Lori A. May
- A friend and I recently sailed on Carnival Panorama, one of my favorite ships for its overall value.
- We each spent $437 for our own interior cabins, including food, on a 7-night sailing to Mexico.
- The Panorama is packed with free activities and is a good, cheap option for solo cruisers.
I've sailed on the Carnival Panorama three times, with my spouse and also with friends. I think it's the best cruise ship for anyone on a budget, or who wants their own cabin.
I'm a frequent cruiser and have stayed in a variety of cabin styles over the years, from mini-suites all the way to interior rooms on the lower decks. I've done so on many ships on cruise lines including Carnival, Holland America, Norwegian, and Princess.
But I keep going back to the Carnival Panorama.
I've sailed on Panorama twice with my spouse, and we already have another sailing booked for later this year. Recently, I also traveled onboard with a friend, but opted to book my own solo cabin rather than share one.
While sharing a room and splitting the cost with another traveler is often the best way to save money on a cruise, I knew that wasn't the case with the Panorama as the prices are low enough to afford on my own, andCarnival doesn't charge a single supplement fee like most cruise lines do.
Here's why anyone looking to book a cruise on a budget or travel solo should only consider the Carnival Panorama.
I paid just $437 for my own interior cabin on a 7-night sailing to Mexico on the Carnival Panorama. That fare included accommodations, entertainment, meals, and basic drinks like water, juice, coffee, and tea.
Through my past cruises, I've come to find that the inside rooms offer just the right amount of space I need personally, while paying the lowest rate possible to meet my budget.
My friend and I each spent $304 before taxes on our own dedicated interior cabins. After taxes and port fees, the cruise rate was $437. We also prepaid gratuities for the week at a rate of $97.93.
Included in the fare was unlimited dining apart from specialty restaurants, all live entertainment, and activities like trivia, dance parties, waterslides, mini putt, and a ropes course. The rate did not include alcoholic beverages, specialty coffees, or activities on port excursions.
We also added on the cost of a 2-day spa pass for $40 per person on this sailing, as we wanted to have access to thermal sauna suites and a large spa tub.
For this particular sailing, I booked my cabin seven weeks in advance, so it's quite possible to find great rates without too much advance planning.
Most importantly, I didn't have to pay a single supplement fee on Carnival.
Because my friend and I each wanted our own cabin, I was certain I'd have to pay extra for the solo supplement, which is standard on most cruise lines when someone chooses not to share a room.
This is because most cruise staterooms are meant to hold at least two people, and the single supplement helps the cruise line make up for lost revenue they could have made had there been a second person in the room, according to the LA Times.
But I've never had to pay such a fee on Carnival. In fact, had we shared one cabin, according to my research on Carnival's website, we would have only saved about $50 each for the week. And since we both loved the idea of having our own dedicated private spaces as adult travelers, we each booked our own room.
We each had our own spacious interior cabin that came with plenty of storage to maximize the space.
Both me and my friend booked standard interior cabins on the Carnival Panorama and our cabins were identical.
Each cabin was 185 square feet and meant for one traveler with a single bed. I thought this actually made the room appear much larger as it didn't have two beds like I'm used to in cruise ship staterooms. I never felt cramped.
In addition to a comfy bed, my room had a desk and chair, full closet, and a small fridge. There was also plenty of storage in the closet and a separate shelving unit so I was able to make the most of my space by putting my belongings away.
I also had a full bathroom with shelves for toiletries and a large stack of towels.
My friend's cabin was on the second floor, while mine was on the third. We could have paid more to be in a prime location closer to the pool deck, but with the elevators close to us and the pool parties just a quick lift away, I'm glad I opted to save the money.
Even though I didn't feel cramped in my room, I didn't spend much time in it as I was more interested in having fun outside, exploring the ship, playing games, or dancing at a deck party.
I had all the space I needed in my room, but other than naps or bedtime, I rarely spent time there. There was too much going on with planned activities and ship amenities for me to stay in the room.
One of our favorite morning activities was attending free trivia tournaments. We ended up making new friends each time and my friend even led our team to victory and is now the proud owner of a "ship on a stick" trophy and whale-tale medal.
There were more free activities offered than we could possibly do, from trivia to dance lessons, karaoke to mini putt.
Our ship also went to exciting ports that I'd expect to visit on a much pricier cruise.
Our cruise took place in late April and sailed to the Mexican Riviera, which is the route Panorama visits year-round from the Port of Long Beach, California. Our days would be filled with visits to sunny destinations including Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlán, and Cabo San Lucas.
With this itinerary in mind, my friend and I thought $437 was an incredible deal for our individual cabins. I'm already plotting ahead to when I can do this sailing again as a solo traveler on my own.
To stay on budget, we focused on the ship's free dining and drinks.
I was a big fan of the incredible variety of dining included with our base cruise fare.
We had seven complimentary venues to choose from and we tried them all: Blue Iguana Cantina, the Lido Marketplace buffet, Pizzeria del Capitano, The Carnival Deli, The Captain's Pasta Bar, Guy Fieri's barbeque restaurant and his burger bar, and of course, the main dining room.
My near-daily favorite was Guy's Burger Joint. I especially loved being able to load my burger with as many or as little fixings as I pleased.
We also frequented Guy's Pig & Anchor Smokehouse, which costs extra for dinner but offers free lunch on sea days.
Guy's Pig & Anchor Smokehouse is an upcharge specialty restaurant from Guy Fieri by night, but for lunch on sea days, they offer a selection of barbeque favorites for free. The menu includes beef brisket, pulled pork, sausage, beans, potato salad, and mac n' cheese.
For the evening specialty upcharge options, the Smokehouse charges a la carte, so a guest could spend anywhere between $10 for finger foods to closer to $30 for apps and an entrée.
Our free lunch selection was a great way to sample Fieri faves for free as we could select as much or as little as we wanted, all plated by the Smokehouse crew.
We did splurge on one specialty restaurant, Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse, for surf and turf.
Panorama has a nice selection of specialty restaurants for an additional flat fee, like Bonsai Teppanyaki for $35 per person or classic Italian at Cucina del Capitano for $18 per person.
While we focused on complimentary dining throughout our cruise, near the end of our trip, we decided to have a special night out at Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse. We indulged in surf and turf, an amazing wine selection, and unlimited appetizers and side dishes, and dessert. The steakhouse is $38 per person, and I think it's well worth the upcharge for the memorable food and service.
While I purchased drinks à la carte, my friend pre-purchased an unlimited drink package for $55 per day.
My friend pre-purchased Cheers! – the unlimited drink package – that was offered pre-boarding for $55 per day. That meant for the week she spent $385 to enjoy whatever drink she wanted day or night.
SinceI drink more coffee than cocktails, I didn't get the package and instead paid a la carte. My favorite cocktail set me back $12, which wasn't too bad for a flavorful refreshment. For the week, I only purchased three alcoholic drinks, so I spent less than $50 for the occasional cocktail.
I also spent nearly $100 on specialty lattes, americanos, frappes, and mochas at Java Blue Café. I could have spent zero if I relied solely on the free coffee in the buffet, though.
I also thought our spa passes were well worth the extra $40 to enjoy the thermal pool and saunas.
While we aimed to maximize our fun onboard the ship and ashore, at other times, we also looked for quieter moments where we could recharge.
I thought Carnival's Cloud 9 Spa was a great place for that and a 2-day pass cost just $40 for unlimited use of the thermal pool and various sauna facilities.
Massages and spa treatments were also available and typically start at $105, but we found the saunas and hot tub to be what we needed for far cheaper. Plus, the pass allowed access day and night as many times as we wanted, so we would spa in the morning and in the evening after enjoying a day in port.
In addition to the spa, the Serenity Adult-Only Retreat was a chill area for adults away from all the action.
Outside of the spa, we also found an adults-only sundeck with quiet zones, hot tubs, daybeds, and cabanas that were free to use throughout the day. This was an unexpected treat when we wanted to enjoy a sunny day, but not get caught up in all the deck party action by the pool.
I was surprised that this space was free to enjoy, as cruise lines like Princess and Norwegian charge at least $20 for a few hours' usage for a similar space, in my experience.
Other fun included activities include a sports deck with foosball, basketball, an outdoor workout zone, corn hole, mini golf, table tennis, and yoga stretch sessions.
My friend and I are admittedly not that sporty, but I loved seeing the variety of outdoor activities for groups to enjoy at no extra cost.
The basketball court seemed particularly popular in the afternoons, while families used the mini golf course day and night.
I'm also always surprised that the ropes course and SkyRide, a suspended cycle ride, are free.
On past sailings, I've challenged myself to the free ropes course. It's intimidating at first but I think it becomes easier as you build confidence. Especially when I notice 10-year-olds passing me at a much faster pace.
The ropes course has solid platforms to walk from one area to the next, navigating the path via different rope obstacles. Guests use the ropes to balance themselves while taking in sea views from the elevated course. It's open to all ages, and is free.
There's also no upcharge for SkyRide, a suspended cycle ride positioned high above the top deck for a workout with incredible ocean views. Guests pedal themselves around the track at whatever pace suits them.
I'm always a bit amazed that this is a free activity aboard Panorama, as it seems like something that would have a separate fee, especially since guests can go on this ride as many times as they like.
The water slides and relaxing pools are my favorite way to spend a sea day on Panorama.
Each time I've sailed Carnival Panorama, the water slides end up being my favorite way to spend an afternoon. I think they're kid-friendly but have just enough thrill factor to keep adults running back up for another turn. I follow it with a dip in the pool, and it's pretty much my definition of a perfect day at sea.
When I just want to swim in the pool, in my experience, the mid-ship pool deck can be busy with deck chairs claimed early in the morning. Yet there's usually plenty of space in the pool for me to enjoy my dip.
The smaller pool on the back deck is another go-to, since I find less people use this one because there are fewer deck chairs. That's fine by me, since I prefer to spend my pool time actually in the water.
I always look forward to nightfall when many live music venues and entertainment come alive at no extra charge.
Each sailing, I look forward to the '80s deck party that has happened on every Carnival cruise I've taken. The DJ spins classic pop and rock, and just about everyone shows up in 80s fashion, so I always pack my cruise wardrobe accordingly.
Panorama also has many live music venues. Havana Bar is one of my favorites for Latin music and karaoke showdowns.
Additionally, the ship's main stage usually offers three production shows with rock, blues, soul, and a few Broadway favorites. These performances are free and don't require seat reservations or tickets.
The Atrium Bar is also a good spot to catch featured performers, including rock violinists, throughout the day and all evening.
Throughout our cruise, I enjoyed just about every venue Panorama has to offer, but I always find my way to Alchemy Bar in the late evenings. It's where I think the best cocktails are served, and it's a central hub for meeting other groups of newfound friends.
For quieter evenings, I enjoy free Dive-In Movies on the big screen by the pool.
When I'm not catching a show or listening to music over a cocktail at sea, Dive-In Movies are my go-to for a quiet night. On the big screen above the pool, we caught new feature films under the stars. This offering doesn't require reserved seats or tickets and is yet another free activity.
Carnival Cruises are all about having fun. I genuinely thought we experienced great service and a never-ending list of things to do. And I can't believe we got to do it all for such a low price.
All week long, my friend and I commented on how attentive and friendly the Panorama crew were. At every turn, there was a wave, a friendly hello, or a question if we needed anything.
As a single traveler on a budget, I found the Panorama made it easy to maximize the good times. And even though Panorama always sails the same Mexican Riviera itinerary year-round, I never grow tired of this cruise. I already have another Panorama sailing booked for my spouse and I this year, and I can't wait to sail with a friend again — or by myself — on what has become my favorite budget-friendly cruise.