|Note: I’ve updated this article with additional perspectives from my second Royal Caribbean cruise. Now that I’ve had non-suite experiences on both cruise liners, I have a more apples-to-apples comparison to work with.|
If you’re looking to escape Singapore on a Cruise to Nowhere, it’s currently a two-horse race between Dream Cruises and Royal Caribbean, the only STB-approved operators. Dream Cruises operates 2-3 night cruises on World Dream; Royal Caribbean operates 2-4 night cruises on Quantum of the Seas.
But which one is a better choice? Having done both, here’s my take.
|🚢 Dream Cruise vs Royal Caribbean Showdown|
Dream Cruises vs Royal Caribbean: Policies
Before we even talk about the differences onboard, let’s talk policies and practices. Dream Cruises and Royal Caribbean differ in some very important ways:
|Choose Stateroom Online||Not allowed||Allowed|
(48-72 hours before)
|BYOB Alcohol||Not allowed||Up to 2x 750ml bottles of wine per stateroom|
|Internet, Dining, Beverage Packages||Buy onboard*||Book before or onboard|
|*According to this link, Jade and higher members of Dream Cruises’ loyalty program can pre-purchase beverage packages at 10% off. I suppose you need to call in.|
Your stateroom location could be the all-important determinant of how much you enjoy your cruise. Those prone to sea sickness will want to be mid-level, mid-ship where movement is kept to a minimum. Light sleepers will want to be located away from elevators and entertainment venues. Lazy bums will want to avoid either extreme of the ship (long walking times).
Royal Caribbean lets guests choose their exact stateroom during the booking process; Dream Cruises has no such functionality (you’ll need to call up reservations if you want a pre-assignment).
COVID-19 testing is a mandatory part of your cruise experience, and both companies go about it very differently. Dream Cruises uses the less invasive (and less accurate) COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test (ART), which is carried out on the day of departure. Passengers will need to arrive early at the cruise terminal to do their test, wait about an hour for the results (in the carpark, not very glam), and board after they test negative.
Royal Caribbean uses the more invasive (and more accurate) COVID-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test, which is carried out between 48-72 hours before departure at Raffles City. Results will be released within 24 hours, and passengers with negative tests can proceed straight to boarding once they arrive at the cruise terminal.
For those who like their booze, Royal Caribbean permits guests to bring on board two bottles of wine or champagne (750 ml each) per stateroom. These can be enjoyed in the room, or in a restaurant for a US$15 corkage fee (which in my experience, was never charged). Dream Cruises strictly forbids passengers from bringing alcohol on board.
Finally, it’s possible to pre-purchase dining, beverage and internet packages ahead of your Royal Caribbean cruise through the online cruise planner. Dream Cruises lacks this feature, and all package purchases must be done on board. I feel like this puts more pressure on guests, insofar as they have no opportunity to research the packages ahead of time (but not you, dear reader, as I’ll lay them out clearly in subsequent reviews), and it also means a lot more stress on boarding day as you rush to book things up.
Who wins here? Royal Caribbean, without a doubt. I like the convenience of being able to choose my exact stateroom online, browse the various dining/beverage/internet packages ahead of time, and BYOB. While their COVID-19 test requires you to physically head down to Raffles City, it cuts both ways- on the day of departure, there’s no further wait and you can start enjoying your cruise immediately.
Dream Cruises vs Royal Caribbean: Price
|Balcony Stateroom Prices|
(Lowest rates for May 2021)
|Rates are for 2 pax and inclusive of all port fees and gratuities|
Cruise pricing can fluctuate dramatically, so take the above quotes with a pinch of salt- it’s always best to do a comparison search with your actual dates.
For May 2021, the lowest rates I could find on Dream Cruises were well below Royal Caribbean. It’s possible to get some discounts on Royal Caribbean fares with HSBC credit cards or AIA Vitality, but my general sense is that Dream Cruises is more budget-friendly. I suspect you’re being cross subsidized by the gamblers.
Dream Cruises vs Royal Caribbean: Staterooms
The stateroom categories on Dream and Royal roughly map to each other. There are interior rooms with no outside view (although Quantum has rooms with virtual windows), ocean view rooms with portholes, balcony rooms, and suites.
Here’s how they measure up in terms of size:
|Interior||140 sq. ft.||166 sq. ft.|
|Ocean View||172 sq. ft.||182-302 sq. ft.|
|Balcony||215-237 sq. ft.||242-253 sq. ft.|
|Suite (Entry-level)||398 sq ft.||348 sq. ft.|
As a general rule, Royal has larger non-suite staterooms, but slightly smaller entry-level suites.
I stayed in a Balcony stateroom on both Royal and Dream, and even though the difference in room size is perhaps 20-30 sq. ft., it’s definitely noticeable. I’m trying to use shots from similar angles in the respective staterooms, but do note I was on the port side for one voyage and starboard on another, hence the door and balcony are reversed.
The Quantum of the Seas stateroom feels slightly wider, and has more storage space thanks to two wardrobes and an additional credenza. On the other hand, the World Dream room is more modern, (it launched in 2017 vs 2014 for Quantum), with features like 2x USB ports on each bedside and notably faster Wi-Fi.
Both rooms have excellent beds and soundproofing, so a good night’s sleep shouldn’t be an issue either way.
The balcony on World Dream is extremely cramped. You can tell by the fact they couldn’t even place the two chairs perpendicular to the railing.
In contrast, the balcony on Quantum was relatively more spacious (note how the chairs are perpendicular to the railing, and there’s even space for an ottoman), and it felt more pleasant spending time out here.
Rooms on both ships were clean and made up twice a day, although I found Royal Caribbean to be a bit more personable in this respect (the cabin attendant personally introduces him/herself on the first day).
Dream Cruises vs Royal Caribbean: Food
Both Quantum of the Seas and World Dream have a wide variety of dining options, and some concepts will overlap. For instance, both have a main dining room and a special one for suites guests, both have a steakhouse and a Japanese restaurant. However, not all concepts will have a corresponding equivalent- World Dream has a hotpot and a specialty Chinese restaurant, while Quantum of the Seas has a molecular gastronomy fine dining restaurant and a specialty Italian joint.
Here’s a rundown of how things map across ships:
|Main Dining Room*||Dream Dining Room Upper|
Dream Dining Room Lower
|American Icon Grill|
|Special Suites Restaurant||Palace Restaurant||Coastal Kitchen|
|Steakhouse||Prime Steakhouse||Chops Grille|
|Chinese Restaurant||Silk Road||N/A|
|*Dream Dining Room Upper serves Chinese cuisine, while Lower serves the Western menu. Silk, Chic, The Grande and American Icon Grill all serve the same items; they’re collectively referred to as the MDR|
In general, Dream Cruises caters to a more local audience, while Royal Caribbean will appeal to international palates.
Complimentary dining on Dream is served across two main locations: the Dream Dining Room Lower and Dream Dining Room Upper. The Upper section serves Chinese food, while the Lower section serves Western food.
Unlike other cruise liners, Dream does not have “traditional” dining where you show up at a fixed time every night. It’s strictly first-come-first-serve, which means the potential for waits. Also, since you get a different table every time, you can forget about receiving anything other than anonymous service.
On Royal, the complimentary dining is split across four different restaurants- American Icon Grill, Chic, Silk, and The Grande. They all serve the same menu, and where you’re seated is a function of whether you’re on My Time Dining or Traditional.
Regardless of which you choose, they endeavor to put you at the same table each night so you can have the same waitstaff and build a rapport. Our waiter was fantastic- by the second day he had figured out our preferences, and automatically brought extra portions of what he thought we’d like (and was spot on).
|Note: This personalised treatment applies mainly at dinner. For breakfast and lunch, you’ll be assigned at random, i.e more like the Dream Cruise system.|
I found breakfast to be the most underwhelming meal on both cruise ships, but at the very least Royal offered more options. On Dream, you had the same Western breakfast every day, with the only variable being a special that rotated between french toast, waffles, and pancakes.
The Chinese selection had more variety, but still relied heavily on oily carbs.
Royal’s menu stayed the same each day, but they had nine different options plus a wide choice of sides.
The star of lunch and dinner on Dream were the fish dishes. I was surprised by how good they are, and thankful they didn’t use cheap dory or some other bottom feeder. Instead, we had seabass and snapper, both cooked to perfection.
The rest of the stuff on Dream, sadly, was cheap and unappetizing. I’d actually have been perfectly happy just going for the mains and skipping everything else.
If your tastes veer more Chinese, you’d be able to enjoy a rotating menu of several dishes at each seating. It goes without saying that the Chinese option on Dream were much better than Royal’s.
On Royal, lunch focused on fast-casual options, like burgers, quesadillas, pasta and sandwiches.
Dinner was the real highlight, with choices like Steak Diane, Mojo-Marinated Grilled Pork Chop, and a surprisingly delicious prime rib. You can order as many appetizers, mains and desserts as you want, and we never left hungry.
In the battle of the buffets, Windjammer trounces Lido. Not only does the layout feel more inviting (cuisines are grouped by islands, instead of an assembly line, and there’s much more room for people to move around while browsing), but the variety and quality at Windjammer put Lido to shame.
Frankly, the food at Lido was depressing. I’m going to quote from my review here:
Think industrial cafeteria food, then imagine it a hundred times worse. Then picture it served in a chaotic, cramped environment with screaming kids and dirty tables, and you’ve only started to conceptualise the hell that is Lido.
The options were low quality, heavily reliant on carbs, fried food and processed items, and presented in a bland and unappetizing way. Dire.
In contrast, the options at Windjammer may not have been steak and lobster, but they were certainly higher quality than Lido. There were also a few stations that would assemble your item to order, like burgers or pasta.
Other free food options on World Dream are extremely limited- in fact, outside of the MDR and Lido, I can’t think of any other venue that had complimentary dining. On Royal, you’ll be spoiled for choice with pizza at Sorrento’s, hotdogs at the Dog House, healthier options at Solarium, sandwiches and soups at Two70, and random surprises like soft serve ice cream by the pool.
Specialty Dining & Beverage Packages
Dream and Royal differ in the way they price specialty dining.
On Dream, specialty dining works purely on an a la carte basis. When you board the ship, you’ll be offered a Day One “embarkation offer”, where you can buy dining credits at the following prices:
- Pay S$50 get S$55 credit (9% off)
- Pay S$100 get S$120 credit (17% off)
- Pay S$150 get S$180 credit (17% off)
- Pay S$200 get S$250 credit (20% off)
In addition to this, certain set meals at places like Umi Uma and Hotpot will also be sold at a 20% discount (which you can further pay for with discounted dining credits, saving even more). When I was sailing, KrisFlyer members received a 20% discount off all food at specialty restaurants as well.
On Royal Caribbean, things work differently. With the exception of Izumi (which uses an a la carte model), you pay for a reservation, during which you can order as much as you want at a particular restaurant. You can also buy an Unlimited Dining Package (UDP), which lets you eat at as many specialty restaurants as you wish (it cost S$135 for my four-night cruise).
Both Dream and Royal have beverage packages, which I’ve tried to map to each other below:
|Soft drinks only||N/A||S$33|
|10x premium coffee||N/A||S$42|
|Non-alcoholic drinks + Beer||S$118||N/A|
|All drinks except hard liquor||S$138||N/A|
Drinks packages are generally cheaper on Royal. If you opt for a la carte pricing, it’s more or less comparable, with the exception of hard liquor. A shot costs S$15 on Dream Cruises, versus S$12 on Royal.
Remember: the key with Royal Caribbean is to wait for sales. Opt-in to their email communications (you can always unsubscribe after the cruise) so you’ll know when beverage and dining package are going on sale.
If in doubt, just lock in something first- you can always cancel without penalty prior to boarding.
Chops Grille vs Prime Steakhouse
In this category, there’s just no contest. Chops Grille is an amazing place to get a steak, and Prime Steakhouse is an amazing place to waste your money.
Let’s talk prices first. Chops Grille costs S$31 for lunch and S$68 for dinner. You’re technically allowed one appetizer, one soup & salad, and one main course + unlimited sides, but in practice the staff are more than happy to bring multiple items.
At Prime Steakhouse, a steak alone already costs you S$55 (I’m adjusting for the 20% discount available from buying credits on embarkation day, and adding in the 18% gratuity). Once you factor in a starter and sides, you’re definitely going to be shelling out more on World Dream.
Does that extra money buy you quality? Like fun it does. Here’s Chops Grille’s ribeye…
…and here’s Prime Steakhouse’s version.
Visually speaking, the Chops Grille ribeye looks so much more appealing, with a lovely char and juicy-looking marbling. In contrast, the Prime Steakhouse ribeye looks anemic and although there are some grill marks, the sear isn’t anywhere as impressive.
Flavor wise, it’s a home run for Chops Grille. While both steaks were cooked to a proper medium rare, the Chops Grille ribeye had an amazingly juicy interior, perfumed with roasted garlic and dotted with melting fat. The Prime Steakhouse ribeye lacked the distinctive marbling you’d expect, and was even chewy at times.
Izumi vs Umi Uma Teppanyaki
Quantum may walk the steak contest, but World Dream takes the Japanese restaurant category.
I wonder how much of it is due to the fact that Izumi is a victim of Royal Caribbean’s arcane sourcing procedures. Because it’s a US-based cruise liner, it’s subject to FDA regulations, one of which is all raw fish must be frozen and sent to the USA for inspection. I don’t need to tell you what freezing does to sashimi, salmon sashimi in particular. It was a watery, unappetizing mess.
Even ignoring the sashimi, the rest of the menu at Izumi was plain bad. The ramen was soggy and tasteless, the rolls were sticky and unappetizing.
In contrast, Umi Uma’s teppanyaki was the highlight of my meals onboard World Dream. They use fresh prawns (Royal only has frozen), and the difference is night and day. My set menu of surf and turf wasn’t cheap (~S$100), but I really enjoyed it.
Other Specialty Restaurants
The specialty restaurants on Quantum of the Seas are somewhat inconsistent. During my first visit, Chops was phenomenal, Jamie’s and Wonderland dreadful. During the second, Chops was average, Jamie’s was pretty good, and I didn’t bother returning to Wonderland because I felt ripped off the first time. I think they’re all worth trying at least once, but it’s really a case of YMMV.
It’s not like the specialty dining on World Dream was any better though. Hot Pot’s “premium” set was a mix of cheap, fatty pork (80% fat, 20% meat), and bulked up with cheap items like fish and beef balls. It wasn’t enough food for one person, but ordering additional items was extremely expensive (S$5 for a single portion of mushrooms, $6 for beef balls, $17 for pork belly).
Last point: be careful when ordering wine on World Dream. Two times at two separate restaurants, I ordered a sparkling brut from the wine list. Both times, I was served Moscato; the bartender had mixed up the bottles. I’m willing to believe it was a genuine mistake, but as a safety precaution, always ask to see the bottle.
The winner for dining? Royal, hands down. On Royal, the question always was “how many more meals can I squeeze in?” On Dream, the question was “what’s the least bad thing I can eat?”
Dream Cruises vs Royal Caribbean: Entertainment
All shows on Quantum of the Seas are free, and there’s a wide range to choose from:
- Comedy Juggling by Steve Rawlings (comedy)
- Gold Art Duo (acrobatics)
- Sequins and Feathers (cabaret)
- Starwater (musical)
- Viktoria Stryzhak (violin recital)
I managed to catch all of them (review here), and while some were better than others, the overall standard was very high. Starwater was a particular highlight- a blockbuster original musical with top notch costumes, singing and production values. It’s the kind of thing I’d have paid money to see outside.
Also fantastic was Sequins and Feathers, a tribute to cabaret shows throughout the ages.
World Dream, on the other hand, only has two free shows:
- Dream Variety (variety show with singing and acrobatics)
- Vision by Vincent Vignaud (magic show)
A third show called Dream Boys is available, but this will cost you S$50. What was especially surreal was the way the cruise director casually sauntered onto stage after the magic show finished, told the kids in the audience about the upcoming video game tournament, then in the same breath started pitching Dream Boys to the adults.
“It’s not just sexy, it’s also funny,” she tried to explain, as if the main obstacle to attendance was the lack of a healthy dose of comedy to accompany the acts of wanton carnality.
Get used to these pitches; they’re a frequent feature onboard World Dream. Dream Boys also got a shout out immediately after the suitable-for-all-ages Dream Variety show, and I swear the grandmother in front of me swallowed her dentures when she saw the trailer.
As for the free shows, well, I didn’t particularly enjoy any of them. The Dream Variety show was a strange mash up of English and Chinese dance numbers and songs, and I suppose it may appeal to the older generation, but it wasn’t for me.
Likewise, Vincent Vignaud’s magic show felt a bit like Gob from Arrested Development (he was so campy I half expected Final Countdown to start blasting), but not in a good way. In my opinion, a solid magic performance is more than just technical competence; it’s about having the charisma and humour to engage the audience. I didn’t get any of that here, and it didn’t help that many of the illusions weren’t that hard to figure out (one of them was a carbon copy of Mark Shortland’s phone smashing routine on Fool Us).
I realise it’s all subjective, but if you ask me, Royal Caribbean wins the entertainment round hands down.
Dream Cruises vs Royal Caribbean: Activities
Both cruise lines go all out to ensure that guests don’t get bored.
On World Dream, you’ll find an elevated rope course that culminates in a zipline ride 18 decks above the ocean. There’s also a mini-golf course, five waterslides, a LAN gaming hub, and a VR game studio (do the early bird 1-for-1 games; never pay full price).
Quantum of the Seas, on the other hand, has a wave pool and skydiving simulator, bumper cars, an observation capsule, and more swimming pools (including the lovely Solarium, exclusively for adults). There even used to be laser tag and escape room games, but those have been suspended due to COVID.
Both ships also have kid’s clubs, and dance classes/trivia sessions throughout the day.
Do note that the pool on World Dream requires reservations, and getting one means standing in a long, slow moving queue (there’s no digital booking option). With Quantum, it’s first-come-first-serve, and the lifeguards will enforce social distancing restrictions.
I think the options are solid on both; it boils down to what you’re more interested in.
Dream Cruises vs Royal Caribbean: Wi-Fi
Both Dream Cruises and Royal Caribbean offer Wi-Fi onboard, at the following prices:
|Wi-Fi Prices (Per Night)|
Dream Cruises is cheaper if you just have a single device, but by the time you go up to four, Royal Caribbean becomes the better deal. As mentioned earlier, Royal Caribbean holds frequent sales in the run up towards departure, so pay attention to the prices in Cruise Planner. You can always cancel and repurchase plans without penalty, so lock in deals when they appear.
In terms of internet speeds, my experience was that Dream Cruises was better. That said, I realise this is highly dependent on weather conditions, the route your cruise sails, and how many people are on board, so you’ll need to take these results with a pinch of salt.
|Peak Speed||11.4 Mpbs||33.0 Mbps||3.7 Mbps||1.9 Mbps|
For what it’s worth, I was able to do Whatsapp video calls on both ships without too many issues, and for Royal Caribbean, YouTube videos were able to load quickly enough at 480p.
Dream Cruises vs Royal Caribbean: Overall Vibe
Dream Cruises knows that a sizeable proportion of its clientele come to gamble, and it’s not shy about appealing to that. In fact, it’s hard to find a byway on the ship that isn’t lined with slot machines or some other game of chance, assaulting you with their bright lights and constant din.
Even if you’re not a gambler, the gambling is almost impossible to ignore. On embarkation night, a ship-wide announcement was made over the PA informing everyone we were now in international waters, and the casinos (that’s plural; World Dream has more than one) had opened. If you wandered through the main concourse, you’d almost certainly run into one of many jackpot bingo sessions (cost of entry: S$20).
Want to take in a relaxing show? Sure, but before that, a message from our sponsors. Did you know you can buy scratch cards and win fantastic prizes? Yes, and we’ve got people wandering the aisles now selling them, so be sure to flag them down!
It was just relentless, and come to think of it, even the kid’s games in the arcade were predominantly games of chance. Start them young, why don’t you?
Some will say I’m nitpicking; that getting annoyed with gambling on Dream Cruises is like complaining that a cow moos too much. Perhaps so, but I want everyone to go in with their eyes open. For all its ancillary attractions and activities, Dream Cruises is, first and foremost, a floating casino. If you like that, you’ll have a great time. If not, you’ll find it grates after a while.
Royal Caribbean, on the other hand, had a decidedly more family-friendly theme. You won’t find male strippers here, and the vice is strictly contained within a single casino area. You could spend a week onboard and never come across it. It could just be me, but I found that a lot more relaxing.
No prizes for guessing that Royal Caribbean was my favorite of the two cruises to nowhere; the food was better, the service was better, the shows were better. By the end of day 2 on Dream, I couldn’t wait for it to be over; with Royal, I didn’t want it to end.
For those who want more details, here’s my complete reports for World Dream and Quantum of the Seas.
|🚢 Cruise to Nowhere: Dream Cruises|
|🚢 Cruise to Nowhere: Royal Caribbean|
What else would you like to know about Royal Caribbean vs Dream Cruises?