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.
For more cruise guides, news and tips, sign up for TPG’s cruise newsletter.
Catering heavily to budget travelers 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.
However, 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. You’ll also find Carnival ships in secondary cruise ship ports such as Baltimore; Charleston, South Carolina; Mobile, Alabama; and Jacksonville, Florida.
For the most part, Carnival ships sail relatively short voyages of three to eight nights.
Here’s our take on the five best places Carnival sails.
The Caribbean and Bahamas
Carnival is, quite simply, the king of Caribbean and Bahamas cruises. If you’re looking for a quick, easy and — perhaps most importantly — very affordable cruise getaway to the region, Carnival is your line.
Carnival currently has 21 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 ships, the 5,282-passenger Mardi Gras and sister vessel Carnival Celebration.
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 is also 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.
However, each of Carnival’s six- to eight-night Eastern Caribbean itineraries is a little different. There are typically three and sometimes four calls on these Eastern Caribbean cruises.
Carnival’s six- to eight-night Western Caribbean voyages will typically 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 — will often bring visits to Aruba and Curaçao, as well as one or more northerly Caribbean ports such as Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic.
Carnival also offers a handful of longer, 10- to 14-night sailings in the Caribbean, but not many.
The Mexican Riviera
Carnival 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, 2,764-passenger Carnival Radiance operates three- and four-night trips out of Long Beach year-round to Mexico.
A third Carnival ship, the 2,124-passenger Carnival Miracle, operates four- and five-night sailings to Mexico out of Long Beach on a seasonal basis and also offers some Mexican Riviera cruises out of San Francisco.
The typical seven-night Carnival voyage to the Mexican Riviera brings stops in Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán 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.
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 has been sending more vessels to Alaska in recent years than in the past, and for 2023, it’s planning to have three ships sailing to the destination.
Carnival’s fun-focused, affordable ships are a popular pick with families looking to visit Alaska during the short Alaska cruise season, which lasts roughly from May to September.
For 2023, Carnival plans to deploy the following ships to the Alaska market:
- Carnival Luminosa: The 14-year-old vessel will mostly operate seven-night voyages to Alaska round trip out of Seattle. Most of the departures will feature calls at Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan, Alaska; and Victoria, British Columbia. It’ll also visit the Tracy Arm fjord in Alaska for glacier viewing. A few sailings have a slightly different line-up of ports.
- Carnival Miracle: The 19-year-old vessel will mostly operate 10-night voyages to Alaska round trip out of San Francisco. It’ll call at Skagway, Juneau, Icy Strait Point in Alaska; and Victoria, British Columbia. It’ll also visit Tracy Arm for glacier viewing.
- Carnival Spirit: The 12-year old vessel will operate seven-night voyages to Alaska round trip from Seattle. It’ll call at Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan, 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.
At least a couple of 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: New York, Baltimore and Norfolk, Virginia.
Most of the sailings are six nights in length and include two days in Bermuda. 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 little as eight hours.
This coming summer of 2023 will bring sailings to Bermuda on three Carnival ships: the 3,690-passenger Carnival Magic, the 2,124-passenger Carnival Legend and the 4,208-passenger Carnival Venezia. The latter ship is a Costa Cruises vessel that Carnival will begin operating in the summer of 2023. Costa is a sister line to Carnival with similarly designed ships.
Carnival may be all about cruises from U.S. ports. However, not all its vessels always 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 two ships — most recently the 2,124-passenger Carnival Spirit and 3,012-passenger Carnival Splendor — typically operate a mix of three- to 10-night sailings along the Australian coast and to New Zealand.
For the coming year, the line also will have the 2,260-passenger Carnival Luminosa based in Australia. The vessel is a former Costa Cruises ship that just joined the Carnival fleet.
Carnival’s Australia trips, notably, aren’t really aimed at Americans. They’re aimed at 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.
That doesn’t mean an American can’t book one of the trips.
The typical Carnival cruise along the coast of Australia includes 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.”
Carnival focuses heavily on cruises in North America.
If you’re looking for a voyage to the Caribbean, Bahamas, Bermuda or the 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.
Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:
- The 5 most desirable cabin locations on any cruise ship
- The 8 worst cabin locations on any cruise ship
- A quick guide to the most popular cruise lines
- 21 tips and tricks that will make your cruise go smoothly
- 15 ways cruisers waste money
- 12 best cruises for people who never want to grow up
- What to pack for your first cruise