In the past two years I’ve cruised four cruise brands (Carnival, Celebrity, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean) and found that each has their pros and cons. Here’s my thoughts on who’s the best in various categories.
I’m starting with our dining experience since that’s one of the reasons my husband loves to cruise. 🙂
Main Dining Room
We eat in the main dining room a lot for all three meals when possible so and prefer early assigned seating. Of course, Norwegian doesn’t have assigned seating but nevertheless I visited the main dining room often on my Epic cruise.
In terms of service I can say that Carnival has steadily gotten worse although we had excellent service on the Hurricane Irma sailing due to so many passengers cancelling or debarking early but my other two recent cruises with them the staff has too many tables to provide excellent service. Another negative has to do with their decision to do away with tablecloths in all but their elegant dinners.
Our team on the Celebrity Summit wasn’t very good either, although I think that was not the norm based on what I saw at other tables and online reviews.
The best experiences were with Norwegian and Royal Caribbean; who tied for service.
The food was okay to great in all four brands but Celebrity and Royal Caribbean were consistently the best.
WINNER: Royal Caribbean
I’m not a fan of the buffet ever but Carnival’s buffets just can’t compete with the other brands. The quality and selection is inferior. I felt all three of the others offered very good buffets although I really don’t have many meals there.
Where Carnival does come out on top is with Guy’s Burgers. These are the best burgers at sea and they’re free! The Summit had a grill where you could get free burgers, but they weren’t nearly as tasty. The other ships had burgers on the buffet.
Carnival’s Blue Iguana Cantina is also a winner for complimentary Mexican fast food including the best breakfast burritos I’ve had on a ship. I don’t recall seeing free eateries like this on the other three brands.
Norwegian has a wonderful complimentary eatery in O’Sheehans. This pub style restaurant is open 24 hours and is very good. Get the wings! I never got to try the complimentary Asian restaurant but will have to on my next NCL cruise.
Going head to head on pizza, I preferred the Celebrity pizza although I didn’t try Norwegian’s (assuming they had it on the buffet). We were visiting Italian ports so why eat it on the ship when you can have the original!
WINNER: Carnival and Norwegian are a tie here; if we’re just comparing buffet’s then Norwegian wins.
This is not going to be a fair comparison because we didn’t eat at any Liberty of the Seas specialty venues (other than Johnny Rocket’s casual dining). But I did have steakhouse specialty experiences on the other three brands.
My biggest complaint with Celebrity specialty dining is the price. They charge way too much and we only booked the Tuscan Grille when offered a 20% discount. The food was fine but my preference is for an American steakhouse menu rather than Italian.
Cagney’s Steakhouse on the Epic had pretty good food, venue but the service was seriously lacking. I would still put this down as second best with that problem. The best is the Carnival steakhouses where I’ve consistently had very good food, service and free bottles of wine the first night.
Outside the steakhouse, Norwegian shines in the specialty restaurant area and we enjoyed our other two experiences on the same cruise: Moderno and Cirque Dream dinner show. Next cruise Le Bistro in in my sights.
As you can see, different brands shone in the various dining venues and styles. I am picking Royal Caribbean as the ultimate winner but will revisit after sailing with them next and experiencing their specialty steakhouse.
Which cruise brand do you think offers the best overall dining experience?
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