Carnival’s reputation has evolved from being associated with the young party crowd to being the “Fun Ships” with a less formal ambience and greatly improved quality that is now appealing to cruisers of all ages. “The world's largest cruise line's humble origins pigeonholed it as the cruise industry's version of a floating fraternity party for a long, long time. But that's yesterday, and while Carnival still commands a certain reputation for a flashy, neon-esque atmosphere, and by no means stints on elaborate lounges and discos, its ships continue to evolve” (http://www.expedia.com/daily/cruise/lines/cl1.asp?rfrr=-26926). Carnival’s food, entertainment, and amenities have all improved dramatically, as have the size and technological features of the ships that comprise its fleet.
Royal Caribbean has a reputation as an active cruise line that has a lot to offer for sports enthusiasts, with the largest ships on the seas offering options such as rock climbing and skating facilities. The cruise line is known for consistently high quality that has not changed over the years. “Across the board, food is amazingly consistent and well-prepared—from the dining room to the buffet to the 24-hour room service—especially considering the capacity of the ships” (http://www.expedia.com/daily/cruise/lines/cl10.asp?rfrr=-26926). Royal Caribbean has received kudos for offering free equipment rental for use in its sporting facilities.
The rivalry between these two cruise lines is intense, and has largely driven the cutting edge developments in their ships and services. One is continually trying to upstage the other with announcements of new vessels being developed or put into commission that are the largest known. This battle to be have biggest ships has thus far been won by Royal Caribbean. "One of Royal Caribbean's best tricks has been to repeatedly announce, build and sail the biggest cruise ship in the world. In fact, they relish announcing such a new ship will be built usually the same week as Carnival announces it has just launched its biggest vessel ever. For instance, at almost exactly the same time Carnival floated out the first post 100,000-ton cruise ship ever, Royal Caribbean trounced the publicity by announcing they would build one of nearly 140,000 tons." (http://cruisemates.com/articles/reviews/rci/index.cfm).
The ability of Royal Caribbean to maintain its competitive edge as far as the size of its vessels has enabled it to be the leading carrier by volume of passengers. This dominant market position comes despite Carnival's claim to the most cruise ships afloat. Carnival Cruise Line's parent company, Carnival Corp., when accounting for all of its subsidiaries, "carries one in four passengers today on no fewer than 79 ships" (http://cruisemates.com/articles/reviews/carnival/index.cfm). Obviously, the two companies are the dominant players that set the tone for the entire industry, and might be likened to Coca Cola and Pepsi in the beverage industry, or MacDonald's and Burger King in the fast food industry.
In terms of wide appeal to various interests, Carnival arguably wins. According to Cruisemates.com, "it is hard to compete with Carnival's ability to establish and embellish a simple concept; build fun ships with good food, and make sure the staff understands the concept. Royal Caribbean may have many more things to do onboard, but Carnival may be arguably 'more fun' based solely upon their attitude. Where Royal Caribbean