It’s a big step when you take your first cruise. After hearing friends and family hype up how awesome a cruise vacation can be, you might do some research to find where you should even start.
With 25 cruise ships and counting and 50 years of experience at sea, Carnival Cruise Line does a lot of things right. It might not be the cruise line for everyone, but for the reasons stated in this article, I believe it’s the best cruise line for first-time cruisers.
If you’ve never been on a cruise before, it can be quite daunting trying to figure out which cruise line you should try. You will be pulled in 10 different directions by former cruisers who think their favorite cruise line is best for you.
I know not everyone will agree on this, but hear me out with these 10 reasons why I think Carnival would be a great choice for a first cruise, knowing full well that those first-time cruisers may choose a different cruise line for their 2nd or 3rd cruise.
And for those thinking Royal Caribbean might be a better choice for a first-timer, you can check out my article on the 10 things Royal Caribbean does well, making it “King of the Seas” in many ways.
The type of traveler also makes a big difference. If you prefer to travel alone and want a solo cabin or if you want a more relaxing cruise, there may be other cruise lines to start with first. So, I admit up front that this is a huge generalization.
1. Affordable for first-timers
We have to start with cost. If someone isn’t sure if cruising is right for them it makes sense to be moderate in spending. There’s no sense in blowing the budget on a vacation someone ends up regretting.
After all, you should be counting down the days until your cruise, not the day the cruise ends.
Carnival Cruise Line is one of the most affordable cruise lines in the industry, with fares that are typically lower than those of other cruise lines. Carnival also offers a variety of discounts and promotions, making it even easier to find an affordable cruise.
Carnival Cruise Line is the most popular cruise line for first-time cruisers. This is likely due to its affordable prices and wide variety of itineraries. In 2022, Carnival Cruise Line was also awarded the #1 spot for “Best Value for the Money” by Cruise Critic.
With prices usually cheaper than Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival offers competitive rates that are only matched by MSC Cruises and some smaller lines like Margaritaville at Sea.
Related: How much does a cruise cost?
2. Value and food inclusions
But what’s the point of a cheap cruise price if you don’t get anything of real value for it?
As it’s a more budget-friendly cruise line, you will have to pay extra for things like Wi-Fi and specialty restaurants, but Carnival has more complimentary food options than any other line in its category.
Besides entertainment in the main theater and at Punchliner Comedy Club, there are all kinds of free things to do on some Carnival ships like the ropes’ course, mini golf, and more fun events and trivia games than you will find on about any other ships at sea.
The ‘Fun Times’ cruise planner is jam packed with regular things to do every day. So along with that reasonable cruise fare is lots to do and eat as well.
3. Huge variety of ships and itineraries
With those 25 cruise ships there are a lot of options for cruise destinations and ports of call.
Carnival Cruise Line offers a wide variety of itineraries, including cruises to the Caribbean, Bahamas, Mexico, Alaska, Europe, and more.
If you are located outside of the United States, Carnival also offers ships departing from Brisbane, Barcelona, London, Rome, Singapore, and Sydney.
And with ship classes from the small 72,000 gross ton ships in Fantasy-class to the new and largest Excel-class with Mardi Gras, Carnival Celebration, and the up-and-coming Carnival Jubilee, there is a ship size and class for just about any taste.
4. Departure ports within driving distance
Almost half of the people who cruise say that a cruise port within driving distance is a determining factor when planning a cruise.
And now with Mobile, Alabama back running cruises for Carnival, even more people have easy access to a cruise port without having to fly.
Florida is the most popular state for Carnival cruises, with multiple ships sailing from Miami, Port Canaveral, Tampa, and Jacksonville.
Other popular departure ports in the United States include:
- Mobile, Alabama
- New Orleans, Louisiana
- Galveston, Texas
- Charleston, South Carolina
- Baltimore, Maryland
- Norfolk, Virginia
- New York, New York
- Long Beach, California
- San Francisco, California
Carnival also offers cruises to Alaska from Seattle, Washington.
5. The adult-only Serenity area
Carnival’s Serenity area is a perfect place for adults to relax and escape the hustle and bustle of the ship. The Serenity area is an adults-only area with sun loungers, pools, and whirlpools. It is also a smoke-free area.
Consider this the oasis on board. Many first-time cruisers worry about the ship being too crowded, loud, or stressful, so this area on the ship offers a nice place to relax. But you will want to get there early for a good spot, and remember that it can get rather busy on a sea day.
Also, bring a towel and some sunscreen in case you can’t grab a padded lounger in the shade.
6. Shows, activities, and games for any type of passenger
I already touched on this earlier, but Carnival does a great job in making sure there’s always something fun going on throughout the ship.
And with tons of competitions going on, there are plenty of opportunities to win a game of trivia, cornhole, pickleball, basketball, ping pong, or a myriad of other activities.
Whether you’re a thrill-seeker and want to try out the only roller coaster on a cruise ship with Bolt, would prefer a Movie under the stars on the pool deck, or want to listen to some live violin music in a lounge, there’s something for a wide array of age groups on Carnival ships.
7. Some highly-rated private islands
The more I cruise the more I appreciate private islands. These are destinations owned and operated by the cruise lines. They offer a more inclusive experience and often a more relaxing one. Think of them as the best beach days you can imagine.
Carnival sails to a number of highly-rated private islands, such as Half Moon Cay, Bahamas; Princess Cays, Bahamas; and Amber Cove, Dominican Republic. These islands offer cruisers a chance to relax on the beach, swim in the crystal-clear water, and enjoy a variety of activities, such as snorkeling, kayaking, and jet skiing.
Mahogany Bay (pictured above) is another very popular Carnival owned destination. It is not a separate island but is a private beach and area only accessible to Carnival Corp. owned cruise ships.
And with Celebration Key coming soon, it’s yet another private destination for the cruise line to add to its list.
According to our readers, Half Moon Cay is the most popular private island among Carnival cruisers. Half Moon Cay is known for its beautiful beaches, clear water, and abundance of activities.
8. Choice of drink packages
The only free drinks on a Carnival cruise ship include water, coffee, tea, lemonade, and a few other juices. For everything else there is an extra cost that can really add up quickly. Most cruise lines have a drink package that allows you to pay one set price and not worry about the rest.
And if you are just a soda drinker you would have to pay for the drink package that also includes alcohol. But Carnival offers a Bottomless Bubbles package for $9.50 a day, and it includes unlimited soda and juice for the duration of the cruise.
The CHEERS! beverage package that includes alcohol just saw the price go up for shorter duration cruises, as we reported last week. The price of $59.95 per day will go to $69.95 for cruises that are 3-5 nights long. By the way, this is the price if purchased before the cruise.
9. Popular restaurants with consistent quality
Carnival offers a variety of popular restaurants with consistent quality. Some of the most popular restaurants include Guy’s Burger Joint, BlueIguana Cantina, and Cucina del Capitano. These restaurants offer a variety of dishes, including burgers, tacos, and pasta.
I’ve never had a Guy’s burger that was bad. It has the same consistent and amazing taste every time. The same goes for the quality at Big Chicken, Guy’s Pig & Anchor, and Miami Slice.
This is important as I’ve been on some cruise lines that had great pizza one night and the next night it was a very different experience.
The buffet may not have as much variety and options as some other lines, but the consistency of quality has always been great in my experience.
10. Perfect sampling for first-timers
Carnival Cruise Line is a perfect sampling for first-timers to see what they like and don’t like on a cruise. Carnival offers a wide variety of ships, itineraries, food and beverage options, and activities to choose from.
This allows cruisers to find out what they enjoy most about cruising and what they don’t.
And since Carnival is a great value for the money cruisers can get a lot of bang for their buck on a cruise. This makes it a great choice for first-timers who want to try out cruising without breaking the bank.
Most first-time cruisers want to cruise again after their first sailing. They may not want to choose the exact same cruise line, but a Carnival experience will at least be the perfect appetizer to know if they are ready for a main course, or even a steady diet of cruise vacations.
My first cruise was actually on a Royal Caribbean ship (Freedom of the Seas). It got me hooked on cruising for sure, but it was pricier than a Carnival cruise would have been. But hey, it was my honeymoon so I had to splurge a little.