Carnival Horizon a ‘Vista Sista’ but with notable differences

The outdoor serving station at Guy’s Pig & Anchor Smokehouse/Brewhouse. Photo Credit: Tom StieghorstONBOARD THE CARNIVAL HORIZON — Before this ship got its official name, Carnival Cruise Line president Christine Duffy liked to joke that it would be called the Vista Sista.

The two ships are truly as similar as siblings, with just a few wrinkles separating the 2016-delivered Carnival Vista from 2018’s Horizon.

One of the most noticeable differences can be discerned as soon as guests board the 133,500-gross-ton Horizon, however. The Horizon is the first Carnival ship to be equipped with “destination-based” elevators.

The Funship Towel Animal mascot strolling the decks. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
The Funship Towel Animal mascot strolling the decks. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

The system, which was initially intended for the Vista, puts all the elevator floor commands on a touchscreen in the waiting area, rather than having them clustered on a panel inside the elevator itself.

Passengers punch in their destination, and a software program assigns them the next elevator that is headed to their destination floor. The idea is to cut down on wait times.

For anyone who hasn’t encountered the system on land previously, it takes a day or two to get comfortable with not having the traditional buttons to push inside the car. The walls next to the elevator doors look oddly empty, and one is left to trust that the system really will deliver you to the desired destination.

Many of the features introduced on the Vista have been faithfully reproduced on the Horizon without any variation, including the Imax theatre, the Family Harbor Lounge and the amazing Dreamscape columns that anchor the main atrium and the casino bar.

Up top, the nifty SkyRide recumbent bikes suspended from their dual tracks circle the funnel just like on the Vista.

At first glance, the Havana Cabana section seems like another duplicate, but the warren of tropically themed suites has been enlarged, giving it 79 cabins, 18 more than on the Vista.

On the top deck, the WaterWorks children’s water park has been festively rebranded with Dr. Seuss themes, with Seuss characters prowling the premises. Kids can choose between the red-and-white Cat in the Hat slide or the blue Fun Things slide. There’s also a 300-gallon Cat in the Hat tipping bucket.

Stairs to the water slides at the Dr. Seuss WaterWorks. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
Stairs to the water slides at the Dr. Seuss WaterWorks. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

In the atrium, Carnival has added new retail names such as Michael Kors, Hublot and Kate Spade. But the biggest addition for the Horizon is Victoria’s Secret store, the lingerie chain’s first full store at sea.

Perhaps the greatest area of innovation on the Horizon has been in the food offerings, starting with Guy’s Pig & Anchor Smokehouse/Brewhouse, a name that requires some unpacking to understand.

The Guy is Guy Fieri, the TV chef who has created a burger concept for Carnival and also some complimentary BBQ pit stops on a few Carnival vessels. The Horizon is the first ship to have a proper barbecue restaurant, which accounts for the Smokehouse part of the name. It is open for free lunch on embarkation and sea days and at dinner with a la carte pricing each evening of the cruise.

The Brewhouse is a relocation of the brewery on the Vista from the RedFrog Pub into the BBQ restaurant. Carnival’s brewmaster has created four craft beers intended to complement the smoky food.

Another area where Carnival has combined venues is Fahrenheit 555, the steakhouse speciality restaurant that now has piano music at dinner. That was accomplished by relocating Piano Bar 88 from an area down the hall on the Vista to a space immediately adjacent to the steakhouse, where a private dining room sits on the Vista.

Bonsai Teppanyaki is Carnival's foray into a Japanese griddle restaurant. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
Bonsai Teppanyaki is Carnival’s foray into a Japanese griddle restaurant. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

A wall divider between the piano bar and the restaurant is opened during early evening when dinner begins.

“You have live piano music while you’re in the steakhouse,” Duffy said. “And then we close that off and go back to the piano bar after dinner.”

Another change in the steakhouse is dessert presentation, which is done with flair and brio at the table.

The Bonsai Sushi area has been expanded to incorporate Carnival’s first attempt at teppanyaki, the Japanese griddle restaurant with performing chefs who plate food with a circus-like theatricality

Carnival Accepts Delivery of Horizon

Rendering of Carnival Cruise Line's Carnival Horizon
PHOTO: Rendering of Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Horizon. (photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line)

Seuss proving a coup for Carnival

With the addition of Dr. Seuss characters and the makeover of Camp Carnival into Camp Ocean on some of its ships, Carnival Cruise Line has more appeal than ever to the family cruise segment.

The changes, announced a year ago, bring an instantly recognizable name to Carnival’s kids offerings.

“For Dr. Seuss, as soon as you mention Cat in the Hat, they already know who it is,” said Ana Klacinski, youth director on the Carnival Freedom.

It’s a step up for Carnival, which competes at sea with characters from Nickelodeon (Norwegian Cruise Line), DreamWorks (Royal Caribbean International) and, of course, Disney on Disney Cruise Line.

Now Carnival offers a kids parade through the Freedom once each cruise, led by characters from “The Cat in the Hat,” as well as a Green Eggs and Ham breakfast featuring Sam I Am.

At the same time, Carnival has significantly improved the kids facilities on the Freedom and other ships. Seuss is now playing on 10 of Carnival’s 24 ships, and Camp Ocean has been installed on the Freedom, Breeze, Magic and Triumph.

The big change is to give each age group its own themed space to play in, from Penguins (ages 2 to 5) to Stingrays (6 to 8) to Sharks (9 to 11). Klacinski said kids are excited to see the play space has lost its day-care vibe.

“They have a name, but not only that, they have their own space that they don’t have to share with anybody,” she said. “And they love it.”

The Freedom also received a Dr. Seuss Bookville area adjacent to Camp Ocean. It provides space for unscheduled time that children and parents can play together and an introduction to Seuss books guests may not know.

Part of the magic of the Seuss parade is its mystery, Klacinski said. It begins with an announcement that Seuss characters are onboard and an invitation to gather in a lounge 15 minutes before the parade. No one knows quite what for. When the time is ripe, a chant begins: “Dr. Seuss is on the loose!”

One by one, the characters are introduced and then the parade begins, through the ship, with kids banging noisemakers and keeping the chant going until arrival at the ship’s main theater, where they’re invited on stage for a group reading of “The Cat in the Hat” while parents watch.

“It’s like a good, family-friendly event and comedy show at the same time,” Klacinski said.

The Green Eggs and Ham breakfast, held later in the cruise, attracted about 50 kids and parents on the cruise I was on. Food, including mint-green scrambled eggs, is served by wait staff attired as Thing One and Thing Two from “The Cat in the Hat,” and Sam I Am appears to greet and hug kids.

Chuck Soukop, a passenger from Punta Gorda, Fla., said he was delighted with the upgrades to Freedom’s kids programming. “It’s nice to have something for the kids to do that isn’t as expensive as Disney [Cruise Line],” he said.