Carnival Cruise Line is one of the largest, most popular cruise lines in the world, and each of the line’s 25 (and counting!) vessels offers a unique personality and style for passengers to enjoy. But which ship is worth booking for your next Carnival cruise? When you know the ships better, you’ll be better able to choose which Carnival cruise ships are most worthwhile for your next sailing.
Considering the Classes of Carnival Cruise Ships
Carnival Cruise Line currently has eight different classes of ships, each with different passenger capacities, amenities, and layouts. The oldest and smallest class, the Fantasy class, entered service in 1990 with Carnival Fantasy, followed by her sister ships, Carnival Ecstasy (1991), Carnival Sensation (1993), Carnival Fascination (1994), Carnival Imagination (1995), Carnival Inspiration (1996), Carnival Elation (1998), and Carnival Paradise (1998).
Each Fantasy-class vessel can accommodate 2,056 passengers. While all of these ships have been upgraded and updated over the years, they are still the smallest in the fleet and are missing some of the larger, more modern touches of other classes.
They do have spacious atriums, however, and offer a more intimate, personable experience than many of the largest ships.
These are ideal vessels for shorter cruises, and most Fantasy class ships run 2-5 night itineraries, with some longer voyages on different Carnival cruise ships. These are the workhorses of the Carnival fleet, and are popular with many repeat cruisers for their familiarity and intimacy.
Triumph Class Carnival Cruise Ships
The next class, the Triumph class, first appeared with the debut of Carnival Triumph in 1999. Her sister ship, Carnival Victory, first set sail in 2000.
These are larger ships than the Fantasy class and can accommodate 2,754 passengers each. More public spaces are available on these ships, including meeting room space, larger dedicated nightclubs, exclusive lounges, and stunning atriums. These two ships are also popular for shorter sailings and offer voyages from 2-5 nights.
Spirit Class Carnival Cruise Ships
The Spirit class of ships debuted in 2001 when Carnival Spirit first set sail, and she was quickly followed by the rest of her class with Carnival Pride (2001), Carnival Legend (2002), and Carnival Miracle (2004). These ships are smaller than the older Triumph class yet larger than Fantasy-class vessels and can hold 2,124 passengers each.
These ships are all home to the famed specialty steakhouse, as well as numerous lounges, fountain décor, and a charming interior promenade in the ship’s bow that is a delightful secret hideaway for a quiet moment. These are heavy-duty ships that frequently run voyages from 6-10 nights and longer.
Conquest Class Carnival Cruise Ships
The Conquest class of Carnival ships is unique in that each ship, beginning with Carnival Conquest (2002) and continuing with Carnival Glory (2003), Carnival Valor (2004), Carnival Liberty (2005), and Carnival Freedom (2007), sports a patriotic name and subtle onboard patriotic themes due to their post-9/11 launches.
These ships have slightly more dining and entertainment options than their older cousins, and offer expansive public spaces and plenty of on-board diversions, including the Dive In Theater, a two-deck adults-only Serenity retreat, and delicious barbecue menus.
With so many amenities and activities, it’s good that these ships routinely offer itineraries from 2-10 nights and longer.
Splendor Class Carnival Cruise Ship
The Splendor class of ships is today only a single ship. Carnival Splendor was introduced in 2008 with the ability to take 3,012 passengers on the vacation of their lives with features such as the line’s first Thalassotherapy pool as part of its dedicated and exclusive spa.
While this ship may be an individual within the Carnival Cruise fleet, time is running short for passengers to experience her uniqueness – Carnival Splendor is being decommissioned in 2019, and will be moved to P&O Cruises Australia line.
While the line is part of the overall Carnival family, the ship will be renovated and rechristened and will no longer be a Carnival “Fun Ship” after her transition.
UPDATE: These plans were changed and Carnival Splendor will remain in the Carnival Cruise fleet for the time being.
Dream Class Carnival Cruise Ships
The Dream class of ships truly make cruise dreams come true, starting with the launch of Carnival Dream in 2009 and followed by Carnival Magic (2011) and Carnival Breeze (2012).
These ships hold from 3,646-3,690 passengers each, and include such amazing features as outdoor cafes, some of the fleet’s largest WaterWorks aqua parks, and a half-mile outdoor promenade deck with multiple whirlpools at the edge of the deck for spectacular views. Passengers can enjoy these features and more on itineraries from 6-9 nights.
Sunshine Class Carnival Cruise Ship
The Sunshine class of ships – or rather, ship – is another anomaly within the Carnival fleet, as the single ship within the class, Carnival Sunshine, was originally christened Carnival Destiny when she launched in 1996. In 2013, the ship was massively refurbished and renovated, including adding more staterooms and redoing nearly all guest areas.
Today, Carnival Sunshine can hold 3,002 passengers and entertains them with her unique atmosphere that includes one of the fleet’s largest waterparks, the Lip Sync Battle, and many other features guests can enjoy on itineraries ranging from 2-10 nights and longer.
The newest Carnival cruise ships belong to the Vista class, beginning with Carnival Vista (2016) and Carnival Horizon (2018). Vista can hold 3,934 passengers while Carnival Horizon hosts 3,974 passengers, making these the largest ships in Carnival’s fleet.
Along with their size is an impressive list of features, including the first IMAX theaters at sea, ropes course obstacles, and uniquely themed Family Harbor and Havana staterooms that offer dedicated recreational spaces for passengers in those cabins. With the popularity of these ships, it’s no surprise that they have a wide range of itineraries from 2-10 nights and longer.
It’s All About the Amenities
Once you are familiar with the different classes of Carnival cruise ships, it’s time to consider what you want from the ship you sail on. Are you interested in the widest possible variety of dining options?
Look for ships with more specialty restaurants and dining upgrades, such as Guy Fieri’s Burger Joint, the BlueIguana Cantina, Seafood Shack, the JiJi Asian Kitchen, the Chef’s Table experience, and more.
If you’re more adventurous, you’ll want ships with updated WaterWorks parks, the SkyRide experience, IMAX theaters, escape rooms, trampoline parks, and other options. If you prefer more intimate atmospheres, you may want to try a Carnival ship with more enhanced spa or relaxation features, such as a larger Serenity area, or a smaller ship that won’t be as filled with the hustle and bustle of big crowds and long lines.
Fortunately, with such a large fleet and widely varied ships, Carnival has a ship for every type of cruise experience.
Itching for a Certain Itinerary
For some cruisers, the destination is what matters most, not the ship that gets you there. If you’re eager to visit a certain port of call – whether you want to snorkel with stingrays, sample the best of Mexican cuisine, explore the islands of Hawaii, view Alaska’s amazing scenery, or immerse yourself in the history of the Mediterranean – you will want to choose a ship offering that itinerary.
Fortunately, Carnival regularly rotates its ships, moving different vessels to different ports and changing around the itineraries each one offers so returning passengers can experience different Carnival cruise ships for their favorite itineraries or can follow their favorite ships to new and exciting ports of call.
Collecting All the Carnival Cruise Ships
With so much to offer, which Carnival cruise ships are best to choose? For many passengers, the right answer is whichever ship is their next ship, the newest ship, or any ship they haven’t yet sailed with.
Collecting each ship in the fleet can be a fun goal for frequent cruisers, and the more Carnival ships you try the more you will realize the unique fun and subtle personalities each one offers, making every Carnival cruise an enjoyable and memorable getaway.