When we asked 10Best readers to vote for their cruising favorites in nine different categories, Carnival Cruise Line came away the biggest winners with four titles: Best Ocean Cruise Line, Best Cruise Line for Millennials, Best Cruise Ship for Families (Vista) and Best Cruise Ship for Entertainment (Vista). So what's Carnival's key to success?
World's most popular cruise line
Headquartered in Miami, Carnival ranks among the world's largest cruise lines with 25 ships that carry approximately 5 million passengers each year. Abundant short itineraries (some as short as three days) and home ports primarily in the United states make it a particularly convenient option for busy American travelers.
"Carnival is unique in that it does one thing, and does it well: it caters to cruisers of all ages, demographics, and walks of life," explains Aaron Saunders, cruising expert and founder of From the Deck Chair.
"It doesn’t try to be anything that it isn’t. It doesn’t offer a two-tier accommodations system, where some guests are treated to excellent service while others aren’t. Its ships are well-run, its crews are friendly and the entire experience provides great value for money."
Readers' Choice: These are your 2017 cruise winners
Readers' Choice: These are your 2017 cruise winners
A line of firsts
Carnival has done something else well too; in the ever-evolving industry of cruising, the line has continued to push the boundaries of what the cruising experience looks like.
"Carnival was really one of the earlier pioneers of leisure cruising," explains Ming Tappin, owner of Your Cruise Coach Consulting, "making it affordable for the average traveler to take a vacation, deviating from the luxury ocean liners that were out of reach for most people."
The line was also one of the early adopters of the free alternative dining and celebrity chef partnership trends with the introduction of Guy's Burger Joint to Carnival ships in 2011. When Carnival Vista set sail in 2016, it had onboard the first brewery at sea in North America (RedFrog Pub & Brewery).
The family cruise market ranks among the fastest-growing in the industry, and Carnival's Fun Ship 2.0 offerings clearly target this demographic. Water slides, top deck sports facilities, miniature golf, 4D theaters, 24-hour pizza and ice cream, and a host of kid-friendly programming are among the innovations available to families cruising with Carnival.
Jason Leppert, founding editor of Popular Cruising, attributes Carnival's success with families to its multigenerational appeal. "Stage shows feature exemplary live performers, and great family-friendly accommodations, kids and teens clubs, water slides and other attractions impress parents who want to bring everyone along," says Leppert.
A new demographic: Millennials
But families aren't the only passengers Carnival is courting. Millennial travelers, another quickly expanding demographic, are also finding their place aboard Carnival's Fun Ships.
"Carnival’s mission is to attract first time cruisers," Tappin told 10Best. So how do they woo new travelers from their land-based competitors?
"They build large ships full of dining, entertainment and activity venues. They have excellent cuisine in the dining room, specialty restaurants, buffets and pubs. They put on amazing production shows, they have piano bars, dance clubs, huge casinos, multiple pools and expansive outdoor spaces. They have extensive family programs, and almost every stateroom takes 4 or 5 guests. All of this wrapped up in an easily attainable, affordable price to attract landlubbers – who can be of any age, but largely millennials, families, singles and couples. Obviously it is a winning formula."
"As a millennial myself, Carnival resonates among my generation simply with its brand promise of fun," adds Leppert. "Carnival’s 'Fun Ships' consistently deliver on their promise of a good time enjoyed by all. Lots of inclusions make the line a very desirable value to many seeking their ideal vacation."
No excuse for boredom
No matter your age or interest, there's really no reason to feel bored on a Carnival cruise. The line's success in the entertainment category can be attributed, at least in part, to the buffet of options presented to each passenger.
"It offers something for everyone. No one is excluded," says Saunders. "If your idea of fun is sitting in the Library Bar with a glass of wine, you can do that. If you want to go up on deck and party all night, you can do that, too. It’s very non-judgmental."
And what do the experts love?
"There are actually so many things I like about sailing with Carnival that make the experience unique to me," continues Saunders. "The Alchemy Bar, where bartenders whip up custom cocktails right in front of you, is always a favorite of mine. I really like the Punchliner Comedy Club performances and the new LipSync Battle, and find I actually attend more shows on Carnival than I do on any other line."
Leppert agrees, "Carnival cruises are always a blast thanks to everything from complimentary gourmet grill items at Guy’s Burger Joint to hilarious included entertainment at the Punchliner Comedy Club."
For Tappin, Carnival holds a particularly special place in her heart. "Carnival was our very first cruise and it was when my boyfriend Deryk (my husband now for 22 years) said to me 'This is the way we should travel from now on.' We started cruising every year after that, and the rest is history, because that cruise brought me to where I am today, as a cruise expert and a happy cruise writer. In 1995 when we got married, we chose to host our wedding onboard a Carnival ship."