The patio of a Havana Cabana suite includes a swing chair. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
The Carnival Vista, four years in the making, is distinguished by a number of new features that seem so right on a cruise ship, you wonder why no one thought of them before.
At least three stand out in my mind as concepts that work intuitively to enhance a cruise.
The one that will send a lot of photos out onto social networks is SkyRide, the recumbent bicycle that riders propel beneath an 800-foot-long track suspended 150 feet above the waterline.
SkyRide is just fun, the heart of the Carnival brand promise. It lasts about 90 seconds at normal pace and riders can reach speeds of 18 miles an hour if they pedal hard.
“It was excellent,” said Spencer Clarke, a film producer and director from Los Angeles who tried SkyRide on a recent cruise from Barcelona. “I liked the fact that it gave you a little bit of that weightless feeling as you come down that incline,” he said.
Although its appeal to kids is obvious, Carnival said its oldest rider on a recent cruise was 87.
Wait times on a recent cruise peaked at 35-40 minutes, but that may grow as more children board during the summer months.
Then there is the Family Harbor: a class of cabins grouped around a key-carded lounge for families. The concept is so functional, it’s hard to believe no one has tried it before.
Some family cabins are designed with a bed nook and TV that can be curtained off from the rest of the cabin, which both kids and parents will find a cool idea for different reasons.
In addition to a unified nautical design theme, the cabins come with perks such as free meals for kids at most specialty restaurants and a night of free babysitting.
Alex Aguilar, of Orange County, Calif., said she expects to use the Family Harbor Lounge two or three times a day.
“I’m genuinely excited there’s milk,” she said. “And the fact I can just run out here and get it is great.”
Bringing IMAX to sea also seems a no-brainer, if a little complicated to execute. Carnival has taken a three-deck space in the interior to put 178 raked seats in front of the enormous IMAX screen.
To install the screen without damage, IMAX had to roll it up and thread it through a three foot hole in the side of the theater.
“It was an incredible challenge,” said IMAX Corp. chief executive Rich Gelfond.
Programming includes documentaries ($5.50), and 3-D family features and current Hollywood blockbusters ($12.95), which by the third quarter will be delivered digitally by satellite at the same time that they open in 1,100 IMAX land theaters.
The Vista has other innovations that merit high grades. Visitors gawk at Dreamscape, a multi-story mushroom-shaped pillar that is programmed with ever-changing images crafted in LED lights.
The Vista’s photo gallery is the first end-to-end digital gallery on Carnival. Photos display on a video wall and are available for purchase on a guest’s hand-held device through the Carnival Hub app.
Another winning space on the ship is the Cuban-themed complex on Deck 5 aft. Havana Bar has been upgraded from the Carnival Sunshine to have more seating, a better bandstand/dance floor, and better theming, including dominos tables and a colonial map of Cuba on the wall.
It extends outdoor to an aft pool area, and is surrounded by Cuban-themed cabins and suites. The latter come with open air patios that connect via a deck walk to the pool. The whole outdoor area is private to Havana cabin guests from 6 am to 5 pm, giving it a club atmosphere.
I didn’t catch all of the entertainment, but more than ever before Carnival is taking musicians and dispatching them to parts of the ship you don’t expect to see them in. Examples include a strolling accordion player and a New Orleans jazz trio stationed at the entrance to one of the main dining rooms.
For my money, the Vista’s design is the most elegant ever for a Carnival ship. I particularly liked the orange light fixtures that look like rocket nozzles and give the ship a lot of visual thrust.
Another neat trick is the use of floor to ceiling photo panels in the stateroom corridors, which make the cabin doors almost disappear and keep the corridors from being visual dead zones.
A few things about the Vista were disappointing, puzzling, or didn’t work.
Not building USB charging outlets next to the beds is a missed opportunity on any new cruise ship. The Vista doesn’t have them.
There are odd changes of elevation of an inch or two in some stateroom corridors that could catch walkers by surprise.
An eye-catching hammock in the renderings of the Havana Cabana suite patio has turned into a swing chair because there wasn’t adequate space for a full-body hammock, Carnival officials said.
The otherwise appealing Lido Marketplace buffet can feel overcrowded at breakfast, and the excursion staging areas at times are overwhelmed, resulting in long lines.
The new a la carte Seafood Shack seemed expensive to me, compared to the great value Carnival delivers in other specialty restaurants, and I wasn’t bowled over by a lobster roll I had there.
Robin Reed, a property manager from the Bronx who was dining on the $6 fish and chips, said they were fine, but that snow crab legs a companion ordered “weren’t really seasoned.”
“The prices are not bad compared to what you get someplace else,” Reed said.
There were a few things I didn’t get to try but that sounded intriguing: “Clue,” a murder mystery game, and “Lights. Camera. Interaction,” described as “Movie-oke” in which passengers re-enact scenes from famous movies.