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You can head to a Caribbean beach on either mainstream line ... so which one is right for your cruise? - Photo by Carnival Cruise Lines and Norwegian Cruise Line

 

Dining

Norwegian has been the trendsetter ever since it rolled outs its Freestyle Cruising® program more than a decade ago. Most of Norwegian’s ships have more than 10 choices, though you’ll pay from $5 to $75 a person to eat in most of them. The newest Norwegian ships have a restaurant by Food Network Chef Geoffrey Zakarian and a bakery by Buddy Valastro, TLC's “Cake Boss.” Recently, Carnival started improving its own dining lineup, with Food Network star Guy Fieri-branded burgers and impressive poolside taco stands — and its Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse could hold its own in New York.

Our Pick: Draw — A few years ago, Norwegian would have won easily, but Carnival has upped its game.

 

Standard Cabins

For decades, Carnival has consistently built ships with roomy standard cabins, measuring 185 square feet or larger, with sizeable showers and bedside reading lights. Norwegian, on the other hand, scrimps on cabin size: 128 square feet. 

Our Pick: Carnival — If you like space and plan on spending time in your room, Carnival comes out on top.

 

Specialty Cabins

Norwegian’s new studio cabins are a boon for singles: They’re tiny but come with a low price tag and access to a private lounge. Norwegian has come up with other innovative cabins too. Spa cabins have free access to the thermal suite, and suites in the Haven area share a private pool, hot tub, gym, and butler. 

Our Pick: Norwegian — While Carnival’s standard cabins are big, the options are less innovative.

 

Entertainment

Norwegian is great at trendsetting, with entertainment from Blue Man Group and Second City. On the other hand, Carnival has always excelled at providing a party atmosphere, with big discos and packed piano bars. The line’s stand-up comedy acts — both family and adult-only shows — are also big hits, and Carnival just launched a Live Concert series, featuring stars like Jennifer Hudson and REO Speedwagon. 

Our Pick: Carnival — The new concert series is groundbreaking and gives the line an edge.

 

Itineraries

With a few exceptions, Carnival sticks to the Caribbean, The Bahamas, and Mexico. Norwegian cruises those destinations as well, plus has multiple ships in Europe and Alaska, the Panama Canal, and Bermuda. 

Our Pick: Norwegian — If you’re looking to expand your horizons, Norwegian pushes the boundaries more than Carnival.

 

Kids

The newest ships of both fleets have large drop-off playrooms divided into sections by age. Both lines also have water slides, water playgrounds, and ropes courses on their latest ships, and both have character partnerships. 

Our Pick: Norwegian — Norwegian pulls ahead with its Nickelodeon partnership and circus schools. Carnival’s new partnership with Dr. Suess has promise, but it’s only on one ship so far and just for ages 2 to 5.

 

Overall

Our Pick: Norwegian wins by a hair, as a result of innovation. But both lines provide affordable Vegas-meets-Orlando vacations — a marriage of flashy decor and theme park-style amenities.