The world’s largest cruise line originated the Fun Ship concept in 1972 with the relaunch of an aging ocean liner, which got stuck on a sandbar during its maiden voyage. In true entrepreneurial spirit, founder Ted Arison shrugged off an inauspicious beginning to introduce superliners a decade later. Sporting red-white-and-blue flared funnels, which are easily recognized from afar, new ships are continuously added to the fleet and rarely deviate from a successful pattern. If you find something you like on one vessel, you’re likely to find something similar on another.
Each vessel features themed public rooms, ranging from ancient Egypt to futuristic motifs. More high-energy than cerebral, the entertainment consists of lavish Las Vegas-style revues presented in main show lounges by a company of singers and dancers. Other performers might include magicians, jugglers, acrobats, and even passengers taking part in the talent show or stepping up to the karaoke microphone. Live bands play a wide range of musical styles for dancing and listening in smaller lounges. Each ship has a disco, piano bar, and a comedy club.
Arrive early to get a seat for bingo and karaoke. Adult activities, particularly the competitive ones, tend to be silly and hilarious and play to full houses. Relaxing poolside can be difficult when bands crank up the volume or the cruise director selects volunteers for pool games; fortunately, it’s always in fun and mostly entertaining. There’s generally a quieter second pool to retreat to.
Carnival is so sure that passengers will be satisfied with their cruise experience that they are the only cruise line to offer a Vacation Guarantee. Just notify them before arriving at the first port of call if you’re unhappy for any reason. Should you choose to disembark at the ship’s first non-U.S. port, Carnival will refund the unused portion of your cruise fare and pay for your flight back to your embarkation port. It’s a generous offer for which they get very few takers.
Carnival ships have both flexible dining options and casual alternative restaurants. Although the tradition of two set mealtimes for dinner prevails on Carnival ships, the line’s experiments with an open seating concept—Your Time Dining—have proved so successful that it has been implemented fleet-wide.
Choices are numerous, and the skill of Carnival’s chefs have elevated the line’s menus to an unexpected level. Although the waiters still sing and dance, the good-to-excellent dining room food appeals to American tastes. Upscale supper clubs on certain ships serve cuisine comparable to the best midrange steak houses ashore.
Carnival serves the best food of the mainstream cruise lines. In addition to the regular menu, vegetarian, low-calorie, low-carbohydrate, low-salt, and no-sugar selections are available. A children’s menu includes such favorites as macaroni and cheese, chicken fingers, and peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches. If you don’t feel like dressing up for dinner, the Lido buffet serves full meals, including sandwiches, a salad bar, rotisserie chicken, Asian stir-fry, and excellent pizza.
Fitness and Recreation
Manned by staff members trained to keep passengers in shipshape form, Carnival’s trademark spas and fitness centers are some of the largest and best equipped at sea. Spas and salons are operated by Steiner Leisure, and treatments include a variety of massages, body wraps, and facials; salons offer hair and nail services. Tooth whitening is a recent addition. Fitness centers have state-of-the-art cardio and strength-training equipment, a jogging track, and basic exercise classes at no charge. There’s a fee for personal training, body composition analysis, and specialized classes such as yoga and Pilates.
Carnival’s passengers are predominantly active Americans, mostly couples in their mid-thirties to mid-fifties. Many families enjoy Carnival cruises in the Caribbean year-round. Holidays and school vacation periods are very popular with families, and you’ll see a lot of kids in summer. More than 600,000 children sailed on Carnival ships in 2010—a six-fold increase in just 12 years.
Two “cruise elegant” nights are standard on seven-night cruises; one is the norm on shorter sailings. Although men should feel free to wear tuxedos, dark suits (or sport coats) and ties are more prevalent. All other evenings are “cruise casual,” with jeans and dress shorts permitted in the dining rooms. All ships request that no short-shorts or cutoffs be worn after 6 pm, but that policy is often ignored.
Camp Carnival, run year-round by professionals, earns high marks for keeping young cruisers busy and content. Dedicated children’s areas include great playrooms with separate splash pools. Toddlers from two to five years are treated to puppet shows, sponge painting, face painting, coloring, drawing, and crafts. As long as diapers and supplies are provided, staff will change toddlers. Activities for ages six to eight include arts and crafts, pizza parties, computer time, T-shirt painting, a talent show, and fitness programs. Nine- to 11-year-olds can play Ping-Pong, take dance lessons, play video games, and participate in swim parties, scavenger hunts, and sports. Tweens ages 12 to 14 appreciate the social events, parties, contests, and sports in Circle C. Every night they have access to the ships’ discos, followed by late-night movies, karaoke, or pizza.
Club O2 is geared toward teens from 15 to 17. Program directors play host at the spacious teen clubs, where kicking back is the order of the day between scheduled activities. The fleetwide Y-Spa program for older teens offers a high level of pampering. Staff members also accompany teens on shore excursions designed just for them.
Daytime group babysitting for infants two and under allows parents the freedom to explore ports of call without the kids until noon. Parents can also pursue leisurely adults-only evenings from 10 pm to 3 am, when slumber party-style group babysitting is available for children from ages 6 months to 11 years. Babysitting fees are $6 an hour for one child and $4 an hour for each additional child.
Service on Carnival ships is friendly but not polished. Stateroom attendants are not only recognized for their attention to cleanliness but also for their expertise in creating towel animals—cute critters fashioned from bath towels that appear during nightly turndown service. They’ve become so popular that Carnival publishes an instruction book on how to create them yourself.
A gratuity of $10 per passenger per day is automatically added to passenger accounts, and gratuities are distributed to stewards and waitstaff. Passengers may adjust the amount based on the level of service experienced. All beverage tabs at bars get an automatic 15% addition.
After sailing on one Carnival cruise, you’ll receive a complimentary two-year subscription to Funville Times, the company e-mail magazine, and access to your past sailing history on the Carnival Web site. You are recognized on subsequent cruises with color-coded key cards—Gold (starting you’re your 2nd cruise) or Platinum (starting with your 10th cruise)—which serve as your entrée to a by-invitation-only cocktail reception. You’re also eligible for exclusive discounts on future cruises on all the cruise lines owned by Carnival Corporation.
Platinum members are eligible for Concierge Club benefits, including priority embarkation and debarkation, guaranteed dining assignments, supper club and spa reservations, a logo item gift, and complimentary laundry service.
You want an action-packed casino with a choice of table games and rows upon rows of clanging slot machines.
You don’t mind standing in line—these are big ships with a lot of passengers, and lines are not uncommon.
You don’t mind hearing announcements over the public-address system reminding you of what’s next on the schedule.
Don’t Choose This Line If
You want an intimate, sedate atmosphere. Carnival’s ships are big and bold.
You want elaborate accommodations. Carnival suites are spacious but not as feature-filled as the term suite may suggest.
You’re turned off by men in tank tops. Casual on these ships means casual indeed.
Make yourself at home in some of the most generous standard cabins afloat.
Every Carnival passenger enjoys the same service and attention, including nightly turndown service, room service, and 24-hour pizzerias.
Watch your weight with healthy selections from the spa menu that are low in calories, cholesterol, salt, and fat.
Good to Know
If you’ve never sailed on a Carnival ship, or haven’t sailed on one in recent years, you may not understand how Carnival cruises have evolved. The shipboard atmosphere is still bright, noisy, and fun, but the beer-drinking contests and bawdy, anything-goes image are history. Unfortunately, much as Casual Friday has evolved from no tie in the office to jeans and a polo shirt, it isn’t unusual to see Carnival passengers dressed very casually after dinner, even on “cruise elegant” nights. You may be surprised at how quickly some passengers can swap their fancy duds for T-shirts and shorts between the dining room and show lounge. The fun of a Carnival cruise can begin before you leave home if you log on to the Carnival Web site (www.carnivalconnections.com), where you will find planning tips, cruise reviews, and a message board.