Carnival cruise reviews April 2021 | finder.com

Carnival cruise line reviews

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Before you book, compare its 28 ships and read passenger reviews (Updated in April 2021).

Carnival claims to infuse a sense of fun into every cruise, from a roller coaster on the deck of its Mardi Gras ship — the first to ever be installed at sea —to lip-smacking menus at one-of-a-kind restaurants like Big Chicken and Guy’s Burger Joint. It’s even nominated an official Chief Fun Officer (CFO) — Mr. Shaquille O’Neal.

But what is life really like aboard a Carnival ship — and where in the world can it take you? Here’s everything you need to know before setting sail.

28 ships

Number of ships

Price

No

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Details

Target demographic Adults, Seniors, Teenagers, Toddlers, Honeymooners, Young Adults, Kids
Number of ships 28 ships
Contact options Phone, Facebook Messenger
Payment options Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Diners, Paypal, Carnival EasyPay, Gift Card, Discover Card, Debit, Western Union, Cheque
Deposit required Deposit at checkout
Deposit required No price matching
Food Food included
Drink No free alcohol
Room service No free room service

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Amy Stoltenberg is a staff writer covering all things travel, shopping and lifestyle. After earning a BA at Savannah College of Art and Design, she worked as technical designer in corporate fashion before opting for a career with unlimited travel time. When her laptop's closed, you can find her wandering around Los Angeles looking for hole-in-the-wall eateries and plotting her way to all 50 states (she's currently at 28).

Expert review

Carnival cruises can whisk families and the budget-savvy on waterborne adventures around the globe. But if you’re looking for a luxury liner, or just want to see what else is out there, compare other options.

Is Carnival cruise line taking bookings now?

Yes. Carnival is accepting bookings for cruises departing as soon as Aug. 6. It’s offering low prices for travelers ready to hit the waves — fares start at around $68 daily per person, including taxes and fees.

However, keep in mind that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) hasn’t approved cruise travel in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The “No Sail Order” bans cruises through July 24 — but the order could possibly be extended.

If you book a Carnival cruise that gets canceled due to CDC restrictions, you’ll likely receive a travel credit. Read the terms and conditions before booking to understand the risk up front.

Carnival cruise reviews and complaints

Case study: Roslyn's experience

Roslyn McKenna profile photo
Roslyn McKenna
Insurance Publisher, Finder US

Carnival’s target audience is families, so be prepared to be around loud groups of people and children all day, especially near the pool and in the casino. On the plus side, the Serenity Deck is a no-kids zone with a hot tub and plenty of peace and quiet, so we spent most of our time on the ship there (pro tip: there’s also a hidden hot tub in the gym on some Carnival ships.)

Carnival does have a lot of good things going for it. Though the buffet-style food is average at best, the sit-down dinner meals are better than some 4-star restaurants I’ve been to, and you’ll look forward to lobster night all week. For shore excursions in tropical destinations, I recommend the snorkeling or kayaking or anything with a boat involved, plus ancient ruins, like in Belize.

About Roslyn’s cruise

  • Carnival ship sailed: Legend
  • Date of cruise: October 2012
  • Length of cruise: 5 nights
  • Departure port: Florida
  • Destinations visited: Port of Belize, Belize. Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands. Cozumel, Mexico.

Case study: Chantelle's experience

Chantelle Kincy profile photo
Chantelle Kincy
Dental Hygienist/Travel Blogger

Ship sailed: Carnival Splendor
Length of cruise: 7 days
Date of cruise: April 2016
Destinations visited: Miami. Cozumel. Belize. Roatan. Grand Cayman.
Service was personalized and wonderful — they made each member of the family feel special by remembering their names and drink orders, etc. Ship was clean and we had a wonderful experience. My youngest son is very shy and reserved, and our waiter had him talking, laughing and looking forward to dinner! The ports were outstanding.

Ship sailed: Carnival Sensation
Length of cruise: 5 days
Date of cruise: April 2017
Destinations visited: Miami. Half Moon Caye. Nassau. Grand Turk.
This was adults only, so a different experience. We purchased the drink package, which took the stress off budgeting and worrying about cost. The ship was older and smaller than the previous ship. I felt it wasn’t as clean, but service was outstanding and we again had a wonderful time. This cruise, the quality and offerings of the buffet were not as good and the water tasted bad. But because we had the drink package, we were able to get bottled water. The ports were not as great as the last cruise either. Half Moon Caye is beautiful, but offers no cultural experience as it is owned by Carnival.

Ship sailed: Carnival Conquest
Length of cruise: 8 days
Date of cruise: April 2018
Destinations visited: Port Everglades. Princess Caye. Grand Turk. Curacao. Aruba.
This was my kids’ favorite. Plenty of sea days between ports, which I like to help relax and recharge. As usual, service was outstanding. We had some guests next door to us that were fighting all through the night. Security came and handled it professionally and quickly once they were aware of it. We enjoyed the comedy club (kids were older this time) and had an all-around enjoyable experience. Kids met friends from all over the country that they still keep in contact with through social media.

Ship sailed: Carnival Fascination
Length of cruise: 7 days
Date of cruise: June 2019
Destinations visited: San Juan, Puerto Rico. St. Thomas. St. Maarten. St. Kitts St. Lucia. Barbados.
This ship is very old and very small. It was, however, extremely clean and easy to get around. Food was OK, service outstanding. This was a very port-intensive itinerary so onboard activities were less. I think everyone was exhausted. The ports were incredible. Starting in Puerto Rico made this cruise a little different than the others. Some guests actually board in Barbados a day prior (and get off there a day early) and some board in San Juan, so boarding was quick and easy.

Chantelle’s overall experience cruising with Carnival

The reason we started cruising was to give our kids a unique vacation. It’s wonderful for families. On the ship, there are many age-appropriate activities for everyone, so everyone can in a sense have their own vacation. As a mom, I could rest easy on the sun deck knowing the kids were contained and having fun. Off the ship is great family time where you can enjoy other countries and cultures. Food is all-inclusive which is great with three teenage boys! In addition to that — unless you pay for Wi-Fi — their phones won’t work, so they will have to speak to you and each other!

I find cruising affordable and easy. You wake up in the morning, go somewhere fabulous and have fun, get back on ship, get spoiled, and repeat.

I would say that in our experience Carnival is very family-friendly. So if you are looking for a laidback, “fancy” cruise without kids, it may not be your best choice of lines.

Where do Carnival cruises depart from?

One of the best ways to save money on a cruise vacation is to depart from a port near your home — or a city that’s accessible with a budget flight. Carnival’s massive presence means it’s got departure docks all over the US and beyond.

  • Carnival currently sails from: Baltimore, Barbados, Barcelona, Bermuda, Charleston, Copenhagen, Dover, Fort Lauderdale, Galveston, Honolulu, Jacksonville, London, Los Angeles, Miami, Mobile, New Orleans, New York City, Norfolk, Port Canaveral, San Diego, San Francisco, San Juan, Tampa, Tampa/St.Petersburg, Vancouver, Venice

Carnival cruises destinations

Carnival specializes in tropical getaways and transatlantic trips. You won’t usually see trips to Asia, though it can take you across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii.

  • Here’s where it sails to: Alaska, Bahamas, Baja Mexico, Canada and New England, Eastern Caribbean, Europe, Hawaii, Mexican Riviera, Panama Canal, Southern Caribbean, Transatlantic, Western Caribbean

Troubled water: Carnival Cruises in the headlines

In 2016, Carnival was found guilty of dumping contaminated waste into the ocean and falsifying records to cover it up. The Department of Justice ordered the company to pay a $40 million penalty and issued five years of probation and compliance audits.

In June 2019, the DOJ charged Carnival for violating its probation by releasing waste in prohibited areas and discharging plastic trash along with food waste near the Bahamas. Carnival admitted to six violations, resulting in a $20 million fine and more frequent audits for compliance. It’s also required to update its system for reporting violations to government institutions.

Carnival has since appointed a chief ethics and compliance officer, whose job is to investigate incidents and budget for the company’s ongoing environmental efforts, with plans to create an internal compliance committee.

Why you should (or shouldn’t) cruise with Carnival cruises

Carnival is an excellent choice for families who enjoy easy dining and round-the-clock room service (cookies and milk before bed, anyone?). Still, weigh the good and the bad before booking to see if it matches your vacation style:

Pros

  • Free dining options — including 24/7 room service
  • Free entertainment available every night
  • You can bring one bottle of wine and one bottle of champagne on board
  • 24-hour pizzeria and frozen yogurt dispenser — both are free

Cons

  • Track record of unlawful environmental contamination
  • Wi-Fi is inconsistent, costs extra and is charged daily
  • Specialty dining options are limited
  • Doesn’t sail to Asia

Frequently asked questions

How much are drinks on a Carnival cruise?

Here’s what you can expect to pay for drinks aboard a Carnival cruise:

  • Beer: $6 to $7.95
  • Wine by the glass: $8 to $14
  • Mixed Drinks: $6.95 to $20
  • Specialty Cocktails: $8.95 to $12.95
  • Soft Drinks: $2.50
  • Specialty Drinks: $2 to $4.95 for drinks like iced tea and ginger beer
  • Energy Drinks: $4.95+
  • Water: $1.25 to $5

Data obtained October 2019. Prices are subject to change over time.

What’s included on a Carnival cruise?

Carnival cruise fare includes access to:

  • Entertainment and performances like comedians and musicals
  • Live music
  • Fitness center
  • Pools, hot tubs and water slides
  • Youth programs for kids age 2 to 17
  • Non-bottled water, lemonade, ice tea, hot chocolate, non-specialty coffee and tea
  • The following restaurants:
      • Big Chicken
      • Bluelguana Cantina
      • The Captain’s Pasta Bar
      • The Carnival Deli
      • Dining Room
      • Guy’s Burger Joint
      • Guy’s Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que
      • Lido Marketplace
      • Lucky Bowl
      • Mongolian Wok
      • Pizza Pirate
      • Pizzeria del Capitano
      • RedFrog Pub & Brewery
      • Seaday Brunch
      • Street Eats
      • Swirls

Alcoholic beverages aren’t included in your fare, but you can join the Cheers! beverage program, which gives you unlimited drinks for $56.95 a person daily — not including 18% gratuity.

How early can you board a Carnival ship?

The earliest you can board is at the start of your arrival appointment time.

Arriving before your arrival appointment time isn’t recommended, as you’ll likely have to wait until it’s your turn to check in.

How much is Wi-Fi on a Carnival cruise?

Carnival has three Wi-Fi plans to choose from:

  • Social. $6.40 a day.
  • Value. $10.20 a day.
  • Premium. $14.45 a day.

Does Carnival have a credit card?

Yes. The Carnival World Mastercard can earn you extra points and rewards when you book one of its cruises.

Traveling during COVID-19
The CDC continues to advise caution when traveling within or outside the US, though it no longer requires self-quarantine or a COVID-19 test for fully vaccinated travelers as of April 2021. It recommends that you delay travel if you are not fully vaccinated to protect yourself and your family from getting or spreading the virus.

When traveling, follow safety measures that include wearing a mask in public, social distancing and washing your hands. If you are diagnosed with, have symptoms of or are waiting for COVID-19 test results — or are otherwise at risk of illness — do not attend gatherings or travel for 14 days.

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