Itinerary: Miami, At Sea, Grand Turk, La Romana, San Juan, St. Maarten, At Sea, At Sea, Miami - read our daily cruise blog
What can possibly be said about Carnival that has not already been said? Perhaps nothing. Our recent sailing on Carnival Vista, Carnival's largest, and newest, ship revealed few surprises. However, we did notice subtle changes since our 2014 Carnival Breeze sailing.
As usual, the embarkation crowds were huge. We were fortunate to have Carnival's Priority Embarkationwhich is available to Diamond and Platinum VIFP (Very Important Fun Person) loyalty recognition program members as well as those who purchase Carnival's Faster To The Fun package (more info). By showing our Priority Embarkation document at the port terminal, we breezed past the long lines, and through security. There was a special "Priority Embarkation" line at check-in which probably cut another 20 minutes off the wait. However, after check-in, we were supposed to be whisked past the line to an escalator that took us directly to the ship, but apparently the young lady working that section was unaware of what Priority Embarkation meant, so we ended up in the normal line. That probably added 15 minutes to our embarkation. Nevertheless, we were able to embark in under 45 minutes from the time we arrived at the port terminal.
We stepped on board the ship at around 12:45. Our documentation said we could occupy our stateroom as early as 11:30.
However, when we arrived at Deck 9 aft, we were greeted by a closed fire door with a different message:
It was not a big deal to us since it was already 12:45. We decided to go have lunch then come back to our stateroom at 1:30. But, those who pay for the Faster to the Fun package and embark earlier may find the inability to access their stateroom to be disappointing. The bottom line is that the Priority Embarkation is a great feature, but Carnival still has a few kinks to work out in its implementation.
Carnival Vista is only slightly larger than Carnival Breeze at 133,000 tons with a passenger capacity of 3,934. She is plenty big. Even though Vista only carries 244 more guests than Breeze, she felt much more crowded. Perhaps Vista has more, smaller venues resulting in this sensation, or, perhaps it is our imagination.
Carnival faithful may bemoan the lack of an impressive atrium with glass elevators ascending eight or more decks. Vista's three-deck atrium is sedate by comparison, but does have an interesting centerpiece that rises from the Lobby Bar on Deck 3 all the way to the ceiling featuring ever-changing artistic displays.
The layout of Vista is very similar to Carnival Breeze (and her sisters, Carnival Dream and Carnival Magic). So, if you have sailed on a Dream-class ship, you will feel right at home on Vista. There are eight forward elevators, four amidship, and four aft. However, to get to Guest Relations on Deck 3 forward, you will have to use the forward elevators. You can walk all the way forward and all the way aft on Decks 4 through 10.
Most public spaces are located on Decks 4, 5, 10, 11. The Cloud 9 Spa and the Fitness Center are located on Deck 12 forward. WaterWorks is also on Deck 12 midship and the Skycourt (basketball) is located aft on the same deck.
For me, the most interesting, and fun, feature on Carnival Vista is the SkyRide, which also happens to be on Deck 12. Try to imagine a recumbent bicycle hanging from a monorail system that you pedal around the aft section of the ship! SkyRide is unique to Vista and is one of the coolest activities we have seen on a cruise ship. Here's a CruiseReport.com tip: make sure you start on the inside track when riding the SkyRide.
We were able to access our Balcony Stateroom (9441) at 1:30, once the fire doors were opened. The stateroom is a pretty standard Carnival-issue balcony cabin. The 185 sq. ft. stateroom is very well designed with a decent-sized closet, small desk, large sofa w/coffee table, a king-sized bed (which can be configured as two twins), two small nightstands and decent lighting.
The three-door closet reveals one area for hanging long clothing items while the middle section is divided by two hanging bars. We discovered that the lower bar can be removed in case you want to hang more long items. The captive hangers are a bit of an annoyance, but prevent guests from taking hangers home with them. One of the closets is outfitted with a couple of large shelves, an electronic safe and a three large dresser drawers.
There is a small mini-fridge located underneath the desk that can be used to store sodas, bottled water, wine or other food items. As is typical of cruise ship mini-fridges, it does not get very cold. Ours had some rack pieces just laying loose in the bottom of the fridge and I never could figure out where they went.
There are three small shelves on one side of the desk, good for storing camera gear, caps, vitamins, etc.
Carnival has thoughtfully included two US-Style 100v outlets on the desk as well as two USB charging ports. Now, if we could just get them to add USB ports to the nightstands! Hey, we will take what we can get. There is a small drawer under the desk that holds the hair dryer (already plugged in) and has enough space to hold charging cables and such.
By clearing off and relocating all of the promotional materials on the coffee table, we created another nice storage place for various items. A shelf under the coffee table is also good for storing bottled water or other items that need to be kept out of the way. The sofa itself is large enough to use for additional stowage of backpacks, beach bags, etc.
The bathroom is compact, but efficient. Carnival is not going to win any awards for decor, but everything works well and the shower is actually larger than it looks. We would like to see the shower curtain replaced with a door, but now we are nit-picking. The three glass shelves affixed to the wall at each end of the vanity provide a lot space to store personal items.
Only bar soap is provided at the sink and shampoo and shower gel are provided in dispensers inside the shower stall. There is no body lotion or hair conditioner provided, so plan to bring your own.
The balcony is also quite compact, but can seat two in relative comfort. A small table is able to hold your coffee, soda or champagne as you sit and enjoy the view. Carnival's new smoking policy prevents your neighbors from smoking on their balconies, making the balcony a much more enjoyable experience for those of us who cannot stand the smell of cigarette smoke.
The worst feature of the stateroom is the balcony door which can loudly slam shut with such force that it shakes the walls. We always seem to end up next to neighbors who can't decide if they want to be on their balcony or inside their stateroom. A neighbor's balcony door slamming shut every 4 or 5 minutes day and night can become very annoying. The door can be shut softly by holding the handle down and gently closing the door. But that requires thought, consideration and a concern for the well-being of your neighbors. The same is true of the stateroom door. And, don't think this is an issue unique to Carnival. It happens on a wide range of cruise lines, at all price points.
The stateroom has some sound insulation. However, we could hear our neighbors cough and sneeze. Even mid-volume conversation will be heard through the walls. Being on Deck 9 aft, we were treated to the continual noise of chairs and equipment being dragged across the pool deck above. The consistent noise from above had us reaching for our our Bose noise-cancelling headphones every night in order to get any sleep. Another tip: If you are a light sleeper, don't book a stateroom on Deck 9 (or any deck right below the pool deck).
Other than the location of our particular stateroom and the associated noise, the design and layout of the cabin is near-perfect for a basic balcony stateroom. There is plenty of room for everything you need, tons of storage underneath the beds for luggage, ample light, a nice desk. The large, flat-screen television is mounted to the wall directly across from the bed. Programming is good and includes CNN, CNN International, BBC, TBS, TCM, ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox and several Carnival closed-circuit channels. There is no Fox News.
Food and Dining
This is one area where Carnival punches above its weight class. You might not expect a value cruise line to offer such exceptional dining, but you would be wrong. We found the quality of food served on Carnival to be equal to, or better than, just about any cruise line. The Horizon Restaurant(Deck 4 & 5 aft) and Reflections Restaurant (Deck 3 forward) offer the traditional cruise ship dining experience with a choice of seating times. Early Seating is offered at 6:00pm, Late Seating at 8:15pm or Your Time Dining from 5:30pm until 9:30pm. We chose the Your Time Dining which now requires check-in on Deck 5, amidship.
This check-in process is actually a good idea. If the table you desire is available when you arrive, you are assigned the table, given a slip of paper to show the host/ess at the assigned restaurant and off you go. If the restaurant is slammed when you arrive at the check-in desk, you are given one of those flashing light, buzzing electronic devices to let you know when your table is ready. This prevents long lines of Your Time Dining patrons from standing around outside the restaurants during peak periods. Good idea.
When we dined at Horizon Restaurant, we arrived at the check-in desk at 5:30pm and had no problem procuring a nice table for two. The menu was fairly typical for a cruise ship main dining venue.
The menu, which changes each evening, is divided into three main sections: Appetizers, Mains and Desserts. Soups, salads and appetizers now appear under the Appetizers heading. However, you are more than welcome to order more than one item from the Appetizers section, which we did. There are also some grill items that are "always available" just in case none of the daily offerings excite you. There is also a new Steakhouse Selections sub-menu from which you can order "premium" cuts of steak for a $20 surcharge, or a Seafood Tower for $60 (for 2).
We found the food served in Horizons to be good, but not great. Nothing really stood out, but the food was served hot and everything was relatively tasty. It was pretty standard cruise line fare. The service in the dining room was crisp and efficient, although we struggled to understand our waiter's English. One change we noticed since our last Carnival cruise in 2014 is the lack of tablecloths used in the dining rooms. In fact, we did not see tablecloths in any restaurant on board. While this does give the restaurants a much less formal feel, I am confident this move was intended to save on water and for other environmental reasons.
The most popular dining venue on any Carnival ship is the Lido Marketplace buffet (Deck 10 aft). Rickee and I are not huge fans of buffets, but Carnival's Lido Marketplace appears to be better than most. It can get really crowded here during peak dining times, but we visited one afternoon at lunchtime while most guests were in port. We tried the Deli which offers a selection of delicious sandwiches and panini. My Cubano sandwich was very good and Rickee enjoyed a fully-loaded hot dog.
Of course, the buffet is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. At breakfast, the omelette stations get very busy, so the earlier you can get in line, the better. Lunch and dinner items change each day, and everything we saw looked fresh and nicely presented. There are plenty of beverage stations with coffee, tea, water, fruit juices (mornings), lemonade and fruit punch (afternoon and evenings).
Ice cream lovers will find soft-serve machines in Lido Marketplace, close to the pool area entrance. There are machines on the port and starboard sides. In addition, there is also a station where fresh ice cream is being made and scooped into bowls. We found this ice cream to be very good. There are toppings available so you can make your own sundae.
Our favorite lunch spot on Vista (as it was on Breeze) is Guy's Burger Joint, located on Deck 10 amidship, starboard (by the pool). Carnival's partnership with Food Network star, Guy Fieri, has resulted in the best hamburger you will find on any cruise line, period. On sea days, the lines can get really long here, so get in line early. The burger is well worth the wait. And, the fries are fresh, well-seasoned and delicious. The 80/20 beef/pork-mixture burgers are cooked fresh on a super-hot griddle. The melted cheese atop the crusty beef patty is sublime. The buns are fresh, soft and a lightly toasted. It is burger nirvana. A Toppings Bar offers a wide variety of items (onions, peppers, mushrooms, sauces, etc.) to tailor the burger to your specific tastes.
Directly across from Guy's Burger Joint is Blue Iguana Cantina (Deck 10, port side). If you are in the mood for a huge, made-to-order burrito or soft taco, this is your place. Blue Iguana can get very busy, too, during peak periods. At breakfast, they offer a nice choice of made-to-order breakfast burritos.
While we are on Deck 10, let's not forget two other popular venues: Pizzeria del Capitano and the Seafood Shack. Pizzeria del Capitano is located on Deck 10 aft, port side, by the Tides Pool. Carnival's pizza is legendary and we found the pizza served here to be quite good.
The pies are all handmade and the pizzeria is one of the few places open 24/7. So, if you get the munchies at 3am, head to Deck 10 aft and a pie will be made for you. Pepperoni is the most popular, but there are several choices available. If you are not in a hurry, wait for a fresh pie right out of the oven. These pies have a short shelf-life and the longer they sit, the more flavor they lose. But, when they are fresh, they are very good!
On the opposite side of Deck 10 aft is Seafood Shack. Here, you can get a variety of fresh seafood items. Unfortunately, we did not have an opportunity to try Seafood Shack, but the menu looked very tempting, and quite a good value. This is the only dining venue on Deck 10 where there is an additional charge for the food.
If you are in the mood for barbeque, you will want to check out Pig and Anchor BBQ on Deck 5 starboard midship. This is another Guy Fieri project and the lines here can also get very long. This venue is only open for lunch. We tried every item on the menu and found the pulled pork to be our favorite meat. The potato salad and beans are quite good and the Bourbon Brown Sugar BBQ sauce is a real winner.
Unfortunately, everything we tried was served at room temperature. None of the meat items were hot, nor were the beans. But, the flavor was certainly there.
Bonsai Sushi on Deck 5 amidship is another one of our favorite dining spots on Vista. The menu is very limited, which may be one reason the quality is so high. The Spicy Tuna Roll ($7) is as good as I have had anywhere, and an excellent value. The Edamame ($2) is great for sharing. Ordering is as simple as filling out the menu on the table and handing it to your waitress.
There is also shaded outdoor seating at Bonsai Sushi (starboard) and you can get orders to go. Service is excellent.
There are three restaurants on Vista that require reservations, and have a cover charge. Cucina del Capitano ($15 per person) is an Italian restaurant (Deck 11 aft). JiJi Asian Kitchen ($15 per person) is an Asian-these restaurant located right across from Cucina del Capitano on Deck 11. Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse ($35 per person) is located on Deck 5 amidship. We had the opportunity to experience all three of these restaurants on our eight-night cruise. Each of these are featured in our new Cruise Ship Dining Reviews blog, so for more details, check our reviews below:
Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse click here
Cucina del Capitano Italian click here
JiJi Asian Kitchen click here
Bars and Lounges
We visited a few different bars and lounges during our eight-day cruise. Our first stop was Plaza Baron embarkation day, which is sort of the "go to" bar for anyone hanging out at Ocean Plaza on Deck 5. The two rum punch drinks were both tasty at $8.95 per drink, plus 15% gratuity.
The Red Frog Pub is one of the most popular watering holes on Vista, and this one even has its own micro-brewery! I ordered a Crown Royal one evening and was a little surprised when it was delivered in an aperitif glass! A Crown Royal will set you back $7.25, for a modest pour.
Although it is not widely advertised, you can make any drink a "double" for only $3 more. That is actually a much better value than having two drinks. After my Red Frog Pub experience, I began specifying that I wanted my Crown served in a rocks glass. The Lobby Bar complied with a generous double pour in a proper glass.
Rickee was ordering Lemon Drop martinis. She has struggled to get them made the way she likes them on other ships, but not so on Vista. The bartenders seemed to make them just the way she liked them.
Overall, we found the bar service to be very good. Drink prices are comparable to what you will find on other cruise lines. The double-shot is a good value. If you consume more than six alcoholic beverages per day, you should seriously consider Carnival's CHEERS! Drink Package. The package offers you up to 15 drinks per day for $49.99 per person (if you purchase in advance).
The only "bad" experience we had was at Havana Bar one evening. There were only two other guests in the entire bar and we sat at a table for more than five minutes. The bartender basically ignored us. He was engaged in a conversation with the other employees. We just got up and left. There are plenty of other bars on Vista where you don't have to wait.
Entertainment and Activities
Carnival Vista is a "Fun Ship", like all Carnival ships. There are so many things to do on Vista that you will have trouble doing all of them in only eight days. When the ship is "at sea" the list of activities is seemingly endless. For an interesting look at humanity, you won't want to miss the "Very Hairy Chest Contest" poolside. Decks 10, 11, 12 and 15 are filled with guests soaking up the sun in a variety of ways. The Beach Pool (Deck 10 midship) is the most popular venue for sun-lovers with its massive screen playing music videos throughout the day. There are plenty of shaded loungers on Decks 10 and 11, too, with a view of the pool.
Just a couple of decks up from the Beach Pool is Carnival WaterWorks featuring two exciting water slides. WaterWorks is popular with kids of all ages. We tried both Kaleid-o-Slide and The Twister slide. Both are fun, but The Twister is the more exciting and does not require the hauling of a big inner tube up a lot of stairs.
The Tides Pool is located on Deck 10 aft and has the advantage of proximity to Pizzeria del Capitano and Seafood Shack, just in case exposure to the sun gives you the munchies. There is also the Tides Bar nearby to keep guests "hydrated". Two large hot tubs and expansive views from the stern make this a popular spot.
Since we have been to all of the ports visited by Vista on this cruise, we decided to stay on board and enjoy Serenity, Vista's adult-only retreat on Deck 15 forward. Serenity is always a better option for a more peaceful adult getaway, but even more so on port days when everyone is off the ship. Here you will find large wicker "cocoons" with cushions and pillows, perfect for comfortably enjoying the sun. There are also plenty of sun loungers scattered around for direct contact with the sun.
Serenity also has two hot tubs (one port and one starboard) with views of the ocean.
Serenity was one of our favorite daytime spots on Vista. Of course, there are all sorts of outdoor activities going on amidship. Long lines form early for SkyRide, Vista's very cool and very fun monorail bicycle ride. The SkyCourse is a ropes course where guests can test their balance and agility. And, SkyGreens is a miniature golf course where you can put your putting skills to the test.
For complete relaxation, the Cloud 9 Spa (Deck 12 forward) offers every imaginable spa treatment. And, a fully equipped Fitness Center offers circuit training machines, free weights and cardio gear. And, of course, the cruise staff conducts trivia, games and contests in Ocean Plaza (Deck 5 aft) throughout the day. Camp Carnival and Carnival Youth Program staff members keep the little ones entertained with a variety of activities, day and night.
When the sun goes down, the entertainment options on board include a variety of lounge entertainers in Ocean Plaza, Red Frog Pub, Piano Bar 88and the lobby.
Our favorite spot was Piano Bar 88 (Deck 5 amidship), where Elizabeth kept everyone entertained with sing-a-long classic tunes. Return visits toPiano Bar 88 revealed a group of "regulars" who came here every night to enjoy the music. It had the feel of a neighborhood bar!
Carnival's production shows are also very popular. Even though we found the Liquid Lounge to be rather unimpressive compared to other large ship theaters, the stage, lighting and choreography were all first rate.
Another very popular evening destination for us, and for many Vista guests, is the Limelight Lounge (Deck 4 aft), home to Punchliner Comedy Club. Each cruise, Vista features a variety of first-rate comedians and they have expanded the number of shows each day. Lines can get very long to get into these shows, so show up early!
Staff, Crew and Service
When evaluating individual job performance of cruise ship staff, it is important to remember that when we visit a ship, we are only there for a brief time. Those working on the ship are there for four to six months, or more. They work long hours and have to deal with every sort of guest. Yet, in almost every case, crew members are smiling and always willing to assist.
We found everyone on Carnival Vista to be very pleasant and helpful. From a service standpoint, the only hiccup was with our stateroom attendant. He was pleasant enough, and willing to assist, but upon embarkation we found our stateroom to be in disarray. The mirror in the closet was very dirty, the balcony door had hand prints all over it, we did not have any beach/pool towels placed in the room, there was dried syrup (like from an exploded soft drink can) on the wall next to the desk and the telephone buttons were sticky, too, there was only one glass in the bathroom, and the drawer under the sofa where they store bedspreads was open. It is almost as if he got distracted, or called away, in the middle of cleaning the room. However, the mirror and glass never did get cleaned throughout the eight days we were on board. And, we only got the beach towels after requesting them. Really, nothing major, but not up to the standards we have come to expect from Carnival housekeeping.
We visited Guest Relations (Deck 3 forward) on a couple of occasions. Guest Relations has to be the hardest job on the ship, yet we found everyone working there to be pleasant and helpful.
We sailed with Matt, the Cruise Director, on Breeze in 2014. He is very affable and an excellent Cruise Director. One of his staff, Ryan, would host the comedy shows each evening and was very entertaining. He would also host some of the trivia. Ryan is someone to keep your eyes on; he could end up as a Cruise Director one day.
All of the restaurant staff that we encountered in all dining venues were top notch. Mirela, at Fahrenheit 555, was an excellent waitress. But, all of the wait staff were good throughout the ship.
This was our seventh Carnival Cruise and, over the years, we have seen many improvements in the product. Carnival is successful for a reason. And, we think the reason is that they continue to deliver one of the best vacation values on Earth. There is nowhere else that you can get this much "fun" packed into a week's vacation for such a modest cost. The service is good, the food is much better than you would expect, the accommodations are comfortable, and the entertainment is off the charts. Sounds like a formula for success!