Complete Guide to Cruising on Carnival Cruise Line

This complete guide to cruising on Carnival is your handy guidebook to its ships, trips, and all the onboard fun this cruise line offers. 

cruising on carnival

Carnival and its FUN ships have long been synonymous with cruising. The ubiquitous carefree cruise line celebrated 50 years of sailing in 2022, with no plan to slow down in sight.

If you’re considering a Carnival cruise as a first-timer, or you haven’t sailed in many years, it’s time for a refresh. Consider this complete overview of cruising on Carnival your handy guidebook to its ships, trips, and every last onboard amenity. 

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Complete Guide to Cruising on Carnival Cruise Line

Who Should Cruise Carnival?

Carnival is the cruise line for anyone who wants to come as they are, let loose, and have a good time. A Carnival cruise is an ideal getaway for young couples, big groups and families of all ages, including multi-gen travelers. Adding to its convenience as a vacation option, Carnival offers departure ports across 10 states in the U.S.

Complete Guide to Cruising on Carnival

Part of the Carnival appeal is also its value for money. Carnival is one of the cheapest cruise lines, without sacrificing dining or entertainment — especially when it comes to family-friendly options. Plus, its variety of homeports mean that many cruisers have the ability to drive to their ship, rather than fly.

Ship design as well as bar and restaurant concepts have gone trendier and more upscale with some newer vessels. But at the end of the day, Carnival is known for its friendly service and no-frills approach to cruising.

Carnival Cruise Ships

The Carnival Cruise Line fleet will consist of 27 ships by 2024. Our Carnival ship guide breaks down every ship by size, the date it debuted, and its ship class.

Carnival currently has nine ship classes in its portfolio: Fantasy Class, Spirit Class, Conquest Class, Splendor Class, Dream Class, Sunshine Class, Vista Class, Excel Class, and Venice Class.

Excel Class is the newest and largest class of Carnival cruise ships. It includes Mardi Gras; Carnival Celebration, launched in 2022; and Carnival Jubilee, which debuts at the end of 2023.

While there are of course differences, Carnival provides consistency in many of its onboard offerings across its fleet.

Carnival Cruise Costs

Carnival Cruise Line is generally an affordable family choice, but you might be wondering how much a Carnival cruise costs. These cruise costs can vary greatly based on itinerary, ship, and individual preferences like cabin selection and onboard extras.

Still, we share some guidelines for an idea of how much you’ll spend before your cruise and once onboard. This way you can set a realistic budget for your family vacation on a Carnival FUN ship.

Cabin Categories on Carnival Ships

Carnival has several different types of cruise rooms to cater to groups or couples. There are options for those looking to splurge on a suite and those looking to sail on a budget as well. Additionally, Carnival Cruise Line now offers three different types of specialty staterooms from spa cabins intended for wellness and relaxation to family staterooms that come with kid-friendly perks. Note that specific cabin categories will vary from ship to ship.

All Carnival cabins come with 24-hour room service (free Continental breakfast), climate control, a stateroom attendant, TV, closet and drawer space, and an in-room safe. Some cabins feature connecting doors.

Carnival Celebration Cruise Ship Review

A list of Carnival cabin categories include:

  • Interior: Affordable, inside cabins can sleep up to five and are considered roomy by industry standards.
  • Ocean View: These rooms with a view feature a picture window and can sleep up to five people.
  • Balcony: Balcony cabins vary in size but feature a full, outdoor balcony.
  • Suite: Despite their roomier size, suites still sleep up to five people comfortably. Perks of a suite include a balcony, pillow-top mattress, two complimentary bottles of water, fuzzy bathrobes, and priority embarkation/debarkation and dinner reservations. 
  • Cloud 9 Spa: These serene cabins are located on select ships near the spa. They include free, unlimited access to the thermal suite as well as free fitness classes and discounts on treatments. All Cloud 9 staterooms feature Elemis bath products as well as spa-branded robes and slippers.
  • Havana: Havana cabins are like their own tropical resort. Guests in the Havana will have exclusive access to the Havana pool, adjacent to the cool Havana Bar. Havana Cabanas feature a large outdoor lanai with cozy, swinging hammock chairs in addition to Cuban-inspired décor. Guests must be 12 years or older to stay in the Havana complex, which is located onboard Carnival Panorama, Vista, Celebration, Horizon, Jubilee, and Mardi Gras.
  • Family Harbor: Carnival’s newest cabin category has been custom designed to give families all the perks they need for the perfect vacation at sea. Available onboard Carnival Panorama, Vista, Celebration, Horizon, Jubilee, and Mardi Gras, Family Harbor rooms feature access to the exclusive Family Harbor Lounge; specialty dining access for your kids; and one free night of Night Owls babysitting.


Carnival offers several accessible cabin categories for cruisers with mobility issues. The brand also offers some other amenities to accommodate cruisers of all abilities.

For guests with physical limitations, fully accessible cabins (for use with wheelchairs or scooters) and ambulatory accessible cabins (for an individual using a cane or with limited mobility) are available across the fleet. Features might include grab bars, prime location near elevators, wider door dimensions, and clear floor space for maneuvering, as well as shower seats.

Guests with audiovisual needs onboard can request a visual-tactile cabin alert system, a teletypewriter, assisted listening devices, a sign language interpreter, large-print daily programs, computers with screen reading, and Braille signage.

Carnival is the first cruise line to be certified as sensory inclusive by KultureCity, a nonprofit dedicated to accessibility and inclusion for sensory and invisible disabilities including autism, ADHD, PTSD, or Down Syndrome. KultureCity sensory bags can be checked out free of charge for the duration of the cruise. They include fidget tools, noise-canceling headphones, and more.

Further, certified working service dogs are welcome onboard all Carnival ships.


Carnival is known for short and sunny Caribbean or Bahamas cruises. However, the cruise line actually sails far beyond warm-weather islands to a variety of worldwide destinations.

Cruisers looking to book a Carnival sailing can choose from itineraries to Alaska, Hawaii, Europe, Bermuda, Canada/New England, Greenland, Panama Canal, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific. Cruisers who don’t mind a sea day can also book transatlantic or transpacific voyages.

Of course, Carnival’s bread and butter remains a variety of itineraries across the Bahamas, the Caribbean, and Mexico.

Carnival Celebration Inaugural Cruise Review

Departure Ports

A definite pro in favor of Carnival Cruise Line is its extensive range of departure ports within North America. Carnival currently lists 20 total departure ports, with 14 of them spread across both coasts of the U.S.

At the time of publication, Carnival ships are homeported in Mobile, Galveston, Charleston, Norfolk, New Orleans, Baltimore, New York, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. A large number of Carnival ships are based in Florida, including the ports of Miami, Port Canaveral, Tampa and Jacksonville.

International departure ports for Carnival ships currently include London, Rome, Barcelona, Brisbane, Sydney, and Singapore.

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Private Islands

Not only do Carnival cruise ships visit a variety of global destinations, there are also exclusive destinations that you can only visit on a cruise ship. These locales are for cruise guests and have come a long way over the years.

Cruisers have the opportunity to visit up to five different private ports and islands, depending on their itinerary.

Grand Turk

Carnival has preferred docking rights in Grand Turk, the capital island of the Turks & Caicos. Docked not far from historic Cockburn Town, cruisers can also enjoy the beaches, cabanas, shopping, and dining of Carnival’s 18-acre cruise center.

Half Moon Cay

Half Moon Cay is a private island in the Bahamas frequented by Carnival Cruise Line as well as a few other Carnival-owned cruise brands, like Holland America Line. This island experience is a serene one, with aquamarine waters, a lagoon, and plenty of nesting birds. Take a snorkel tour or a bike ride to learn more about Half Moon Cay’s flora and fauna.

Princess Cays

Located at the southern end of Eleuthera, a Bahamian island, is the private port of Princess Cays. This resort-style port of call offers a beach barbecue, plenty of sun loungers, and a playground for kids as well as a roped-off relaxation area for adults. This island is accessible to passengers with Carnival as well as Princess Cruises.

Carnival Celebration cruise review - Complete Guide to Cruising on Carnival

Amber Cove

Along the Amber Coast of the Dominican Republic, Carnival Corporation has developed a 30-acre cruise port called Amber Cove. Here, families can spend the perfect port day lazing by a swimming pool and splash area surrounded by lush greenery or riding the zip line. Excursions are available into Puerto Plata or the waterfalls of Damajagua. Cabanas here guarantee incredible views.

Mahogany Bay

The largest Bay Island in Honduras is Roatan. It is here that cruisers can encounter Mahogany Bay, on its southern shores, where Carnival has positioned its private port near clear shores and the nature of Gumbalimba Park. West End Village is a collection of shops and restaurants, including local boutiques. Guests can ride the “Magical Flying Beach Chair” to reach Mahogany Beach from the cruise port welcome center.

Carnival Onboard Dining

Your dining experience onboard a Carnival ship might range from the crave-worthy burgers of Guy’s Burger Joint to the expertly crafted rolls of Bonsai Sushi or a fresh slice from the 24-hour Pizzeria del Capitano. Carnival’s restaurants and dining options are as varied as its cruisers.

From ample included meals at the buffet, main dining room, (and yes, those burgers!) to a special night out at an alternative restaurant, here are just a few examples of some of Carnival’s signature dining experiences. Don’t be surprised to see some famous faces behind the kitchens of Big Chicken (Shaquille O’Neal, Carnival’s Chief Fun Officer) or Emeril’s Bistro (Carnival’s Chief Culinary Officer, Emeril Lagasse).

INCLUDED Dining Options on Carnival Ships

Dining Room: Carnival’s main dining rooms are open nightly for dinner, either at an early or late seating. The menu rotates each evening, including locally inspired dishes, as well as an always-available menu. Waiters will get to know returning diners, and possibly their penchant for Carnival’s famous chocolate melting cake. Your Time Dining allows cruisers to just drop in for dinner, though they will likely want to make a reservation to avoid long wait times. The MDR is open for breakfast and lunch on select sea days.

Lido Marketplace: Carnival’s buffet-style venue offers freestyling cruisers the chance to sample dishes from a variety of stations, whether it’s pizza, the Carnival Deli, or Indian staple Masala Tiger. The options are endless, the soft-serve is free flowing, and this venue is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Guy’s Burger Joint: Celebrity chef and TV personality Guy Fieri has a longstanding partnership with Carnival, from his fleetwide Lido burger joint to his finger-licking barbecue restaurant on select ships. Lovers of juicy burgers and fries must make at least one trip (if you can limit yourself) to try one of Guy’s patties smothered in secret sauce. There’s even a vegetarian option.

Carnival Celebration cruise review

BlueIgunana Cantina: On the pool deck, you’ll also find the BlueIguana Cantina, serving up Mexican-style tacos and burritos made to order. Finish off your plate with a variety of salsas and a slice of fresh watermelon. Our favorite part? The lesser-known breakfast burritos available in the morning. 

Seaday Brunch: Passengers can delight in a breakfast/lunch hybrid of pancakes and sandwiches on the Seaday Brunch menu, served in the dining room. Sea days not only mean you can sleep in, but you won’t miss any of these culinary delights. Items like huevos rancheros and loaded mac ‘n’ cheese are served until the late afternoon.

SPECIALTY Restaurants on Carnival Ships

Steakhouse: Every Carnival cruise features a steakhouse, whether it’s Fahrenheit 555 or by another name. With an award-winning wine list and a plethora of cuts to choose from, each steakhouse offers diners a mouth-watering menu for a satisfying night out. Cover charges are approximately $48 per adult and $13 for children 11 and younger.

Bonsai Teppanyaki: Complementing its sushi bar, Bonsai Teppanyaki is a coveted seat at the hibachi grill. Here, chefs whip and flip delicious, Asian-style teppanyaki dishes — and a show. With limited seating, this venue is highly coveted and costs $38 for dinner with a slight discount of $35 per person for lunch.  

Cucina del Capitano: Say ciao to boring Italian food and book a dinner at Carnival’s signature Italian restaurant, found fleetwide. Inspired by the childhood recipes of Carnival’s Italian captains and officers, Cucina evokes a local trattoria with iconic red-and-white checked tablecloths and family-style portions. This specialty venue is a bargain at $18 per adult or $6 per child. On Mardi Gras, Celebration, and Jubilee, the price is even better — it’s free.

Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast: Drawing upon its partnership with the World of Dr. Seuss, Carnival offers this eye-catching dining option once per cruise. For $8 per child and $10 per adult, imaginations take flight as Thing 1 and Thing 2 (with special appearance from the Cat in the Hat) guide you through a breakfast like no other. With options like Truffula Tree pancakes and cereal-encrusted French toast, what’s not to love. Of course, there is also the namesake green eggs and ham for brave eaters.

Looking for a sneak peek at the dining options onboard the new Carnival Celebration? Check out this guide to Celebration’s restaurants with menus.

Bars & Lounges

You won’t have to go very far to find a fruity cocktail or ice-cold beer onboard a Carnival cruise. While bars can vary from ship to ship, there are some hallmark Carnival watering holes that you should be on the lookout for during your next sailing.

Alchemy Bar: Elevating the cruise line’s mixology, this modern, apothecary-style cocktail bar concocts some of the tastiest tipples at sea. Including all-new nonalcoholic versions.

Guy’s Pig & Anchor Smokehouse|Brewhouse: On select ships, you can find surprisingly inventive cocktails at Guy Fieri’s barbecue haven, like a bourbon blend smoked to perfection.

RedFrog Pub & Brewery: Even if you don’t have the full venue or active brewery onboard your ship, you are likely to be able to try Carnival’s very own ThirstyFrog craft brews across the fleet.

drink packages on Carnival - Carnival tips and tricks

RedFrog Rum Bar: Out on the pool deck, the good vibes are flowing and so is this menu of rum-based punches and coladas.

BlueIguana Tequila Bar: Adjacent to the rum bar is this hotspot for the margarita lovers.

Piano Bar: This bar takes requests — not just you drink order, but for the song you’d like to sing along to until the early hours.

Sports Bar: Catch the game, have a brew, and unwind at this bar where there is always some kind of competition taking place on the flatscreen TVs. 

Curious what the bars are like on an Excel-class ship? Check out the this guide to the bars on Carnival Celebration — with menus!

Beverage Packages

While some beverage options like non-bottled water, lemonade, iced tea, hot chocolate, and non-specialty coffee and tea are free, other drinks will cost you extra money. Drinks like bottled water, soda, specialty coffees, and alcoholic beverages will come at a price on a Carnival cruise.

Given all the onboard bars and lounges, Carnival Cruise Line offers beverage packages for purchase. There is the alcoholic drink package, also known as the Cheers! Beverage Program. There is also the unlimited soda program, called the Bottomless Bubbles package.

Considering whether it’s worth it to purchase a drink package? Here is everything you need to know about beverage packages on Carnival Cruise Line. We cover all the details from the drink inclusions, to prices, to FAQ’s.

Onboard Activities/Entertainment

There is a ton to do onboard a Carnival ship, whether you’re with young kids or old friends. The best part is that much of Carnival’s entertainment and activities are free.

Families can check out game shows like “Family Feud” or head to the Seuss at Sea reading room. They can also play a game of mini-golf on the SportsSquare or join a Build-A-Bear workshop (for an extra charge). The first Sky Zone at sea can also be found on select ships, including Carnival Panorama.

Carnival Panorama Ship Scorecard

Each Carnival ship is equipped with pools as well as a water park. Carnival WaterWorks slides, splash areas and layouts vary by ship but are always free to guests and always guarantee a fun way to cool off. Newer vessels feature more elaborate top-deck attractions as well, such as the pedal-powered SkyRide or the Bolt Sea Coaster.

Free cooking demos will inspire, but true foodies can sign up for immersive culinary classes onboard ships with Carnival Kitchen. Adults itching for something else aside from pool time can attend an art seminar, play a round of trivia, join a martini tasting, or try their luck at Bingo.

By night, all ages can enjoy Carnival’s short but dynamic stage shows called Playlist Productions. Select ships feature IMAX movies, while all ships offer Dive-In Movies on the pool deck. Adults looking for after-hours amusement can hit the nightclub or take in an un-censored comedy show at the Punchliner Comedy Club. Live music, including a piano bar and karaoke, is abundant throughout the Carnival fleet.


A feature of all Carnival ships is the casino. Carnival casinos vary in layout and location by cruise ship, but include a variety of slot machines, table games, blackjack tables, poker and more. A Casino Bar is also conveniently located here, for refreshments while you play.

The Carnival Players Club earns you points on casino play when you use your Sail & Sign card. Guests 18 years and older can join. The more points you earn the more perks you will receive, like free drinks in the casino or invitations to special tournaments. Guests must be 21 years or older to consume alcohol onboard Carnival ships.   

Spa and Fitness

Cloud 9 is Carnival’s onboard spa and fitness center (branded differently on select ships). While features might vary by ship, guests can book a variety of treatments here, from massages to salon services.

The Cloud 9 Spa also features a thermal suite, with a variety of amenities including dry saunas, steam rooms, a relaxation room, aromatherapy showers and a thalassotherapy pool. Guests may purchase access to the thermal suite by day (about $40 each) or for the length of a cruise (approximately $139 per person, for a weeklong sailing). Those staying in Carnival’s Cloud 9 Spa Staterooms have an included pass to the thermal suite for the length of their cruise.

Top Things to Do on Carnival Panorama

Guests must be 18 years or older to book a spa treatment or use the thermal suite. However, Carnival offers a range of teen-specific treatments called ZSPA. Parents or guardians can book these treatments.

The fitness center onboard Carnival ships is open from about 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. It comes equipped with Life Fitness machines, plus a variety of classes from Pilates to yoga. A cycling studio is featured onboard newer ships, but all classes incur an additional fee.

Kids Clubs

Carnival’s Youth Program accommodates kids from 6 months to 17 years old. Children are grouped together by age, with activities tailored to their age group. Parents should register their kids on embarkation day. The Youth Program hosts an open house for families to visit, meet the staff and learn more about the various spaces and programming. 

Camp Ocean is the kids’ program, with Penguins (age 2 to 5); Stingrays (6 to 8); and Sharks (9 to 11). Activities for these groups might include dance classes, ball games, arts and crafts, trivia, video games, and more.

Teen programming on Carnival ships consists of Circle “C” for teens 12 to 14 and Club O2 for those aged 15 through 17. There is no sign in/out policy for clubs in these age groups. They are able to come and go freely. Scavenger hunts, karaoke, and themed parties are among the planned activities for teens, though many use the space as a casual hangout with friends.

Infants under the age of 2 can join the Turtles, offering sensory activities, music, and educational games. Children do not need to be potty trained to join Camp Ocean. But, they must be in order to use any of the onboard water facilities.

Night Owls is supervised playtime for children 6 months to 11 years, from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. This slumber party atmosphere allows littles to interact (or rest) while their parents enjoy an evening out. The Night Owls program is $7.50 per hour plus 18 percent gratuity per child. Carnival does not offer in-room babysitting on its ships.

BOOK NOW: Exclusive Rates on Carnival Cruises!

What’s Included and What’s Not on Carnival

When booking a cruise, it’s important to know what is rolled into the cruise fare. A Carnival cruise is considered a great value because of the many inclusions for the price. Check out everything that’s included on a Carnival cruise, from breakfast burritos to water parks.

In brief, while many things are part of your Carnival cruise fare, other items will cost you extra money. As previously mentioned, specialty dining and many beverages come at an additional fee. Spa treatments, fitness classes, and babysitting services are extra too. As are some onboard activities and attractions like the BOLT roller coaster, Carnival Kitchen cooking classes, and Bingo.

Things You Can Only Find on Carnival Cruise Line

Cruisers should also budget extra money for items like shore excursions, WiFi, and gratuities.


Carnival offers three Wi-Fi internet plans for purchase. The Social plan is $12.75 per person, per day with access to social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. The Value plan is $17 per person, per day for basic internet access but not streaming. The Premium plan is $18.70 per person, per day. It grants access to services such as Skype and Zoom with speeds up to three times faster.

A 15 percent discount is applied if a W-Fi package is purchased online prior to boarding.


A daily gratuity is added to each passenger’s account (over the age of 2). These tips go directly to crew members. The daily gratuity for guests booked in standard cabins is $16 per person, per day. For guests staying in suites, the gratuity is $18 per person, per day.

Guests can pre-pay tips or settle the bill at the end of the voyage. If service wasn’t up to a guest’s standards, an adjustment may be made at Guest Services while still onboard.

An 18% gratuity is added to each beverage purchase along with cover charges or a la carte fees at specialty dining venues.

Carnival’s Loyalty Program

The VIFP (Very Important Fun Person) Club is Carnival’s loyalty program. Every cruise earns members points. There are five VIFP loyalty tiers: Blue (first cruise); Red (second cruise, up to 24 points); Gold (25-74); Platinum (75-199); and Diamond (200 or more points).

Perks of joining the loyalty program immediately include a member e-newsletter with special offers, followed by a complimentary 1.5-liter bottle of water, and then member pins and a free drink (on cruises of five days or longer) at Gold level.

At Platinum, Carnival cruisers can expect priority boarding and debarkation, as well as priority spa, shuttle, and dining reservations; a special loyalty cocktail party; arcade credits; a logo gift; priority line at Guest Services; and complimentary laundry service, among other perks.

Carnival Tips & Tricks

If you are planning a Carnival cruise or already have one booked, we have plenty of other info to help you make the most of your cruise vacation. From ship reviews, to ship-specific dining guides, and more, we cover it all on

For starters, you may want to read up on all of Carnival Cruise Line’s tips and tricks. From Carnival-specific money-saving advice to the location of a secret deck, we share insider advice that only the experts know.


Did you find this guide to cruising on Carnival helpful? Do you have any other tips or advice for those planning a Carnival cruise? Drop us an anchor below to share your experiences sailing with Carnival Cruise Line.

Brittany has covered cruising professionally for more than a decade. She embarked on a world cruise as a college student aboard Semester at Sea, and never stopped sailing. Formerly a Cruise Critic editor, Brittany now writes about ships and their many destinations for various industry and consumer outlets. She is a lifelong resident of the Jersey Shore.
Brittany Chrusciel, Contributor
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