13 Carnival Cruise ‘Secrets’ Hidden in Plain Sight

From how the casinos have a quirk to keep you playing longer to where to find the cheapest beer on board to how to get your money back if your cruise drops in price, there are a number of secrets that you likely don’t know about Carnival Cruise Line.

Whether it’s your first time sailing or you have Diamond status (the highest tier available), we’re willing to bet there’s plenty about the ins and outs of the cruise line that may surprise you…

Free Lunch in (Some) Specialty Restaurants

Free restaurants on Carnival
While it’s not the same experience as dinner, some spots that require an extra charge in the evening are open for free at lunch.

Carnival, like most cruise lines, has “included” restaurants meaning there’s no extra charge to eat there, and “specialty” restaurants, which see an additional fee if you want to dine. One secret many people don’t know is that certain specialty restaurants are actually free if you visit during lunch.

It’s not all of them, but check out the daily planner on the app during your cruise. You’ll find that some offer a lunch option that’s normally a little different, but it’s free. For instance, at dinner, Ji Ji — the Asian restaurant onboard — is a traditional sit-down spot that costs extra. At lunch, however, it serves stir-fry dishes that are free.

Yes, the Video Cameras Are Recording

If you’re on a cruise and in a public space, then there will be some sort of camera that will have you in sight. When you see them, however, it can be easy to wonder if they are actually watching. After all, they don’t move, and there’s no clear way like a flashing light to tell if they are recording or not.

We can tell you that yes, the cameras work. We’ve been fortunate enough to visit the bridge during a Carnival cruise. From this spot, not did the crew steer the ship, but they also monitored everything going on, from alarms to live camera feeds. So if you think you’re going to get away with something you shouldn’t be doing… well, think again.

Carnival Ranks Low on “Space Ratio” for Passengers

Are you in the middle of your cruise and feeling that it’s a bit crowded? That’s not your imagination. First, cruise ships in general are built to be busy. While they are big, they also hold thousands of passengers and crew. Finding a spot where you’re the only one around is tough, and popular areas like the pool on a day at sea are going to be slammed no matter what.

Carnival, however, seems more crowded than most based on what we call the space ratio. This figure takes the gross tonnage — a measure of ship size — and divides it by the number of passengers at double occupancy. This figure isn’t perfect, but gives a hint to how big the ship is on a per-passenger basis.

What we found is that Carnival consistently ranks near the bottom on this metric, indicating there are more people on its ships compared to the ship size than other cruise lines. Just keep that in mind next time you have trouble finding a lounger.

What’s Known About Celebration Key

Unless you pay attention to cruising a lot, it could be that you have never heard of Celebration Key. This is a brand-new destination that Carnival is developing in The Bahamas and won’t be ready until 2025. So what secrets do we know about it?

So far, the cruise line has been quiet on details. We know it will be big with the ability to handle two of Carnival’s largest ships at once. It’s set to have roughly a mile of beach. And a rendering release by the cruise line shows a massive pool. Going by the scale of the cruise ships also shown in the rendering, it could be one of the largest pools in the world or at least in North America.

More details are going to be released soon, but for right now a lot of the details on the project are a closely guarded secret.

Where to Find the Cheapest Beer on the Ship

Pour your own beer
Want an affordable beer? Beer stations on Carnival ships let you pour by the ounce at a price that’s cheaper than bar prices.

Who doesn’t like finding a deal on beer? There’s one spot that you’ll need to hunt down if you want to get the cheapest beer on the ship at around $5 a glass — a discount of $2-3 off the beers on the bar menu.

Carnival ships offer Beer Stations, typically found near the buffet on the ship. These automated kiosks allow you to tap your card and then pour by the ounce. You’re charged only for what you pour. We’d done the math and the price comes out to about $5 for a glass of beer. One bummer, however, is that it feels like the kiosks don’t work a lot of the time.

CHEERS! Package Isn’t Unlimited

Thinking of getting a drink package? One secret in the fine print that seems to catch people off-guard is that the package isn’t unlimited. 

Carnival is one of the lines that puts a 15 alcoholic drink per day limit on what passengers can have. More than that, and you’ll reach the limit. One thing to note is that non-alcoholic drinks don’t count toward the limit, so drink all the waters, coffees, or sodas you want without worrying about cutting into the 15-drink limit.

And if you’re wondering the count resets each day at 6 a.m.

A Casino Quirk Designed to Keep You Playing?

Slot machines on Carnival put funds back on your room keycard instead of using a printed ticket voucher. Otherwise, you have to wait to be paid by hand.

This secret is one that frankly we don’t like as I think it’s a pain in the butt, but we think it’s there to keep people playing in the casino.

Most casinos, you put your money in a machine and when you’re done, you cash out. You’re printed a voucher that you take to a kiosk to get your money. Carnival does everything on the room keycard, instead.

You put in cash and then insert your card to track your play. When you cash out, the money goes onto your account on the card. If you move machines, you use card to load the funds to the new machine. If you want to actually get cash in your hand, however, you have to go talk to the cashier to get paid.

That friction may cause you to simply keep playing instead of dealing with the hassle of having to wait in line to get your money.

Carnival Is Worried About Climate Issues on its Business

Carnival makes no secret about its plan to be more sustainable, going so far to have a website dedicated to the topic that discusses its plan and goals. In fact, criticism has grown about the climate impact that cruises can have and lines have moved toward cleaner fuels, being more efficient, and creating fewer emissions and waste.

But buried in the annual report from Carnival’s parent company is a section on the climate risks the cruise company faces. This includes mention that a risk is “cruising no longer aligns to consumers climate values.”

In other words, Carnival thinks tackling climate issues is more than just something that would be nice to have. They see it as a major risk to the company’s long-term future.

How Much Passengers Spend

It’s no secret what you spend on a cruise. You’ll know exactly what you paid and have a full account of all the charges for money spent onboard. What about what everyone else spends?

As a public company, Carnival Corporation — the parent of Carnival Cruise Line, Princess, and other lines — provides regular updates to investors. This includes figures for revenue taken in and the number of passenger cruise days. Divide revenue by the number of passenger days and you arrive at how much is spent on average per passenger each day.

According to the latest data for the first nine months of 2023, we calculate that Carnival Corporation sees $239 per passenger per day when you add in cruise fare and onboard spending.

That’s up from $211 five years ago.

Two Free Restaurants not to Miss

Carnival Deli sign
Carnival is known for its free spots to eat, but the deli and pizzeria might get lost on some ships. Hunt them down for a great snack that not everyone knows about.

This one isn’t so much a secret as something that we think isn’t as well known — especially on older ships. Carnival ships have two spots — the deli and pizza parlor — across the fleet. On newer ships these are front and center, but on older vessels they can be a bit hidden at the back of the ship.

Having eaten at practically every restaurant the cruise line has to offer, we have to tell you these are consistently two of the best in the fleet — maybe second to Guy’s Burger Joint — but seem to get much less traffic. Next time you cruise, be sure to make a stop.

The Secret Ingredient in Guy’s Burgers

Speaking of Guy’s Burger Joint — this place is no secret. It’s on every ship in the fleet and it gets busy. That’s for good reason. Forget one of the best burgers at sea, we think it’s one of best burgers anywhere, and it’s included with the cruise fare.

But the burgers have a secret that make them so good. Hidden underneath that slice of cheese is a dollop of cheese sauce like Velveeta. You can see it in the recipe on Carnival’s own site.

At home we would never think of putting this on burgers we cook up on the grill. But maybe we should.

The Biggest Drink on the Ship

One secret we think many people don’t know is a fun way to spend an afternoon or evening, and that’s with the biggest drink you can get on a Carnival ship. If you’re sailing on a ship with a RedFrog Pub then be on the lookout. Here, the cruise line serves drinks called Fish Bowls.

There are different flavors and they come in a massive souvenir glass that, well, looks about the size of a fish bowl. Now we have no doubt that some of you watching could handle one of these by yourself, but we would suggest bringing a friend. If not for the alcohol content, the amount of sugar in one fish bowl can throw you for a loop.

Don’t Miss the Towel Animal Invasion

Towel animal invasion
Love the towel animals? They takeover the pool deck one morning of the cruise. 

If you’re a late sleeper, then listen up. You might be missing one event that’s pretty neat and its secretly not listed on the daily planner.

Those that get up a little early — typically later in the cruise on a day when the ship is at sea — may head down to the pool deck to see that Carnival’s famous towel animals have taken things over. During the early hours the staff puts towel animals on every lounger, along the rail of the pool, and even some giant ones around that you don’t want to miss. Kids love this, but seeing all the towel animals will make you smile as well.

Making Sense of Fares (Early Saver, Super Saver, Pack and Go)

Want to get your money back if there is a price drop? One secret to know is to book what’s called an Early Saver fare. These fares are available up to 76 days before cruises of under six days and 91 days prior to cruises six days or longer.

If you have one of these fares, then you’re eligible for price protection. If the price of the cruise drops, you simply fill out a form and you’ll have a choice of either asking for an upgrade or getting the difference back as onboard credit.

If you have fares known as “super saver, early saver, or pack and go” then this option isn’t available but it’s still worth a call just to check if you find a lower price.

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