Next month, I’m going on my 10thcruise. Since cruising is a type of vacation I enjoy, I frequent several cruising message boards and Facebook groups. One statement I see frequently on these discussions is: “Carnival is the Walmart of cruise lines.” What does that mean, and is it true?
Disclaimer: I have never sailed on Carnival, but I shop at Walmart all the time.
Reputations of Walmart and Carnival
Walmart has the reputation of being cheap. Sometimes that’s a good thing, and other times not.
I buy most of my groceries at Walmart because it has the best prices. Sometimes, I buy other non-grocery items there as well. But, I know that they might not be the highest quality.
For example, my daughter wanted this desk lamp for her birthday. It was only $4.97. She wanted it because it looks like the lamp from the Pixar movies. I have no expectation that it’s going to last for years.
Carnival has the reputation of being an inexpensive party ship. Its slogan is “Fun for all. All for fun.” It’s the cruise line known for drunk, party people. In fact, after an accident on board the Carnival Valor just a few days ago, rumors are already swirling that it was alcohol related.
For sure, both Walmart and Carnival have had some PR issues. Walmart faced criticism earlier this year when it changed the job responsibilities of the greeter position, thereby excluding people from disabilities who already had the job. Walmart has been sued for gender discrimination, and the company has been ruthless with its suppliers.
Carnival has been in the news lately because of its pollution problems. It had to pay a total of $60 million in fines for illegally dumping into the ocean and covering it up. And who can forget the incident in 2013 when the Carnival Triumph had a fire and was stuck at sea for days? It became known world-wide as the “poop cruise”.
Carnival Cruise Pricing
Carnival currently has 26 ships sailing under the Carnival name. Note that the corporation also owns several other cruise lines including Princess, Holland America, Costa and more.
In some cases, Carnival does indeed have the lowest prices. When I searched on Expedia for 3- to 5-night cruises out of Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, Carnival was the cheapest if you’re not picky about the ship.
However, Carnival’s newest and greatest ships are not always the cheapest. For example, I priced a cruise over Spring Break 2021 leaving out of Galveston, Texas. For a family of four, the Carnival Vista rings up at $4126 for a balcony room. Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas, which is not quite as new but was recently refurbished, is slightly less at $3872.
Change and Innovation on Carnival
In recent years, Carnival has been trying to shed its party ship image in favor of fun, family-friendly cruising. The cruise line rolled out “Seuss at Sea” in 2014. This program incorporates Dr. Seuss characters into the kids’ clubs and special programming.
The newest ships on Carnival have features that are every bit as family-friendly as other cruise lines. In addition to water slides and Dr. Seuss-themed splash areas, guests can pedal around the top deck on the SkyRide. When the Carnival Mardi Gras sets sail next year, guests can experience the first actual roller-coaster at sea!
Have you seen the Carnival commercial with Shaq? Looks like fun!
Why Cruisers Love Carnival
Since my family hasn’t sailed on Carnival, I can’t really say if Carnival is the Walmart of cruise lines. However, I reached out to our blog readers on social media to find out who likes Carnival and why.
Laura has sailed on Disney, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Carnival. Her family prefers Carnival. “We feel like it is the best balance of value and amenities. With Carnival, we enjoy the entertainment, and there are many family-friendly options. When we compare the price to what we receive, it has consistently been the best choice for our family.”
Mary Anne’s family likes to sail Carnival for the “ropes courses, the sky bikes, the Imax theatre, and the ‘games and stuff’ put on by the fun crew like Life Size Sorry and run-around-the-ship Clue.” Her family can also get two balcony cabins on Carnival for a lower price than one room on Disney Cruise Line.
Anna has sailed on Norwegian and Carnival and says, “Everyone on Carnival is pleasant. I have never had a problem that wasn’t fixed immediately.”
Several of the readers who responded to my question feel that Carnival has the best food! “We also all LOVE the Guys Burgers, BBQ and the Blue Iguana Cantina…and oh my goodness, the Caramel Popcorn Creme Brulee!”
I think the phrase “Carnival is the Walmart of cruise lines” is offensive and is a form of vacation shaming. Admittedly, it’s hard for me to shake my image of Carnival as the rowdy party cruise line. But, my perception of the brand has improved over the last year.
While my family hasn’t yet sailed on Carnival, I’m not ruling it out for the future. We are taking baby steps away from DCL with Royal Caribbean, but we may continue to expand our cruising options.
Have you sailed on Carnival? Do you think it should be compared to Walmart? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.