Sunday, July 14, 2019

Carnival Cruises for Families: A Beginner's Guide to Cruising!

Cruising is my family's favorite family vacation!  We all love the variety of activities onboard the ship, the fun locations we get to explore, the affordability, and the convenience of it all!  Carnival Cruise Line is a favorite for our family cruises!  My family always has such a fun time and is it the most affordable way to enjoy the Caribbean!  If you are going on a cruise, here is some of the must-know information!

Choose your cruise 

Choosing a cruise is the most essential part of cruising!  When, where, and how much you are spending is key to having a great vacation!  I would recommend going on a shorter cruise to start.  When we first started cruising, our shorter cruises helped us to know what to do or what bring to make the longer cruises amazing!   If you have the flexibility of date, you can find a great deal.   The same cruise can be $400 more per person depending on when you go.  When you go makes a big difference in price!  

When we were beginning cruising, we almost always looked for islands or places we wanted to see.  Now, we sometimes look for a particular ship or things to do.  The newer ships, Carnival Vista, Horizon, Panorama, or Mardi Gras, have some fantastic areas for kids called Family Harbor.  My kids love the Family Harbor area!  They have their own lounge that is stocked with 24/7 milk, yogurt, ice cream,  and snacks throughout the day.  It also has some video games and areas to play board games or to sit and chat.  The newer ships hold more people and have more things to do,  they also have some great itineraries!  We have been on the older and the more modern ships, and we have found reasons to love them all!  
Carnival Vista in Grand Cayman

Once you decide on your itinerary and your ship, you are ready to choose a room.  The interior cabin is the most affordable and smallest.  It is an excellent room for sleeping because there are no windows.  Most people spend very little time in their room, so it makes a great option.  The ocean view cabins are a bit roomier and an excellent choice for families.  Balcony and suites are more expensive, but great if you plan on spending a little more time in your room.  Sitting on a balcony with a cup of coffee and watching the sunrise over the ocean is a small glimpse of heaven! When choosing a room, make sure to look at the map to see where the room is located!  Mid-ship and a lower level is the best place to not feel as much movement.  You will also want to look at what is directly above or below your room.  If you like to go to bed early, you don't want to be directly above or below an area that has the nightlife!  If you prefer to sleep in, sleeping above or below the kitchen when they make breakfast would not be the best either.  If someone in your cabin smokes, you might want to be in a room that has easy access to the casino or another smoking area.  We like to be mid-ship near the elevators because it gets us to the Lido deck the fastest!  The Lido deck has the pools and the food!  

When I get my dates and ship decided, I head over to  I put in all my information, and travel agencies send me bids.  Most will offer extra perks such as extra on-board credit and a good deal on travel insurance.  The last cruise I booked had $300 in onboard credit from my travel agent and $50 onboard credit from Carnival.  If you would prefer to book right through Carnival, they offer a monthly payment plan, and often they will have a deal to earn onboard credit as well.  I also enter my information into the Shipmate app, which will send alerts if the price ever drops.  I have saved hundreds having the price adjusted!  

The last part of booking a cruise for me is so important. Travel insurance.  To some, it might seem like an unneeded expense, but it is so necessary.  Not only does it protect you if you have to cancel your cruise, but it also protects you if something happens during your trip.  If you have unforeseen medical expenses or you need medical transportation, the insurance will pay for it.  I hope we will never need it, but the protection is worth the price for peace of mind!

Getting Ready To Go

Ready for a cruise!

When we are planning our trip, our family takes one or two nights to look at each port and choose our excursions,  We look at each port and what each one has to offer.  My husband and I usually plan on 1 or 2 excursions per cruise.  When you are cruising, especially in the beginning, booking your excursions through  Carnival is recommended.  If you are on an excursion through the cruise line, and any issues would cause you to come back late, the ship will wait for you before moving on to the next port.  If you are out on your own and come back late, the ship will most likely be gone.  Then you will have to make arrangements to get back to the boat on your own.  When we have taken a taxi to a beach or on an independent tour of a city on some non-excursion days, we just make sure we leave plenty of time to get back.  My kids will almost always choose the beach break excursions.  I like them because they are usually less crowded than finding a public beach and are always a fun, relaxing day!  

The pictures below are of some of our favorite excursions!  Monkeys in Roatan, Sting Rays in Grand Cayman, a boat ride into Belize, and a view of the beach from the top of the island in Tortola!

One of my most useful planning tools for excursions are Facebook groups!  If you search for the cruise you are taking, there is almost always a Facebook group for that cruise.  For example, our last cruise was on the Carnival Sunrise.  I searched Carnival Sunrise, June 10, 2019, and I joined a closed group with about 100 members that grew to about 450 members.  In this group, people asked for recommendations for excursions or for places to go at each port.  Many groups have meet-ups and offer advice for the specific port from where you are sailing.  It is great to have the little community able to ask questions!  During our last cruise, there were several instances where someone forgot something they needed, and people offered ways they could help out.   I always find a group when I intend to book and watch for a while and ask questions before I book.  We hope to book on the Vista next June, and I have already joined the group.  The information always helps to save money and have the best cruise possible!

Before I cruise, we always order a case of water to have delivered to our room.  When we go off the ship, each of us likes to have a bottle of water to take with us.  Everyone in your cabin is allowed to bring a 12 pack of CANS of your favorite non-alcoholic beverages (juice, pop, energy drinks, etc..) if you would like to bring your own on the ship.  Sometimes we carry on cans, and sometimes we get the Bottomless Bubbles plan, which gives unlimited pop.  Bringing your own is definitely the more affordable option!  Just remember that it is not always possible to get into your room until 1:30 or 2:00, so you may have to carry them with you until then on embarkation day. You are also allowed to bring on a bottle of wine or champagne per person that is 21 in your cabin.  You can read more about the policies {here.}   If we are going to order the Bottomless Bubbles plan, it is cheaper to order it before the cruise, so we make sure to get it when we order our water.

We prepay for our excursions and our gratuities the last months before we leave for vacation.  We love to have all of these expenses taken care of!  I watch for deals on different websites to buy gift cards at discounts.  Allstate and AARP both have gift cards for sale at 10% off.  Just by signing up for free for Allstate rewards (you do not have to be a member) you will be able to buy a $500 gift card for $450.  On our last few cruises, I used these gift cards to pay for all the gratuities, excursions, and onboard spending!  It is so easy to save money!  AARP allows you to earn points for taking quizzes without paying to be a member.  There is a daily amount of points that you can get from just logging in each day as well as taking quizzes. Other sites give discounts on gift cards at different times, I usually find out about these in the Facebook groups I am in.  Click on the name to take you to the reward center! ALLSTATE REWARDS      AARP

On the Ship

Once you board the ship, you may not have access to your room right away.  Most people go straight up to Deck 9, the Lido deck, and grab some lunch!  My kids wear their swimsuits when we board so when we finish they can jump in the pool before it gets too crowded.  Make sure if you do this, bring a change of clothes!  Your luggage may not arrive for a few hours.  We learned the hard way when our bags came later than we were used to, and my kids were stuck in their wet swimsuits for a few hours!  You will be required to do a muster drill, which is the safety drill in case of emergencies.  Then make sure to head down to the Sail Away Party!  It will get you in the vacation mood for sure!

Onboard the ship, your Sign and Sail card is your ID and the way that you make all of your purchases.  These cards come with a hole punched in the corner to make it easy to put on a lanyard.  Designating a hook in our cabin that all of the lanyards go on when we enter the room helps us to keep track of the cards, so we are not searching for them as we leave.  If you connect a debit card to your sign and sail account, remember that they will hold funds as you go.  We use gift cards for our sign and sail account and then settle the last $20 or so charged to our debit card.  You must have your account resolved before you leave the ship, so make sure to have funds available the night before you go.

At the ports, some places will take credit or debit cards, (make sure to call your bank and tell them you are going to be in the Caribbean) but some local vendors will only take cash.  We also make sure to have a stash one and five dollar bills for tipping.  

Kid's club is definitely an option you will want to explore for your kids!  There are so many fun activities for the kids, and it gives parents a little time to themselves.  We try to send the kids to the kids club one night so we can check out the comedy club and have a drink or two.  There are some family activities that the kid's club plans that are fun to do together as well.  The family scavenger hunt is a great way to work together with your kids and make some awesome memories!  

There are so many options for food on the ship!  The Lido Deck, (deck 9) has a buffet for breakfast, lunch, and dinner plus there are a variety of yummy choices such as Guy's Burger Joint,  The Blue Iguana Cantina (delicious Mexican Food!), Pizzeria Del Capitano, and a Deli with a very yummy grilled ham and cheese sandwich!  There is a dining room that serves breakfast or a brunch in the morning and then dinner in the afternoon.  When you book, you will be asked to do an early dining, late dining, or Your Time Dining.  We love the Your Time Dining!  We did it for the first time on this last cruise, and we will never go back!  It is so simple to check in on the app, and by the time you walk to the restaurant, your table is ready!  There are also several delicious restaurants that cost a little extra as dining options.  My kids love the main dining room because they get to try foods that they might not ordinarily get, such as lobster, mussels, rabbit, alligator, oysters, and frog legs.  They also love being to order dessert every night!  Our waiter knew every night to bring my daughter the Chocolate Melting Cake!

There are so many activities and shows to do on the ship every day!  There is a Fun Times that is given every night for the next day's events.  The activities are also all on the Carnival Hub App.  You can save all the activities you are interested in for quick reference.  One of our daily must-do activities is Dive-in Movies.  Our kids sit in the pool, and we sit on the deck while they show movies on the big screen outside.  The bar pops popcorn, and we sit under a blanket and the stars while we enjoy the show.  Even if I am not a big fan of the movie, I will sit out and listen to an audiobook and relax. It is one of my favorite parts of the cruise!

Watching a Dive in Movie

Ropes course

The last day before you have to get off of the ship, we usually go to the disembarkation talk to make sure that we have all the information to leave the next day.  Now that my kids are older, we do the self-assist to leave.  When you self-assist, you carry all of your luggage with you off the ship.  If you are not able to carry out all your luggage, you will put your luggage in the hall the night before, and they will take it off of the ship for you.  We plan what we bring with the thought that we will carry it off ourselves.

Cruising is such a fun vacation!  I hope you will enjoy your cruise as much as we do!  Bon Voyage!
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