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15 Things to Expect on a Carnival Cruise

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There’s a reason Carnival Cruise Line is the world’s most popular cruise line: Over the years, they’ve paid close attention to everything from trends to customer feedback in order to make sure that across their fleet of ships, they’re delivering exactly what their passengers want.

fun day at sea

Fun Day at Sea on Carnival Triumph.

As Carnival’s CEO, Arnold Donald, said during a keynote address he delivered last year, “Every creative decision we make arises from our guests. Our main goal and our focus are to make their dream vacations come true.” 

As a result, there are certain things guests expect when they board a Carnival ship. And while the fleet contains a wide variety of ships, there’s a surprising degree of overall consistency that helps to ensure that whether a guest is sailing on an older ship like Carnival Triumph (soon to be Carnival Sunrise) or the newest of the Vista-class ships, they’ll know what to expect. And while folks who’ve taken several Carnival cruises, especially on different ships, know this to be true, first-timers may wonder what exactly the Carnival experience entails.

Here’s what you can expect from a Carnival cruise:

1. Fun with Dr. Seuss’ Pals

carnival cruise line

Photo: Carnival Cruise Line/Ray Stubblebine

Carnival brings the world of Dr. Seuss alive through its Seuss at Sea program. Over the course of the cruise, there will be events like the Green Eggs & Ham character breakfast, a Seuss-a-Palooza parade, story time, and more. And yes, you’ll see just as many adults getting their pictures taken with the The Cat in the Hat as the kids are. Because if Dr. Seuss can’t bring out the kid in all of us, who can?

Review: Green Eggs and Ham Character Breakfast 

2. A Slew of Entertainment on the Lido Deck

carnival sunshine lido deck

Lido deck on Carnival Sunshine on a sea day.

With a live steel drum band, the infamous hairy chest contest, ice carvings, cocktail mixing contests, and more, the Lido Deck is the place to be for fun under the sun. And with several dining options only footsteps away, it’s easy to spend whole days pretty much oblivious to what might be going on inside the ship.

3. Games, Games, and More Games

hasbro the game show

Hasbro, The Game Show – Photo by Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Lines

Whether you’re into rolling the dice literally in the casino or figuratively at Bingo, Carnival has you covered. You’ll also have plenty of chances to play trivia in categories ranging from general knowledge to Harry Trivia. (Heck, you might just walk away with one of the highly-coveted, if not technically valuable, ‘Ship on a Stick’ prizes.) Most Carnival ships also have an arcade which will help keep the younger set occupied. If you want to have a little old-fashioned family time, swing by the library and play an actual board game.

4. Many Ways to Get Soaked

carnival cruise line water parks

Dr. Seuss WaterWorks Park on Carnival Horizon

If simply sailing on the ocean isn’t enough to satisfy your need to interact with water, you can hit one of the pool or hot tubs you’ll find on every ship. Want to sit and watch the kids play? Unleash them at the WaterWorks playground… but be warned: There’s a really good chance you’ll wind up wanting to join them in the splash-filled zone.

5. Ways to Stay Fit

CARNIVAL HORIZON GYM

Gym aboard Carnival Horizon.

Whether you’re worried about packing on pounds thanks to all the amazing food around every corner, or are the kind of person whose day simply isn’t complete unless they’ve worked up a good sweat, there are plenty of exercise options. You can hit the gym, where you’ll find a variety of workout equipment, or the jogging track. Check the Fun Times daily, and you’ll find other activities listed as well, including exercise classes.

6. A World of After-Dark Fun

Carnival Sunshine Dive in

Dive In movies on Lido deck of Carnival Sunshine.

Sure, your at-home routine may involve sliding onto the couch and into a coma once dinner is over, but most Carnival passengers wind up staying up past their bedtime in order to take in shows, watch a Dive-In movie by the pool, sing along at the piano bar, or dance the night away. So, yeah, plan on taking an afternoon nap and ordering coffee with your dinner, because the last thing you’re going to want to do is crash early.

7. A Military Appreciation Ceremony

Carnival Cruise Military gathering

Carnival Cruise Military gathering.

One of the most unique aspects of a Carnival cruise is this incredibly moving ceremony, held once during each cruise. Having always been a big supporter of the military, Carnival arranges a meet-and-greet for current military members and former vets and their families followed by an appreciation ceremony. You don’t have to be a vet or even know one to attend; you need only have a desire to show your support to the people who have served our country. It’s a moving and humbling event you won’t soon forget.

8. Opportunities to Actually Relax

carnival magic hot tub

Two hot tubs are in the back of Carnival Magic.

If we’re making it sound like there’s so much to do you’ll exhaust yourself… that’s probably true. Which is why it’s a good thing that a Carnival cruise also offers plenty of opportunities to do the thing you’re actually supposed to do on a vacation: relax.

Cloud 9 spa

Reception area of Cloud 9 Spa. via Carnival

The Cloud 9 Spa features saunas and steam rooms with aromatherapy, and you can even stay in a luxurious Cloud 9 Spa stateroom for exclusive access. There’s also the adults-only Serenity Retreat which offers a bit of an oasis from the louder, more active scene you’ll typically find around the main pool area. Wander the ship, and you’ll easily find a quiet nook in which to play a game of cards or read… and heck, you won’t even disturb anyone when you begin to snore softly during your “reading” time.

9. A Whole Lotta Free Food Options

GUY'S BURGER JOINT

Plain Jane burger at Guy’s Burger Joint.

Admit it: About five seconds after booking a cruise, you start thinking about the food. It’s okay, we do it too. This is a No Judgement Zone. Over the years, Carnival has become well-known for the wide variety of food options offered. And unlike some lines, where it’s tough to find a decent meal outside of the for-fee specialty restaurants, it would be pretty easy to spend a week on a Carnival ship eating nothing but food that’s included in your cruise fare. Heck, we know people who could spend the whole week bouncing between the BlueIguana Cantina (which offers delicious breakfast burritos), Guy’s Burger Joint (a perfect lunch spot) and the main dining room (because who doesn’t like having a sit-down dinner?). And that’s not even counting all the options available at the buffet.

Review: Guy’s Burger Joint

10. Top-Notch Specialty Restaurants

Carnival Magic steakhouse

Cuts of beef at the steakhouse on Carnival Magic.

When it comes to for-fee specialty restaurants, Carnival’s options offer great food at a very reasonable price… especially when compared to their land-based rivals. Even the steakhouse – arguably the highest-end venue on the ship (short of the Chef’s Table) – is only $35 per person. Other venues, such as JiJi Asian Kitchen or the Seafood Shack are half that price, and worth every penny.

Review: Carnival Cruise Line’s Steakhouse

11. Cheap Internet

wifi carnival horizon computer

Let’s face it, “disconnecting” on vacation means something new in the 21st century. We disconnect from our usual responsibilities and the stresses awaiting us back home, but not necessarily from our beloved social media feeds. After all, no one really expects us to go a week without checking Facebook and Twitter… right? Thankfully, Carnival’s Internet packages start as low as $4 per day, making it easy (and cheap) to bring out the green-eyed monster on all the folks you left behind by posting pics of the amazing cruise you’re on. (Maybe they’ll want to join you on the next one!)

12.  An App Actually Worth Downloading

fun hub app

Carnival app screenshot.

As soon as you book your trip, download the Carnival Hub app to your phone. (If you’ve booked your cruise but haven’t done this yet, do it now. Go ahead… we’ll wait.) Trust us when we say, this app will be your best friend throughout the cruise. Wanna find out what time Bingo starts? Check the app. Want to make a dinner reservation? Fire up the app. Want to text your fellow cruisers? Okay, you’ll each have to pay a one-time $5 fee to access that particular function, but isn’t the ability to text each other worth that? (Plus, you won’t be one of those annoying people who drive everyone else crazy with their squawking walkie-talkies.)

13. A ‘Groove for St. Jude’ Party

carnival cruise line st. Jude

Carnival presenting a check to St. Jude. via Carnival

Thanks to their partnership with the incredible St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Carnival has been able to donate millions of dollars over the years to this deserving charity. During every cruise, each ship hosts a ‘Groove for St. Jude’ party which raises funds for the children’s hospital. (For those who don’t know, monies raised help St. Jude provide excellent care while making sure that families who use their services never, ever receive a bill.)  It’s a great opportunity to have fun while also donating to a great cause. It’s also a humbling reminder to appreciate the people in your life and the opportunities presented – including to take vacations with family and friends – which aren’t necessarily afforded to everyone.

14. A Friendly Crew

crew member carnival horizon

Bar server on Carnival Horizon.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a crew member on a Carnival ship who isn’t smiling 24/7. Seriously, I’d love to know what they all eat for breakfast, because every single one of them works hard all day to make sure you have the best vacation, and they always do it with a smile on their face and a pep in their step. And when they’re smiling, you’ll be smiling. It’s infectious.

14. A Darn Good Time

Carnival Lido Deck sail away party

Lido Deck sail away party.

Carnival’s fleet ain’t called the Fun Ships for nothing. From the moment you step on board, you’ll feel the tensions leave your body as you take in your surroundings. By the time the sailaway party begins, there’s a good chance that you’ll feel like dancing (or at least tapping your feet to whatever tune is playing). Carnival has a well-deserved reputation as being a bit more laid-back than most other cruise lines… and that’s a good thing. Because if you’ve gotten to the end of this list and aren’t stoked for your upcoming Carnival sailing, you may have picked the wrong line.

What is your favorite part of a Carnival cruise?

things to expect on a carnival cruise

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