31 Carnival Cruise Tips and Hacks for First-Timers

Carnival Cruise Tips - Things You Wish You Knew Before You Cruise

Congratulations on booking your cruise! I just returned from my 3rd Carnival cruise and it was as magical as ever! And as I ate as much frozen yogurt as I could, I learned a few Carnival cruise tips about what to do (or not to do) while you are sailing. Here are the most useful Carnival cruise hacks about dining, free alcohol and more on-board you will be glad you knew before getting on the ship.  

Before Booking the Cruise: Carnival Cruise Tips for First-Timers

Do Your Research before You Cruise
That’s the kind of view you’ll be seeing on your next cruise!

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1. Do Your Research to Save Money

I know, cruises are all-inclusive and you want to do the least amount of planning you can before your trip. However, you should research and find a cruise that will work best for you. Read as much as you can about your ship and excursions before your cruise. Otherwise, you can end up in a small port without the slightest clue of what to do for the next eight hours. In terms of port info, cruise lines rarely give enough information apart from the cruise excursions. 

On our recent trip to Ocho Rios, we didn’t have any excursions planned. And when we arrived, we didn’t know where to go. There were already a lot of people on the island and we didn’t feel very safe just walking around on our own. We made the most out of this experience, but I do wish we had booked an excursion in advance or planned that stop better.

Even though we had a snorkeling adventure planned in Costa Maya, the excursion got canceled and I had to pick out a new one on the spot! I wish I had done some more research!

2. Pricing Depends on the Time of Year

Carnival carries more children than any other cruise line, so you can expect prices to go up when school is out. Cruise trips will be a lot cheaper during the times when school is in session. So, if you don’t have to depend on the school calendar, you can definitely save some money. Also, since the summer is not the best season to go cruising, (it gets even hotter in the Caribbean), the cheapest season to go on a cruise is during summer. The most expensive – Thanksgiving break, Christmas break, and Spring break! If that’s the only time you can go, book in advance or look for special offers from Carnival. 
For more information on how to budget your cruise vacation, read my article about Carnival Cruise Costs.

3. Compare on Kayak

While I prefer to book a cruise directly on the cruise line website, I always use Kayak (or a similar service) to compare the prices and choose the cruise I want to go on. It has a more easy to use layout compared to the cruise line websites and you can see multiple cruise lines in one place.

4. Set Price Drop Alerts

Before you book your cruise, you can monitor the rates by putting in your price and sail date on Cruiseline.com. You’ll automatically get an email if the price rises or falls more than one percent. It can be helpful if you are not tied down to a specific date and can wait a few months before you book.

Before the Cruise: Cruise Planning Checklist

5. Pack Like a Pro

The tropical Caribbean climate changes from pouring rain to heat in an instant. On our last cruise, it rained every day, so one of the must-pack items is always a lightweight waterproof jacket.
I wrote a handy Packing Cruise Checklist that will give you more information about packing and things that you wish you had on your cruise. * Among other tips in this article, I recommend taking a reusable water bottle on-board. You will be able to refill your bottle on the top deck and you won’t have to pay for expensive water in your stateroom (about $4 per bottle).

** It is also a good idea to bring a power strip since there is always a shortage of outlets in the stateroom!

For more things to grab with you on your cruise, check out the Bring It On a Cruise list. This list has all of the things I wish I had on a cruise last time I went, make sure to have them, too!

6. What to put in your cruise carry-on bag:

Things happen, and it’s always good to be ready for it! Pack everything you may need the first day in your carry-on: documents, wallets, bathing suits, cameras, medications, sandals, sunscreen, a change of clothes and toiletries. If the cruise line loses your bag, you’ll have all your necessities on hand. For more tips and to get a SMART, EDITABLE and PRINTABLE checklist, enter your email below:

I will send you a FREE copy of the printable packing list plus travel tips, discounts and giveaways from Travel Eat Blog!

7. What to Wear on a Cruise

While you are packing, you might want some ideas on what to wear on your vacation. Are you wondering how many swimsuits should you bring? Or what should you wear on an elegant night? What do you need to remember on your adventure day at one of the ports? All of those and more questions might come up while you are packing. If you are still unsure or are afraid to forget anything, check my Cruise Clothing Guide!

8.  Not all Cruise Ships are Created Equal

There are 25 ships in Carnival’s fleet, and they’re all different. Check out what’s offered on your ship before you board. For example, the Carnival Dream (a newer ship) has a mini-golf course and water slides, while older ships have fewer entertainment options. A pretty easy rule to go by: longer cruises have bigger and larger ships. Shorter cruises are smaller and less crowded but might have fewer food options and entertainment.

9. Book Your Activities and Dining Early

Do you want to have dinner at a specialty restaurant? You should schedule it in advance on your online Carnival account to make sure you get a space. By booking excursions early you can also save some money through early-bird discounts!

10. Download the Carnival Hub App

With the Carnival HUB app, you can text your fellow travelers, check the daily schedule and deck plans, track how much you spend (or earn if you are lucky in the casino), and get info for upcoming ports of call. The app is free to download and you can chat with any of your friends on-board for just $5! It is totally worth it!

12. Purchase Camera Protectors

Purchase Camera Protectors to Keep your Camera Dry
Seeing the stingrays would be better if you can take some pictures with you. The pictures that they offer can get expensive, so bring your own camera protectors!

This is a big one. If you’re like me and like to capture your favorite memories, bringing a phone protector or a camera protector is truly a game-changer. The first time I went on a cruise, I saw so many people with those protectors and I was jealous that I didn’t think of it earlier. This plastic cover will protect your camera so that you can take as many pictures as want as you swim with stingrays or dolphins. 

Looking for more tips on what to pack? I have a lot more tips on what you will need in my Bring It On a Cruise list!

12. You Can Take Soda Cans or a Bottle of Wine On-board

Drinks on-board can get pretty expensive. Feel free to grab your favorite 12 pack of soda before you get on the ship. Otherwise, it will cost you about $2.50 per can once on-board. You can also bring a 750ml bottle of wine or champagne on-board per person. If you would like to cork your wine during dinner at your dining room, it will cost you $15 per bottle.

13. Carnival Cruise Tips – Buy Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is something you don’t think you need until you need it. It costs a fraction of your cruise price and delivers an unbelievable amount of protection against delays, cancellations, lost baggage and injury. Read your policy thoroughly. Check out options from third-party travel insurance companies like travelguard.com.

14. Consider a Drink Package

How to get the best Food Experience on Carnival Cruise
One of the best things about the cruise is going to the dining hall. Don’t stick with the buffet, enjoy the fine dining for free!

Do you drink two soft drinks per day? Then the soda package is worth the $6 per day charge. The same is true of the alcohol package — it’s about $50 per person per day if you order in advance online, and you get up to 15 drinks per day. Normally, one drink in the bar costs around $9 each.

15. Cruise Cabin Hacks

  • Cruise ship cabins tend to be low on hanging space – create more hanging space with strong magnetic hooks!
  • Use an over the door hanging organizer for all your personal products like sun lotion, medications, hair products and more
  • If you have tickets for shore excursions and other important papers, put them in a legal size envelope to keep track of them
  • Put dirty clothes away in a travel laundry bag
  • Bring a cruise-approved power strip if you need more than a couple of outlets
  • Bring a couple of ziplock bags. They can keep your passports dry if you need to take them with you at a cruise port. You just never know when you need them!
  • Keep your jewelry, wallet, cash, passports, and keys in the safe
  • Bring Poo-Pourri to never be embarrassed about going to the bathroom
  • Decorate your door so that you can easily find it and have fun with kiddos!

Cruise Door Decor Ideas:

How to Get the Best Food Experience – Carnival Cruise Tips for Dining

One of the best experiences on the cruise is the variety and the wonderful food that you get to try. One of my favorite experiences was going to the dining room in the evenings – the food is a lot better than in the buffet on the Lido Deck. But you also get to build a relationship with your server, learn more about another person’s culture and have a good time during the Dining Shhhow time!

16. The Chef Can Make Any Appetizer into an Entrée

If you really like an appetizer, you can request it as your main course. Or, maybe more than one of the entrees looks appetizing, order both and eat what you want. Don’t feel weird about doing either, it’s totally fine!

17. Don’t Over tip on Alcohol

Don’t forget that Carnival automatically adds a 15 percent service charge when you buy a drink at the bar. Unless the service was amazing, there’s no need to add another tip!

18. Late Dining is More Fun!

The servers seem to be more relaxed and talkative during late dining because they aren’t under pressure to get you fed and out the door before the next seating. If you have a choice, pick late dining, it is right after the first show!

Carnival Cruise Stateroom
The staterooms can be a bit small, but they are cozy enough. Just don’t spend all of your time in your room, go out and enjoy the sun!

19. Have Room Service Deliver Breakfast

You’re on vacation, why not have coffee or cereal in bed or on your balcony? You deserve it, and there is no extra charge!

20. Have a Sea Day Brunch and Breakfast at a Dining Room

Dining rooms on Carnival offer brunch on Sea Days and breakfast on Port Days. You can find there everything from soup, steak, eggs, or salmon bagels! All of that is included in the price, but most people do not know about it and have breakfast in the crowded buffet upstairs.

21. Try Samples from the Taste Bar

Before or after dinner you can swing by the Taste Bar to get tastings of different venues around the ship. A Taste Bar can be found on most ships in Carnival’s fleet but has its own location on different ships. You can expect offerings from the steakhouse, an Italian restaurant or Bonsai Sushi. (Usually, you have to pay extra for them, but snacks from the Taste Bar are free of charge.) To find out which eatery will be featured or operation hours, check your daily Fun Times schedule.

Some of the Best Food is on the Pool Deck
Midnight pizza might be one of my favorite things on the ship!

22. Some of the Best Food is on the Pool Deck

Guy’s Burger Joint, Pizzeria, and Blue Iguana have some of the best food onboard and they are complimentary! You might have to stand in line since they are all made-to-order, but they are definitely worth the wait!
P. S. They are open 24/7!

Carnival Cruise Tips
The ship looks like a big shopping mall, doesn’t it? So much to explore!

Carnival Cruise Tips – While You are On-board

23. Monitor Your Expenses

The drinks, the casino, photos, and excursions can add up quickly. Make sure to check your expenses daily on the Fun Hub App. That way you don’t end up surprised when you see your receipt at the end of your trip!

24. Go to the Comedy Show Early

A lot of the comedians on the Carnival cruise ships are popular. Sometimes it’s standing room only, so get there 30 to 45 minutes early to ensure a seat. Last time we came 10 minutes early and had to turn around because there was no room!

Quiet Spot on Deck 6 Forward
It can be hard to find a quiet spot on the ship, so follow my tips below!

25. Find a Quiet Spot on Deck Forward

Most of the Carnival ships have a couple decks on the forward part of the ship that are accessible by walking all the way through the cabins and going through the side doors. No one knows about these spots and they’re almost always empty. If you prefer a quiet sail-away, check out the map of the ship to find these spots. I love reading a book and listening to the waves in quiet sometimes! 

26. Carnival Cruise Line Holds Funds on your Card

Don’t be alarmed when you get charges on your card the first day of your cruise! On my recent seven-night cruise, Carnival held $100 per person from our credit card. By the end of the cruise, it was balanced out and the hold was lifted. Carnival does that to encourage you to spend that money on-board and most people do! Be sure to budget well before your trip and monitor your expenses!

Buy Things on the Boat
Depending on what you are planning to buy, you might find really good deals on the ship!

27. Not Everything on the Ship is Too Expensive

That surprised me too, but T-shirts, alcohol, perfume, handbags, and hats are actually cheaper on board! There are a lot of sales going on! If you are already planning to buy any of these, wait until you are on-board and see if you like anything. However, if you would like to purchase a phone charger or hair conditioner that you forgot at home, it will be a lot more expensive on the ship! Make a list of things to pack for your cruise so that you don’t forget anything and have to buy it on-board for triple the price!

28. Carnival Cruise Tips – Free Alcohol On the Cruise Ship

Be sure to attend the Captain’s Toast party or an Art Auction, they usually offer free champagne. Also, the first day there will be an alcohol tasting event to encourage you to buy alcohol on-board. There will be some free samples served!
Another way to get free alcohol is to spend money in the casino. If you earn enough points in the on-board casino, the drinks sold in the casino area are free for the rest of your cruise!

Watch a Sunset on the Cruise
My favorite view – no land to be found!

29. Watch Sunset While on the Ship

While you are doing all of the fun activities on the ship, don’t miss the sunsets! Sunsets are even more beautiful when you are on the cruise ship – go outside, have a drink on the pool deck, take your time to enjoy the waves and the view!

30. Carnival Cruise Tips – Gratuities

Carnival recommends $12.95 per person, per day, for gratuities ($13.95 per person, per day, for those in suites). This amount is divided between dining room services, cabin services and alternative services, which include kitchen, entertainment, guest services, and other hotel services. The amount is automatically added to your account, but it can be changed at the guest services desk. Visit guest services on the last day of sailing and decide what amount of tip you would like to leave. Don’t forget that a 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills and spa treatments!

6 Carnival cruise tips for first timers

After Your Carnival Cruise

31. Self-assist Gets You off the Ship Faster

If you want to be the first ones off the ship, carry your own bags off. You could also go to guest relations and ask for zone 1 debarkation which will help you get off the ship faster. You will have to stay in line to get your bags back which can be a hassle.
I hope these Carnival cruise tips help you when you are considering your first cruise. If you are already booked for one, use my tips and have a wonderful time! For more information about your cruise, go here!

Tell me: Do you have any Carnival cruise tips that I missed? Leave them in the comments below!

Carnival Cruise

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Hi, I'm Marina, passionate traveler and blogger, based in the United States and travelling the world. Thanks for following me on my life and travel adventures!


  1. Martha Perry
    March 21, 2018

    Very good post lots of nice tips. I havent been on a cruise yet. One day I want to go.

  2. Mike T.
    April 8, 2018

    Hub app is free to download and is very helpful on board. There is no cost to use unless you want to use the chat/message option.

  3. Alison
    April 28, 2018

    Great tips! I have been on a couple cruises with Royal Caribbean and Princess, but never with Carnival. Most of the tips are universal for any cruise you would go on. I love cruise sunsets!!

  4. Rosalinda
    July 5, 2018

    This is great! We are crushing with Carnival for the 3nd time and this has been very helpful!

  5. I’ve never taken a cruise but always wanted to. This is a great comprehensive guide on what to do and think about ahead of time. Thank you so much for sharing!

  6. Andy
    July 5, 2018

    Awesome tips! I’ve not done a cruise since I was a young teen but remember having a blast.

    1. Ariella
      June 20, 2024

      Brah I going to a cruise too this year I think it’s going to exciting

  7. Kippi
    July 8, 2018

    WOW! I want to take a cruise too. I am so glad you shared these valuable tips! Thank you

  8. Natalie Levy
    July 20, 2018

    This is actually coming at the perfect time!! Our family is doing research for our first cruise! In March!! This is such a great list of information!! Ty!!

  9. Stephen
    July 20, 2018

    I wish I would have known most of this before my first Carnival Cruise!

  10. Lexi Tarver
    July 20, 2018

    Definitely useful me and my mom are planning a trip next year!! Love this post girl! ❤️

  11. Rae
    September 7, 2018

    What a great list! This is a vacation that was always at the back of my mind but never researched. Thank you for the tips

  12. Phil Cobb
    September 7, 2018

    This is the best cruise tip list I have ever seen! Bookmarking it for when I go on a cruise for the first time ever. Thank you.

  13. Jenny Bhatia
    July 25, 2019

    I love cruising. But, being prepared is super important. I think you covered it all with your thorough list. The one thing that I always pack are those little Woolite individual packets. Not necessary, but they are great to have in case you want to hand wash something!

  14. Daniella Sano
    July 31, 2019

    Saved as a favorite, I really like your blog!

  15. CC
    August 8, 2019

    Great tips, my husband and I been talking about taking a cruise and one thing I love is to be prepared. Thank for this post. Love all the tips.

    1. Marina
      August 8, 2019

      Me too! I spent the last 2 days looking at Expedia for cruise deals too!

  16. Rupert Lanosga
    August 26, 2019

    Great post! We are linking to this great post on our website. Keep up the good writing.

  17. Emily Adams
    September 23, 2019

    Great tips, especially about bringing your own water bottle. If you book with Expedia you should start at affinityy since you can receive up to 6% cash back on your cruise booking. We did that on our last cruise to stretch our budget and enjoyed saving some money that way. I have a referral code if you’re ever interested in checking it out.

  18. Audrey
    April 22, 2020

    I don’t think the drink package is really worth it if you bring a pack of soda on board. Unless, like you said, you drink a lot of soda! and definitely, the cheers package (alcohol) is a scam in my opinion. If you do take the cheers package and want to make it worth it, you will clearly be drunk the entire cruise! 😉


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