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Carnival Cruising Guide & Tips - Carnival Cruise Lines - Cruising Earth

Carnival Cruise Lines - Cruising Earth

Carnival Cruise Lines - Cruising Guide & Tips

Carnival Cruise Line
Cruising Guide & Tips Contents

The information below is specific to cruising with Carnival Cruise Lines.

For additional general cruise planning information, not specific to any cruise line, use: Cruising Earth's - Cruise Planning Guide.

Before Cruising

Carnival Mardi Gras
  • Identification required to cruise on Carnival:
    • Minimum for US citizens:
      • An original or certified copy of your birth certificate (not hospital issued) for all passengers & a state issued picture ID for passengers 16 years of age and older. This is for all US citizens embarking on a cruise that both originates & terminates at the same US port.
      • If a cruise begins and ends in different US ports (such as Carnival's Alaskan and Hawaiian cruises), or begins and ends in a foreign port a valid US Passport is required for all US citizens.
    • Recommended for US citizens:
      • State issued picture ID and US Passport
      • US Passport Information: For US Passport information including current processing times.
    • All non US citizens:
      • A passport is required for all non US citizens on all Carnival cruises.
      • United States Green Card Holders: You are required to have a valid green card in your possession at all times. For ships sailing from US Ports, Green Card holders not in possession of their Green Card may be denied boarding or reentry into the United States.
  • Minor Travel Consent Forms: Minors (under the age of 18) cruising without both birth parents SHOULD have a travel consent form signed and notarized. You will find three different consent forms here with instructions. These forms will cover most circumstances of travel with minors.
  • Deck Plans: View and/or download the deck plans for your cruise ship. Becoming familiar with the ship's layout before you cruise can make your time onboard more enjoyable. It's always nice to be able to find what you want, when you want it!
  • Casual attire on the ship is the typical wear. Suggested clothing: Ladies - shorts, sundresses, tank tops, etc.; Men - shorts, polo shirts, T-shirts, etc. Depending on where you cruise and the time of year you cruise you will need to take into account there could be some cooler weather especially at night, be prepared. Also suggest you wear rubber-soled, low heeled or flat shoes for extra traction while onboard. The use of any footwear with wheels, including but not limited to Heelys® shoes, is prohibited onboard Carnival ships. In the Main Dining Room for dinner there is a dress code. The dress code is not strictly enforced.
  • Make sure that your bank and credit card companies are aware that you will be going out of the country. They will ask you what days and will note it on your account so it won't be flagged for fraudulent activity.
  • Travel Insurance: Buying travel insurance is always recommended. It is typically based off of the total price of your cruise, the destination(s), and the age of the traveler(s). Carnival does offer ravel insurance (it's actually through AON / Berkely Travel), but it is usually more expensive with less coverage than many third party insurance companies. We recommend you price out travel insurance at www.insuremytrip.com. You will find many options for insurance companies there with reviews. Carnival's insurance coverage and pricing can be found here. Carnival's insurance option may be a good choice for elderly cruisers because they do not currently base any criteria off of your age.
  • Cruising Earth Pre-Cruise Checklist: A checklist to help you in preparing and organizing for your cruise.
  • Carnival Cruise Director Schedule: This is an external link to Carnival's Cruise Director Schedule. It is maintained by Carnival Cruise Lines and is subject to change without notice.

Sail & Sign Card / Account

  • You will receive your Sail & Sign Card when you first check-in at your embarkation port.
  • "Sail & Sign" is Carnival's onboard cashless credit program, which allows you to charge all your services, gratuities and purchases during your cruise to your cabin.
  • Your Sail & Sign Card is also your cabin key and boarding card. This card identifies you as a Carnival guest and must be carried with you along with a picture ID when you go ashore. Because the ship is closed to the public while docked at the various ports-of-call, you'll have to show your Sail & Sign Card along with the picture ID to the officer on duty in order to reboard the ship.
  • All locations on board will accept your Sail & Sign Card for payment. You have the option to use cash in the casino, the arcade, and for bingo.
  • Carnival Sail & Sign Cards
  • A credit card or a cash deposit is needed to establish your Sail & Sign account. The initial credit card hold is: $75 (for cruises 5 days or less) or $100 (for cruises 6 days or more). Then, throughout the voyage incremental holds will be obtained as needed. For cash deposits they recommend, but do not require, $100 for a 2-4 day cruise, $200 for a 5-8 day cruise, and $350 for a 9 day or longer cruise.
  • You have 24 hours to place cash on your account once you are checked in. You can still use your Sail & Sign Card for purchases during those first 24 hours, up to a total of $50.
  • You can put your cash deposit down while checking in before embarking, at the Guest Services Desk once onboard, or at an onboard kiosk (one is typically located near the Guest Services Desk) which will help you avoid any lines at Guest Services. The line at the Guest Services Desk can be quite long immediately after boarding. We recommend putting your cash down while checking in or waiting till later in the day, since you can still use your card for up to 24 hours.
  • The Guest Services Desk is open 24 hours a day. You can set spending limits and check the status of your account at any time at the Guest Services Desk.
  • Keep in mind automatic gratuities, for the entire length of the cruise, will automatically be charged to your Sail & Sign account on the second day of the cruise, unless you set something up differently prior to that.
  • Keep track of your spending, mistakes can be made. On some ships there is also "Interactive TV" in the cabins. The "Interactive TV" will allow you to personally review the charges and status of your Sail & Sign Account from the comfort on your own cabin. Be advised some charges do not always show up immediately.
  • At the end of the cruise, all charges will be automatically billed. Very early in the morning of the final day of the cruise a statement detailing all purchases made with your Sail & Sign card will be delivered under the door of your stateroom. If you made a cash deposit and there is an overpayment on your account, you will receive the overpayment in the form of a check attached to the detailed statement you receive.

Tipping / Automatic Gratuities

Carnival Celebration - Latitudes Bar
  • Tipping is NOT included in the base cruise fare or in the normal fees applied prior to cruising.
  • Carnival offers an automatic gratuity service. This service automatically applies daily tips, currently $13.99/day for standard rooms and $14.99 per day for suites (raising to $14.50/day for standard rooms and $16.50 per day for suites on May 1, 2022), to your Sail & Sign Account. Gratuities apply for everyone 2 years of age and older. The total tipping charge for the cruise usually appears on your account the second cruise day.
  • The $14.50/day gratuity is split this way:
    • $7.00/day to Dining Room Services (Head Waiter, Waiter, Assistant Waiter)
    • $4.50/day ($6.50/day for suites) to Cabin Services (Room Steward, Assistant Steward)
    • $3.00/day for Alternative Services (Kitchen, Entertainment, Guest Services & Hotel Staff)
  • You can choose to remove the automatic gratuities, adjust them down or adjust how they are distributed. You can do this by personally visiting the Guest Services Desk.
  • You can also choose to tip over-and-above the automatic gratuities. You can do this by either going to Guest Services and adjusting your automatic gratuities up or you can tip individuals in person throughout the cruise.
  • If you do remove automatic gratuities the staff will know. Staff members have been known to be questioned by their superiors as to why you would be removing the tips.
  • Also remember if you do remove automatic gratuities with plans on doing all your tipping in person you will most likely be leaving out many people who would normally be getting part of your automatic gratuities. You will not have personal interaction with many of the staff who salaries have been adjusted down to reflect your expected automatic gratuities.
  • If you like to keep your Sail & Sign Account to a minimum you can call Carnival at (800)764-7419 (or your Travel Agent if you booked through one) and prepay your automatic gratuities before cruising. It will show as a credit to your account until the automatic gratuities charge hits your Sail & Sign Account once onboard. As mentioned above, typically the total amount for the automatic gratuities posts to your account on the second cruise day. At this time there is not a way to pay automatic gratuities online prior to cruising, you must call.
  • Bartenders automatically receive an added 18% gratuity when paying for your drinks with your Sail & Sign Card.
  • A tip is expected for Room Service.
  • Many cruisers will also tip these people: Bartenders (in addition to the 18% automatic gratuity), Waiters (in addition to automatic gratuities), Room Steward (in addition to automatic gratuities), Porters (for carrying your bags), Spa Service, Salon Service, Camp Counselors, and Shore Tour Guides.
  • How you tip is a personal choice you need to make. These are just the facts to help you make a more informed decision.


  • If you have early embarkation (priority) to the ship proceed directly to the lido deck for a buffet lunch (depending on how early you board your room may not be ready yet). The buffet will be really busy during later boardings.
  • On embarkation day, each guest may bring a small quantity of non-alcoholic beverages (water, soda, juice, etc.) onboard in their carry-on luggage only. A small quantity is considered a maximum of 12 bottles and/or cans, 20 ounces each or less.
  • On embarkation day, guests 21 years of age and older, may also bring on board one bottle (max of 750ml) of wine or champagne, per person, in their carry-on luggage only. The one 750ml bottle can also be substituted for a typical 4 pack of small wine bottles which are 187ml each (total of 748ml).
  • On embarkation day, you may bring snacks on board with you. There is no specified limit as to how much you can bring, but keep in mind it is not hard to find food at any time of the day while onboard the ship. At a minimum there is always the 24-hr Pizzeria, the 24-hr Ice Cream Station and 24-hr Room Service, all of which are FREE (already included in your base cruise fare).
  • Bring your bathing suit and a change of clothes in your carry on. Sometimes it takes a while for you to get the rest of your luggage. Some people just wear their bathing suit under their clothes so they can enjoy the pool and hot tubs as soon as they get on the ship.
  • Make sure your cellular phone and/or mobile devices are in "Airplane Mode" or off as soon as you set sail. You definitely don't want at sea roaming charges. Just receiving junk mail on your phone or device over the length of the cruise can end up costing you hundreds of dollars in data roaming charges, be careful! Check with your specific cellular carrier for their at sea roaming rates.
Carnival Cruise Terminal Miami

Once Onboard

  • In the casino they will give you a lanyard as well as punch a hole in your Sign & Sail card for you. Some people like to carry their Sign & Sail card around their neck on this lanyard.
  • As soon as you get on board make all your Spa appointments. You should also make your hair appointments for formal night because they tend to book up fast. You can either call from your room or just go up and make your appointments in person.
  • If you have not already made reservations for the alternative / specialty dining you would like to do throughout your cruise, now is a good time to make final reservations, some specialty restaurants book up quickly.
  • Go to the main dining room as soon as you get on board and check out your table. If you are not happy with your table or dining time speak to the Maître d'. If it is possible he will help you change to get you what you want.
  • The Carnival Fun Times (daily schedule of ship's activities left in your room every night for the next day) is a wealth of information for activities and times throughout the ship and miscellaneous good to know information.
Carnival Cruise Steakhouse


  • You can ask your room steward for a foam egg crate pad for the bed.
  • Free shampoo, body wash and bars of soap in the shower. It is not the best quality but if you forget yours, or aren't picky about brands it'll definitely work.
  • The amenity baskets in the bathrooms also have sample sized packs of razors, toothpaste, dental floss, lotion and Advil - again it's all free. If you need more just ask the cabin steward, they appreciate a tip.
  • There is a hairdryer in most every cabin. It typically can be found in either the bathroom or in the desk/vanity drawer.
  • There is a safe in every room that is free to use. It is located in either the closet or a cabinet. Some safes require a key that you can get from the room steward, others just require a card with a magnetic strip like a credit/debit card. In either case they are free to use.
  • You can ask your room steward for the book that is in your cabin that is about the ship. You can usually have it for free, they appreciate a tip.
  • You can see the menu for the dining room on your TV so you can see if you like that day's selections.
  • On some ships there is "Interactive TV" in the cabins. This system allows you to order shore tours and room service. Additionally, you can review the status of your Sail & Sign Account.
  • Carnival Cruise Suite
  • Room Service is no longer free, items are priced a-la-carte. You should also always tip the person who delivers the food to your cabin.
  • You can set automated wake-up calls for yourself on your cabin phone.
  • Cabin phone: Room-to-Room calls are free. All Domestic and International Calls are $1.99/minute. This rate is almost always cheaper than using your personal cell phone while onboard.
  • The couch in many cabins has drawers built in underneath.
  • There is lots of room under the bed to store all your suitcases so you don't have to have them out taking up room.
  • If you have a fridge in your cabin you can ask your room steward to remove the mini bar stuff that is in it and use it for your own stuff. Or just let him know that you are going to do it yourself so you do not get charged by accident for the items you are just temporarily moving.
  • Bring a bungee cord so you can keep your balcony door open, or you can use a supplied door stop wedge in the door frame. Some balcony doors will also stay open on there own.
  • On some ships the balcony door frame has a magnetic contact on the door frame. The ships with this feature will shut off the air conditioner when you leave your balcony door open. Simply put a small refrigerator magnet over the contact and your air conditioner will continue to run while the door is open.

On Deck

  • Don't be a chair hog on deck!  Don't try to save chairs for your friends that are "on the way" or are "coming right back" when they truly aren't and/or you really don't know when they may be coming.
  • Put down a towel on your balcony chair if you're wearing white. There may be a light layer of soot and it shows on white clothing.
  • "Secret Decks": Are observation balconies at the front of the ship that not everyone knows about. They are free to access by any cruiser and can be found on many ships in Carnival's fleet.
Carnival Cruise Lido Deck


  • Main Dining Room: You can order as many appetizers, soups, salads, entrees and desserts as you want, they are FREE (already included in your base cruise fare).
  • In the main dining room when they bring out the dessert menu ask to see a children's menu. They have great things like banana splits, hot fudge sundaes, etc.
  • Carnival Dress Code: Most evenings they have a Cruise Casual dining dress code, but there are those Cruise Elegant evenings (one or two nights throughout your cruise) where you will have the opportunity to showcase your more elegant attire. For those who want to wear strictly casual attire for dinner time, the Lido Restaurant is open nightly and has a more relaxed atmosphere. However, shirts and shoes/footwear (minimum of flip-flops) must be worn at all times inside the Lido Restaurant.
  • Be aware Carnival Dress Code is very seldom enforced.
  • On formal nights get your pictures taken at all of the "settings". You do not have to buy any of them, but you will at least have multiple choices to pick from if you decide to.
  • Any main entrée pasta dish can also be had as a side dish in the Main Dining Room.
  • When the lights start to dim in the main dining room this means entertainment is coming. Have your camera ready.
  • Bring a sweater, the main dining room is cool, especially compared to where you've probably been all day.
  • The Steakhouse: Carnival offers an alternative evening dining venue called The Steakhouse on some of its' ships.
Carnival Cruise Main Dining Room

Food / Beverage

  • You can buy buckets of beer (4 in a bucket). Beer can be mixed. It is discounted $2.00/bucket (.50 cents/beer).
  • Pizzeria is open 24 hours. You can order a whole pizza or calzone with whatever toppings you want. It takes about 10 minutes for both. They also make a great caesar salad.
  • Soft serve ice cream and frozen yogurt available 24 hours. It is self serve. Make sure you check your Carnival Fun Times to find out what days there are sundae toppings available.
  • Coffee, hot tea, hot chocolate, unsweetened iced tea, lemonade, orange juice, milk and water (fountain, not bottled) are free throughout the cruise.
  • From Coke to Pepsi: In 2020 Carnival switched to offering Pepsi products oboard. If you want another brand you will need to bring your own. (Each passenger may bring 12 bottles and/or cans, 20 ounces each or less, onboard on embarkation day.)
  • If you have the souvenir glass you can order any frozen drink as a refill not just the drink of the day. They do charge you the price of the other frozen drink you ordered but you get it in the bigger glass.
  • RedFrog Pub / RedFrog Rum Bar: Offers a laid-back Caribbean vibe with island-inspired snacks and drinks, including ThirstyFrog Red draught beer.
  • "Cheers" Beverage Program: Offers flat-rate daily pricing for alcoholic drinks, non-alcoholic frozen drinks, wine by the glass and soda. See link for complete program details and current list of ships offering the program.
  • Alcohol Prices & Selections: The alcohol prices and selections onboard are ever changing, here is a list that is updated frequently.

Ports / Excursions

Carnival Cruise Cuzumel Pier
  • You do not have to book shore excursions through the cruise line. Do a little homework before you go and you can book your excursions directly. Booking directly typically will save you 20%+.
  • First time cruisers may want to book through Carnival to avoid the chance of picking a disreputable company.
  • Weather, medical emergencies, mechanical issues, etc. can cause ports to be missed. If you miss a port and you booked the excursion through Carnival you will get your money back. However, if you are booking an excursion independently (not through Carnival) make sure to ask whether or not you get your deposit back if the ship misses that port. Almost all reputable companies will give you a full refund of any money you prepaid.
  • When the ship is in port you can always come back on the ship to drop off packages, get changed, etc. and leave the ship again. Just remember to be back a half hour before the ship is scheduled to leave port. Missing the ship is a good way to ruin your vacation and put a dent in your savings account.
  • Look for specials in the Spa on port days.
  • There is also happy hour at the bars onboard on port days.
  • Need more non-alcoholic beverages? Pick them up on shore. Carnival doesn't track what you brought on the ship initially and they haven't been known to question you about bringing on more non-alcoholic beverages on port days.


  • Due to different itineraries, the casino hours may vary among the fleet:
    • Sea Days: Slot Machines open at 9:00am; select tables open at 10:00am; full casino opens 12:00pm-3:00am.
    • Port Days: The casino is closed while in port; the casino opens after the ship sails. For ships that overnight in Nassau, the casino is open during night time hours. For ships visiting Half Moon Cay, the casino may be open while in port - this is at the discretion of ship management.
    Carnival Cruise Casiono Roulette
  • U.S currency is accepted at all tables and slot machines.
  • The Sail & Sign Card can be used to purchase chips at the tables and credit for the slot machines from the Cashier's Window; a 3% charge will apply. If the Sail & Sign Card is used in the slot machine, no fee will apply.
  • Travelers Checks can be used to purchase chips at the tables and credit for the slot machines.

Wi-Fi / Internet Access

  • All ships now have wireless internet (Wi-Fi) onboard accessible from bow to stern. It is expensive and typically very slow.
  • Carnival is attempting to implement flat-rate priced unlimited internet use across the fleet. Unfortunately, at this time due to high demand and bandwidth issues it is a slow work in progress. Most ships at this time are still using the pay by the minute plans, with speeds similar to old school dial-up.
  • Plan your use wisely with the pay by the minute plans for Wi-Fi. The best speeds will typically be late at night, early in the morning and during the day on port days when there are less passengers onboard to share the connection with.
  • You have three options for internet access:
    • Onshore - Save your money and wait till you get to a port where you can pick up free or much cheaper Wi-Fi access onshore.
    • Onboard Wi-Fi - Go to the Internet Café onboard or use your own wireless device (laptop, iPhone, smart phone, etc.) for Wi-Fi access.
      • Carnival has recently made available flat-rate priced unlimited internet use on some some ships in the fleet.
    • Onboard Cellular - Use your own device over the Cellular At Sea onboard cellular network. You will be charged by your carrier for International Data Rates. These onboard cellular rates can cost even more than the Wi-Fi rates bove.
  • All Wi-Fi internet access charges will be billed directly to your onboard "Sail & Sign" account.
  • All cellular access charges will be billed by your own cellular carrier.

Freebies Onboard

Carnival Cruise Ship Aerial View
  • If you need postcards go to the Guest Services Desk. They have ones with the picture of the ship on them for free.
  • You can get a free deck of cards with the Carnival logo on them at the Guest Services Desk.
  • There are steam rooms, saunas and hot tubs in the Spa and they are free to use by all guests.
  • Free champagne at the Art Auction, no art purchase necessary.
  • If you go to the port talks that are given, don't sit in the balcony. They usually have free giveaways. Sit close to the front as they usually throw items off from the stage and it rarely makes it past the first 15 rows of the main area.
  • Free drinks and hors d'oeuvres at the Past Guest Party and Farewell Party. If you don't like what drinks are on the server's trays, order whatever you want and it is free. The Farewell Party is not usually advertised well so be looking for it in the Fun Times on the last day of the cruise. A small tip will keep good service coming back to you.
  • There is usually free liquor tasting in the shops (typically multiple nights, check the Fun Times).
  • Free "Afternoon Tea" on Sea Days, serving an assortment of teas, smoked salmon, strawberries and cream, & cakes.
  • Travelers checks can be cashed free of charge (there is a fee for personal checks).


  • You can carry off your own bags (self-assist debarking) to save time and prevent potential loss of luggage.
  • Self-assist debarking usually starts before the posted time. Being ready early can save a ton of time. It is typically called by Deck starting with Deck 1. After Self Assist Debarking has completed General Debarking by Zone begins.
  • How long can you stay on the ship the last day? Not very long, debarking begins early and typically everyone is off the ship about 3 hours after it docks. There will be no sleeping in the last day!
  • If you don't do self-assist debarking, as soon as you get off the ship go over to where your luggage will be and send someone else in your party over to the porter line to grab a porter. The porter will come over and get all your luggage and take you to the front of the Custom's line. Be sure to pay him $1-$2 a bag for his assistance. The price is nothing compared to what could be a 3 hour wait in the line depending on the port/day. You could very well be out of there within 30 minutes depending on the number of people who know this tip on your cruise.
  • Have a passport, lines for passenger's with birth certificates at Customs can be quite long. Some ports are worse than others.
Carnival Cruise Terminal Miami
Page last updated: Sat Jan 27, 2024
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