Carnival Cruise Line has had much to celebrate in 2016 with the launch of the 25th ship in its fleet, the Vista. We got an insider’s look at the brand new liner on one of its early voyages from Miami to check out the gizmos and gadgets that keep the ship afloat and the party going.
The Carnival Vista was built in Italy, and after its completion in March of this year, it’s made its way from Europe to New York and down to the Port of Miami, where it currently sets sail with a variety of destinations. Cruise date options range from four days to eight days with a price range of $349 to $849 on average per person (taxes, fees and port expenses not included). We joined the five-day, sold out cruise embarking from the Port of Miami and traveling to Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic and Grand Turk Island. The short trip was just long enough for us to test and enjoy every attraction aboard.
Although most features on the ship come with no additional charge to guests, some entertainment costs extra. Tickets for the IMAX theater are $12.95 for adults, specialty dining ranges from $5 to $35 per person, and internet plans range from $5 to $25 per day. As usual, alcohol and soda cost money unless you have a beverage package, starting from $49.95 per day for alcohol and $6.50 per day for soda for adults.
Carnival poured a lot of money into attractions on the Vista, and it shows. Builders and designers insisted on connecting guests to the sea with beautiful nautical and tropical themes throughout 1,967 staterooms. The Family Harbor and Havana staterooms are new, upscale options that buck the typically monotonous rooms we usually see throughout the cruise industry.
Havana staterooms are the first accommodations to sell out, as they are slightly larger than other rooms. These rooms have a tropical look and feel, with more natural light and their own pool area. These rooms are on decks five, six and seven, and only account for 67 of the 1,967 staterooms on the ship.
Even more attractive for larger groups and families are the New Family Harbor staterooms. With 92 nautical-themed staterooms, Family Harbor accommodations cater to two to five guests per room with some having up to two bathrooms. Family Harbor also caters to those guests who crave a bit of seclusion with exclusive indoor and outdoor lounges.
Our suite included a balcony, a pull-out sofa and plenty of room to stretch and relax. Although it didn’t have as much natural lighting as the Havana staterooms showcase, the room did have a great view at virtually any hour from our personal seats and outdoor space. Guests will feel little or no rocking throughout the night, as the cruise is relatively smooth sailing. Housekeeping staff maintain the rooms twice a day and are incredibly cheery, with small personal touches.
Carnival prides itself on being the ultimate party cruise line. The Vista lives up to the hype and the legacy with some brand new entertainment options. The most exciting for us was the addition of the first IMAX theater at sea. This stunning cinematic playground maintains the IMAX experience despite a challenging steel environment, providing the same IMAX sound and image quality you’d expect on land. Tickets cost $12.95 per adult and $9.95 per child, which is a steal compared to what IMAX tickets usually go for ($20 to $30 for 3D films). Carnival is also debuting blockbuster releases at the same time they arrive on land. The 178-seat theater is never crowded and every seat has a great view, so you won’t miss a thing.
Another first is SkyRide, an attraction that puts guests on pedal-powered gondolas suspended high above the ship on a monorail track. Carnival has two tracks up, so you can race with a partner or take a leisurely ride around to enjoy the views. SkyRide often has hour-long lines and some maintenance setbacks, but the ride itself is quite thrilling. While guests wait in lines, we recommend having a partner hold your place while you jump over to the beginners or advanced ropes obstacle course right across from the SkyRide.
For children and parents, Carnival maintains its family-friendly atmosphere with the WaterWorks Aqua Park. The water park includes the Kaleid-O-Slide, Carnival’s first inner-tube slide, and the Twister waterslide. On the non-wet side, Carnival rekindles its love of all things Dr. Seuss with Seuss at Sea. Seuss at Sea includes several interactive events and sites on the ship including Bookville, a library filled with beloved Dr. Seuss books, parades with characters and a Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast. We attended the Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast and they actually served green eggs and ham! Unfortunately, it didn’t quite look as appetizing as it did in the books. The breakfast still featured fun with characters, though.
With so many attractions to check out, some guests truly savor their cruise’s food and beverage options. Carnival Vista sought to step up the dining offerings across the ship at varying price points. Among those offerings are five specialty restaurants including Bonsai Sushi, a no-reservations necessary sushi stop with fresh menu items, JiJi Asian Kitchen, a family-style Asian cuisine experience, Cucina del Capitano, a family-style Italian feast, Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse, a full-service steakhouse with excellent wine pairings, and Chef’s Table, which has a seven course meal hosted by the head chef for a limited group of guests. Among our favorites were JiJi Asian Kitchen and Cucina del Capitano, as those restaurants provided the best value for the meal options and guests. Note that these specialty restaurants both require reservations (with the exception of Bonsai) and include an additional charge.
For less adventurous diners, the ship also has some traditional options like the Lido Restaurant, a buffet that serves comfort food and breakfast; Pizzeria del Capitano, fresh pizza made on demand; BlueIguana Cantina, open for breakfast burritos and lunch tacos; and Seafood Shack, a fried seafood lover’s dream that brings aboard fresh fish from ports that are visited. Note that the Seafood Shack does have some additional charges, but is not considered part of the specialty dining experiences. It’s a great value when compared to restaurants on land. Guy Fieri also has a delicious burger menu at Guy’s Burger Joint with no extra charge. However, his Guy’s Pig and Anchor BBQ Smokehouse does have a fee and is only available during at-sea days.
For guests looking for a perfect spot to hang out, drink and enjoy little bites, only a stop at the first North American ship brewery will satisfy. The RedFrog Pub and Brewery is by far one of the best additions to Carnival Vista. The pub brews three distinctly flavored beers on board, and is the first brewery to be located on a North American ship.
One issue guests may confront while at the no-fee dining areas are long lines. Carnival Vista is a new ship and often is fully booked. That means there are up to 4,000 guests with similar mealtime preferences, and it can get hectic. The first day on the ship, the lines were up to an hour long. Yes, an hour long for a burger. Scout out the shortest line and make sure you get enough food to last you until dinner.
When guests have thoroughly enjoyed all the entertainment and dining options offered on the ship, it’s time to discover a new culture and community. During our stay, Carnival Vista visited two ports: Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic and Grand Turk Island. We attended two shore excursions for $89.99 per adult, one for each port, and found both experiences to be startlingly different.
Our first stop, Amber Cove, had a lovely shopping district, but we had no time to browse or window shop since we had to get to our speedboat excursion to Paradise Island with lunch included. Guests were whisked away to an awaiting bus for this full-day adventure. What was not mentioned anywhere when booking this excursion is that guests are stuck on the bus for a full three hours of drive time to/from a very small village where rundown boats with tiny motors will take them to a small island for some snorkeling. The lunch offered was very basic with french fries, burger patties, hot dogs, etc., but there were tons of flies hanging about. A far cry from the beautiful description provided and less than enjoyable.
Our second stop, Grand Turk, was quite the opposite. The beaches at Grand Turk were very rocky, but free umbrellas and chairs were a welcomed perk. The catamaran sailaway, beach and snorkel excursion was by far the best experience. The crew on the catamaran was not only festive, but very focused on safety. They provided plenty of snacks and libations and walked guests through every step of snorkeling. An excellent value and break during the trip!
With all the enjoyment from food and beverage, entertainment and destinations, guests will need a way to show off every second through social media and other sites. For those who want to stay connected, Carnival Vista provides a range of satellite internet plans. For simple social media posts, we recommend the $5 per day plan as it will keep you connected and allow you to post photos and short videos. Note that no other sites will be accessible with this plan — a $25 per day plan is available for full internet usage. The plan is limited to one device per stateroom and cannot access Netflix, Hulu or other streaming sites. Reception can often be spotty, but is fairly consistent even during sea days.
Read on for the verdict…