12 Big Differences Between Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean

What’s the difference between sailing a cruise on Royal Caribbean and a trip on Celebrity? To be sure, any cruise you take will have plenty of similarities, but despite being owned by the same company (Royal Caribbean Group), there is plenty that’s different between these two cruise lines.

Royal Caribbean and Celebrity cruise ships docked next to each other.
Royal Caribbean Group operates Royal Caribbean International and the more upscale Celebrity Cruises. So what are the differences between the two major lines?

That means just because you’re a fan of one line doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be a fan of the other although there are certainly plenty of people that enjoy the two. And if you’ve never sailed Royal Caribbean or Celebrity, you might be wondering which to sail for your cruise.

Having sailed both, we can share details of ways the two lines are clearly not the same so you can decide which line might be best for you.

Celebrity Caters to More Affluent Adults

Pool deck on Celebrity
Instead of waterslides and splash pads, Celebrity offers a pool deck — and an entire ship — that’s more focused on adult tastes.

If you’ve sailed Royal Caribbean, then you know that it caters to everyone. There is a large family focus, but you’ll find something to enjoy whether you are 8 years old or 88 years old. Celebrity is a bit different in that everything from the ship’s décor, to food, to things to do, to itineraries all cater to a higher-end adult passenger.

That’s not to say that kids or families aren’t welcomed. Far from it. There are dedicated kids areas on both lines. But whereas Royal Caribbean has lots of kid-friendly things to do, eat, and see, Celebrity focuses more on adults. This means more stylish decor, no wild waterslides onboard, and food options that tend to be more adventurous.

If you think of Royal Caribbean as a great place to take a family vacation, then you can think of Celebrity as a great way to celebrate a honeymoon or anniversary.

Royal Caribbean Has Larger Ships

When it comes to the largest cruise ships on the planet, there’s Royal Caribbean and then everyone else. Its newest ship — Icon of the Seas — comes in a 250,000+ gross tons and has the ability to carry 7,600 passengers at full capacity. And even beyond that, the fleet in general is large with the six largest cruise ships on the planet all belonging to Royal Caribbean.

That’s great for those that want a lot to do on a cruise ship as more size means more can be packed on. But if you’re not a fan of the biggest ships, Celebrity’s are considerably smaller.

Its largest ships (Beyond and Ascent) come in at “just” 141,000 gross tons and carry about 3,500 passengers. And some of the cruise line’s special expedition ships carry as few as 16 passengers at double occupancy.

Royal Caribbean Sails From More Departure Ports in North America

If you live in the United States and want “easy to sail,” then one big difference is that there are a lot more options with Royal Caribbean.

Both lines sail from a number of departure ports in North America, but Royal Caribbean offers more options including Baltimore, New Orleans, and Galveston. This puts a ship within driving distance for tens of millions more people. As well, Celebrity seems to have fewer year-round options and a smaller number of ships sailing from each port.

To be sure if you’re sailing from ports in Florida, you’ll have a number of options on either line. But overall, you’ll find more choices with Royal Caribbean across the continent.

Drink Prices Are More Expensive on Celebrity

Drink menu on Celebrity
Drinking on any cruise is expensive, but whereas Royal Caribbean charges $14 for most specialty cocktails, Celebrity charges higher prices (in some cases up to $20).

Let’s be clear that any cruise is going to carry hefty price tags on alcohol. It’s not unusual to spend hundreds of dollars on drink packages or buying beverages ala carte during the course of your cruise.

But we’ve noticed that drinks are significantly more expensive when sailing Celebrity. In general, you’ll find menu prices of around $14 per cocktail, plus an additional 18% gratuity charge. On Celebrity, the menu prices vary a bit more, but tend to hover around $17-$20 per cocktail and then there is a 20% gratuity on top of that. In other words, you could be paying up to $24 for a fancy cocktail.

Celebrity Offers “All Included”

Are you someone that doesn’t like to be nickeled and dimed? If so, then Celebrity offers the “All Included” deal that may be to your liking. Royal Caribbean doesn’t have the same package.

With All Included, a basic drink package and basic wi-fi are included in your fare (gratuities used to also be included before it was recently taken out) at a price that’s less than what you’d pay for them individually. So you pay a little extra but save money overall and also have drinks and wi-fi included on your cruise.

You don’t have to purchase the offer if you don’t want to. On Royal Caribbean, however, it’s not a choice (at least for now).

Celebrity Offers More Space

We have not sailed every ship on Celebrity or Royal Caribbean. We have sailed on the Edge-series ships from Celebrity (names like Edge, Apex, Beyond, and Ascent) and several different classes across Royal Caribbean. We can say there is a noticeable difference in the design on the ship that lends itself to more space.

The Edge-series ships are smartly built with spaces around the ship designed to be open and airy. It results in less of a cramped feel while sailing. And it’s not just our imagination.

Cruzely uses a measure called the “space ratio” that takes the gross tonnage of a ship and divides it by passengers at double occupancy. Essentially, it measures the size of the ship per passenger.

Overall, many Royal Caribbean ship score well, hovering around a ratio of 40. Celebrity, however, is even better with many ships in the 42-44 range for the ratio, indicating more space per person.

Royal Caribbean Offers More Short Cruise Options

Two Royal Caribbean ships docked at CocoCay
Want a less expensive and quick getaway? Royal Caribbean offers significantly more itineraries and dates for cruises that are five days or fewer.

Over the past decade or two, short cruises (those five nights or fewer) have surged in popularity. Not only are they generally less expensive, but fewer days means less time off work and away from home. There’s little surprise that the chance to get away for a few days without the time commitment or cost of a 7-day trip has proven popular.

If you’re a cruiser that likes these short trips, then you should know that Royal Caribbean offers many more options. A search of the schedule for Celebrity shows 44 different itineraries between 2-5 nights, with most of those routes having only a handful of dates.

Royal Caribbean offers 127 different short itineraries, with some of those sailing dozens of times over the course of the year.

Celebrity Is More Upscale Throughout

Grand Plaza on Celebrity Ascent
If you enjoy luxury in your vacation, Celebrity offers it in spades. That’s especially the case on the cruise line’s newest Edge-series ships (Edge, Apex, Beyond, and Ascent).

We mentioned that Celebrity is more focused on affluent adults. It’s important to emphasize that part of that is being in general a more upscale experience. Ships — especially the newer Edge-series — are essentially pieces of art. We like to think of it as if you took a traditional cruise spa and used that as inspiration for the entire ship. Colors are calm and inviting, there’s lots of space, and it simply feels high end.

As well, the onboard experience will be more upscale. Think calming days by the pool instead of “hairiest chest” contests. That’s not to say it’s uptight and stuffy — you’ll still enjoy yourself. But if you’re the type that likes to wear shorts and flip-flops into the dining room instead of tucking in your shirt, it may not be a fit.

One thing that also adds to the atmosphere is lots of artwork and sculptures throughout. From the pool to the stairwells to the restaurants, nice pieces add a touch of class to everything.

Royal Caribbean Has CocoCay

View of CocoCay from Royal Caribbean
CocoCay is Royal Caribbean’s private island that’s a playground for kids and adults. Whether you want excitement or just to chill on the beach, it’s all there for you.

We include mention of CocoCay as it’s a big draw for many Royal Caribbean cruises, but it’s also a difference that’s soon to go away.

If you aren’t familiar with CocoCay, it’s Royal Caribbean’s private destination in The Bahamas. The spot is considered the ultimate in private islands. It features a full waterpark, lots of beach space, a massive pool, an exclusive beach club and an adults-only section. Literally millions of passengers sail here each year and seemingly every cruise from Florida pays a visit.

Celebrity, however, hasn’t had access to its sister-line’s island. That is until now. Celebrity will begin to include CocoCay stops on some itineraries.

Celebrity Offers “Infinite Verandahs”

Infinite verandah on Celebrity
Infinite balconies are a newer feature that essentially turn the entire cabin into a balcony. At the click of a button, the window drops down to open up the space to fresh air.

It’s not on every ship, but newer Celebrity vessels like Ascent and Edge have a little tweak to the traditional balcony cabins. On the cruise line they are called “infinite verandahs.”

Normally a balcony cabin has the room, and then a door that leads to an outside balcony. These infinite balconies instead have a window for the entire outside wall. When you want some fresh air, hit a button and the top half of the window slides down, turning essentially the entire cabin into the balcony. There is still a “balcony” section that you can close off with folding doors if you want to sit outside without disturbing the rest of the room.

Royal Caribbean’s new Icon class ships are incorporating this design feature, but it’s not on the rest of the fleet.

Royal Caribbean Offers More Options for Kids

We think it’s important to emphasize that Royal Caribbean specifically has a lot more for kids. Yes, kids are welcomed on Celebrity and there is a kids area as mentioned earlier. Children definitely won’t have a bad time.

But compared to Royal Caribbean — which we consider to be among the most kid-friendly lines — the difference is night and day.

Pool decks on Royal Caribbean offer waterslides, climbing walls, and the Flowrider wave simulator. There’s the arcade, some ships offer entertainment like escape rooms, and dry slides. Even others offer bumper cars and ice skating.

Celebrity Offers Small-Ship Trips to the Galapagos

Both cruise lines can take you places around the world, including Royal Caribbean’s epic 274-night “Ultimate World Cruise.” But when it comes to more exotic locations, we have to give the nod to Celebrity.

In particular, the cruise line offers three ships — Xpedition, Xploration, and Flora — that provide cruises to the Galapagos. These three vessels are unique not just in that they offer cruises to one of the most remote parts of the planet, but they are also small. The largest of the three — Celebrity Flora — has an occupancy of just 100 passengers.

That definitely sets it apart from Royal Caribbean.

Which Cruise Line Is Better, Royal Caribbean or Celebrity?

So which should you sail? And which cruise line is better between Royal Caribbean and Celebrity?

That comes down to a matter of personal preference. The good news is that both cruise lines do a great job of delivering a memorable vacation. But they do seem to deliver the most for certain groups.

If you’re a family sailing with children, the Royal Caribbean is the obvious choice. The cruise line caters to everyone, but has a much larger focus on things to do onboard compared to not just Celebrity but nearly any cruise line. That’s not to say Mom and Dad won’t have fun, but the kids should have a markedly more exciting cruise.

On the other hand, if you’re celebrating a honeymoon, anniversary, or you are simply the sort of passenger who enjoys a more luxurious experience (e.g. you prefer the spa over the waterslide), then we think Celebrity is a great option.

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