After just getting off a cruise on Carnival Celebration a few weeks ago I wanted to write a few of my favorite things about the ship, along with a few things that maybe could use some improvement.
This was my first time on an Excel-class ship with Carnival Cruise Line, and I must say that I loved the overall feel and design of this class. It’s already my favorite class of ship within the fleet, and I can’t wait to see how people like Jubilee when it debuts at the end of the year.
10 Hits: Some things I loved about Carnival Celebration
My cruise on Carnival Celebration was a 6-night cruise out of Miami that sailed to Cozumel, Costa Maya, and Mahogany Bay (Roatan Honduras). I booked a guaranteed balcony stateroom – letting the cruise line pick the exact location– to save a few bucks and ended up with a deck 9 balcony that overlooked the Havana pool – directly over the Havana pool which is on deck 8. More on this awkward location later.
1. Free food options on board
The amount of complimentary food options on Carnival Celebration was really impressive. I made it my goal to eat at every single one of these included restaurants on this 6-night cruise.
There were so many places to eat that it was impossible to eat at all of my favorite places more than once, especially since I wanted to try everything out. But now that I have picked a few favorites (Chibang, Guy’s Pig & Anchor, and Big Chicken) my next visit to the ship can be more focused.
You can see the full list of free food options on Carnival Celebration here, as I go into more detail with each restaurant.
I liked that the popular Guy’s Burger Joint was one deck up from the lido deck. This made the line flow a lot easier than on other Carnival ships and allowed for more seating as well.
Nice sit-down restaurants like Cucina Del Capitano and Chibang were complimentary, and this helped relieve congestion from the main dining room and other restaurants at dinner time. This may be the reason the cruise line has decided to keep these eateries free, but I loved having multiple dinner options that didn’t just consist of the buffet.
Using the Carnival Hub app to get a reservation time was a breeze, and the wait was never more than 10-15 minutes.
I loved all the breakfast options as well, and having Big Chicken open for breakfast with a breakfast menu that lasted well into lunch was a bonus.
My favorite place to eat breakfast was not free, but at only $5-$6 per item, eating at Emeril’s Bistro was a perfect quiet place to start the day. And now I must move on before I start daydreaming about those sweet potato waffles.
2. Layout of the ship
I’ll touch on this throughout the article, because the layout of the ship really does impact the experience in other areas, including dining, use of the pools, entertainment, etc.
Even with almost 6,000 passengers on board, the ship felt surprisingly spacious. Of course, you would expect a 183,00 gross ton vessel to be spacious, but with a space to passenger ratio of 34, I expected a more cramped feeling. And this all comes down to the great design and layout of the vessel.
Making sure both dining venues were spread out and entertainment options could be held in various places on the ship meant that passengers weren’t too bottlenecked at any one point in time. There’s an exception here when it comes to Center Stage, which I will address in the “misses” portion of this article.
I spent a lot of time on decks 6-8 and loved both the openness and variety of venues on these decks. There was plenty to eat, see, and do without having to hop in the elevator every few minutes.
3. Summer Landing and Patio
This was my favorite part of the ship. The back yard deck vibe with picnic tables, foosball, ice cream, and sports being played on the giant TV’s added to this casual and inviting space at the back of the ship on deck 8.
After eating dinner at Guy’s Pig & Anchor at the Summer Landing you can head over to the ice cream station that is part of Heroes Tribute Lounge. This lounge is a relaxed, couch-filled area with U.S. military uniforms, medals, and stories of the troops on the walls. I really love how Carnival pays tribute to members of the military in this space. Football games were being played in this sports lounge as well, and it was packed for some of the big college football games.
In this same area is a space for foosball and table shuffleboard, and if you keep walking aft on the ship you will find the patio, complete with an aft pool, day beds, and plenty of padded loungers. This pool was one of the least crowded on the ship but was also the coldest on the ship. But two hot tubs just around the corner on the starboard side could easily warm you up. These hot tubs were not usually that crowded either, making this entire space a great retreat from some of the busier areas (unless a big game was on of course).
4. Separate pool areas
Speaking of pools, finding meaningful room to swim and cool off on a sea day can be a battle on a mainstream cruise line. And while the main pool on the lido deck of Carnival Celebration was quite full on sea days, the fact that there were other pools spread out through the ship helped a great deal.
There are 5 pools on Celebration — 6 if you include the Loft area pool. I already mentioned the patio pool on deck 8 aft, but there is another aft pool on board. Deck 16 aft is the location of Tides pool which has a hot tub on either side of it. This is also the area of Big Chicken and an ice cream station, so there’s really no reason to ever leave. Tides pool was usually warmer than the Patio pool, mostly because it gets a little more sun throughout the day. During lunch hours it was busy, but never as busy as the main pool.
For Havana Cabana guests there is a pool on deck 8 as well. This small pool was the one that was directly under my balcony cabin, in fact. This made things a bit awkward when trying to enjoy a peaceful sunset as it was literally feet away from guests enjoying the pool –awkward on both sides of the railing. Several times I even heard some people in the pool saying how weird it was that we were right above them from our “private” balcony. But that’s part of the gamble of booking a guaranteed stateroom where the cruise line picks the cabin.
For some peace and quiet there is also a pool in the adult-only Serenity Retreat. Except, on sea days it may not be so peaceful or quiet as it did get rather full during those peek pool hours. But still, having at least 5 pools spread out on the ship helped make each one a little less crowded, something I always appreciate on a cruise ship.
The Loft area on Deck 19 also has a heated pool for Loft guests who would like to rent a spacious cabana and have even more seclusion and privacy.
And for those wanting to cool off by means of waterslides Carnival Waterworks had some pretty fast-moving waterslides on deck 18. There were three big water slides with one that drops you right out of the floor to start off with a rush, but it was broken during my visit, so I didn’t get to try it. The other two were a lot of fun though, with one requiring a mat and the other twisting and turning like crazy.
Having a roller coaster on a cruise ship can be a little polarizing. Some will hate it while others love it. I was on the fence until I tried it. The first time I signed up on the app and paid the $15 to ride on Bolt I had the money refunded because of some mechanical issues. On another day, while playing a few rounds of mini golf, I noticed Bolt was up and running. I reserved a spot on the app right away and within 10 minutes I was sitting on my first roller coaster at sea. The app process for reducing waiting lines and waiting times was really smooth, by the way.
With a burst of speed, I was off, pulling back on the throttle boost the entire time to get the full effect of the ride. They say it travels up to 40 mph, but that’s mainly from that launch at the start of the ride. While the 2 trips around the ship went by quickly, it was a blast of a ride and fairly priced I felt. These rides are two-seaters, and I do wish the 2nd person got some kind of discount, as it’s just not the same experience riding in the back. But it’s definitely a fun experience you should try at least once, and it provides yet another exciting thing to do on a sea day.
Bolt is just part of what makes up the Ultimate Playground with mini golf, a sports court, ping pong and foosball tables, and a very fun ropes course in the middle of it all.
6. Shows at Center Stage
The concept of Center Stage on Excel-class ships like Celebration is fantastic. This 3-deck stage and entertainment area is perfectly placed in a central part of the ship. At any time, as you pass by this area you may find some kind of fun activity or show going on, whether it’s a Build-a Bear workshop for the kids or a circus-like performance with acrobatics and music.
During my cruise I saw several shows and events take place here. The lighting and sound capabilities are amazing, and I loved how the 3-deck tall windows can be completely transformed into a giant screen at night.
During the day, the lounge around Center Stage was a great place to relax. With JavaBlue Café right across the ship on deck 6, you can grab a tasty pastry or specialty coffee and enjoy ocean views from the huge starboard side windows.
7. Tons of Trivia games
Every cruise ship has some kind of trivia game. It’s the iconic battle of useless knowledge we just love to take part in when we’re out at sea. Not only did Celebration have trivia. There were at least 20 different topics and kinds of trivia games to enjoy throughout the cruise. Topics included everything from sci-fi and fairy tales to slogans and geography. Almost every day there were 3 or 4 trivia games going on throughout the ship and taking part in a few of them was always a fun thing to do. And it seemed like other cruisers felt the same way, as many of the lounges used for trivia were always buzzing with pencil-ready contestants.
8. Some very smooth sailing
I’m not one to get motion sickness, but there’s always a little movement you feel when at sea, even in the largest of cruise ships. I must have commented several times on how smooth Carnival Celebration felt. Even at 16-18 knots I was amazed at the ship’s stability. Usually after a cruise is over there’s a period of time when I feel a little wobbly as those sea legs get used to land again. But this cruise was so calm and smooth I never felt that at all. Now, we did have some excellent weather, although it rained a few times, and the 183,000 gross ton ship didn’t have to travel at full speed to get to our destinations, but I still wanted to mention that this was one of the smoothest cruises I’ve ever been on in regard to motion at sea.
9. Thermal suite in the spa
My wife was hesitant to sign up for the thermal suite because we felt it might be too overcrowded. That’s what I had read about the ship before the cruise, anyway. But after getting that tour of the spa she decided to go for it, since it was only $129 for the week (Normally $179 for this cruise). She ended up loving it and found if she went during non-peak times like late at night or right before dinner time it wasn’t crowded at all. There were three different steam rooms and saunas and a decent size therapy pool in the middle, surrounded by heated tile loungers. It was the perfect relaxing space, even if just for 30 minutes to an hour each day.
10. A variety of things to do
Not everyone likes to keep busy on a cruise, but it’s nice knowing there’s always something to do if you do get struck with a moment of “Let’s go do something!”. Carnival Celebration had so much going on at almost every hour that it was hard to decide sometimes. I really enjoyed the talented string trio that played each night in various parts of the ship, and Carnival’s infamous Punchliner Comedy Club was always a hit. Other types of activities included scavenger hunts, Family Feud, BINGO, Deal or No Deal, and even a pickleball competition. The pickleball tournament took place at around 9pm though, and with only one court and 20 players, who knows how long that went into the night. I saved everyone the embarrassment by not participating this time.
11. Mahogany Bay
I had to put one extra point in here, because Mahogany Bay was just the perfect place for a beach day when sailing on Carnival Celebration. This Carnival Corp. exclusive cruise port in Roatan, Honduras is so well laid out and has everything you would want at a private island/destination.
You can rent a clamshell for some shade at your lounger, but there are plenty of trees offering natural shade if you get off the ship early enough. Beside all kinds of water sport rentals, there is a pier at the end of the beach that allows for some great snorkeling spots as well if you want to be more active.
A few misses
Before I delve into the things that weren’t my favorite aspects of the cruise, I should note that this is all very subjective. What I think is a “miss” you might not mind at all or even think is a plus. Feel free to let me know where you might disagree in a comment below as I’d love for our readers to get different perspectives.
1. Seating at Center Stage
I know, I just raved about the great concept of Center Stage on Carnival Celebration. But the seating around this 3-deck area is another story. The first night I wanted to check out a show and got there about 30 minutes before the start, thinking I would be early enough to get a good seat.
That’s when I discovered that there are really only a few good seats at Center Stage, and they are taken very early in advance. I walked up and down the stairs and from side to side to find the best angles for the next night, but you couldn’t really see the entire stage unless you were in a handful of seats.
So of course, this led to passengers trying to get there an hour before the show and using articles of clothing to save seats for other members of their party. Many dirty looks were exchanged after people tried to sit down in these “saved” areas, thinking they just scored a great view of the show, only to be shooed away like a fly on a slice of pizza. Squatters always had the best seats in the house, and I even walked by almost 90 minutes before one show and saw them already parked and locked into position.
I’m not sure how this could be fixed with the current layout, but it definitely led to a lot of frustration on the part of passengers just wanting to enjoy a nice show after dinner.
2. Cramped elevators
With three main elevator areas and 8 elevators to an area you would think this would not be much of a problem. But these elevators seemed a lot smaller than I had expected. Some passengers on motorized scooters could barely fit in, and I was very close to having a throbbing big toe after a few incidents.
Other passengers also commented over and over again at how small these elevators were, which led to many awkwardly intimate moments that ended with a swift exit once the doors opened. I know most cruise ships don’t have tons of square footage in the elevator spaces, but something a bit bigger would have been appreciated.
Then again, it did make me take the stairs more often which in turn helped me burn off that calorie-laden Guy’s burger.
3. Small stateroom bathroom
On the topic of small spaces, I felt the stateroom bathroom was also quite cramped. Again, these are areas on cruise ships that are notorious for being limited in space, but it was too small to even change clothes in or to even bend down to pick up a sock. This was my only complaint with my stateroom though, other than the balcony view looking directly into the Havana pool.
4. No library
I know I’m in the minority here when I saw I like to visit the libraries on cruise ships, so I will keep this brief. More cruise ships are being built without a library, and I know cruise lines want to use that space for other money-generating things. But I always like to check out the books in the library, see what kind of games are available, and have a nice place for a quick game or puzzle.
5. Missing that movie night popcorn
There’s something about watching a movie on a cruise ship that makes it so much more interesting than watching it in your living room. And the free popcorn Carnival used to give out during movie nights on the big screen was a big part of that. I know some Carnival ships are charging $3 for popcorn, but I didn’t see popcorn at all on Celebration, and I looked for it about every night.
Overall, I loved sailing on Carnival Celebration and look forward to another sailing in the future. The food was incredible and plenteous, the Ultimate Playground was a blast, and all the game shows, events, and activities made each day exciting and unique. This is a class of cruise ship you absolutely should try if you haven’t already. It felt so different than any other Carnival ship I’ve been on and it’s a huge step in the right direction for the company in my opinion.
Have you taken a cruise on Carnival Celebration before? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below.