By John Toth
Departing from the Port of Galveston terminal on Carnival Cruise lines vs. the terminal Royal Caribbean built a few blocks away is like day and night.
The Carnival terminals are converted warehouses, while Royal’s is a new, first-class customized facility. Now that we have had a chance to sail from both, I can tell you that the Royal terminal has Carnival beaten - by a lot.
While I don’t book one ship over another because of its departure terminal, I do think that a pleasant environment during the boarding process is a much better way to start a cruise. I like both cruise lines and book my trips according to which fits into my schedule best and which ports we’re visiting.
Which is why after such an incredible boarding and deboarding with Royal, I changed back to Carnival and tolerated the dilapidated, hot terminal.
Both cruise lines offer friendly service during boarding - no complaints about that. But Carnival packs a lot more people into a smaller, hotter area.
Our latest boarding on Carnival was a little frustrating, but what followed made up for it. The first night brought non-stop entertainment and a party atmosphere that was missing on Royal.
Our sail-away party had to be canceled because the audio equipment on the Lido Deck overheated and shut down. They incorporated the party into the evening’s already packed entertainment. It was a long, enjoyable night that left me dragging the next morning.
The entertainment is good on both cruise lines, but Royal’s Adventure of the Seas had it’s own orchestra. On Carnival’s Breeze and Vista, much of the music was prerecorded. Both products were a good fit – no complaints.
Royal has an ice skating rink on its ships and hires professional ice skaters to perform shows that are included in the price of the cruise. The Carnival ships we have been on didn’t have ice rinks. That’s another big difference.
If you want to lose weight, cruising is not a good vacation option.
The food included with the price of the cruise is very good on both cruise lines, as we experienced. The problem is how not to over eat and how to eat somewhat healthy. Although there also are salads, vegetables and fruit, Cruise lines are not in the business of preaching the benefits of healthy foods. There are plenty of good choices, but they are going to provide food that most people like – meat and potatoes and pizza.
The gyms on both cruise lines are very nice, better than many land-based ones, and they are also included in the ticket price. But, both cruise lines will try to lure you in with discounts to their spa, which cost extra. The spa treatments are probably relaxing, but we haven’t purchased any.
In addition to food that is included in the ticket price, there are specialty restaurants on the ships that cost extra. Some packages look like a good deal and often focus on Italian or Asian cuisine or steaks or seafood, but they will add to the basic cost for which you’ve already paid.
We found that Royal puts on a lot more pressure to sell specialty restaurant dining packages than Carnival. So far, we have not paid for dining on a ship, but I’m sure that we’ll get talked into a discounted package that we won’t be able to pass up.
Both cruise lines also offer drink packages - one for alcoholic beverages and another for sodas. We have not bought either because we don’t drink alcohol and try to limit sodas to a minimum. Filtered ice water, tea, coffee, lemonade and juices from concentrate are included in the ticket price.
The one big difference is that Royal tends to attract a little older crowd, while Carnival’s younger cruisers, the 20 and 30-something crowd - who buys the alcoholic drink package - has more trouble controlling themselves than the older, more seasoned drinkers.
On our last cruise, we encountered a loud-mouthed woman who obviously had too much to drink, who was cursing in a crowded elevator about kids being on the cruise. There was a young girl standing in the corner of the elevator.
Beverage packages are expensive on both ships, and unless cruisers can consume 12 drinks or more per day, they are not worth it.
We’re getting smarter about cruising the more we do it. I would put us in the “looking-for-a- deal” category of cruisers, although for the first time ever, we booked a balcony cabin. We don’t expect to cruise again without a balcony. We have learned our lesson. Balcony only.