Of all the ocean cruise lines, Carnival’s fleet is one of the biggest. There are currently 23 ships in the fleet, from the oldest still in operation (Carnival Sunshine) right up to Mardi Gras and Carnival Celebration, the newest in the fleet.
But newest doesn’t automatically mean best. There are some treasured favourites and newer ships that are still really good but don’t quite have the same magic.
With that in mind, I set about ranking all of the Carnival ships in the fleet from best to worst. Everyone loves a good ranked list, and this is a great opportunity to remind everyone of what makes Carnival such a popular cruise line – and identify which ships are best for you.
Let’s take a look…
Why those three? Because I know that they are independent, and they have enough reviews that one or two unfair ones won’t skew the scores too much.
By taking an average of the scores across all three sites, I’ve been able to get the ships into a relative order.
Then for any tie-break scores, I’ve then looked at other factors which either make the ship more appealing or more unique – anything which can settle which one is better.
There are some tight scores, but overall this is a fair representation.
And one last thing before we get into the list – remember that this is from “best” to “worst”. Not “good” to “bad”.
In fact on average scores, the worst ship on the list scored a 3.3 out of 5 – that’s still pretty good. And in terms of individual scores on the three websites, only one ship scored less than a 3.0 – and that scored a 4.5/5 on another of the sites.
So remember, this is still subjective but it’s based on cruise passenger experiences, and all of the ships are at least “good”.
But now, which is best?
Now, let’s have a look at what people love about the Carnival Panorama, and which other ships get high praise (or not)…
The Best Carnival Ships By Reviews
1. Carnival Panorama
The Carnival Panorama is a ship for ‘everyone’. The reason it’s scored so well on reviews is that it does a great job of pleasing cruisers of all ages.
Whether that’s in the things you can do on-board, the variety of food options, the live performances and the interesting itineraries around the Mexican Riviera, Carnival Panorama is loved by many.
People love the service too – Carnival’s service is generally good but reviews rave about Panorama’s crew. The downside to the ship is that, with so much going on, it can be a little noisy at times on deck.
2. Mardi Gras
Until Mardi Gras launched, the idea of a roller coaster on a ship felt like a running joke – as more and more features were added to modern ships, when would they just stick a roller coaster on one? Then, Carnival did it, and it’s great.
Mardi Gras isn’t just a roller coaster though. The ship is the biggest in the fleet, and has some incredible entertainment venues and performances.
But despite the size, the cabins seem a little cramped, and the speciality dining venues haven’t wowed guests as they have on other ships – so it’s great, but not without a couple of issues.
3. Carnival Breeze
The Carnival Breeze seems to sum up everything that’s great about cruising with Carnival, and yet at the same time highlights some of the major drawbacks of the cruise line too.
There are loads of places to eat and drink, thrilling water slides, and a friendly crew that will bend over backwards to make your cruise feel special.
But, you can also expect crowds, noise, and plenty of people living carefree and maybe having a couple of drinks too many after taking advantage of Carnival’s drink package deal.
Relaxing? Kinda. Fun? Absolutely! For everyone? Not so sure.
4. Carnival Dream
Despite having a layout that’s similar to many other Carnival ships – and being packed with many of the same exciting features – Carnival Dream has always had a slightly more relaxed vibe.
It’s helped by the popular Lanai Promenade that wraps around the ship on the lower deck, which offers a bit of respite from all the fun of the rest of the ship. It’s well maintained and offers a good mix of itineraries across the Caribbean and Central America from Texas.
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5. Carnival Pride
Carnival Pride is one of the older ships in the Carnival fleet now, but it has been well looked after. The age does show a little in the decor choice – bold renaissance artworks give the ship a little more of an antiquated, dated vibe.
But because it’s a smaller ship, you get all of that Carnival fun experience without some of the busy crowds and noisy atmosphere of some of her contemporaries.
She has some design quirks, including some areas being a trek to get to, but she has a ton of unique charm.
6. Carnival Glory
Carnival Glory is another ship that has been a stalwart for Carnival for a long time, and as a result, it’s showing its age – reviews do comment on some parts of the ship looking a little worn.
But it’s a testament to how good the experience is that it still ranks so highly despite the wear and tear. She’s a smaller ship again but she’s certainly not dull, with the WaterWorks water park a particular highlight.
Expect a lot of large groups and families on this ship, but you won’t feel crowded either.
7. Carnival Valor
Carnival Valor offers itineraries to the Caribbean from New Orleans, with a focus on more time in port – a typical 5-day itinerary will include an extra port rather than a day at sea compared to some other ships. So she’s great if you prefer to spend more time ashore.
On board, expect the same quality of service and blend of Fun Ship features as you find on other Carnival ships that have been upgraded. She has some quirks, including the kids club being situated close to the spa and Serenity decks, but she offers a relaxing cruise for all ages.
8. Carnival Miracle
Like her sister ships the Carnival Legend, Carnival Pride and Carnival Spirit, Carnival Miracle has one of the best passenger-to-space ratios – despite having belatedly received her Fun Ship upgrades, Miracle never feels cramped or crowded. She’s one of the best Carnival ships if you want to relax on board.
This is good, because her downsides tend to be West Coast US itineraries that are a little less exciting than those in other destinations. Choose Carnival Miracle if you want a bit of fun, a bit of relaxation, and some decent food.
9. Carnival Horizon
I was a little surprised that Carnival Horizon and Carnival Vista fell so low on the list, but I think it’s a sign that newer doesn’t always mean better.
Carnival Horizon should be praised for its onboard technologies and amazing features, but it is missing some of the really exciting features that would debut on the Excel Class not long after.
And because it’s another 4,000-passenger cruise ship, it can at times feel a little crowded, and some reviews have said that the service doesn’t quite reach the usual Carnival standards. It’s bold, colourful, modern – and maybe a little bit soulless?
10. Carnival Vista
Carnival Vista launched to great fanfare and introduced some really cool features on a Carnival ship for the first time, including the SkyRide and the IMAX cinema, as well as some fun Dr Seuss features for younger kids. And yet again, the reviews are mixed.
Clearly from a technical standard, the ship is outstanding, but complaints focus on some of the basics like quality and variety of food, and of service standards slipping a little. You couldn’t complain of boredom though.
11. Carnival Liberty
Carnival Liberty offers good value cruising from Orlando and while she’s a little tired, and she doesn’t have all of the exciting features that more modern ships may have, she’s clearly extremely popular with American families who want a simple cruising experience.
There’s no roller coaster or fancy sky ride track, but instead the ‘classic’ cruise activities – poolside movies, karaoke nights, comedy clubs, nightclubs and so on – are packed every evening. Carnival Liberty isn’t quite ‘no-frills’ but she isn’t fancy and in-your-face either. This is like the quintessential value cruise ship.
12. Carnival Freedom
Carnival Freedom was the last of the Conquest-Class ships to launch, and then one of the last to receive her Fun Ship 2.0 upgrades too. She received a much-revamped water park that kids love, and a few existing dining venues including the RedFrog pub and BlueIguana Tequila Bar.
But with Carnival Freedom, the ship feels like a bit of a mishmash, and so it can have a strange vibe. The newer parts are done well and make the ship a good choice for families. But other parts still look dated, and you can tell that there are pre-upgrade and post-upgrade features.
13. Carnival Conquest
Carnival Conquest is a good ship if you want to let your hair down and have fun. It’s still popular with families but there’s not a huge selection of features aimed at younger guests, and teens could get a little bored.
It’s definitely more of a relaxed ship that is better suited to adults who want a few drinks and a good, relatively wholesome time.
She isn’t too rowdy, although the theatre at night does get loud – but there are places you can take it easy. It’s less in-your-face than some other Carnival ships, so good if you just need to switch off for a few days.
14. Carnival Spirit
The best things about Carnival Spirit are her excellent service and her range of destinations.
Some Carnival ships stick to the same Caribbean ports year-round, but Carnival Spirit lets you explore Australia, Alaska and Central America too, depending on when you cruise.
It’s got a laid-back vibe that fits with the Australian passenger demographic on board and if you don’t mind the parts of the ship that look dated – including some design choices that are definitely striking and not in a good way – then you’ll have a great time on-board.
15. Carnival Magic
Carnival Magic suffers a little for being the ship that pioneered some of the most popular features on the fleet’s ships. Despite launching after her sister ship Carnival Dream, Magic was the ship that debuted features like the Hasbro Game Show, the RedFrog pub and the elevated ropes course.
And those features are still great, but the ship has been known to be popular, and therefore crowded, and sometimes it can just be a little overwhelming if you aren’t the kind of person who copes well in busy places. It suffers because of its original popularity, which is why it scored so low.
16. Carnival Legend
Carnival Legend offers a very similar experience to sister ship Carnival Spirit – there are lots of fun things to do, the atmosphere is generally quite relaxed on-board, and some of the decor is now bordering on tacky – but that’s half the fun.
Queues and crowds aren’t too bad on this ship, and she has some of the better Fun Ship upgrades too, including Hasbro Game Show and Seuss at Sea, so she is a good choice for families who don’t want the very best features but want a few fun things to entertain them during their voyage.
17. Carnival Sunshine
Carnival Sunshine is technically the oldest ship still sailing in the Carnival fleet, having first launched as Carnival Destiny in 1996. She did undergo a massive upgrade when she was renamed Carnival Sunshine, including receiving many of the Fun Ship 2.0 upgrades. She also has a more contemporary, understated look than some other ships in the fleet.
She’s good if you want a fun experience where crowds aren’t too bad, but she is starting to show her age again – a lot of reviews mention her needing a bit of TLC if she’s going to keep sailing for the fleet.
18. Carnival Paradise
If you find some of the newer Carnival ships to be a little intimidating through the sheer choice of dining venues and attractions they offer, then Carnival Paradise could be ideal. She’s not a boring ship but she’s not packed with tons of innovative features either. And as such, she doesn’t tend to be anywhere near as crowded.
Choose Carnival Paradise if you want simple Carnival-style cruising with a bargain fare. Service is great, food is good, and while everything feels a little basic (and is maybe bordering on feeling old) there’s still enough to keep everyone in your family happy, including mini golf, a water park and kids clubs for the younger guests.
19. Carnival Elation
While Carnival Elation is not the elder statesman of the Carnival fleet, she feels like she is – she hasn’t had the same $150 million+ revamp that Carnival Sunshine received.
Let’s start with the negatives – decor is definitely dated, the entertainment is a little more limited and the ship just feels ‘small’.
But again, this makes for a very different atmosphere to the loud, crowded ships and for some people, Carnival Elation will provide the best balance of Carnival fun and service, without the noise.
20. Carnival Splendor
Carnival Splendor is a unique ship in the fleet – she was originally built for Costa but was transferred to Carnival while she was being built. The decor is ‘bold’, and you’ll either love the drama of it or you might find it all a bit too much, but it won’t detract from the quality of the cruise.
There’s a huge spa, and a load of great activities, especially for the kids, but the cabins are a little worn.
It’s a ship that you would choose for its destinations anyway – sailing the South Pacific from Australia – so if you live in the region or fancy exploring it by cruise, Carnival Splendor is a fun way to relax.
21. Carnival Sunrise
If you’re put off by the reputation that Carnival has for being crowded and loud, then I’d maybe avoid Carnival Sunrise, as of all the ships in the fleet this one definitely seems to justify that reputation the most. It’s certainly never boring, and if you don’t mind queues and volume then you’ll probably have a whale of a time.
It has some of Carnival’s most popular features, including an always-lively sports deck, a ropes course, thrilling slides and more, and there is the Serenity Deck if you want a moment’s peace, but even that will still echo the party atmosphere of the rest of the ship.
22. Carnival Radiance
Carnival Radiance is an ambitious ship. It’s smaller than many other Carnival ships, and yet there’s so much crammed onto it. Unfortunately, this does mean some venues are small, and so queues are large. And others have unusual positions – including some spa rooms directly below the (noisy) kids’ club.
That’s probably why it’s the least popular ship, but it still gets mostly positive reviews. You could never say it was a dull ship, but it maybe has too many features in too small a space to ever be relaxing.
Special Mention – Carnival Celebration
Carnival Celebration isn’t ranked yet, because the ship hasn’t had enough time to get reviews, only launching in November 2022. But expect her to be popular – she’s packed with some of Carnival’s best features including the Bolt roller coaster, various water slides, Family Feud Live game show and a huge selection of dining venues.
Choosing The Best Carnival Ship For You
There isn’t really a ‘best’ Carnival ship for everybody, because they are all different. Some are busier, others are more relaxing. Some are great for destinations, others are more about the onboard experience. It depends on what you’re looking for as to which is the best one for you.
FAQs to help you choose a Carnival cruise ship…
What is the newest and biggest Carnival cruise ship?
The newest and biggest ship in the Carnival fleet is Carnival Celebration. Launching in November 2022, she is the second Excel-Class ship in the Carnival fleet and features some of the best features including Bolt, the roller coaster at sea.
What is the most luxurious Carnival cruise ship?
Carnival is not a cruise line known for luxury, with ships more aimed at family fun and more of a party atmosphere. The most luxurious ship is therefore Carnival Dream – she has modern features, a more relaxed atmosphere and the fantastic Cloud 9 Spa.
What is the most fun Carnival ship?
The most fun Carnival ship is Carnival Panorama. She is missing some of the very latest features but she has a huge amount of variety on board tailored to all ages. This does mean that she can be a little crowded at times, but she is super-modern and the service is excellent.
Which Carnival cruise ship is the best for partying?
The best Carnival cruise ships for partying are those which don’t have the very latest family features, since they tend to be filled with kids. The Carnival Sunrise is one of the best – it always has a lively atmosphere and the Bahamas itineraries are great for partying.
Which Carnival cruise ship has a roller coaster?
The Carnival cruise ships that have a roller coaster are Mardi Gras and Carnival Celebration. Their sister ship Carnival Jubilee will also have a roller coaster when she launches in 2023. The feature debuted with the Excel Class ships.
Which Carnival cruise ship has the best casino?
The Vista Class ships – Carnival Vista, Carnival Horizon and Carnival Panorama – have some of the best casinos in the Carnival fleet and of all cruise ships in the world. Play at over 200 different gaming machines or at one of 22 gaming tables, and take part in massive tournaments on board.
Which Carnival ship has the best water slides?
The Carnival Celebration and Mardi Gras are the ships with the best collection of water slides, including Blue Lightning (312 feet), Orange Thunder (229 feet) and Carnival Twister (265 feet). The best individual waterslide is Kaleid-O-Slide (445 feet) on Carnival Panorama.
Which Carnival cruise ship has the best pools?
Mardi Gras has the best pools in the Carnival fleet. As well as the Waterworks Aqua Park, there’s also the Tides Pool with whirlpool, the relaxed Summer Landing pool, the Beach Pool with beach theming, and the exclusive Havana and Loft 19 pools.
The Havana pool is only for guests who have a Havana Cabana stateroom, while the Loft 19 pool is exclusive for Mardi Gras suite guests.
What is the best Carnival cruise ship for families?
Carnival Panorama is the best Carnival cruise ship for families who have different tastes and want a lot of variety from their ship. Carnival Glory tends to be a popular ship for larger families who want a bargain cruise with fun activities and lots of space for everyone.
What’s the best Carnival cruise ship for couples?
Most Carnival ships are aimed at families and have a lot of kid-friendly activities. Older ships tend to be quieter – Carnival Conquest is a popular ship for couples who want to relax. Couples who want to party will enjoy Carnival Sunrise or Carnival Radiance more.
If you’re interested in a wedding cruise, or a Carnival honeymoon cruise, consider going for older ships rather than those where there are busy crowds everywhere.
Which Carnival ship has the best food?
Mardi Gras has the best food out of all Carnival ships. She has 22 different dining venues to choose from, including more interesting options such as Emeril’s Bistro, a New-Orleans inspired venue. Food on board is varied, although reviews do criticize portion sizes across the whole Carnival fleet.
The Bottom Line
Carnival’s reputation for ships that have a fun party atmosphere is definitely well-earned. The slightly more negative reputation for ships being too crowded or too loud is maybe justified on some ships, but guests mostly have a really positive time during their cruise.
But you need to plan carefully because the ships are quite different, and the best one for you might be different to the best one for a different group. You need to decide whether you want the very best and latest features, a ship where you can maybe relax, or just a bargain cruise experience.
And let me know what you think of the list – like I say, it’s based on reviews, but if you disagree with the order then feel free to add your own ranking below.
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