor and have grown up with zero use for Pepsi products. Royal wins that battle for me all day, every day over Carnival. If you’re like me and dread the, “Is Pepsi OK?” response from servers when you ask for a Coke some place, Carnival isn’t for you.

Casino downsides

Celebrity casino

As I noted above, there were several aspects of the Carnival casino that I enjoyed, but there were some definite downsides.

For starters, if you’re an experienced Blackjack player, be aware that the tables on this ship were all using continuous shuffle machines, which adds to the house advantage. They were also paying out 6-5 on natural Blackjacks, another decided blow to the players.

The slot machines do not print out tickets when you cash out. Instead, they add the funds you left in the machine to your ship card, and you have to go to the cashier to cash out. Considering my wife ran down to the casino late on the last night when remembering that she had $100 on her card, it’s easy to see where many might forget, adding to the Carnival casino profit margin.

Stateroom problems


For a ship renovated in 2016, our interior stateroom on Carnival Liberty fell woefully short of our expectations. There was only one outlet in the room, with another tucked up in the ceiling corner above the sink in the bathroom.

Speaking of the bathroom, the décor itself was a stale green theme straight out of a horror movie and had a shower curtain instead of a door.

The deadbolt didn’t work in our room door, leading to some cause for concern safety-wise. And for an 8th floor room, it was rather noisy. Whenever the ship was sailing, we could hear the engine noise in our ears from the bed, as though we were in the bowels of the ship. Add to that the walls and doors seemed to allow for much more hallway noise in your room, and it’s easy to see where Royal just does better by us.

Buffet was subpar, even by mass market cruise ship standards


Look, I get it. The food at any cruise ship buffet is not going to rival a 5-star dining spot. Nonetheless, we found ourselves once again appreciating the comforts of the Windjammer on Royal Caribbean when we went to the Carnival buffet the first night.

The options were extremely limited and the quality regrettable. The next day for breakfast proved no better. It reached a point where we planned our remaining meals around the peculiar hours of Blue Iguana and Guy’s Burgers. 

Why we'll remain Loyal to Royal

Oasis sea day

For my wife and I and what we desire when cruising, the choice was clear, and we knew it the first night.

Royal Caribbean simply seems a cut above Carnival in most areas and worth whatever reasonable extra cost comes with this choice. From the specialty dining options to the staff service and the comforts of home we feel when on a Royal ship, the positive attributes Royal has make them a clear leader in mass market cruising.

While I try not to deal in absolutes and would not want to say “never again," with several other Royal cruises in my app on the horizon, the things we appreciate about our favorite cruise line are the reasons we will book almost exclusively with them in the years ahead.

Elizabeth graduated from New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute with her M.A. in Journalism in May 2023. Growing up, she had the privilege of traveling frequently with her family and fell in love with cruising after sailing on the Oasis of the Seas her freshman year of high school. She wanted to pursue a career that highlighted her passion for travel and strengths as a writer. 

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