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Cruise Vacation vs. Theme Parks: The Battle for FUN

Everyone in your family is in full agreement — you all want to have a 200 percent fun vacation. Do you choose fun at a theme park or by sea? It can be a tough choice, but when you see how both venues stack up in various ways, the decision may be easier to make than you think.

Budgeting for a cruise versus a theme park is quite similar when comparing vacation package pricing. Tip: There are plenty of opportunities to get a great deal on a Carnival family cruise, adding up to hundreds of dollars less than you’d pay for a top-name amusement park vacation.

carnival horizon leaving miami

Walking and Waiting

This consideration is at the top of our list as it’s something families may overlook: the amount of walking, waiting and standing around you’ll have to do on a cruise versus in a theme park. It may seem like you’re walking for miles to get from one theme park attraction to the next, while also waiting for hours in line under the midday sun.

The waiting you’ll do on a cruise ship mostly happens while standing outside the elevator you take from deck to deck. Also, when booking a cruise, you can review the ship’s deck plans and personally choose your stateroom location. So if you want it to be in close proximity to certain onboard spots, choose a family-friendly interior, ocean view, balcony or suite stateroom that puts you near the action your family will love the most.

mom and her kids dancing in a carnival harbor stateroom


Both venues have plenty of entertainment with key differences. Carnival cruises have a variety of themed and interactive entertainment options, while the entertainment at theme parks is usually limited to a single, branded concept.

Besides plenty of live music on every Carnival ship, you’ll find an abundance of uniquely themed and family-oriented entertainment options on various ships and all under one roof instead of spread out over a large area.

  • Seuss at Sea delights the youngest of our cruisers and the young at heart with whimsical activities in a Dr. Seuss theme.
  • Kids of all ages can show off their dance moves when the adults compete in the Lip Sync Battle: Carnival, an exciting, on-stage adaptation of the original television series, or guests can indulge their inner pop stardom with karaoke.

lip sync battle carnival participants

  • Movies take on a different meaning during a Carnival cruise vacation. Enjoy the immersive Thrill Theater with virtual effects, Dive-In Movies where you can watch films on a big screen while poolside (or even floating right in the pool!) and the IMAX experience, watching movies on a huge screen.
  • Plenty of live entertainment keeps everyone happy at night, including the Punchliner Comedy Club (with both adult and family-friendly shows), stage show extravaganzas and Playlist Productions, featuring musicals with arena-shaking rock to movie magical soundtracks.

Water and Sports Activities

Walking and splashing around can be great exercise while at a theme park. On a Carnival cruise ship, however, more options for staying fit and keeping cool are available, all while enjoying some of the world’s most amazing outdoor views.

  • Theme parks may have water parks, but how about one on board surrounded by the ocean such as WaterWorks? This is Carnival’s onboard water park featuring hundreds of feet of twisting waterslides, side-by-side racing slides and lots of other swirling, water-drenching, heart-racing sliding adventure for all ages.

carnival waterworks aerial view

  • Be inspired by working out and playing sports such as basketball, mini golf, ping-pong, soccer and more encompassed by the majestic beauty of the ocean at
  • No theme park can offer SkyRide®, a magical experience of riding an aerial bicycle over the ocean on a suspended course.

girl riding skyride on a carnival ship

  • Where else can you challenge yourself with a bird’s-eye view of the ocean waves but on the ropes course?

kids doing the ropes course on a carnival ship


Here’s another example of how cruise and theme park vacations greatly differ. While vacationing at or near a theme park, your experiences are confined to one location. By contrast, the adventures you and your family will enjoy during shore excursions can only be experienced during a Carnival cruise. Try doing the following anywhere but on a cruise vacation:

girl kissing a dolphin

Dining Options

Hands down, one of the biggest pros to a cruise vs. theme park vacation is the dining experience on a cruise ship. Included in the price of your cruise are options for unlimited breakfast, lunch, dinner and desserts for the entire family.

Carnival cruise ships also give you 24-hour access to free pizza, soft serve ice cream, frozen yogurt and light beverages. Enjoy an array of go-back-and-get-more dishes, from buttermilk waffles and eggs Benedict to shrimp, prime rib and vegetarian entrees.

If you want to, you can also take advantage of additional dining and drinking options available for a fee, but you’ll be well fed either way.

family eating at blue iguana cantina

At a theme park, the cost of feeding the family adds up very quickly and can easily be one of your biggest expenses, whereas on a cruise, everyone can be satisfied 24/7 at no extra cost at all.

Carnival cruise ships are also famous for their kid-friendly options, which are designed to let you relax at dinner time as a family. Here’s a small sample of what you have to look forward to depending on the ship you’ll be cruising on:

Daycare and Downtime

Togetherness is lovely, but it’s normal for parents to crave some adult-only time, even when on vacation. When you choose a family cruise, you’ve got downtime and complimentary daycare built in with Carnival’s Serenity Adult-Only Retreat. While your kids are deck side having fun, you’ll enter a different type of onboard oasis complete with peace and quiet and a nearby bar to quench your thirst. If you can’t get enough serenity, opt for Carnival’s Cloud 9 Spa, where you’ll be pampered with massages, body wraps, facials and more while the kids are having fun in a supervised, safe and entertaining setting.

serenity deck with a view of the ocean

At a theme park, you may need to bring your sitter along on vacation if you want some alone time. Most theme parks do not offer daycare, and if they do — which you may find in some of the major theme parks — a fee is usually charged.

That concern doesn’t even exist on a Carnival cruise, where you’ll unwind without worrying about the kids, because they’ll be busy having fun:

  • Camp Ocean for 2- to 11-year-olds: a year-round summer camp with age-appropriate games, arts and crafts, songs, toys, meals and so much more.
  • Night Owls® for kids 11 and under: babysitting for kids who get to stay up until 1 a.m. having fun while you’re doing the same (fee applies).
  • Circle “C”® for 12- to 14-year olds: a place for teens and pre-teens to make friends, have dance parties, watch movies and chill.
  • Club O2® for ages 15 to 17: sports, video games, karaoke, movies and more for keeping high-schoolers connected and happy.

little boy holding a night owl stuffed animal

A vacation on a Carnival ship gives you the best of both worlds, with onboard activities and shore excursions to help you bond as a family and to find a mini-respite from parenting. Treat yourself and your kids to a lifetime of memories by choosing a cruise vacation.

Note: Onboard activities, shore excursions, and dining options may vary by ship and destination.