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 Cruise Line and EA Sports parting ways

Carnival Cruise Line is phasing out a partnership with video game maker EA Sports that put the EA brand on a number of sports bars on Carnival ships.

The brand will no longer appear on new sports bars built as part of Funship 2.0 renovations, starting with the Carnival Miracle in March.

Carnival and EA Sports, a brand of Electronic Arts, Inc., first collaborated in 2011 when Carnival put EA Sports Bars on the Carnival Magic and Carnival Liberty. They have since been installed on other ships such as Carnival Dream and Carnival Sunshine.

The existing bars branded as EA will continue under that name, spokesman Vance Gulliksen said. “Going forward, any additional sports bars introduced on our ships will not be EA Sports branded. While we will continue to feature sports bars, which are a popular feature on our ships, over time the EA brand will be phased out,” he said.

The bar on the Carnival Miracle, named Sports Bar, will be installed during a two-week drydock in March that will include a host of Funship 2.0 features such as RedFrog Pub, Alchemy Bar, Seuss at Sea, Hasbro the Game Show, Cherry On Top and more.

The Miracle operates year-round from Long Beach, Calif.

Carnival Sunshine: Sailing in a New Direction

Destiny’s transformation marks a new era in refurbishment

The $155-million transformation of Carnival Destiny into the 3,006-passenger Carnival Sunshine puts a whole new spin on future decisions about remaking ships. With the slowdown in newbuild construction, cruise lines have worked hard to bring their older vessels closer to the newest ones in terms of amenities and atmosphere. But the two-year process of planning Sunshine and the 75 days of actual refurbishment prompted Carnival Cruise Lines to describe this as the most ambitious transformation of an existing ship to date.

The remaking of Destiny was expensive in terms of man-hours (2 million, with 3,000 contractors from 40 countries working around the clock), money and time that the ship spent out of service. For this reason, future decisions will have to be carefully considered when it comes to this degree of renovation, as well as when choosing to perform what Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill called 2.0 Light — a cosmetic refurbishment with the addition of new features.

Cahill said that when a ship gets to a certain age — about 15 years old — the company must take a serious look at whether it is going to redecorate or take the refurbishments further.

In the case of Sunshine, the economics were improved by adding 182 more staterooms and increasing the number of entertainment and dining venues, which Cahill said increases onboard spending.

He acknowledged that Sunshine had a rough delivery, revealing that the company was “caught by surprise” with vandalism of air conditioning and plumbing systems, although he declined to name the vandals. However, on my July cruise, passengers clearly weren’t concerned about the ship’s history; they just enjoyed its offerings. Even with more guests onboard, Sunshine is a very cleverly arranged vessel.

“If you’re putting more people on a ship, you’d better know how to spread them out,” Cahill said.

Carnival achieved this balance with creative use of space and staff policies. Breakfast in the Lido is served from 6 a.m. to noon and, on my cruise, there was always seating available and very few lines at the food stations, primarily because there were breakfast and lunch options in 10 locations.

Seating was actually reduced in the Liquid Lounge, and its stage now extends into the audience, since Sunshine has so many other entertainment offerings that the crowds have sorted themselves out. After the last show, curtains enclose the side tiers of seats to create a nightclub. Other entertainment options include watching movies at the pool, dancing in several venues, singing in the piano bar, youth and teen facilities and catching a bite to eat here, there and everywhere.

It’s not so easy to find Destiny within Sunshine. In addition to creating an additional deck for its largest WaterWorks, Carnival moved public spaces and staterooms around, increasing capacity 14 percent, and also adding 14 percent more deck chairs, 19 percent more dining capacity and 25 percent more space for children. A 32 percent increase in bar seats and 58 percent more fitness equipment really serves to accommodate the larger numbers well.

Among features added to Sunshine are Carnival’s first three-deck-high Serenity adults-only retreat; a 270-square-foot LED screen poolside; SportSquare, with its ropes course, mini-golf, basketball court, jogging track and more; RedFrog Pub, featuring Carnival’s ThirstyFrog Red beer; Ji Ji Asian kitchen; Guy’s Burger Joint; Cucina del Capitano; BlueIguana Cantina, with excellent burritos from breakfast into the afternoon;  Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse; Shake Spot; The Punchliner Comedy Club presented by George Lopez; the quiet Library Bar; and live shows ranging from Playlist Productions to Hasbro, The Game Show.

A tip your clients will thank you for is recommending Ji Ji for its outstanding and remarkable value — only $12 for adults and $5 for children. Tell clients to make reservations as quickly as possible, and watch for this eatery to appear on other Carnival ships.

Sunshine will not return to Europe next year, responding to high air pricing that poses a challenge for the primarily American passengers. But Cahill did express hopes for a return in the next couple of years. In the meantime, Sunshine will sail a variety of Caribbean itineraries.