The 5 best destinations you can visit on a Carnival Cruise Line ship

Mar 8, 2021

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Some cruise lines offer voyages in every corner of the world. Others are more focused in where they operate.

Carnival Cruise Line, one of the world’s largest cruise brands, is firmly in the second category.

Carnival is all about relatively short, affordable cruises from U.S. ports. You’ll find at least one of its ships sailing out of pretty much every major port city around the country. But it’s rare to find them based anywhere else.

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Catering heavily to budget travellers who reach its ships by car, Carnival only rarely offers voyages in Europe, Asia and South America — destinations that are much more integral to the schedules of such rival lines as Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises and Holland America.

But Carnival is the undisputed leader in cruises out of U.S. ports to the Caribbean and Bahamas, with a wide range of sailings to the regions from ports on the East Coast and along the Gulf of Mexico.

Some of Carnival’s East Coast-based ships also sail to Bermuda, New England and Canada. For Carnival ships based on the West Coast, sailings to Mexico, Hawaii and Alaska are the norm.

Carnival also offers some Panama Canal voyages.

The overarching idea for Carnival’s ship deployments is that a large percentage of the U.S. population can reach one of the line’s ships by car, saving the cost of flights. For that reason, it takes a much broader approach to ship deployments around the U.S. than other lines.

Carnival’s biggest operations are out of PortMiami and Port Canaveral in Florida; Galveston, Texas; Long Beach, California; and New Orleans — all major cruise hubs. But you’ll also find Carnival ships in secondary cruise ship ports such as Baltimore, Maryland; Charleston, South Carolina; Mobile, Alabama; and Jacksonville, Florida.

For the most part, Carnival ships sail relatively short voyages of three to eight nights.

The Caribbean and Bahamas

Carnival Mardi Gras
Carnival’s newest and biggest ship, Mardi Gras, will sail in the Caribbean. (Photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line)

Carnival is, quite simply, the king of Caribbean and Bahamas cruises. If you’re looking for a quick, easy and — perhaps most importantly — affordable cruise getaway to the region, Carnival is your line.

Carnival currently has 20 of its 24 ships scheduled to sail to the Caribbean and Bahamas for at least part of the coming year — including its newest and biggest ship, the soon-to-debut, 5,282-passenger Mardi Gras. To put that in perspective, that’s more ships than exist in the entire fleet of Norwegian Cruise Line, which itself is a major player in Caribbean cruises.

Carnival offers a broad range of Caribbean and Bahamas itineraries from no fewer than 12 U.S. ports.

If you’re looking for something short, the line has you covered in the form of quick three- to five-night trips to the Caribbean and the Bahamas from Florida ports such as Miami, Tampa, Jacksonville and Port Canaveral as well as from Mobile, Alabama; New Orleans; and Galveston, Texas. From the Eastern ports, these itineraries often focus on stops in the Bahamas and Grand Turk Island. From the Gulf ports, they often focus heavily on the ports of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, including Cozumel and Progreso.

Carnival also is big in the market for six- to eight-night sailings to Caribbean and Bahamas ports, which break down into three broad categories:

  • Eastern Caribbean voyages
  • Western Caribbean voyages
  • Southern Caribbean voyages

A typical seven-night Carnival sailing to the Eastern Caribbean includes stops in San Juan, Puerto Rico; St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; Amber Cove, Dominican Republic; and Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos. But every one of Carnival’s six- to eight-night Eastern Caribbean itineraries is a little different. There typically are three and sometimes four calls on these Eastern Caribbean cruises.

Carnival’s six- to eight-night Western Caribbean voyages typically will include three or four stops in some mix of the following destinations: Mexico (Cozumel and Costa Maya), Honduras, Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Belize.

The line’s Southern Caribbean itineraries — typically eight nights in length — often will bring visits to Aruba and Curaçao as well as one or more northerly Caribbean ports such Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic.

Carnival also offers a handful of longer, 10- to 14-night sailings in the Caribbean. But not many.

Related: The best Caribbean cruises for every type of traveller 

The Mexican Riviera

The 4,008-passenger Carnival Panorama sails to Mexico out of Long Beach, Calif. (Photo courtesy of Carnival)

Carnival also is one of the leaders in cruises to the “Mexican Riviera” — the string of resort towns running down the West Coast of Mexico.

Carnival operates cruises to the West Coast of Mexico out of the California ports of Long Beach and San Francisco, with Long Beach being its main West Coast hub.

Notably, Carnival is the only cruise line to base ships in Long Beach year-round for voyages to Mexico. One of the line’s newest vessels, the 4,008-passenger Carnival Panorama, is based year-round in Long Beach for seven-night Mexican Riviera voyages. The smaller, 2,124-passenger Carnival Miracle is scheduled to begin short cruises to Mexico and longer Hawaii voyages from Long Beach in May, while the 2,764-passenger Carnival Radiance will reposition to Long Beach in November to operate three- and four-night trips to Mexico.

The typical seven-night Carnival voyage to the Mexican Riviera brings stops in Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta.

Three- and four-night Carnival trips to the West Coast of Mexico typically only feature a single Mexico call in Ensenada as well as, at times, a stop at Catalina Island off the coast of California.

Related: The ultimate guide to Carnival Cruise Line

Alaska

Carnival isn’t the biggest player in Alaska cruises. The giants of cruising to Alaska are Princess Cruises and Holland America, which are sister lines to Carnival that control a large percentage of the market. Still, Carnival typically sends one or two vessels to Alaska every summer, and its fun-focused, affordable ships are a popular pick with families looking to visit the destination.

The Alaska cruise season is a short one, lasting roughly from May to September. And this year, the Alaska cruise season is entirely in doubt, due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions. But the line still has a single vessel, the 2,974-passenger Carnival Freedom, scheduled to sail seven-night voyages to Alaska out of Seattle.

For 2022, Carnival plans to deploy two ships to the Alaska market:

  • Carnival Freedom: The 14-year-old vessel will operate seven-night voyages to Alaska round-trip out of Seattle. It’ll call at Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan, Alaska; and Victoria, British Columbia. It’ll also visit Tracy Arm for glacier viewing.
  • Carnival Miracle: The 17-year-old vessel will operate 10-night voyages to Alaska round-trip out of San Francisco. It’ll call at Skagway, Juneau and Icy Strait Point, Alaska; and Victoria, British Columbia. It’ll also visit Tracy Arm for glacier viewing.

Unlike some lines such as Princess, Holland America and Royal Caribbean, Carnival does not offer Alaska “cruise-tours” that combine an Alaska cruise with multiple days of overland touring.

Bermuda

(Photo by Gene Sloan / The Points Guy)
A Carnival ship docked in Bermuda. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

At least a couple Carnival ships typically sail to Bermuda every year between May and October.

While the line doesn’t offer a huge number of Bermuda departures, it usually operates Bermuda trips out of at least three ports every year: the ports of New York, Baltimore and Norfolk, Virginia.

Most of the sailings are six nights in length and include two days in Bermuda. But the line also typically offers a few shorter four- and five-night Bermuda sailings and, occasionally, a longer seven-night Bermuda sailing.

Note that the shorter Bermuda sailings can offer very little time in the country, sometimes as few as eight hours.

Due to coronavirus-related cancellations, Carnival has just two Bermuda sailings left on its schedule for 2021 — both in August, on the 2,124-passenger Carnival Pride. But 2022 will bring sailings to Bermuda on two Carnival ships: the 3,690-passenger Carnival Magic and the 2,124-passenger Carnival Legend.

Related: Does a short cruise to Bermuda make sense?

Australia

The 2,124-passenger Carnival Spirit sails in Sydney Harbor. (Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images for Carnival Cruise Lines Australia)

Carnival may be all about cruises from U.S. ports. But not all its vessels are based in North America.

In what might seem an unusual diversion for a line known for short, easy-to-reach, affordable voyages for Americans, Carnival in recent years has deployed two of its vessels to Australia to operate trips from Sydney and Brisbane.

The ships — the 2,124-passenger Carnival Spirit and 3,012-passenger Carnival Splendor — operate a mix of three- to 10-night sailings along the Australian coast and to New Zealand.

These trips, notably, aren’t really aimed at Americans. They’re aimed at local Australians. A few years ago, Carnival discovered that Australians love the sort of fun-focused, affordable cruises it offers just as much as Americans, and it set out to build a business in Australia catering to them.

But that doesn’t mean an American can’t book one of the trips.

The typical Carnival cruise along the coast of Australia includes brings stops at Airlie Beach, Cairns and Willis Island. Some longer Australia voyages add in stops at Port Douglas or Moreton Island.

Shorter Australia voyages might include a stop at just one of the above destinations or even no stops at all — a so-called “cruise to nowhere.”

Bottom line

Carnival focuses heavily on cruises in North America. If you’re looking for a voyage to the Caribbean, Bahamas, Bermuda or West Coast of Mexico, you’ll find an unparalleled array of choices from Carnival. If a cruise vacation in Europe, Asia or South America is what you’re after, you probably should focus on another line.

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Featured image courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line.

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