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I have been on Carnival Cruise Line’s oldest and newest ships: Here are my top 11 tips


Although part of the same cruise line, my experience on a Carnival ship launched in 1998 differed significantly from the week I spent onboard the almost brand-new Carnival Celebration, which debuted in 2022. 

After sailing on some of Carnival's oldest and newest vessels at sea, I've gained some unique insights into the varied experiences offered by the ships within their fleet. 

Whether you're looking forward to your upcoming cruise on the brand-new Carnival Jubilee, a short getaway on Carnival Elation, or are simply beginning to research your options, here are my top 11 tips for making the most of your Carnival cruise experience. 

Read more: 11 things I wish I knew before my first Carnival cruise

It's important to pick the right ship 


Carnival operates a fleet of 26 ships ranging from 71,000 to over 184,000 gross registered tons. Each class of ship offers a different experience, so it's important that you evaluate what you're hoping to get out of your cruise vacation. 

Those, for instance, looking for a ton of onboard activities won't enjoy sailing on Carnival's Fantasy Class ships, whereas guests who are looking for a cheaper getaway focusing on partying may not mind the lack of amenities.

Sometimes, the itinerary is more important than the ship itself, too. If you'd rather focus on visiting more unique ports of call, such as those in Alaska or Europe, you'll have fewer ship options, as the majority of Carnival's fleet sails to the Caribbean and Bahamas. 


Since I began cruising with Carnival in 2023, I've had the opportunity to sail on four different ship classes: Excel, Vista, Conquest, and Fantasy. While there are certainly similarities that help embody the Carnival brand, each offered a distinct experience. 

Being the newest class, Excel ships offer the most onboard activities. In fact, they're the only ships in the world to have a rollercoaster onboard! Moreover, it's evident that Carnival was receptive to the ever-changing preferences of cruisers, as the staterooms are the most sophisticated, featuring showers with glass doors and a pleasing color palette. 

Vista Class ships are great for those who want to sail on a larger vessel but don't want to feel nickel and dimed by all the potential add-ons. You'll find plenty of complimentary activities onboard, including outdoor movies, water slides, mini-golf, and even a suspended bike course that you can ride around the top deck! 


There's a nice variety of included dining as well. In addition to the infamous BlueIguana Cantina and Guy's Burger Joint, you'll find Guy's Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que, as well as JiJi Asian Kitchen and Cucina del Captiano, both of which are complimentary during lunch. 

The smallest Carnival ships, those within its Fantasy Class, can still make for an amazing vacation if you manage your expectations. Onboard, you won't find multiple pools or mega thrills that have come to define the new-ship market; however, those who are seeking a more laidback environment will appreciate the no-frills ships. 

Read more: Carnival Ships By Age: Newest to Oldest (2024)

Complete the online check-in as soon as possible


Your online check-in will open two weeks before your sail date. If, for instance, you're departing on May 19, 2025, you can begin filling out all of the required information on May 5, 2025. 

The earlier you complete the check-in, the better arrival time you'll be able to secure. This means that you'll be able to be one of the first people onboard to experience all of the fun! 

There are plenty of advantages to earlier arrival appointments, including more time to utilize your drink package, crossing off must-dos like the BOLT rollercoaster or SkyRide, or simply enjoying more time on the ship. Plus, if you're flying to your cruise, you won't have to waste time sitting in your hotel's lobby after check out. 

Finishing the check-in process as soon as possible also decreases the number of things you have to do in the days leading up to your vacation, giving you more time for any last-minute errands. 

Read more: I forgot to check-in for my cruise. Why I won't make this mistake again

Don't forget to print out all of your boarding documents ahead of time

carnival celebration boarding

Most of my cruises have been with Royal Caribbean, who don't require you to print anything out before arriving at the terminal (though having your luggage tags prepared is advised). 

In comparison, Carnival mandates that guests have a physical copy of their boarding pass on hand. While it feels a bit archaic, it's part of Carnival's process that cruisers should respect and adhere to. Personally, I like to ensure that I have them before leaving my apartment; although, I've managed to print them in airport lounges before. It's worth checking if your pre-cruise hotel has a business center, too! 

It doesn't matter whether you print the boarding pass(es) in color or black and white, as all the important, which include your ship name, sail date, embarkation city, arrival time, boarding zone, stateroom number, VIFP loyalty number (if applicable), muster station, and final boarding time, can be easily read either way.

Upon arriving at the terminal, you'll have all of your documents verified. Then, the port agent responsible for checking you in stamps the pass, letting other employees know that you're good to go. Those who show up empty-handed will face a longer embarkation process, which isn't a fun way to begin your vacation. 

Read more: The extra step you should take so you aren't delayed getting onboard a Carnival cruise

Once you're onboard, check the HUB app to make sure you don't miss any exciting activities 

carnival hub app

From morning trivia to fun competitions on the lido deck and evening production shows, all classes of Carnival ships have a wide array of activities for guests to choose from. If you don't check the schedule, though, you won't know when anything's going on!

The HUB app is your go-to spot for everything ship-related. You'll be able to find dining times, browse shore excursions, look at the ship's deck plans, and so much more. Amazingly, so much information is readily available at your fingertips! 

You don't have to purchase a Wi-Fi package to utilize the application, either. Of course, the complimentary Wi-Fi is extremely limited, so you won't be able to browse the web, message friends, check your e-mail, or surf social media. Instead, you'll be limited to the functions of the mobile app, with the exception of messaging, as it costs $5 per person even if you reserved an internet package. 

Read more: 16 hidden cruise ship extra charges you should know about (2024)

Speaking of the app, though, don't waste your time trying to familiarize yourself with it before your cruise


I've always been a fan of Royal Caribbean's app, as it's a rather useful tool in the months and weeks leading up to your sailing. I'm able to browse dining options, excursions, and even select packages while on the go, meaning I don't have to rely on the Cruise Planner for every aspect of my planning. 

Carnival's app, however, is useless until you're connected to the ship's Wi-Fi. You can't see a list of any onboard amenities or add-ons; it can only be done through their actual website. If you try to purchase something, you'll be redirected to the web browser on your phone or tablet. Rather than waste time on the app, I'd recommend handling all of your pre-cruise purchases directly through the site. 

Of course, it's important that you have the app downloaded before arriving at the terminal. That way, you can connect to the Wi-Fi, especially if you purchased a package, as soon as you get your folio number. 

Read more: 15 things I wish I knew before setting foot on a Carnival ship

Regardless of the age of your ship, you'll have numerous fast-casual dining options to choose from; you're never limited to the buffet

guy's burger celebration

Personally, the buffet is my least favorite venue on Carnival ships. It lacks variety, and the quality is very mediocre. In comparison, they have some amazing fast-casual dining options, including Guy's Burger Joint and BlueIguana Cantina, with the latter serving delicious breakfast burritos, huevos rancheros, and arepas in the morning, followed by yummy tacos and burritos in the afternoon.

On my sailing on Carnival Elation, a Fantasy Class vessel that launched in 1998, I was able to enjoy juicy burgers from Guy's and loaded tacos from BlueIguana. The same venues can be found on the other three ships I sailed on: Celebration, Conquest, and Vista. In fact, the quality of the fast-casual venues was pretty consistent. 

Newer ships tend to have even more complimentary venues if you're someone who likes a wide array of options. Carnival Celebration, for instance, is one of four ships in the fleet to feature Big Chicken, where you can order crispy chicken tenders, sandwiches, and seasoned fries, as well as breakfast biscuits. 

big chicken carnival celebration

Excel Class ships also feature additional sit-down restaurants that are included in the cost of your fare, so you aren't limited to the Main Dining Room. If you're craving Asian or Mexican fare, check out ChiBang, while those wanting some delicious pasta will want to visit Cucina Del Capitano, which is traditionally a specialty restaurant on other classes of ships. 

Read more: 18 Carnival Cruises Tips & Tricks (2024)

While on the topic of dining, I recommend choosing Carnival's flexible (or "anytime") dining option

carnival dining hub app

Compared to other lines, I prefer Carnival's flexible dining option. It feels truly flexible, as you don't have to worry about making reservations or physically waiting in line. Instead, you can check in via the HUB app, and you'll get a notification when a table is ready. 

While wait times can get longer, particularly during prime dining times or on older ships with fewer specialty venues, it's nice to have the freedom to check in while getting ready in the cabin or enjoying a pre-dinner drink at the Alchemy Bar.

I've never been a fan of set dining to begin with, though. Some cruisers do prefer having the same wait staff throughout the voyage; however, I prioritize flexibility. On certain nights, I may opt for an earlier meal to attend more evening events, while on others I might want to soak up as much sun as possible on the lido deck

Read more: I took a spring break cruise on Carnival's smallest ship. Here’s why I wouldn’t do it again

Carnival's comedy shows are some of the best at sea

punchliner comedy club celebration

Any given Carnival sailing, whether it's a 4- or 5-night cruise on their oldest ships or a weeklong journey on their brand-new Excel Class, will feature different comedians in the Punchliner Comedy Club. The comedians will do both family-friendly and R-rated shows, so everyone onboard can partake in the laughter! 

It's worth mentioning that these shows tend to draw large crowds, so you should anticipate long lines. I suggest arriving at least minutes prior to doors opening if you want to have the most options; however, if you aren't particular about where you sit, you should still be able to find a seat fifteen minutes or so before showtime. 

Aside from their comedy shows, I've enjoyed the majority of Playlist Live productions that I've been to. If, however, you're used to Broadway-style productions on cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, Disney, or Norwegian, you may be a bit disappointed, as the shows on Carnival aren't of the same quality. 

Read more: Are Carnival cruises all-inclusive: here's everything that's included with your Carnival cruise fare

Make sure you head up to the lido deck before the Sailaway Party begins


Even if you've cruised with other lines before and think you can gauge what Carnival's Sailaway Party will be like, you are in for a surprise. It's easily one of the most popular events on the cruise, so if you want to claim a good viewing spot, don't spend too long exploring the ship. Personally, I try to find my spot at least fifteen minutes before it is scheduled to begin. 

Sailaway is a lively and energetic time onboard. Not only will many of the crew members perform choreographed dances, but guests also have an opportunity to partake in the action. You don't have to join the crowd, though, as it's just as fun to watch as a spectator!

Carnival's Sailaway party is one of the defining aspects of a Carnival cruise, especially if you're a first-time cruiser. 

Pro tip: Grab your sailway drink from elsewhere on the ship, as the bars on the lido deck will be swamped. Otherwise, you could be waiting upwards of thirty minutes for your tropical beverage! 

All of Carnival's ships are "sensory inclusive" certified by Kulture City, a leading nonprofit dedicated to accessibility and inclusion for individuals with sensory and invisible disabilities


When I sailed on Carnival Conquest, my friend was interested in checking out one of Carnival's complimentary sensory kits from Guest Services. After we boarded, we headed straight there and were greeted by a relatively long line; however, within about 30 minutes, she was equipped with everything she'd need to make her time onboard more enjoyable! 

The kit, which is free to use while on the cruise, included noise-canceling headphones, fidget tools, a visual feeling thermometer, and two lanyards, one of which was labeled "KultureCity VIP" to help staff easily identify guests. Out of all the tools, the headphones were the most useful, as she wore them during sailaway, in the Main Dining Room during performances, and even while watching Deal or No Deal. 

If you're traveling with someone who is easily overstimulated, these kits are an invaluable resource. Since there are only a limited number of kits on each ship, you'll want to prioritize visiting Guest Services as soon as possible. Perhaps this is another reason why you should strive to claim an early arrival appointment!

You'll have to place a $50 deposit, although you'll have the money credited back to your onboard account once everything is returned. 

Read more: I stayed in the cheapest cabin on Carnival Conquest. It was small and windowless, but for $200 a night, it was a great deal — take a look

Don't worry about packing your nicest clothes

elizabeth onboard carnival celebration

The vibe onboard Carnival ships is much more casual than other lines I've sailed on. While there are certainly guests who dress to the nines, it's just as common to see others dining in t-shirts, even on elegant night. When I sailed on Carnival Celebration, I noticed one cruiser wearing slippers one evening!

It's nice not to have to worry about pulling out some of my nicer garments, as I know my casual sundresses will suffice. Plus, if I'm feeling lazy after spending all day in the sun, there's no pressure to doll myself up. Instead, I can slip on whatever outfit I feel like wearing and head to dinner! 

Comfort seems to take priority on Carnival ships, which is one of the reasons why those looking for a laidback and carefree cruise seem to choose Carnival time and time again. 

Read more: Cruise packing list: Essentials to bring on a cruise

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