My First Carnival Cruise: Hits and Misses, and will I ever sail Carnival again???

I just returned from my first Carnival cruise. I’ve sailed on a total of 12 cruises on Disney Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean, but this was my first time experiencing Carnival. This cruise was a “free” cruise from a status match I made online from Hyatt to MGM to Carnival Players Club (see this post).

My cruise group included myself, my 15-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter. We sailed on the brand-new Carnival Celebration cruise ship (just launched in November 2022) on a 5-night cruise from Miami to Amber Cove and Grand Turk. Our cruise had over 6200 passengers on board.

Was the cruise perfect? Of course not. But we still had fun and, despite its shortcomings, we would rather be on a cruise than sitting at home bored.

Hits

Bolt (roller-coaster): Yes! Bolt was awesome. It moves faster than it looks. My son and I rode it shortly after embarkation. In fact, we were the 3rd and 4th people to ride after it opened. It costs $15 per ride and is bookable on the Carnival Hub app after boarding the ship. My son rode it two more times during our cruise.

Bolt roller coaster

Comedians: There were 4 different comedians on our sailing, and they each had a PG show as well as an adults-only show. I attended 6 comedy shows during the cruise. I loved how each comedian performed multiple times a day in order to accommodate more people.

Food: The food in the main dining room and the quick-serve counter restaurants was really good! The burgers at Guy’s Burger Joint (Guy Fieri) were fresh and delicious. The deli sandwiches at Deco Deli were also very good. (The buffet food was very limited, but since there were so many other good quick-serve choices, we won’t hold that against Carnival).

Ice cream: My kids love the free, unlimited soft-serve ice cream on cruise ships. Carnival Celebration did not disappoint! Not only did it have 3 different locations with ice cream, each station had ice cream and frozen yogurt machines. Score!

Teen clubs: My kids both enjoyed the teen clubs on board (Circle C for ages 12-14 and O2 for ages 15-17). My son spent a lot of time in the club and is still chatting with friends after the cruise. On the last night on board, my son and some other kids from the O2 club got to participate in the ship’s show.

Dr. Seuss breakfast: We paid extra ($10 for me, $8 for my kids) to eat at the Dr. Seuss breakfast. It was cute and well-executed. We met Cat in the Hat, Sam I Am and Thing 1 and Thing 2. The food was colorful, too.

Dr. Seuss breakfast

Touch-less doors: Since the ship is new, it had all the latest technology. My favorite was all touch-less doors in the common areas. Just wave your hands, and they open. That’s one less area for spreading germs.

Misses

Layout of Center Stage: Instead of a traditional atrium, Carnival Celebration has an open area on decks 6-8 called Center Stage. It’s meant to double as a walk-through area and show venue. Unfortunately, the concept doesn’t work well. There are not nearly enough seats for passengers to see the shows, and many of the seats have obstructed views.

Room cleaning: Cabin attendants clean cabins one time a day instead of the two times a day on most other cruise lines. This may not sound like a big deal. But, when your cabin is tiny and you just came back from a day at the beach, you realize how important the second cleaning is.

Lack of hygiene: Carnival placed no emphasis on hand-washing. The majority of people did not stop to wash their hands before entering the buffet restaurant. Hand sanitizer stations were frequently empty. I’m not surprised that several people from our Facebook cruise group got sick (vomiting and diarrhea) during this cruise. (Disney and Royal Caribbean practically force everyone to wash hands before entering each restaurant).

Uncomfortable beds: Our beds were hard. Every morning when I woke up, my back ached. I’ve never had this issue on other cruises.

Tiny cabin bathrooms: We knew our cabin would be small, but the bathroom is comically small. One member of of our Facebook group said he preferred going to the public restrooms because they were less like airplane bathrooms.

Teen club hours: While my kids loved the teen clubs, they had limited hours. On some days, they didn’t open until 8 p.m.

Dining room service: Crew members are spread thin on board, and that was evident in the dining room. The service was lacking.

Anti-kids sentiment: There weren’t a ton of kids on this sailing, as many kids returned to school last week (mine didn’t). But, I was a bit surprised with the anti-kids environment we encountered from other passengers. People complained about kids being in the hot tub (there was no rule that they couldn’t be in there) and kids tearing down door decorations (it’s more likely drunk adults did that, in my opinion).

Aggressive passenger behavior: Ok, this is a biggie. I realize this will vary greatly depending on who is on your cruise, the length of cruise, etc. But, I’ve never been on a cruise with bad passenger behavior like this. I witnessed two heated verbal arguments that were escalating to a point of concern. One was right next to me and my daughter during a show. A woman was mad at her partner, and the F-bombs were flying. They were loud. I’m surprised that no crew members asked them to leave. The other shouting match was in front of the elevators and thankfully it dissipated as the elevator doors closed, with one person on board and the other remaining back.

Carnival had a high level of security presence on board, especially at night. When I walked out of an evening comedy show, there was a line of security guards stationed in the hallway, ready to go. While there were no big brawls that I’m aware of during our cruise, other cruisers in our Facebook group witnessed some smaller physical fights involving 1-3 people that included punching and broken glass. There were minor fights in the casino, comedy club, dance club and outside of the jewelry store on board.

Personally, I never felt like my kids and I were in danger. Nobody ever threatened us or yelled at us. However, these tension-filled altercations definitely took away from the relaxation/fun side of the cruise.

So, will I sail on Carnival again?

Carnival cruises are usually cheaper than other cruises lines. And I believe the old adage is true: You get what you pay for. My kids and I all agreed that we enjoy cruising on Disney and Royal Caribbean more than Carnival.

However, my family loves cruising. We love looking out at the ocean, relaxing on deck with a good book and exploring new ports. So yes, for the right price and the right itinerary, I will sail on Carnival again. In fact, I am sailing on Carnival this summer on another “free” casino match cruise. Since our upcoming cruise is in the summer, my hope is that there are more kids on board and the overall atmosphere will be more kid-friendly. The cruise will take us to two new-to-us ports, and I’ve already booked my first ever overwater cabana.

What has been your experience on Carnival?

How does my family travel so much? We use miles and points from credit card bonuses. See my Travel Hacking 101 post as well as current credit card offers here.

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