carnival cruise – review from a family perspective

we just returned from our very first cruise, a cruise on the Carnival Ship Inspiration. since folks are always interested in information about family-friendly vacation options, i thought i’d share my .02 in case anyone was interested. eventually, i will do a full review. we (DH, 8 year old BC, 3.5 year old hellboy, and i) went on this cruise not knowing what to expect. we booked it last minute, as it seemed like a really reasonably-priced way to have some fun and visit two ports.

carnival touts its “camp carnival” program as the answer to the cruising parents’ prayers — you get a break while the kids are having fun. camp is available to kids 2 to teen. people we met on the cruise were surprised — their travel agent told them that their 21 month old could participate, but the folks on the cruise told them that he could not, so they had a special friend with them throughout the cruise and no break. it seemed like there was some naptime geared to the under-2 set at lunch time for an hour (this would have been completely useless for my kids had they been at that age at that time — when they were babies, they napped in the a.m. and in the p.m. but not over lunchtime), but other than that, the only thing available to parents with kids under 2 would be paying for babysitting from 10 pm until 3 am. i can’t speak much to the under-two situation, but if you were considering a cruise with carnival, you would be wise to make sure that your expectations are in line with what they offer. oh, and know that anyone not potty-trained may not swim in the pool. any pool. period.

we were surprised to find that camp occurs in spurts. most days, it starts around 9 through noon. then, they close for lunch and reopen at 2 (except on days when they have family events at 1:00 — more on that later.) until about 5pm. they close again at 5 and then sometimes reopen for dinner, sometimes not in the 5:45 range until 10pm. after 10, you must pay for a babysitter — $6/hour for first child, $4/hour for second — which is available until 3 a.m. some of the activities are fun — the older kids built, painted, and exploded a volcano. the younger kids basically played with toys, colored a bit, and listened to stories. but they tout this as an “award-winning program”. who gave the award — sony? my eight year old was surprised that two hours in the day — one in the a.m., one in the p.m. — was dedicated to playing with playstation2 and gameboys. “mama,” she said, “why don’t they ever take us to the pool? we shouldn’t be playing with gameboys on vacation!” this sort of programming smacks of laziness, so much so that if an eight-year-old can figure it out, then i wonder why the children’s programmers cannot. in short, you’d do better at a program at a club med, activity-wise, where they take the kids swimming, do sports and circus activities, painting, and a show. while the kids had fun when they were there, it was due more to being around other kids their own ages rather than due to the programming. (oh — and that 1:00 family program? it’s “build your own bear — carnival cruise bear. for $19.99, of course. like you need to shell out more money and pay for more crap to schlep through customs.)

timing is an issue for people with young children. if you have children that stay up late and wake up late, bully for you. for the rest of us, staying up really late means you’ll pay in a big way the next morning. the allure of partying until 3 a.m. is lost on sleepy parents of young children, methinks. unfortunately, most of the nightlife (shows, events, tournaments) starts at 9:30/10:00, so carnival essentially nickels-and-dimes you for childcare if you actually want to participate in any of the things you came on the boat for in the first place. conversely, if you are like us, you never get to see any of the shows because if you stay up really late, you’ll pay for it the next day when your three year old bounces out of bed very early. in short, cruise ship schedules are not exactly young-family-friendly. the people who dreamed up the schedule on this ship either are childless or live with mary poppins, who cheerfully provides childcare 24/7 and lets the parents sleep in at will.

the dining room was the best part of the trip. i cannot say enough wonderful things about the dining room staff, who remembered that my kids liked chocolate milk at dinner and brought it out each night. they were pleasant beyond compare and downright wonderful mostly. if your kid is a finicky eater, there is pizza and chicken nuggets galore. the food is average (hello — indian food requires actual spices, people), even decent in spots, and i still miss the warm melted chocolate cake. which i ordered. every night. and it shows.

the pools on the ship were quite small (it is a ship, after all), though my eight year old enjoyed the water slide. (i think you have to be 48 inches tall for that.) the kiddie pool, near a little play area, is very small. on our first day, it was filled with things like splenda bags, cigarette butts, and other yuck. my kids adored this tiny pool, though (only 18 inches deep) because when the ship rocked, it turned into a crazy wave pool (unintentionally). eventually, the pool was cleaned out so i didn’t have to wonder what sort of nasty filth my kids were swimming in.

other cruise lines are undoubtedly different from carnival. but the carnival clientele is not dominated by urban parents: it’s predominantly middle america, people from the heartland who smoke aplenty (and they did, which even irritated my kids), drink aplenty (and those drinks with the umbrellas ain’t cheap), and apparently who think it’s cool to get t-shirts from the harley davidson store in grand cayman even though harleys are american. (note: pet peeve alert — the smoking area rules were not enforced at all. if you do not like being around cigarette smoke, you really need to be aware of this.) they were shocked that my kids ate from the sushi bar (and OHMIGAWD what a brave move for carnival to put one on board, open from 5-8 many evenings but very smoky due to its position near a bar) and even more shocked the night they offered indian food.

anyway, that’s pretty much the family angle. i will also point out that the cruise price is just the beginning. everything costs extra. sodas. (my daughter asked for lemonade with dinner, and apparently, that wasn’t considered a juice. $2 + tip, please.) as you can probably glean, i am probably not a cruiser, as i don’t like feeling like i am being nickled-and-dimed for everything. club med sandpiper was a much better value, imho (and no, i don’t work there — i’ve just been there several times) and does a much better job with the kids program. IMHO, carnival should take note.

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3 Responses to “carnival cruise – review from a family perspective”

  1. i totally agree with your review of the cruise. i went on a carnivale cruise about 4 yrs ago. we nicknamed it a “floating mama’s family”, bc that’s the type of people we met. 🙂

  2. […] reminds me of the time when we were on our first (and last) carnival cruise. the award-winning children’s program had two full hours of kids playing on gameboys. even […]

  3. `’* I am really thankful to this topic because it really gives great information ,*’

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