Are you interested in cruise tips to help you get the most out out of your upcoming experience? Or maybe you’re on the fence about taking a cruise and want to learn more? Keep reading, because I’ve pulled together my top 10 cruise tips! There are many tricks I’ve learned along the way that make the experience so much fun. Thanks to Carnival for providing me with a free cruise so I could share this experience.
In 2015, I was invited to go on my first Carnival Cruise with several food bloggers. I had never seriously considered cruising up until that point because I wasn’t sure if I’d like it. I feel incredibly grateful to Carnival for showing me how fun it truly is.
For several years, Carnival has been focused on expanding their fine dining options. I’ve been on three of their ships now (Carnival Sunshine, Vista, and Horizon), and the food has been stellar on every trip.
However, vacation clearly isn’t all about the food. There is SO MUCH you can do onboard cruise ships, and I found it a little overwhelming at first. After three cruises, I have a solid routine in place. It’s worth noting that I can’t technically speak for other cruise lines, since I’ve only traveled with Carnival.
From the people watching (honestly one of my favorite things) to the fine dining, Carnival cruises are an extremely fun vacation, If I’m being honest, sometimes I like hanging out on the ship more than visiting the actual ports.
Not that I haven’t had amazing port experiences. Tubing down a beautiful river in Jamaica is something I’ll never forget.
Are you ready for those tips?
My Top 10 Carnival Cruise Tips
Tip 1: Splurge on a Balcony Room
I don’t think I’d want to take a cruise without a balcony room at this point. There are plenty of places onboard to relax and enjoy water views, but nothing is quite as amazing as sitting on your own private balcony.
I’d sit there with my morning coffee or an evening glass of wine, or read my book whenever I needed a quiet escape from the crowds. Actually, I’d usually ignore my book after a few minutes and just stare at the water.
The balcony also makes for a fun view of the ports on arrival and departure. This was our view while debarking from Miami.
Tip 2: Stock Up Your Room
Each stateroom has a mini fridge. Before you board the ship, you can use Carnival’s online shop to purchase provisions for your room. While they offer snacks and alcohol, I prefer to stock up the room with bottled water. The ships have 24-hour room service and no shortage of places to get food, so you won’t go hungry.
So why bottled water? Many of the port excursions leave first thing in the morning, and you might not have a chance to grab water on the way out. Another option is to simply bring a refillable water bottle on board with you.
Also, you’re allowed to pack one bottle of wine per adult. If you’re a wine drinker, be sure to take advantage of this!
Here are a few things I recommend packing:
- An outlet splitter. One of the first things I noticed about the Carnival Horizon was that they’ve added 2 USB ports to the wall. On my previous trips aboard the Sunshine and Vista, there were a couple outlets in the room, but that’s not always enough if you have a couple people bringing phones, tablets, cameras, etc. I bought this Belkin adapter that works perfectly.
- Magnets. The rooms seem to always have at least one magnetic wall, and it’s a great way to keep documents organized. Every day you’ll get a new schedule highlighting onboard events, as well as things like excursion tickets and port info.
- A rain coat. Don’t get stuck having to lug an umbrella around (or having to buy one) if it’s raining on an excursion day.
- Something warm. Even if you’re cruising somewhere tropical, the boat can get very chilly in the evenings, especially with the breeze from the ocean. I like bringing a cozy sweater (this one is my all time favorite).
Tip 3: Tip Your room Steward At The Beginning
Here’s a tip I learned from an online forum, and it’s spot on. Every stateroom has its own room steward for the duration of the cruise. They’ll introduce themselves to you on the first day. This person is your friend, and will help you with anything you need!
On every cruise, I’ve given my room steward a $20 tip right up front when I meet them. This obviously isn’t required, but these people work incredibly hard, and you’ll likely get extra attention if they know you’re appreciative. If you need help with something, they’re a good ally.
Also, make sure to budget for tipping in general. It can add up if you’re not paying close attention. Here’s a great guide from Cruise Critic: An Insider’s Guide to Cruise Tipping.
Tip 4: Locate the Best Coffee Options Before You Need Caffeine
I openly admit that I’ve turned into a coffee snob over the years. I only want espresso drinks like Americanos and lattes. Regular coffee is often too bitter for me, even if it’s brewed properly.
You can get free coffee with room service (have I mentioned there’s free breakfast room service?), but if you’re anything like me, you’ll be willing to pay for the good stuff. All three of my Carnival ships have had two options: JavaBlue Cafe and Havana Bar.
I typically go to JavaBlue Cafe in the morning, because it’s fast and they have a loyalty card (10th drink free, I think?). I buy two and take them back to my room. Havana Bar isn’t open early in the morning, so I sometimes stop there for an afternoon pick-me-up.
Tip 5: Set Your Cell Phone To Ship Time
Love people watching as much as I do? Here’s a cruise tip for you: When it’s almost time for the ship to leave a port, pull up a seat near a balcony or window that’s facing the dock. Especially if you hear announcements for someone to come to the customer service desk.
There’s a good chance you’ll see one or more people running like mad to get back to the ship before it leaves. If you’re on a balcony, you can cheer and applaud for them with the other passengers. I’m not gonna lie; it’s kind of hilarious.
I sometimes joked about how irresponsible these people were. However, on my most recent cruise I realized what might actually be happening sometimes.
Whenever the ship docks at a port, there’s a loudspeaker announcement noting what time everyone needs to be back on board. The cruise ship never changes time, even if the local port is in a different time zone.
Important: Make sure your phone is not set to automatically update to the local time zone!
I didn’t think this would be an issue for me since my phone was in airplane mode and connected to the ship’s wifi. However, when we were in Jamaica, both of our phones changed to the local time zone. Thankfully, we went on a half day excursion and were back in plenty of time.
Tip 6: Find The Quiet Deck
If you’re an introvert like me, you definitely want to locate the quiet deck. Here’s the thing, though… it’s not actually labeled “the quiet deck” on ship maps, and at this point I can’t remember where I picked up the term. Maybe someone else said it to me, maybe I read it in the forums, or maybe I just christened it myself at some point.
On every Carnival ship, I’ve been able to find one deck where there are cozy lounge chairs facing the water. This area is usually far enough away from the other entertainment that you can’t hear it (or can barely hear it). The main decks are fun, but there’s often loud music or just a ton of loud chatter from people. The quiet deck is perfect for reading, relaxing and recharging.
Tip 7: The Restaurant Deals Are Insane
Listen, I love free food as much as the next gal (I especially love free soft serve ice cream, which you can get in the Lido Marketplace 24/7). There is no shortage of great free food on Carnival. Don’t miss the burgers at Guy’s Burger Joint, especially The Ringer.
However, while it might be tempting to stick with the free dining options, I highly recommend visiting at least one of the sit down restaurants. Carnival has been extremely generous with me, and I’ve had the opportunity to thoroughly sample the menus at every restaurant for free.
I love Ji Ji Asian Kitchen so much that on every cruise I’ve gone back on my own dime several times. It’s some of the best pork belly I’ve ever tried. And I would gladly pay for any of these restaurants. The value is insane.
The menus aren’t a la carte; everything is a fixed price. You get a ton of food. Most restaurants are $15 per person or $5 for children. The steakhouse is $38 per person or $12 for kids. These places would easily cost double to quadruple the amount where I live, especially the steak house.
For example, when we went to the steakhouse, the two of us shared beef tartar, bone marrow, oysters, tuna tartar, lobster bisque, Australian wagu, surf & turf, onion rings, mashed potatoes, sautéed mushrooms, garlic rapini, AND dessert. For $38 per person.
Then there’s The Chef’s Table. It’s by far the biggest splurge at $95 per person. But if you’re into molecular gastronomy meals, this is once again a bargain. Similar restaurants in DC like Minibar cost $275 before alcohol. The $95 includes wine. This is the ultimate fancy food experience.
If you want to read a more in-depth overview of Carnival’s dining options, check out this review from Love and Olive Oil.
Tip 8: Plan Your Sea Days
As I already mentioned, I love spending time on the ship. I recommend booking a cruise that has at least one sea day, preferably two. I always think I’m going to have plenty of time to do everything on the ship that looks fun, but I always miss a few things because there’s so much to do.
There’s a Carnival App you can download that really helps you stay organized. It lists the daily events schedule. You can bookmark the ones you’re interested in so you get a popup on your phone. You’ll never have to worry about missing the Hairy Man Contest (not kidding).
Here are a few of my top entertainment recommendations to do onboard the ship (aside from my beloved quiet deck):
- Sea Day brunch. There’s an excellent free brunch that’s only available on sea days. They have classic brunch items plus a surprising number of healthy options like green juice and chia pudding parfaits.
- Watch karaoke (or even get on stage). Jeff and I made giddy fools of ourselves on our Carnival Vista European cruise. The people watching at karaoke is hilarious and epic.
- The Alchemy Bar. The drinks are incredible and the bartenders are hilarious. You can also take drink-making classes. I cover The Alchemy Bar more thoroughly in my Carnival Sunshine review.
- Get a spa treatment. The spa is great, but it’s also pricy. Keep an eye out for deals on port days. Since our Jamaica excursion was only 4 hours, we had plenty of time on the ship before most people returned. I used that time to get a discounted massage.
- See a movie. There’s an IMAX theater. Even better, they also have a huge screen on the Lido pool deck that shows movies at night. You can even watch a movie from the hot tub, if that’s your thing.
- Waterworks. I’ll be honest, I can’t do most waterslides because I have a fear of heights, but I watched a lot of people ride it and everyone was having a blast.
Tip 9: Research Your Ports
You can find a lot of great info on the ports before you debark. I recommend doing some research to figure out what the best excursions are or if you even need one. Sites like Trip Advisor, Cruise Critic and Reddit’s cruise forum all have useful info about ports.
We booked a tubing trip in Jamaica, and my friend Anj went diving in Grand Cayman. However, we decided to skip the excursions in Cozumel and just wander around. We had incredible tacos and went to a tequila tasting.
On my first cruise, Grand Turk had a beach right at the port. We just walked off the ship and grabbed lounge chairs by the water.
Tip 10: Book Your Excursions Directly Through Carnival
You might be tempted to book excursions through third party companies. Sometimes they’re cheaper.
However, I strongly recommend booking through Carnival. If you book through Carnival and wind up on a bus that, say, gets stuck in traffic or has a flat tire, the ship will wait for you. If you book through a third party company and something goes wrong, you’re on your own.
I hope you find these cruise tips helpful! If you’ve been cruising before, I’d love to hear your top cruise tips! Did I miss anything?