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The ultimate guide to Carnival Cruise Line ships and itineraries

Nov. 21, 2022
31 min read
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If the United States has a national cruise line, it’s Carnival.

The self-described "fun ship" line is the king of short, affordable, fun-focused cruises from U.S. ports to the Caribbean, Bahamas, Mexico and other nearby destinations. No matter where you live in the U.S., you’re probably within a few hours of a Carnival ship.

Where you won't find Carnival ships, notably, is in Asia, South America or, for the most part, Europe. Unlike other big cruise brands such as Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line and Princess Cruises, Carnival doesn’t spread its vessels around the world to draw a fly-in crowd. Aimed squarely at Americans, its trips are all about cruising close to home at a reasonable price.

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Indeed, if you’re going on a Carnival cruise, the odds are you’re driving to the ship, not flying, and you’re probably not paying much more than you would for a trip to a local beach town.

You’re also not going for anything too highbrow. Carnival ships are all about fun in a very laid-back, unpretentious, nothing-too-fancy sort of way.

Entertainment, at times, is as lowbrow as the line is low-cost. This is, after all, the brand that for many years held a Hairy Chest Contest around the pool deck on every voyage, to a standing-room-only, hooting and hollering crowd.

The fun comes in many ways, though. While Carnival’s ships for the most part aren’t quite as big as the giant ships operated by Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, they’re packed with a wide range of fun features, from waterparks with multiple waterslides to cooking classrooms where you can learn how to make the line’s signature chocolate melting cake.

Related: A beginner’s guide to picking a cruise line

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3 things TPG loves about Carnival

  • The “fun” focus that oozes into everything.
  • The food (really — see below).
  • The kids' programs.

What we could do without

  • The smoke in the casino.

The Carnival Cruise Line fleet

Carnival is one of the world’s biggest cruise lines by passenger capacity, with 24 ships that together offer more than 75,000 berths.

In general, these are big ships. However, with two exceptions, they’re not giants by today’s standards.

Carnival has just begun operating its first truly giant ship in years, the 181,808-ton, 5,282-passenger Mardi Gras and sister vessel Carnival Celebration. However, the line’s next-biggest vessel, the 4,008-passenger Carnival Panorama, measures just 133,868 tons. That’s about 40% smaller than the biggest ships operated by Royal Caribbean.

Seven of the line’s 24 vessels measure less than 100,000 tons, which makes them almost midsize by today’s cruise ship standards.

This is a notable change for the brand from just a couple of decades ago. There was a time when Carnival operated some of the biggest cruise ships in the world.

However, for many years it chose not to follow rivals such as Royal Caribbean and MSC Cruises in building ever-bigger ships. Mardi Gras and Carnival Celebration are now the only Carnival ship on the list of the 50 biggest cruise ships.

Related: 6 ways to get a deal on a cruise

Most of Carnival’s ships are big but not giant by today’s standards. One of the line’s biggest ships, the 4,008-passenger Carnival Panorama, shown here, is about 40% smaller than the biggest Royal Caribbean ships. CARNIVAL CRUISE LINE
The top deck of Carnival Panorama. GENE SLOAN/THE POINTS GUY

The arrival of Mardi Gras and Carnival Celebration over the past 18 months has marked a major turning point for the line. At 181,808 tons, they are tied as the 14th-largest cruise ships in the world and 35% bigger than the line’s next-biggest ship. One more ship in the series — Carnival Jubilee — will arrive in late 2023.

Carnival’s 24 current ships can be broken down into eight classes: Fantasy, Spirit, Conquest, Splendor, Dream, Sunshine, Vista and Excel. Many of those classes have a lot in common. Unlike Royal Caribbean, Carnival doesn’t always drastically change the design of its ships from class to class.

Note that the Carnival fleet is scheduled to grow significantly over the next two years with three more new vessels. As noted above, the line has ordered another sister vessel to Mardi Gras and Carnival Celebration that will be ready to sail in late 2023.

In addition, the line will begin operating two ships currently in the fleet of its sister line Costa Cruises — Costa Venezia and Costa Firenze — in 2023 and 2024, respectively.

Both of the Costa ships will initially maintain their Costa branding but be marketed to Carnival’s core North American passenger base. They'll sail from New York and Los Angeles, respectively.

Related: The 8 classes of Carnival ships, explained

Destinations and itineraries

Carnival is all about cruises from U.S. ports. You’ll find at least one of its ships sailing out of pretty much every major port city around the country. It’s rare to find them based anywhere else.

Carnival’s biggest operations are out of PortMiami and Port Canaveral in Florida; Galveston, Texas; Long Beach, California; and New Orleans — all major cruise hubs. You’ll also find Carnival ships in such secondary cruise ship ports as Baltimore; Charleston, South Carolina; Mobile, Alabama; and Jacksonville, Florida.

The overarching idea for Carnival’s ship deployments is that a large percentage of the U.S. population can reach one of the line’s ships by car, saving the cost of flights.

For the most part, Carnival ships sail relatively short voyages of three to eight nights.

Carnival vessels based on the East Coast and along the Gulf of Mexico mostly sail to the Caribbean and Bahamas. Some East Coast ships also head to Bermuda, New England and Canada. On the West Coast, sailings to Mexico, Hawaii and Alaska are the norm.

Carnival also offers some Panama Canal voyages.

Occasionally, Carnival will deploy a ship to Europe for a few weeks or months. This often takes place when a vessel needs to go to a European shipyard for an overhaul.

In recent years, Carnival also has deployed two of its vessels to Australia to operate voyages from Sydney and Brisbane, and for this winter the line has bumped that total up to three vessels. In a departure from Carnival’s American-focused business model, the Australia sailings are aimed mostly at the local Australian market.

Related: The 5 best destinations you can visit on a Carnival cruise

Who sails Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival is the undisputed leader among North America-based cruise brands when it comes to affordability, which makes it popular with vacationers on a budget.

It’s also popular with a fun-seeking crowd. Carnival trips are all about letting loose and having a good time. Maybe you’ll drink a little too much, eat a little too much, play a little too much — but in the end, you’ll say it was your best trip ever.

At one level, Carnival can best be described as a working man’s or working woman’s vacation. The typical Carnival customer is a teacher, a nurse, a firefighter, a contractor or the like, either still working or retired. This isn’t a line for Wall Street bankers or white-shoe lawyers.

Carnival also is huge with families. The “fun” is for all ages, from 2-year-olds to retirees.

Still, it’s just as much psychographics as demographics that define the typical Carnival customer. Carnival executives have often used the word “spirited” to describe the people who are drawn to the line, and that’s as good a word as any.

Carnival draws a lively, outgoing crowd looking to be part of the action. The typical Carnival customer is the sort of person who shoots up a hand when an entertainer asks for a volunteer to come on stage or jumps up to dance during midmeal music shows in the dining room starring the waiters (yes, on Carnival, this is a thing).

Cabins and suites

Unlike some of its biggest competitors, Carnival isn’t known for a huge range of cabin categories on its vessels. The vast majority of the accommodations on Carnival ships fall into one of three broad buckets: windowless inside cabins, oceanview cabins and balcony cabins.

You’ll find relatively few suites on Carnival ships. Each of the vessels in Carnival’s recent Vista Class series, for instance, offers fewer than 75 suites. Each of the line’s earlier Conquest Class ships has around 50 suites. The oldest Fantasy Class vessels have 28 suites and 26 junior suites.

A recently refurbished cabin on Carnival’s 2,984-passenger Carnival Sunrise is typical of the new look for cabins on Carnival ships. GENE SLOAN/THE POINTS GUY

This is in part due to Carnival’s focus on affordability. The typical Carnival customer isn’t in the market for a super fancy, high-priced suite.

That said, Carnival has seen the success that some of its competitors have had with a bigger range of upscale accommodations, and it’s eyeing more suites for future vessels. The new Mardi Gras and Carnival Celebration each have 180 suites — more than twice the number of Carnival’s other recent ships.

Mardi Gras and Carnival Celebration have 11 different categories of suites in all, four of which are part of a new premium Excel category of suites that come with extra amenities and access to a new-for-the-line, resort-style enclave at the top of the ship called Loft 19.

An artist’s drawing of an Excel Presidential Suite on Carnival’s newest ship, Mardi Gras. It began sailing in the summer of 2021. CARNIVAL CRUISE LINE

Design-wise, Carnival’s cabins and suites are fairly basic and comfortable, if not super stylish. Cabins on recently unveiled or overhauled vessels have a soothing palette of creams and blues. Cabinetry in these rooms is a crisp and clean faux wood, and cabin bathrooms are neutral.

Note that Carnival’s two oldest ships — those that are part of the 1990s-built Fantasy Class — have relatively few balcony cabins by today’s standards (after retrofitting, several have around 150 balcony cabins, out of a total of more than 1,000 cabins in all). In part because of this, Carnival has been phasing these ships out of its fleet.

Related: Everything you want to know about cabins and suites on Carnival ships

Restaurants and dining

Restaurant aboard Costa Luminosa Carnival Cruise. CARNIVAL CRUISE LINE

Like other big-ship operators, Carnival packs a lot of dining options onto its vessels — some included in the price, some at an extra charge.

Every vessel has two main dining rooms and a casual buffet eatery where meals are included in the fare. The buffet is called the Lido. For dinner in the main dining room, you must sign up for either Your Time dining (you go whenever you want) or Traditional Dining (you have a fixed table and time for dinner).

Other included-in-the-fare options found on most ships include what may be the two best quick-serve poolside dining venues at sea: BlueIguana Cantina and Guy’s Burger Joint.

Related: 7 secret Carnival cruise breakfast spots that let you skip the buffet crowds

BlueIguana is a Chipotle-style restaurant, with yummy made-to-order burritos and tacos. Created in partnership with Food Network’s Guy Fieri, Guy’s Burger Joint offers burgers that beat anything you’ll find around the pool on other mass-market ships and even most luxury vessels.

Food Network’s Guy Fieri partnered with Carnival to develop casual, top-deck Guy’s Burger Joint outlets found next to the main pools on Carnival ships. GENE SLOAN/THE POINTS GUY

In addition, every ship has at least one — and usually several — extra-charge eateries. The most common ones found across the fleet are Fahrenheit 555, the line’s signature steakhouse, and Italian cuisine-serving Cucina del Capitano (if you’re a Carnival fan, you know this as the place where waiters sing and dance between courses). The two venues have flat fees of $48 and $18 per person, respectively.

Other extra-charge eateries often found on Carnival vessels include Bonsai, an a la carte sushi restaurant (now on 12 ships) and JiJi Asian Kitchen, which costs $18 per person (now on five ships). The price for kids at these outlets is only $6.

Four of Carnival’s newest ships — Carnival Celebration, Mardi Gras, Carnival Panorama and Carnival Horizon — also have teppanyaki eateries called Bonsai Teppanyaki (priced at a flat $38 per person) and a la carte barbecue-and-beer joints called Guy’s Pig & Anchor Smokehouse Brewhouse.

The latter venue was created in partnership with Food Network’s Guy Fieri and serves a free lunch on embarkation and sea days, with all items smoked on board.

Guy’s Pig & Anchor Smokehouse Brewhouse, notably, has its very own in-house brewery you can see behind glass walls — something still relatively rare on cruise ships. It makes house beers including Parched Pig West Coast IPA and Parched Pig Toasted Amber which you’ll find on many Carnival vessels in kegs and cans. Carnival is the only cruise line to keg and can its own beer.

The quality of the food (and drink) on Carnival ships always surprises us, given the budget pricing of the brand. Despite being one of the industry’s lowest-cost operators, Carnival manages to pull off one of the best steakhouses at sea in Fahrenheit 555, and even the no-extra-charge main restaurants get the basics right.

In general, the food isn’t gourmet. For the price point of the line, it’s really quite impressive, though.

Related: The 7 best meals you can have at sea

Entertainment and activities

For the most part, Carnival ships don’t have quite as many features on board as Royal Caribbean or Norwegian vessels, in part because they’re not as big. They’re still packed with a variety of attractions, including multiple entertainment venues, casinos, spas and lots of deck-top fun zones such as water parks and ropes courses.

Theaters and shows

There’s seemingly always something playing on a Carnival ship, whether it be a glitzy singing-and-dancing production in the main theater, a comedy show in a secondary lounge, a magical act or a call-you-up-on-stage interactive game show.

Every Carnival ship has one big theater where you’ll often find flashy, fast-paced production shows that string together a medley of loosely related tunes. Designed to be quick and digestible, they typically last around 30 minutes and have relatively small casts (just eight on some ships).

In general, the production shows aren’t nearly as sophisticated — or as long — as what you’ll find on Royal Caribbean or Norwegian ships. But they’re lively.

Carnival also uses its big theaters for lots of interactive shows that involve you, the passenger, getting a little silly. They include Lip Sync Battle Carnival — a shipboard adaptation of the Paramount Network TV series — and Hasbro, the Game Show.

With the latter, you can team up with your friends and family to play giant versions of Connect 4 Basketball or Simon Flash in front of a live audience.

Carnival is also well known for the Punchliner Comedy Clubs on its ships, which draw quality comedians and can get a little raucous late at night with adult-only performances.

When it comes to raucous, though, nothing on Carnival ships quite compares to the frequent karaoke nights on board. On Carnival, it’s a thing. Sometimes held in a secondary lounge or a shipboard pub, karaoke on Carnival draws a big crowd. Passengers come prepared with rehearsed songs and sometimes even their own guitars.

Insider tip: Get to the comedy shows early to snag a good seat — or any seat at all. These shows on Carnival ships are hugely popular.

Other interior attractions and activities

In addition to entertainment spaces, the interiors of Carnival ships are loaded with other venues where passengers can kick back and let loose day and night, including a wide range of bars, lounges and nightspots.

Every Carnival ship has a casino, usually smack in the middle of the main entertainment deck.

Also, there are always several music venues where you’ll find live performers in the afternoons and evenings, including — on some ships — the Atrium Bar and a secondary hub area called Ocean Plaza. There’s almost always a piano bar that’s home to lively singalongs.

Every Carnival ship has a casino. GENE SLOAN/THE POINTS GUY

Other popular venues found on some Carnival ships include RedFrog Pub, which serves up Carnival’s tasty housemade beers on tap, as well as plenty of other choices.

On one of Carnival’s newest ships, Carnival Panorama, there’s no RedFrog Pub, but the Smokehouse Brewhouse has a stage that’s home to live music nightly and some of the ship’s karaoke sessions.

Carnival Panorama also houses Carnival’s first cooking classroom. Dubbed Carnival Kitchen, it’s located near the ship’s main restaurants and is a seriously tricked-out venue complete with nine state-of-the-art, marbled granite cooking stations for two and a dedicated dining area.

Passengers can learn to cook everything from Carnival’s classic warm chocolate melting cake to its popular saffron risotto during one- to two-hour classes that cost $30 to $59 per person.

Carnival’s newest ship, Carnival Panorama, has the line’s first cooking classroom. CARNIVAL CRUISE LINE
The Sky Zone trampoline park on Carnival Panorama includes an interactive climbing wall. GENE SLOAN/THE POINTS GUY

One other new-for-Carnival attraction on Carnival Panorama is the first Sky Zone trampoline park at sea.

Near the ship’s tween and teen clubrooms, it has two padded trampoline areas where you can jump around and take part in games like jousting on a balance beam or shooting baskets while bouncing. There’s even trampoline dodgeball and, at one end of the room, a climbing wall augmented with interactive game elements.

Deck-top attractions

The top decks of Carnival vessels are covered in family-focused attractions – pools, waterslide areas and bustling fun zones with such draws as ropes courses and miniature golf.

Waterslides, in particular, are a big thing. In fact, when it comes to waterslides on ships, Carnival is the cruise world’s king. The line began adding them to vessels way back in 1978. There’s now at least one waterslide on every ship in the Carnival fleet — something no other line can say.

Many Carnival ships have a full water park area called WaterWorks with multiple waterslides and a play area. GENE SLOAN/THE POINTS GUY

On the vast majority of Carnival ships, there’s not just a single waterslide but a whole water park area. Dubbed WaterWorks, these areas vary in size and features from vessel to vessel. They typically have one or two big waterslides, a play zone with interactive water features and a large, continuously filling dump bucket that periodically soaks everybody within range.

On some Carnival ships, there’s also a SportSquare area with such gee-whiz attractions as the high-flying, pedal-powered SkyRide (something that first debuted in 2016 on Carnival Vista and is now on three ships), a suspended-in-the-air ropes course, a basketball court, miniature golf, miniature bowling, ping-pong tables and other outdoor games.

It’s a fun-at-sea focus that has gone to new levels over the past two years with the debut of Mardi Gras and Carnival Celebration, each of which has — get this — a roller coaster on the top deck. Really. We’re not making that up. At 800 feet in length, these aren't the biggest roller coasters ever. However, they're real ones — the first ever on a cruise ship.

Meanwhile, for passengers hoping for quiet time away from the kids, many Carnival ships also have an adults-only Serenity retreat area on their top decks with padded loungers, daybeds, hot tubs and often a bar.

In short, there’s a ton to do up top on Carnival vessels — and it’s almost all available to every passenger on board the vessels at no extra charge (the roller coaster is the only exception).

Unlike some lines, Carnival has resisted the trend of big-ship operators carving out whole sections of deck-top areas for the exclusive use of passengers staying in suites or willing to pay hefty access fees.

Related: The 12 cruise ships with the most spectacular attractions at sea

Children’s programs

Carnival claims to draw more children than any other cruise line. So perhaps it makes sense that it has one of the most extensive children’s programs at sea. The line has formal children’s programming and activities for children as young as 2 years old through the age of 17.

The heart of the program, called Camp Ocean, brings free, supervised activities daily for children aged 2 to 11. The line splits children here into three age groups — Penguins (aged 2-5 years), Stingrays (aged 6-8 years) and Sharks (aged 9-11 years).

Each group has its own age-appropriate activities ranging from face painting to pirate adventures. On many ships there are extensive dedicated spaces for the different groups.

While the free programming ends at 10 p.m., you can pay extra to leave your kids at Camp Ocean until 1 a.m. During those hours, Camp Ocean transforms into a supervised slumber party-type environment with games, movies, crafts and snacks, along with late-night parties called Night Owls.

Carnival also offers dedicated tween and teen programs on ships for children aged 12 to 17. The younger children in this age range (12-14) are grouped into what’s known as Circle C and have their own dedicated lounge on ships. It’s a place to get together to talk, watch movies, play video games and take part in other activities.

Older kids (aged 15-17) are grouped into what’s known as Club O2 and have their own lounge for meeting up, listening to music, dancing, singing karaoke and other activities.

What to know before you go

Required documents

If you’re a U.S. citizen on a cruise that starts and ends in a U.S. port, you’ll need a current passport or an official copy of your birth certificate and a driver’s license or other government-issued photo identification to sail. A few other forms of identification, such as a passport card, also are acceptable.

Passports must be valid for at least six more months. For cruises from international ports, you’ll need a passport. Note that it is important that the name on your reservation be exactly as it is stated on your passport or other official proof of nationality. All this said, we recommend checking Carnival’s website before sailing for the very latest on requirements.

Gratuities

Carnival adds an automatic service gratuity of $14.50 to $16.50 per person, per day to final bills, depending on the cabin category (children under the age of 2 are exempt). If you are unhappy with the service you receive, you can adjust this amount at the Guest Services desk before disembarking. Also, an 18% gratuity is added to bar bills and the cover charge of the Chef’s Table.

Related: Everything you need to know about tipping on cruise ships

Wi-Fi

Carnival has been rolling out faster Wi-Fi systems across its fleet in the last couple of years, such that you can now stream video on some ships. Pricing changes over time, but the fastest “premium” service on Carnival vessels was recently priced at $17 per person, per day.

Carnival also offers a less expensive “social” plan that only allows access to key social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), as well as messaging services such as WhatsApp for $10.20 a day. A slightly more expensive “value” plan, at $14.45 per day, adds access to email and most websites. Passengers who pay for a plan in advance of sailing receive a discount.

Related: Wi-Fi on ships really is getting better

Carry-on drinks policy

Carnival allows you to bring one bottle of wine or Champagne per person onto ships at boarding plus up to a dozen standard cans or cartons of nonalcoholic drinks such as sodas.

Nonalcoholic drinks in glass or plastic bottles are not allowed. Note that you’ll be charged a $15 corkage fee if you want to bring the wine or Champagne to an onboard restaurant or bar to drink. Drinks brought on board must be carried in your carry-on luggage.

Smoking policy

On most ships, smoking (including electronic cigarettes) is only allowed in designated outdoor areas and in casinos and nightclubs. It’s forbidden in cabins and on cabin balconies. In casinos and nightclubs, only cigarette smoking is allowed. On Carnival ships in Australia, smoking is only allowed in designated outdoor areas.

Laundry

Carnival ships have self-serve launderettes on cabin decks with washing machines, dryers, irons and ironing boards. There’s a $3.25-per-load charge to use a washer or dryer. The launderettes also have vending machines that dispense small boxes of detergent and water softener at $1.50 per box.

In addition, vessels offer extra-charge laundry and, on select ships, dry cleaning services.

Note that Carnival’s Mardi Gras does not have launderettes. Carnival fans are quite peeved about this, and you should be, too. Write the line a letter.

Electrical outlets

Most vessels have standard North American-style, 110-volt outlets in rooms, as well as European-style, 220-volt outlets. A growing number of vessels also have USB ports in cabins.

The exceptions are the two Carnival ships that traditionally have sailed in Australia (Carnival Spirit and Carnival Splendor), which are fitted with a standard Australian three-point plug or adapter providing 220/240 volt 60Hz. Adapters are available on these ships for purchase if needed.

Currency

The currency used on most Carnival ships is U.S. dollars. The exceptions are any Carnival ship based in Australia, where pricing is listed in Australian dollars.

All vessels operate on a “cashless system,” with any onboard purchases you make posting automatically to your onboard account. You’ll receive a Sail & Sign card that you can use to make charges. This same card also gets you into your cabin.

Drinking age

You must be 21 to consume alcohol on most Carnival ships. The drinking age on sailings on Carnival ships in Australia is 18.

Dress code

During the day, there is no specific dress code, and people dress casually. If it’s a sea day in a warm-weather destination, and you’re bound for the top deck, that means looking like you’re going to the beach — T-shirts, shorts and bathing suits (with a cover-up to go inside) are just fine.

During the evenings, there is an official dress code, but it’s pretty laid-back. Most nights are designated “cruise casual,” which means just that — khakis or jeans, polo shirts, sundresses, etc. Super casual items such as cutoff jeans, men’s sleeveless shirts, T-shirts and gym shorts aren’t permitted.

One or two nights a cruise, there will be a more formal “cruise elegant” night where men are expected to turn out in dress slacks and a dress shirt, preferably with a sports coat, or even in a suit. The suggested attire for women on such nights is cocktail dresses, pantsuits, elegant skirts and blouses.

Related: What to pack for your first cruise

Carnival Cruise Line loyalty program

Carnival has a point-based frequent cruiser program, the VIFP Club, that has five tiers, ranging from Blue (requiring no points) to Diamond (200 points).

Members earn one point for every night they sail on one of the line’s ships. To hit the second tier, Red, takes one cruise. Reaching the third tier, Gold, requires 25 points.

There is one twist to the earning structure, and it’s in your favor: If you’re going to hit a tier cutoff during a voyage, you will receive the benefits of that tier from the beginning of that cruise.

Carnival Cruise Line’s VIFP Club has five tiers. This chart shows some of the benefits available to members. CARNIVAL.COM

In other words, if you are sailing seven-night cruises, you will be Gold level on your fourth sailing, as you will be passing the 25-day mark on that sailing.

As is typical with cruise line loyalty programs, lower tiers don’t bring all that much in terms of truly valuable benefits.

In fact, the lower tiers of the Carnival program are among the most stingy in the entire cruise universe. You’ll receive things like a single complimentary bottle of water (at the Red tier) and a single free drink that only can be ordered on the last night of a cruise (at the Gold tier). Higher levels of the program are more enticing.

Related: Everything you need to know about Carnival’s loyalty program

The second-to-highest tier, Platinum (75 points), brings such perks as priority check-in and boarding, priority debarkation, priority dinner reservations, priority spa reservations and priority water shuttle boarding. Platinums also get complimentary wash-and-fold laundry service (with a limit of two to five bags, depending on the length of the cruise).

The top Diamond level (200 points) brings such added perks as unlimited free wash-and-fold laundry service, a guaranteed seating time in the main restaurant, a dedicated toll-free number for sales and service and a one-time room upgrade.

Note that, in contrast to airline frequent flyer programs, cruise line loyalty programs do not require you to requalify for status every year. So, yes, the perks with lower tiers aren’t great. However, it’s not as difficult as it might at first seem to hit the more rewarding higher-level tiers in just a few years if you’re cruising a lot.

A Carnival passenger taking seven-night cruises will hit the Platinum level during their 11th sailing. Sail a few longer voyages, like a transatlantic sailing, and you could reach it even sooner.

In case you’re curious, VIFP stands for Very Important Fun Person.

Related: The TPG guide to cruise line loyalty programs

How much does a Carnival cruise cost?

In general, Carnival ships are among the most affordable at sea. It’s not uncommon to find Carnival voyages to the Caribbean, Bahamas or Mexico starting well under $100 per person, per night including all taxes and fees — at least in the offseason.

As of the date of this story’s posting, for instance, seven-night sailings from Los Angeles to the Mexican Riviera in January were starting at just $349 per person, not including taxes and fees of $130.27. That works out to just $68 per night, per person with taxes and fees for a package that includes your lodging, transportation and meals.

As you might expect, pricing for ships will generally be lower during offseason periods such as September, October and parts of November.

The timing of when you book can also matter. Cruises book up much further in advance than airplanes or hotels, and many cruisers will tell you that the best pricing for any given sailing is often available when cruises first go on sale (which can be a good two years before a departure). Booking far in advance gives you the best chance of getting your preferred cabin type and location on a ship.

Once on board a Carnival ship, you’ll pay extra for most drinks, extra-charge restaurants, spa services, shore excursions, internet service and a few other things — unless you’ve bought a package for some of these items in advance. Most onboard activities such as shows and deck-top attractions are included in the fare.

Related: 15 ways that first-time cruisers waste money on a cruise

How to book

If you’re sure you know what sort of cabin you want, on which ship, on which itinerary — and about a dozen other things — you can head over to Carnival.com to book directly.

That said, given the complexity of booking a cruise — there are a lot of decisions to make during the booking process; trust us — we recommend you use a seasoned travel agent who specializes in cruises.

A good travel agent will quiz you about your particular interests, travel style and preferences, and steer you to the perfect cruise line, ship, itinerary and cabin for you. They can also help you if something goes wrong just before, during or after your voyage.

If you’re sure Carnival is your line, look for a travel agent who specializes in trips with the brand. You want someone who understands all the little quirks that are unique to Carnival’s cabin categories and, preferably, has done ship inspections to see the cabins firsthand.

Related: How to book a cruise with points and miles

Whether you use a travel agent or not, make sure to maximize your credit card points when paying for the cruise by using a credit card that offers extra points for travel purchases. This could be the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which offers 3 Ultimate Rewards points on travel and dining (excluding the annual $300 travel credit). There’s also the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which brings 2 Ultimate Rewards points on travel and 3 Ultimate Rewards points on dining.

Bottom line

Carnival ships are all about fun, in a lively, let’s-not-take-this-too-seriously sort of way. They’re also incredibly affordable. Just don’t expect anything too fancy or highbrow.

This is a budget vacation, not a luxury product, and one that is sometimes a bit over the top in its keep-the-party-going formula.

If the idea of crew members dancing during your meal in dining rooms or rowdy karaoke parties makes you cringe, this isn’t the line for you. However, if you’re ready to let loose and be a little goofy, it may be a perfect choice.

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Featured image by CARNIVAL CRUISE LINE
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Best for the well-traveled foodie
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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site

Rewards

3 - 4X points
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.

Intro offer

60,000 bonus points
Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

Annual Fee

$250

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent/Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees