Bright and breezy – some might say cheap and cheerful – Carnival Cruise Line is the company that helped to give birth to the advent of modern day cruising.

Having started life in 1972 with just a converted British-built ocean liner to its name and barely enough fuel for its debut sailing from Miami to Puerto Rico, this newcomer went on to revolutionise the cruise industry and helped lay the foundation for Carnival Corporation, one of the world’s largest leisure travel companies and a global cruise player with more than 100 ships sailing under 10 ocean-going brands.

A Carnival cruise ship docked off the coast of a Caribbean island

As for the original Carnival, this once fledgling operator sailed through decades of growth to become one of the biggest cruise lines on the planet with its 25-strong fleet of distinctive ‘fun ships’ known for providing a lively on-board vibe aimed at families and livewires of all ages.

Simply put, this all-American brand is famous for being big, brash and proud of bringing cruising to the masses with departures from a wide range of US ports at keen prices.

It pioneered short and cheap mini cruises with a series of sailings from Florida to the Bahamas and its ships, with their novel ‘whale-tail’ funnels in the brand’s tripartite colours of red, white and blue, built up a reputation for diverse entertainment, varied dining spots and lively bars.

Children gazing out of the window of an outside family stateroom on a Carnival cruise ship

Over the decades, Carnival chalked up a notable number of firsts: launching the world’s largest ships and debuting ever-more innovative on-board draws, from an on-board brewery (serving its own ThirstyFrog craft beers) and the first ropes course at sea to IMAX cinemas and aerial bike tracks.

With names like Ecstasy, Sensation and Elation, its early ships were certainly no shrinking violets, and followed by others noted for their bold and loud on-board decor, though this has been toned-down on some of its more modern cruise ships.

A couple on a paddleboard in the sea in the Caribbean

When it comes to cruise intineraries, Carnival’s mainstay is America’s back yard – the Caribbean and the Bahamas in addition to other spots popular with holidaying Yanks such as Mexico and Hawaii. The line has even crossed the pond once or twice to dip its toes into the European market by basing ships in the Mediterranean, but such stints were rather short-lived.

Carnival, it seems, is a brand that is happy to stay Stateside offering that most American of flavours.

Sara Macefield
Sara Macefield is an award-winning travel journalist of more than 20 years standing, and has spent the last decade writing about the cruise industry – exploring the world's oceans and rivers on ships of all sizes. Having notched up more than 100 cruises, her most memorable trips have been to Alaska with its superb wildlife, and sailing along Burma’s remote Chindwin River to villages far off the tourist track. She writes regularly for The Times and Daily Telegraph and has written for the Daily Mail, The Guardian, Daily Express and Woman & Home Magazine.

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