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7 HUGE Differences Between P&O Cruises and Royal Caribbean

If you are considering a cruise with either P&O Cruises or Royal Caribbean you may be wondering how the cruise lines compare.

I’ve cruised with both cruise lines and regularly recommend both for different reasons.

In this article, we will look at differences in the onboard experience, food, ships, passengers, and more.

What is the Difference Between P&O Cruises and Royal Caribbean?

Cruises with P&O are a little more traditional than Royal Caribbean with a higher focus on dress codes and formal dining.

Having said that, some of P&O’s newer ships are less formal and more family-orientated.

P&O’s newest ships, Iona and Arvia are less traditional and more family-friendly than some of the older ships in the fleet.

Royal Caribbean has busier daily schedules and large modern ships.

P&O Cruises are a British cruise line and Royal Caribbean is American – which affects the entertainment, activities and food.

I’ve enjoyed the cruises that I have taken with both cruise lines, but like any cruise line, they won’t suit everybody.

The most important decision you will make when finding a cruise is picking the right cruise line.

Royal CaribbeanP&O Cruises
Dress CodesMostly SuggestedEnforced
Formal NightsYesYes
PassengersMixedMostly British
Daily ScheduleBusyRelaxed
FoodPrimarily AmericanPrimarily British
Royal Caribbean vs P&O Cruises

Cruise Ship Design

Royal Caribbean have considerably more ships in its fleet. They have 24 currently in operation, compared to P&O cruises 7 ships.

Generally speaking, many of the Royal Caribbean fleet are larger than cruise ships for P&O Cruises.

P&O cruise ships are much more traditional than those owned by Royal Caribbean.

P&O’s two newer ships, Iona and Arvia are far larger than their other ships, and can accommodate up to 5200 guests.

Cruise LineNumber of ShipsShip DesignOnboard Activities
P&O Cruises7Traditional, ClassicRelaxing
Royal Caribbean24Modern, BrightAdrenaline Filled
Royal Caribbean vs P&O Cruises Ship Design
Spectrum of the seas, Emma Cruises
Spectrum of the Seas in Asia

P&O Cruises – Cruise Ship Design

P&O Cruises has a variety of cruise ships that range in age and size.

They have quite a few small traditional cruise ships, some of which are adult-only.

Their newest, largest ships, Iona and Arvia are more family-friendly.

Iona and Arvia are exciting new ships for P&O Cruises. They are aimed at the family market and are increasingly focusing on the flexibility of cruising.

ShipYear BuiltGross Tonnage
P&O Cruises Ships by Age

P&O’s ships are very elegant and most have central atriums that become the hub of the cruise ship.

Many of the older P&O cruise ships also have a tiered aft which is something that I particularly like in cruise ships.

All ships have plenty of outside space and the older cruise ships feel considerably less crowded than cruises on some other cruise lines.

The newer ships Arvia and Iona take far more passengers, usually over five thousand. When I last travelled on Iona there were over 900 children as we travelled in the school holidays. It did feel very crowded.

Find out about the controversial cabin I had onboard P&O’s Iona here:

Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship Design

On the newer, bigger cruise ships you’ll find things like skydiving simulators, flow riders, ice rinks, zip lines, rock climbing walls, and aqua parks.

The video below shows my first (and only) attempt to surf on the FlowRider! It was terrifying. You don’t realise how fast the water is until you are standing at the top looking down.

The smaller older ships do not have all of the same adrenaline-filled activities on board but they are very much in the same style.

All of Royal Caribbean’s cruise ships were designed for them and as a result, they have some features which are distinctly Royal Caribbean – such as a bar around the funnel and large open atriums and dining rooms.

Many of the older Royal Caribbean cruise ships have been sold and now cruise with other smaller cruise lines.

I sailed on a cruise around the Greek Islands with the Greek cruise line, Celestyal. The ship we were on was Celestyal Olympia. It was originally built for Royal Caribbean and sailed as the “Song Of America.”

It was easily the oldest ship I have ever sailed on. Find out all about that cruise here:

The ships for Royal Caribbean were built between 1990 and 2022.

Royal Caribbean ships are generally very modern, they have “neighbourhoods” in the middle of the cruise ships which are lined with bars, restaurants, and shops.

Neighbourhood, symphony of the seas
Neighbourhood area in the middle of Symphony of the Seas

As far as cruise ship design goes Royal Caribbean is always at the forefront pushing the boundaries of what is possible.

Find out about my cruise on Symphony of the Seas, their second-largest cruise ship here:

P&O Cruises vs Royal Caribbean Ship Comparison

Cruisers who are used to cruising on Royal Caribbean cruise ships may find P&O cruise ships to be lacking in activities.

There are none of the adrenaline-filled activities on board that you’ll find on Royal Caribbean cruise ships such as surf simulators, skydiving simulators, or zip lines.

Arvia does have a chargeable ropes course on the top deck as they are trying to appeal more to families. Their smaller ships have nothing like that.

Those looking for adrenaline-filled activities and new, large ships may prefer Royal Caribbean to P&O.

Guests who like a good value, relaxing cruise would enjoy a P&O cruise. The newer ships are less formal and more family-friendly than the older ships.

Dress Codes and Dining

P&O Cruises provides a traditional cruising experience, dress codes are adhered to and formal nights of very popular on P&O Cruises.

That said, if you are on one of the newer ships, Iona and Arvia, there are plenty of other dining options that don’t require you to dress formally.

Royal Caribbean does have formal nights but they’re not as formal as ones that you would find on a P&O cruise – and many people chose to not take part.

Cruise LineEvening Dress CodesEnforced
P&O CruisesElegantYes
Royal CaribbeanRelaxedSometimes
Royal Caribbean vs P&O Dress Codes

P&O Cruises

Guests who cruise with P&O Cruises often enjoy the dressing-up element of formal nights.

Meeting the Captain is a very popular event onboard P&O, and guests wear their best clothes to do so.

Dress codes are strictly enforced compared to many of the American cruise lines.

When I recently cruised on P&O’s Arvia I wasn’t allowed in the Crow’s Nest bar, because it was just after 6 pm and I was wearing shorts. They asked me to leave, which I was happy to do…

It wasn’t a problem – I just went to a different bar instead!

cruise captain wesley p&O cruises
Meeting Captain Wesley Dunlop onboard P&O’s Britannia

P&O are increasingly offering flexible dining now but has traditionally always had fixed dining.

With their newer cruise ships, they are increasingly offering flexibility as an option but on the smaller older P&O cruise ships the majority of dining is still fixed.

Dress codes are taken pretty seriously by the majority of the guests and even on non-formal nights some dress codes are still in force.

On the newer ships, if you don’t want to dress up for dinner, it is easy to avoid the main dining room, and visit one of the many other food outlets onboard.

Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean do have formal nights but the dress codes are mostly suggested rather than enforced.

Royal Caribbean cruises are usually more flexible than P&O Cruises – most of the dining on Royal Caribbean is flexible. 

royal caribbean formal night dress code girl red dress balcony cruise ship
Me onboard the Independence of The Seas on Formal Night

That said, just because the dress codes aren’t strictly enforced on Royal Caribbean cruises doesn’t mean that some guests don’t enjoy dressing up.

You definitely won’t look out of place if you do decide to wear your best formal wear.

To learn more about Royal Caribbean’s formal nights, including what you definitely can’t wear, check out this post:

What To Wear on a Royal Caribbean Cruise – Examples and Enforcement

P&O Cruises vs Royal Caribbean – Dress Codes and Dining

Guests looking for a more traditional cruise experience which includes formal nights and dress codes would enjoy a P&O cruise.

That said, there are many other places on board to go and eat if you don’t want to dress up and go to the main dining room on formal nights.

Guests who prefer to be more flexible and relaxed may prefer a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Passenger Demographics 

P&O Cruises tend to attract an older passenger demographic on their older ships. Iona and Arvia are more family-orientated, and you will find many families with children onboard.

The majority of guests on P&O Cruise are British – as opposed to Royal Caribbean where you will find Americans, British, and many other nationalities on board.

Cruise LineTarget MarketNationalities
P&O CruisesFamilies, Solo Cruisers, AdultsMostly British
Royal CaribbeanFamilies, Friendship Groups, Young Cruisers, AdultsVaried
Royal Caribbean vs P&O Passenger Demographics

P&O Cruises

On a P&O cruise, you can realistically expect 90% of the Passengers to be British.

They are the largest British cruise lines by passenger numbers and advertise heavily in the UK.

P&O Cruises advertises regularly to families and are very popular with them.

That said P&O cruises do tend to have an older passenger demographic than Royal Caribbean.

Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean primarily target couples, friendship groups and families.

Their ships are designed with children in mind and have watersides, kids clubs, and children’s activities on the daily schedule.

You’ll find passengers from lots of countries onboard a Royal Caribbean cruise regardless of where the cruise is sailing.

P&O Cruises vs Royal Caribbean – Passenger Demographics

Cruisers who are not from the UK are welcome to cruise with P&O Cruises – but they should be aware that the majority of passengers on board will be British.

The P&O Cruises experience is tailored towards a British market so you’ll find UK plug sockets in the cabins, kettles in the staterooms – and Yorkshire puddings on the menus!

I would strongly recommend P&O cruises to guests from outside of the UK who want to experience a British cruise.


Many cruises with P&O Cruises cruise from the UK, so that makes it very convenient for British passengers. Fly cruises all over the world are also available.

Royal Caribbean have cruise ships stationed all over the world . Often they also have a cruise ship based in the UK.

Cruise LineItineraries
P&O CruisesMostly from the UK (or including UK flights)
Royal CaribbeanWorldwide
Royal Caribbean vs P&O Itineraries

I cruised on Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas to Norway from Southampton. It was very convenient. Find out about that cruise below:

P&O Cruises

P&O cruises worldwide, but the majority of cruises either leave from the UK or include flights that go from the UK.

It is assumed that the majority of passengers on a P&O cruise will be British, so will either want to cruise from the UK or book a cruise package which includes flights.

P&O Cruises do cruise to places like the Caribbean – and a very popular P&O itinerary is to fly from the UK to the Caribbean take a P&O cruise and then fly home.

Random fact: I was featured on the entertainment on the plane for guests heading over to join P&O’s Britannia in the Caribbean.

When I cruised on Britannia I took part in a cookery class and it was recorded and shown on the plane as an advert for other guests.

P&O also cruise to the Norwegian Fjords, Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, the Canary Islands, and more.

p&o britannia kids
Me in front of P&O’s Britannia on a Norwegian Fjord cruise

Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean cruise all over the world.

They have cruise ships positioned in the Caribbean, Alaska, Hawaii, Europe, Asia, and doing Transatlantic and Trans-Pacific voyages.

P&O Cruises vs Royal Caribbean – Itineraries

Guests looking to cruise from the UK will have more choice if cruising with P&O cruises.

P&O has multiple ships that sail from Southampton year-round and for passengers from the UK, this can be a very easy option.

Guests looking to cruise in other parts of the world may prefer a Royal Caribbean cruise, as there are many destinations that Royal Caribbean cruises do that P&O cruises do not.


The food found on a P&O cruise is often different from that that is found on a Royal Caribbean cruise. There are of course some similarities and both are of very high quality.

The majority of food on a P&O cruise is geared towards a British palate, whereas food on a Royal Caribbean cruise is aimed at Americans.

The quality of food on both cruise lines is, in my experience very high, with a range of options available for every meal.

Cruise LineFoodQuality
P&O CruisesPrimarily BritishHigh
Royal CaribbeanPrimarily AmericanHigh
Royal Caribbean vs P&O Passenger Demographics

P&O Cruises

On a P&O cruise, you will find foods like Beef Wellington, Shepherd’s Pie, Toad in the Hole, Fish and Chips, and carvery meats in the buffet and dining room.

Roast dinner inside a Yorkshire Pudding – The Quays, P&O’s Arvia

P&O Cruises does also offer American-style food and other food from across Europe.

The buffet on P&O Cruises is fantastic and one of my favourites. It is open late into the night and serves a variety of food which is all very good.

If you are cruising with P&O be sure to look out for sugared bread rolls that they have available for breakfast, it’s like having an iced bun for breakfast.

Iced buns for breakfast – P&O Arvia

P&O Cruises are, in my experience, one of the best cruise lines for vegetarian and vegan options.

They also have a variety of different types of milk and alternative products for those who have an intolerance to dairy.

Royal Caribbean

On a Royal Caribbean cruise, you will find a variety of food most of which is aimed at an American palate.

You will on occasion find British dishes on a Royal Caribbean cruise – I have had a Yorkshire pudding on a Royal Caribbean cruise and it was good – but it was not quite as good as on a P&O cruise.

Johnny Rockets, Symphony of the Seas
Johnny Rockets onboard Royal Caribbean’s Independence of The Seas

P&O Cruises vs Royal Caribbean – Food

If you are somebody who likes your home comforts when it comes to food and are from the UK, a P&O cruise would be a great option for you.

If you are from the US or prefer American-style food a Royal Caribbean cruise may be a better fit.

Both P&O Cruises and Royal Caribbean do have specific menus for children and dishes can be adapted where necessary.

It is worth noting that both Royal Caribbean and P&O Cruises do have speciality restaurants onboard where guests can try different cuisines and the quality of food onboard both cruise lines is very high.


P&O cruises are usually considerably cheaper than Royal Caribbean cruises.

P&O cruises include taxes, fees, and gratuities in their cruise fare.

Royal Caribbean prices (if booked from the US) have these elements added to the advertised price.

This is primarily due to the difference in pricing structures between the UK and US caused by preferences in regards to things like tipping.

Cruise LinePricingIncludes Gratuities?
P&O Cruises***Yes
Royal Caribbean****No
Royal Caribbean vs P&O Pricing

P&O Cruises

The P&O cruise fare includes gratuities and taxes/fees.

The only things that guests will have to pay extra for:

  • Drinks (There is free tea, coffee, and water available in the buffet – but all drinks from the bars are chargeable)
  • Excursions
  • Speciality Meals

P&O cruises pricing is mid-range, but there are some bargains to be found, I recently booked a 14-night cruise on the newest P&O ship for £800! That includes all gratuities.

We all bought soda packages on P&O’s Arvia

Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean Cruises do not include gratuities and these can be quite expensive. At present cruise gratuities on Royal Caribbean cruises are $16 per person per night.

Cruise LineGratuity PriceAge Applied to
Royal Caribbean$16.All Guests (no discounts for children)

Gratuities are tips added on per person, per night and should be budgeted for when booking your cruise.

It is possible to prepay gratuities so that guests don’t get a surprise at the end of the cruise – but not everybody does this.

For more information about gratuities including how much they will cost you check out this post:

Cruise Gratuities: A Simple Step by Step Guide For First Time Cruisers

P&O Cruises vs Royal Caribbean – Pricing

P&O cruises include the price of gratuities within their cruise fare. Cruises booked from the UK include taxes and all port fees.

Cruises booked from the U.S. do not include taxes and fees in the same way that cruises from the UK do.

Cruises from the U.S. often look much cheaper than cruises from the UK but once you have added in the gratuities and taxes, in reality, the prices are very similar.

P&O Cruises are often quite a lot cheaper than Royal Caribbean Cruises and P&O often has discounted children’s places and other offers.

Onboard Schedule

The onboard schedule on a Royal Caribbean cruise is much busier than that of a P&O cruise.

You won’t be bored on a P&O cruise – but compared to a Royal Caribbean cruise it definitely is more relaxing.

Cruise LineOnboard Schedule
P&O CruisesRelaxing
Royal CaribbeanBusy
Royal Caribbean vs P&O Onboard Schedule

P&O Cruises

On a P&O cruise, there is a daily schedule of things like trivia, game shows, entertainment in the theatre and guest speakers.

I’ve always really enjoyed the theatre entertainment on P&O cruises, the musicians, tribute acts, and magic shows are all brilliant.

There will be a variety of live music and singers performing throughout the cruise and things like football are often shown in the pub.

Guests who cruise with P&O Cruises often like to relax by the pool with a good book and a nice drink.

The pace of life on a P&O cruise is slower than that of a Royal Caribbean cruise but nevertheless, guests are rarely bored.

I personally enjoy the more relaxed atmosphere of P&O cruises.

Royal Caribbean

On a Royal Caribbean cruise, there are lots of things to keep everybody busy.

The ships are full of adrenaline-filled activities and the daily schedule on a Royal Caribbean cruise has activities happening every hour – multiple things per hour in fact.

Ultimate Abyss Slide on Symphony of the Seas
Ultimate Abyss Slide on Symphony of the Seas

It is almost impossible to be bored on a Royal Caribbean cruise the problem is trying to fit all of the events you want to attend into your day!

P&O Cruises vs Royal Caribbean – Onboard Schedule

Guests who like to be entertained constantly with many activities to do throughout the day may prefer a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Guests who want to relax and recharge may prefer a P&O cruise.

Arvia aft pools
Relaxing on P&O’s Arvia

Before You Go

To compare Royal Caribbean to the value Italian cruise line MSC read the article below. I sailed on Anthem of the Seas and my parents sailed on MSC Virtuosa to the Norwegian Fjords at exactly the same time.

We Took The Same Cruise With MSC and Royal Caribbean: Differences and Comparison

Find out about the cabin I had on Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas. It didn’t have a sea view at all, it overlooked a “neighbourhood” middle of the ship.

I Stayed in Royal Caribbean’s “Neighbourhood Balcony” (Unexpected Pros and Cons)

Free Insiders Cruise Line Guide

Ever wondered how the mainstream cruise lines compare? Cruise lines won’t tell you this, but I will.

This FREE guide shows you everything you need to know to find your perfect cruise line.