With Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and Celebrity Cruises being sister brands, both separate divisions of Royal Caribbean International, people often ask what the difference is between the two brands. Quite often the pricing between the two companies can be very similar. Some Royal Caribbean ships, like the Oasis, Allure, and Quantum are often price higher than some of the Celebirty ships sailing at the same time as the the Royal Caribbean ships. Celebrity is know as a premium brand where as the Royal Caribbean is known as a mass market or contemporary brand. But what exactly is the difference between the two and why would you choose one line over the other?
Well lets start with what I perceived to be similarities between the two brands. Quite frankly, I found the two brands, especially the with the smaller ships, like Vision of the Seas, to be very similar, probably more similar than different. The decor of the ships was very similar, in fact there were very many fabrics and color schemes on Vision of the Seas that reminded me of the Solstice class ships. The staff friendliness and enthusiasm was indistinguishable between the two brands. The basic amenities on the the Vision of the Seas match the basic amenities of the Celebrity ships on which I have sailed both including an outdoor pool area, solarium pool, spa, assortments of bars, assortment of specialty dining venues, a main dining room and a buffet area. The larger newer ships from Royal Caribbean have many more amenities like the ice rink, in line skating, sports area, surf simulators ect.
Most of us felt that the activities staff and entertainment was very similar. The production shows in the theater were about the same quality, you standard cruise musical reviews. Both brand had aerialists, singers, and dancers and even contract with the same production company to put together the shows. We enjoyed comedians and guest singers in the main theater on both Royal Caribbean and Celebrity. Both brands utilize the centrum for dancing, shows, and activities. The centrum on Vision actually had more space than Solstice class ships, so it made for a better use of space. Both brands have great musical entertainers, rather it be the pool band or the trio from the Dominican Republic with a great lead singer who covered both pop hits and Latin dancing favorites. Both brands have annoying art actions, and port shopping lectures that are paid promotions for certain shops in port. Both brands have Karaoke and interactive game shows.
Pricing is a big difference between this cruise and the Silhouette cruise we took last February. With a price of around $1300 per person in a balcony cabin on the Silhouette for a 7 day Feb eastern Caribbean, that cruise carried a higher price than this cruise at $472 per person for our inside cabin with senior discount. That Celebrity cruise also came with a choice of either a $200 on board credit or the classic beverage package. Granted, the cabins were very different. We had a balcony on the Silhouette and an inside cabin on this cruise. But if we were to even double our price to $900 per person for the Balcony on this cruise vs a balcony on Celebrity for $1300 what on earth could possibly make the Celebrity cruise with similar amenities worth $400 more per person. As mentioned before, the newer Royal Caribbean ships often carry a price very much in line with the price of a Celebrity cruise, but those ships offer much more in the way of amenities including ice rinks, surf simulators, mini golf, spectacular broadway, diving and ice shows.
With Celebrity we predominantly cruise for the on board experience and ports tend to be secondary. We have a few ports where we have taken a few excursions, but we usually don’t budget a large amount for excursions when we take a Celebrity cruise. With this cruise, the low cost of the cabin freed up a large amount of the budget for excursions. I ended up doing an excursion in every port. In Roatan, several of us did a combination of either a zip line or eco walk with a beach break. In Belize City, we took a wonderful enriching trip to the Mayan Altun Ha ruins. In Cozumel, I accompanied one of my guests to her “Swim with the Manatees” at the Chanakaab marine park. In Costa Maya we took another excursion to Mayan ruins that managed to top our experience in Belize City. As a result of all these excursions, I found myself usually quite tired and ready for bed earlier on this cruise than on many of our Celebrity cruises.
So depending on what your want to get our of your cruise experience either brand may be a good fit for your needs.
Well when it comes right down to it the food was much better on Celebrity. On Celebrity the buffet was much more elegant with a wider variety of choices. The desserts were individually plated on Celebrity. On Vision they had large plates and bowls of mousse and flan from which one used a spoon to serve their individual portion. Celebrity offered fresh made waffles. I much prefer the lay out of the Solstice buffet with the stations concept rather than the buffet line format on this ship. I understand that some of the newer Royal Caribbean ships have stations rather than a line.
I liked the exotic salads on Celebrity and the elegant carafes of dressing rather than the traditional salad bar style set up with two large bowls of lettuce and buckets with ladles for dressing on Royal Caribbean. I sometimes found the display on the lunch buffet to be very unappealing. Every day they had a big bowl of spaghetti and next to it a bowl of marinara. The noodles were always hanging over the side and there was always sauce on the buffet table. I know that is really “nit picking”, but it just made it less appealing. On the Celebrity ships they had an attendant to keep the buffet looking presentable at all times. This ship had a self service soft serve ice cream machine, but only two flavors available, vanilla and chocolate. Celebrity has hand scooped ice cream in many flavors and gelato for an extra charge in the Cafe al Bacio.
In the main dining, room I also had a few problems. I had a problem with the temperature of some of my dishes in the main dining room. I ordered the New York strip medium the first night, and it was not hot and more like medium well. I ordered it a couple of nights later and ordered it medium rare, this time it came out cold, dry and rare. I sent it back and the replacement was just barely warm enough but this time juicy and medium rare. I am thinking that the kitchen must have a different cooking system, possibly due to lower staff ratios as opposed to the Celebrity system. Of course, no cruise line is perfect, but on ten cruises with Celebrity I think I can recall having to send two or three entree’s back. We took the kitchen tour on the Silhouette and learned that they actually fire all the entree’s when ordered. I also noticed that they have plastic plate covers on this ship, as opposed to the metal ones used on Celebrity. This may not insulate the plates as well, and could account for the temperature problems. I did very much enjoy the appetizers, which included escargot every night, however, sometimes they were not hot enough, and some times just righ. Portions were small in each course, but this is pretty standard for most cruise lines. If after your 5 courses your still want more, then you can always order a second entree. I really liked the Civiche on this Vision of the Seas cruise and my waiter seemed to anticipate that because when I asked for a second serving, he had one waiting (for me?) on the servers station. For dessert I usually request a bowl of berries in he main dining room, and the waiters had no trouble making this happen on either line.
The main area I noticed a big difference was in the staffing. The Vision of the Seas was very understaffed. There were times I wanted to order a drink or a soda and I just couldn’t find any one around. It seemed like on the Celebrity ships I just had to look up and there was a bar waiter or waiter to take my order. Some of the venues were not even open during certain times of the day, like the Enchantment of the Seas lounge, was not open during cocktail hour, which meant we were either in the trivia bar or the centrum bar. On the Solstice class ship we had a choice of several venues at cocktail hour including the wine bar, martini bar, pass port bar, the little bar out side the specialty restaurants, the navigator lounge after the Elite event was over. The diamond lounge had one concierge and one waiter assigned. The appetizers were self serve, where as they are brought around by staff during the Elite event on Celebrity.
I even talked with one of the assistant maitre de’s regarding the fact that it seemed slightly under staff. He explained that when they added the new specialty dining venues in dry dock they did not add any additional crew cabins. This meant that they had to staff the expanded venues with the same amount of staff that they had before the addition of the new venues. I always felt that attentive service on Celebrity cruises was due to the fact that the ship carried enough staff to be able to assign and move people around as necessary. We saw this when they added servers to our section when they had a VIP next to us. They were able to meet his expectations while not neglecting us, the regular guy. We saw this when they had more than the expected number of people show up for British Pub night buffet dinner. About 20 minutes into the event additional 8 servers were sent up to better staff the event. However on this cruise on Vision of Seas, we saw the short staffing to be apparent several times during this cruise. One day we waited almost 10 minutes to even get our menu in the main dining room for lunch. The waiter handling our section was clearly working hard, but not able to serve all the tables he had been assigned. Eventually an office, perhaps a maitr’de, waited on us. We were in not hurry, but service was very slow.
First, I need to qualify this statement by saying that I really only drank house wines on this cruise. When I cruise with my husband we have always enjoyed the experience of selecting a bottle of fine wine and enjoying it over dinner. For this cruise I mostly drank the free wine for Diamond members that was available at any bar between 4:30 and 8:00 pm. However, one night I ordered beef burgundy for dinner and thought it might be nice to have a Pinot Noir with my meal. When it came it was in a standard wine glass, not the proper bowl shape for Pino Noir. I asked if they had a proper Pino Noir shaped glass and the waiter had no idea what I was talking about. Lesson is, that if you want to enjoy fine wine with proper service and knowledgeable sommeliers, cruise with Celebrity. We have found that on Celebrity they provide knowledgeable wine service with the proper glasses and even food and wine pairing recommendations with the house wines, and even more so with the fine wines. That said, the house wine on Royal Caribbean was enjoyable, just not the total wine experience that they offer on Celebrity. We hope that the wine bar on the Freedom on the Seas will some how meet the gap between the two brands during our next cruise on Royal Caribbean.
Which Brand Would I Cruise
Most of the things I pointed out as differences were really quite minor and I have to say that I had a fantastic time with friends and family on this cruise. It probably seems like “nit picking” but I wanted to offer specifics between the brands. I could have just said that I thought the food and service was better on Celebrity, but I had heard that in a general sense from other cruisers for so long that I wanted to provide specific examples of the difference. I think that Celebrity Cruises will always be my brand of choice because of the better food, service and sommelier staff, but with that being said, depending on the ship, itinerary, and my travel companions, I would gladly choose Royal Caribbean again. I have two Celebrity cruises scheduled for this year, Solstice to Alaska in June, and then to Hawaii in September. However, for a family reunion cruise with 5 young adults, we’ve selected Freedom of the Seas for next Christmas.