In-Depth Guide to Carnival Cruise Ships

In-Depth Guide to Carnival Cruise Ships

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.

An affordable cruise line with an emphasis on quirky fun, Carnival is perfect for American budget travelers looking for a quick getaway.

Citi is an advertising partner.

One of the major U.S. cruise lines, Carnival Cruises has been around since 1972. Popular with budget travelers, Carnival cruise ships are famous for their onboard attractions, including things like water parks, cooking classes, casinos and more. Offering a laid-back, family-friendly vibe, Carnival caters mainly to those looking for no-frills fun rather than high-end luxury. If you're looking for a more upscale cruising experience, you may be better suited to cruise lines like Norwegian or Royal Caribbean.

couple enjoying a cruise vacation

With departure ports all over the U.S. and a few international ports, Carnival cruises are great for Americans looking for a quick and easy vacation. Featuring a fleet of 24 cruise ships and offering varying itinerary lengths, Carnival is most popular for their Caribbean cruises but also sails to other destinations including Mexico, Europe, Australia, Hawaii and Alaska.

Pros

  • Emphasis on constant fun and activities throughout the cruise
  • Wide range of restaurants
  • Excellent children's programs
  • Family friendly
  • Budget friendly
  • Variety of cruise length options

Cons

  • Not intended for luxury cruisers
  • Most ports are in North America
  • Food isn't as high caliber as on higher-end cruises
  • International destinations are limited
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Which Carnival cruise ships are best?

Determining which Carnival cruise ships are best will depend on individual preference, budget, traveler type and other factors. However, some of the most popular ships are those which are the newest and largest and have the most activities available on board.

While Carnival ships are certainly large, they typically aren't as big as the ships belonging to competing cruise lines like Royal Caribbean and Norwegian. An exception is Carnival's Mardi Gras, one of the cruise line's biggest and newest ships, which competes in size with ships from other cruise lines.

Below is the list of Carnival's 25 ship fleet:

Ship
Sails from
Sails to
Gross tons
Carnival Breeze Dream classGalveston, TexasCaribbean130,000
Carnival Celebration Excel classMiami, Fla.; London (Southampton), EnglandCaribbean; Transatlantic180,800
Carnival Conquest Conquest classMiami, Fla.Bahamas; Caribbean110,000
Show All Rows

Carnival cruises class differences explained

Carnival cruise ships can be divided into eight different classes: Excel, Vista, Dream, Splendor, Conquest, Spirit, Sunshine, Fantasy. Each class defines the types of similar amenities found on its group of ships.

These different classes can help you narrow down the type of cruise you want to take and can help ensure you'll be on a boat that has everything you're looking for.

Excel

Ships included: Mardi Gras, Carnival Celebration

Excel class ships are the newest and largest ships in the Carnival fleet, and therefore have the most amenities and activities onboard.

Some of the most noteworthy amenities on these ships include more dining options, restaurants and bars, roller coasters, Family Feud Live and more. Note that because these ships are so large, they can carry a lot more passengers than other ships, meaning that there may be more crowding.

Vista

Ships included: Carnival Vista, Carnival Horizon, Carnival Panorama

Until recently, the Vista class ships were the largest and newest in Carnival's fleet.

With the appearance of Mardi Gras, Vista is now the second most extravagant Carnival class, but is still a great option for cruisers looking for the classic Carnival experience. Some highlights are a SkyCourse and IMAX theaters (on Horizon and Vista).

Dream

Ships included: Carnival Dream, Carnival Magic, Carnival Breeze

While smaller in size and with slightly fewer amenities than Vista class ships, Dream class is ultimately very similar to Vista.

Dream class cruisers can enjoy amenities like a karaoke bar, video arcades, waterparks, mini golf and more.

Splendor

Ships included: Carnival Splendor

The major difference between Splendor class and Conquest class ships is that Carnival Splendor is significantly larger and carries more guests than Conquest vessels.

Splendor class guests can enjoy activities like comedy shows, casinos, waterparks, multiple pools and more.

Conquest

Ships included: Carnival Conquest, Carnival Glory, Carnival Valor, Carnival Liberty, Carnival Freedom

While Conquest class ships are smaller and have relatively less amenities than Splendor class, they still have plenty of great features to enjoy.

These ships include things like mini golf, adults-only top deck, and a number of restaurants and dining options. These ships also carry less passengers than other ships in the fleet, which is great for travelers looking to avoid the crowds.

Spirit

Ships included: Carnival Spirit, Carnival Pride, Carnival Legend, Carnival Miracle

These ships tend to sail to more adventurous destinations, including Alaska, Australia and Europe.

Guests can expect amenities like pools, a SkyCourse, waterparks, spas and more.

Sunshine

Ships included: Carnival Sunshine, Carnival Sunrise, Carnival Radiance

Sunshine class are Carnival's second smallest and oldest ships.

However, each of these ships has undergone various renovations and now have many similar amenities to ships in other classes. These ships now include things like waterparks, adults-only lounges, a ropes course and more.

Fantasy

Fantasy class

Ships included: Carnival Ecstasy, Carnival Sensation, Carnival Elation, Carnival Paradise

Carnival's Fantasy class ships are among the smallest ships in the fleet.

These are best for guests who prefer a calmer, more intimate cruising experience, and who don't mind having fewer amenities onboard.

Carnival Cruises destinations and itineraries

Carnival has 21 departure ports across North America, Europe and Australia. Cruise durations range from two to five days, six to nine days, and 10+ days. While Carnival's most popular cruise destinations are in the Caribbean, they also cruise to Mexico, Hawaii, Alaska, Australia and more.

Carnival departure ports are:

  1. Baltimore
  2. Barcelona
  3. Brisbane
  4. Charleston, S.C.
  5. Galveston, Texas
  6. Jacksonville, Fla.
  7. Lisbon, Portugal
  1. London (Dover)
  2. London (Southampton)
  3. Los Angeles
  4. Miami
  5. Mobile, Ala.
  6. New Orleans
  7. New York
  1. Norfolk, Va.
  2. Port Canaveral, Fla.
  3. Rome
  4. San Francisco
  5. Seattle
  6. Sydney
  7. Tampa, Fla.

Carnival cruises cabins and suites

Carnival has several different cabins and suites to choose from. While there are basic categories, some rooms can be made flexible to accommodate every type of traveler: Some staterooms can be configured in different ways to accommodate more people. Other rooms come with an extra half bathroom, connecting rooms or special modifications to suit accessibility needs.

Interior

Ocean View

Balcony

Suites

Specialty Suites

Interior staterooms are the most affordable cruising option. These are the smallest rooms and don't have any windows or balconies. Connecting rooms are available upon request.

Interior

Interior staterooms are the most affordable cruising option. These are the smallest rooms and don't have any windows or balconies. Connecting rooms are available upon request.

Ocean View

The next tier up from Interior staterooms is Ocean View. These rooms are larger and include a window. That said, these rooms are still on the small side, so while they technically fit up to five people, we would recommend no more than three without requesting connecting rooms.

Balcony

Balcony rooms are the nicest staterooms available on board before suites. Each room comes with its own private balcony, which can make your room feel much bigger and less suffocating, especially on a longer cruise.

Suites

Suites are the largest cabins on board and have their own balcony. Suites sleep up to five guests and also come with a host of exclusive amenities. These include:

  • Priority check-in, embarkation and debarkation
  • Priority dinner reservations and main dining room time assignment
  • Two complimentary large bottles of water
  • Pillow-top mattresses
  • Bathrobes

Specialty Suites

Family Harbor, Cloud 9 Spa, Havana

Specialty suites are a step up from the traditional suites and are better situated on the ship. Depending on the specialty, these suites cater specifically to families with kids, couples and those looking for extra outdoor space. Each specialty suite comes with exclusive amenities that reflect its specified theme. Note that different specialty suites are only available on select ships.

Carnival cruises dining options

While each ship has its own range of dining options, every ship has an array of included restaurants and specialty restaurants. Guests will have to pay out of pocket for specialty restaurants, but many of the ship's most popular restaurants are free. Dining options range from Shaq's Big Chicken to Guy Fieri's Pig & Anchor Smokehouse and beyond. You can expect to be able to choose from a wide variety of cuisines regardless of the ship you're on. Options range from sushi to Italian to Mexican and more.

Carnival also includes Lido Marketplace, an onboard buffet, which is included in your overall cruise fare. The main dining room is also an option included with your fare. Most guests are likely to find themselves eating multiple meals in these main dining hubs.

Carnival cruises things to do

Besides its affordable prices, one of the main draws of cruising with Carnival is the multitude of things to do. While every ship has its own range of activities and amenities, there are a few standard things across most Carnival cruises.

Some of the most popular onboard activities include:

  • Family Feud Live
  • Cloud 9 spa
  • SkyRide
  • Water parks
  • Adults-only top deck
  • Sky Zone
  • Themed nights and events
  • Bars and restaurants
  • Pools
  • Shopping
  • Art auctions and exhibitions
  • Arts and crafts
  • Sports courts
  • Casinos
  • Build-a-bear workshop
  • Day camp and day care for kids
  • Nightclubs
  • Mini golf
  • Cooking demonstrations
  • Movie showings
  • Photography studios
  • Fitness center and classes
  • Live music

Benefits and features

  • Emphasis on constant fun and activities throughout the cruise: Carnival's self-proclaimed "fun cruises" appeal to travelers looking for constant entertainment and activities throughout their vacation. They offer plenty to do for all ages, from waterparks and roller coasters to adults-only pool decks and spa treatments.
  • Wide range of restaurants: Carnival offers a wide variety of restaurants and dining options on every ship, though those options will vary from vessel to vessel.
  • Excellent children's programs: Carnival offers a babysitting option for parents who want a night to themselves, as well as a variety of day care options for all ages.
  • Family-friendly activities: Carnival prides itself on being fun for the whole family, and has a number of activities, events and amenities that cater to families and kids.
  • Budget-friendly features: One of the major benefits of taking a Carnival cruise is that it won't break the bank. Compared to other cruise options available, Carnival is extremely budget friendly.
  • Variety of cruise length options: Carnival has a number of different sailing itineraries, some as short as two to five days, and others up to 10+ days.

Drawbacks

  • Not intended for luxury cruisers: If budget cruising doesn't appeal to you, Carnival is not the cruise line you should choose. Carnival focuses more on laidback, budget-friendly, chaotic fun. So if you'd rather enjoy an intimate luxury cruise, you may want to consider a different cruise line.
  • Most ports are out of North America: While Carnival does sail to destinations around the world, it mainly caters to American travelers looking to sail relatively close to home. If you'd rather go on a major international vacation, your options with Carnival may be limited.
  • Food isn't as high caliber as on higher-end cruise lines: Because Carnival is a budget-friendly cruise line, you can expect the dining options to reflect that. While of course everything is safe and edible, don't expect a gourmet experience.

How much does a Carnival cruise cost?

Compared to other cruise lines, Carnival has some of the cheapest prices available. At the time of writing, Carnival's website states that three-day cruises start from as little as $209 per person, while seven-day cruises start at $419 per person. However, those baseline prices don't include many of the necessary add-ons, which can significantly increase the overall price of your trip.

Overall price includes the following:

  • Some restaurants and dining options
  • Most onboard activities

Things that are not included in your cruise cost include:

  • Dining at specialty restaurants
  • Gratuities
  • Drink packages
  • Excursion expenses

Tip: You can purchase cruise insurance through Carnival or a third party in case you need to cancel or postpone your trip.

Carnival cruise loyalty program

If you frequently sail on Carnival cruises, you may want to consider joining the Carnival loyalty program.

Carnival's VIPF (Very Important Fun Person) Club offers exclusive benefits, including things like priority boarding, members-only offers, members-only cocktail receptions and events.

The more you sail, the more VIPF rewards you earn. All you have to do is sign up for free and you will automatically start earning points.

Is Carnival cruises worth it?

Carnival cruises are definitely worth it for people in need of a quick and affordable getaway that isn't too far from home.

Families on a budget or groups of friends looking to have a good time are likely to have a blast on a Carnival cruise. With tons of activities and amenities for travelers of every age, Carnival can be highly appealing. However, if you're looking for a higher-end cruising experience, you may be better suited to cruise lines like Norwegian, Celebrity Cruises or Royal Caribbean.

Carnival cruise tips

Here are a few tips Carnival cruisers can benefit from:

  1. Splurge for a balcony room. If your vacation is longer than two days, chances are you'll appreciate the outdoor space.
  2. Make dining reservations ahead of time. With so many people on board and a limited number of restaurants to choose from, you'll be glad you made reservations in advance.
  3. Purchase a drink package. You won't want to pay out of pocket for every single drink over the course of your trip. Drink packages tend to be more economical, too.

What to know before you board:

  • Packing restrictions: Beyond the typical restrictions of firearms and illegal substances, a few unique items are prohibited, including hoverboards, boom boxes, candles, helium-filled balloons, inflatable kiddie pools, hookahs and footwear with heels like Heelys. However, each adult is allowed to bring one bottle of wine on board with them, though there is a corkage fee.
  • Alcohol and beverage policy: There are two drink packages available on Carnival cruises. Bottomless Bubbles includes unlimited soda and juice for the length of your cruise. Alternatively, the Cheers package includes soda, juice and all alcoholic drinks during your trip. Though you can also pay out of pocket for drinks during your cruise, drink packages will likely be the better deal for most passengers.
  • Gratuities are paid in advance: Passengers have the option to prepay their gratuities at the time of booking or they can choose to have gratuities added to their "Sail & Sign" account on the second to last day of the cruise.
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How to book a Carnival cruise

Booking a Carnival cruise online is simple:

  1. On the Carnival website, input the place you'd like to sail to and the departure port you'd like to leave from, your travel dates and preferred cruise duration.
  2. From there, you will be prompted to select your desired cruise, your room type and location on the ship.
  3. Continue to follow the prompts until your trip is booked.

Booking a cruise is a little more involved than simply purchasing your base fare. You'll also likely want to look into:

  • Drink packages
  • Gratuities
  • Shore excursions
  • Reservations

If you've never booked a cruise before, you may want to request a call from a Carnival vacation planner available through the Carnival website. They can help you navigate the intricacies of your trip to ensure your vacation is smooth sailing.

Best credit cards for Carnival cruises

The best credit cards for Carnival cruises will be cards that let you earn points for onboard spending and for paying for the cruise itself. We looked at cards on ValuePenguin and top issuer websites to find the most rewarding cards for Carnival cruise purchases:

  • For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card gives users 2X points per dollar spent on travel, which includes cruises.
  • Cashback cards can also put money back into your wallet, which you can then put towards the cost of your cruise.
  • Finally, a co-branded Carnival credit card, like the Carnival World™ MasterCard®, can offer special cruise-related perks, including things like a 10% statement credit on a Carnival shore excursion.
Credit card
Sign-up bonus
Credit score needed
Annual fee
Carnival World™ MasterCard®Earn 20,000 FunPoints® after your first purchase or balance transfer$0
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
On Chase's Secure Website
Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.750-850$95
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
On Capital One's Secure Website
Enjoy a one-time bonus of 60,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $600 in travel680-850$95
Show All Rows

Carnival cruise FAQs

Will Carnival cruise sail in 2021?

Yes, Carnival cruises are now sailing in 2021.

Which Carnival cruise ship is the best?

The best Carnival cruise ship will depend on your preferences. However, some of our favorite Carnival ships include Mardi Gras, Carnival Celebration and Carnival Radiance, as they are the largest and newest ships joining the Carnival fleet.

What is the biggest Carnival cruise ship?

Carnival's newest ship, Mardi Gras, is the biggest, weighing in at 180,000 gross tons.

The information related to Carnival World™ MasterCard® has been independently collected by ValuePenguin and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

These responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which ValuePenguin receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). ValuePenguin does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

How We Calculate Rewards: ValuePenguin calculates the value of rewards by estimating the dollar value of any points, miles or bonuses earned using the card less any associated annual fees. These estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone, not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

Example of how we calculate the rewards rates: When redeemed for travel through Ultimate Rewards, Chase Sapphire Preferred points are worth $0.0125 each. The card awards 2 points on travel and dining and 1 point on everything else. Therefore, we say the card has a 2.5% rewards rate on dining and travel (2 x $0.0125) and a 1.25% rewards rate on everything else (1 x $0.0125).