As this post goes live, I am currently on the Carnival Mardi Gras, their flagship and one of the newest ships in their fleet. This is my first time sailing Carnival after a number of sailings with Royal Caribbean.
I had originally planned on writing this after the cruise was over, but my website is actually inaccessible on the ship’s WiFi, so I’m writing this on the slow (but included) connection from my wireless carrier while in the Bahamas. And, as it turns out, many of the differences, especially when it comes to the ships and casinos, is pretty clear from day one.
Here are some of the key differences I’ve noted so far while sailing on the Mardi Gras.
More Modern Casino
I suppose it’s not surprising that a new ship would have a modern casino. But they also seem to be more aggressive in bringing in new games and machines on Carnival. Oasis went nearly without update in the two years between sailings.
By comparison, Carnival was installing a brand-new Bluberi bank and game as we boarded the ship, and I saw machines that had been introduced within the past 12 months, so even after Mardi Gras launched. Seeing clips from other Carnival cruises, this doesn’t seem to be an aberration.
While there are reel slots like on Royal, the reel slots on Royal would kindly be described as vintage whereas the ones on the Mardi Gras are all modern, such as the latest Wheel of Fortune Gold Spin Deluxe games.
Similarly, they have Huff N’ More Puff, they have some of the Lock It Link Riches games, and plenty of newer games and in higher quantities than I ever recall seeing on a Royal Caribbean ship.
Clear Smoking/Non-Smoking Separation
On Royal’s ships you had one big room, with a smoking side and a non-smoking side. Particularly on the smaller ships the non-smoking was a bit useless because the smokers were plenty close to you and the air circulation wasn’t great.
That definitely is not the case on the Mardi Gras, where there’s a clear delineation between the smoking and non-smoking areas of the casino floor, with a strong physical and air separation between the two. There’s a grouping of table games in both sections, and both were open, unlike was always the case with Royal, who would always open the smoking tables first.
As a former smoker, I get that many casinos want to cater to the smokers. As a former smoker, I also get that many players would rather not be around it. This is a wonderful compromise.
While the Mardi Gras is a new ship and takes this well into consideration, Carnival has other ships where they have two casino spaces, on different floors, one of which is smoking and one is not. Cruisers can select a ship that gives them what they want in that regard, effectively, and the fact that there are multiple ships in this structure already and an interest in doing this means it should only improve in time.
Comps and Free Drinks
With Royal, you need Prime status to get free drinks in the casino, which is earned and/or renewed annually. With Carnival, it can be included with your offer, or earned per cruise by earning 1,000 points on cruises of 5 nights or less, and 1,500 points of 6 nights or longer.
They don’t specifically tell you how much it takes to earn a point, but measuring as I played it looks like it’s $2.50 a point on slots (and $5.00 a point on Video Poker), based on monitoring a variety of games I played. It’s possible it’s theo-based and the games I measured were simply all around the same pace, but you do earn points at a faster rate than on Royal.
So free drinks is accordingly $2,500 wagered on slots for shorter cruises or $3,750 wagered on slots for longer ones. If you’re earning free cruises from gambling, these numbers should not be unattainable.
As far as comps and free cruises, Carnival is much less transparent about things than Royal. I spoke to a host on board who was actually a host of mine on a previous Royal sailing (he shifted to Carnival in the intervening time) and he noted that while there’s nothing clear cut, his estimation is Carnival is more pliable than Royal with their offers.
Carnival has more tranches they put players into, their offers tend to evolve more frequently, both up and down, from a variety of conditions, and so on. But overall he says it appears Carnival is more generous overall with their offers.
My first offer was booked under their Fun Match program, and I effectively ended up with an identical offer to what I’ve been seeing as of late from Royal Caribbean. That doesn’t bother me, because in that way I’m not going backwards. But we’ll see what transpires after this cruise.
Have you sailed both Carnival and Royal Caribbean? What is your opinion about them? Share in the comments!