This year was an exciting year for us, because we went on two cruises this year! At the end February we went on Carnival Vista (CV) and now at the end of May we've gone on the Norwegian Escape (NE). Both of these ships are the newest/best ships on both Carnival and Norwegian so I thought that it might be interesting to compare the two ships since we've gone on both. Now, please remember that these are just my experiences and thoughts of the cruise lines and I'm only rating things that Cody and I find important on ships. With that said... let the comparison begin!!
As far the embarkation process goes... I'd have to say that Carnival Vista wins. We got through security very quickly with Carnival Vista, and it was very clearly marked as to where we would be going to get on the ship. As you can see above, the Norwegian Escape did not have any signs or indications on where to line up. It made us feel pretty stressed out since we felt rushed to get on the ship for Vibe passes. CV 1 vs. NE 0
When we travel, we only pack what will go in our carry on bags, and we keep those carry on bags with us when we enter into the cruise ship so that we have our stuff right away. So, we have a vested interest in our rooms being ready quickly so that we can drop our stuff off. On Vista our room was ready right when we got on the ship, whereas we saw a note on a locked door on the Escape telling us that our room wasn't ready (and it wasn't for a few hours). So... CV 2 vs. NE 0
Exclusive Area: Havana Vs. Vibe
Again, Carnival Vista wins! In my opinion, I preferred the Havana area on Vista vs. the Vibe on the Escape. First of all, the Havana area was a bigger area. It had a pool, two hot tubs, and the shaded seats in the water were wonderful. I think that the Havana area is my FAVORITE area on any cruise ship that we've been on. Even better, access to the Havana area is tied to buying a Havana room, so if you want access to that area you just book a cruise during a time when a Havana room is available.
I don't want to take away from the Vibe area though. The service in the Vibe area is unlike service that I have ever experienced on a cruise ship. The waiting staff is so good at getting to know you and making sure that you are taken care of that it's great. However, if you are not a VIP on Norwegian or have a way of getting onto the ship before the general public... good luck at getting one of 70 limited passes for this area. Obviously Cody and I proved that it is possible to get these passes, but waking up at 7am, rushing to the port, and then running like crazy to get the passes is not a good way to start your vacation. Even worse, is doing all of that but still missing out because the passes to sell out in two minutes. There were a lot of disappointed/angry people that weren't able to get the Vibe passes during our cruise. I am predicting that someone is going to get hurt on a Norwegian cruise because people are running to get these passes. I think the Vibe area would be better if rooms were sold as a "Vibe room category" just like the Havana area is sold on Vista. Now I know some nay-sayers might say, "Well Norwegian does have an exclusive area that you can buy a room type for... the Haven." And to that I say... Yes you are correct. However, for a week in the Vibe area it only costs $200 extra per couple. Haven rooms start between $3,500 up to $7,500 per person, so I'm not going to call that comparable to the Havana area on Carnival Vista which is around that $200 extra price point. CV 3 vs. NE 0
I would say that an area that Norwegian definitely stands out from other lines is that they include the all you can drink package with your cruise (if you pick that promotion). This really gives cruising a different feel because you don't have to worry about money as much. Also, Norwegian has a really good variety of bars that have different types of drinks at them. We found the drinks to be much more tasty and convenient to get on Norwegian than Carnival. We did end up spending around $900 on the drinking package on Carnival so that we "wouldn't have to worry about spending money." Well, that actually had the opposite effect, because my worry shifted to worrying about drinking enough to get my money's worth. And I would say that in the end, we felt like we did not get our money's worth for what we ended up drinking. We drank way more on Norwegian than we did on Carnival. CV 3 vs. NE 1
I feel compelled to break up the food category into multiple categories, because in some areas I felt Carnival was stronger in and others I liked Norwegian better. So for lunch... Vista wins! Carnival has teamed up with Guy Fieri and his two lunch areas on the ship are the BOMB! We loved the Burger Joint and Pig and Anchor. Vista also had a chinese and Italian restaurant that served lunch portions for free too. We often didn't eat lunch on Norwegian because there weren't any exciting lunch venue places like there were on Vista. CV 4 vs. NE1
However, for dinner options... I have to say that the Escape wins, and I think this is another area where Norwegian stands out. You can eat at any type of restaurant you could want on the Escape for dinner... hibachi, italian, french, brazilian, steak house, seafood and etc... The range of dinner options on the Escape is outstanding and they all have high quality food in them too. There were so many options that we weren't able to go to all the places that we wanted during the 7 day cruise. I also like that their specialty dining options are reasonably priced. Another big difference between the Escape and Vista is that on the Escape you can walk right up the restaurant and get your seating assignment. On the Vista you have to go up to the floor above the dining room to get your seating assignment, which seems like a really bizarre set up to me. I have no idea why Carnival decided to do that. CV 4 vs. NE2
The dessert options have to go to Carnival Vista! Carnival's signature dessert, the chocolate melt cake, is legendary! Not only that but Vista also has a whole buffet section dedicated to desserts in their buffet area, and they have a really good ice cream place called Cherry on Top where you can make ice combinations kind of like Cold Stone. They also had a milkshake spot where you could order regular and alcoholic milkshakes. Sorry Norwegian... you're just not competing on the dessert level. CV 5 vs. NE 2
Cruise ship Apps
It's the digital age, so obviously both cruise lines have an app that you can hook up on your phone and use for free on the ship. Both apps show you your onboard balance and activities that were upcoming on the ship. I would that Carnival's app was a little better than Norwegian's because it also showed you pictures that were taken of you by their photographers, and it also had a feature that allowed you to mark upcoming activities as a favorite, and then you could sort your day by your favorite activities. This made it very easy to see when the activities you were interested in were coming up on Vista. Norwegian's app did not have this feature, and I found myself wishing for it while we were on the cruise. CV 6 vs. NE 2
Appearance of the ship
I honestly usually think that most cruise ships look pretty similar to each other... but I have to say I absolutely loved the Escape's chandelier. It caught my attention from the moment that we walked onto the ship. It was truly the centerpiece of the ship and it was beautiful... especially at night when it changed colors. Vista's had a digital column that just didn't compare to this at all. CV 5 vs. NE 3
Theater Seating on the ship
You might think that it's odd that I'm rating the theater seating on the ship, but I feel compelled to do this, because the Carnival Vista has the WORST theater setup I've ever seen. You walk in and all of the chairs are right on top of each other. There were chairs that were fixed in their position, and then there were ones that could move. It's almost like they decided "Oh we have quite a bit of room in-between these aisles, let's bring in some extra chairs and set them down to get an extra row of seating." which caused there to be no room in-between the rows of seats. The theater also didn't have stadium (or raised platform) seating, so if someone tall was in front of you... forget about being able to see. You can't tell in this picture, but they also have large/gigantic support beams that block your view in the theater. No matter where we sat in the Vista theater, I had a hard time viewing the show we were watching because people or support beams were blocking my view. The chairs also have these awkward little tables on them, presumably to put a drink on (but I feel like any drink could easily fall off that little table). The Norwegian's Escape theater was like a breath of fresh air after having been on Vista, because it was set up like a large movie theater which was absolutely refreshing after being on Vista. All I have to say about the construction of the Vista theater is why?!?!? I'm thinking that they must have wanted it to not feel like a theater... but... that's what it is... so I don't know what they were going for. CV 5 vs. NE 4
Theater Show Entertainment
I think that the Escape wins in the theater entertainment department as well. They have very high quality productions almost every night. And not only do they have one large theater venue (that actually works as a theater) they have another smaller area called the Supper Club that puts on very good shows as well. I also think that the Escape's entertainment was more consistently good than Vista's. We went to a juggler on Vista who I honestly think would have been X'd on American's Got Talent. And the juggler that we saw on the Escape had won the gold medal in the world juggling competition (Yes apparently there is a competition for everything in Vegas haha). CV 5 vs. NE 5
I have to say that Vista wins in the comedian department. Carnival changes comedians every 3 days on their ship, so literally almost every night you can go to a different comedy show if you'd like to. Norwegian keeps the same comedians on their ship the whole cruise, and you can only go to their shows one time during the cruise. CV 7 vs. NE 5
Welcome to the future of cruise photography!! Instead of printing out every picture they take of you and putting it into a binder for you to review (yes I'm calling you out Norwegian Escape) the Carnival Vista has huge digital screens that you can type your room number on and pull up all of your pictures. You can also view all of our pictures on their Carnival Hub app. I thought that this was brilliant, and I bet that this is a style that all cruise ships will adopt in the future. CV 8 vs. NE 5
Norwegian Escape wins the Piano Bar competition hands down. Howl at the Moon is outstanding and is so much fun to be at, and it has a very different atmosphere than the piano bar on Vista. Howl at the Moon has two pianos and 3 different performers. In addition to the piano's they have a drum set and two guitars. They have a light production and a video taping them while they perform. Every hour the performers rotate out and get a 30 minute break. Also they interact with each so well. They back each other up, joke around, and if one person doesn't know a song they can throw it over to have the other person sing the song. Whereas, on Vista there was one girl on a piano that sang 6 days a week for 6 hours straight. I don't care how entertaining that one person is on Carnival... they can't compete with Howl at the Moon. CV8 vs. NE 6
Now I don't have anything negative to say about Carnival's crew... but I just don't have anything to say that really stands out to me either. However, on the Escape there were several crew members that knew our name and even bartenders that knew our drinks. The crew on the Escape also seemed to have a lot of energy and seemed to have a lot of pride in their work. I also liked that at the finale show that Norwegian called up the room stewards, bartenders, waiters, and etc... to be recognized for their hard work throughout the cruise. CV 8 vs. NE 7
These cruises were our 3rd and 4th cruises that we've been on and they were our second cruises on each cruise line. I didn't feel that we got any recognition on Vista for being a repeat guest. Whereas, on the Escape we got a bottle of champagne, strawberries, and promotions for future cruises. And after talking with different people in the Vibe, I believe that Norwegian has the best loyalty program out of any of the cruise lines, and I think that Norwegian takes care of it's loyal customers really well. CV 8 vs. NE 8
Exiting from the Ship
One thing that annoyed me on Carnival Vista is that their ports are not convenient for their passengers. They specifically herded us through gift shops and made the walks off of the ship more congested and slower. Norwegian did not drop us off at one port where we had to walk through a gift shop to enter through the port. They also had carts that were shuttling passengers to and from ports that had longer piers. CV 8 vs. NE 9
Returning onto the Ship
Norwegian knows how to treat their guests! When you come back onto their ships they always have drinks and cold wash clothes to help refresh you. At one port they were also passing out popsicles to everyone. Another time, they had balloons set up and the crew was dancing to songs and welcoming you back onto the ship. I can't remember Vista ever doing anything like that. CV 8 vs. NE 10
Carnival Vista won 8/18 of my categories:
Embarkation Process, Room Availability, Exclusive Areas, Lunch Options, Dessert Options, Cruise ship App, Comedy Club, and Photography.
The Norwegian Escape won 10/18 of my categories:
Drinking Package, Dinner Options, Theater Seating, Theater shows, Piano Bar, The Crew, Loyalty Program, Exiting from the ship, and Returning onto the ship.
I do feel that some of the categories that Norwegian won like the drinking package, dinner, and entertainment options were really big hitters. After having been on both ships, I think that we enjoyed our time on the Escape more than on Vista. The Escape had high quality entertainment that changed frequently enough that we never got bored at night on the ship (like we were on Vista). Similarly with the food options, we got to try a bunch of different places to eat but it never felt like we were going to the same place over and over again (like it did on Vista). In the future I think that we will be sailing with Norwegian over Carnival.