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. 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 cruises are more traditional than Royal Caribbean with a higher focus on dress codes and formal dining. Royal Caribbean has busier daily schedules and larger modern ships. P&O Cruises are a British cruise line and Royal Caribbean are 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 every person.

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
Price*******
FoodPrimarily AmericanPrimarily British
Royal Caribbean vs P&O Cruises

Cruise Ship Design

Royal Caribbean have considerably more ships in their fleet with 26 currently in operation compared to P&O cruises 6 ships.

Generally speaking, most of the Royal Caribbean fleet are larger than cruise ships for P&O Cruises and the design of P&O cruise ships is much more traditional than those owned by Royal Caribbean.

Cruise LineNumber of ShipsShip DesignOnboard Activities
P&O Cruises6Traditional, ElegantRelaxing
Royal Caribbean26Modern, BrightAdrenaline Filled
Royal Caribbean vs P&O Cruises Ship Design
Royal Caribbean Labadee
Oasis of The Seas in Labadee

P&O Cruises – Cruise Ship Design

P&O Cruises have a variety of cruise ships that range in age and size. They have quite a few small traditional cruise ships and their newest, largest ship is Iona.

Iona is an exciting ship for P&O Cruises as she is aimed at the family market and is increasingly focusing on the flexibility of cruising.

Many of the P&O cruise ships are adult-only.

ShipYear BuiltGross Tonnage
Aurora200076,000
Arcadia200584,000
Ventura2008116,000
Azura2010115,000
Britannia2015143,000
Iona2020183,000
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 feel considerably less crowded than cruises on other cruise lines.

Below is a photo of the Crow’s Nest on board P&O’s Britannia. A very popular place to grab a drink and look out over the ocean. The lounge is located on deck 16 and has glass windows on three sides.

p&o britannia sky lounge bar
P&O Cruises Britannia Crow’s Nest

Royal Caribbean

On the newer bigger cruise ships you’ll find things like sky diving simulators, flow riders, ice rinks, zip lines, rock climbing walls, and aqua parks. 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 distantly Royal Caribbean such as a bar around the funnel and large open atriums and dining rooms.

Many of the older Royal Caribbean cruise ships now cruise with other smaller cruise lines.

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 stood at the top looking down.

The ships for Royal Caribbean were built between 1990 and 2020.

ShipYear BuiltGross Tonnage
Empress of The Seas199048,000
Majesty of The Seas199274,000
Grandeur of The Seas199673,000
Rhapsody of The Seas199778,000
Enchantment of The Seas199782,000
Vision of The Seas199878,700
Voyager of The Seas1999138,000
Explorer of The Seas2000138,000
Adventure of The Seas2001138,000
Navigator of The Seas2002139,000
Mariner of The Seas2003139,000
Radiance of The Seas200190,000
Brilliant of The Seas200290,000
Serenade of The Seas200390,000
Jewel of The Seas200490,000
Freedom of The Seas2006156,000
Liberty of The Seas2007155,000
Independence of The Seas2008155,000
Oasis of The Seas2009226,000
Allure of The Seas2010225,000
Quantum of The Seas2014168,000
Anthem of The Seas2015 168,000
Ovation of The Seas2016168,000
Harmony of The Seas2016226,000
Symphony of The Seas2018228,000
Spectrum of The Seas2019169,000
Royal Caribbean cruise ship fleet by size

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

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

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 because 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.

Guests that are looking for adrenaline-filled activities and new, large ships may prefer Royal Caribbean.

Guests who like traditional cruise ships would enjoy a P&O cruise. P&O ships are much more relaxing and traditional than Royal Caribbean ships.

Dress Codes and Dining

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

Royal Caribbean do have formal nights but they’re not as formal as the formal nights 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 usually enjoy the dressing up element of formal nights. Meeting the captain is a very popular event onboard P&O cruises and guests wear their best clothes to do so.

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

cruise captain wesley p&O cruises
Me meeting captain Wesley Dunlop onboard P&O’s Britannia

P&O are increasingly offering flexible dining now but have traditionally always had fixed dining. During my cruise on P&O’s Britannia, we opted for flexible dining and it worked very well.

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.

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 with a lot of dining on Royal Caribbean being 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 that 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 formalwear.

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

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

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

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 than Royal Caribbean despite also being popular with families.

The majority of guests on P&O Cruise are British as opposed to Royal Caribbean where you will find Americans, British, and almost all 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 99% 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 do advertise 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.

P&O Cruises attracts passengers who enjoy traditional dining, dress codes, and a classic cruising experience.

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 from the UK.

I have a couple of friends Sean and Stef who recently took a cruise with P&O Cruises. They’re American and had a fantastic time but it’s just something that Americans should be aware of.

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.

To follow Sean and Stef’s adventures cruising with P&O as Americans, check out their video series below:

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

Itineraries

The majority of cruises for P&O Cruises cruise from the UK. Royal Caribbean have cruise ships stationed all over the world and also have cruise ships occasionally based in the UK.

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

P&O Cruises

P&O cruise 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 from the UK.

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 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. Cool!

P&O also cruise to the Norwegian Fjords, northern Europe, the Mediterranean, 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 stations in the Caribbean, Alaska, Hawaii, Europe, Asia, and doing transatlantic and trans-Pacific voyages.

It isn’t unusual for a Royal Caribbean ship to be stationed in the UK in previous years this was Independence of the Seas which is when I sailed on her. I took a northern Europe cruise and although it was lots of fun, it was SO cold and windy! We cruised in October around the English channel…

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 cruise to that P&O cruises do not.

Food

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.

Note the chunky chips in the photo below of my lunch in the main dining room! No fries here. Chunky chips all the way.

p&o britannia main dining room lunch food baguette chips
P&O Britannia Lunch Time Food

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

The buffet on P&O Cruises is fantastic and one of my favorites. 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. So yummy!

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 royal caribbean burgers onion rings chips ketchup on plate
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 specialty restaurants onboard where guests can try different cuisines and the quality of food onboard both cruise lines is very high.

Pricing

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, if they want to is:

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

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

There is not a lot that I love more than going on a cruise, meeting new friends, and realizing that I paid considerably less than everybody else for the exact same cruise.

Grab your free training here to learn how you can cruise as cheaply and often as I do:
How to Cruise For Less.

Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean Cruises do not include gratuities and these can be quite expensive. At present cruise gratuities on Royal Caribbean cruises are $14.50 per person per night.

Cruise LineGratuity PriceAge Applied to
Royal Caribbean$14.50All 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 do this. For more information about gratuities including how much they will cost you check out this post:

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 US do not include taxes and fees in the same way that cruises from the UK do so cruises from the US often look much cheaper than cruises from the UK when in reality the prices are very similar.

In regards to pricing, P&O Cruises are often quite a lot cheaper than Royal Caribbean Cruises and P&O often have 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, and entertainment in the theatre.

I’ve always really enjoyed the theatre entertainment on P&O cruises, the musicians, tribute acts, and magic show ‘Astonishing’ 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 onboard pub.

Guests who cruise with P&O Cruises often like to relax by the pool and 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 very 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.

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.

To Conclude

P&O Cruises offer a great option for cruisers looking to relax and sail from the UK. The cruises are tailored towards a British market so you’ll find the food and entertainment onboard is catered to British tastes. Guests who want a busier experience with a jam-packed onboard schedule and new, large exciting ships may prefer a Royal Caribbean cruise.

To learn more about both cruise lines mentioned in this post check out our recommended cruise lines page:

Want to learn how to cruise well on a budget? Start here: How to Cruise For Less

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Emma Le Teace

Hey! I'm Emma. A cruise blogger, YouTuber and founder of the 'Cruising Isn't Just For Old People' Facebook community and website. You can learn more here: About Me.

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