Royal Caribbean vs. Celebrity: Which Cruise Line Is Better?

The cruise lines have the same ownership, but there are some major differences.

As a frequent Royal Caribbean RCL passenger (roughly eight cruises and maybe 42 days on their ships this year), it’s fair to say I enjoy the cruise company’s namesake brand. At least six of the cruise line’s ships (and usually more) sail from Port Canaveral, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami, which are all within two hours of my house.

That means I can hop on a mid-size Voyager or Freedom-class ship for a three-day weekend or board a massive Oasis or Quantum class for a longer journey. It’s an embarrassment of riches that, along with the cruise line’s casino rewards program, has created a lot of loyalty.

I have fun on Royal Caribbean ships and feel at home on them, so, even within the same company, I’ve been hesitant to sample another brand. I’ve cruised Virgin, Carnival Cruise Line (CCL) – Get Free Report, and MSC, but had never tried Celebrity, a brand that’s owned by the Royal Caribbean Group.

Recently, however, a friend of mine who works on cruise ships joined Celebrity Summit for a short contract. I took that as an opportunity to try the line and compare it to Royal Caribbean. 

Image source: Daniel Kline/TheStreet

How You Compare Royal Caribbean and Celebrity     

Summit, it should be noted, is a smaller ship, arguably on the lower end of Celebrity’s fleet, Both cruise lines have smaller and larger ships. Bigger ships mean more restaurants, features, and entertainment choices, but there are some core things that each cruise line does differently across all of its ships.

For this comparison, I’ll be focusing on the core choices the parent company has made for each cruise line. Celebrity and Royal Caribbean intentionally offer different experiences. Royal Caribbean, for example really wants to deliver a full family experience while kids are present and well-served on Celebrity, but are perhaps less of a focus.

In addition, while there are variations across the fleet, the food in the Main Dining Room (MDR), buffet, and other free venues tends to be uniform across the fleet.

Celebrity Has Better Included Food   

While Royal Caribbean has perfectly adequate food in its MDR, Windjammer Buffet, Cafe Promenade coffee shop, and Sorrento’s pizza parlor, Celebrity outdoes its sister brand pretty much across the board. Celebrity’s Oceanview Buffet did offer less variety than Royal Caribbean does in the Windjammer as there were fewer stations that rotated each day, but the food leaned toward grilled over fried with a lot of simple meat and fish options as well as extensive “make-your-own” pasta, sandwich, and salad stations.

The food at Oceanview compared well to the lighter take on the Windjammer Royal Caribbean offers on its Oasis-class ships in the Solarium Bistro buffet. The differences in the MDR were less pronounced, but still notable. The same could be said for the onboard pizza, Summit lacked a dedicated pizza restaurant, but served it at the buffet until 1 a.m. The quality was notably better (and less greasy) than Sorrento’s.

Celebrity really shined, however, at Cafe al Bacio, its answer to Royal Carribean’s Cafe Promenade. The Celebrity cafe had a deep coffee and tea menu offering some inventive choices as well a a large list of boozy coffees. The pastries, however, were the true stars as Cafe al Bacio offered a rotating selection of cake slices, cupcakes, and pastries that look like they came from a small-town bakery while Cafe Promenade has a much weaker offering.

Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Offer Similar Cabins 

On Summit, like on most Royal Caribbean sailings, I had a balcony room. In this case, my room looked an awful lot like every other one i have had albeit with a slightly bigger shower than anything but the newest Royal Caribbean ships offer (although size can sometimes be an illusion of design).

My cabin had USB ports, which some Royal Caribbean ships lack, and a seating area that was somewhere between a big chair and a small loveseat. That’s similar to Royal Caribbean where the seating options can vary from chair through full-sized couch.

The room was really indistinguishable from many others I’ve had, which is a positive as both lines offer comfortable rooms that use their space well.

Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Attract Different Crowds    

While it’s hard to base what type of crowd to expect on a single sailing, Celebrity generally aims for a more adult crowd, My sailing, since it was Thanksgiving week, had more kids than usual, according to a number of crew members, but they were not a very visual presence.

The main pools did have lots of people of all ages using them, and there were occasionally packs of unsupervised teenagers making noise, but the general vibe was more adult.

Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Have Very Different Night Life

Summit offered a wide array of musicians playing all over the ship whereas Royal Caribbean usually offers a solo guitarist in the pub and a piano player at the Schooner Bar. Those artists simply play those venues.

In this case, a solo guitarist, a guitar/piano duo, and a few other bands were rotated to various venues across various dayparts. Royal Caribbean tends to limit its music to the night time aside from its DJs and party bands on the pool deck (Celebrity had those too).

Rotating the musicians allowed me to experience more of them and having more entertainment during the day on Celebrity made sense as the ship slowed down much earlier than I’ve experienced on Royal Carribean ships. Bars closed at midnight (or earlier) with the casino and the club/disco becoming your only options for a drink on Summit after 12 on most nights.

The quality of the shows, performers, and comedians seemed comparable which makes sense given that both cruise lines appear to draw from the same talent pool.

Royal Caribbean ships definitely feel more like a party, but Celebrity’s offerings felt more distinct. Nearly every bar had a real theme with distinct cocktail lineups while themes seem to mean less on Royal Caribbean ships.

Both cruise lines offer similar casinos, but Celebrity’s are non-smoking.

Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Are More the Same Than Different  

Celebrity seems to have more crew per passenger (which makes sense as it’s generally more expensive than Royal Caribbean). The crew on Summit, especially in bars, restaurants, and the coffee shop made an effort to greet passengers and the small size of the ship made it easy to get to know names and faces. 

That’s true on smaller Royal Caribbean ships as well since you simply see crew members more often.

The pool deck on Celebrity Summit mirrored the setup on many Royal Caribbean ships. It had two all-ages pools clustered together and one adult Solarium pool that was covered and heated (which was a nice feature). Hot tubs dot the pool deck and bars are easy to find.

Royal Caribbean, however, has movie screens at the pool on many (not all) of its ships while Summit showed movies on a screen on a top deck that lacked shade and a bar.

Honestly, while this may be less true on the newer, larger ships,. Celebrity offers better food, fewer kids, and perhaps slightly better service. It’s a slightly more adult-friendly line, but there are no major differences between the two brands, just a slightly different focus on core customers with Royal Caribbean going heavy into families.

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