Thirsty Frog beer Carnival Cruise Line / Andy Newman
Carnival Cruise Line is the ultimate mainstream line, with big, lively ships that cater to all age groups and impressively deep discounts. The sales are so good, those Caribbean beaches feel within reach as soon as you see the advertised fare. The vibe on board is casual and unpretentious — which means that if you would turn up your nose at a poolside hairy-back competition or late-night R-rated comedy, this line probably isn’t right for you.
What We Love
It's a Real Party: Go ahead, order another bucket of long-neck brewskies by the pool, get down with the DJ on deck all day long, catch the game at the sports bar after dinner, and then dance the night away in the ship's (actually hopping) nightclub.
More Caribbean: No other line offers as many ships in the Caribbean or serves as many Americans with embarkation ports they can drive to, including more obscure choices such as Charleston, South Carolina; Galveston, Texas; and Tampa, Florida.
Serenity Lounge: These adults-only, 18-and-over escapes vary from ship to ship. Sone have hot tubs and views of the wake, and others have salad bars, but they all have upgraded deck furniture which makes this the perfect spot to stretch out in the sun on a sea day.
Best Known For
Awesome, Complimentary Poolside Food: Newer (and updated) ships have Guy’s Burger Joint by Food Network star Guy Fieri. The meat is ground on board and the buns are freshly baked; even the French fries are hand cut and you can dress yours with toppings from the bar that include mushrooms and onions. Best of all, you can say good-bye to the frozen hockey puck patties of the past: These burgers are so good, we dare you not to eat one every day. There’s also a taco stand with house-made tortilla chips and a salsa bar. Our order of choice there: crispy Baja-style fish tacos served with pickled red onions and sliced radishes
Famous Headliners: Carnival’s onboard concert series includes names you’ll actually recognize (for real), from The Band Perry to Trace Adkins, Journey, and Martina McBride. How does the line draw that kind of talent? These musicians perform in ports such as Cozumel, where the ship stays late and the talent gets off before you sail away. (Bonus: For an extra fee you can meet the performers before the show.)
Who It's Best For
Young Couples and Friends: This is not your grandparents’ cruise line, and groups of twentysomethings flock to the short sailings out of Florida for fun, boozy weekends away. That said, you will also see some fun-loving retirees kicking up their feet, especially on longer sailings and off-peak weeks.
Families with Children: Children's programs include a Dr. Seuss-themed reading room for the preschool set, and scores of children line up for the waterslides and soft-serve filled cones, especially during school breaks. Carnival also has a partnership with Build-a-Bear Workshop, and kids can now create custom bears on Carnival Dream (the workshops will be fleet wide by summer 2017).
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Dining Rooms Are Weak: Although the specialty restaurants have been upgraded — including the now-awesome Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse — dishes in the main dining rooms remain hit or miss. That said, the staff is eager to please and happy to bring you something new if you're not happy with your first choice.
Not Every Older Ship Has Been Updated: We're crazy about the newest vessels in the fleet, including the flashy Carnival Vista, which is home to an onboard brewery, a Cuba-themed pool area with palapas and mojitos, a seafood shack with a mini fish market, and impressive waterslides. But, if you're planning on sailing on one of the dated options, you’ll be reminded of just how far the line has come.
Nickeling and Diming Abounds: While you don't expect low rates to include cocktails or gratuities, some additional fees — such as shuttles from port into town — are surprising.