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Carnival Cruise Line Wins Best Refurbished Ship

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Carnival Cruise Line was honored with a 2017 WAVE Award in the category of Best Refurbished Ship for Carnival Imagination as part of the TravelAge West WAVE (Western Agents’ Votes of Excellence) Awards held on June 15.

Last year, the vessel underwent an extensive renovation, which added a variety of new food and beverage concepts.  The new spaces were added during a three-week dry dock which took place in September 2016.  Additions include:

Guy’s Burger Joint. Photo by Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Lines

  • Guy’s Burger Joint – a complimentary poolside venue developed with Food Network personality Guy Fieri, serving hand-crafted burgers and fresh-cut fries amidst décor that celebrates the chef’s California roots and love of car culture
  • BlueIguana Cantina – a free poolside Mexican eatery where guests can enjoy authentic, freshly made burritos and tacos on homemade tortillas, as well as an elaborate toppings and salsa bar
  • Alchemy Bar – a “cocktail pharmacy” themed lounge where mixologists “prescribe” concoctions made from different ingredients with creative names like Forty is the New Twenty and The Restorative Basil Drop
  • BlueIguana Tequila Bar – a fun and festive outdoor bar with a laid-back Mexican-themed atmosphere and tequila-based frozen drinks and beers
  • Cherry on Top – the “sweetest spot onboard,” which celebrates simple indulgences with bins of bulk candy, fun gifts and novelties, custom apparel, and more

The new venues complement the ship’s array of onboard features, including a WaterWorks aqua park, the Serenity adults-only area, and the Seuss at Sea program in partnership with Dr. Seuss Enterprises.  Carnival Imagination operates year-round 3 and 4-day Baja cruises from Long Beach, California.

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Travel agents throughout the 15 western states and readers of TravelAge West were invited to vote from a list of Editor’s Pick award recipients.  Review methods included product analysis, on-site visits, a survey of a select group of travel agents, and online research.  TravelAge West will also feature Carnival in a special WAVE Awards Spotlight Issue which is out now.

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Carnival Cruise Line

Everything Carnival Horizon, Part 9: Sea Days

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Whether you think cruising is about the destination or the journey, when it comes to voyages on the Carnival Horizon, you’ll almost inevitably find yourself with a sea day or two to enjoy. If you’re on a port-intensive trip, you might be tempted to take this as an opportunity to kick back and relax on your balcony or catch up on our sleep, but they’re also the perfect time to really experience everything that this amazing ship has to offer.

Sea Day Brunch

Regular readers of Cruise Radio know that one of our favorite things about sea days on Carnival cruise ships is the amazing Sea Day Brunch. Held in the Meredian dining room, the complimentary brunch offers a wide variety of options, several of which you won’t find anywhere else on board.

READ MORE: 5 Reasons To Try Carnival’s Seaday Brunch

 

Another great reason to hit the brunch is to build up your energy.. all the better to enjoy the various activities going on all around the ship. At the main pool on the lido deck, things tend to get a bit loud (and, it’s worth noting, crowded… if you’re looking for a quieter poolside experience, we recommend heading to the aft-facing Tides pool). This is where, whether permitting, they’ll hold the Lip Sync Battle auditions. (A “Meet The Finalists” session, as well as the ultimate battle, will generally take place on the final day of your trip, in the Liquid Lounge.)

The Cat In The Hat and his pals have an entire water park to keep you entertained.

Want to hit the waterslides at the Dr. Seuss Waterworks? Your best bet on a sea day is to do it early in the morning or late in the afternoon. You’ll also find things like volleyball and basketball tournaments taking place in the SportsSquare complex, times for which will be listed in the Fun Times.

 

The Gathering You’ll Never Forget

Also taking place on a sea day is the Military Appreciation Gathering, usually held in the Liquid Lounge. This incredible, emotional event, held on all Carnival ships across the fleet, is designed to pay tribute to active and retired military personal and their families. It’s a nice reminder that the people who sacrifice so much — whether by serving time in the various military branches or allowing their loved ones to do so — in order to keep us safe aren’t random, faceless strangers. Find out, via the Fun Times, when the gathering is being held and attend. You’ll walk away glad that you did.

Another sea day happening that many people never experience is the Towel Animal invasion. Wake up early for a walk around the ship, and you just might discover that the pool deck has been taken over by those same adorable creatures who usually can be found sneaking into our staterooms (with the help of a cabin steward).

This guy and a whole lot of his friends take over the lido deck while guests are still sleeping!

And while you won’t see the Towel Animal Invasion listed in the Fun Times, you will be able to find out when you can attend a fun session during which you’ll learn to make some of the critters. Imagine how fun it’ll be the next time you have visitors and can leave an elephant made of your guest towels for them to discover?

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Speaking of fluffy, friendly critters, there’s usually a Build A Bear Workshop offered at Camp Ocean on sea days. The final product makes a great souvenir, although parents should be aware that there’s a fee associated with the activity. Kids (and their parental units) will also enjoy taking part in the Dr. Seuss parade through Ocean Plaza, which is then followed by the Seuss-A-Palooza storytime.

Elsewhere Around The Ship…

Fully aware that they have a ship filled to the brim with passengers who have nowhere to go and time to kill, the Fun Shops often have big sales going on and the casino ramps up the activities designed to draw you in. (“Come for the Slots Tournament, stay to spend more money!”) Want to take in a movie (especially if it happens to be a particularly gloomy day? You’ll usually find special daytime features being run in the Imax theater.

If you were unable to get a dinner reservation at one of the specialty restaurants on board, it’s always worth checking to see if you can score a lunchtime table on a sea day. Even Bonsai Teppanyaki, the current hottest ticket, will occasionally have a sea day opening.

One of the things we love about Bonsai Sushi on the Carnival Horizon is that you can eat outside!

If you’re either not traveling with kids or taking a break from them on the Serenity deck, make sure to check out the complimentary Fresh Creations salad bar that’s set up on sea days. It’s a great place to grab a light, healthy salad. You can choose from Our Way selections like Serenity Now (Boston lettuce, hopped tomatoes with cilantro, toasted coconut, watermelon, ice berg, steamed shrimp and Fresh Creations dressing) or Romaine Calm (Sliced romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh mint, toasted chickpeas, chili, cilantro, pita chips and a Moroccan vinaigrette) or Your Way, where you chose from a variety of vegetables, fruits, proteins and toppings.

Fresh Creations allows you to have a light, healthy salad without having to leave the comfort of the Serenity deck.

Obviously, sea days offer a whole lot of options. and truth be told, we’ve only just scratched the surface! But at this point, we’re just stalling… because next up is the final entry in our 10-part series, and it’s all about saying farewell to not only your vacation but the Carnival Horizon. So when you’re ready, we’ll tackle that toughest of moments, disembarkation!

 

 

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Everything Carnival Horizon, Part 8: The Casino

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If you thought we were going to explore the Carnival Horizon and not spend some time talking about the casino, you don’t know us very well! Even if we weren’t big fans of casinos in general, we’d still wind up spending time in this one because it’s really quite striking. That’s thanks in no small part to the Dreamscape funnel found at the central bar. It may not be as big as the one which serves as the central point of the atrium, but it’s just as beautiful.

The Dreamscape in the casino probably can’t make you feel better about losing, but it’ll give you something pretty to look at!

We’ve spoken quite a bit about these funnel-shaped screens ever since they first were introduced on the Horizon‘s sister ship, the Vista, and it’s with good reason. Their unique ability to change the entire feel of the space they occupy is stunning. You know how whenever something new is rolled out, there’s always a group of people who say, “Eh, it’s okay but, to quote Shania Twain, that don’t impress me much.” We have yet to meet anyone who has had a negative thing to say about these babies.

The Casino Basics

If you’ve been in a cruise ship casino, you know basically what to expect. There’s a wide variety of slot machines and table games, there’s a smoking section (much to the chagrin of some) and a non-smoking section (not enclosed, much to the chagrin of others). During peak times, the bartenders can seem a little overwhelmed, but that happens at any hot spot around the ship from time to time.

So instead of dwelling on the general, let’s drill down on some of the specifics about this casino in particular. First off, for those who’ve become addicted to the Lock It Links Diamond slot machine that seems to be all the rage of late, yes, they have some. And yes, they are crazy popular, so your best bet for slipping into the seat in front of one is to either hit the casino during slow times or keep an eagle eye on them. When a seat opens up, it’s filled pretty quickly.

 

How nice would it be to walk away with the Grand Jackpot of $13,000?

As far as these machines go, the ship has both the Diamonds version and the Night Life version (the biggest difference between them being the way the bonus round is triggered). There are also a wide variety of popular machines like the Quick Hits, 88 Fortunes and (shout it as if Vanna White’s life were depending on it… ) Wheel! Of! Fortune!

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Compared to some other lines, the table game minimums were on the low side, with most starting at $5. Even the high roller tables weren’t outrageous, running around $25 on busy nights, but coming down to $10 during slower times. And yes, there were several tables designated as non-smoking.

There are plenty of table games available at various denominations.

So let’s address the elephant in the room… or the cloud of smoke hanging in the air, as it were. One of the things that comes up time and again when people discuss cruise ship casinos is how bad the smoke is, and whether it permeates areas outside the casino itself. (This has been a particular problem on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Breakaway class ships, where the casino is located in the middle of the entertainment complex and smoke tends to be fairly pervasive. It’s one of the reasons that on their newest ship, the Norwegian Bliss, the smoking area is enclosed.) Whether it’s because this is a brand new ship or the air filtration system works great, the smoke didn’t seem terribly heavy within the casino. And at least during the inaugural cruise, the smell didn’t tend to carry too far behind the entrance and exit points of the casino.

Games People Play

The casino also has two types of games that are wildly popular on cruise ships, although some never quite understand the attraction. The first is the sweeper-type into which you drop coins in an attempt to line them up in such a way that a constantly-moving sweeper will push piles of them into your tray (as well as other prizes). And the other, pictured below, are the…

… adult versions of carnival games. One involves dropping a claw down for a chance to grab at some cash, while another challenges players to line up a key and a lock in order to claim a prize, including iPads and cash. Seems simple, right? So many a person has thought… usually wrongly!

Special Events & Competitions

One thing you want to do is keep an eye on the Fun Times, which will usually have a special “Casino” section listing various offers and events going on each night (and, during sea days, often during the day as well). Among some recent events were the Big Loot Draw (every 100 points earned in the casino got players an automatic entry into a raffle for Casino Cash), Hot Seat promotions (in which random people won prizes), and Hi-Low, in which selected contestants competed against a deck of cards for prizes ala the old game show Card Sharks. This was in addition to tournaments for slots, poker and Texas Hold ‘Em players.

There are only two entries left before our time together comes to a close. But there’s still so much more to talk about! Up next? Some of the many, many ways you can spend your sea days aboard the Carnival Horizon!

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Everything Carnival Horizon, Part 7: Adult Stuff

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Since we figured out ways to keep the kids entertained in our last entry, it seems as if we’ve earned a little adult’s-only relaxation, right? So let’s wander around the Carnival Horizon and take in some of the various venues that offer grown-ups an opportunity to rest, relax and have some fun of their own.

A Little Piece Of Heaven

In our minds, there’s really only one place to start when it comes to adult’s-only areas, and that’s the Serenity Deck. Step away from the madness and chaos of the pool area and head up to this ship-topping oasis where no one under the age of 21 is allowed, and that rule is pretty well enforced.

There are an awful lot of comfy spaces to be found on the kid-free Serenity deck.

As a result, the Serenity area is exactly what you both want and expect it to be, completely with a bar, tons of comfy seating (including hammocks and daybeds perfect for cuddling) and, on sea days, a salad bar. There’s also, of course, a full bar of the non-salad variety which offers a variety of specialty cocktails, wines and other adult libations.

What’s an adult’s-only zone without a menu offering specialty cocktails, like this one from the Serenity deck.

Another spot that pretty much screams “relaxation” is, of course, the Cloud 9 Spa. Be sure to swing by on the first day and take the tour, because it usually involves a raffle for some type of spa package. Yes, as on every cruise ship, you’ll probably wind up getting a hard-sell at some point, but we’ve found that if you’re up front with a polite but firm “Not interested,” they respectfully dial it back. Planning to spend a fair amount of time at the spa? Consider booking one of the Cloud 9 Spa staterooms, which give you access to the thermal suites, priority booking of treatments and a host of other perks.

What better way to bond with your significant other than by getting a couple’s massage? Photo courtesy of Andy Newman, Carnival Cruise Line

You can also purchase a week-long pass to the thermal spa, which includes dry heat chambers, a variety of steam chambers (including one called an “aromatic grotto”), a large whirlpool and two “experience showers” which help sooth you by combining the soothing waters with special aromas. And remember to check Carnival’s website under My Cruise Manager before you sail to see if by booking treatments in advance, you can save a little money!

After Dark, the Real fun Starts!

There are all kinds of fun activities scheduled throughout the day that are perfect for families… but it’s after dark, when the kiddies are tucked away and (hopefully) asleep, that the Carnival Horizon really comes alive. We spoke about some of our favorite bars and hot spots earlier, so you already know to grab pre- or post-dinner cocktails at the Alchemy Bar, and that you can dance the night away at the Havana club.

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Let the bartenders at the Alchemy Bar whip you up a cocktail that will have you ready to tackle the evening!

But if you wanna just kick back and relax for a while before things rev into high gear, why not head to the Punchliner’s Comedy Club, which on most nights offers an 18-and-over show later in the evening. Don’t bring the kids, and leave your prudish Aunt Gertrude in the stateroom because things can get a little raunchy during these shows!

Speaking of activities Aunt Gertrude probably isn’t going to want to take part in (unless you think maybe it’ll help her loosen up), there’s the infamous Quest Game Show. Think of it as a very, very adult scavenger hunt… and more fun than should probably be legal. Heck, maybe that’s why it only takes place at sea… because international maritime laws are looser! Keep your eyes on the Fun Times, because this is one game you definitely do not want to miss!

Shop ‘Til You Drop

As you know, your Sign & Sail card basically acts like a credit card while you’re on the ship… and as fate would have it, there happen to be some pretty nice shops on board! (It’s as if someone at Carnival thought, “You know, we’ve got them here… and they’ve had a few drinks… “) Maybe after having some luck in the casino (which we’ll talk about soon!), you want to buy something a little special, making Front Street Jewelers a great place to stop. And maybe in order to get lucky in a completely different way, you want to pick up something from Victoria’s Secret! Of course, the Carnival Store sells… you guessed it, lots of Carnival branded items (including those awesome miniature ships which would look so good somewhere in your house, right?)

Carnival Horizon has added new shops to the promenade, including the Wearable Tech store.

Of all the shops on board — and there’s some great, high-end stuff available — perhaps our favorite is the Wearable Tech store, specializing in a variety of fitness-tracking watches (and a staff who knows how to help you get started), perfect for those who need a little help making sure that they take enough steps each day to work off at least some of what they’re eating at the endless restaurants!

Smile For The Camera!

While people love posing with their families for the photographers found around the ship, why not book a special Dreams Studio photo shoot? Whether for you and your significant other or a group of friends traveling together, this is a fun way to commemorate the trip. And what the heck, after getting some pics snapped of just the adults, let the kids in for some shots. It is their vacation too, after all. At the end of the day, could there be a more perfect souvenir of your vacation than gorgeous photographs that will capture it forever?

Finally, how’s this for an amazing way to cap off your vacation: A vow-renewal ceremony with the captain himself presiding. Check the Fun Times newsletter for more on whether this is available on your sailing, and how to set it up, or contact Carnival in advance to make preparations for a day neither of you will ever forget!

Next up? If baby needs a new pair of shoes, we’re heading for the right place… the casino!

 

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