Cruises aren't for everyone, but they're one of my favorite ways to see the world.
Throughout the past decade, I've taken over a dozen voyages with three different cruise lines: Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, and Carnival.
I'm convinced that Carnival is the best cruise line for first-time cruisers. Here's why.
My parents and I set sail for a four-night trip from Jacksonville, Florida, to the Bahamas on the Carnival Elation, a Fantasy-class ship.
Our junior suite cost less than $950 for all three of us, which is an absolute bargain compared to the rates I've paid for similar accommodations on Disney and Royal Caribbean ships.
For example, for a single traveler to stay in an interior stateroom during a three-night cruise from Florida to the Bahamas in December 2023, it would cost about $664 with Carnival, about $762 with Royal Caribbean, and about $2,378 with Disney.
Of course, rates vary by ship and itinerary, and each comes with different perks, packages, and cons. But Carnival tends to be the most budget-friendly line across the board.
Of the three different companies, Disney Cruise Lines serves my favorite food. I can find Mickey-shaped waffles for breakfast and gourmet meals in the dining rooms for dinner.
The Disney ships I've been on have three different dining rooms, and guests can opt for a rotational dining plan that allows them to visit a different one each night. Their staff and tablemates rotate with them.
The main dining rooms I've seen on Carnival's older ships can feel a little outdated, and I think the food is just OK. But if you know where to look, you can find some hidden gems.
For instance, Carnival is known for its partnership with celebrity chef Guy Fieri, who has multiple burger and barbecue restaurants across the fleet. These restaurants are my favorite places to eat on Carnival ships, and I try to dine there as much as possible since the food is consistently good.
The Royal Caribbean ships I've boarded have more dining options than the other two cruise lines — with complimentary dining in the main dining room, café promenade, and Windjammer Café buffet along with amazing specialty restaurants.
I can always find an onboard restaurant with dishes that satisfy my cravings. The only negative, in my eyes, is that cruisers have to pay extra to eat at Royal Caribbean's specialty dining restaurants (or buy a specialty dining package). So if I dine at these restaurants multiple times during a cruise, my spending can skyrocket.
Cruises are one of my favorite ways to vacation because, after embarkation, virtually everything is taken care of for me. Across all three cruise lines, I've found that the service level is about the same.
Before I even get a chance to settle into my stateroom, a host is usually already there to introduce themselves, and sometimes they already know my entire party by name.
In the dining rooms, servers and hosts seem to know each family, and by the end of the cruise, it's common for everyone to crack jokes and share life stories with each other.
And when I find my favorite bartender on a ship, they often memorize my drink order and have it ready before I even sit down at the bar.
All three cruise lines have exciting kids clubs, where adults can drop off their children for a day of supervised fun. The ships I've sailed on have also had plenty to do as a family, including pools, sports, and nightly shows. Each of the different cruise lines also hosts its own array of movie characters, which kids tend to love.
Many Disney ships have classic Disney characters, like Mickey Mouse and all of his pals from the Magic Kingdom, available for meet and greets on the ship. Some Carnival ships host Dr. Suess characters, like Cat in the Hat and Thing 1 and Thing 2. And Royal Caribbean's DreamWork Experience ships are home to characters like Shrek and King Julien.
Adults can also stay entertained with comedy shows, variety acts, and adult-centric games. For example. the Disney ships I've sailed on have adult-only districts, and on my trips with Carnival and Royal Caribbean, the ships had adult-only casinos, bars, and nightclubs.
Any cruise line can give you a good experience — but Carnival is definitely my recommendation for first-time cruisers.
If you choose a voyage with a more expensive cruise line, you could end up shelling out thousands of dollars for a vacation style that may not be for you. Plus, Carnival ships' activities, entertainment options, and service levels are just as good as the more expensive cruise lines, in my opinion.
After sailing on Carnival, you can decide if you like cruising and then try out other lines, like Royal Caribbean or Disney. It's better to save money when you're testing something new instead of spending a lot on an experience you might not enjoy.2023-05-28T12:15:15Z dg43tfdfdgfd