We've now been on two Carnival Cruises: our first was in 2014 where we took an 8 day cruise for our honeymoon and stopped in Cape Canaveral, Florida, as well as Nassau and Freeport in the Bahamas. The second was this summer; we took a 6 day cruise to Ocho Rios, Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel, Mexico. Because it’s so fresh in my mind, I’ll primarily be writing about our most recent cruise!
1. The Excursions
This one may come as no surprise – our very favorite thing about our Carnival Cruise was the excursions! We went on our cruise when I had limited mobility, so the excursions were an easy way for us to see parts of the world together that I couldn’t otherwise get to by myself. Our first port was Ocho Rios, Jamaica; unfortunately, we couldn’t hike to the famous Dunn’s River Falls or go bobsledding due to my injury (two of the coolest excursion options at this location), so we purchased a low-key beach day and enjoyed a day in the sun at Bamboo Beach instead. While we were there, we swam, sipped from coconuts, watched performers who danced and played the drums, and ate delicious food. (Caribbean food is among our favorite cuisine. Jerk chicken, callaloo, plaintains and – a new one for us! – festivals. Think funnel cake. Mmmm.)
The next day we arrived in Grand Cayman for the excursion we were most looking forward to: swimming with rays in Stingray City! In fact, this has been on my bucket list for years. In Stingray City, the rays have no natural predators, so they are perfectly content to interact with humans (especially if you have squid in your hands.) We joined our guides on a pleasant 45-minute catamaran ride out to Stingray City, then entered into the crystal clear water surrounded by dozens of the gliding stingrays! Our guides taught us how to feed the rays (their mouth is on the bottom of them, and they suck the squid in so fast it almost feels like a vacuum!) as well as the correct way to hold them. They even shared with us each stingray’s personality, like who likes being held and who doesn’t; t was so fun to acknowledge that even stingrays have their own unique personality. Isn’t the animal kingdom great?
Our last port was Cozumel, Mexico – and here we decided to “do our own thing.” We exited the boat without a group and found a place to rent a jeep, then we gathered some recommendations from locals. They directed us to Playa Palancar, a free beach with possibly the most beautiful ocean water I have ever seen. Comparable, even, to the Thai islands! And the best part? It was free. We spent a good amount of our day here, bobbing in the water, before drying off and driving to Coconuts Bar. Coconuts Bar was colorful and charmingly tacky (I discovered here that ‘charmingly tacky’ can truly be a thing.) Their drinks came in bucket-sizes, the view was spectacular, and there were tropical birds, cats and dogs just wandering around the establishment. We learned that day that a do-it-yourself excursion can be just as fun (and much less expensive) than a Carnival sponsored one. Just make sure you aren’t late for the boat!
When we got back to our room after our time in Cozumel, we went out on the balcony when we heard yelling and cheering – a large crowd had gathered to cheer on the people sprinting toward the boat with only minutes left to go!
2. Our Havana Room
In the newer Carnival ships, the ‘Havana Rooms’ are an adult-only section of the boat, and each member has access to a private bar, pool and Jacuzzis. That’s only 250 people on a boat of nearly 4,000. And let me tell you: the extra cost for a Havana room is so worth it. The pools on the ship get so over-crowded, but with our Havana wrist bands, the largest crowd we had in the pool at any one time was 8 people. And more often than not, it was just us! If you’re looking for a romantic getaway, there’s nothing more romantic than spending your evening floating in a private pool that has a stunning view of the ocean.
At the last moment, Daniel was called by a Carnival salesman and offered a deal on an upgrade from an interior Havana room to a balcony. We snagged that deal so fast! And we didn’t regret it. We had an awesome time tanning, resting and sipping wine on the balcony throughout the course of the week. Plus, it too had an excellent view off the back of the boat – just ocean and sunset for as far as the eye could see.
3. The Food
It’s no secret that everyone’s favorite part of cruising is the food. And boy, there is reason for that! Everything you eat is divine. During breakfast and lunch, the buffets are open, as well as a variety of restaurants that served burgers, BBQ, Mexican, Italian, etc. This was all delicious, but Daniel and I especially enjoyed evenings in the dining room; we made friends with our waiter, Zoran, and his team, and we had a blast sampling a variety of dishes over the week. Plus – perhaps the greatest part of the menu? The chocolate melting cake. Heaven in a ramekin.
4. The Performances
Though we’d happily spend a whole week swimming and eating, we did manage to experience some of what the ship had to offer, and we had a lot of fun doing it. One of our favorite things to do was visit the piano bar – this intimate bar has great performers and friendly spectators. Plus, there’s a 50/50 chance the performer will sing either ‘New York State of Mind’ or ‘Piano Man,’ so dedicate an evening to it if you’re cruising Carnival!
Our other favorite performance was the ‘Rocking Strings’ team. This team of three played their electric violins and mixed up funky renditions of popular songs. They played in the atrium of the ship, so when you feel like you want to be in the hustle and bustle of it all, make your way to the atrium and see what performers are there!
There were two comedians on the ship, and we loved one of them. After discovering we very much didn’t like the second, we just stuck to visiting a few of the first comedian’s shows and then skipping out when the second came on. But it’s worth a visit to see if you enjoy the comedians! Usually, Carnival has at least two that perform during the week.
Aside from that, the parties are fun and the theater shows are entertaining but – well, let’s just say we’ve definitely been to better parties and seen better theater. Ha!
5. The Piña Coladas
I don’t know how they do it, but Carnival’s piña coladas are unparalleled. Also, pro tip: if you aren’t looking to get drunk, which we weren’t, just get the virgin piña coladas, because they taste exactly the same but are half the price!
We do think that cruising and traveling are two different things (read more here), but if you’re looking for a true vacation, definitely book with Carnival. As our cruise director said every morning: “You can do as much or as little as you want to today.”