7 Things That Are Worth the Splurge on Carnival Ships

by Sherri Eisenberg

7 Things That Are Worth the Splurge on Carnival Ships

by Sherri Eisenberg

On Carnival ships, all of your meals and entertainment are included in the cost of your fare, and that goes beyond the basics. In addition to breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the main dining room and buffet, you can eat burgers by the pool, soft serve in the evening, pizza late at night, and even barbecue on deck. You can also go to every stage show production, comedy act, and night club without paying an extra dime for admission. But that doesn't mean there aren't a lot of ways to upgrade your experience. Here, the ones we'd routinely pay extra money for — we feel they're worth every penny.

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Prime Steakhouse on Carnival Magic / Carnival Cruise Line / Andy Newman
Indian-style fish on Carnival Vista
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1. Daily Catch at the Seafood Shack

This New England-style seafood spot wasn’t just a new concept for Carnival when it debuted on Carnival Vista — it’s a new concept in cruising. In addition to being able to order baskets of fried shrimp, crab cake sliders, and clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, you can order fresh fish by the pound. You pick your fish from the choices shown in a case on ice, it’s weighed, and then you decide which dining room you want to eat it in that night and how you want it cooked. 

Tip: The options go way beyond broiled, fried, or steamed. You can literally ask for any fish dish you can imagine, from Goan-style spicy Indian pan-seared fish to Vietnamese-style fried whole fish with plenty of cilantro on top. Think back to the best fish dish you've ever had, or get creative. Jerk fish could be fun in the Caribbean, and fried fish tacos would taste just right in Mexico, while fish and chips are always a hit.

Cost: Fresh fish is sold by the pound, and the cost varies based on the type of fish available that day.

This New England-style seafood spot wasn’t just a new concept for Carnival when it debuted on Carnival Vista — it’s a new concept in cruising. In addition to being able to order baskets of fried shrimp, crab cake sliders, and clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, you can order fresh fish by the pound. You pick your fish from the choices shown in a case on ice, it’s weighed, and then you decide which dining room you want to eat it in that night and how you want it cooked. 

Tip: The options go way beyond broiled, fried, or steamed. You can literally ask for any fish dish you can imagine, from Goan-style spicy Indian pan-seared fish to Vietnamese-style fried whole fish with plenty of cilantro on top. Think back to the best fish dish you've ever had, or get creative. Jerk fish could be fun in the Caribbean, and fried fish tacos would taste just right in Mexico, while fish and chips are always a hit.

Cost: Fresh fish is sold by the pound, and the cost varies based on the type of fish available that day.

Shakes at JavaBlue's Shake Spot on Carnival Sunshine
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2. Coffee at JavaBlue Café

We’re not huge fans of the complimentary coffee on Carnival ships, but the JavaBlue Café is excellent if you need a jolt. You can get espresso drinks, iced drinks, and chai tea lattes, as well as cookies and cake.

Tip: Our favorite menu items are the spiked coffees and, better still, the boozy milkshakes at the attached Shake Spot.

Cost: Spiked coffees, for example, cost just $5.75.

We’re not huge fans of the complimentary coffee on Carnival ships, but the JavaBlue Café is excellent if you need a jolt. You can get espresso drinks, iced drinks, and chai tea lattes, as well as cookies and cake.

Tip: Our favorite menu items are the spiked coffees and, better still, the boozy milkshakes at the attached Shake Spot.

Cost: Spiked coffees, for example, cost just $5.75.

Alchemy Bar on Carnival Liberty
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3. Cocktails at Alchemy Bar

There are lots of different watering holes on Carnival ships, from sports bars to piano bars, but our favorite place to order carefully crafted cocktails is the Alchemy Bar. Designed with drinks for whatever ails you, the menu includes a cocktail to give you energy and ones to soothe you or turn up the heat on passion.

Tip: Our favorite is the “Forty Is the New Twenty” cocktail in the Fountain of Youth section of the menu. It's a Cosmopolitan-inspired mix of vodka and cranberry, with the addition of pomegranate and citrus notes.

Cost: All drinks are $9.95 plus an automatic 15 percent gratuity.

There are lots of different watering holes on Carnival ships, from sports bars to piano bars, but our favorite place to order carefully crafted cocktails is the Alchemy Bar. Designed with drinks for whatever ails you, the menu includes a cocktail to give you energy and ones to soothe you or turn up the heat on passion.

Tip: Our favorite is the “Forty Is the New Twenty” cocktail in the Fountain of Youth section of the menu. It's a Cosmopolitan-inspired mix of vodka and cranberry, with the addition of pomegranate and citrus notes.

Cost: All drinks are $9.95 plus an automatic 15 percent gratuity.

Surf and Turf at Carnival Glory's Emerald Room Steakhouse
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4. Dinner at the Steakhouse

Not all for-a-fee restaurants feel like a big enough upgrade from the main dining room to be worth the additional expense — especially if you’re traveling with family or a big group. But Carnival’s steakhouses really deliver. For a mere $35 per person, you get a four-course meal, including an appetizer (such as garlicky, Burgundy-style escargot or rich lobster bisque laced with vintage cognac), salad (we say go for the classic Caesar), entrée (including prime rib-eye, filet mignon, or surf and turf), and dessert. The sweets — a tarte tatin, creamy cheesecake, and a trio of decadent chocolate cakes — don’t disappoint either. And not only is the room elegant and the service polished, even the plating is gorgeous.

Tip: Of all the restaurants on these ships, this feels like the best choice for special occasion celebrations.

Cost: $35 for adults; $10 for kids

Not all for-a-fee restaurants feel like a big enough upgrade from the main dining room to be worth the additional expense — especially if you’re traveling with family or a big group. But Carnival’s steakhouses really deliver. For a mere $35 per person, you get a four-course meal, including an appetizer (such as garlicky, Burgundy-style escargot or rich lobster bisque laced with vintage cognac), salad (we say go for the classic Caesar), entrée (including prime rib-eye, filet mignon, or surf and turf), and dessert. The sweets — a tarte tatin, creamy cheesecake, and a trio of decadent chocolate cakes — don’t disappoint either. And not only is the room elegant and the service polished, even the plating is gorgeous.

Tip: Of all the restaurants on these ships, this feels like the best choice for special occasion celebrations.

Cost: $35 for adults; $10 for kids

Inside Carnival Vista's brewery
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5. Tour of the RedFrog Brewery

Many Carnival ships have RedFrog Pubs with Caribbean fare, rums, and a menu of Caribbean beers, but only Carnival Vista brews its own beer on board. On sea days, you can tour the facility (designed in partnership with Concrete Beach Brewery) with the ship’s brewmaster, admiring the copper stills and learning how the line creates its own unique brews at sea. Plan to hang out afterward and play darts, work on puzzles, crank up the jukebox, or hang out on the pub’s deck with a Java Porter and some jerk chicken.

Tip: Sign up early — these tours can fill up fast, especially on sailings with just one sea day.

Cost: Tours are $14.95 per person and include a tasting of all four craft beers.

Many Carnival ships have RedFrog Pubs with Caribbean fare, rums, and a menu of Caribbean beers, but only Carnival Vista brews its own beer on board. On sea days, you can tour the facility (designed in partnership with Concrete Beach Brewery) with the ship’s brewmaster, admiring the copper stills and learning how the line creates its own unique brews at sea. Plan to hang out afterward and play darts, work on puzzles, crank up the jukebox, or hang out on the pub’s deck with a Java Porter and some jerk chicken.

Tip: Sign up early — these tours can fill up fast, especially on sailings with just one sea day.

Cost: Tours are $14.95 per person and include a tasting of all four craft beers.

Styx performing on Carnival Live
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6. Carnival Live

Tired of cruise ship entertainment that doesn’t hold a candle to what you can get on land? These onboard performances (available on select sailings) include everything from big-name bands such as Journey, Chicago, and Foreigner to famous singers (including Jewel and Jennifer Hudson), and now comedians (Kathy Griffin, Jay Leno, Jim Gaffigan), too. The performers board while the ship is in Grand Cayman, Montego Bay, Cozumel, and Nassau, and the ship stays in port late so the performers can do their shows and disembark before you sail away to your next sunny port.

Tip: If you’re a huge fan of the performer, consider signing up for a VIP pass, which includes seating in the first four rows and a photo op with the star.

Cost: General admission costs $30 to $80 per ticket, and VIP tickets cost $100 to $300, depending on the artist.

Tired of cruise ship entertainment that doesn’t hold a candle to what you can get on land? These onboard performances (available on select sailings) include everything from big-name bands such as Journey, Chicago, and Foreigner to famous singers (including Jewel and Jennifer Hudson), and now comedians (Kathy Griffin, Jay Leno, Jim Gaffigan), too. The performers board while the ship is in Grand Cayman, Montego Bay, Cozumel, and Nassau, and the ship stays in port late so the performers can do their shows and disembark before you sail away to your next sunny port.

Tip: If you’re a huge fan of the performer, consider signing up for a VIP pass, which includes seating in the first four rows and a photo op with the star.

Cost: General admission costs $30 to $80 per ticket, and VIP tickets cost $100 to $300, depending on the artist.

Cloud 9 Thermal Suite
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7. Access to the Cloud 9 Spa Thermal Suite

We don't always love our massages and facials on spas run by Steiner, which handles the spas on Carnival ships — too much plugging of products for our taste. But the thermal suites are a calm, soothing place to spend a sea day — and they're easily the best place on board to relax on rainy days. Look for heated tiled lounge chairs, steam rooms scented with a variety of fragrances, and thalassotherapy pools. Note: Carnival Sunshine has a smaller, one-story spa without a thalassotherapy pool, and Carnival Vista has a whirlpool tub instead of a thalassotherapy pool. So if you're planning to spend a majority of your time on board in the spa, you might want to consider other ships.

Tip: On sea days, the spa can be packed, whereas you may have the place to yourself when the ship is in port.

Cost: $20 per guest per day on Carnival Sunshine; $40 per guest per day on all other ships. If you want to go more than one day, you'll save money with a pass that lasts the duration of your cruise.

We don't always love our massages and facials on spas run by Steiner, which handles the spas on Carnival ships — too much plugging of products for our taste. But the thermal suites are a calm, soothing place to spend a sea day — and they're easily the best place on board to relax on rainy days. Look for heated tiled lounge chairs, steam rooms scented with a variety of fragrances, and thalassotherapy pools. Note: Carnival Sunshine has a smaller, one-story spa without a thalassotherapy pool, and Carnival Vista has a whirlpool tub instead of a thalassotherapy pool. So if you're planning to spend a majority of your time on board in the spa, you might want to consider other ships.

Tip: On sea days, the spa can be packed, whereas you may have the place to yourself when the ship is in port.

Cost: $20 per guest per day on Carnival Sunshine; $40 per guest per day on all other ships. If you want to go more than one day, you'll save money with a pass that lasts the duration of your cruise.

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