Carnival Celebration marks the second Excel-class cruise ship built for Carnival’s fleet. A sister to the popular Mardi Gras, the ships mark a push from the cruise line toward vessels that are bigger than the rest of the fleet, carry more people, and offer more to do, see, and eat onboard.
And to say that Carnival Celebration is big is an understatement. At 180,000 gross tons, it’s approximately 35% larger than Vista-class ships, Carnival’s previous build of vessels. Meanwhile, it holds about 5,300 passengers at double occupancy, along with 1,800 crew members.
In short, apart from Mardi Gras, Carnival Celebration is like nothing else in the fleet. From the restaurants available to all-new entertainment, venues, activities, and more… it has the most of everything in the lineup.
We recently had the opportunity to sail aboard Carnival Celebration. Below, we provide a full guide to sailing on the ship, including a tour, tips, things to know, and our full thoughts.
First Impressions & Ship Highlights
If you want to win someone over, then the first impression is important. In the case of Celebration, that first impression is made as you board right into an area known as Celebration Central. This spot takes over instead of having a typical atrium like you see. It offers a three-deck performance area (complete with stage and video backdrop) where performances are held throughout the entire cruise that’s also combined with a path through the rest of the ship.
But what you quickly realize — even at first — is that there is a lot onboard. Walking through the ship is seemingly a never-ending lineup of bars, restaurants, shops, and venues. And given that Celebration is so much larger than other ships, it also means that while the favorites that are well-known across Carnival are still there, it also has a lot of offerings that aren’t on other ships.
Let’s start with the design and feel of Carnival Celebration. First and foremost, we felt that the design is much more contemporary than other vessels in the fleet. Frankly, we’ve always felt the design of Carnival ships was a bit more dated and wild — especially with older ships. That’s not the case here.
But while the style matches with present-day design, it’s also very comfortable. There is also lots of fun artwork and features around the ship that add to the “fun” feeling. In other words, while some cruise lines try to go toward more high-end (such as Norwegian Cruise Line), Carnival has modernized the design, but not gone away from its roots.
One thing that’s especially unique about Celebration is that it pays homage to Carnival’s history with a number of unique features. In the middle of Deck 6 you’ll see the Rolls-Royce that sailed for decades aboard Carnival Ecstasy. The Golden Jubilee bar features pieces that were part of past Carnival ships. And there is even one of the original engine telegraphs that was part of the Carnivale.
The main activity on the interior of the ship goes from Deck 6 through Deck 8. These three decks run the length of Celebration, with everything from theaters to restaurants to shops to a pool (Deck 8). We found these areas relatively easy to navigate as they run through the ship, though they do wind and weave some. However, just be ready for lots of people on these decks, which can lead to a crowded feel during busy times.
Decks 16-18 at the top of the ship are the pool/outdoor decks. Here you’ll find everything from the main pool to the buffet, an aft pool with bar, Guy’s Burger Joint, the Serenity adults-only area, and the Ultimate Playground.
The Ultimate Playground is the name for the outdoor play area on Deck 18, which includes mini-golf, the waterpark, sport court, ropes course, and the BOLT roller coaster (which is technically Deck 19).
In total, we thought Celebration simply “feels” like a Carnival ship in that it’s approachable and relaxed but also a more modern style. However, we must note that it also feels more crowded than we are used to. With so many people and so many venues, there isn’t much open space on the ship.
Activities & Entertainment
One thing about a ship this large is that there is never a shortage of things to do onboard. Between the activities available around Celebration to the entertainment put on by the cruise line, if you’re bored, then it’s your own fault.
Let’s start with the outdoor decks. You have the main pool area, but then you also have the largest Serenity deck that we’ve seen. Then there are other pools at the back of the ship on both Deck 16 and Deck 8. These are all open to everyone.
For more private spots, Celebration has Loft 19 at the very top of the ship with access for suite guests… or you can pay hefty $500 a day to rent a private cabana. There’s also a private Loft 19 pool. And Havana cabins also make an appearance, with their own private pool that I actually thought offered the best views of any pool onboard.
Want something more active? The waterpark on Celebration is complete with three slides that are all fun to ride. As mentioned, there’s the ropes course, as well as a mini-golf course, and a full-sized enclosed basketball court plus the BOLT roller coaster.
Head indoors, and you get the same sort of “Carnival on steroids” vibe.
First, there are two main theaters. The Grand Spectrum sits at the front of the ship. This is your typical theater with a stage and rows of seats. Shows here include Family Feud Live, which is a legit 100% rendition of Family Feud where passengers form the teams and compete to win cruise cash for the trip.
Color My World, as you might guess from the name, is a show all about color. It is performances of songs focused on colors (Paint It Black, Purple Rain, Yellow, etc.), but all given a twist compared to the originals. Then there is the element of large video screens at the back of the stage that serve as the set background. Compared to traditional stage sets, the technology really adds another level to the performance.
But the show you have to see is at Center Stage in Celebration Central, the second theater in the middle of the ship. It is called The Most Magnificent Circus. The show is themed as an old-time eclectic circus. Hanging from the ceiling are several cables with fixtures attached to each.
During the show, performers climb on these items as they rise three decks into the air. From there, they perform all sorts of acrobatics and contortions, spin, and more. Meanwhile, the video background screen offers even more visuals, while other performers move through the crowd and on stage. There can be so much going on that you literally don’t know which area to watch at any time.
Other things to enjoy include the Piano Bar 88, the Punchliner Comedy Club, live Deal or No Deal, and live music performed around the ship.
Food & Beverage
It’s impossible to go hungry or thirsty aboard Carnival Celebration. Let’s start with the notable bars onboard.
The Golden Jubilee on Deck 6 pays homage to Carnival’s 50 years of history, complete with features that are recreated or actually part of past Carnival ships, including brass doors that were once the entrance to the Mardi Gras Nightclub on Carnivale. Just outside is the original telegraph from Carnivale.
Latitudes is another addition, with drinks from all over the world, and a travel theme complete with a flipboard like an old train station that displays changing messages. Other bars include Bar 820 in the Miami-themed 820 Biscayne neighborhood, The Watering Hole, Tropicale Bar, Havana Bar, Alchemy Bar, and more.
Then there is the food. So of course you have the main dining room and the buffet (Lido Marketplace). And the staples like BlueIguana, Guy’s Burger Joint, Guy’s Pig & Anchor, and Cucina Del Capitano are also there as you’d expect on a Carnival ship. But there is a ton that’s new to this class.
Here, Emeril’s Bistro 1397 is available, serving up New Orleans-style food for a small upcharge. There’s the Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse, Seafood Shack, Bonsai Sushi, and Rudi’s Seagrill, that do cost extra as well.
But the food that’s included with your cruise fare offers a lot of variety. ChiBang!, which serves both Mexican and Asian food in one location, is free for lunch and dinner. Previously mentioned Cucina Del Capitano is available if you want Italian.
Guy’s Pig & Anchor BBQ is also included. There’s Fresh Creations for salads up in the Serenity area, Street Eats out by the main pool, and Big Chicken, which serves chicken sandwiches is also new to this class of ships. There’s also Miami Slice and the Deco Deli if you want some pizza or a sandwich.
So no matter if you want a quick bite, or want to sit down and have the full meal experience, you have plenty of options.
Photo Tour of Carnival Celebration
What We Liked About Carnival Celebration
After a week on the ship, it became clear that there were a few things that really stood out about sailing on Celebration.
First, compared to other Carnival ships there is so much more to see and do. In our eyes, Royal Caribbean has always pushed to have the most things to do on a ship. Celebration brings the two lines on more even footing. Sure there are the classic cruise activities like the pool deck, casino, and bars/lounges to enjoy.
But then Carnival has put a big emphasis on things like the waterpark. The BOLT roller coaster is a big draw. The cruise line has also pushed more entertainment, including shipboard editions of shows like Family Feud and Deal or No Deal. The theater shows are also stepped up, including The Most Magnificent Circus that was mentioned earlier.
Whether you want to watch a great show or you want to do more active things like ride a roller coaster or hit the waterpark, there’s a lot going on during the entire cruise. As someone who enjoys a more active experience, this was a welcome change.
Another thing that stood out were the food options. The trend in cruising seems to be having a buffet and main dining room, along with maybe 1-2 other options included in your cruise fare. That’s not the case sailing on Celebration.
Carnival has filled the ship with different restaurants ranging from easy grab-and-go items (Street Eats, Guy’s Burger Joint, Big Chicken, etc.) all the way to high-end dining (Rudi’s Seagrill, Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse). But the big difference is that so many are included with your fare.
This includes spots like Guy’s Pig & Anchor BBQ, Cucina del Capitano, ChiBang!, Miami Slice, Deco Deli, Big Chicken, Guy’s Burger Joint, and BlueIguana. It’s no exaggeration that you could sail for a week and never eat in the buffet or dining room.
During our cruise, we found the food to be very good across the board. Special mention should be given to Emeril’s Bistro 1397, where we had a shrimp poboy ($7) that was fantastic. We also thought that Big Chicken could go toe-to-toe with any chicken sandwich you find on land.
That sort of variety and options is a major plus in our book.
What Could Be Improved
Not everything about Celebration is perfect. Let’s talk about the size of the ship. During our cruise, Celebration had about 5,300 passengers onboard, and this ship feels busy. It can feel crowded. And part of that isn’t just the number of people on the ship, but also the ship design.
Take the elevators. Carnival seems to have opted for smaller elevators but more of them. Either way, they are slow to arrive and when you do get on one, it’s much more cramped than usual.
Around the ship there are chokepoints like on the main pool deck. Here, because of all the people and furniture, it just feels more tight. This seemed to be a consistent theme around the ship.
The Center Stage theater in the middle of the ship is another good example. Seating is a major issue. Since it’s not set up like a normal theater, there just weren’t a ton of spots to sit down and still see the stage.
When we watched the popular circus show, we showed up 20 minutes early and there wasn’t a seat to be found. Instead, we watched from the extreme left of the stage and just stood the entire time. (In fact, they actually put on the show twice a night for two nights to accommodate everyone.) And even the cabin bathroom felt like the smallest we’ve seen on a cruise ship.
So when you sail, be ready for a little less elbow room. It’s the trade-off for packing so much onboard.
Carnival Celebration Tips & Things to Know
During our time on the ship, we found out a few tips and things to know that could make your cruise even better.
Each Stairwell Has a Different Color to Help You Navigate
Celebration is big, and there’s stuff happening all over the ship. That means you’ll be walking aft and forward and sometimes not be sure where you are on the ship. If you hit an elevator bank, check the color of the nearby stairwell. Each one has a different color wallpaper (red, green, yellow) to help you identify which area of the ship you are in.
The Lanai Is a Hidden Secret
If you want to connect to the sea, check out the Lanai. It’s a small section of deck chairs hidden away on Deck 8 that overlook the water. This spot is located on the port side of the ship, and you have to pass around outdoor seating for some restaurants to get there. For that reason, seemingly no one realizes it is there. We checked it out several times during the cruise and never saw more than 3-4 people there.
Stairs Are WAY Faster on Celebration
Ok, one thing that nobody will want to hear is that the elevators on the ship are slow. It seems that Carnival opted for more elevators, but made them smaller. So even when one does arrive, it may already be full. For that reason, if you can, it’s a smart idea to just take the stairs. It will save you considerable time on getting around the ship.
Want to Ride BOLT? Don’t Wait to Book
During our cruise, we had two days at sea at the end of the trip and made plans to ride the roller coaster then. Unfortunately, those two days were windy (especially with the ship underway) and BOLT never operated. The lesson? If you know what you want to ride, then go ahead and book it for as early in the cruise as possible to make sure that you get a chance. Days in port are when you’ll find the best combination of calm weather (since the ship is stationary) and shorter lines as most people are off the ship.
Don’t Miss the Details in The Golden Jubilee
The Golden Jubilee is a bar with a theme dedicated to Carnival’s history. And at first you might notice only a couple of things like the blueprints of past ships adorning the ceiling. But check out the QR code at the back of the drink menu for a link to information about all the items in the bar. There are the original doors that went to the nightclub on the retired Carnivale. The tables with Al Hirschfield drawings are from Carnival Fascination, and there is even a glass-wall panel that used to be in the casino on the original Mardi Gras.
Want a Show? Order The Sakura From Latitudes
One of the unique bars on Celebration is the Latitudes — and not just for the cool flipboard sign (like you’d see in an old train station) that’s above the bar. The menu is filled with drinks inspired from around the world, from a paloma (Mexico) to a bramble (England).
Be sure to try The Sakura. It’s a sake-based drink with pomegranate liqueur and other flavors. But when it’s served, the bartender puts a huge bubble on it that you pop with tiny rose petals as you make a wish. We’ve never seen anything like it.
Try’s Guy’s Pig & Anchor for an Easy Breakfast
Breakfast is served in a lot of places around the ship, but if you want one of the easiest, then try Guy’s Pig & Anchor. The spot serves BBQ for lunch and dinner but for breakfast it offers the same lineup that you’ll get at the morning buffet (minus the omelet station). So instead of having to go all the way to Deck 16, you can eat on Deck 8 in a spot that’s much less busy.
The Best Pool Belongs to Havana Rooms
There are a number of pools around Celebration, from the Serenity deck (adults only) to the main pool in the middle of the ship. But the best pool in our opinion is one that sits in the exclusive Havana area. Not everyone can access this area — it’s reserved for passengers staying in Havana rooms. But if you have access, then you get a great view. The pool isn’t big, but sits right over the water.
Final Thoughts on Celebration
Apart from its sister-ship Mardi Gras, Carnival Celebration is like nothing else in the Carnival fleet.
If you’ve sailed Carnival but haven’t sailed ships like Celebration, then you really don’t know what you’re missing. That same Carnival atmosphere is still there… but it’s definitely taken to a whole other level. From the venues onboard to the entertainment to the food and more, it’s all bigger and better than what you find on older ships in the fleet.
For some, the size and scale of Celebration may be off-putting. And yes, the crowds around the ship can be heavy. But for those that want the most options to enjoy their vacation, Carnival Celebration is it.
More on Sailing Carnival:
- Complete Guide to Sailing Carnival Cruise Line (What It’s Like)
- 47 Best Carnival Cruise Line Tips & Tricks
- Worth It? 15+ Questions & Answers About the Carnival CHEERS! Package