Carnival Cruise Line prides itself on having the most fun ships at sea, so it is safe to say that your vacation is sure to be filled with tons of activities, entertainment, and delicious eats. With a fun and highly energetic atmosphere, the fun never stops onboard one of Carnival's 24 ships.
Even though there are many first-time cruise tips, learning the ins and outs of a new cruise line can be overwhelming. While all cruises certainly have similarities, each cruise line has its own unique features and amenities that are meant to appeal to a certain demographic.
A little bit of preparation and research can tremendously help during your cruise planning process. If you’re looking for insider info on Carnival Cruises, you’ve come to the right place!
Here’s our list of the best 18 tips and tricks for those looking to sail with Carnival Cruise Line to help you have the best cruise ever.
1. Download the app
New cruise ships are filled with technological advancements to make everything a little bit more convenient, beginning with the check-in process. Naturally, it only makes sense that cruise lines are developing their own apps to enhance the onboard experience, too!
Before you board, download Carnival’s Hub App to your phone. This will make your onboard experience simpler, with everything accessible in one easy spot. Once you get on the ship, you can connect to Carnival’s Wi-Fi and access the app for free.
Everything from the cruise's itinerary to a list of all the scheduled events and activities will be available at the palm of your fingertips.
2. Faster to the Fun
If you're anxious to board the ship, you should take advantage of Carnival's Faster to the Fun Program, which will speed up your embarkation process.
The cost of this add-on varies by the length of the cruise and specific ship. For sailings that are 3 nights, you can expect to pay $69.95 per stateroom (not per person), while the cost for those that are between 4 and 5 nights increases to $99.95 per cabin.
The price for 6-, 7,- and 8-night cruises depends on the ship you're sailing on, with Carnival Celebration, Mardi Gras, and Carnival Jubilee costing $159.95 per cabin. Every other ship in the fleet only costs $139.95.
In addition to priority check-in, you'll also get access to your stateroom to drop off your carry-on bags, have a dedicated Guest Services phone number throughout your cruise, get priority Main Dining Room and specialty restaurant reservations, as well as your choice of disembarkation time.
Another great perk of Faster to the Fun is that you will have priority tendering access. This can be handy when you have ports that require a tender from the ship to the shore. Long lines can be common when everyone onboard wants to disembark at the same time. With Faster to the Fun, you will be on your way to all the fun ashore before everyone else.
Read more: 15 ways to board your cruise ship faster
3. Shareholder credit
It pays to be a Carnival Cruise shareholder! Anyone who owns at least 100 shares of Carnival Corporation is eligible to receive an onboard credit during each cruise.
Shareholders that are sailing on cruises for 6 days or less will receive a $50 credit onboard. For 7-day cruises, shareholders will receive $100. Finally, shareholders onboard a 14-day or longer will receive a $250 onboard credit.
To receive credit, cruisers need to contact Carnival by email, fax, or mail with the necessary information stated on the cruise line’s website.
Reservations must be made by February 28, 2024.
4. Utilize bottled water delivery
Between sunbathing, swimming, and drinking onboard a cruise ship, it’s very easy to get dehydrated. It is important to always have a bottle of water with you during a cruise to try and stay as hydrated as possible.
If you aren't purchasing a drink package, consider ordering bottled water in advance. For only $3.95, you can order a single 50.72 fluid oz. bottle to your stateroom that will be delivered before you arrive. The more you buy, however, the more you save. A 12-pack of 16.9 fluid oz. bottles cost $9.95, while an 8-pack of 50.72 fluid oz. bottles run for $24.95.
These bottles are great to have on hand, so you can grab one before heading off of the ship for the day to ensure that you are never without water!
Note that you can buy 50.72 fluid oz. bottles in your cabin for $4.25 each. They will be billed to your onboard Sail & Sign account.
5. Make sure that you use the Cruise Manager
Unfortunately, your Carnival cruise is not all-inclusive. While you can still have a fun vacation without any add-ons, if you plan on purchasing any additional services -- such as Wi-Fi, drink packages, shore excursions, or specialty dining -- you want to make sure that you pre-book them through Carnival's Cruise Manager.
For the CHEERS! Beverage Package, booking in advance yields a discount of 10% off the onboard price. This means that rather than paying $64.95 per day, you will only pay $59.95.
Note that the price does depend on how long your cruise is. Sailings that are 3-, 4-, or 5 days will pay more per day than those on sailings that are 6 nights or longer. If purchased in advance, the price is $69.95 per day. The onboard price for these short cruises will be $74.95.
For other services, it provides a worry-free embarkation. You'll be able to get right to the fun instead of dealing with the hassle of heading to guest services or the shore excursions desk.
6. Eat an early dinner at Guy’s Burger Joint
Famous chef and Food Network Star Guy Fieri partnered with Carnival Cruise Line to open Guy’s Burger Joint onboard their cruise ships. You can enjoy a delicious burger and hand-cut fries poolside-- the definition of vacation!
It’s no surprise that there can be long lines at Guy’s Burger Joint because everyone wants to try it out. It’s a hot spot on the pool deck anytime during the day, especially during sea days.
If you want to eat at Guy’s Burger Joint and beat the crowds, consider eating later in the afternoon right before everyone heads to dinner. This is when you’ll probably find the shortest line-- consider it a small appetizer before your dinner! If you want, you can fuel up a little early and head to the ship's buffet before it closes for another snack.
On a recent cruise onboard Carnival Vista, my cousin and I decided to have an early dinner/late lunch at Guy's after spending the day ashore and having a later dinner at Bonsai Sushi. It was the perfect pairing since we could order exactly what we wanted without having to look at a three-course menu.
Read more: Why you should eat dinner in the buffet
7. Try BlueIguana for breakfast
One of the popular spots to dine onboard Carnival cruise ships is BlueIguana. Most people, however, don’t realize that BlueIguana offers complimentary breakfast burritos throughout the sailing.
When it comes to breakfast, a lot of cruisers head straight to the buffet each morning. This can make for long lines and the annoying struggle to find a table. It's not always the most "stress-free" way to start the morning.
BlueIguana is a great place to grab breakfast, especially if you're on the go and don't want to spend time on a sit-down breakfast in the Main Dining Room.
If you're onboard Excel Class ships, try Big Chicken, too.
8. You cannot use drink packages on embarkation day for sailings out of New York and Texas
If you’re cruising from a departure port in Texas or New York, don’t expect to enjoy your beverage package on the first day of your cruise.
Due to state laws, Carnival does not allow beverage packages to be available until 6:00am on the second day. That doesn't mean you cannot drink at all, though! You can still purchase alcohol a la carte on the first day.
With Carnival's drink packages, you are only charged for the days that you can access your purchased beverage package. So, for instance, if you are sailing on a 7-night cruise, you will only be charged for 6 days of the package.
9. You can find cheap beer at the buffet
If you’re looking for the cheapest beer onboard a Carnival ship, head to the buffet! You can be your own bartender and actually pour yourself a nice cold beer.
Onboard Carnival vessels, you'll find a few self-service beer stations that passengers can access. Plus, they are cheaper than those available in other venues. Of course, you will not have as many options, but for less than 50 cents per ounce, this is a deal that cannot be beaten!
10. Specialty restaurants serve lunch
For the most part, indulging in a meal at a specialty restaurant will cost extra, ranging from $6 for a California Roll at Bonsai Sushi to $48 to dine at the onboard steakhouse. Well, specialty restaurants on Carnival ships often offer complimentary lunches. This includes restaurants like JiJi Asian Kitchen and Cucina del Capitano.
Although the lunch offered will be different from the restaurant's typical dinner menu, this gives Carnival cruisers a nice lunch option to avoid crowds at the buffet and excite their palates.
Note, though, that there might be a wait! When eating at JiJi Asian Kitchen on Carnival Vista, I had to wait thirty-minutes to be seated, and we were given a pager that buzzed when our table was ready; we weren't able to check in via the HUB app.
11. Find peace in serenity
Carnival’s fun ships inevitably attract tons of families traveling with kids and teens. If you’re looking to relax in a quieter space that doesn’t have kids running around, consider heading to the Serenity area.
In order to be able to access this adults-only area, you have to be 21 years old or older. Here, you will find plenty of comfortable seating, along with a dedicated bar to grab a cocktail before hitting up the hot tub or relaxing in a clamshell daybed.
Note that access is complimentary; you don't have to pay any extra to get some kid-free time!
For those looking to relax in the spa, Carnival's Cloud 9 Spa has a thermal suite for those who are 18+. Access to this is not included in your cruise fare. You can purchase a single-day pass or even one for the entire duration of your cruise.
Read more: Top 15 adults-only areas on a cruise ship
12. Not all packages work at Half Moon Cay
Half Moon Cay is Carnival's private island in The Bahamas. The island is full of complimentary beach chairs for you to enjoy while your ship is anchored (yes, you do have to tender here!).
Unfortunately, you will not be able to use your Wi-Fi or drink package while on the island. This means that if you splurged on a CHEERS! Package, you'll have to pay for each beverage that you decide to consume individually.
13. Before booking, research all of Carnival's embarkation ports
While the majority of cruises to the Caribbean depart from Florida, Carnival offers some outside of the traditional ports of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Port Canaveral to make it easier for guests to reach the embarkation port.
You can, for instance, sail from places like Baltimore, Maryland; Galveston, Texas; Mobile, Alabama; Norfolk, Virginia; and Jacksonville, Florida. In 2022, Cruise.Blog writer Allie sailed from Mobile onboard Carnival Ecstasy, and she loved the short drive from her home in the Florida Panhandle. If she were to drive to Miami, it would take her about nine hours!
If you are able to drive to your cruise port, you will save money on airfare, which can be pretty expensive these days! Plus, you will not have to worry about a pre-cruise hotel, either.
14. You can bring a limited amount of beverages onboard with you on embarkation day
Speaking of embarkation, did you know that you can bring alcohol with you on the first day? There are, of course, limitations that you should be aware of. If, for instance, you try and bring your favorite spirit or beer onboard, it will be confiscated by port agents.
Carnival's policy states that each guest of legal drinking age may bring one 750ml bottle of unopened wine or champagne with them in their carry-on luggage. Note that you cannot bring Port, Vermouth, Sherry, or any other fortified wine.
Guests may also carry on a small quantity (i.e., 12 unopened cans that are 12 ounces or less) of non-alcoholic beverages, such as sparkling water, soda, energy drinks, juice, and milk, that are packaged in cans or cartons.
If you are not purchasing a drink package and looking to save some money, you should consider purchasing your favorite sodas or bottle of wine when en route to the terminal.
15. Enroll in Carnival’s VIFP Club
Most cruise lines have loyalty programs that can offer very lucrative benefits and rewards. Make sure you and your travel party are all enrolled in Carnival’s VIFP Club. VIFP, which stands for, Very Important Fun Person, intends to reward you the more you cruise with Carnival.
Once you have your VIFP number, you can start to access Carnival’s member-only fares and specials. You can also start earning points each time you cruise!
There are four different tiers that you can ascend: Blue, Red, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond. While Carnival's reward program does not include as many perks to write home about (i.e., complimentary drinks and/or appreciation cruises), it does benefit the most loyal cruisers with perks like free laundry, priority ship-to-shore tendering, a complimentary beverage at SeaDay Brunch, guaranteed seating times in the Main Dining Room, and more.
16. Bring a refillable water bottle
Staying hydrated on your cruise is important. Unless you want to have to worry about locating free water in the middle of the night, you might want to bring a refillable water bottle with you.
That way, you can keep some water in your cabin's mini-fridge, rather than have to stumble to the Lido Marketplace or pay $4.25 for the bottle that's in your room.
It's nice to be able to bring water ashore with you, too, especially if you have more active excursions planned.
17. Book during the shoulder season
Want to make your vacation budget go as far as possible? You'll want to avoid sailing during peak season, then. The exact same cruise can often go for double in July than in October or November.
Spending less might not only convince you to actually book the cruise, but it might entice you to book a few add-ons to enhance your trip, too. These include drink packages, spa treatments, Wi-Fi, specialty restaurants, etc.
18. Visit Guest Services when you board for a sensory kit
Carnival Cruise Line is the first line to be certified "sensory inclusive" by KultureCity, a leading nonprofit dedicated to accessibility and inclusion for individuals with sensory and invisible disabilities. If you're worried about getting overstimulated while onboard, visit Guest Services to pick up a complimentary sensory kit.
These kits include noise-canceling headphones, fidget tools, a visual feeling thermometer, and a lanyard that's labeled "KultureKity VIP" to help staff identify guests with sensory needs.
When you collect the kit, you'll have to place a deposit; however, it'll be credited back to your onboard account before disembatkion so long as everything is returned in working condition.