As of this writing, I’ve been lucky enough to been on 6 Carnival ships, specifically:
- Carnival Conquest
- Carnival Freedom
- Carnival Fascination
- Carnival Vista (twice)
- Carnival Splendor
- Carnival Magic
I’ve also been on the Celebrity Millennium and the Royal Caribbean Mariner of the Seas. Along the way, I’ve learned a few things. Here are some insider tricks that I’ve picked up in my travels (though, note that some are specific to Carnival, and in general, I’m assuming that you live in the United States):
- If you want good sunrise (or sunset) pictures from your balcony, note that your cabin selection (and, to a somewhat lesser degree, itinerary times) will affect this decision. You’ll want to make sure that your cabin is on the correct side of the ship for sunrise or sunset, and you’ll want to know what will be in your shot. (Depending on your cruise, land may be in your shot). Plan, plan, plan. (Your “Fun Times” flyer (or similar daily program from the cruise line) should tell you exact sunrise and sunset times. Have your stuff set up at least 15-20 minutes early. Also–remember–early dining times will more likely than not interfere with taking sunset pictures.) Know how to set your manual settings before leaving home. It doesn’t hurt to practice, though you’ll probably have ample opportunity to practice on the ship.
Also, if you want to get good pictures of the ship without many people in them, get up early. The ship will seem completely empty.
Dining Room set up for Seuss at Sea Seaday Brunch
- Make all reservations that you need to make aboard as soon as you get on the ship. This will save you a longer line at guest services, but also ensure that you get the best chance at getting the reservations you want as well. (Specifically for Carnival–aboard reservations that go the fastest are the “Behind the Fun” tour, and the “Seuss at Sea Seaday Brunch.” The steakhouse falls in somewhere after that, as well as “Cucina del Capitano,” and other experiences.
- Bring a power adapter that converts 240V European Plugs. Also, a USB extension cord would be a good idea as well. The vanity in most cruise rooms uses the “Type F” European connector. Additionally, standard 5-15 outlets are available on American cruise ships as well, but brining an adapter along gives you yet another valuable outlet to work with. (You can bring a power strip as well, but the cruise line may frown on your use of it in the room, and prevent its use.) Also, be sure to note if your adapter steps down the voltage to 120V, or if it even needs to (depending on your equipment. If your equipment’s power adapter says “INPUT: 100 – 240V” somewhere on it, your power adapter steps the voltage down, so you don’t need your converter to do the transformation.)
- Don’t bring a hair dryer, clothing iron, steamer, or anything with a heating element. It will get confiscated. Enough said. Note that you CAN have a curling iron or a hair flattening iron.
- When packing, prepare a table of outfits to develop a proper packing list. Make a row for each day, and make a column for each time frame–day and night. If you’re planning on doing an excursion where you’ll pit out your clothing, plan on a full clothing change and don’t plan on re-using that clothing (unless you plan on doing laundry aboard somehow.) And don’t forget to pack additional socks for things like doing the ropes course and other activities aboard.
And for the love of God–don’t wear hats, t-shirts, flip-flops, swimsuits, and/or shorts to the dining room on ANY night. Just because the staff may let you slide on something doesn’t make you look less like a tacky doofus to the rest of us.
- Show up a little early for events, especially if specific shopping events interest you. Many times, shopping events on ships are a silly frenzy (see above) and don’t present very valuable opportunities. But in some cases, if you don’t show up early, you can miss out. (Carnival specific example: The 2 for $20 T-shirt event can become a frenzy quickly. Be sure to show up 15 minutes early for the event, and follow the rules. Don’t be that guy.
- If you plan on shopping for something expensive (especially jewelry) on the cruise: do your homework BEFORE getting on the ship. Know specifically what you want, what model number(s) it has, know who the authorized dealers are for that item, and know what pricing it has in the United States. Have an idea of what discounts should be expected, what a good discount would be, and what is “too good to be true.” Additionally, try to buy everything in one place–this will increase the likelihood that the retailer will work with you. Also, be aware of customs regarding negotiation in the country you are in. (Example: If you’re buying souvenirs in Jamaica from a vendor in a “straw market,” you’d better be negotiating. If you aren’t–you’re a chump.)
Also–avoiding tax is a good idea. To do this: know the rules. Specifically, know what the duty limits per country. Just because something is “tax and duty free” when you buy it in Grand Cayman doesn’t mean that the customs agent won’t ask for duties for anything over $800 when you get back to the US.
Also–don’t finance stuff. As a general rule, if you can’t afford buying it today 3 times with cash, you probably can’t afford it.
Special Value! 80% off! (after a 90% markup)
- The deals on items on the boat generally aren’t great. Buying a Rolex on the boat is probably downright stupid. In my experience, only used Rolexes are sold on ships and only for about a 30 – 40% markup over what should be paid for them.
Deals on other items on the boat are only okay at best–for example, purchasing nice sunglasses or G-Shocks on the boat will probably save you a few dollars in taxes over buying them from Sunglass Hut or the local G-Shock A/D when you get home. However–in many cases, “grey market” prices will be notably lower. (Your warranty may vary for grey market retailers, but generally speaking, you really shouldn’t need a warranty.)
Note the green air freshener towards the top of the image.
- If you like a specific fragrance, bring a fresh rear-view mirror air freshener with that fragrance with you on the cruise, and slide the air freshener in the metal air conditioner grating on your cabin ceiling (as shown above). (More specifically–“Hangar” style air fresheners like the one that you would hang from your rear view mirror in your car.) This will give your room the fragrance of your choice for the duration of the cruise. We like the Magic Candle Company ones, as we like to make our room smell like the lobby of the Polynesian in Walt Disney World.
- Decorate your room door with inexpensive decor of your choice. Especially for families with young children–this makes your cabin easier to find.
A good place to find some of these decorations is Dollar Tree or similar stores, and there are many Pinterest boards with ideas. Try to keep your decorations classy. (This is not classy.) Also, be sure to follow cruise line guidelines when decorating.
- Listen carefully to the elevators when they arrive on your floor. If the elevator makes a “DING” noise, typically that means that the elevator is going UP. If the elevator makes a “DING DONG” noise, it means that the elevator is going down.
Also, don’t assume that pushing the up (or down) button once in an elevator lobby automatically calls all elevators. Much of the time, there’s 2-3 buttons that you’d need to push to call all elevators in order to go up or down. This comes in handy during peak traffic times.
Mmmm. Fresh arepas from the Blue Iguana.
- Don’t be shy to (politely) ask for fresh food at the lido buffet if something looks like it’s been sitting there a while. Specific to Carnival ships with the Blue Iguana, at breakfast, get the arepas–and try to get them “fresh.”
Spaghetti Carbonara from the “American Table” menu on Carnival ships.
- When in doubt on what to pick for dinner in the main dining room, go with the pasta. Cruise agents will probably tell you to order “one of everything” and “eat what you like,” and you can, I suppose–but I feel bad ordering that much and not eating it.
- Do a little bit of research on the nightly menus before leaving. The American Table menus on the Carnival ships are pretty predictable. Know what dishes you want to have from which menus, and plan dining reservations at special restaurants (like Cucina del Capitano or the steakhouse aboard) on nights were the main dining room’s menu doesn’t impress you. (Also–if you’re eating dinner in the Lido, you’re doing it wrong. Eat in the dining room–it is much better.) Carnival specific: if you cannot figure out the menus aboard beforehand, you will also be able to use your smartphone and the Carnival app to see the menu each night, as well as the menu for each specialty restaurant.
The “Port of Call” menus are slightly more unpredictable… but if you can figure out the port of call menu for a previous cruise for that port, it is probably the same.
- (Carnival Specific) For dessert in the dining room, order the Carnival Chocolate Melting Cake–but get it with a side of Peanut Butter. Once you order it with peanut butter, you’ll not want it without it. It may spoil you for all other desserts aboard, except possibly…
- Don’t pass up the Baked Alaska on a dessert menu. It’s an awesome, classic cruise dessert, and you won’t see it elsewhere.
Do you have any other good cruise tips that I’ve left off? Let me know in the comments below!