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! I learned a few Carnival cruise tips on the way 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! Let’s start!

Before the Cruise: Carnival Cruise Tips for First TimersDo Your Research before You Cruise

1. Do Your Research

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 the cruise that will work for you. Read as much as you can before your cruise, otherwise you might 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.

On our recent trip to Ocho Rios, we didn’t have any excursions planned. When we arrived, we didn’t know where to go, there was already a lot of people on the island and we didn’t feel very safe just walking around on your 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.

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!

3. Set Price Drop Alerts

You can monitor your cruise rate 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 you can wait a few months before you book.

4. Pack Like a Pro

The tropical Caribbean climate changes from pouring rain to heat. On our last cruise it rained at least once every day, so one of the must-pack items is 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.  It is also a good idea to bring a power strip since there are 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 and I even found the best deals on Amazon for you!

5. What to put in your carry-on bag:

Pack everything you may need the first day – documents, wallets, bathing suits, cameras, medications, sandals, sunscreen, a change of clothes and toiletries. This packing strategy will save you if the cruise line loses your bag, as you’ll have many necessities on hand.

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


6. 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, being a newer ship; the Carnival Dream has a mini golf course and water slides, while an older ships will have fewer modern entertainment options. A pretty easy rule to go by: longer cruises have bigger and larger ships, while shorter cruise ships are smaller and less crowded, but might have less food options and entertainment.

7. 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!

8. 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 communicate with any of your friends on-board for just $5! I think it is totally worth it.Purchase Camera Protectors to Keep your Camera Dry

9. Purchase Camera Protectors

It wouldn’t hurt to buy a camera protector from Amazon. This plastic cover will protect your camera when you are taking pictures as you swim with stingrays or dolphins and taking that perfect photo of the Caribbean Sea. I go a lot more in-depth on what you will need in my Bring It On a Cruise list!

10. 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.

11. 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 a third party travel insurance companies like travelguard.com.

12. Consider a Drink Package

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.
How to get the best Food Experience on Carnival Cruise

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

One of the best experience 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!

Related Post: How Much Does a Carnival Cruise Really Cost?

13. The Chef Can Make Any Appetizer to 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!

14. 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.

Carnival Cruise Stateroom15. 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 it is no extra charge!

16. 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, salmon bagels! All of that is included in the price, but some may not know about it and have breakfast in the crowded buffet upstairs.

 

17. 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 all ships in Carnival’s fleet, but has a its own location on different ships. You can expect offerings from the steakhouse, an Italian restaurant or Bonsai Sushi. 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

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

Guy’s Burger Joint, Pizzeria, and Blue Iguana have some of the best on board and they are complimentary. You might have to stay in line, since they are all made to order.

19. Don’t Overtip on Alcohol

Don’t forget that Carnival automatically adds 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.

Carnival Cruise Tips

Carnival Cruise Tips – While You are Onboard

20. 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. 

21. 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

22. Quiet Spot on Deck 6 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 these spots.

23. Carnival Cruise Line Holds Funds on your Card

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.

Buy Things on the Boat

24. Not All Stuff on the Ship is Too Expensive

That surprised me too, but T-shirts, alcohol, perfume, handbags and hats are actually cheaper on board and 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! 

25. Carnival Cruise Tips – Free Alcohol On the Carnival Cruise

Be sure to attend the Captain’s Toast party or an Art Auction, which 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!
You can also get free alcohol by spending 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

26. Watch Sunset While on the Ship

While you are doing all of the fun activities on the Promenade Deck, 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!

27. Carnival Cruise Tips – Gratuity

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 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

28. 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!

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

Carnival Cruise
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!

12 Comments

  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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!!

    Reply
  4. Rosalinda
    July 5, 2018

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

    Reply
  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!

    Reply
  6. Andy
    July 5, 2018

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

    Reply
  7. Kippi
    July 8, 2018

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

    Reply
  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!!

    Reply
  9. Stephen
    July 20, 2018

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

    Reply
  10. Lexi Tarver
    July 20, 2018

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

    Reply
  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

    Reply
  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.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to top
Close