Fun & Relaxed Casual Cruising: Reasons To Cruise With Carnival
I'm a big fan of casual cruising, and the likes of Royal Caribbean And Norwegian Cruise Line instantly spring to mind. Buy my time on Carnival Breeze made me realise there's a remarkably similar experience to be had on American favourite, Carnival Cruise Line. And it seems I'm not alone.
Following her Mediterranean adventure on Carnival Horizon, Sanna of Vegan Cruiser discusses why Carnival Cruise Line's Fun Ships should be next on your cruise to-do list.
For UK and European cruisers, Carnival Cruise Line is a bit of a dark horse, an unknown quantity. We do not have Carnival ships based in Europe. Instead, we have our own country-specific Carnival brands: P&O Cruises in the UK, AIDA Cruises in Germany and Costa Cruises in Italy.
In the US the brand is well-known for casual cruising. Carnival also has a party reputation and is known for their low fares but let me tell you why that should NOT put you off booking them. In fact, if you happily cruise with Royal Caribbean and NCL, you should give a Carnival Cruise a try at least once.
Try one of the newer ships in the fleet, such as Carnival Vista, Carnival Horizon or the Carnival Panorama launching November 2019. These, along with the rest of the fleet, are collectively known as 'Fun Ships' so let me give you a few 'F' words to show why anyone looking for a casual cruise should book with Carnival.
F is for... Fun Ships!
Here's the deal. I have never had as much fun on a cruise as I have on my two Carnival cruises - and I have cruised since I was a child (now in my 40s). My ten-day adventure on the Mediterranean with Carnival Horizon will now be the benchmark to compare all other cruises by.
Carnival Horizon offered some of the common cruise game shows in the theatre, like Mr & Mrs (the Marriage Game, for US readers) but never have I howled & cried with laughter as much as I did when Mike Pack the Cruise Director compèred the proceedings. I have never paid any attention to Cruise Directors on my many cruises - but on Carnival Horizon there was no missing the talented, energetic and hilarious Mike.
In addition, Carnival Fun Squad also offered something a bit more youthful in entertainment terms, such as the Lip Sync Battle, Harry Potter and The Big Bang Theory trivia, and a 90s music quiz - right up my street.
Carnival also offers stand-up comedy each night, both an all-ages show and a later adult-only one where the language used can be a little more colourful. Each night there were lively atrium and deck parties, unlike any other cruise I have been on. There was a scavenger hunts for kids... and an adult version too. Be warned, the Quest can get a little racy - but it totally depends on the audience participation. And at the Piano Bar late at night, entertainers might treat you to explicit material including Tenacious D. You just never know.
For both little and big kids, Carnival Horizon has a fun water park on the Lido. Carnival Horizon, Carnival Vista, and the forthcoming Carnival Panorama also feature Skyride, a suspended bike track to enjoy views from the top of the Lido. Plus all three ships have a rope course and deck games for the whole family.
The brand new Carnival Mardi Gras coming out in 2020 goes one better. Instead of Skyride, it will feature a two-rider motorcycle-style rollercoaster on the Lido deck!
Carnival Horizon has an IMAX cinema onboard and like rest of the fleet also offers free films on the lido, under the sky each night, with complimentary popcorn. Carnival Panorama will have a SkyZone trampoline park instead of an IMAX cinema.
The one thing keeping us in the know and making sure we didn't miss any fun was the Carnival Hub App. The best app I've used so far, could be used for viewing menus, booking excursions, viewing and buying all photos (logged against your portfolio number) and making plans with other cruisers you're linked with. And you can order pizza to be delivered anywhere on the ship!
And for fun - one must mention the towel animals. If your heart jumps for joy every time your cabin attendant treats you to one, you ought to try Carnival at least once. Just for the Lido takeover.
F is for... inFormal cruising
If you enjoy casual Royal Caribbean and freestyle Norwegian cruising, Carnival is for you. There are 'formal' nights onboard but I found Carnival formal even less formal than Royal Caribbean formal nights. In fact, on the first formal night of our sailing a teenager in the Main Dining Room was wearing a football shirt. An older couple on our other side were in sweaters and jogging bottoms. And nobody batted an eyelid. Dress formal if you wish and get your formal night photos, or keep it more casual.
On Carnival, you can still choose traditional dining (6pm or 8.15pm) or you can opt for the more flexible YourTime dining to turn up when you want your dinner. No reservations are taken, you just present yourself at the dining booking station. Staff issue you a slip to give to your restaurant hostess or one with a pager which goes off when your table becomes available.
F is for.. afFordable cruising
Carnival cruises are often excellent value, especially those from the US ports. But not just the cruise fare but onboard WiFi is among the cheapest out there. For an unlimited social media package only I paid about $6 (≈ £5) per day. And the adult-only Serenity deck up on Deck 15 had no extra cover charge. And talk about all the inclusive food options onboard Carnival Horizon! And how late you can eat... unlike on some other ships.
F is for... Food
Unlike on Royal Caribbean where I found Main Dining Room breakfasts or lunches hard to come by, Carnival offered this option every day. And in addition to the buffet (the Marketplace), the Blue Iguana Cantina on the Lido was open for heavenly breakfast burritos at no extra cost.
At lunch in addition to the Marketplace buffet, the Blue Iguana and the Main Dining Room, the Deli opened for sandwich orders. Guy's Burger Joint also opened on the Lido, from lunch till 6pm, and again no extra charge here. The two payable-at-night speciality dining venues Pasta Bar and Mongolian Wok were free to use at lunch. At night time they are known as Cucina del Capitano and JiJi Asian Kitchen.
Soft-serve ice cream and frozen yoghurt is available 24/7 as is Pizzeria del Capitano. So if you were peckish after a night of partying, you could always get at least a pizza, if you didn't fancy ordering (and paying) for room service. And these days on Carnival Horizon you can order pizza on your HubApp to be delivered anywhere on the ship - the pizza is free but delivery is $5 (≈ £4).
In addition to the free venues, Carnival Horizon also offers other Carnival favourites most of which are getting added to older fleet too. For an additional charge, there are speciality dining options such as Farenheit 555 Steakhouse, Bonsai Sushi and Teppanyaki, plus Guy's Pig & Anchor Smokehouse and Brewhouse.
Unlike Royal Caribbean where I found the buffet closed early, Carnival Horizon's Marketplace buffet closes at 9.30pm for dinner but the adjoining Deli remains open till 11pm. From 11pm till 1pm the Marketplace buffet opens again and serves a reduced Late Night Snacks selection. It consists of soup, sandwiches, a few pasta dishes and cookies. And if that wasn't enough, there always is the 24/7 pizza bar.
F is for... Family
While NCL focusses on solo travellers with the Solo cabins and lounge, Carnival has families in their heart. The newer ships (Carnival Vista and newer) offer a range of family Family Harbour cabins and suites, with extra space and room for sleeping up to five people. These Family Harbour cabins come with exclusive access to an adjoining Family Harbour lounge. It acts as a social hub, serves food (continental breakfast, afternoon snack, plus evening milk and cookies) and provides a seating area for boardgames and games consoles.
And while Norwegian Cruise Line has the exclusive Haven complex, Carnival offers cruisers either traditional suites or exclusive Havana Retreat complex consisting of Cuban themed interior cabins, Cabana patio cabins, and Suites which all have access to the private Havana aft pool deck. These are available for families with kids over 12 years of age only.
All the ships in the Carnival fleet ave various Dr Seuss themed activities for the kids and Carnival Horizon has the fab Dr Seuss water park - and it's not just for the kids either! One of the evening photo stations on our sailing was Dr Seuss themed, and was popular at that! And there is 'green eggs & ham' Dr Seuss breakfast kids can do.
Kids and other guests with a sweet tooth will appreciate the onboard Cherry on Top candy store and ice cream bar.
F is for... Features
One major part of the fun was the variety of music and the talented musicians onboard. But you would expect it from Carnival Horizon, the current Carnival flagship.
The Havana bar features a talented band playing Latin-American tunes with a brass section every night. Nearby Ocean Plaza on our sailing had another fantastic band, Crushed Velvet, playing pop hits from 80s to present day. The Atrium lobby rotated short shows by Electric Strings, DJ on the decks and a girl on acoustic guitar doing a selection of current pop hits. And one cannot forget the Piano Bar with Sam in the early evening and the cheeky, entertaining Eden at night.
The Pig & Anchor BBQ Smokehouse and Brewhouse hosted a great country duo at night. And you could even do a brewery tour and tasting session with Brewmaster Colin. How's that for features?
The whole ship was young, fun, full of quirky design features - like the Martini glass shaped LED dreamscape screen in the Atrium or the smaller one in the Casino with stunning animations. The lifts that don't have buttons on the inside. Instead, you tell the lift lobby which deck you needed, and how many of you there are, and it then allocates you to a particular lift depending on the need.
And when so many ships have an inside promenade (great for cold weather cruising), Carnival Horizon has a great outdoor promenade on Deck 5 with large loungers to enjoy. Various dining venues have their exterior seating along here too, including the Cherry on Top.
F is for.. finally giving Carnival a chance?
For once in your cruise life, if you are a fan of the casual seas, try one of the many Carnival ships for your cruise holiday. Personally, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend any of the three newest Carnival ships - Carnival Vista, Carnival Horizon, Carnival Panorama, and Carnival Mardi Gras.
If you are UK based like myself, and don't fancy flying over to the US, in 2020 you can cruise Carnival from the UK! In June 2020, following her transatlantic journey from New York, Carnival Legend sails a one-off Norwegian Fjords itinerary from Dover. The ship heads to the Mediterranean before heading back to the US.
Earlier in the spring (in April-May 2020) after her extensive dry-dock refurbishment, Carnival Radiance also spends two months on the Mediterranean. After her short inaugural season of sailings from Barcelona, she sets off to New York on a transatlantic crossing. So even if you're not interested in the UK sailing, you still have some European Carnival departures to sample.
And in August 2020, the newest Carnival Mardi Gras has her inaugural sailing from Copenhagen to Southampton. What's your excuse? There's no need to cross the pond now! Join me and my friend for the inaugural!
Sailing on Carnival Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras will sail on an inaugural nine-day cruise from Copenhagen to Southampton, calling at Kiel (for Hamburg), Gothenburg, Oslo, Zeebrugge (for Bruges or Brussels), Rotterdam, and Le Havre (for Paris) along the way. Departing on Monday 31st August 2020, prices start from $1,739 (≈ £1,298) per person, based on two sharing an inside cabin. More details here.
Thank you to Vegan Cruiser Sanna for supplying this guest post. You can find out more about Carnival Cruise Line, and specifically its vegan menu options, over on her blog.
Has Sanna convinced you to try a casual cruise on Carnival? Let us know in the comments below.