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The One Cruise I Always Recommend to Friends

There are a ton of cruise lines, but this one stands above the rest.

As a cruise connoisseur, there are a rare few people who may know me but haven't heard about my passion. Cruises are my number one mode of travel, and it seems I'm always either on a ship or planning my next holiday at sea. Recently, I shared with a girlfriend of mine how much I adore sailing aboard one cruise liner in particular, and it wasn't long before she and I booked a trip together on this very ship. Read on to discover why this is the one cruise I always recommend to friends.

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Carnival Panorama is the one cruise I always recommend.

Person standing at boat rail
Katarina S./Shutterstock

Carnival Panorama sails along the Mexican Riviera year-round, and thanks to both the ship's features and the itinerary, it's the one cruise I always tell my loved ones to check out. My aforementioned pal and I kept an eye on cruise fares and found a great deal, so we could experience it together.

Admittedly, sometimes I like to splurge, but what's awesome about Carnival Panorama is it's not at all necessary to do so. My friend and I were able to book our own individual cabins with no solo supplements (additional charges for solo travelers) for just $300 each. For a weeklong cruise? Count me in. My friend said the cruise fare made her even more excited for this vacation, especially since she knew it wouldn't take months to save for her getaway.

Panorama is perfectly sized.

Carnival Cruise Ship

I've sailed on small, mid-, large- and enormous-sized ships from a handful of cruise lines and each has its own personality. I've always considered Carnival Panorama comfortably between a mid and large ship, with a capacity of 4,008 passengers. There are 15 decks, which may seem large, but when discounting the floors dedicated to cabins, there are eight decks with public spaces. These decks feature restaurants, bars, performance venues, comedy clubs, shops, and so much more.

During a weeklong cruise on Panorama, I aim to eat at my favorite restaurants, and there are still a handful I never make it to, meaning there's plenty of variety for all. Also, despite the size of the ship, I'm not constantly running into the same faces; yet it isn't large enough to be overwhelming for first-time cruisers.

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They offer an array of room designs perfect for romantic getaways and families.

huge family cruise cabin

For those who want an upgraded experience, Panorama has a wonderful assortment of spacious staterooms and suites. When I travel with my spouse, we'll often enjoy a larger balcony suite. Then I have pals who upgrade to the Havana or Spa cabins, as each of these comes with additional perks like access to the Cloud 9 Spa or the exclusive Havana pool on the back of the ship.

When traveling with kids, there are dedicated room designs with bunk beds or multiple bedrooms. My personal favorite for families, though, is the selection of Family Harbor rooms and suites that come with access to a dedicated lounge. This can be such a great place for a quick breakfast, espresso pick-me-up for the parents, or all-day soft serve ice cream. This lounge is always a hit with the kids for exactly that sweet spot reason.

These "Fun Ships" are fun for all.

Cruise Ship in the Ocean

Carnival has branded its offerings as "Fun Ships," simply because there is so much fun to be found onboard for all ages and interests. I have continuously found this to be true on my sailings, noting events and activities that are family-friendly right alongside an uproarious comedy show meant for just the adults. For solo travelers, there are social meetups—or you just might meet your new squad of pals while attending a music trivia match. I always seem to make new buddies aboard this particular ship, as it's generally a very casual, friendly crowd.

Panorama also has a kiddie splash zone area, as well as water slides that are just as fun for adults—at least based on my experience zipping down one of the tubes. In addition to the pool decks, there are all-ages activity zones with a ropes course, mini-putt, an indoor trampoline park, and a jaw-dropping suspended cycle track.

For my pals who prefer a more chill vacation vibe, I recommend the Serenity. This gorgeous, quiet space offers large spa tubs without kids splashing around, as well as a great selection of sun loungers, cabanas, and daybeds that are first-come, first-serve. Such an upgraded experience usually costs extra on some cruise lines, but this is completely complimentary on Carnival Panorama.

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A Mexican Riviera cruise is immersive, but relaxing.

Fishing Boat in Mexico
Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock

What I love about cruises is waking up nearly every day in a new country. But that can also be exhausting to newbies or for those who just want to enjoy the relaxing ship life. With a focused itinerary on one country and a few casual days at sea, travelers don't need to stress about which language or currency to use in a new port each day.

Carnival Panorama has a dedicated, year-round Mexican Riviera itinerary sailing from Long Beach, California, into ports like Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlán, and Cabo San Lucas. Some sailings also stop in Ensenada, but what's great about this itinerary is how it focuses on one stretch of the Mexican Pacific, so guests really get a nice idea of the Riviera and its culinary and cultural highlights.

I find it such an incredible experience overall, especially after doing this same ship and itinerary a handful of times. While recently traveling with my gal pal, we also enjoyed how seamless the ports are for coming and going from the ship. We could easily pop back onto the ship for a quick dip in the pool before heading back out to Puerto Vallarta for a second round of fun during the full-day port visit.

Many of Carnival's eateries offer free lunch options.

Plates of Food on a Cruise

Just about everyone knows you can enjoy the free buffet, main dining rooms, and poolside eateries without ever spending more than your base cruise fare. While Panorama has some incredible specialty restaurants at a very reasonable upcharge, ranging from $15 to $38, a little-known detail is that several of these venues offer a free lunch option.

One of my favorite carnivore options onboard is Guy's Pig & Anchor Smokehouse of Guy Fieri fame. During the evenings, the onsite brewery and eatery has a la carte pricing as an upcharge option, but during sea days the venue offers a free barbecue lunch buffet. It is the kind of mouthwatering deliciousness that will be embedded in your long-term memory. I swear my friends always rave about this venue after they take that first bite.

Panorama satisfies both those who want an upscale fine-dining experience and those who prefer to stick to free meals. You can't really go wrong, and I think my friends would agree.

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Lori A. May
Lori A. May lives out her suitcase most of the year and her articles have been published in Best Life, Business Insider, Houston Chronicle, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and Time Out. Read more
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