Carnival Cruise Line has grown from a single ship sailing from Miami in 1972 to a fleet of dozens of ships that carry more than six million passengers annually today.
You don’t grow that big without having a lot of people that love your product. But what exactly is it about Carnival that makes so many people rave about the cruise line and creates legions of loyal fans?
And you also may know that not everyone is a huge Carnival fan. There are some strong opinions on the negative side as well. What’s the issue these folks have?
We’ll cover exactly what makes people love… or hate… one of the world’s largest cruise lines.
Carnival Has The Funships
If you sail Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, MSC — any of them — then you can tell that the vibe on a Carnival ship is just different.
That’s not to say that other cruise lines are stuffy or tight-laced. Far from it. But, there is a different feeling when you’re aboard Carnival. Of course, the cruise line likes to call itself the “Funships,” and that’s not just a name.
Everyone from the staff to the guests seems to be in the mood to have a good time. You’re going to see line dancing on the pool deck. The energy always feels upbeat, people seem to let loose a little more, and your other passengers also seem more outgoing.
All you have to do is look at the door decorations passengers put up on Carnival compared to what you see on other lines. It’s like night and day as they are not near as common on other ships.
If you’ve ever sailed Carnival, love it or not, there’s no chance you didn’t notice the atmosphere. For many, it’s why the cruise line is their favorite.
Cruising is a business, and that’s no different for Carnival. But, it definitely seems to be more affordable when compared to some rivals.
This starts with cruise fares. It’s tough to compare apples to apples, but the least expensive cruises aboard Carnival right now start around $140 per person for a four-day trip. The cheapest from Royal Caribbean show around $180 for a four-day cruise.
And that price difference often flows across itineraries and cabins. That’s not to say Carnival is always the least expensive, but in general you find lower fares. As well, that less-expensive mentality seems to apply onboard as well. Drinks, wi-fi, and specialty restaurants onboard carry a lower price tag than what you see on rival lines.
It all adds up to a better value for passengers, which can endear them to the cruise line.
More Departure Ports
It makes sense that the easier it is to take trip on a cruise line, then the more people are going to love it. That’s where Carnival is a standout and able to reach a number of passengers who might otherwise not take a cruise.
While every cruise line sails from a place like Miami, Carnival has made it a mission to put departures within driving distance of millions more people. Ports like Mobile, Jacksonville, Charleston all see Carnival ships, in addition to more popular ports like Galveston, Los Angeles, and Tampa.
So almost no matter where you live, if it’s within driving distance of the coast, then you’re within driving distance of a Carnival ship instead of having to deal with flights and hotels. That’s an easy way to endear yourself to lots of passengers.
More Freebies Included
We talked about the affordability of Carnival. The cruise fares and the cost for things on the ship are generally lower than what you find on rival lines. But there also seems to be more included with your base fare.
To be sure, there is no shortage of opportunities to spend money on a Carnival ship. But while other lines seem to be moving toward fewer and fewer free options, Carnival still has plenty to offer.
Take food as a big example. Many other lines essentially have the buffet, main dining room and snacks included in the fare. Everything else is an upcharge. Carnival offers many more free options like Guy’s Burger Joint, as well as offer free options for lunch at restaurants that normally charge a fee at dinner.
As well, nearly all activities are free on Carnival ships (although newer ships are seeing more charges).
It all seems to go back to that affordability and value that’s a major part of the reason people love Carnival.
Guy’s Burger Joint
Ok, it seems a little funny to love a cruise line because of a cheeseburger. But that’s only if you haven’t had Guy’s Burger Joint.
This spot on all Carnival ships is a free place to eat, serving burgers and fries during the day. They are by far the best burgers we’ve ever had on a cruise ship and it seems we aren’t alone. People rave about them, and there are often long lines to grab one when they’re serving.
Would people still love Carnival without the burger? Sure, but it definitely helps as food is such a big part of taking a cruise.
Of course, you can’t please all the people all of the time. So while literally boatloads of people love sailing Carnival, it’s not without its critics. So what are some of the reasons people seem to dislike the cruise line?
“Walmart of Cruises”?
Let’s just address the elephant in the room. There are people that say Carnival’s passengers are different compared to what you find on other lines given the price point and atmosphere. In a way that’s meant to be disparaging, you may have heard some say that it’s the “Walmart of cruises.”
On the flipside, some Carnival fans say that some other lines can be too fancy or pretentious. It goes both ways.
Our take? We think you’d be surprised at how many people actually sail multiple cruise lines. So there is likely a lot of overlap between people taking Carnival cruise and say, a Royal Caribbean trip. (Personally, we are in that group!)
We do think the atmosphere of Carnival lends itself to being more of a party, and maybe that’s what people pick up on. And if you’re comparing Carnival to a high-end luxury-focused cruise line, then yes, you will have different passengers just like a Four Seasons hotel is going to feel a bit different than a more budget-friendly hotel.
It used to be a cruise ship was the way you got from destination to destination. These days, the ship is the destination. Cruise passengers have come to expect tons of things on the ship to keep them entertained for a week at sea.
In that area, we personally think — and others seem to agree — Carnival can’t quite match on the whole with cruise lines like Royal Caribbean or Norwegian. Sure, Mardi Gras and other ships in her class are stepping up their game, but on a fleetwide basis, there is still plenty of room to catch up with rivals when it comes to everything that you can do and see on a Carnival ship.
The result? If you’re the sort of person that loves have lots of entertainment and activity options, then Carnival might leave you wanting more.
Finally, you might find people that have a negative connotation of Carnival… and they’ve never even set foot on one of their ships before.
Of course, some people have issues with any cruise ship. They imagine thousands of people jammed together with no space. Anyone that’s cruised knows that’s not really the case.
But Carnival has also seen some high-profile incidents. Most notable was with the Carnival Triumph in 2013.
Departing Galveston, the ship had an engine room fire, which resulted in a loss of power on the ship causing it to set adrift. Then, there was reportedly no air conditioning and sewage backing up. Many passengers were said to sleep on open decks instead of their cabins. As a result, the trip earned the unflattering name of “The Poop Cruise.”
For many people, that’s enough to put a negative light on the cruise line.
Our Thoughts on Carnival
From what I’ve seen, whether you’re a Carnival fan or not really comes down to what sort of vibe you look for on a cruise. If you want to let loose, have a good time, and not spend a fortune, there is a lot to like about Carnival. But if you’re the sort of person that enjoys a more upscale atmosphere that focuses on fine dining and cultural activities, there are other lines that will fit the bill.
Overall, we think of it like Las Vegas. There are people that love Vegas… and people that can’t stand it. But if you can’t find a way to have fun in the city for a few days, then that’s on you.
Sure, Carnival may be a perfect fit for you… or maybe it’s not. But if you can’t have a great time on the Funships for at least a short cruise, then that might be on you.