I was never the biggest fan of the idea of spending my vacation on a cruise, as I am someone that likes to have the freedom and time to explore the place I am visiting. However, I have been on two cruises, both with the Carnival Cruise brand, and I enjoyed them more than expected. Now there are more than forty cruise lines worldwide with a variety of destinations, boats, styles, and intended audiences, but I will just be talking about my experiences with Carnival.
Things To Know About Carnival Cruise Line:
- Carnival currently has 24 ships, all with inspiring names such as “Dream” and “Miracle” in hopes that their cruise will change your life(at least that is my guess). It appears that the biggest differences in each ship are the type of restaurants, the size(which is important for how many guests will fit on your ship and then how large the pool and other amenity areas are to accommodate the number of guests), and whether the ship is newer or has been floating in the ocean for a while(which is important for the upkeep and condition of the ship).
- I was very impressed by the food served at the sit down dinners provided as part of your cruise. Depending on the length of you cruise, you might have one or two nights where they ask you to dress up and wear more formal clothes for dinner, but it seemed that the basic dress code is no swimsuits, sweats, flip flops(although I got away with it and nobody kicked me out of the dining room), and basically anything that looks like you just walked from the pool straight to dinner. The dining hall is a full service sit down restaurant with a waiter and three courses, and depending on the ship, you may be seated at a table with other people on the cruise(and be forced to socialize).
- Besides the sit down dinner, and the specialized restaurants on some of the newer cruise ships, there is a buffet style eating area open daily for breakfast and lunch. While it is difficult to wake up early on vacation, and you definitely do not want to have to rush for anything, getting to breakfast and lunch early can benefit you. First, the food is only available between a certain time(which I think they should extend since people like to sleep in on vacation), and second if you arrive early then you have a better chance of beating the crowds. The food at the ship’s buffet is good, and the options include sandwich and pizza stations, fruit, a dessert table, burgers, chicken fingers, pasta salad, pancakes, bacon, eggs, and a few other things, however, I was starting to get a little tired of the same food by the end of the week. Also, the buffet food might be challenging for people with dietary needs.
- Carnival Cruise provides a variety of options for vacation length, from two day cruises to fifteen day cruises, which allows you to choose not only how many days you want to stay on the ship but also how many stops you want to make during the cruise. Having the shorter cruises as options is great if you only have a weekend available for a trip, if you have a smaller budget available for the cruise, if you want to try out a shorter cruise for your first time, or if you only enjoy spending a few days on a boat.
- One of my fears about going on a cruise was that the rooms would be too small, as I am wary of small spaces, but I thought the room had enough space for two people and I did not spend too much time in my room anyways. I would prefer staying in a balcony room with the extra space, as it has extra space, I did not mind staying in the room with a window, but I do not think I could handle staying in an interior room which is placed in the middle of the boat without even a window facing out. I stayed in a room with two beds and I was surprised by how much space there was still in the room. While peaking into other rooms, I noticed that some rooms had fit three beds into one interior room, so it is possible but it looked cramped. The bathroom seemed a little too small for me(and I am only 5ft 6in so it might be difficult for people that need a bathroom with more space), but I got through it.
- While the destinations you picked for your cruise takes up most of the vacation excitement, you will probably be spending plenty of time on the cruise ship and Carnival tries to entertain the entire family. Carnival provides a daily entertainment guide that outlines the times for each activity provided. Each day there is usually pool contests, such as the “Hairy Man Contest”, Casino events, like Blackjack and Slots, singing performances in the lobby and piano bar, comedy shows, including one for families and one for mature audiences, bingo, and the musical production shows, such as an “80s Rock” themed show. For bingo, there is the biggest jackpot on the last day of the cruise, which is the busiest, so I would recommend playing bingo earlier in the cruise for a better chance at winning. Besides the timed shows and contests, the ship also has a main pool, a kids camp, mini golf, a fitness room, a small water park, a spa, and an adult only section of the boat where you can lay out on the deck without having to be disturbed by children(so basically the opposite of the small water park section of the boat).
- I think a cruise is a great way to not only visit multiple places on one vacation, but to also visit places you have never visited before and be able to get a quick glimpse of what it is like. Your initial payment for the cruise does not automatically include destination activities. While you could leave the ship at your destinations and explore for yourself, Carnival offers excursions that you can book on the cruise ship. There are usually plenty of choices, for example at our stop in Mexico they had excursions for traveling to the beach, snorkeling, kayaking, horseback riding, and shopping, but depending on the time and type of excursion it might be booked quickly if it is popular.
- When you are on the ship, your room key becomes your charge card as well. Anything not automatically included in the price of the cruise, such as items purchased at the shops, money used in the casinos, and drinks, will be charged to your room bill. Surprisingly, most drinks besides milk, water, and lemonade, are not included in the price of the bill. If you and your family plan on drinking anything not included in the short list of included drinks then I would suggest signing up for the unlimited bubbles plan, where you pay one fee at the start of the cruise instead of buying each separate drink.
- On the last day of the cruise, Carnival separates passengers by floor and each floor is given a time slot to leave the ship. While there is an option to be put in an earlier group if your flight leaves earlier in the day, I would recommend scheduling a flight either later in the day, or even the next day, to ease some of the stress and anxiety of trying to get off of the ship on time. The process is relatively simple, you need your room key and passport to get off the ship, but with the amount of people leaving at the same time, it can take a while just to get through the line. Carnival also offers to take your bags off the ship for you the night before and have them waiting when you get off the boat, but most people forget to leave their bags outside their door and have to carry and roll them through the line.
- When you get on the ship, the time slot is much longer and most people arrive near the end of the scheduled time, so the earlier you arrive the quicker you can get on the ship. I even arrived earlier than the boarding time and they let me check in and get on early. Once everyone is on the ship, they have a required safety presentation and then the ship leaves.
- I found that the crew on the ship was incredibly kind and personable. They are always willing to help, there is a towel animal on your bed every evening, and my birthday was a few days before the cruise and when I got on the ship I was offered a gift card to use at the spa.
Also, just to clarify, the tips above are from my experience on the Carnival cruise ships ‘Imagination’ and ‘Dream’, as Carnival has recently put out a new ship with a lot of upgrades on board.
Included in the photos below are pictures of the outside of the Carnival Imagination as it is docked at the port in Long Beach, California, the inside entrance to the boat, the main pool, the dining area for the buffet, the outdoor dining area, my room key, the ocean view room with two beds, the main entertainment stage, the comedy lounge, views from the top deck, the water slides, the adult only retreat, and the towel animals that the crew leaves every evening.