We had had the opportunity in 2014 to sail on three different "mega" ships. So, how do the three brands compare to each other in various areas?. Which cruise line of the three is the best? Well, you just have to read on...
The Three Ships
MSC Divina, Princess Cruises' Royal Princess and Carnival Breeze are all at the top of the size chart for each of their respective cruise lines. Each ship can carry upwards of 3,500 guests. All three ships have virtually every amenity offered on modern cruise ships and all are relatively new builds. It should also be noted that each of these ships received various 2014 Editors' Choice Awards from CruiseReport. MSC Divina took home four awards, while Carnival Breeze grabbed five honors. Royal Princess, however, led the pack with an unprecedented 10 Editors' Choice awards, the most ever awarded to a cruise line in one year.
Interior Decor (1st Place: MSC Divina, 2nd Place: Royal Princess, 3rd Place: Carnival Breeze)
This was a bit of a shock for us, but the Italian mainstream MSC Divina was clearly the most beautiful ship as far as interior public spaces are concerned. The Svaroski crystal staircase and the waterfall in the main lobby really set the tone for the rest of the ship. Divina has the look and feel of an elegant luxury ship, in spite of the highly competitive discount fares available. The use of high-quality leather seating in many areas really gives the ship a rich texture far beyond the per diem cruise rates. Royal Princess is a close second with the elegant Piazza main gathering area. By comparison, Carnival Breeze is a distant third place with a seemingly mundane decor throughout.
Only on MSC will you find Svaroski crystal embedded in the staircase
Balcony Stateroom (1st-Place: Royal Princess, 2nd-Place: MSC Divina, 3rd Place: Carnival Breeze)
Royal Princess won us over with the Deluxe Balcony Stateroom's great design. We grew accustomed to the unique open-closet concept and had plenty of space for everything. The massive flat-screen TV and excellent in-stateroom programming was icing on the cake. MSC Divina was a close second, but some cigarette burns in the carpet kicked it to the curb.The MSC stateroom decor was prettier than the other two, but only a bit nicer than Royal Princess. Both MSC Divina and Royal Princess benefit from the use of sliding glass balcony doors instead of the noisy, slamming hinged doors on Carnival Breeze. Canrival Breeze stateroom was also the noisiest of the three with inadequate sound-proofing between the cabins.
The Deluxe Balcony Stateroom on Royal Princess was our personal favorite
Embarkation (1st Place: Royal Princess, 2nd Place: MSC Divina, 3rd Place: Carnival Breeze)
We embarked MSC Divina and Carnival Breeze in Miami, Royal Princess embarkation was in Copenhagen, Denmark. Embarkation on both MSC and Carnival was a bit chaotic. However, to be fair, we were embarking both ships at the peak period, around noon. The Carnival Breeze embarkation was hindered by numerous people trying to carry cases of bottled water to take on the ship. Seriously. We were also given access to VIP embarkation, but could never convince the security guard to give us access to the VIP "lounge". It took more than one hour to embark MSC and Carnival. By comparison, the Princess embarkation was smooth as glass. We were on board Royal Princess within 15 minutes of arriving at the pier.
Disembarkation (1st Place: Carnival Breeze, 2nd Place: Royal Princess, 3rd Place: MSC Divina)
Compared to embarkation, disembarkation on Carnival Breeze could not have been easier. We decided to disembark with the group of guests who do not have checked luggage. All three cruise lines offered this type of disembarkation, and it really is a great option if you travel light (with carry-on or roll-aboard only). On Carnival Breeze, we were off the ship and through Immigration in less than 10 minutes. We allowed 45 minutes for the process because of our experience a few weeks earlier when we stood in line for what seemed like an eternity when we disembarked MSC Divina. Disembarkation in Copenhagen on Royal Princess was also very smooth and only took about 20 minutes total, even with checked luggage.
Stateroom Housekeeping (1st Place: Carnival Breeze, 2nd Place Tie: MSC Divina and Royal Princess)
Housekeeping on all three ships was excellent. Carnival edged out the others because of Nur, our room steward, who called us by name from the moment we boarded. We present a challenge to housekeeping in that we do not go to breakfast and often don't leave the stateroom until after 10am. Regardless of how late we vacated the stateroom, Nur would have the room cleaned and ready by the time we returned.
Nur provided excellent service, was always smiling and called us by name
Dining Choices (1st Place Tie: Royal Princess and Carnival Breeze, 2nd Place: MSC Divina)
If you cruise to eat, then you are in luck. We found the range of options on Royal Princess and Carnival Breeze to be exceptional. Carnival has integrated some interesting ethnic choices into the Lido Deck including a taco bar and Indian specialties. The Sushi Bar (Bonsai Sushi) is a concept we would like to see on every cruise ship. Princess offers some interesting Chef's Table and Winemaker Dinner opportunities worthy of the admission price.
Unique dining experiences like the Wine Maker's Dinner on Royal Princess are something special
Food Quality (1st Place: Carnival Breeze, 2nd Place: Royal Princess, 3rd Place: MSC Divina)
When it comes to quality of ingredients, taste and presentation, Carnival and Princess are very close, and very good. Royal Princess had the best Lido buffet and Lido pizza, but Carnival had that excellent sushi, and Fahrenheit 555 is the best steakhouse we have enjoyed on any ship. Let's not forget Guy's Burger Joint serving the best hamburger you will find on any ship. By comparison, the buffet on MSC Divina is chaotic and the pizza is really the best thing being served. If you want a burger on MSC Divina, you have to grab a pre-packaged one off the buffet line, kind of like what you might find in a college dining hall.
The Caesar Salad at Fahrenheight 555 is 5-star quality
Pizza (1st Place: MSC Divina, 2nd Place: Royal Princess, 3rd Place: Carnival Breeze)
One area where MSC Divina beats all the others is with their specialty pizza in Cantina Di Bacco. The pizza here is the real deal, baked in a stone oven and all ingredients made fresh. They use real mozzarella, fresh basil and olive oil. All pizzas are made-to-order and are about as good as you will find anywhere on land or sea. Unlike Princess and Carnival, there is a charge for the pizza served here, but it is well worth the price for the great pie and the atmosphere. Princess offers a couple of options for pizza. Alfredos is a sit-down, full-service restaurant with pizza made-to-order. However, we preferred the pizza by-the-slice served poolside at Prego's. The huge slices of Pepperoni pizza served there were piping hot and fresh and quite delicious. Carnival's Lido Deck pizza has always been very good, but we had to wait quite a long time for pies to come out of the oven.
You will find the best, freshest, hand-made pizza on MSC Divina
Lido Buffet (1st Place: Royal Princess, 2nd Place: Carnival Breeze, 3rd Place: MSC Divina)
The Horizon Court and Horizon Bistro on Royal Princess is one of the best Lido buffets we have found on any ship. It may take you a few days to figure out where everything is, but once you do, the choice of dishes here is excellent. My personal favorite was the Gyro station. It is the only one I have ever seen on a cruise ship! And, if you prefer to dine 'al fresco', Royal Princess offers more choices than either of the other two ships. Carnival's buffet offers lots of choice, although the dining area feels a bit claustrophobic compared to Royal Princess.
Fresh Gyro lamb being sliced at the Horizon Court Buffet each day at lunch
Coffee Shop (1st Place: Royal Princess, 2nd Place: MSC Divina, 3rd Place: Carnival Breeze)
Morning coffee is very important to me. I get most of my work done between 5:00am and 7:30am. So, for purely personal reasons, The International Cafe on Royal Princess is my pick for best coffee shop. First, it is open 24 hours, so no matter how early I show up, I can get a cup of Joe. Even though I don't partake, they also offer an excellent choice of pastries, including donuts, each morning. The brewed coffee is reasonably priced and very good. My second choice is Cafe Italia on MSC Divina. Cafe Italia has the best coffee and the best atmosphere, but the place does not open for business until 6:00am. The Plaza Cafe on Carnival Breeze did not open until 7am, making it unusable for me.
Rebecca and Anton were on hand every morning at International Cafe to take care of my coffee needs
Best Hamburger (1st Place: Carnival Breeze, 2nd Place: Royal Princess, 3rd Place: MSC Divina)
No other burger even comes close to the one served at Guy's Burger Joint on Carnival Breeze. The partnership between Carnival and Food Network celebrity chef, Guy Fieri, is a hit. Get there early because the lines can get long. While not in the same league, the burgers on Royal Princess are good, and were cooked to order. We also could enjoy our burger poolside, in the shade. The burgers on MSC Divina were pre-packaged and stacked on the buffet line. If you get one fresh off the grill, they are edible, but you can also possibly get one that has been sitting out for awhile.
Guy Fieri has transformed the cruise ship burger
Best Wine Bar (1st Place Tie: MSC Divina and Royal Princess)
Cafe Di Bacco on MSC Divina is a great spot for a glass of wine before or after dinner. MSC has a great wine list and the best "small plates" of snacks. Equally impressive is Vines on Royal Princess. Vines is a bit more romantic, but can get noisy since it is located right on The Piazza. We did not try the wine bar on Carnival Breeze.
Small plated served with drinks in the evening at Cantina Di Bacco are impressive
Steakhouse (1st Place: Carnival Breeze, 2nd Place: Royal Princess, 3rd Place: MSC Divina)
Fahrenheit 555 is one of the best steakhouses we have enjoyed on any ship. Dinner begins with a table-side presentation of the thick cuts of meat offered. The Caesar salad is as good as you will find in any 5-star restaurant, and better than most. My 18 oz. bone-in "Cowboy Cut" Ribeye was obscenely large and a perfectly cooked medium, as ordered. You had better bring a big appetite when you dine here. The atmosphere at Fahrenheit 555 is also the most "steakhouse-like" of the the three we tried. Service was excellent.
The Crown Grill on Royal Princess also has the feel of a 5-star restaurant and was the perfect place for Rickee and me to celebrate our 20th anniversary. The New York-themed decor is dark and romantic. The seared scallops appetizer was a pleasant opening to an excellent meal. The service in Crown Grill was also excellent.
Our visit to Eataly Steakhouse on MSC Divina was disappointing. Unlike the steakhouses on the other two ships, the decor here is light and ultra-modern. We felt more like we were dining in a nice burger joint than a steakhouse. Bread is served in a paper bag, which is fine, but the bread was not that good. Our steaks were also just okay. And, in spite of the place only being about half occupied, service was very slow.
Production Shows (1st Place: MSC Divina, 2nd Place Tie: Carnival Breeze and Royal Princess)
MSC Divina had the best evening theater shows, and the afternoon matinee Italian opera was amazing. Carnival Breeze and Royal Princess both had very good entertainment as well, but the sound system on Carnival Breeze made it difficult to understand the vocalists. The Pantheon Theater on MSC Divina was also the nicest of the three ships and had the best sight lines.
Production shows on MSC Divina were in a class by themselves
Lounge Entertainment (1st Place: Carnival Breeze, 2nd Place: Royal Princess, 3rd Place: MSC Divina)
We would go back on Carnival just for the Punchliner Comedy Club. This partnership with comedian George Lopez is such a hit that guests begin lining up to get seats an hour before the show! But, there's more to Carnival entertainment than comedy. There are some excellent solo singers performing at The Red Frog Pub each evening, our favorite spot for a before-dinner drink. And each evening, there was great music and dancing at Ocean Plaza on Deck 5. Everywhere you go on Carnival Breeze, you can find great music and dancing.
Carnival's Punchliner Comedy Club will keep you in stitches
Bar Service (1st Place: Royal Princess, 2nd Place: MSC Divina, 3rd Place: Carnival Breeze)
The mixed drinks on Royal Princess were the best of the three ships. A scotch at The Wheelhouse bar is served in a proper 'rocks' glass with clear ice. That may sound a bit nit-picky, but when you are paying $6.50 or more for a scotch, the quality of the glass and ice can make a big difference. MSC Divina was a close second. Carnival's drink prices were surprisingly high and the pours not as generous as Princess or MSC. Service from the bar staff on all three ships was very good.
Pool (1st Place: Royal Princess, 2nd Place: MSC Divina, 3rd Place: Carnival Breeze)
The pool on royal Princess was spacious and offered numerous choices for lounging in the sun. The adults-only Retreat and Sanctuary put Royal Princess way out in front of the competition in our opinion. MSC Divina's pool was also large, but could get very crowded. The One Pool for MSC Yacht Club guests is very nice.
Dancing fountains at the pool on Royal Princess
Best Adult-Only Area (1st Place: Royal Princess, 2nd Place: Carnival Breeze, 3rd Place: MSC Divina)
The Sanctuary is, hands-down, the nicest adult-only retreat on any ship covered here. The private cabanas are pricey, but comparable to what you might find at a 5-star resort in Hawaii. The MSC Yacht Club private pool is equally as nice, but you have to be staying in the MSC Yacht Club to access it. There is Top 18 on MSC Divina, which is an adult-only "solarium", but there is a charge for using this space. Serenity on Carnival Breeze seemed to offer the same amenities, and there was no charge. However, when we visited there, people brought young kids to this adults-only area and the crew did nothing about this.
The Sanctuary on Royal Princess is the ultimate adult-only retreat
Activities (1st Place: Carnival Breeze, 2nd Place: Royal Princess, 3rd Place: MSC Divina)
In keeping with their reputation for "fun", Carnival offered the best variety of shipboard activities. There is always something going on, even when the ship is in port. The daily trivia contests held in Ocean Plaza were the best we have found on any ship and they still give the prestigious "ship on-a stick" to the winners. Camp Carnival (kid's program) kept the munchkins occupied to give parents a break. Royal Princess also had a good variety of daily activities, but both Princess and MSC have much less going on when the ship is in port.
Internet/Wi-Fi (1st Place: MSC Divina, 2nd Place: Carnival Breeze, 3rd Place: Royal Princess)
Whatever MSC is doing with their Internet, the other cruise lines should copy. We were pleasantly surprised at the great connections and decent speed (for a ship) on MSC Divina. Carnival Breeze also had better-than-expected connectivity, but not even close to MSC Divina. We had the most connection issues on Royal Princess, but in fairness, we were sailing in Europe, so I'm not sure if that might affect things. All three cruise lines charge way too much for Internet, in our opinion. Twenty-four hours of Internet on MSC is $299! And, if you don't think you can go through 24 hours in 7 days, think again.
Intranet (1st Place: Royal Princess, 2nd Place: Carnival Breeze, 3rd Place: MSC Divina)
Royal Princess had the best shipboard Intranet of the three ships. You can access the intranet from your stateroom television, or from any Wi-Fi enabled device (iPhone, iPad, etc.). You can make restaurant reservations, see dining times, etc. all right from your iPad! Very cool. Carnival's system is also very good and has the added benefit of Fun Hub locations throughout the ship where you can get Internet/Intranet access.
Guest Services/Reception (1st Place: Royal Princess, 2nd Place: Carnival Breeze, 3rd Place: MSC Divina)
Royal Princess had the best Reception/Guest Services. Our requests were handled with a smile and addressed quickly and efficiently. Carnival also did a good job, although the lines to get help could get very long. MSC Divina's Guest Services was slow by comparison and language barriers persist.
Most Romantic (1st Place: Royal Princess, 2nd Place: MSC Divina, 3rd Place: Carnival Breeze)
It is not easy to make a big ship with 3,000+ other people "romantic", but Princess does a better job than the rest. Intimate spaces like Vines and Wheelhouse Bar are much of the reason. We celebrated our 20th anniversary on Royal Princess and had no trouble finding quiet, peaceful places to escape from the crowds. And for the ultimate romantic experience, rent one of the cabanas in The Sanctuary. The Italian-style and European decor of MSC Divina does deliver a degree of romance. While younger folks may find Carnival Breeze romantic, the emphasis here is on fun.
We had hoped to include Royal Caribbean and/or Celebrity in our comparison, but were unable to secure a sailing on either line. Nevertheless, after evaluating all areas, Royal Princess would be our personal pick if we had to choose the ship we would most like to sail on again of the three. Much of the reason has to do with demographic appeal. Princess just has more to offer those in our age group. But, when we want to feel young again, Carnival would be our choice. For those willing to spend the extra bucks, the MSC Yacht Club might be the best choice. It offers the privacy and service of a small ship, but all the amenities of the mega ship. MSC's excellent entertainment and Italian-style also appeal to us. We expect to see great things from them in the future. Basically, there is not a bad choice among the three and we look forward to sailing on all three cruise lines in the future.
Chris Dikmen is President and Managing Editor of CruiseReport
Originally published: December 12, 2014