Never Make These 10 Mistakes On Carnival Cruise


  • I’ve been on more than 10 Carnival cruises in five years and consider them a home away from home.
  • As a frequent Carnival cruiser, I’ve noticed first timers repeat the same mistakes.
  • From overpacking to buying a drink package, here are the mistakes I see on Carnival cruises.

I cruise on Carnival so often that its ships have come to feel like a home away from home.

I’m a frequent cruiser with more than 100 weeks spent at sea across various cruise lines, such as Holland America, Norwegian, and Virgin Voyages.

But I keep going back to Carnival Cruises. I’ve sailed with Carnival more than 10 times in the past five years, as it’s become my favorite choice for budget getaways.

Mexican Riviera

I’ve cruised with Carnival to the Mexican Riviera and Caribbean out of ports in California, Florida, and Louisiana, on everything from smaller ships accommodating 2,600 passengers to larger ships that can accommodate up to 5,282 guests.

I’m planning on more cruises with Carnival this year. This summer, I’ll sail with it to Alaska.

Each Carnival ship is a little different, but I think all sailings are consistently positive, and I come out of each cruise with new favorite things to do.

Yet each time I embark on a Carnival vacation, I see first timers make the same mistakes that I think detract from the overall experience.

Here’s what to watch out for so you can be a savvy sailor the next time you find yourself on board a Carnival ship.

On embarkation day, I notice that most cruisers head straight to the buffet for their first meal. But Carnival offers so many other free dining options with fewer crowds.

In my experience, many passengers board their Carnival cruise just before lunch.


After they check in and find their staterooms, I’ve found that most people will head over to the buffet for a bite to eat. While Carnival has a large buffet that can accommodate several hundred people, I think embarkation day can feel unwieldy when everyone seems to show up in the same venue at the same time.

That’s why I love diverting to one of the other free dining venues, which have shorter lines on that first day.

And there are many free restaurants to choose from that are included in the base cruise fare, no matter which ship you’re on.

In addition to the main dining rooms and buffet, Carnival ships always have a half dozen or so other places to eat on board that incur no extra charge.

The choices differ from one ship to another, but most include options like a walk-up pizzeria, a taco and burrito bar, and unique eateries like Shaq’s Big Chicken and Guy’s Burger Joint from the celebrity chef Guy Fieri.

Carnival also has specialty restaurants that do charge extra for dinner but not lunch. Many cruisers don’t know this and miss out.

In addition to the main dining room, buffet, and stand-alone venues, Carnival has even more free dining that’s easy to miss.

Many of Carnival’s specialty restaurants that charge an extra fee for dinner are free for lunch, and most first timers don’t know this.

For example, the Italian spot Cucina Del Capitano charges $18 a person for a dinner but offers a free modified lunch menu. JiJi Asian Kitchen also charges $18 a person for dinner but offers a free Mongolian-wok lunch.

Another one of my favorites, Fieri’s Pig & Anchor Smokehouse, has an à la carte menu throughout the day that costs extra, but on sea days, it has a free outdoor-barbecue menu serving best-selling items like brisket, pork butt, and sausage, along with sides like mac and cheese and potato salad.

I think that many first-time passengers miss out on Carnival’s adults-only Serenity Retreat, which is exclusive to cruisers age 21 and over and has no surcharge.

I admit I’m a little reluctant to share this tip because every time I’ve visited Carnival’s Serenity Retreat on multiple ships, I’m surprised how sparsely populated the relaxing space is.

I don’t want to spoil the oasis-like feeling, but it’s one of my favorite places to go on a Carnival ship, and I think you’re missing out if you don’t take advantage of it.

Serenity is an adults-only area that’s nicely tucked away on an upper deck, away from foot traffic, so only those who want to find it will. I think it’s a wonderful escape from daytime pool-deck parties and kids of all ages running around with melting ice-cream cones.

In my experience, many cruise lines charge extra for access to a similar adults-only space. According to Cruise Critic, the full day rate for enjoying The Sanctuary on Princess Cruises is usually $40 a person, or $20 for a half day. Cruise Critic also says Norwegian’s adults-only Vibe Beach Club, which has a private bar, lounge space, and its own hot-tub area on a quiet part of the ship, can cost $100 a person for a day pass or about $209 for a weeklong pass.

So in my mind, there’s no better value than having an adults-only space on Carnival for zero dollars.

The Serenity Retreat is available throughout the Carnival fleet. It’s often two levels at the front of the ship and remains out of sight for the most part thanks to a privacy fence.

I think many guests may assume it has a cover charge or is available only to suite guests. That is not the case, and anyone over the age of 21 can come at their leisure to relax on loungers, sun beds, daybeds, and hammocks. I always find plenty of fresh towels and love to take a dip in one of the oversize spa tubs.

A light lunch of fresh fruit, salads, and wraps is usually available, alongside a quiet bar area, where soft music plays in the background.

The pool and upper decks are always buzzing with activities, but there are so many quiet spaces on Carnival ships that go overlooked.

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