Carnival Cruise Line is proof that cruising can be affordable. The line's ships are hubs of activities, entertainment and excitement including a vibrant nightlife and the best live comedy scene on the high seas, all included in your cruise fare. Carnival does not tend to sweeten the pot with shipboard credit offers, like competing lines such as Norwegian Cruise Line, but there are many ways to save.
Carnival Cruise Line has 19 homeports in the U.S., more than any other cruise line. You can save by picking a port near you and driving to catch your ship -- whether you are embarking from a port in Florida, Long Beach, Galveston, New Orleans, New York, Mobile or elsewhere. No need to deal with expensive flights or crowded airports.
Before you even start your online search for a fare or call a travel agent, take a look at Carnival's latest deals including super low last-minute offers at the Today's Deals section at Carnival.com. The Today's Deals button is on the top of the page on the right.
Cabins on special sale, called guarantee cabins, are priced below the regular cruise rate. When you choose a guarantee cabin, essentially you are making a bet without entering the casino. Rather than choosing a specific cabin, you are choosing a low cruise rate without knowing exactly what level of cabin you will get. The cruise line will decide, based on availability.
If you are lucky, the category you chose will sell out and you will be upgraded -- say from a guarantee interior to an ocean view. If you're not lucky, you could end up in an interior in a less desirable area of the ship. For this reason, these deals are best for those who want to save bucks and really don't care where they sleep.
Carnival's newest ships have such attractions as SkyRide, a recumbent bike you ride in the air, ropes courses, an IMAX theater, 4D Thrill Theater and more, and the cabins tend to sell at a premium rate. Check out value-priced sailings on some of the line's older ships, still lively, still fun, offering such attractions as WaterWorks water parks and often at bargain prices.
Carnival's free credit card, called the Carnival World Mastercard, lets cardholders earn points for every dollar spent, which can be redeemed for merchandise, onboard amenities or a statement credit. Sign up and you'll earn 20,000 bonus FunPoints after you use your card for the first time; that's enough to redeem for a credit of up to $100 toward your cruise fare.
Before your first cruise, you can join the Very Important Fun Person (VIFP) Club. You get access to special cruise offers, such as 30 percent off during an end of summer sale. There are also early saver savings, up to 25 percent off, when itineraries are first announced. Onboard perks, such as a big free bottle of water, start with your second sailing. As you move up the five tiers, earning points for each cruise, the perks increase, eventually leading to such niceties as cabin upgrades.
To dissuade any fears cruisers might have about overpaying for shore excursions, Carnival has a Best Price Guarantee. This only applies to prebooked excursions, and if you are claiming you found a lower price (and thus asking for reimbursement) it has to be for the same tour; if, for instance, Carnival includes lunch, and you find the same tour cheaper without lunch, that doesn't count.
Before you book, it's worth comparing prices with third-party companies such as Viator.com (a sister company to Cruise Critic) and shoretrips.com. If you decide to take a cheaper DIY approach, find ideas on the Cruise Critic destination pages.
You can save by spending your vacation in unplugged nirvana or looking for cafes with free Wi-Fi on land, but Carnival also offers a pretty good deal. If you book before your cruise, you save 15 percent on a Social Media plan that gives you enough bandwidth to access Facebook (and Facebook Messenger), Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, Snapchat and the most popular airline sites. It's $6.80 per day, or $55 for a seven-night sailing. Plans bought onboard, or that give more bandwidth to stream movies, will be more expensive.
If you are a big drinker or just do not want the hassle of worrying about how much you are spending on drinks, prepurchase the Cheers drinks package for $51.95 per adult, per day. (All adults sharing a cabin have to agree to book the plan.) You'll pay 10 percent more if you book onboard.
On the other hand, if you purchase your drinks package onboard, you do have the option of starting the plan at a prorated rate whenever you want; for instance, if you don't want it on embarkation day, you can start it the next day. (But you will have to buy it for all remaining days of the cruise.) The plan covers up to 15 drinks each day as long as the value is $20 or less, and in addition to alcohol includes specialty coffee, bottled water, soda and milkshakes.
If you and/or the kids are big soda drinkers, each passenger is allowed to bring onboard one 12-pack of canned soda, seltzer or juice (no bottles), carried in your hand luggage. If you are on a longer cruise and will drink more than that, you'll save by ordering a Bottomless Bubbles soda package, priced at $8.50/day for adults, $5.95 for kids, plus an automatic 18 percent gratuity.
Same goes for water. While bottled water is not allowed, you can save by bringing your own refillable water bottle and get water from the fountains on the Lido Deck. Or, under the Gifts section on the carnival.com website, you can preorder a bottle water package for $4.50. You get 12 bottles -- a bargain compared to what they charge per bottle on your ship.
The way to save on photos is to take your own, but if you know you won't be able to resist the posed shots by Carnival's photographers, consider purchasing a Pixels photo package. You'll save 37 percent if you book a package pre-cruise. For example, a package of five photos, plus one made into a 16 x 20 canvas portrait costs $99.98 (based on one limited time promotion) when booked online. The same photos purchased separately onboard would be $50 more (though also onboard is a similar package for $119.99).
Each adult (age 21 or older) in your party can carry onboard (in your hand luggage) one normal-sized bottle of wine or Champagne. If you drink it in your cabin (pack a corkscrew, too), there is no charge. If you take your bottle to one of the dining rooms or specialty restaurants, there's a $15 corkage fee, which might still make your total purchase cheaper than buying a bottle onboard.
Another way to save on bottles of wine is the Cruise the Vineyards wine package. You purchase four bottles at a discount price, and if you don't drink them all you can bring home any unsealed bottles. Another tip: Even if you just purchase one bottle of wine at dinner, if you don't finish it, ask that it be corked and saved for your next meal. (When you arrive at dinner the next day, just remind the waiter you have a bottle.)
Finally, if you dine in Carnival's onboard steakhouse on the first night of your cruise or the first formal night, you typically will be offered a free bottle of the house wine or a discounted bottle of your choice.
Cherry on Top is a candy and ice cream shop, with an eye-popping array of temptations, but less than tempting prices. If the kids want a sweet treat, steer them to the soft-serve, self-serve ice cream and yogurt stations on the pool deck, which are available on a complimentary basis, 24 hours a day. And so you won't feel like a crumb saying "Sorry kids" to the candy, bring treats from home to distribute onboard; you are allowed to bring prepackaged, sealed items.
Unless you are very fussy about having a latte rather than a regular cup of Joe, skip the JavaBlue Cafe or Coffee Bar. There's free coffee in self-serve machines on Lido, and if you bring your own covered mug from home, you can easily transport it anywhere on the ship. Also skip the fee-based snacks at the coffee shops; there are free treats at the buffet.
Carnival's IMAX and thrill Theater movies are a cool thing, but there is a substantial fee for the experience. Plan a night at a free Dive-In Movie shown outdoors on a big screen instead.
The shipboard shops offer temptations, but before you pay full price for a T-shirt or trinket, be aware that throughout your cruise, especially late in the sailing, there will be sales. Even better, buy your souvenirs on land. You'll be helping out the local economy and saving some cash. For example, in the Caribbean, look for vendors offering T-shirts for a song (occasionally even three for $10).
Carnival ships offer a ton of free dining options, so you can have variety without having to splurge on specialty restaurants. One of the best and most popular bites on Carnival Cruise Line ships are food celebrity Guy Fieri burgers. There is no extra charge for the burgers, available at Guy's Burger Joint on the Lido Deck. You'll also find free Guy's BBQ on select ships.
You can also get a special meal without the specialty restaurant fee by attending the complimentary Sea Day Brunch, where a lavish spread shows off the skills of the culinary team. Other free food finds include pizza, pasta, deli, burritos and tacos.
If you don't have a prepurchased drinks package, consider purchasing a souvenir Carnival Cruise Line glass. You'll pay more upfront for your first cocktail, but the glass includes cheaper refills.
If you love your Carnival experience, an easy way to save on your next cruise is with the Future Cruise Vacation Program. You can book on the ship or up to four weeks post-cruise, and take advantage of offers such as Early Saver rates that include a two-category cabin upgrade, 50 percent reduced rate deposit and up to $50 onboard credit per cabin, on select sailings.
Updated October 10, 2019