October 26, 2017

That Time I Binged on Carnival Cruises...

In anticipation of my upcoming voyage on the Carnival Horizon, memories of all the studying I did to make sure my last Carnival cruise on the Vista last year came flooding back! Since then, I have perused many different ships and itineraries looking to get the best deals and a variety of itineraries for future cruises. I am booked on the Liberty for February 2019 and plan to book another on the Pride in 2020! (Updated: 6/25/18)


This list is of tips that are specific to cruising on Carnival. Sorry in advance that there aren't tips related to children... I have yet to have kids...

  1. The Alchemy Bar. The Alchemy bar doesn't have a menu. Okay, it does. But the bartenders there will make you a custom drink if you tell them what you like, what you're in the mood for. Pricey, but fun, and always good.
  2. The Alcohol Package. If you are a light drinker or exclusively a beer drinker, the drink package: Cheers, ($51.95 per-person-per-day) is not for you. Beer prices are not as jacked-up as liquor prices so you're likely better off to pay a la carte. They range from $5-8 per beer, and you can get 24 oz beers in buckets at a discounted rate that will also bring down your per-serving cost.
    Decide if you will be going hard for the duration of your cruise and if it's right for you (and your cabin mates - for most cruise lines, either everyone in the cabin gets it or no one).
    You are also able to carry-on one bottle (750ml) wine per adult (21+). Cocktails average $10 each so if you expect to drink at least 5 per day then you'll want the package.
  3. The Soda Package. The soda package probably isn't worth it! We thought it would be easy to get sodas and would use it a lot. You have to get your sodas from bartenders at the busy bars and it only comes in cans. You can ask for them to not pour it in a glass, but they have to open it. Some bartenders might not know they can do this and will insist on pouring it into a glass for you. And you can only get one at a time.
    Every passenger is allowed to carry on one 12 pack of cans (absolutely nothing in bottles, anything non-alcoholic), and you can restock if needed by buying more in ports (assuming you can find soda at your ports).
    Unlike the Cheers, cabinmates can pick and choose who gets it. When ordering it, it defaults to selecting everyone to get it, but you can remove those who don't want it.
    If you don't have the package, they serve sodas like airlines do: they pour the majority of the can over ice in a glass, and give you the can with whatever's left.
  4. Asking Questions. I don't know if this is specific to Carnival, but I found that when asking a crew member a question, they told me "no" if they don't know the answer. Not sure how this is better than "I don't know, let me find out for you," but don't hesitate to ask a different person the same question if it seems odd to you that they said no. 
  5. The Steakhouse*. If you are considering eating (for an extra $35 per person) at the Steakhouse, ALWAYS make a reservation for the first night of the cruise. You will get a complimentary bottle of wine for the table. I have experienced this personally, and when you make the reservation, the confirmation email states this fact. This "promo" also applies to the second night, but that is also Formal Night so most people would rather go to the dining room for dinner as they have fancier complimentary items for the occasion.
    *Fantasy & Triumph class ships sadly do not have steakhouses because they are just not big enough :(
  6. The VIFP Program. Carnival probably has the worst of all the loyalty programs. That is what the different key card (Sail & Sign card) colors represent. However, Carnival is usually going to be the lowest base-cost for a cruise, so depending on the amenities you need, maybe it evens out. We noticed that bartenders will give service preference to guests with higher statuses than us with first-timer status... but that's probably the case for all cruise lines.
  7. Repositioning Cruises. Carnival doesn't really do repositioning cruises. These are cruises that are one-way for ships that change locations at some point during the year. There are positives and negatives to repositioning cruises, but if you want to do one, Carnival is almost always not the cruise line for you. They mostly only reposition when a ship is relocating permanently. 
  8. Last Minute Cruises. You are not likely to get one of those famed "last minute sale" prices on a Carnival cruise. The cheapest price you will get is booking two years in advance. You may get a better rate booking last minute vs. 6 months out, but not even close to if you book way in advance.
  9. Best Time to Book. Carnival is constantly running deposit sales. They switch between $50 deposits (which don't apply to the newest ships) and 50% off deposits (a lower rate for the newest ships than during $50 deposit promos).
    It's also ideal to book during a "free upgrade" promo. This doesn't get you a balcony room for the price of interior, but it gets you a higher deck for the same price of a lower deck. The last promo they will run is an "on board credit" promo (money that will automatically be used once on board). Sometimes they will run two or three of the above which is what I watch for when booking: https://www.carnival.com/cruise-deals.aspx
    Ultimately you're paying the same amount regardless of your deposit amount, but if you want the lowest rate by booking in advance, wait for one of these so that if something were to happen, you will loose the least amount possible for cancelling (or get vacation insurance maybe?).
  10. European Cruises. Like repositioning cruises, Carnival generally doesn't do European cruises. They have sister cruise lines that do, but if you're planning on working up the Carnival loyalty program chain, and want to do a European cruise, the only times they have them if when a ship is brand new, and sometimes not even then. 
  11. Ocean View Cabins. Ocean View rooms are mostly only located on the bottom two decks. They are the same size and layout as balcony rooms but without the balcony. If you want a bigger room without the cost of a balcony room, go for Ocean View, but prepare to have to go up a lot of decks to get to the pools!
  12. Suites. Carnival does not offer many additional amenities for suite passengers. You pretty much just get priority boarding, a larger stateroom, and the automatic gratuity price is an extra $1 per day.
  13. Dinner in the Main Dining Rooms. For dinner, Carnival offers both Traditional cruise dining and Anytime cruise dining. You have to commit to one or the other and if you want Traditional you should book your cruise pretty far out because both early and late (6pm & 8pm) sell out. I haven't gotten to try Traditional dining yet, but I think that, once I do, I'll prefer Anytime dining. (I do want to try Traditional eventually. You know, for science.)
  14. Mini-Fridges. The "mini-fridges" are not really fridges*. Don't expect them to cool your drinks, or keep food fresh. They're really just coolers that will insulate already-cold things for a while. Prop the cabinet door open to keep it as cool as possible. If you have a medication that needs to be kept cold, you will need to talk to guest services.
    Also, not all ships have them in all cabins. Most of the Fantasy Class chips + the Triumph only have them in Suites.
    *The Carnival Horizon has actual mini-fridges, but the keep-the-door-propped advise still stands. And maybe more ships will also in the future!
  15. Chef's Table. The Chef's table dinner is offered on most (or all?) Carnival ships by reservation only. If you are interested, you should make your reservation as soon as possible as it will likely sell out. You will get a behind-the-scenes tour of the galley (translation: where food is made), and a uber-fancy gastronomic-experience dinner.... for the low-low-price of $75-95 (!!!) per person, plus 15% gratuity! This is definitely aimed at those with a large disposable income.
    The price is either $75 or $95 depending on the newness of the ship, and will be stated in your reservation confirmation email. I have not yet tried this, as my vacation budget is tighter than the price requires. But, everyone that does it says it's worth it, you just need to be able to afford it first!
  16. Self-Serve Beer Stations. You will be able to find self-serve beer stations in a few locations around the ship; in the Lido Marketplace and Red Frog Pubs. A glass is $5 or counts towards the drink package. Apparently they are also accessing a 15% gratuity - even though you served yourself - but I've read those can be disputed successfully at guest services. 
  17. Buying Booze in Port. You can do it! But after you go through security to get back on board you will have to hand it over until the end of your cruise. A Carnival employee will mark your haul with your stateroom number and your name.
    If you are sailing 5 days or less, you will pick it up debarkation morning; if you are sailing 6+ days, then it will be delivered to your room the last night of the cruise.  Keep in mind that customs only allows 1 liter of alcohol per person or else you have to declare it.

Yeah, I know it says 14 tips... but then I thought of more!

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