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5 Tips for Enjoying a Carnival Cruise Without Kids

Carnival is a family-friendly cruise line, but that doesn’t mean people without kids should avoid the line. Carnival has 26 ships ranging in size and available activities that cater to people of all ages. Their ships have a unique energy and atmosphere that puts you in “vacation mode” the minute you step on board. While Carnival Cruise Line is renowned for its family-friendly environment, adults seeking a child-free experience can still find enjoyment aboard Carnival ships by following these five expert tips.

1) Try winter and specialty sailings

The first tip is the most obvious: don’t book a Carnival cruise when kids are off from school. That means avoiding the summer, spring break, and Holiday sailings (like Thanksgiving and Christmas.) By spring break, I mean elementary school spring break, not college. Carnival does not allow people under 21 to sail unless they’re with someone over 25, so it’s not a popular college spring break activity. 

Spring break timing varies greatly depending on the region of the country in which you live. For example, last year, I sailed on the Carnival Celebration in March (see the detailed cruise blog here). It was a whole month before kids in my area (NJ) had spring break, but it was Miami-Dade County’s spring break, which meant the ship had a lot of families from the area.

One of the best times is January and February. During this time of year, most kids just had off, and parents are less likely to want to take them out of school. Coincidentally, these sailings are typically the cheapest due to lesser demand. 

carnival horizon pool february
The main pool on a February sailing on the Carnival Horizon. In the summer, this would be packed with children.

Another option is to book one of Carnival’s “Journeys” cruises. These are nine-day or longer sailings that visit less frequented locales. Because of their length and the fact that they visit fewer family-focused ports, you’ll find much fewer children on the ship. 

carnival pride pool in january
While Journey’s cruises are usually on smaller ships like the Carnival Pride, it’s a much more relaxed atmosphere.

While Carnival doesn’t release full details of every sailing, Carnival Brand Ambassador John Heald used to provide looks at specific sailings and who was on board. Looking at that data, we can see a difference between when kids are in school and when they are not. 

Guests Under 21
January – February Cruises10%
April to May Cruises16%
June – August Cruises21%
October – December Cruises*12%
Journeys Cruises1%
Average percentage of kids under 21 vs total guests on a cruise
*Excluding holiday weeks
bar graph showing how many kids on a Carnival ship

During peak summer months, an average of 21% of guests onboard were under 21 years old. For late spring, it was 16%. In January and February, the percentage of kids onboard dropped to 10%, and it was less than 1% on Journeys sailings. It’s clear the time of year you sail makes a big difference. 

2) Skip the buffet and choose alternate dining options

On any cruise ship, the main buffet is the most frustrating and exhausting experience. Even without kids, trying to get food and find seating amongst several thousand guests is a challenge. Add a significant number of kids into the mix, and the experience gets worse. It’s louder, more challenging to move around, and more busy in general. For the best dining experience, avoid the buffet when possible.

The one option available on every ship (on sea days at least) is the Main Dining Room. Eating in the dining room for breakfast or lunch will often provide a more relaxing atmosphere. You’ll have a dedicated waiter and order off a menu. The downside of the MDR is how long it takes. On sea days, you may have to wait 30 minutes to an hour to be seated, and the meal itself can take 45 minutes or more.

breakfast buffet and pig and anchor
On Excel-class ships, they set up a breakfast buffet that very few people knew about. It was so much more peaceful and quiet than the regular buffet.

On Carnival’s newer ships, you’ll often find other restaurants you can go to for breakfast or lunch. These restaurants often have fewer children and offer a more relaxed experience than the buffet. Even better, almost all are available at no additional cost. You can find these in the Carnival Hub app or the daily Fun Times. 

guys pig and anchor bbq
Few guests know about Guys Pig and Anchor BBQ which is complimentary and served buffet-style on sea days.

One example is Guy’s Pig and Anchor Smokehouse for breakfast on Excel-class ships (Mardi Gras, Celebration, and Jubilee). Every morning, they have a breakfast bar set up in this restaurant. The selection is nearly identical to the offerings in the Lido Marketplace (the buffet), except it doesn’t have made-to-order omelets. On my March sailing on the Celebration, we had breakfast here almost every day. It was a completely different experience than the buffet. There was never a line, plenty of open tables, and it was nice and quiet. I don’t remember ever seeing more than 50 people there for breakfast.

Italian restaurant on cruise ship
Cucina del Capitano has a pasta menu for lunch at no extra cost.

Similarly, Carnival has other sit-down restaurants available for lunch. On ships with Cucina del Capitano and JiJis Asian Kitchen, you can have lunch for free. It’s a sit-down meal with a separate lunch menu (they usually call it “Captain’s Pasta Bar” and “Mongolian Wok“). There are much fewer kids and people in general because they don’t know these restaurants are open. Some ships also have Guys Pig and Anchor BBQ, which offers a complimentary BBQ buffet for lunch on sea days. 

3) Go to late dinners and shows

If you want to experience fewer kids on your Carnival cruise, book a late dinner and see late shows. Typically, families prefer to eat earlier, so they’ll book the earlier set-time dinner at 5:30 pm or, if they have anytime dining, they try to eat as soon as the dining rooms open. 

festivale dining room
The early seating and the earliest times for the Anytime Dining will have the most children.

The same goes for shows. Carnival usually offers early and late showings of most performances and game shows. If you go to the later ones, there will be fewer children. In addition, there are adult-only comedy shows, and they ensure that everyone is 18 or older. 

family feud on carnival celebration
The 7 pm early showing of Family Feud had a lot more noisy kids than the later shows.

When I was onboard the Celebration, the ship had over 1,000 kids on it. For the first few days, I didn’t notice how many kids were on board (except when looking at the pools and hot tubs). Then, about halfway through the cruise, we ended up having an early dinner and going to early shows because we had a long excursion that day, and we were tired. I was shocked at the difference. Everything was louder and more crowded than the previous days. The dinner had kids walking around to other people’s tables, the Family Feud show at 7 pm had crying babies and noisy kids, and even the hallways were crowded with people walking around. It was dramatically different than my experience the previous few days with a 7 pm dinner and 9 pm shows. 

4) Relax in the Serenity adult-only area

Every Carnival ship has an adult-only area called the Serenity Area. It’s probably one of the best implementations of kid-free areas on a North American cruise line. Carnival only allows guests 21 or older to enter the space, while Royal Caribbean allows guests 18 and older. It’s also completely free, unlike Norwegian’s Vibe Beach Club, which can cost hundreds per person per cruise to access the space.

carnival celebration loungers looking at the ocean
The adult-only Serenity area on Carnival Celebration offers amazing views.

The Serenity Area offers upgraded loungers, hammocks, clamshells, and comfy seating options. The space also has a dedicated bar and upgraded towels available. It provides some much-needed tranquility compared to the busyness of the main Lido pool. 

Pool and Sitting area on a cruise ship
Serenity adult-only pool on Carnival Mardi Gras.

Not every Serenity Area is the same, though. Some have pools, while others only have hot tubs. Some have beautiful views at the back of the ships, while others are at the front and subject to high winds. You can see a complete breakdown here.

5) Upgrade to the Havana Area

The most surefire way to ensure some kid-free space is to book a Havana Cabin, but it’s going to cost you. The Havana Area is a private deck area only accessible to guests with Havana Cabins and is on Vista-class and Excel-class ships. Guests must be 16 or older to stay in Havana cabins, and only people with a wristband are allowed to enter the area, so it’s a near guarantee of a child-free experience.

Havana deck area with 2 hot tubs and an infinity pool on the Carnival Panorama
Exclusive Havana Deck Area on the Carnival Panorama

Unfortunately, these cabins are costly. They cost 3 to 6 times the price of a standard balcony cabin. Although both the Vista-class and Excel-class ships have Havana cabins, the Vista-class area is often considered the superior of the two implementations. It offers premium space at the back of the ship with a dedicated pool and hot tubs. On the Excel-class ships, they moved the Havana area to the side of the ship and downsized the public area considerably. It has no hot tubs and one relatively small, cantilevered pool. 

Carnival Mardi Gras Havana Pool
The exclusive “pool” in the Havana Area on the Mardi Gras

Carnival is a family cruise line, but everyone can enjoy

Carnival is a family cruise line and provides a good experience for all ages. There will be kids on board, and there may be hundreds of them. Just remember that there are plenty of well-behaved kids on every cruise ship who won’t impact your vacation; sometimes, adults are just as rowdy and annoying. By following the tips above, you can enjoy your experience without feeling overwhelmed by children. 

If you want to guarantee fewer kids on your cruise, select cruise lines like Celebrity, Princess Cruises, or Holland America. Or, if you want to be certain there will be no kids, book Virgin Voyages, which is 18 and over only. These lines definitely won’t have the same feel as Carnival, but they will have fewer children. 

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Randy Young

Randy Young is the founder and editor-in-chief at Cruise Spotlight. He has been in marketing for 20 years and has been cruising for just as long. Over the years, he's worked with products like TVs, copiers, light bulbs, and EV chargers, but cruising has always been his passion. There's nothing Randy likes more than the first couple of hours on a ship, exploring every nook and cranny and seeing how it's different from everything else out there. He's known for providing detailed and analytical coverage of cruising to help cruisers get a comprehensive picture of a ship's offerings.