These Carnival Cruise tips and tricks will make your journey more fun and friendly, no matter which cruise itinerary or destination you choose. Whether you are a repeat Carnival Cruise Line guest or you are looking for first time cruise tips, you will find practical advice on our list.
We developed these Carnival Cruise tips on a two-week Panama Canal cruise from Galveston, Texas aboard the Carnival Freedom. The Freedom is one of the older ships in the Carnival fleet but it was retrofitted and updated in 2004. Today the Freedom has many, but not all, of the fun amenities that are part of the newer Carnival Cruise ships.
While Carnival Cruise Line hosted McCool Travel and picked up the tab for much of this glorious trip, please be certain that my message is carefully crafted for my awesome audience so that you can make informed decisions in order to Travel Happy on future trips.
About Carnival Cruise Line
Carnival Cruise Line is a very popular, large ship, budget cruise brand. The Carnival motto is “Choose Fun,” and on board activities emphasize good times at sea and in port. Carnival Cruise deals and specials are plentiful, and basic packages are priced low, with many extras available for additional fees. This a la carte pricing means it is easy to customize your cruise experience to meet your preferences. It is also easy to spend more than you planned if you do not have a strategy for your trip. Our Carnival Cruise tips will help make your cruise as cost effective and comfortable as possible.
We have been on several cruises (read our cruise reviews and recommendations), but the Panama Canal journey was our first experience with the Carnival brand. Most of our fellow passengers, however, were repeat Carnival guests. In fact, many of the folks on board were Gold, Diamond, and Platinum members with 20, 30, or more Carnival cruises under their belts. Carnival is obviously doing something right to generate that kind of brand loyalty. Some of the Carnival Cruise tips on our list were suggested by these Carnival Cruise experts.
12 Carnival Cruise Tips and Tricks for Happy Cruising
1. Bring Wine and Soda On Board
Passengers can bring two bottles of wine and a 12-pack of canned soda on board at the start of a cruise. However, it is inconvenient to bring these liquids with you if you fly to your departure port. Instead, check Yelp or Google maps in advance to find a wine store near your port. On arrival at the port, make sure your luggage is properly tagged and in the hands of the porters. Then walk to the closest store to purchase your wine and sodas to carry on board. In Galveston, Frankie’s Liquor Store on The Strand is just a few blocks from the port.
McCool Travel tip: Your wine will get a very thorough inspection during the check-in process. Do not try to bring in bottles that have been opened or tampered with in any way.
McCool Travel tip: Tea lovers will also want to bring their own tea aboard Carnival sailings. You will find plenty of Bigelow green and Lipton regular tea but they are the only options.
2. Enjoy Breakfast Without Lines
Carnival Cruise food options are plentiful. There are lots of different places to get your meals so do not automatically head to the buffet areas. Our favorite breakfast spot—Blue Iguana Cantina—never had a line. The Cantina makes tasty breakfast burritos and tacos to order. Order a taco with eggs (we like ours fried, over hard), or skip the taco, and get cooked-to-order eggs with little wait. Be sure to try the yummy arepas! The nearby salsa bar has a great collection of salsas along with sliced watermelon.
Custom omelettes are also excellent for breakfast but the lines can get long. If time allows, eat breakfast in the Posh dining room to enjoy a broader menu and more relaxed meal.
3. Other Carnival Dining Spots for Quicker Meals
The BBQ counter is somewhat hidden on the top level (deck 10) of the buffet area, which means it rarely has a line. They serve excellent beef brisket, plus pulled pork and chicken, with yummy mac and cheese and other sides. Guy’s Burgers Joint is another good lunch choice with a fast-moving line. Pirate Pizza, near the small pool on deck 9 aft, is convenient for a late night or quick meal or a slice anytime.
4. Finding Your Table for Dinner
Carnival offers assigned dining times or an Eat Anytime option. Seating is slow at dinner on the first night, since guests are learning the locations of their assigned tables. Arrive 10 or 15 minutes late to reduce your time standing in line. On subsequent nights head straight to your assigned table. If you choose the Eat Anytime option you will need to line up any time you eat in the dining room. You will still benefit from shorter lines since the assigned folks know where they are going.
5. Do Not Be Afraid to Ask for a Change
After three nights at our assigned dinner table in Posh, we noticed a nearby booth that was always empty. We asked, and were able to switch to that booth for the rest of the cruise. If you want to make a change, just ask. They may not be able to accommodate your request, but the Carnival Cruise staff is always willing to try. We found the entire Carnival Cruise team to be friendly and helpful throughout our cruise.
6. Choosing Carnival Cruise Rooms
Our Carnival Freedom stateroom was roomy and comfortable. Our stateroom on deck 8 Aft was generally quiet, and we really enjoyed our balcony. Your stateroom will depend on availability, but you may have a wide choice depending on when you book your cruise. Noise, smoke, and walking distance are factors to consider when choosing your Carnival room.
Watch this short video for a closer look at a Carnival balcony room.
Rooms near the open atrium are convenient to fun parties, but may also be noisy during those celebrations. (On the Carnival Freedom, rooms in the 200s on each level were nearest the Atrium.) The quietest rooms are away from public spaces like the Atrium lounge and Casino. Carnival limits smoking areas on board, but we often smelled smoke on deck 6 from the Casino Bar one deck down.
See also 8 Great Tips for Selecting a Cruise
7. Bring Your Own Toiletries
Carnival Cruise stateroom toiletries are very minimal. There is a small bar of soap for the sink, and liquid shampoo and bath gel in the shower. Bring your own conditioner and lotion, or plan to go without. You should also bring your own shampoo and soap if you have a preference. If you like to travel with carry-on bags like we do, check our tips for building an Airplane Success Kit that helps you travel light with all the essentials.
8. Do Not Rely on Carnival Cruise Line Internet
If you can disconnect from the demands of emails and online life during your cruise, do it. It can be incredibly relaxing to put the cell phone down and focus on fun.If you are counting on getting work or social media done during your cruise, bring your own wifi or cell service. Carnival Wifi plans start at $15 per day, which adds up quickly. Even with a purchased plan, Carnival Cruise Internet is extremely slow, and you can only use one device at a time. The multi-step login process is time-consuming and frustrating if you are sharing an account. If Internet access is important to you, arrange an alternative.
McCool Travel tip: We used a Roaming Man device on our 15 day Into the Midnight Sun voyage with Viking Cruises.
9. Exercising on Your Carnival Cruise
One of our McCool Travel tips for staying healthy on a cruise is to walk a 5K every day at sea. The Carnival Freedom has an outdoor walking/jogging track on deck 11 and we spent quite a bit of time on it. The track is fairly short—it takes about 30 laps to complete a 5K—but it is a nice open area.
The deck can be extremely windy at times, but we considered this as extra resistance training. If the weather outside is too extreme, you could walk the passenger corridors on decks 6, 7, and 8, but you may encounter slow-moving passengers along the way.
Also make sure to walk around port towns on cruise excursion days.
10. Free Carnival Cruise Spa and Fitness Options
Carnival ships offer lots of special Spa treatments, for an additional cost, to add to your fun at sea . Even if you do not want to book a treatment, head to the Spa to access the fitness center, steam room, sauna, and jacuzzi, at no cost. The locker room showers are also larger than the ones in the stateroom, with water that gets both hotter and colder than the room shower. One member of our party took almost every shower in the locker room, after enjoying the steam room and sauna.
11. Star-Gazing at Sea on the Carnival Freedom
One of the best things about being at sea is star-gazing away from the light pollution on land. However, most deck areas are well lit, so you will need to find hidden spots for the best views. The best spots for star-gazing on the Carnival Freedom are at the front of decks 6, 7, and 10. Walk to deck 6, 7, or 10 forward and then look for the doors in each corner. These doors lead to a balcony area below or above the bridge that is dark and peaceful. The area on deck 10 is the largest, but deck 7 is darker and cozier.
Note: this McCool Travel tip does not work when the ship is docked (lights will be on) or winds are high (it can be dangerous).
12. Try Something New
Last in our list of Carnival Cruise tips is a general one—try something new while you are on board. We skipped the first few nights of movies by the pool, but they turned out to be a favorite way to spend the evening (make sure you grab some free popcorn before settling in). Watch some shows in the Victoriana Lounge. Catch a game in the SkyBox Sports Bar—where we watched the Red Sox win the 2018 World Series. Let the Alchemy Bar mixology masters create a special drink just for you. It is fun to explore, and Carnival Cruise Line offers many, many ways to Choose Fun while on board.
We were impressed with the loyalty and love our fellow guests have for the Carnival Cruise brand. So many of the guests on our cruise come back to Carnival year after year to try new itineraries or revisit old favorites. Whether you are here for first time cruise tips, or you have earned your Platinum status, we hope these Carnival Cruise tips help you choose fun on your next and every cruise.
Two fun Carnival cruise tips we learned from VIPs are to buy the drink package so you do not have to worry about prices and MSC Cruises matches your Carnival status.
This sailing was part of the Carnival Journeys program which are tailored to adult passengers desiring a richer and deeper cruise experience.
We were guests of Carnival Cruise Line during our sailing aboard Carnival Freedom in October-November 2018.
Article by Julie McCool, whose Northern Virginia travel site FuninFairfaxVA.com helps locals and visitors find fun places to explore, dine, drink, and play in the Virginia, Washington DC, and mid-Atlantic area.
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