When you quit your job after 21 years, the first thing you want to do is get away and have fun. That’s why the morning after my last day as a middle school principal, we were in the car headed south to the Port of Galveston for our first-ever Carnival Cruise.

Ready for the sail away party on the Carnival Valor.

Ready for the sail away party on the Carnival Valor.

While we are big fans of cruising, we had never cruised with Carnival, and we looked forward to seeing what it was like to sail on that line. They call their fleet “fun ships” and let me assure you, they are dead-serious when it comes to guests having fun.

Here are five things that made our first-ever Carnival Cruise so much fun!

1. The rockin’ sail away party

No matter the cruise line, every ship throws a sail-away party to celebrate the start of a new cruise, but Carnival’s was on a different level. Led by the high-energy cruise director and other ship staff, passengers danced to great music while cups overflowed and laughter filled the air. Carnival works hard to remind passengers that they are on vacation and it’s time to let go and have a little fun, and they set the tone before the ship is even out of port.

The decks were packed with people ready to have some fun at the sail away party on the Carnival Valor.

The decks were packed with people ready to have some fun at the sail away party on the Carnival Valor.

2. A plethora of fun food

Cruises are well-known for having plentiful, good food and Carnival is no different. We loved some of the creative things they did to make every food experience fun. They offered a Dr. Seuss brunch at sea in which they served green eggs and ham, as well as french toast coated with favorite breakfast cereals.

Funnest French toast crusted with a choice of Honey Nut Cheerios, Raisin Bran, Fruit Loops or Frosted Flakes.

Funnest French toast crusted with a choice of Honey Nut Cheerios, Raisin Bran, Fruit Loops or Frosted Flakes.

Brunch isn’t the only special meal aboard. The main dining room even offered a chocolate buffet one day.

The chocolate bar on the Carnival Valor included beautifully carved watermelons with fresh fruit for dipping in a chocolate fountain.

The chocolate bar on the Carnival Valor included beautifully carved watermelons with fresh fruit for dipping in a chocolate fountain.

Our favorites from the chocolate extravaganza included the chocolate swans, chocolate rum balls, and pear chocolate cake.

Our favorites from the chocolate extravaganza included the chocolate swans, chocolate rum balls, and pear chocolate cake.

Another great option on the ship is an over-the-top hamburger from Guy’s Burger Joint, the on-board burger bar. Carnival teamed up with Food Network personality and chef Guy Fieri to bring guests the “best burger at sea.” Piled high with your choice of toppings and served with a side of hand-cut fries, this burger is guaranteed to please.

Made to order burgers at Guy's Burger Joint on the Carnival Valor.

Made to order burgers at Guy’s Burger Joint on the Carnival Valor.

The main dining room serves up classic food every night in a light, fun atmosphere, unlike anything we’ve seen on other cruise lines. I’m always impressed seeing how quickly cruise ships can serve quality food to so many hundreds of people, but our favorite part of dinner on board came near the end of the meal when Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” began playing over the load speakers and all the servers started dancing on the serving stands. Definitely added a new fun factor to fine dining.

Finally, you can take things up a notch and dine in the Steakhouse, a restaurant offering gourmet food with exceptional service. For a modest additional fee, you can dine here and get a meal that on land could easily cost more than $200. My steak was amazing and Ann loved her surf-and-turf meal.

Surf and turf meal on the Carnival Valor

Surf and turf meal on the Carnival Valor

3. Lots of fun-filled entertainment

Carnival works hard to offer a number of activities that cater to a variety of interests so that no one on board is, well, bored. Sure, you can sit, relax by the pool, sip a cocktail, and do nothing if you’d like. But if you want to have a lot of fun, the ship has plenty of it, including a beer pong tournament, hairy chest contest, dance lessons, and Congo train just to name a few.

Hairy chest contest on the Carnival Valor

Hairy chest contest on the Carnival Valor

One evening activity we especially enjoyed was heading to the aft lounge for a little Karaoke. Being on a cruise where no one knew me, I even channeled (badly) my inner Garth Brooks for a song. [Sorry, but I cannot fathom sharing the video, here]

Steve sang Garth Brooks' "Friends in Low Places" during Karoake one night on the Carnival Valor.

Steve sang Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places” during Karaoke one night on the Carnival Valor.

All the entertainment isn’t found at a Karaoke bar, though. The ship also has a large theater suitable for impressive major production shows with great singers, dancers, actors, comedians, and magicians.

In addition to all the shows, there are so many other things to do on-board. You can soak in a pool or hot tub, or play video games in the arcade or try your luck in the casino. You can work on your jump shot in basketball, or try your hand at volleyball on the upper decks. Meghan and I even ventured up top to play mini-golf in high winds, with some hilarious results.

4. Quirky decor and towel animals

From the moment you step on-board, you know that you’re in a different kind of place, one in which the normal, traditional, and mundane have been replaced by the atypical, unconventional, and quirky.

Our first look at the unique decor inside the Carnival Valor

Our first look at the unique decor inside the Carnival Valor

Matching its name, the Carnival Valor’s decor theme is “heroism.” You’ll see tributes to Neil Armstrong on the moon, golden statues of eagles next to the elevators, busts of U.S. presidents, and statues of Greek gods.

Lighted faces on the Carnival Valor

Lighted faces on the Carnival Valor

In addition, the ship’s color scheme combines bright greens, reds, and blues with more muted mauve and beige to create a visual panoply quite unlike anything we’d experienced on a cruise ship before. Even the decor has fun, eschewing normal design rules in favor of trying something new.  Like this statue with a banana skirt.

Interesting display on the Carnival Valor

Interesting display on the Carnival Valor

You’d never see that statue (or the banana skirt) within 100 miles of anything Ann is decorating, but on the ship, this bizzaro combination works in with what the designers wanted to accomplish. It also seemed that cruisers did a little decorating of their own on the ship. We noticed lots of cabin doors that were decorated with signs and pictures. 

Decorated doors lines the hallways of the Carnival Valor

Decorated doors lines the hallways of the Carnival Valor

Sure, the decor might not be what you’d put in your house, but isn’t that the point? You’re not at home, you’re on vacation, and the whole idea behind that is to have fun.

Towel animal on the Carnival Valor

Towel animal on the Carnival Valor

One last little decor detail that added to the fun were folded towel animals we found in our cabin and on the pool deck. We looked forward to being in these areas as we were never sure what we’d see. Whether it was a bear sitting on a counter, or a monkey hanging from the light, we loved being greeted by these fanciful creatures in our cabin, and all around the pool.

5. It’s super easy to meet fun people

One of our favorite things to do on a ship has always been meeting new people and passengers on our Carnival cruise were some of the most outgoing and friendly people we’ve met at sea. It’s fun to sit, chat and learn about someone else, where they are from, and hear their perspective on the world. You never know, you just might make a life-long friend on the ship.

New friends on the Carnival Valor

New friends on the Carnival Valor

Carnival cruises did seem more open to meeting new people and definitely tried hard to make sure no one was left out of the fun. The crew on Carnival ships were also having a great time. We always enjoy getting to know the room attendants and bartenders on ships and those on Carnival were extremely personable and looked like they were even having fun on at their jobs.

Master mixologist Milos at the Alchemy Bar onboard the Carnival Valor.

Master mixologist Milos at the Alchemy Bar onboard the Carnival Valor.

Our first cruise with Carnival was definitely memorable and when people ask us what we thought of it, we can honestly say it was a lot of FUN!


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are our own. While we paid in full for our cruise fare, excursions, and drink packages, Carnival Cruises did provide us complimentary internet access and priority boarding. 

  • This is our Airbnb, Postcard Place. It's located right in Pawhuska, just a two and a half minute drive from the Pioneer Woman's Mercantile. It even has its own Instagram account, @postcardplce. ⁣
⁣
Postcard Place can accommodate up to six people. With comfy bedding (including clean duvets for each new guest), USB ports by every bed, make-up remover wipes, comfy blankets for tv viewing, complimentary coffee/tea, creamer, full kitchen, soap, shampoo, hand lotion, and even a luggage scale, we've tried to think of everything you might want when spending a night away from home. Of course, we also provide stamped Pawhuska postcards so you can send greetings to those who couldn't come along on the trip.⁣
⁣
Find Postcard Place on Airbnb and book it for your next trip to Pawhuska and come @visittheosage.
  • Perched high on a hill in Tuscany is the medieval village of Montepulciano. In the center of town is the piazza grande paved with bricks laid in a herringbone pattern in the 14th century. ⁣
⁣
Standing in the piazza, looking at the bricks, we were filled with a sense of awe at the history these bricks have seen. They've been there for 700 years so have seen times of war and peace, celebration and sorrow. Generation after generation of townsfolk were born, lived and died, and all have walked on these bricks. ⁣
⁣
This is one of the things we love most about traveling. It gives us an authentic feel for history, one we wouldn't have if we just stayed at home.
  • We were so tickled when @thechefandthedish reached out and asked us if we'd like to take a complimentary cooking class with them. They offer private cooking classes with chefs from all over the world that you can take right in your own kitchen. ⁣
⁣
For this class, we Skyped with chef Paola who taught us to make strawberry risotto, traditional bruschetta, and a delicious poached pear dessert that blew our minds. ⁣
⁣
Risotto always seemed like a difficult dish to make, but Chef Paola explained it so well that it wound up being pretty easy. We spent a great afternoon with friends, learned something new, and enjoyed a great meal after. A class with The Chef & The Dish is a great gift idea, as well. Follow the link in our bio, and you can read more about our class on our blog.
  • The world is a big place, and there's so much to discover. Go places, and see things. It doesn't matter if you don't have a detailed itinerary, either. Sometimes, it's more about the journey and what you see and experience along the way, than it is about the destination.
  • During our trip in Tuscany with @italyunfiltered, we stopped at a small family winery. After learning about the organic methods they use to produce high quality Chianti Clasico wines, we had a tasting. ⁣
⁣
Wine tastings in Italy are nothing like those in the US. They are glorious affairs complete with delicious foods paired with the incredible wines. This particular winery brought us samples of homemade, organic jams made from fruits grown in the family's garden. We dabbed these on locally produced pecorino cheese. Yum!⁣
⁣
We're so glad that we had a local driver and guide. Stopping here was a highlight of our Italian adventure, and we never would have found it on our own.
  • The village of Marsaxlokk, Malta, is famous for these brightly painted fishing boats. The design is rather ancient, possibly dating back to Phoenician times, though it's still used today because it is very strong and holds up well in rough weather. One feature of each boat's decorations, are eyes painted on the bow of the boat. These eyes are said to protect the people fishing while they are at sea.
  • The blue cobblestones of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, are actually part of a recycling project which started 500 years ago. Iron foundries in Spain produced huge piles of waste, called slag. Rather than throw these piles away, the slag was made into blocks which was placed into ships as ballast. The ballast was offloaded in Puerto Rico when they loaded products bound for Spain. The blocks were then used to pave the streets. ⁣
⁣
Pretty good idea, and 500 years later, they are holding up well!
  • The Overseas Highway connects Key West and the Florida Keys to the mainland U.S. While the entire road is a marvel of engineering, the centerpiece is the Seven Mile Bridge, which runs over water for, well, seven miles.⁣
⁣
The next time you're driving, reset your trip odometer and wait until it gets to seven miles. You'll see that's a pretty long distance. And then think about the fact that people built a bridge over water with no land to support them for that distance. Pretty incredible-especially since the first one was built in 1912.

Second most popular blog in Pawhuska