Have you ever considered taking a Carnival Cruise with kids? I hadn’t! When we travelled to the USA, I had a week at the end of our trip and I wanted to do something fun and exciting, something the kids would enjoy. We found Carnival Cruise Lines very affordable departing from the USA, particularly for a family of 5 like ours.
Traditionally cruises from Australia don’t accommodate 5 people in one room, in fact its unheard of. You need to book 2 rooms and it just isn’t a good option financially. Then I discovered Carnival Cruise’s Carnival Dream has a number of rooms that accommodate 5 people and they were extremely well priced. It was such a cheap cruise that I thought I had read it wrong!
There are number of possibilities for the cheap price, firstly it departed from New Orleans instead of the main ports in Miami and there are only a small number of cruises that depart from New Orleans annually. Also the weather is cold in New Orleans and not as warm in the Caribbean as it could be. We had temperatures of mid to high 20’s (77F-84F). Considering we had come from Boston and New York where it was freezing and snowing, we were more than happy with those warm temperatures.
As stated above, our Carnival Cruise with kids departed from New Orleans, see the below itinerary:
Day 1 – Depart New Orleans
Day 2 – Sea Day
Day 3 – Sea Day
Day 4 – Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Day 5 – Grand Cayman Island
Day 6 – Cozumel, Mexico
Day 7 – Sea Day
Day 8 – Arrive back New Orleans
I would have preferred another day in a port, which we possibly could have had if we’d departed from Miami where you pass by the Bahamas. Departing from New Orleans meant we had a 9 hour trip down the Mississippi River before reaching the open sea.
Craig and I had experienced a 3 day short cruise departing from Australia and we learnt the earlier you arrive the better. Even if you have a designated check in time, head down earlier anyway. We decided to check out of our hotel and get a taxi straight to the cruise port. Its a well oiled machine upon arrival and once we were out of the taxi, our luggage was loaded straight from the truck to the ship and we didn’t see it again until it arrived at our room on the ship.
TIP – if you are planning on getting on the ship and going for a swim, make sure you pack your swimmers in your hand luggage as it can take a couple of hours until your luggage arrives at your room.
We got in line to board our Carnival Cruise with kids. We went through the passport and immigration checks then Carnival takes over from there. You line up and have your boarding group photo (get used to photos, you get them taken everywhere!). Next up you move through to the area were you organise your onboard swipe cards and link your credit card to them so you can purchase things on the ship. You are also reminded of what your cruise package includes, which restaurants you will have access to for meals and if you have a beverage package attached. You can also elect for the kids to have your credit card linked to their swipe cards, we decided against that option!
Once everyone’s on board and even if they’re not, cruises don’t wait for anyone, if departure time is 4pm like ours, that ship is backing out at 4pm. That’s when the party starts and most people will have been on the ship for a few hours by then and will already have their holiday groove on, we sure did. Cocktail in hand we headed straight to the back of the ship for the view of New Orleans as we headed down the mighty Mississippi River and take a few snaps of the French Quarter while we were there. The main party takes place on Lido Deck 10, this is where the main pool is and the big screen.
The kids were really looking forward to the cruise, we had a look at the ship online after we had booked and the kids were so excited about all the child friendly activities available onboard the Carnival Dream. Obviously there were the kid’s clubs but there was so much more for kids. Carnival Cruises have a Dr Seuss theme so most of the kids activities followed this theme. I have included a list of things for kids on board the Carnival Dream below.
You can see the water slides on the very top of the ship, the kids could see them as we were lined up for boarding. This was of course, the first thing they wanted to check out. Leaving New Orleans in January meant it was bit cold to try them out on the first few days but after our day at the Cenotes in Mexico we hit the water slides for some action before dinner.
Carnival Waterworks has waterslides suitable for little kids and then waterslides to suit the older kids and the kids at heart (husband’s). The Twister and the Drainpipe waterslides will keep the kids entertained during sea days and after fun filled days on shore. Race your new friends on the side by side slides and finish in a swirl at the Drainpipe.
Fancy a round of mini golf, also located on the top of the Carnival Dream is mini golf. A 9 hole course will keep the kids happy on board. I even saw a few adults participating in a round after a few cocktails! Everyone loves a round of mini golf.
Just don’t hit it to hard, I’m sure they’ve lost a few golf balls going AWOL off the side of the ship. Just watch out for the cactus and the treasure chest, otherwise it’s just like being on your favourite golf course!
My kids in general aren’t really interested in the Kid’s Clubs when we travel. On board the Carnival Dream both Keira and Caelan couldn’t get enough of it. Much to my pleasure given we were into our 6th week of travel 24/7 with the kids in tow.
Camp Ocean was perfect for Keira and Caelan and caters for kids aged between 2-11 yrs. They would do fun ocean themed activities, mostly art and crafts and there were plenty of kids there to keep them entertained.
Caelan was 8 at the time we were on board and we had to sign him in and out of the kids club. Keira on the other hand was 10 yrs and she was able to sign herself in and out. At the beginning I wasn’t too keen on this idea but as I got used to her doing so, I became more comfortable with it. There are kids everywhere on board and they all seem to be doing their own thing. I suppose there’s no where else for them to go right!
This is where the older kids ‘hang out’, its for teens aged 12-14 and they are able to come and go as they please. They participate in activities such as dance parties, games and outdoor movies. The Circle C is open later also and one night we had to go looking for Alannah at 11pm as she was out ‘hanging’ with her new friends. We didn’t think we would have to put a curfew on her!
The first night I took Alannah to the Circle ‘C’ area, walked her in and left her with some other kids. I returned to have my dessert at the restaurant. Within 30 mins Alannah was back at the table claiming she hated it. I tried to get her to give it another go, fruitless, she wouldn’t go back so I gave up. Not sure what happened but she decided to give it another chance on the last few days and once she made friends she loved it. She was able to move around the ship with her new friends, eating way to much from the help yourself ice cream bar. Alannah continues to keep in contact with about 5 of her new American friends via social media. Wasn’t that bad after all.
We didn’t have any kids at Club 02, it is focussed at teens aged 15-17 yrs. They do similar activities as Circle ‘C’ including watching movies on the Lido deck, karaoke and pool parties. They even have teen only shore excursions where they can hang out with kids their own age rather than being lumped with the oldies (parents) while on shore.
I assume they would be supervised by a tour guide from Carnival Cruises as I’m not sure I would be too keen on letting my teen go wild onshore and trust them to be back before the ship departs. Its a good option so your teen can spend time with new friends and give the parents a much need break. I think if Alannah had stuck it out the first night, we probably wouldn’t have seen much of her for much of the cruise.
Night Owls it the night time babysitting service for kids aged 11 yrs and under. For a small fee the kids are able to stay up late and play with the other kids until 1am. This gives the parents a night off to enjoy a meal in peace or take in one of the shows in the theatre or even have a flutter on the pokies at the onboard casino.
One issue I did have with the kid’s club was that you need to collect your kids for meal times. Not that I would leave them there all day but it would be nice to have them fed lunch in kids club. I do understand why they do this though, to prevent people signing some kids in of a morning and coming back at 9pm to collect them.
Carnival organise special events for sea days and one of ours was a Build-A-Bear workshop. Even though the kids have been before they were pretty excited to have another go. My sister, who totally spoils these guys, took them to the Build-A-Bear workshop and they were chuffed. Keira got a white dog with bikini’s and sneakers and Caelan went with the overall theme and got Cat in a Hat but decided he didn’t need any clothes so he come home naked!
There were a lot of kids that participated and the kids were all very excited and happy with their purchases, especially mine! The staff from the Kids Club run it and were fantastic with the kids. It’s run in one of the theatres/multi purpose areas and the Build-A-Bear store just rolls away when finished.
Keeping in theme, Carnival had a Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast on one of the sea days in the main restaurant. Breakfast includes green eggs and ham, pancake stacks, french toast and fresh fruit. The food is prepared in a fun and colourful way making it very attractive and playful for the kids.
This was totally focussed for the kids and includes a Dr Seuss theme parade including all the characters we know and love. Get up close and personal with Cat in the Hat and Thing 1 & 2!
Entertainment on board isn’t just for the kids! There is plenty of entertainment for everyone and has a variety of interests so I’m sure there will be something for everyone.
There is a nightly theatre show in the Encore Main Show Lounge, set over deck 3, 4 and 5, each night there was a different show with a different theme. The theatre seat 1964 people and themes included 80’s night, one hit wonders, all American night, motor city and lip sync battle. The performances were all fantastic and the shows were suitable for the whole family. We made the Encore Theatre part of our evening ritual on board, the shows are twice a night, once at 7pm and again at 9.15pm. We either had dinner early and then headed to the show or a couple of times we went to the early show and had dinner late.
Located on the Lido deck, the Seaside Theatre was on the main deck around the pool where the big screen was located. Not only is this the leaving party deck but Carnival also hold a movie night here each evening on the big screen. There is a program available on the app so that you know what’s showing each night.
The Burgundy Lounge is home to the Comedy Club held nightly. Like all things on the Carnival Dream, there are 2 times, the family friendly early show at 8pm and the later adults only show at 11.30pm. Alannah came with us one night while the 2 little ones were in the kid’s club and Craig attended a few times for the evening session and said it was well and truely ‘adults only’ and very funny.
This is also where they held the Build-A-Bear workshop for the kids. This is a bit of a multi purpose room as there were finance seminars held in here, weight loss talks, art auctions, karaoke and wine tasting presentations.
The Jackpot Casino consisted of poker machines (slot machines) and gaming tables such as blackjack, poker, roulette, craps and a couple of claw machines full of wads of cash. One thing that surprised and disappointed me was that patrons are allowed to smoke in the casino. I’m not a gambling person, it’s not my thing but I really didn’t even like walking through due to the smoke. I think we are a bit spoilt in Australia now as smoking isn’t really allowed inside anywhere, the kids hated it too! I have to say though, I don’t like it but there were plenty that do as there always seemed to be someone in there.
There were bars everywhere on board and they all seems to have something different going on. On our first night we settled into the Song Music and Karaoke Bar and had a cocktail and watched a solo singer playing his guitar and singing some R&B tunes. We had a couple of cocktails here and snapped a cool photo of the kids sitting up at the bar ordering their drinks with their own swipe cards.
There is a bar in the Burgundy Room mentioned above and another at the Casino Sports Bar where there are loads of TV’s and plenty of different sports from around the world televised. The Dream Atrium is another popular bar and where the party continues after the performers finish in the Encore Theatre. There’s lots of glass and the whole Atrium glitters and shines.
Looking to try something new, try the Alchemy Bar also on Deck 5 – Promenade, sit up at the bar while the drinks pharmacist concocts an amazing drink and participate in the trivia sessions that take place in this area. Trivia night is popular so get there early.
Deck 3 Lobby, Deck 4 Atlantic, Deck 5 Promenade and Deck 10 Lido is where most of the entertainment goes on. So familiarise yourself with them when you first arrive and you’ll then be able to find most things. You never need to go far to find a drink though, especially if you are in the pool area! There are also plenty of waiters on hand so you don’t even need to walk up to the bar.
There are a few stores onboard the ship, including a souvenir shop that sold clothes and Carnival products to remind you of your trip. There were also a few necessities for people that may have forgotten to bring them from home, such as your swimmers, hats, thongs, sunscreen, personal hygiene products, shorts and t-shirts.
For those tech minded people there was a small amount of duty free shopping options. We looked at purchasing a new GoPro but the price was not much cheaper than what we can get here in Australia now. Great for people that left their camera at home and they even had a variety of batteries for different camera types.
The photo boards are restocked each afternoon with photos taken from that day. Cruises are huge on taking photos of you everywhere, at dinner, with the Cat in Hat, with the family, around the pool, everything was a photo opportunity which they then tried to sell to you. We had a quick look on the last day but didn’t purchase any other than the boarding one. Everyone has a photo as they are boarding the ship.
For the good kids, there’s Candy Central, a select as you go candy store. We put a little bit on money on the kids cards on the last evening and sent them off to the candy store. It was a good way to bribe them for good behaviour, not that I had to, they were well behaved 99% of the trip anyway.
I’m always concerned whether there will be enough food options for the kids when travelling, I’m pretty lucky as I have been blessed with kids that are happy to give most things a go. I can honestly say that there is so much food on board that any kid would find something delicious and different to eat every night! It depends on which package you purchase whether you can eat in the a-la-carte restaurants or whether you have access to the buffet only. There are a also a few other eateries around that are not included in any package.
On deck 10 Lido you’ll find the Grand Buffet, everyone is able to eat from the buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The hot food is mostly served in bain-maries and includes curries, stir fries, vegetables to accompany the roast carvery, salad bar and seafood options. There’s also a dessert bar that has ice cream, sweet slices, chocolate mousse, sweet puddings and a variety of fruit. These are all available each night and the food has a different theme each night to keep it interesting.
There is an ice cream bar in the Grand Buffet area, were kids can serve themselves soft serve ice cream in a cone at anytime of the day. As you can imagine, it’s a big hit but I can honestly say that the novelty wears off so I let my kids knock themselves out at the beginning.
The Mexican taco bar is open for lunch each day on the Lido deck, you can pick and choose what you want on your taco as you move along the line. At the end you have a expertly presented taco, this is particularly good as a quick snack for the kids and they were yum. Strategically placed near the main pool, makes the perfect snack for the kids when going crazy playing in the pool. For mum and dad, you might want to try out the Blue Iguana Tequila Bar right next to the Cantina! Like I said, a drink is never far away!
Feel like a burger, also located on the Lido deck on the opposite side to the Blue Iguana Cantina is Guy’s Burger Joint. Collect your burger from the grill and then pick and choose your toppings from the self serve bain-marie. All burgers come with chips and a great snack to tide you over to dinner while sunning yourself by the pool. What kid doesn’t like a burger, right!
As the name suggests, its the pizza bar! The pizza shop seemed to be open all the time. We had pizza a number of times and they were light and yummy and served quickly. The kids in particular loved the pizza bar, Alannah was quickly nicknamed ‘mushroom girl’ as she loves mushies on her pizza. I was a bit partial to the pepperoni pizza and Craig was ‘the lot’ guy! There are 4 choices and the chefs were constantly making the single size pizzas. They were very popular among the patrons on board the Carnival Dream.
These are the a-la-carte restaurants where you get your 3 course (or maybe 5 or 6 courses if you can’t decide!) meal from a menu that changes each evening. When you check in for your cruise, you’ll be allocated a restaurant and that’s where you go for breakfast and dinners. We never really waited that long although we timed our meal times to fit in with the Encore theatre show, meaning we either eat early before the late show or later after the early show.
We were allocated the Crimson Restaurant and this meant that we had the same waiters each night which is nice as we got to know them a bit. Each night after dessert was served, the waiters would put on a dance called Showtime. The kids loved it and it was the highlight of their evening meal. The waiters really were fabulous and so hard working and always aiming to please.
The meals were amazing and always served hot and just what you ordered. They menu changed every night usually themed to the ships port of call. It mostly consisted of a main dish from the grill either seafood, chicken, lamb, beef or pork and a side dish of vegetables or salad. Appetisers and desserts also changed each evening apart from the signature Carnival Cruise chocolate melting cake which is on the menu every night and it a very popular option with the kids and me!
We were very impressed with the standard of meals in the Crimson Restaurant. One night there was lobster on the menu and another we had lamb shanks, short cut ribs, creamy chicken breast, seared tuna and that’s just to name a few. There’s even a section including things you might not have tried before, choices might include braised rabbit, escargot and ox tongue, among other exotic dishes. Craig was keen on these but I like to eat things I know and love! ‘Port of call’ is an item on the menu that is inspired by port you are leaving. There is certainly enough food and I was super happy to get some nightly veggies into the kids after having been on the road at that stage for 6 weeks in the USA.
These restaurants are also where Cruise Elegant nights are held where guests dress up in after 5 attire. Some of our fellow diners went all out for Cruise Elegant night but unfortunately having been on the road for so long, we didn’t have anything remotely elegant to wear. Next time I will be more prepared.
A lot of people had said to me that the 5 berth rooms would be really small, in fact too small for kids the age ours were. I was a bit concerned as stated above, this was the end of a 7 week trip to the USA and not only would we have 5 in the room but also we had accumulated a fair bit of luggage, 3 large suitcases and 3 carry on cases. Cruise ships in general are known for having pretty pokey rooms. This couldn’t have been further from the truth!
We had a 5 person Stateroom on deck 1 and as we walked up to our room I started to get a bit nervous about how pokey this room was going to be for the 5 of us. Half our luggage was already at our room when we arrived at the door and I opened our room to find a very comfortable and well sized room.
I was very impressed and our room was far from small. I’m never really concerned about the room size as it’s rare that we spend much time in there but I certainly didn’t want to be climbing over kids and cases to go to the loo at night!
We had a queen size bed under the porthole for Craig and I, there was a sofa against the wall that turned into a bed at night for Alannah and 2 pullman beds that drop from the ceiling for Keira and Caelan. There were 3 wardrobes, one housed 2 of our cases that had our winter clothes from our white Christmas in Boston which we didn’t need for this part of the holiday. The other two had the cases with our summer clothes.
The biggest surprise, we had 2 bathrooms! One had a shower and toilet with sink and bench with full wall mirror and the other had a half sized bath with a shower in it and another sink and mirror on the wall. I was very impressed with our room. In fact I highly recommend it for families with 3 kids. The angst leading up to the cruise was instantly put aside and we really enjoyed out Carnival Cruise with kids.
We also had my sister and her husband with us for the cruise which was lovely. They had a balcony twin stateroom on deck 6 Upper. It was nice to go up to their balcony and enjoy the sunsets as we pulled away from the docks on port days. We would order some nibbles to the room and have a couple of beers on the balcony as we pulled away from port. We were also overlooking the outdoor spas on deck 5 which the kids jumped into while we enjoyed a couple of drinks on the sunny deck.
Their room was also reasonably sized, you walked in and their bathroom was to the left and the wardrobe behind the door. The wall had a long mirror and a bench seat on the other side with a small table. They also had a queen size bed and you were able to walk around both sides of the bed. The curtains opened to a glass sliding door out to the balcony. I would have loved sitting over there watching the sunrise from the balcony. Cruising goals for when I’m older and not travelling with a tribe of kids.
There is a variety of rooms and layouts to suit every family or group of friends. Twin share, quad share, family and each cruise ship if different. They range in price but you can get a good idea of what will suit you by looking at the room layouts online. The cheapest are the interior rooms that have no window or balcony. My advice, get the best you can afford and hope your sister gets the expensive room so you can hang out there!!!
There are so many choices for onshore excursions and something that will interest everyone. I’m not going to go into all of them as this post would be enormous. I’m going to tell you about what we did in each port and what we thought of it.
You can be in port and choose not to do any excursions, this allows you to explore the port area in your own time but I highly recommend getting away from the port and exploring a little further. Do be mindful though that the ship will not wait for you. If you have not returned by the time the cruise leaves, you will have to rejoin at the next port which will be expensive and very stressful. If you are planning on doing a full day trip that requires you to go far from port, I suggest you pay the extra and do a tour organised by Carnival.
Allow a bit of time for getting off the ship, this can be a bit of a nightmare and make sure you have your passports or some form of photo ID. We were not told this on the first port day and had to return to our rooms and get it while the rest of the crowd was trying to get out. There are 4000 people trying to get off the ship and it can become a bit crazy.
Note: you will be required to go through X-ray scanners on the way off the ship and the way back on, allow time for this.
This was our first stop and we are keen to do something challenging and fun. I was keen to do the Dunn’s River Falls against the advice given to me by a few different people. This was a Carnival organised activity and was pretty poorly organised. We did a lot of standing around in a line at the beginning but once we got moving it all flowed like clockwork.
Dunn’s River Falls is a 600m waterfall that falls on to Dunn’s River beach. This activity requires you to climb the falls from the beach up…! It was insanely dangerous but oh so much fun. Each guide takes a group of 15 people, who link arms and up you go together. We had a great group of people that were all helping each other and a couple of stronger guys that were helping with all the kids. As much as it was crazy and stupidly dangerous, it was oh so much fun. We had a ball.
After the Falls the bus took us to the Mystic Mountain and the Jamaican Bob Sled, we got dropped at the bottom and jumped on a chairlift. At the top there was a bit of a queue for the bobsled so we were given a number and told to come back in 20 minutes. We decided to stop in at the restaurant for some lunch and another cocktail! After lunch we headed back to the bobsled but still had to wait over half an hour for a ride. The ‘big’ kids wanted to ‘fang it’ down the track so the real kids of course wanted to go with them. That left Miss Daisy here to make my way down nice and slowly at the back, everyone loved the ride except me. At the bottom you’re hauled back up to the top where you exit through the obligatory store for all your Jamaican souvenirs to take home because who isn’t jealous that you went to Jamaica-mon.
For further information see our detailed post on Dunn’s River Falls, Jamaica.
Ahhhh Grand Cayman Island you are just beautiful. We decided to go it alone on Grand Cayman Island and organise an on shore tour separate to what was on offer by Carnival. This was by far a cheaper option and we decided a good option as Grand Cayman isn’t a huge island and we could easily get back to port if anything went pear shaped. It actually went pear shaped before we arrived, we didn’t realise ship time and land time were different. Oops, had to wait for the next tour.
A google search revealed Captain Marvin’s Tours to be popular with others on previous cruises. My sister and I had sent them an email while we were waiting to leave port in New Orleans. This tour was half the cost of anything offered by Carnival and was located right near the port. Our tour guide was an older male that has extended family (like 96 cousins) living on Grand Cayman Island. He took as to Hell where we sent a postcard home to mum. He taught us a lot about the history of Grand Cayman Island and we visited the Cayman Turtle Farm which has basically saved the turtle population on Grand Cayman Island. It was a half day tour and we were returned to the port with plenty of time to look around before boarding the Carnival Dream again.
For further information see our detailed post on Grand Cayman Island
I had heard about the Cenotes in Mexico and had my heart set on going there no matter what the cost. That was lucky as it turned out to be quite expensive. I justified it by telling myself we saved a bit doing the Captain Marvin’s Tour on Grand Cayman Island. This is a tour I strongly recommend doing with Carnival as it is quite a long way and is a full day tour. Our tour got in right on time and they basically closed the entrance and off we went.
On this tour you jump straight onto a ferry/speedboat from the ship and takes you straight to Playa del Carmen on the mainland bypassing Cozumel. On arrival we were ferried on to a waiting bus for a 40 min drive to the Cenotes. What are Cenotes I know you’re thinking – they are sink holes. Be very careful at Playa del Carmen, we walked from the speedboat to the bus and a little boy about 8 years old attempted to pick my sisters pocket.
We visited 4 sinkholes, first up we zip lined across the Cenote and dropped into the water. At the second we could swim into a cave like area that had a hole in the ceiling. The third was huge and we zip-lined across the whole Cenote. The final one we had another swim in the crystal clear water where you can see the rocky ground and yes the kids were jumping in! The tour provided a lovely Mexican lunch which was delicious and then it was time to board the bus back to Playa del Carmen. It was a bit rushed but it was so worth every minute of it.
For further information see our detailed post on the Cenotes in Playa del Carmen
I highly recommend a Carnival Cruise with kids, our kids had a ball and loved the bit of independence the cruise gave them. I was determined not to let the seasickness ruin it for me but at times it was challenging. Food is plentiful, there is definitely enough entertainment but I would have loved an extra port or two but hey if that’s all I have to whinge about well it must have been near perfect.
I loved that Alannah made some American friends that she still chats to today. I loved that I got to see Jamaica and learn that I need to go back. There are so many amazing places in the Caribbean and I haven’t even scratched the surface of what I want to see there. I’m not sure I would do a cruise that is much longer than a week unless it had more stops. I wish I lived closer so I could spend more time exploring this area.
I will definitely go on another cruise but next time I’ll be more organised and have suitable medication so I don’t wake up sick each morning. I suggest if you have never been on a cruise to go to the doctor prior to leaving and get some medication as you don’t want to find out once you get on that you need them. The kids loved the cruise and that was enough for me.
Have you been on a cruise or to the Caribbean? Tell me about your experience in the comments below.
Sal, Craig & Our3kids