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Cruise Ship Show Down: Carnival Vs. Royal Caribbean

Having taken two cruises in July this past summer, our cruiser couldn't help but make endless comparisons. Here's how the 'Victory' and the 'Splendour' stack up in a handful of areas.

Having taken two cruises in July this past summer, I couldn't help but make endless comparisons. The first was a 4-nighter aboard the Carnival Victory out of New York City to Saint John, New Brunswick. The second was a week-long jaunt through the Aegean. Round-trip from Venice, the Splendour of the Seas took us to four great ports: Dubrovnik, Kusadasi/Ephesus, Santorini and Corfu. While of course the itineraries were literally and figuratively worlds away, the cruise lines (Royal Caribbean and Carnival) are oft-compared peers. Here's how the Victory and the Splendour stack up in a handful of areas.

Basic Stats


102,000 tons, 2,758 passenger capacity, double occupancy
3,411 passengers on July 3 sailing; 897 under age 18
2000 built.

Splendour of the Seas
69,130 tons, 1,804 passenger capacity, double occupancy
1,962 passengers on July 20 sailing; 362 under age 17
1996 built.


Victory (cabin #8270)

Hands down, Victory wins. Standard rooms are bigger than Splendour's and very well laid-out with oodles of storage space; even for a family of four we had empty drawers and shelves. Bathrooms are roomy, partially tiled and overall more attractive and larger than the Splendour's, with toiletries including a basket of random trialsize products Carnival must get a special deal on ala disposal shavers and antacid pills. Cabin steward, Putu from Indonesia, was excellent.

Splendour of the Seas (cabin #7510)

Standard cabins are snug and overall design and amenities were very mediocre. Bathrooms are really compact and very uninspired design-wise, with drab, beige fiberglass covering the whole space. Inadequate towel racks meant precariously propped clean towels wound up on the floor, and toiletries included bar soap and a generic shampoo and bath gel combo in an institutional-looking shower dispenser. A piece of old electric tape held the bottom of our bathroom mirror together.

Both ships

Ships tie for the ultra-comfortable bedding -- including cozy pillow-top mattresses and duvets -- which both Carnival and Royal Caribbean have added to cabins fleet-wide in recent years.

Kids Facilities

The vibe of the kids' facilities for the 3 to 12 set was impersonal, largely due to the layout of the area. The sign-in and drop-off window at the Camp Carnival playroom was just that, a window. Parents couldn't see in or wave good-bye to their kids, and like most lines' playrooms, parents aren't allowed into the playroom (except on the orientation evening the first day). Because of this layout and due to lines at the window to sign in most days, there was very little personal interaction between counselors and parents and the whole arrangement felt somewhat institutional. Beside the playroom was a roomy teen disco and video arcade, plus outside up on deck, a giant twisty water slide, "Water Wars" water balloon battle thingy, and mini-golf course.

Splendour of the Seas
No larger than Victory's, but big points for a better layout and a very warm, welcoming group of counselors. Double glass doors led into a bright and open area that parents could see into when signing in their young ones. Counselors were friendly and chatty, and exuded warmth. I liked this group from the get-go and ship's smaller numbers (and kid counts), met more personal attention. The kids facilities included this medium-sized room with windows for the 3 to 11 age group (typically divided into sections to accommodate three separate age groupings), plus a separate, larger and newly refurbished teen disco. A small video arcade is also nearby. A mini-golf course and rock-climbing wall up on the top deck were also popular for kids, though the golf course was looking a bit tattered.


In the giant theater, a fair number of seats were obstructed by structural pillars or were so far back in the peanut gallery opera glasses would have come in handy. Entertainment highlights included stand-up comic Happy Cole sharing his envelope-pushing, adults-only humor -- one of his best lines was something about the disparity between the perfect airbrushed models in cruise ship brochures and real passengers! The production shows were solidly average, though the atrium trio -- two violinists and pianist -- who played classical numbers a few times a day were a nice touch. The cover band along the Boulevard entertainment strip was super popular with passersby, especially during their rendition of camp classic YMCA.

Splendour of the Seas

The theater had great sight lines, with only two structural columns poking up through the entire space. Highlights were definitely the magic and illusions of Fallon as well as the cool antics of human pretzel and trickster Luis Dalton and a Beatles cover band (called Backbeat Beatles). As far as the production shows, the lead singers were mediocre, though earning an A for enthusiasm. A pianist played classics like "Moon River" and "Mona Lisa" in the dining room a few nights -- nice touch. Poolside games were fun, including a belly-flop contest that hundreds came to cheer on and watch.

Crowding and Lines


Sorry, Victory gets a low score here. Lines in the Lido buffet restaurant typically meant a 30-minute shuffle along the line for a bowl of oatmeal or a plate of eggs. Lunch was slightly better, since there's a separate pizza counter and sandwich grille area. Ordering a continental breakfast through room service was a good way to avoid the morning crush, while for lunch, the only hope for shorter lines was eating later, say 1:30ish. At fault is the design of the buffet, with everything except drinks and desserts served from one big area. Another jammed up spot was the Coral Sea Café coffee bar, where on more than one occasion I waited for about 15 minutes for my $3 decaf coffee.

Splendour of the Seas

In this age of giant megas, growing larger by the minute, 1,800 passengers is down-right cozy and the Splendour was a great size. There were no lines ever in the buffet restaurant due to the multiple stations for different foods (at least five or six were open at any one time, and often more) and plenty of seating and clean tables.

Dining and Food

Overall, tie score on most accounts. Both ships had good days and bad days, but generally the ships delivered decent, but hardly exceptional, mass-market fare on par with a banquet-hall wedding. Aboard the Victory, service was friendly and efficient, even without extras like cocktail forks (for the escargot) and dedicated sommeliers. Top tastes included a roasted pumpkin soup, a Georges Blanc grilled jumbo shrimp in beurre blanc, New England lobster and crab cake, and the delish pizza served 24 hours a day in the lido buffet (including a to-die-for goat cheese and mushroom pie). Kids' menus doubled as nice color booklets, and crayons were provided.

Splendour of the Seas
See above, plus extra points for overall professional service and friendly attitude. My favorite dishes included a Thai chicken breast dish and Tuscan white bean soup. The King and I two-story main restaurant had a subtle and pleasant Asian motif with gilded Thai statutes and attractive furniture; the views through floor-to-ceiling windows were great departing from port. Minus a point or two though for having to ask for a children's menu and getting a one-page black and white copy of an original, not impressive. No crayons for first few nights (luckily I always carry spares). The lido buffet was a smooth operation every time we were there, which was frequently, though the heavily used frozen ice-cream machine was drippy and neglected.

Stand-out Crew

Cabin steward Putu from Indonesia was excellent. Filipino youth counselors were chipper and fun-loving, though overall, ship's crew seemed a bit lackluster.

Splendour of the Seas
Overall, crew was helpful and friendly. Top staff included the funny, natural and knowledgeable cruise director Anthony Richards and warm and enthusiastic Youth Manager Antonio Villegas. Our Brazilian waitress Elizabeth was excellent and super professional all around.

Tacky Moments

The wait staff would turn up the lights at 7:45 to let the early-seating diners know it was time for them to go! -- hint hint! Granted, the staff had to set up for the late 8:15 diners, but still, this low-brow way of making a statement made me feel like we were in a Denny's.

During the week's main production show, not only were passengers sitting on the stairs in the upper level of the theater (why was this permitted?), one guy had the nerve to talk on his walkie-talkie. Another doozey: I counted 30 people in one of the jumbo-sized hot tubs on the pool deck, with one kid eating an ice-cream cone.

Splendour of the Seas
The ship's library only had two travel guidebooks! Most of the plants are now artificial and many in need of a good dusting! An embarrassingly bad recording (raspy and hard to understand, as though the cassette tape had been run over by a bus) of the final "good-bye" song was lip-synched by the restaurant staff on the final evening -- GONG! On last evening of cruise, before show started in theater, staff walked through theater aisles trying to sell copies of the DVD of the cruise (an hour or two of candid passenger footage and ship events is put together every week).