Carnival Radiance Casino

I just returned from a four-day cruise on Carnival’s Radiance ship. The three-night cruise took us to Catalina and Ensenada. The ship had a casino, of course, which I will review in this newsletter.


When I get asked for advice on cruising by cruise virgins, my top two tips are always:

  • Don’t do the excursions.
  • Don’t play the slots in the casino.

Cruise ship casinos are notorious for setting their slots on the tightest possible setting. Who else is guilty of this? The Las Vegas and Reno airports. The reason why is two simple words – captive audience. You can tell how loose a casino sets their reeled slots by how they set their video poker and video keno.

Video Keno

That said, the video keno was at or near the bottom of the available settings for video keno. The only keno game available was 25-cent spot keno. Here are what the returns were, by number of picks. If you have no basis of comparison, IGT allows their video keno to be set to an RTP ranging from 84% to 94% with most games. As you can see, these are at the low end. If you must play, you can see the highest RTP is 86.43% with the pick-10.

Pick Return
2 86.08%
3 84.66%
4 85.97%
5 85.79%
6 84.96%
7 85.33%
8 84.57%
9 84.25%
10 86.43%

Video Poker

There were not many video poker machines. The ones they did have were Game Makers, offering games with denominations of 25 cents to $2. The pay table were the same at all denominations, as follows.

Game Pay Table Return
Bonus Poker 8,5,3,1 94.18%
Double Bonus 7,5 93.11%
Jacks or Better 6,5 95.00%
Double Double Bonus 6,5 94.66%
Triple Double Bonus 7,5 94.92%
Deuces Wild 20,10,8,4,3,2,2 93.11%

Much like video keno, this is about as bad as it gets with video poker. If you must play, you can see the highest return is 95.00% with 6-5 Jacks or Better.

Carnival Radiance
Catalina, with the Carnival Radiance in the background.

Table Games

The table game selection was standard, with an emphasis on games by Galaxy Gaming. Here are the games available.


The blackjack games had the following rules:

  • Eight decks
  • Dealer hits soft 17
  • Dealer peeks for blackjack
  • Double after split allowed
  • Re-splitting aces not allowed
  • Surrender not allowed

Blackjack pays 3-2 at tables with a $25 minimum and 6-5 at a $10 minimum.

The house edge is 0.66% at the $25 tables and 2.02% at the $10 tables.

Ultimate Fun 21

This Spanish 21 inspired blackjack variant has the following rules:

  • Eight decks
  • Dealer hits soft 17
  • No kings in the deck
  • Blackjack is an automatic winner and pays 3-2
  • A total of 21 points is an automatic winner (except against a dealer blackjack)
  • Player may double on any number of cards
  • Early surrender allowed on first two cards
  • Double down rescue allowed (player may surrender after doubling)
  • Re-splitting aces allowed
  • Draw to split aces allowed
  • 6-7-8 and 7-7-7 pay 3-2

Initial analysis shows these rules to have a house edge of 0.58%. I plan to publish a new page on this game soon.

Other Games

  • Craps: 2x odds, stingy field, 15/30 hops. Table was only open limited hours.
  • Roulette – Double-zero
  • Heads-up Hold ‘em – Be warned this game has a different strategy and much higher house edge than Ultimate Texas Hold ‘Em.
  • Three Card Prime – Same thing as Three Card Poker, with more side bets.
  • Let it Ride – I was surprised to see this dying game on the boat.
blowhole near Ensenada
This leads up to a blowhole near Ensenada.

General Information

There was sadly no fun book waiting for me in my room, as I’ve come to expect with NCL cruise ships. A player’s room key also served as a player card. I asked about incentives to new players and was told they reward their players based on past play.

Drinks were sadly not free. The Carnival web site says casino players can earn a status to get free drinks, but as a new player, I didn’t have such status. A beer was $10 and a vodka and tonic was $12. Both drinks were bar quality and the same prices one would pay at the bar.

The staff seemed were trained and the ambiance was lively and fun.

I personally played about two hours of Head Up Hold ‘Em at $5 Ante. Not the best bet in the casino, but it has a slow rate of play and tends to comp better than blackjack. Not counting craps, which was usually closed, it may have offered the slowest way to lose money at the table games.