I sailed on both Royal Caribbean and Norwegian's newest cruise ships. Here's how they compared.
I sailed on Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas and Norwegian's Prima.
The Prima had a nicer balcony stateroom, better food, and superior adults-only retreat.
But the Wonder of the Seas' family friendly activities, unique spaces, and entertaining shows made it a winner.
In 2022, I was invited to sail on Royal Caribbean Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line's newest ships, the Wonder of the Seas and the Prima, respectively.
Both cruise ships were designed to appeal to families.
But in my opinion, Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas is a superior ship.
See how the cruise ships compared in seven categories: overall look, staterooms, food and beverage concepts, pool decks, family friend amenities, adults only spaces, and nighttime shows.
The Royal Caribbean ship is a behemoth of a vessel.
The 1,188-foot-long, 7,084-guest Wonder of the Seas is currently the largest cruise ship in operation.
And much to my surprise, several spaces aboard the ship — called "neighborhoods" — looked nothing like a cruise ship.
The Boardwalk neighborhood was nearly identical to a real boardwalk complete with wood-paneled floors, a hot dog stand, and a candy store …
… while the Central Park neighborhood looked just like an outdoor mall filled with lush plants.
These uniquely curated spaces made it one of the most unique ships I've ever been on.
In comparison, 3,215-guest Prima looks more like a traditional ship.
It is slightly smaller at 965 feet-long. And unlike the Wonder of the Seas, every space aboard this ship looked like a typical cruise.
It's still a modern ship. But it doesn't have the same unique appeal as the Wonder of the Seas.
During my two-night media sailing, Royal Caribbean let me stay in the balcony stateroom on the same deck as Central Park.
However, this hotel room at sea was not nearly as glitzy as I anticipated.
It was minimally decorated compared to the rest of the ship.
Sure, there were some decorative pillows and a patterned carpet.
But besides a handful of decor pieces, the beige, blue, and white-toned stateroom looked more bland than exciting.
The bathroom sink was so poorly designed, water splashed onto the counter whenever I washed my hand. And the shower didn't even have a separate body wash and shampoo.
The surplus of storage made up for these lackluster amenities: The stateroom had two closets and a large dresser.
But at a starting rate of $1,400 for 2023 itineraries, I was hoping this cold balcony stateroom would’ve looked livelier and more comfortable.
I don't have any of this criticism for the Norwegian Prima's family balcony stateroom.
The cruise line invited me to spend four nights in this 230-square-foot stateroom during its inaugural sailing.
It's one of the nicest staterooms I've ever stayed in despite having nearly identical furnishings as the Wonder of the Seas stateroom.
There was less storage than my Royal Caribbean accommodations. But my Prima stateroom made up for this with better decor.
This decor added the perfect splash of color, although I'm still confused by this mural.
And the warm ambient lighting made the space feel like a cozy hotel room.
I didn't want to spend time in my Wonder of the Seas stateroom. But my Prima accommodations were so cozy, I didn't mind hanging back.
And it's more affordable too. This balcony stateroom aboard the Prima will start at $991 for spring five-to-seven-day round trips from New York City to Bermuda.
Onto the food and beverage offerings. Royal Caribbean's mega ship has over 20 dining venues although over half aren't included in the base fare.
There were some fun dining options like a build-your-own taco and burrito bar, poolside ice cream machines (if you count that as dining), and the recognizable Johnny Rockets.
But to my surprise, the best venue was the buffet, which had sections like international dishes, classic favorites, and a seafood.
Unfortunately, the two speciality dining venues I tried — Hooked Seafood and Mason Jar — weren't stellar.
The latter is a new-to-brand Southern concept with live music and a separate bar.
Sounds fun, right? Unfortunately, my fried chicken was dry to the point of being nearly inedible.
However, I will credit the Wonder of the Seas for having unique bars, including a karaoke bar ...
… a bar operated by robotic arms …
… and two with dance floors and live music.
Unlike the mega cruise ship, food is where Norwegian Prima truly shines.
There were 14 dining options. Like the Wonder of the Seas, half were specialty restaurants.
Prima's Onda by Scarpetta was one of the best meals I've ever had on a cruise vessel.
The Prima and Wonder of the Seas do share two similarities: an onboard Starbucks and teppanyaki concept.
But unlike Royal Caribbean's vessel, the Prima had the most unique complimentary dining venue I've ever seen on a ship: a food hall with touch screen ordering pads at every table.
Here, diners are offered 11 restaurants — like Indian, international noodles, and rotisserie — all inside a touch screen.
And almost everything I tried here was delicious, although the pad thai was subpar at best. Besides that, I would've paid to eat here.
The Prima's watering hole options weren't as diverse as the Wonder of the Seas. But the Metropolitan was a standout bar.
Norwegian says this bar is zero-waste by using liqueurs and syrups made from some of the ship's food waste.
However, this emphasis on being zero waste feels futile. Cruises aren't known for being environmentally friendly. And the bar only cut out a tiny fraction of its waste.
But bars aside, the food on the Prima was far superior to the Wonder of the Seas.
Cruise ship cuisine isn't known for being diverse. But the Prima had several multi-cultural options at the food hall.
I could've eaten every meal here. And I still find myself craving it sometimes.
However, no other cruise ship pool deck can compare to the Wonder of the Seas.
Here, it was a collection of colorful amenities ranging from three multicolored water slides to several pools and hot tubs …
… a children's water playground, and nearly endless rows of pool chairs.
It's the world's largest cruise ship so of course this is one of the largest pool decks I've ever seen.
And the bright decor made it as visually overwhelming as a theme park.
Unfortunately, the Norwegian Prima's pool deck can't compare to the Wonder of the Seas. It looked as plain as any other cruise ship's pool area.
There was one water slide and another small water playground but both looked drab compared to the Wonder of the Seas.
Luckily, there were other options for pool-side lounging: an outdoor walkway with pools, lounge chairs, daybeds, and panoramic views of the ocean.
But there's no comparison: The Wonder of the Seas' pool deck is far superior to the Norwegian Prima, especially if you're traveling with young children.
Speaking of children, both cruise ships were designed to appeal to families. And there are plenty of amenities on both vessels that do just that.
Both had dry slides and mini golf courses (although the Prima's was definitely flashier and more interactive).
Besides that, the two cruise ships offer different activities and amenities.
The deck above the Wonder of the Seas' pool deck was a mecca of outdoor family fun.
Besides the dry slide and mini golf course, this outdoor activity deck also had a playground, a surfing simulator …
… and a zipline that soared over Central Park.
Across other neighborhoods, the ship also had an arcade, a carousel …
… and two large rock climbing walls, giving families of all ages and all activity levels a wide variety of amenities.
Meanwhile, the Prima had some of the most unique activities I've seen on a cruise vessel.
The ship also had an arcade. But unlike the Wonder of the Seas, this one was driven by virtual reality.
Here, travelers could walk through haunted mansions, ride roller coasters, and fight off creepy aliens without leaving the cruise ship.
For travelers who prefer more tangible activities, the ship also had an outdoor go-kart course with a viewing platform.
There's also a high-tech darts lounges (although the wind made it difficult to play) and an outdoor "Stadium" with games like pickleball and beer-less pong.
But ultimately, the Wonder of the Seas offered up more free fun despite the Prima's more unique activities.
Emphasis on free: The Prima's best activities — the VR arcade, go-karts, darts, and mini-golf course — all came at an extra fee to guests.
But if you're willing to pay, the Prima has more exciting and exhilarating family friendly amenities. It's hard to beat a VR arcade and go-karting at sea.
Both cruises are designed for traveling families but that doesn't mean adults can't have their own peaceful retreats aboard the vessels.
The Wonder of the Seas has the adults-only Solarium.
The idea of a Solarium isn't new to cruise ships. But the Wonder of the Seas is more grand than the other Solariums I've seen.
The glass dome-enclosed venue has hot tubs, a pool, rows of lounge chairs, and of course, a bar.
Unfortunately, this covered space made me feel like a fish inside a fish bowl.
Norwegian's adult retreat had the same amenities: pools, hot tubs, and views of the ocean.
But unlike the Solarium, Norwegian's Vibe Beach Club is outdoors.
It had more of a relaxed space.
And even though the Solarium had more eye-catching decor, the airy Vibe Beach Club was more of a standout adults retreat.
Onto the last category: shows. During my sailing, the Wonder of the Seas was showing its ice skating, superhero, and water shows.
I wasn't able to catch the cruise ship's play on a superhero drama. But I did find time to watch the wholesome ice skating show.
The performers were undeniably talented but the lack of a cohesive storyline and somewhat tacky scenes weren’t enough to keep me entertained.
It seemed like a typical cruise ship show with the addition of an ice rink.
But I have none of this criticism for "inTENse," the ship's diving, dancing, and synchronized swimming performance.
The exhilarating show paired fast paced music with equally quick movements, creating a show with so much exciting visual appeal, I didn't know where to look.
It was the most creative cruise ship show I've ever seen. And the venue was just as unique.
The outdoor dive board-lined stage rose and sunk into a pool, creating a set that moved as much as the performers.
The Prima didn’t have “inTENse” divers and tightrope walkers.
But it did have some distinguishable shows: "Summer: The Donna Summer Musical," tap dance and beat box medley "Noise Boys," and "The Price Is Right Live" game show.
The production for "Summer" rivaled that of a true Broadway performance. And at the time, "Noise Boys" was the most contemporary show I had ever seen on a cruise ship.
But to my surprise, I enjoyed "The Price Is Right" the most.
The well-executed game show — which looked like it was ripped from a television screen — was interactive, entertaining, and surprisingly funny. I found myself chuckling throughout the show.
When I sailed on the Norwegian Prima in October 2022, it was the first time I had ever found myself enjoying cruise ship shows.
But after sailing on the Wonder of the Seas, Prima's riffs on recognizable shows are no longer as appealing. However, I'll always have a soft spot for the "The Price Is Right Live."
That's not to say the Prima isn't a great ship in its own right.
It still has several stellar standout features that are superior to the Wonder of the Seas.
But travelers don't go on cruises just to stay in their staterooms all day.
And while the food on the Prima was generally superior, the buffet aboard the Wonder of the Seas was great as well.
So at the end of the day, the family friendly amenities, pool deck, and uniquely curated spaces on the Wonder of the Seas outshined Prima. And that's why the Royal Caribbean vessel is now my favorite.
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