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Carnival Cruise Lines Review

U.S. News Travel

Carnival Cruise Lines Overview

How it Ranks: Carnival has been ranked based on an expert evaluation of the line's level of luxury, as well as an assessment of user reviews and health ratings. Carnival Cruise Lines appears on the following ranking lists:

Carnival Cruise Lines stays true to its lively reputation with its festive atmosphere and versatile entertainment options. Carnival's 24 ships depart from many cities in the U.S., including Miami, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Seattle and New York. With such a large fleet, Carnival offers cruisers their pick of destinations across Mexico, Alaska, Hawaii, Australia and the Caribbean, among other locations. Voyages range from two to 15 days, and each ship carries approximately one crew member for every three passengers. Just as Carnival's cruise lengths and itineraries vary by ship, so do the available shore excursions. You could take a zip-line tour in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, or bask in the warm sun at the beach in the Bahamas. Glacier-spotting, snorkeling, wine-tasting, museum-hopping and golfing are just a few other ways to spend your time at versatile ports of call. Back on board Carnival's "Fun Ships," you'll find plenty of activities to keep you busy. With waterslides and sports courts, casinos and piano bars, comedy acts and night clubs, guests of all ages can find something to enjoy. Carnival's knack for variety carries over into onboard cuisine, which includes three-course meals served in the main dining room, a Lido Deck Buffet and specialty restaurants dishing up everything from Italian fare at Cucina del Capitano to sake and sushi at Bonsai Sushi.

Pros & Cons

  • Numerous ships and itineraries to pick from
  • Extensive selection of onboard amenities and activities
  • Variety of dining options
  • High-profile cruise ship malfunctions have tainted the line's reputation
  • Larger ships can feel crowded
  • Wi-Fi available, but costs extra

On Board

Carnival tends to attract young adults and families looking for an affordable vacation rather than an upscale cruise experience. The company's primary clientele is based in the United States.

More about the onboard experience»

On Shore

Carnival offers an abundance of shore excursions at each port. What's more, Carnival's Shore Excursion search allows you to select your shoreside activities using customized filters that sort by price, duration, activity level and expedition type. Typical shore excursions might include a submarine dive in Aruba, a glacier ...

More about the on shore experience»

Before You Book

  • You must be 21 years or older to cruise with Carnival unless you are traveling and staying in the same stateroom with someone 25 years or older. However, minors ages 13 and younger can be booked in a separate stateroom next door to their parents or guardians, and minors ages 13 to 17 can be booked in separate staterooms within three cabins of their parents or guardians.
  • Cruise rates are based on double occupancy and do not include government fees and taxes.
  • Deposit and payment due dates depend on cruise length. You must submit your deposit upon booking, but you can also choose to pay your entire fare. Final payment is due 60 days before two- to five-day sailings; 75 days in advance of cruises up to six days or longer; and 90 days prior to Panama Canal sailings.
  • Early Saver and Super Saver rates are cheaper than regular cruise rates. However, deposits on these cheaper fare options are non-refundable. Cancellation policies are also stricter for these fares: Early Saver rates are eligible for cruise credit as a refund, but Super Saver fares are non-refundable. Early Saver rates also include your choice of cabin and guaranteed price protection — if the price of the cruise drops, you will pay the lowest price. Booking at a Super Saver rate, your fare is set and Carnival will choose your cabin.
  • You can cancel your cruise for a full refund up to 61 days before your trip for two- to five-day cruises; up to 76 days for cruises lasting six days or longer; and up to 91 days for trans-Pacific cruises. If you miss these deadlines, you will forfeit your deposit and/or a percentage of the total fare paid. The amount you lose depends on how close the cancellation is to your date of departure.
  • You may choose to purchase Carnival's Cruise Vacation Protection plan, which will reimburse you 100 percent for cancellations for reasons like a trip delay due to airline issues and will cover medical expenses if you become sick or are injured. If you need to cancel your cruise for a reason that doesn't fall under Carnival's specific cases, you may be eligible for up to 75 percent in cruise credits as your refund. Prices for the Vacation Protection plan vary and you can find more information on Carnival's website.

Before You Board

  • Certain ports of call require a visa from the country to which you are traveling, which must be obtained before your cruise and will be checked at embarkation. Visit the U.S. State Department website for more information on visa requirements.
  • Carnival requires guests ages 16 or older to bring a government-issued photo ID. American citizens departing from and returning to a U.S. territory do not need to bring a passport. For all other cruises, Carnival recommends you bring a passport that is valid for a minimum of six months after the cruise ends.
  • You must print and secure your luggage tags to your belongings before boarding the ship.
  • Carnival encourages you to complete your online registration at least three days prior to your departure date, though you can check in online until 11:59 p.m. the day befofe your cruise departs. All guests are required to arrive and check in 90 minutes before the ship is scheduled to leave.
  • You can begin booking shore excursions online once your final payment has been processed. The deadline for booking a shore excursion online is one day prior to departure; however, you may also book excursions once you're on the ship. Some excursions may be fully booked by the time you board the ship, so Carnival recommends making reservations in advance.
  • You can book spa treatments (once your final payment has been received) up to seven days prior to your sail date on the Carnival website or once you board the ship.
  • You cannot purchase the "Cheers" or "Bottomless Bubbles" beverage programs in advance; you may only do so once you board the ship. Drink programs are only available for purchase the first and second days of the cruise and last for the duration of the trip. Fees are on a per-day basis. If you wish to purchase the "Cheers" beverage program, everyone in your stateroom who's 21 or older must also purchase the program.
  • Gratuities ($12 per guest, per day) are automatically charged to your onboard account.

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Disclaimers about ship ratings: A ship's Health Rating is based on vessel inspection scores published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If a ship did not receive a CDC score within 22 months prior to the calculation of its Overall Rating, its Health Rating appears as N/A; in such a case, the ship's Overall Rating is calculated using the average Health Rating of all CDC-rated ships within the cruise line. All ship Traveler Ratings are based on ratings provided under license by Cruiseline.com.