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I’m new to Carnival and tried 4 different kinds of cruise ships, here's what I like about each


After sailing primarily with Royal Caribbean, I decided to take the plunge and book a Carnival cruise last October on Carnival Celebration, the newest Excel Class ship (at the time). Since then, I've explored three other ship classes within the fleet: Vista, Conquest, and Fantasy. 

While I don't foresee myself booking another sailing on a Fantasy Class ship, the cruise experience is what you make of it, and each class offers its own unique charm and amenities. 

Carnival Celebration impressed me with its spacious design and variety of onboard amenities, while the Carnival Conquest stood out with its easy-to-navigate layout and lively atmosphere. 

Ultimately, regardless of the ship class, Carnival Cruise Line has delivered memorable experiences, even on ships that lack the bells and whistles of the newer classes. 

Carnival Celebration wowed me with its modern accommodations, wide array of onboard amenities, and complimentary dining


If I had to choose between the four ships I've been on, Carnival Celebration would be my top pick. Having sailed mostly with Royal Caribbean, I'm always disappointed by the lack of fast-casual dining options. This wasn't the case on Carnival Celebration—or on any Carnival ship. Let's just say that BlueIguana Cantina puts El Loco Fresh to shame. 

In addition to yummy tacos and burritos, Carnival Celebration is home to Big Chicken, where you can get fried chicken sandwiches and chicken tenders, though the star of the show might be their signature sauces. Big Chicken is tucked away from the busy lido deck, making it a great place to escape the crowds, too. 

big chicken carnival celebration

There's also the infamous Guy's Burger Joint. While I shouldn't have subjected myself to an hour-long wait in the Miami heat on embarkation day, it was just as juicy and flavorful as I had imagined. During my sailing, I returned more than once for a quick snack, ordering fries and loading them with toppings from the bar. 

Aside from the fast-casual dining, the main dining was equally impressive. While I never expect Michelin-star dishes on a cruise, some exceeded my expectations, such as ChiBang's Kung Pao Chicken and the Main Dining Room's Crab & Shrimp Cake. 

celebration chibang kung pao chicken

I never got bored of the complimentary dining, either. There were four included restaurants open for dinner, so I wasn't limited to the Main Dining Room. From ChiBang, the Mexican-Asian fusion restaurant, to Italian fare at Cucina del Capitano and delectable meats from Guy's Pig & Anchor Smokehouse, every night was a new culinary adventure. 

Read more: Carnival menus 2024: Main dining room, specialty restaurants & more

I was just as amazed by my stateroom

celebration interior room

Though I prefer balcony cabins, I frequently sail in interior staterooms since they're more affordable. While my inside cabin on Carnival Celebration was tiny, it was updated and comfortable. In short, it was a complete 180 from what I was expecting. 

The blue color scheme was pleasing and made the 158-square-foot space feel larger than it was, and I loved the bathroom, which featured a large shower with a glass door. 


Since Carnival's Excel Class ships are the newest in the fleet, you can expect plenty of charging options, including three standard American outlets and four USB ports at the desk, as well as two more bedside USB ports. 

However, one thing that Carnival does well is adding additional outlets to older ships. Regardless of which class I was sailing on, I always found plenty of outlets in my stateroom, including beside the bed! 


Funny enough, compared to other cruise lines, I think Carnival has a better selection of in-cabin channels. From HGTV to the Food Network, relaxing in bed at night with a piece of pizza was a favorite activity of mine after a busy day. 

Read more: I stayed in a windowless cabin onboard Carnival Celebration that cost $1,900

The lido deck felt spacious and featured tons of seating

lido deck carnival celebration

Unlike other ships I've sailed on, I never felt the sense of urgency to rush to the lido deck first thing in the morning. Regardless of when I made my way upstairs, I could always find a seat, whether it was near the pool or one of the upper decks overlooking the action. 

One of my biggest regrets from my Carnival Celebration cruise is not venturing to other pools, such as the aft pool on Deck 8 and the adults-only pool on Deck 18. The ship's layout helped to disperse crowds—which can reach up to 6,500 on a full voyage—allowing for a more enjoyable experience. 

Read more: After 6 Royal Caribbean cruises this year, I tried Carnival for the first time — here’s what I liked and didn’t like

Though some of the entertainment was a miss, the comedy shows were the best I've seen at sea

punchliner comedy club celebration

On other lines, cruise ship comedians are typically something I'll pass on. Carnival, however, brings some of the best onboard, offering PG and R-rated shows. 

Naturally, I was drawn to the latter, though I appreciate Carnival's family-friendly shows. Some comedians I saw rival those at comedy clubs in New York City. Laughing until my stomach hurt was a nightly affair! 


In terms of Carnival Celeberation's theater performances, I found them to be entertaining; however, they're nothing compared to the Broadway-style musicals onboard Royal Caribbean ships. The Most Magnificent Circus had a slow start, but there's no denying the sheer talent of the singers, dancers, and aerialists. 

I can't talk about Carnival Celebration without mentioning Bolt!

Bolt Carnival Celebration

Perhaps one of the most unique activities I've ever done on a cruise is BOLT, Carnival's roller coaster. Yes, you read that right—you can ride a roller coaster in the middle of the ocean on Carnival's Excel Class ships! 

While not included in your cruise fare, it's worth the extra $15. I'd recommend riding it at sea, as you can take in the breathtaking wake views while soaring across the upper deck. It's truly a one-of-a-kind experience and one of my favorite activities on a ship. 

If BOLT is a priority, book your time slot on the HUB app as soon as possible. High winds and other factors can cause the ride to suspend operations, so if you wait until the last day, you may not have a chance to rebook your ride if it's canceled. 

I'd recommend Carnival Vista for first-time sailors who aren't sold on the cruise experience yet 


While certain aspects of Carnival Vista did not impress me, the amenities and size make it a great choice for first-time cruisers. Plus, it was recently refurbished to update its features and enhance the overall comfort. 

Measuring just 133,500 gross registered tons (GRT), it's a far cry from the size of Carnival's Excel Class ships, which are 183,000 GRT. However, they're much larger than Fantasy Class ships, such as the 71,900 GRT Carnival Elation. 

Read more: Carnival Cruise Ships by Size (2024)


Those planning to cruise on Carnival Vista should study the deck plan ahead of time, as the layout is a bit confusing. The dining room on Deck 3, for instance, can only be accessed via the aft elevators or staircase. Similarly, traversing from the atrium on Deck 4 to the Limelight Lounge or Main Dining Room requires you to cut through the casino. 

While not as thrilling as BOLT, the Skyride is a unique experience onboard Carnival Vista


The SkyRide is a Vista Class exclusive, so you won't find it on any other Carnival ships in the fleet. When you're ready to ride, head to the loading dock and get strapped into the flying "bike." 

Maneuvering around the top deck requires active pedaling, and the faster you pedal, the faster you travel. Unexpected dips make the experience even more enjoyable. 

Riding the SkyRide is complimentary, and you can do it as many times as you'd like throughout your sailing. To avoid lines, it's best to ride as soon as it opens or when docked. I rode it while in Grand Turk and waited less than ten minutes. 

I was upset there wasn't a Teppanyaki restaurant; however, Bonsai Sushi was delicious 


In fact, it exceeded my expectations! For just $13, I got miso soup served in a piping hot kettle and a 6-piece Tempura Roll. 

The creamy yuzu mayo and Bonsai Sushi sauce complemented the fried shrimp and avocado without drowning the roll in condiments. Reservations weren't needed, either—it was nice not having to plan the evening around dinner. 

Read more: 11 foods you must eat on a Carnival cruise

JiJi Asian Kitchen (Mongolian Wok) and Cucina del Capitano were open for lunch 


Want to get a taste of the specialty restaurant experience without shelling out extra money? On my sailing, JiJi Asian Kitchen and Cucina del Capitano were first-come, first-served on sea days for lunch. While you won't be able to order from the paid menu, it's a nice change from the buffet and other restaurants onboard. 

To be honest, JiJi Asian Kitchen wasn't my favorite; however, I think I had too high of expectations. My cousin and I ordered the wide noodles with steak, the only spicy dish on the menu. Not only were our meals presented differently, but they lacked heat. We agreed that Cucina del Capitano would have been a safer bet.  

jiji asian kitchen pager

While I missed ChiBang, allowing guests to eat at JiJi Asian Kitchen and Cucina del Captino, even if just during lunch, highlights Carnival's dedication to allowing passengers to enjoy a varied dining experience without paying extra. 

Read more: Things I Don't Pay Extra for on Carnival Cruises To Save Money

The Playlist Production shows were entertaining


While I'd certainly carve out time to watch Carnival's talented Playlist Live cast on stage, be prepared for an awkward theater set-up. Rather than a standard theater, the Limelight Lounge was a multi-purpose space. Because of that, it felt like their production capabilities were more limited than other ships. 

My favorite show—despite being forced out of my seat to dance—was Studio VIP. It was an upbeat performance reminiscent of New York City nightlife in the 1970s featuring songs by Donna Summer, Barry White, and KC and the Sunshine Band. If you're lucky enough, you will be chosen as a VIP. Though you'll have one of the best seats in the house, you'll have to show off your moves in front of the entire audience! 


I loved the Punchliner Comedy Club comedians on Carnival Vista as well; however, the venue was a tad bit too small to accommodate the number of passengers trying to pack into the lounge each evening. If you're planning on attending, get in line early, especially if you want to be in the first few rows. 

Read more: 10 things I wish I had done differently on my Carnival Vista cruise

My suite showed signs of wear and tear, but the extra space made it a great place to call home for 5 nights


The 310-square-foot Junior Suite was one of the, if not the, most spacious staterooms I'd ever stayed in. Carnival's suite program was a bit disappointing compared to other lines; however, we took advantage of the priority check-in, complimentary bath robes, and disembarkation in port. 

The oversized balcony was a great perk, too, though it lacked privacy since it was next to a public observation deck. The bathroom featured a double vanity and jetted tub, which was nice compared to the standard shower with curtain in other staterooms onboard. 


Though I was happy with my overall suite experience—it's hard to complain when you're in a larger-than-usual cabin—, I would opt for a specialty suite, such as Havana Cabanas, as they grant you access to exclusive areas onboard, including a private pool. 

Read more: I paid $3,600 for a suite on Carnival Vista

Carnival Conquest is great for those looking for a lively and fun cruise experience without breaking the bank


Sailing exclusively from Miami on 2- to 5-night cruises, Carnival Conquest is ideal for guests seeking a short but action-packed getaway. 

To be honest, I was a bit weary of my Carnival Conquest cruise. When I sailed on Freedom of the Seas, I met another passenger who said it was one of the worst cruises she had ever been on. Thankfully, my experience was the opposite. From the unique ship design to upbeat entertainment and good food, my 4-night cruise exceeded my expectations. 


While the ship has a darker tone compared to newer vessels, the painted ceilings and sculpture-lined hallways give it an elegant, almost European feel. Plus, the atrium was set up to feel like the ship's heart and soul, with the glass elevators transporting passengers from Deck 2 to 11 while keeping in the middle of the action—something missing on Carnival Vista. 

The ship is incredibly easy to navigate, too. One of the pros of choosing an older, smaller vessel is that you won't spend as much time going from Point A to B. By the end of the first day, I had a good grasp of where everything was located. Even my friend, who was a first-time cruiser, felt confident in her navigational abilities by Day 2!

The interior stateroom was well-kept


I don't expect much in cruise ship cabins, especially on older ships. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the overall appeal of my interior stateroom on Carnival Conquest. However, certain elements, namely the salmon pink crown molding and tiny television, revealed the true age of the vessel. 

Despite those minor details, the stateroom was comfortable and well-maintained. The bathroom, though compact with the clingy shower curtain that I hate, was clean and functional, and the nightstands had been outfitted with lamps that had USB ports. 

For a 4-night cruise, we found there was more than enough storage. Since it was my friend's first cruise, she packed more than needed, but we didn't struggle to comfortably and neatly organize all our belongings. 

Read more: Top 25 cruise cabin hacks to improve your stateroom's functionality

The Point Steakhouse was well worth the extra cost


The complimentary dining on Carnival Conquest was akin to Carnival Vista. Guy's was delicious as always, and you cannot go wrong with tacos from BlueIguana Cantina. 

The most memorable dining experience, however, was The Point Steakhouse. The meal cost just $59 (including gratuities), which was a steal. The presentation of everything felt luxurious, too. From the creamy lobster bisque to tender filet mignon and decadent dessert, I'd splurge on The Point time and time again. 

In fact, I thought it was better than my recent Chops Grille experience on Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas. While I've only had two specialty dining meals on Carnival ships, both have exceeded my expectations!

Carnival Conquest's crew had an organized tender procedure for Half Moon Cay, which made the otherwise dreadful process hassle-free


I've only tendered a handful of times, and while docks are preferred, I don't mind taking a water taxi if the process is organized. The night before we arrived at Half Moon Cay, all cabins received a letter explaining the procedure, stating that guests pick up a group number from 7:00-9:30am near the specialty coffee shop. 

My friend and I wanted to make the most of our time ashore, so we prioritized waking up early, fearing only a handful of groups would be left closer to 8:30 or 9:00am. 


We chose zone 8, which had an estimated departure time of 9:00am; however, there was a slight delay, and we did not arrive on the island until around 10:15am. Overall, though, it was an organized process. I saw crew members turn passengers away with later group numbers, which helped keep the stairwells less crowded. 

Read more: 8 mistakes I saw people make on my Carnival cruise

Though available fleetwide, I did not have a chance to see Carnival's sensory kit until my sailing on Carnival Conquest


Carnival Cruise Line is the first line certified "sensory inclusive" by KultureCity, a leading nonprofit dedicated to accessibility and inclusion for individuals with sensory and invisible disabilities. 

On embarkation day, my friend and I immediately went to Guest Services to pick up one of the kits for her to use during the 4-night cruise. Though complimentary, guests must place a $50 deposit to be credited to their Sail & Sign account when the kit is returned.  


The kit comes with noise-canceling headphones, fidget tools, a visual feeling thermometer, and two lanyards, one labeled  "KultureCity VIP" to help staff easily identify guests. 

These kits are an incredible resource for passengers who may otherwise get too stimulated and miss out on part of the fun. My friend, for example, used the headphones in various situations, ranging from the wild sailaway party to theater shows and spur-of-the-moment performances in the dining room. 

Though Carnival Elation wasn't my favorite Carnival sailing, I could see its appeal to those who prefer a laidback environment, as it's a no-frills ship


With a capacity of just 2,190 guests (at double occupancy), the overall ambiance is more intimate than larger vessels like Carnival Celebration. And while an older ship, Carnival has invested in keeping the public areas modern and refreshed. I was especially impressed by the bright dining rooms. 

Like Carnival Conquest, Carnival Elation's layout was easy to navigate. The only issue my finacée and I had was locating the door to the adults-only deck tucked in a hallway on Deck 8 past the Alchemy Bar. We didn't realize there were stairs leading down from the lido deck. 


Everything was a short walk from our inside cabin on Deck 4. Using the forward stairs or elevators, we could be in the atrium, home to various venues including the Imagination Dining Room, Piano Bar, and Mikado Lounge, in no time. 

Read more: 10 lessons learned after trying Carnival for the first time

Perhaps one of the biggest advantages of cruising on Carnival Elation was its embarkation port


Living in North Carolina, Jacksonville was just a five-and-a-half hour drive away, meaning I did not have to worry about paying for airfare. Having spent over $800 on a last-minute flight to Florida the month before, I was relieved to spend about $85 in gas and $85 in parking, making the pre-cruise transportation much more affordable. 

As someone who travels on planes at least once per month, not having to deal with TSA was a welcomed change, too. Plus, my local airport isn't exactly known for its efficiency or convenience. A recent study by the travel website Places to Travel ranked CLT as the fourth worst airport in the country for flight delays! 

Read more: The costly cruising mistake newbies make planning their first cruise

The dining was a hit or miss, with the main dining options falling short more often than fast-casual joints


Food is subjective. What may have been my favorite dish could be one reader's least favorite. Personally, I thought the dining onboard Carnival Elation could be improved upon. Guy's Burger Joint and BlueIguana Cantina were satisfying as always; however, it was mainly the dishes in the dining room that left something to be desired. 

According to my finacée, the grilled chicken breast and accompanying vegetables were bland, and the temperature of the shrimp cocktail varied throughout the 5-night sailing. That's not to say everything was bad! I enjoyed the chicken parmigiana, and the desserts, particularly the chocolate melting cake, were a highlight. 


Moreover, I missed having specialty restaurants to choose from. Onboard Carnival Elation, the only options were the Chef's Table and Bonsai Sushi Express. 

Read more: I tried Carnival's older cruise ships and never want to go back

The production shows were lively, and the Piano Bar was a popular spot as the night progressed 


Carnival Elation has plenty of entertainment options, from comedy shows at the Punchliner Comedy Club to sing-a-longs at Duke's Piano Bar, upbeat Playlist Live productions in the Mikado Lounge, and energetic deck parties underneath the stars. The evenings were truly when the ship came alive and embodied Carnival's "Fun Ship" persona. 

On the last night, passengers gathered on every floor overlooking the atrium and sang with the musicians during the farewell tribute. While last night festivities are common on cruise ships, I had never felt such a sense of camaraderie among passengers—it was a special experience! 

The inside cabin was spacious with modern touches, such as built-in USB ports 


Having seen pictures of cabins on now-scrapped Carnival ships like Carnival Ecstasy, I did not have high hopes for my stateroom. Upon entering, however, I was pleasantly surprised by its condition. It felt similar to my room on Carnival Conquest, with identical carpet and bedding. 

Plus, USB ports were built into the headboard, so I did not have to worry about leaving my phone on the vanity to charge. Some newer Royal Caribbean ships, such as Freedom of the Seas, don't feature this luxury. 


While some elements showed the age of the 26-year-old cabin, they were relatively minor, except for the bathroom. In addition to its overall appearance, it lacked adequate storage for two guests. Had I not brought my hanging toiletry organizer, we would have had to keep our products on the shelves near the cabin's door. 

It wasn't as clean as I would have liked, either, from the stained shower curtain to the showerhead riddled with mildew. While it served its purpose, it was a far cry from the updated and spacious bathroom on Carnival Celebration. 

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