Carnival is the Close-To-Home Cruising Leader

The “Fun Ship” line, Carnival Cruise Line focuses on shorter, less expensive fun-filled cruises to the Caribbean and Mexico.  Carnival also has two ships which sail in Australia. Carnival boasts the most US ports and the typical Carnival cruiser will be driving to the port- not flying.  In addition, you’re paying about the same as you would if you wanted to visit a local beach town like Gulf Shores or Myrtle Beach.

The typical Carnival cruise customer isn’t looking for an over-the-top luxury experience.  That’s not to say that a Carnival cruise doesn’t offer a great value- because it does.  It’s hard to think high brow while watching a hairy chest contest around the pool deck.

carnival cruise lido deck

Here are some quick facts about Carnival Cruise Line

  • Number of ships: 24
  • Total number of berths: 71,000
  • Ship Classes: * (Fantasy, Spirit, Conquest, Splendor, Dream, Sunshine, Vista, Excel)
  • Newest ship: Mardi Gras (2021)
  • Number of U.S. Ports: 20
  • Largest Ship: Mardi Gras (5,250 passengers at 100% occupancy)

Carnival Destinations & Itineraries

carnival cruise cozumel

With two exceptions (Splendor and Spirit which sail from Australia), Carnival mostly focuses on U.S. ports.  PortMiami & Port Canaveral are the two largest operations.  Carnival also sails from smaller hubs like New Orleans, Galveston and Long Beach.  But Carnival also offers cruises from smaller ports like Baltimore, Mobile, Charleston and Jacksonville, Florida.

Carnival focuses their itineraries on the Caribbean, the Bahamas and Mexico from the East Coast.  On the West Coast, Mexico, Hawaii and Alaska are the most common.  They do offer some cruises to Bermuda, through the Panama Canal, Canada and New England as well.  Carnival cruises are usually shorter in length- mostly 3 to 8 days.  Although the Carnival Journeys cruises can go up to 15 days.

Who Are Carnival Cruises Best For?

Carnival attracts travelers and their families looking for an affordable and fun vacation.  It is not the right line for people that are looking for luxury touches and 5-star accommodations.  Carnival leads the way for families by offering a wide array of activities and fun things to do for ages 2 and up.

Cabins & Suites

carnival balcony stateroom

Many other cruise lines offer upwards of 15 different cabin types on their ships.  Carnival has 4 basic categories:

  • Inside
  • Oeanview
  • Balcony
  • Suites

Focused on affordability, Carnival has relatively fewer suites than their competitors.  The usual Carnival customer isn’t seeking a high-end suite.

That being said, Carnival is offering a whopping 180 suites on its newest ship Mardi Gras- which is more than double of its most recent ships.

Design is very straightforward and basic.  Most cabins have either a beige or blue pallet with pretty standard furnishings.  Carnival cabins hold between 2-4 guests depending on the room.  Some of the largest suites can hold up to a family of 6.

Dining Experience

Like the other large cruise lines, Carnival packs a ton of food options onto their ships- some included in your fare and some that come with a nominal cover charge.

Every ship has 2 main dining rooms and a casual buffet area called the Lido.  The two main dining rooms offer both “Your Time” dining or Traditional Dining- which offers a fixed table and time for dinner for the entire cruise.  Just be warned- your dinner might be interrupted by singing and dancing waiters that put on a great show while you are eating dinner.

carnival dining

Depending on your ship, Carnival offers a wide range of casual dining options that are included in your fare.  BlueIguana Cantina and Guy’s Burger Joint- created through a partnership with Food Network and restauranter Guy Fieri.  New options are being added all the time as ships are upgraded.

Every Carnival ship will also have one or more extra-charge eatery.  Fahrenheit 55 (steakhouse) and Cucina del Capitano (Italian) are the most common.  Fahrenheit 555 charges $38 per person for 5-star level gourmet dining and Cucina del Capitano is just $15 per person.


carnival entertainment

Carnival may not have quite as many shows and features as Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, but they still pack a lot of entertainment bang for your buck.  The fun ships have multiple entertainment venues like casinos, spas and lots of deck top fun zones with waterparks, ropes courses and even a rollercoaster.

Looking for something a little more raucous?  Be sure to check out the piano bar where you can sing and drink the night into the wee hours or grab a seat at a comedy show.  If you want more laid-back, then you can enjoy time in the casino or checking out one of the high-energy shows in the onboard theatre. You can even chill by the pool and take in the line’s signature “Dive-In Movie” which is shown outdoors on the big screen above the pool on the lido deck.

Carnival Children’s Programs

carnival camp ocean

Boasting one of the most extensive children’s programs at sea, Carnival has children’s programming for ages 2-17.  For the 2-11 set, Carnival offers Camp Ocean which has age-appropriate programming that’s included in your cruise fare.  In addition, Camp Ocean has a slumber party environment from 10pm to 1am called Night Owls.  There are also two teen lounges.  Circle C is for children 12-14 which Club O2 is offered for older teens from 15-17.

What Documentation Do You Need?

On a cruise that starts and ends in the United States (even at different ports) if you are a US citizen, you’ll need either a current passport (preferred) or an official copy of your birth certificate along with a driver’s license or other official government issued photo identification. If you are boarding a cruise in a foreign country, you’ll be required to have a passport.  Passports must be valid for six months past the end of your cruise.  It is critical that your name on the reservation matches your travel documents. It’s best to check Carnival’s website before sailing for the very latest.

What Is Included in Your Cruise Fare?

Your fare will include your accommodations, entertainment, all taxes and fees and non-premium onboard dining.  Coffee, tea and lemonade are also included in the lido buffet.

What Costs Extra on a Carnival Cruise?

While Carnival cruises offer a great value, there are some things that are not included.  You’ll pay extra for premium dining options, and WiFi.  Carnival has two premium beverage programs “Bubbles” for non-alcoholic beverages and “Cheers” for adult beverages.  It is important to know that everyone in the cabin must purchase the same beverage package- unless someone is under 21, then of course they can purchase the Bubbles package.

Gratuities are automatically charged at $13.99-$15.99 per person per day to final bills for all passengers over the age of 2.  You can prepay gratuities.  In addition you can always tip more if you are happy with the service you’ve received.

Three Extra Notes

Most Carnival ships currently contain just one electrical outlet, so you can bring an extension cord or power strip.  Please note that your power strip CAN NOT be a surge protector as these can damage the ships electrical system and will be confiscated if they are found.  The correct power strips can be found on sites like Amazon.

Smoking is only allowed in designated outdoor areas as well as the casino and some nightclubs.  This includes electronic cigarettes.  Electronic cigarettes are only allowed outdoors.  If sailing in Australia, you can only smoke in designated outdoor areas.  No marijuana smoking is allowed anywhere or anytime.

Carnival will allow you to bring the following on board and must be unopened and in their original containers.

  • Bottle of wine OR champagne per person in the stateroom
  • 12-pack of water or sodas- no glass or plastic bottles allowed

All carry-on drinks brought on board must be carried in your carry-on luggage.

Final Thoughts

Carnival ships are about fun and maximum value for your vacation.  They are also the most affordable cruises available.  You’ll have to temper your luxury expectations a bit and be ready for over-the-top fun.  If the idea of shirtless men being voted on by a crowd as to who has the hairiest chest makes your stomach churn, then Carnival isn’t for you.  But if you’re ready to have a party on vacation, at a great price point with something for the whole family, then maybe its time to contact your travel advisor to plan your Carnival cruise vacation.