Carnival Cruise Line is proof that cruising can be both affordable and enjoyable. 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.
The vibe is casual and friendly, and the line caters as much to families as it does to young groups of friends.
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 get cruise discounts on Carnival if you know what to do and where to go to find them.
From choosing a departure port near you to making the most of the drink packages, here are some of the best ways you can save big before you book your vacation, before you cruise and while onboard the ship for a cheap Carnival cruise.
Check for Carnival Cruise Line Deals from Ports Within Driving Distance.
Carnival Cruise Line has 14 homeports in the U.S., including 10 year-round ones, which is the most of any 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.
Check out our article for additional reasons to book a no-fly Carnival cruise.
Search for Easy-To-Find Carnival Cruise Deals
Carnival Cabin Upgrades: Consider a Guarantee-Rate Cabin on Carnival for a Potential Free Upgrade
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, they are best for those who want to get the best Carnival cruise deal and really don't care where they sleep.
Carnival Ships: Always Look for Carnival Cruise Specials on Older Ships
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.
Sign Up for a Carnival Mastercard and Get Future Cruise Discounts
Carnival's free credit card, called the Carnival World Mastercard, lets cardholders earn points for every dollar spent, which can be redeemed for a variety of perks, including merchandise and onboard amenities.
Sign up and you'll automatically earn statement credit toward your next cruise fare.
The VIFP Club: Join the Carnival Loyalty Program for Discounts and Onboard Perks
Loyalty programs are a great way to get freebies on cruise ships. Before your first cruise with Carnival, you can join the Very Important Fun Person (VIFP) Club. It gives you access to special cruise offers, including discounts during an end-of-summer Carnival cruise sale.
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 and free meals at specialty restaurants.
Price Shop for Carnival Cruise Promotions, Especially for Shore Excursions
To dissuade any fears cruisers might have about overpaying for shore excursions, Carnival has a Best Price Guarantee.
This only applies to pre-booked 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 your Carnival cruise, it's worth comparing prices with third-party companies such as Viator.
Cruise Ship Wi-Fi: Buy the Social Media Wi-Fi Plan Before Embarkation Day
You can save by spending your vacation in unplugged nirvana or looking for cafes with free Wi-Fi on land, but Carnival Cruise Line also offers a pretty good deal on their onboard Wi-Fi.
If you book before your cruise, you save 15 percent on a social media plan that gives you enough bandwidth to access the most popular social media platforms and airline sites.
Plans bought onboard or that give more bandwidth to stream movies will be more expensive. Also note that often you won’t be able (or willing) to use the data on your mobile phone, so an internet plan with Carnival will always come in handy.
Drinks Packages: Consider All of Your Booze Options and Save Big
One of your best bets for a cheap Carnival cruise is to check out the line’s drink packages. If you intend on drinking quite a bit of alcohol on your cruise or just do not want the hassle of worrying about how much you are spending on drinks, pre-purchase the Cheers drinks package for a per-day fee.
Note that all adults sharing a cabin have to agree to book the plan each. You'll also pay 10 percent more for this package if you book onboard.
On the other hand, if you do happen to 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.
Keep in mind that if you do go that route, you will have to buy it for all remaining days of the cruise.
In addition to alcohol, the Cheers plan includes specialty coffee, bottled water, soda and non-alcoholic frozen cocktails. Post-boarding Carnival Cruise promotions for booze are rare.
Soda Packages on Cruises: Look for Non-Alcoholic Packages if You Want Soda
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.
Same goes for drinking water on a cruise. 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.
You can also preorder a water package after you book your Carnival cruise. These are a bargain compared to what they charge per bottle on your ship.
Sign Up for Discounted Photo Packages on Your Cruise and Save up to 50 Percent
You may be extremely lucky and find photo specials once you board your Carnival cruise, but the safest bet if you want to save is to book your package pre-cruise.
Options range from five professional portraits in the studio to paparazzi-style photo shoots with posed and candid photos that’ll set you back hundreds of dollars. With every package you’ll receive the printed images; digital copies are only available if you go for the more expensive ones.
Pre-boarding photo package promotions on Carnival cruises can save you between 20 and 50 percent of the onboard price.
Seek Out Carnival Cruise Wine Sales or Bring Your Own
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 (remember to pack a corkscrew, too), there is no charge.
However, if you take your bottle to one of the dining rooms or specialty restaurants, there's a corkage fee, which might still make your total purchase cheaper than buying a bottle onboard.
Another way to save on bottles of wine is by purchasing bottles of wine with Carnival directly before you board.
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 and they'll bring it to you.
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.
Avoid The Fee-Based Treats and Go for Free Ice Cream on Carnival
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 self-serve soft-serve ice cream and yogurt stations on the pool deck, which are available on a complimentary basis 24 hours a day.
So you won't feel guilty saying, "Sorry, kids," to the candy, bring treats from home to distribute onboard; you are allowed to bring prepackaged, sealed items. Read your Carnival cruise details and fine print before packing to make sure you are not bringing more than the allowable limit.
Carnival Cruise Buffet: Skip the Coffee Shop Drinks and Snacks and Head to the Buffet
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 Carnival buffet.
Do the Free Movies for a Cheap Carnival Cruise Evening
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. Films are generally action movies and/or family friendly.
Wait On Carnival Souvenirs -- Carnival Cruise Has Sales Later in the Sailing
The shipboard souvenir shops offer temptations, but before you pay full price for a T-shirt or trinket, be aware that throughout your Carnival cruise there will be sales, especially late in the sailing.
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.
Stick to Free Food on Carnival Ships -- It’s Varied and Overall Tasty
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.
Consider Carnival Cruise Line’s Souvenir Glass for Cheaper Refills
Book Your Next Carnival Cruise While Still Onboard
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 a future cruise on your ship or do so up to four weeks post-cruise, and take advantage of offers such as Early Saver rates that include a two-category cabin upgrade, reduced rate deposit and onboard credit, on select sailings.