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19 Behind-the-Scene Secrets of Carnival Cruise Line

Before you set sail on your next vacation, take a deep dive into the inner workings of the world's largest cruise line.

carnival cruise ship aerialCourtesy Carnival Cruise Line

More people than ever are cruising

A whopping 30 million people are expected to take a cruise by the close of 2019, and about 5.2 million of them will choose Carnival. It’s the largest cruise line in the world, boasting 26 ships, sailing about 1,500 voyages to 100 destinations in nearly 40 countries each year. To make the most out of your cruise, first, learn these before-you-sail secrets.

carnival cruise hub appvia apps.apple.com

This will save you much standing-in-line time

There’s almost always a line at the onboard guest service desk, with the most crowds gathering on the first and last cruising day. It’s a shame, really, since according to the guest services staff, about 90 percent of the questions asked (How do I connect to the Internet? Where can I find my balance?) can be answered on the free Carnival Hub app. (Only about 40 percent of cruisers are taking advantage of the app, however.) If you must stand in line, do it before 10 a.m. to beat the lines—or simply call from your room.

lobsters ready to be cookedLinus Strandholm/Shutterstock

Cruise longer for unlimited lobsters

It turns out that lobster night at the included eateries got a little out of control on three- to five-night cruises, with many passengers downing a half-dozen or more crustaceans each, per sitting. Now you’ll have to cruise for at least six nights to take advantage of free lobster night. (You can still, however, buy a lobster dinner for $20.) If all-you-can-eat lobster isn’t part of your dream cruise, here are 12 other bucket-List cruise options for you to ponder.

09-BYOB-Super-Savvy-Ways-to-Save-Money-at-Restaurants_391495360-Africa-StudioAfrica Studio/Shutterstock

BYO booze

If you’re at least 21 years old, you are 100 percent allowed to bring one bottle (750mL) of wine or champagne in your carry-on. You’re also 100 percent allowed to pour yourself a glass in your room and take it anywhere onboard. This is a wise move since toting your from-home bottle to any restaurant or a bar will cost you a $15 corking fee. Here, other items to always pack in your carry-on bag for a cruise, plus 11 more before-you-sail tips from travel experts.

carnival cruise diningCourtesy Carnival Cruise Line

Dine here day one

On embarkation day, everyone boards hungry and clueless as to where to eat, making the buffet the obvious (and cramped) choice. A better idea: Make your way to the (also free) pasta bar at Cucina Del Capitano, which should be much less crowded. For dinner? Plan before you board by reserving a seat at the Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse. This delicious three-course dinner cost less than what you’d pay on dry land ($38 per adult; $12 a kid) and you’ll score a free bottle of wine, which is only offered on the first night. Just ask.

carnival balcony roomCourtesy Carnival Cruise Line

Amp-up in-room comforts

Egg crate mattress toppers, luxury sheets, hypoallergenic alternative bedding and pillows, fans, roll-away beds are all available to you. You simply have to ask for the free in-room upgrades. To ensure availability, it’s always smart to request before you board.

Cruise ship deck. Top view of a balcony cabins with yellow loungers and sea / ocean. Cruise vacation holidays conceptThe Art of Pics/Shutterstock

Combat seasickness like the pros

Living and working on a cruise ship does not make you immune to seasickness, but it does make you an expert at combating it. Most of the staff and crew on Carnival aren’t popping Dramamine ($2 at the medical center) or sliding on acupressure bands, however. Instead, they’re sprinkling some salt on the green apples they score from the buffet or drinking ginger beer.

camp ocean carnival cruiseCourtesy Carnival Cruise Line

There’s wiggle room with the kids’ club

Carnival’s kids’ club, dubbed Camp Ocean, divides its mini cruisers into three separate age groups: Penguins (two years old to five years old), Stingrays (six years old to eight years old) and Sharks (nine years old to 11 years old). This is fabulous unless of course your kids are, say eight and nine, and fall into different groups and don’t want to be apart. The good news? Your older child may be able to move down a camp level (but not the other way around) to be with a sibling. The catch: The older kiddo needs to try the proper age group first, the age difference can’t be a big one, and the move is at the discretion of the Carnival staff.

carnival cruise cafeCourtesy Carnival Cruise Line

There are free items you don’t know about

There’s already a literal boatload of included goodies on a Carnival cruise (free soft serve 24/7!), but there are still some freebies that even a seasoned cruiser might miss, like the Carnival-branded deck of playing cards at guest services or the lanyard to carry your key card at the casino. There’s also free popcorn during nightly “dive in” movies. And the JavaBlue Café offers new Sudoku and crosswords to take daily, on-the-house pastries in the morning, and a loyalty card so every seventh cup of coffee is free. Sailing on Disney? These are the extras that are worth paying for—and the ones you should skip.

carnival cruise cocktailsCourtesy Carnival Cruise Line

A lot of booze is imbibed

According to Carnival bartenders, the shorter the cruise, the heavier the drinkers. Here’s a sample of just how much is consumed: During a typical one-week cruise on the Carnival Horizon (3,934 passengers), 30,508 domestic and imported beers are guzzled, along with an additional 92 gallons of Carnival’s own fresh-brewed beer. Cruisers drink 3,100 bottles of wine (not including the one bottle each passenger is allowed to bring onboard). Finally, a whopping 1,180 liters of hard alcohol is imbibed each week, with rum leading the pack with 510 liters enjoyed.

carnival cruise cereal french toastCourtesy Carnival Cruise Line

Best beat-the-crowd breakfast

If crowds aren’t your thing—especially pre-coffee—wait until mid-morning, around 10 a.m., to grab your breakfast. Alternatively, reserve your spot for “The Cat in the Hat and Friends breakfast,” featuring the likes of Thing One and Thing Two and other storybook faves. There are two different seatings for this stress-free, sit-down, table-service morning meal. While, sure, this morning meal event is aimed at Dr. Seuss-loving kids and families, but for just $5 a head you’ll get a truly fun and unique meal, with classic breakfast options, but also things like Fruit-Loop crusted french toast and (of course) green eggs and ham.

carnival cruise gymCourtesy Carnival Cruise Line

There’s a whole other cruise happening for the staff

There’s a bar, buffet, outdoor area, gym, and family room with video games and televisions that guests never lay eyes on because these are exclusively for the staff and crew. And these are not carbon copies of what guests get. The buffet, for instance, features a wide variety of international foods to accommodate the 60-plus nationalities working onboard any given Carnival ship. Staff (entertainers, managers, shop workers, and the like) and officers are able to use guest facilities as well, but crew members, like waiters, bartenders, and cleaners, need to request access in advance. These are the 18 secrets Disney Cruise Line employees won’t tell you.

carnival cruise ship in oceanVictor Moussa/Shutterstock

The crew is ready for a pirate attack

Four times a year, Carnival’s staff and crew go through extensive pirate attack and stowaway drills—and they do it during an active cruise. While the nitty-gritty details are under wraps, we do know that some crew members get into disguise, inert devices are planted around the ship in order to be found, and incognito announcements are made for the crew to follow. Carnival, however, has yet to see an actual pirate or a stowaway. These types of incidences generally impact cargo vessels and oil tankers. Nevertheless, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with these code words you never want to hear on a cruise ship.

Pizza background - macro shot of pepperoni pizzavm2002/Shutterstock

Send a selfie, get a pizza

Don’t want to risk losing your sweet by-the-pool lounge chair due to hunger pangs? Simply order a pizza ($5 per pie) to be delivered to you via the Pizza Anywhere function on the Carnival Hub app. Click on a map of the ship and send a selfie to let the delivery person know where you are. Thirsty? On some ships, you can add drinks to your order, too. Here, more reasons to always download the ship’s app and other travel hacks to make your cruise easier.

carnival cruise photo galleryCourtesy Carnival Cruise Line

Those photo proofs are not yours for the taking

Professional photographers dot the ship, snapping approximately 1.5 images per passenger per day. While approximately 20 percent of these are sold, other passengers may be tempted to pocket the photo proofs that are on display. Don’t. They are each outfitted with a hidden security tag and security alarms will sound if you try to take one.

Courtesy Carnival Cruise Line

There are lots of hidden kid-friendly spots

Carnival sails with more than 800,000 children each year, so there’s plenty to keep the littles occupied—even in unexpected places. For instance, the SkyBox Sports Bar is outfitted with gaming systems and the latest sports titles, like Madden and Fifa. Kids 16-plus can play unaccompanied while younger ones can play with their grownup. There’s also foosball in the RedFrog Pub and because Carnival is partnered with Hasbro, you’ll find classic board games like Clue, Taboo, Connect 4, Monopoly, and more in bars and coffee shops throughout the ship.

carnical cruise marketplace buffetCourtesy Carnival Cruise Line

Here’s why the ship won’t run out of food

All Carnival ships keep an extra three days worth of food onboard just in case the cruise runs into issues, like a hurricane, that may extend your days at sea. And if the cruise is ten days or longer, there’s always a restock of fresh fruit and vegetables when the ship is in port.

meatballsCourtesy Carnival Cruise Line

Meatballs and lamb rein supreme

On the newly launched Carnival Sunrise ship, with its 2,984-guest capacity, there are 1,140 kitchen staff and another 210 waitstaff on board ensuring your meals are prepared and served seamlessly. In fact, there are eight kitchen staff assigned to meatballs alone, which are the most-ordered appetizer onboard, with 1,400 served between the two main dining rooms during each dinner seating. (The most requested dinner main? Lamb shank, which is braised for four hours, is served to about 600 people nightly.)

carnival cruise spaCourtesy Carnival Cruise Line

The spa has oodles of off-the-menu options

While there are plenty of ahh-worthy options on Carnival’s Cloud 9 spa menu (like a 75-minute Thai herbal poultice massage), their spa specialists also offer certified prenatal massages and milk-and-massage-oil treatments (ideal for soothing sunburns!) that aren’t specifically advertised. In fact, virtually any spa service can be requested and customized, including (less expensive) kid and teen treatments (caramel foot mask, anyone?) and mother/daughter and father/son services. Looking for a wellness-themed cruise? Check out the best cruise for every type of traveler.

Holly Pevzner
Holly Pevzner is a health and parenting writer living in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has appeared in Family Circle, Parents, Psychology Today, Real Simple, and many more. For more on Holly, visit hollypevzner.com.