May 25, 2024

Happy Travel & Tour

Specialists Travel & Tours

What you can expect on the cruise ship

What you can expect on the cruise ship

Editor’s note: Megan duBois was a guest of Carnival Cruise Line which paid for the cost of the trip. However, all opinions expressed below are entirely hers and were not subject to review by Carnival Cruise Line.

One of the most exciting things about taking cruise vacations is when you get the chance to step aboard a sparkling new cruise ship. This year, I’ve had the chance to sail on four ships that were being introduced for the first time.

My most recent cruise was on the new Carnival Cruise Line ship, the Carnival Celebration, which is the sister ship to the Carnival Mardi Gras that debuted in 2021 to high praise from passengers and the cruise industry. I’ve sailed with Carnival Cruise Line multiple times, and even though it’s often less expensive than other cruise lines that have sailings of the same length and to the same ports, I’ve found the cheaper price doesn’t mean the cruises feel any less exciting.

I sailed on the Celebration for a seven-night trip from Port Miami, with port days at Cozumel, Mexico, Costa Maya, Mexico and Roatan, Honduras. The Celebration was easily one of the biggest cruise ships I’ve sailed on this year, with a capacity of 6,465 guests and 1,745 crew members.

The writer, Megan duBois, and her dad pose in a car for the Bolt roller coaster while onboard the Carnival Celebration.

The writer, Megan duBois, and her dad pose in a car for the Bolt roller coaster while onboard the Carnival Celebration.

Megan duBois for Hearst

From the moment I stepped onto the ship, I knew I was in for a good time, as the first thing I saw was a large golden display of the ship mounted on a wall and the grand atrium, which doubles as a show space at night. As I kept exploring the vessel, I found exciting bars that were already shaking cocktails at 10:30 a.m., (it’s five o’clock somewhere, after all), a lively pool deck with plenty of nearby food options, including one crafted by Shaquille O’Neal, and one of the biggest balconies I’ve ever had in a stateroom on a cruise ship. But, as with most good things, there were also a few drawbacks to be found onboard the Carnival Celebration.

If you’re planning a cruise vacation soon, keep reading to find out what it’s like onboard the Carnival Celebration.

A stateroom on the Carnival Celebration cruise ship. The two single beds can either be separated or combined into a queen, and the couch also pulls out into a bed.

A stateroom on the Carnival Celebration cruise ship. The two single beds can either be separated or combined into a queen, and the couch also pulls out into a bed.

Megan duBois for Hearst

Carnival Celebration staterooms have maximized storage for families 

One of my most frequent complaints about cruise travel is dealing with small staterooms that have far too little storage space, but that wasn’t the case on the Carnival Celebration. From the moment I walked into my stateroom, I found it to be spacious and created with maximum storage in mind.

The two closets on the opposite side of the bathroom door had shelving that could be lowered or locked up to create a custom closet for your needs. One of the closets even had two wire baskets that pulled out, which is where I stored my swimsuits and other small clothing items. There was also a shoe rack at the bottom of the closet, which kept my shoes stowed and out of the main part of the room. 

There was a set of drawers attached to the vanity area outside of the bathroom, along with additional storage from a stool that opened at the top, revealing a large space to store beach bags. Suitcases could also be easily rolled under the bed, which kept them out of the way. Prior to boarding, I had the crew split my queen-size bed into two single beds, since I was traveling with my dad, but there was also a sofa in my room that converted into a bed.

The writer's stateroom bathroom aboard the Carnival Celebration was smaller than what she's experienced on similar-sized ships recently.

The writer’s stateroom bathroom aboard the Carnival Celebration was smaller than what she’s experienced on similar-sized ships recently.

Megan duBois for Hearst

The bathroom on the Carnival Celebration was small compared to other ships

Tiny bathrooms are another frequent downfall of cruising. After traveling on both the Norwegian Prima and the Disney Dream earlier this year, I found the bathrooms on those two ships were spacious and thoughtfully designed. Unfortunately, that was not my experience on the Carnival Celebration.

Here the bathroom felt tight, and my dad and I ended up getting dressed in shifts in the larger part of our stateroom. The small amount of counter space meant that all of our toiletries needed to stay in the bags we brought them in, so the counter didn’t get overloaded.

The biggest upgrade to the bathroom on the Celebration that I did like when compared to other Carnival ships I’ve sailed was the glass shower door. The fleet’s older ships are still using shower curtains, which usually means water goes all over the bathroom floor, but the glass door made the small shower seem larger and the water stayed inside and went down the drain.

The Carnival Celebration verandah was huge but lacked any privacy 

One of the biggest reasons I often choose to book a verandah room is to have a private outdoor space where I can sip coffee in the morning without having to see other people. On the Carnival Celebration, my balcony was visible to almost everyone on the side of the ship I was on. This was because the balconies on decks 9-11 (I was on 10), are in a stair-step formation.

I could clearly see the people above and below me, and they could easily see me as well. Not only did this make me want to use my balcony less, since it lacked any privacy, but it was also a bit of a safety concern for me since people could easily calculate where my room was based on the location of their own.

The interior of Guy's Pig & Anchor, a barbecue restaurant onboard the Carnival Celebration that was created by celebrity chef Guy Fieri.

The interior of Guy’s Pig & Anchor, a barbecue restaurant onboard the Carnival Celebration that was created by celebrity chef Guy Fieri.

Carnival Cruise Line

Digging into Carnival Celebration’s many dining options

Dining on a cruise ship can be fun and exciting—or it can be a total letdown. There’s usually no in-between and that was definitely the case on the Carnival Celebration. During my seven-night sailing, I was able to try most of the onboard restaurants. There were some I would happily seek out again and others I would avoid in lieu of something else. Let’s get into them individually.

Guy’s Pig & Anchor Smokehouse (additional cost)—Surprisingly solid barbecue

Celebrity chef Guy Fieri has two restaurants onboard the Carnival Celebration, the first of which is Guy’s Pig & Anchor Smokehouse which specializes in Southern-style barbecue. Even though it was included for guests on my sailing, this eatery is listed as an additional cost on Carnival’s website. I went here for dinner and was surprised at how good the meat was considering it was a barbecue joint on a cruise ship. The menu consisted of everything from sandwiches and sliced brisket, to creamy macaroni and cheese, to loaded tater tots. I dined here on the first elegant night of the cruise and ditched my high heels for flip-flops and a more casual evening.

Pro-tip: If you’re sailing on the Celebration when the additional cost for the restaurant is added, consider eating at the outdoor quick-service version of Guy’s Pig & Anchor Smokehouse for lunch, which is always included in your cruise fare. 

Guy’s Burger Joint (included)—Simplicity done right

The second of Fieri’s restaurants on this ship is Guy’s Burger Joint which serves towering burgers to the masses on multiple Carnival ships. On the Carnival Celebration, the space is quite large compared to others I’ve sailed on, but it can be hard to find, since only a single elevator goes to its location on deck 17.

The menu at Guy’s Burger Joint is fairly basic with just a few combinations, but I’d rather have a few things done right than have an abundance of options done poorly. My favorite choice here was the Straight Up burger which started with a toasted bun, a smash burger-style patty with cheese, lettuce, onion, tomato, pickles and a good douse of Fieri’s signature Donkey Sauce, which is essentially garlic aioli. Just past the grill and pick-up area is a toppings bar with everything from chili to potato chip sticks, and a variety of sauces so you can customize your burger.

Rudi's Seafood Grill, onboard the Carnival Celebration, was created by chef Rudi Sodamin.

Rudi’s Seafood Grill, onboard the Carnival Celebration, was created by chef Rudi Sodamin.

Carnival Cruise Line

Rudi’s Seagrill (additional cost)—Easily worth the extra price

This was my favorite meal of the entire cruise. The seafood-heavy menu boasted a variety of fresh fish, including Dover sole, crab and lobster. For a set price, everyone gets an appetizer, entree and dessert. The fish was exceptionally fresh and prepared well. The highlight of the meal though was dessert, where one of my table mates ordered Key lime pie, and the plate was arranged to look like a face, a move for which chef Rudi Sodamin—the restaurant’s namesake—is known for.

Bonsai Teppanyaki (additional cost)—A satisfying Japanese steakhouse

If you love Japanese steakhouses, then I’m willing to bet you’ll love this one onboard the Carnival Celebration. While the menu is what you’d expect—fried rice, veggies, meat combinations, miso soup and salad—it’s the little extras that make the difference here. To start, there are three appetizers, two of which are delivered almost immediately: spicy tuna and a sweet pork belly. After the main portion of the meal is done, a bento box of desserts was served, with six bite-sized treats included.

Cucina del Capitano (additional cost)—A major letdown

Like Guy’s Pig & Anchor Smokehouse, Cucina del Capitano is marked as an additional cost on the Carnival Celebration’s website, but was included for all guests during my sailing. This was one restaurant I was excited to try because I love Italian food, but overall the experience was disappointing. While the service was attentive, my food took a long time to get to the table, and most of it arrived cold and lacking in flavor. Based on this experience, I would skip this restaurant next time and head somewhere else, especially if the extra fee is added.

The Big Chicken restaurant on Carnival Cruise Line ship Mardi Gras is seen during a preview for travel agents and media on July 30, 2021. The restaurant was created by Shaquille O'Neal and can also be found on the Carnival ships Celebration, Jubilee and Radiance.

The Big Chicken restaurant on Carnival Cruise Line ship Mardi Gras is seen during a preview for travel agents and media on July 30, 2021. The restaurant was created by Shaquille O’Neal and can also be found on the Carnival ships Celebration, Jubilee and Radiance.

Anadolu Agency/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Big Chicken (included)—Don’t sleep on Shaq’s breakfast biscuit

Big Chicken is the quick-service joint that was developed in partnership with NBA great Shaquille O’Neal. The restaurant specializes in chicken sandwiches and the line was always long to get one. I tried the Shaq Attack—a toasted bun topped with golden-fried chicken, pepper jack cheese, jalapeno slaw and a spicy chipotle barbecue sauce. While it did taste good, I didn’t find it spicy at all, which was a bit of a letdown.

The real sleeper of the menu at Big Chicken, though, was the breakfast chicken biscuit which starts with a fluffy biscuit topped with a chicken strip that’s been dunked in a sweet and spicy glaze. For those who get up late, the breakfast menu is available until 3 p.m.

Steakhouse 555 (additional cost)—A roll of the dice

Steakhouses aboard cruise lines can be hit or miss. For me, Steakhouse 555 on the Carnival Celebration was … just … OK. The waitstaff was attentive, and the meal started out great as I enjoyed a tuna tartare appetizer that was fresh, bright and not overly heavy. After a plain Caesar salad that I wouldn’t order again, I ordered the New York strip steak, cooked to medium. However, what I got was a relatively tough piece of meat that was only cooked to slightly under medium rare and lacked seasoning.

I did try a few bites of my dad’s steak, and it was much better than mine, cooked to perfection, and had a lot of flavor. You win some, you lose some.

Lido Marketplace (included)—The safe buffet option

The buffet on the Carnival Celebration was a bit awkward as it was divided into a few different sections that served the same foods. While this makes sense for crowd control, what was actually open and closed in each section was never consistent. I went for breakfast at Lido Marketplace one morning only to find one of the two omelet stations open with a very long line. Also, only one of the buffet sections open had cereal.  For lunch, the menu was similar day-to-day, which was a bit of a letdown.

Emeril’s Bistro 1397 (additional cost)—A culinary gem of the Celebration

One of the treasures I found on the Carnival Celebration was Emril’s Bistro 1397, which had cajun and creole dishes straight from celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse. I dined here for breakfast and lunch, and I have to say, while lunch was good, breakfast was better. 

For breakfast, my dad and I shared a sweet potato waffle and a breakfast po’boy with andouille sausage, both of which I would happily order again. For lunch, we split a bowl of jambalaya, a shrimp and oyster po’boy and a basket of beignets. Lunch did take a little longer than expected to come out, but everything was hot and fresh upon arrival.

The interior of Bar 820, onboard the cruise ship Carnival Celebration. The bar specializes in South Florida-inspired drinks.

The interior of Bar 820, onboard the cruise ship Carnival Celebration. The bar specializes in South Florida-inspired drinks.

Carnival Cruise Line

I tried every bar on the Carnival Celebration and this is the one to hit 

During my seven day sailing, I was able to try all of the bars onboard. While some only had a basic menu, my pick for the best was Bar 820, located just across from the pizza station. Bar 820 leans heavily into South Florida culture with drinks like a Key lime pie martini, frosé and two beers from Miami-based breweries. The bar was often filled with people, and the bar staff was the nicest I encountered on the ship.

The exterior of the Red Frog Tiki Bar, onboard the Carnival Celebration cruise ship, gives off fun vibes.

The exterior of the Red Frog Tiki Bar, onboard the Carnival Celebration cruise ship, gives off fun vibes.

Megan duBois for Hearst

Exploring the Carnival Celebration’s pools and outdoor spaces

There are plenty of outdoor spaces to enjoy all around the Carnival Celebration, including spots for panoramic ocean views on decks eight and 17. The lido deck, while small, had a pool, a tiki bar and quick access to some of the restaurants. Passengers who want a kid-free dip can head to the Serenity Adult-Only Retreat area which boasts plush loungers, hot tubs and an exclusive salad bar. There is also an additional-cost cabana area called Loft 19, where cabanas, beach chairs and hot tubs are all waiting for guests who opt to pay the extra fee.

Kids who cruise on the Carnival Celebration will love the onboard water slides and splash pads, not to mention the open-air basketball court. But the highlight for kids—and kids at heart—is Bolt: Ultimate Sea Coaster, which whisks guests around the upper levels of the ship for great views and big thrills.

Celebration Central is one of two main theaters onboard the Carnival Celebration but seating was difficult to score for the big shows.

Celebration Central is one of two main theaters onboard the Carnival Celebration but seating was difficult to score for the big shows.

Megan duBois for Hearst

If you want to see the biggest shows on Carnival Celebration, get there early

During my seven-night sailing, I was only able to see one of the ship’s signature shows, “Color My World,” in the Grand Spectrum Theater. Getting seats for shows inside the enclosed theater or at Celebration Central—the theater that spans three interior decks and is used as a flexible space for nighttime entertainment, live music and bingo—was a challenge.

For shows inside the Grand Spectrum Theater, learn from me and arrive at least 30 to 45 minutes before the show starts, especially if you want decent seats. If you want to see a highly lauded show like “The Most Magnificent Circus,” at Celebration Central, you’ll need to arrive for seats at least an hour to 90 minutes before the show starts. There are many seats inside Celebration Central that do not have a view of the stage, or just have a partial view, so seating is definitely at a premium.

People ride the Bolt roller coaster on Carnival Cruise Line's ship Mardi Gras during a preview for travel agents and media on July 30, 2021. The thrill ride, the first of its kind on a cruise ship, can also be found on the Carnival Celebration.

People ride the Bolt roller coaster on Carnival Cruise Line’s ship Mardi Gras during a preview for travel agents and media on July 30, 2021. The thrill ride, the first of its kind on a cruise ship, can also be found on the Carnival Celebration.

Anadolu Agency/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

What could make a trip on the Carnival Celebration better? 

My main frustration onboard the Carnival Celebration was with the lack of crew. I could tell that many places, like bars, restaurants and even guest services, were understaffed. Lines for things like pizza or sandwiches were often very long, and with just a few people working those spaces, the wait times regularly ended up stretching 20 minutes or longer. There were also multiple instances where I had to search for a table at mealtime, only to find many covered in dirty dishes, and even after I found a seat, it took a long time for tables around me to be cleared.

The lack of seating for the main shows was also a big frustration. In both theaters, the number of seats was relatively small compared to the guest count the ship was designed to handle. In Celebration Central, I actually witnessed guests fighting and even getting shoved out of their seats for shows by other guests. That wasn’t a situation I wanted to put myself into, so I chose not to see shows in Celebration Central.

The cruise ship Carnival Celebration is seen overhead as it docks at the Port of Vigo in Spain.

The cruise ship Carnival Celebration is seen overhead as it docks at the Port of Vigo in Spain.

Carnival Cruise Line

My final thoughts on the Carnival Celebration

The odd fight notwithstanding, I thought the Carnival Celebration was a fun ship to cruise on, where the majority of things were well thought out to allow for family-friendly enjoyment. Other than a few meals that didn’t meet my standards—and not being able to see a show or two—my week-long sailing was great overall.

The design of the ship felt more bright and vibrant than other Carnival Cruise ships I’ve been on, which was also a welcome change. With the Carnival Mardi Gras already sailing, and the Carnival Jubilee setting sail in 2023, the Excel class of ships is moving Carnival Cruise Line forward in a competitive field of new ships.