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Carnival Vista Trip Report: Day 2

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What’s not to love about a sea day, right? I mean, one of the reasons we cruise is to enjoy being on the ocean. If we just wanted to go to the Caribbean, there are quicker and easier ways than jumping on a cruise ship. But right now, I’m on the Carnival Vista making my way to Grand Turk, and there’s no place I’d rather be.

This particular eight-night Caribbean sailing has three sea days on the itinerary. If you’ve read my trip reports in the past, you know that means: Sea Day Brunch in the main dining room. Three of them, to be exact. Today, I went with my standards: Flamin’ tomato soup and an egg white spinach omelette. (To be honest, I have no idea how I had any room after last night’s incredible meal at the steakhouse. But never fear, I found a way!) The service was a little sluggish, although that might have to do with the fact that we hit brunch during the busiest time.

Speaking of the steakhouse, a reader recently asked if the $35 per person charge includes the gratuity. I’ll be honest and admit I wasn’t sure. But it turns out that the fee does include tip. That said, the bill has an “added gratuity” line, and I usually leave extra. What can I say… I appreciate good service.

Flying High on the Carnival Vista

Immediately after brunch, we ran back to the stateroom to grab our sneakers so we could hit the SkyRide when it opened at 11 a.m. The SkyRide is a first-of-its-kind elevated track with suspended vehicles that you pedal like you would a bicycle. In fact, the whole thing sort of looks like a suspended recumbent bike… but is way, way more fun. (As an added bonus, there are two tracks, allowing you to race a friend.) You can pick up quite a bit of speed, and there’s a hand brake with which to slow yourself down if you get nervous. (And yes, they strap you in very, very well!)

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Although there was a posted 30-minute wait time, it was actually much less than that. It helps that there are two sets of vehicles, so even with the time taken to strap you in, things move along pretty quickly. By the time we’d pedaled our way around the track, we’d worked up an appetite, so we headed for the RedFrog Pub. It’s actually been ages since I grabbed lunch at the pub, but one thing hasn’t changed: The price, which can’t be beat at $3.33 per item. I went with the Caribbean jerk chicken wings, grouper fingers and beef sliders.
Since this was clearly going to be an “eating” day, our next stop was Cherry On Top. A while back, they started serving homemade ice cream sandwiches at the Carnival Vista branch of the franchise. For $3.00, you get to pick your cookie, ice cream and topping. I went with an M&M cookie, cake batter ice cream and miniature peanut butter cups. (I’m sure that loop around the SkyRide worked off enough calories to account for this treat… right?)

Ironically, the only thing missing was a cherry on top!

Another Day In Paradise

Weather-wise, you couldn’t have asked for a more perfect sea day, so the lido deck was packed with sun worshippers getting their tan on. Around 2 p.m., we found a couple chairs on the upper level of the Lido and chillaxed there for a while before heading to Serenity. Given that there were about 1,200 kids on this particular Carnival Vista sailing, Serenity — the amazing adults only zone — was exactly where I wanted to be. Snagging one of the very comfy clamshells that can be found there, we wound up chilling until sunset, then slipped into the hot tub when everyone else left to get ready for dinner. Trust me: The best time to hit Serenity is in the late afternoon. From that point on, you basically have the run of the place. Any earlier, and the hot spot can be pretty crowded, with a whole lot of kid-avoiding adults jockeying for the best places to relax.

You’ve heard of a room with a view? This is a lounger with a view.

Did Someone Say “Lobster?”

Apparently, I’d signed up for Your Time Dining, which I definitely didn’t want. While I don’t necessarily want to follow a schedule as a general vacation rule, I do like the routine of a set dinner time. Fortunately, they were able to squeeze us into the 8:15 p.m. seating in the main dining room.  We wound up seated next to a couple from out West who had all kinds of great stories. It’s always fun when you wind up crossing paths with fellow passengers who love cruising as much as you do. Sometimes, the friendships you form last a couple hours, sometimes a lifetime.
It was formal night and, as is customary on Carnival ships when the itinerary is five nights or longer, they had lobster on the menu. Now I know there are some people who practically hyperventilate at the thought of lobster (and love nothing more than to whine about the lack of it), but that’s never really been me. Don’t get me wrong… I love a good lobster, it’s just not something I get super amped up about. That said, I hadn’t had it in a while so I wound up ordering the lobster, prime rib, shrimp cocktail and creme brûlée.

If it’s formal night, it must mean lobster!

The original plan was to hit a show after dinner, but for those keeping track, we’d been eating pretty much non-stop. So it’s not going to surprise anyone that I was feeling fat and happy and, as a result, wanted nothing more than to curl up in bed and let the ship rock me to sleep. You know what they say about the best laid plans…
Tomorrow we’ll be visiting Grand Turk, which should mean more fun in the sun. Until then…
Goodnight.
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Carnival Vista Trip Report Day 8: Heading to Miami

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Waking up today I was a little bit upset, and it didn’t have to do with the cruise itself, but because this is the last day at sea and this time tomorrow I’ll be back on land. However, that didn’t stop me from making the most out of my last Fun Day at Sea. I ordered room service this morning and got a pot of coffee to enjoy on the balcony. We really haven’t had a meal out there all cruise so at least I could enjoy some coffee. The balcony has plenty of space to eat and today we actually ate twice on there. More on that later.

Before my last sea day brunch I went around the ship and took some pictures with my real camera and not my iPhone. It gave a good perspective on how the ship handles itself on sea days.

The last Sea Day Brunch included Fruit Loops crusted French toast and a sea salted chocolate cookie. Both were equally awesome. I’m not a big chocolate fan but anything that has sea salt in it grabs my attention. The service was decent in the main dining room for brunch. Again, we went around 10 a.m., so it was peak time when people were just starting to wake up and get in there.

Since we’re going to be returning to the cold weather tomorrow, we need to take advantage one last day of warm Caribbean sunshine and hop on the slides. They have two waterslides on Carnival Vista, the Kaleidoscope and Twister waterslide. The Kaleidoscope slide you grab a raft and take it to the top of sit down in. It’s really psychedelic with all the colors zipping by you. Twister slide is the long yellow slide that you zip down. I always gave myself a head start on that slide and wound up using most of the runway when it came to shooting out the end of the slide. With 1200 kids on the sailing, the lines for the slides weren’t that bad. There was maybe a 15 minute wait for both slides.

We got on the slides just in the knick of time because shortly after we went back to the cabin the sun went behind the clouds and the wind started.

Like Cucina del Capitano, JiJi’s Asian Kitchen also offers a complimentary Mongolian Wok lunch with table service. Although, not nearly as organized as the Italian place. Today they were opened from noon to 2:30, and we must’ve just beat the crowds because we were sat as soon as we approached the hostess stand, but when we were leaving there was a 30-minute wait to be seated. The venue felt a little too crowded to me. I’d compare it to Cheesecake Factory or a restaruant in NYC where you’re sitting on top of someone. It was a little too close to me so when we got the food we took it to the stateroom and had it on the balcony. They offered chicken, beef, pork, calamari, or mussels and clams for the meat and about a dozen different vegetables to mix it.

There was a Q&A session with Matt the cruise director this afternoon so we went to that. Since Matt was hosting it, it was surely to be entertaining. People were asking a lot of questions about his background, what life is like below deck, and a lot of the things people thought could be changed on Carnival Vista. Most of the comments about changes came to the layout of the Liquid Lounge.

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READ MORE: Deck Plans for Carnival Vista

The past couple days they’ve been building a gingerbread house on deck five outside of the Library Bar and it’s been really awesome watching it come to life. It started with a big white cutting board and by tonight it was a full blown gingerbread village. One of the Steakhouse Chefs were there taking photos of it with a professional camera and I started talking to him about how much chocolate they used to build the village, he said 300 pounds were used in this one display and that it takes teamwork to build them. For what I understood, different ships build different parts of the display for each other. So a chef will put in extra hours designing a certain section of the building, when they are in port with another ship, they will bring a section of the display to the other ship. So the Carnival Vista display pieces have been built across multiple ships. Pretty cool concept.

Today at Cherry on Top the store had their ice cream cookie sandwiches on sale for $2 (normally $3). So I went to get one last one. This time I went with a sugar cookie, vanilla bean ice-cream, and heath bar topping. I almost went back to get a second one but the reality of dinner being two hours away set in. You have an option to tip the cafe worker making your ice cream cookie, I usually tipped a $1 just because everything is made to order and nothing is prepared in advance.

Before dinner they did Lip Sync Battle with two guests that competed earlier in the cruise. If you’ve ever seen the show on Spike TV, you know it’s people lipping the words to songs that are chosen for them. Matt hosted it with a sidekick and it was entertaining. We sat in the balcony off to the very side and it wasn’t

Turns out the couple sitting next to us at dinner had opposite specialty dining nights as us. So when we were in the main dining room they were doing specialty and vice versa. We also realized that we were on the same excursion in Aruba a couple days ago and they were equally as fascinated about the ship wreck as I was.

Tonight’s dinner was shrimp cocktail, pork chop with baked potato, and Baked Alaska. This is one of the first sailings that Carnival has rolled out Baked Alaska on wowzers, it was awesome! They did the whole song and dance where they were parade around the main dining room with the dessert on fire and then served it to each table. They get an A+ for presentation and taste. It was so good the guy sitting next to me ordered a second and then proceeded to tell me that he needed to work out when he got back home. I love how people use that excuse when they eat a lot. Own the fact that you love to eat, I do!

We popped down to the Havana Retreat before returning to the stateroom for the night. The retreat is exclusively for Havana Suite guests during the day time and then after 7 p.m. it opens to the general public. For some reason people think it’s still private at night because no one goes back there to use the pools or loungers. Obviously it’s way more popular during daylight hours but the rest and relaxation back there is also nice.

Walking back to the cabin it was the sad sight of seeing all the luggage in the hallways waiting to be collected for disembarkation. We are doing self-assist debarkation so we’re going to carry all our bags off the ship with us.

Alright, the bags are packed and it’s midnight. The next time I look outside this window it’ll be Port Miami.

Until then, goodnight.

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Carnival Vista Trip Report: Day 7 at Sea

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Today is the first of two sea days as the Carnival Vista makes her way back to Port Miami. I went to upload a picture to Instagram this morning and noticed that most of the southeast was covered in snow. Even the Panhandle of Florida got a little bit of snow. Pretty wild… and something I’m not going to think about until I absolutely have to.

While we did go to the Sea Day Brunch this morning I was careful not to go overboard. Not because I was thinking about my diet (which has pretty much derailed on this cruise!), but in anticipation of this being a big eating day. With that in mind, I stuck with salmon on a bagel and a cup of coffee.

So far the Sea Day Brunch has been really solid. The service was a little slow in the main dining room, but I’m going to give them a pass on that because despite my best intentions, we keep arriving right at the busiest time. The brunch is open from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., and it seems like the vast majority of passengers go right around 11:30 a.m., which makes sense. You can sleep in after the night before’s festivities, but still get a great meal. And while I’m no expert, isn’t brunch supposed to be eaten later than you would normally have breakfast?

At 11:30 a.m., the ropes course and SkyRide open. We did the SkyRide a couple days ago, but really wanted to do it again because the weather was amazing and the idea of pedaling through the cloudless sky on such a perfect day was too good to pass up. The SkyRide had a posted wait time of 30 minutes, but we were to the front of the line and getting harnessed up within 20.  They make you wear closed-toed shoes and a shirt while on the SkyRide, so don’t show up in sandals and thinking you’re going to work on your tan. Despite these rules being very clearly posted, people still get to the front of the line and are surprised when they are turned away. Not sure if they have vacation brain or think the rules won’t apply to them, but in either case… avoid being them.

The ropes course was fun, and it’s always a blast watching first timers making their way through it. I can zip across the course like a spider monkey, but some folks get up there and completely freeze up. They don’t exactly have a truck with a cherry picker bucket that can come rescue you, so make sure you’re ready to commit before you head up there!

Once you slip on the harness, you pick a course and begin making your way around the various obstacles. It’s definitely not for everyone… especially those with a fear of heights. On the one hand, you’re not really that far above the lido deck. But you also happen to be atop a 15-story ship! Depending on your comfort level, it can take anywhere from 5 to 25 minutes to complete the whole course. I don’t wanna brag or anything, but… I’m totally in the five-minute club.

Next up? The Very Hairy Chest Contest, which is always a blast, if only because it proves — every single time, without fail — that middle-aged white men really have no moves. But all six guys were great sports, and the crowd was loving it. We’re talking hundreds of people, lined up on the pool deck and watching from the railings above, cheering the guys on.

I stayed for about half of the show, but all I could think about was food. (I told you this was going to be an eating day!) So while seemingly half the ship was judging the shirtless, hairy guys, we slipped up to Cucina del Capitano. Although it’s a for-fee specialty restaurant at night, they offer a complimentary pasta lunch.

Interestingly, the way they do lunch on board the Vista is different than the way it’s handled on Carnival Sunshine. On that ship,  you filled out an order slip, handed it to a hostess and grabbed a pager. When your order was ready, they paged you to come get it. On Vista, you take a seat, they have drink service, you fill out the order form and give it to a server. About 10 minutes later, the food is brought to you. The servings are huge, and it’s not just pasta. You can also order Caesar salad or lasagna. If you’re not all that hungry, consider asking for a half-serving. That’s what I did, and I still walked away stuffed.

READ MORE: Review of Lunch Experience at Cucina

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After lunch we had to drop by the chocolate buffet for a photo opportunity. I’d love to say that I didn’t actually indulge but, well, that would be a lie.

I’ve made mention of Carnival’s Military Appreciation event in past trip reports, but it’s worth shining a spotlight on again. The military event — which always packs whatever venue it’s held in — is designed to allow everyone to show their gratitude for the men and women who served in not only the United States armed forces, but for any military operation worldwide. It’s an incredibly emotional experience, and it is held on every Carnival sailing. Hearing vets telling stories dating all the way back to the Korean War gave me goosebumps. One high ranking officer in the Air Force told us about special combat missions they conducted and the living hell they went through over there. We all know the big battles that they make movies about, but there are so many smaller battles fought by everyday heroes who we will never know. And here, during this special event, we get to hear their stories and show our appreciation. Hats off to Carnival Cruise Line for doing this. I make it a point to go every single time I’m on a Carnival ship, knowing I’m going to be both humbled by and an emotional wreck after the event.

Which brings us up to my next regularly scheduled feeding. Tonight was formal night in the main dining room. Since lobster was served during the first formal night on Carnival Vista, this time was jumbo shrimp, crab cakes and prime rib. Despite those being things I absolutely love, I decided to go with clam chowder and salmon. So that’s at least a little less work I’ll have to do to get my diet back on track when we get back home.

I love people watching on formal nights because you can tell a lot of the husbands don’t want to dress up. And sure enough, the guys (present company included) who are looking spiffy at 8 p.m. have run back to the cabin and are wearing shorts and flip-flops by the time they hit the theater two hours later for the evening’s entertainment. Meantime, I met some lovely ladies from West Virginia enjoying a pre-dinner cocktail at the Alchemy Bar. They said they were hunters who, back home, never have the opportunity to dress up, so they were loving formal night! They looked stunning and were having a blast, and isn’t that what vacation is all about?

The Playlist Production show tonight was called America Rocks and, while it was entertaining, the poles in the main theater got in my way… proving that I really I should practice what I preach about getting their early to avoid exactly this problem! The performers took us through several decades worth of music with the help of a live rock band and some pretty cool special effects. Being a huge fan of live music, I have a great appreciation for special effects 0n stage, but also appreciate solid vocals, which were lacking. Then again, who am I to judge? It’s not like I could get up there and do that. Heck, I won’t even do karaoke.

The end of the day left me with a pretty big decision to make about tomorrow’s final sea day: Should I order room service in the morning, or hit the main dining room? Then I remembered that I’m on vacation and decided… I’ll do both.

Until breakfast… good night.

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Carnival Vista Trip Report Day 6: Aruba

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Over the years, I’ve gone on a lot of cruises and done a lot of shore excursions. So when I say that today’s excursion was one of the coolest I’ve ever experienced, trust me… that’s really saying something. But before we get there, let’s back up a bit, because from the moment Carnival Vista arrived in Aruba, this was a special day.

We docked in Aruba around 7:45 a.m., and had to meet the shore excursion team dockside at 9 a.m., so that didn’t leave a whole lotta time. But you know I wasn’t about to skip breakfast, especially since it meant an opportunity to try the special port-day breakfast menu Carnival now offers. It’s specifically designed for days like this, when you want a sit-down meal to power you up for the day, but need it to be quick so you can get where you’ve got to go.

I freely admit that when it comes to breakfast, I’m a guy with pretty simple taste. So the port-day menu is a little too fancy for me. But I found something earlier in this week that I really liked, and I stuck with it this today: The cracked egg sandwich comes with a side of bacon and hash browns, and it’s pretty tasty. After breakfast, I ran back to the stateroom to grab some sunscreen, then headed for debarkation. Since people had started getting off the ship an hour earlier, the usual mad dash to disembark was over, and we had an easy time walking off.

You may not be aware of this, but I don’t just love cruising… I’m also really fascinated by the history of all things ship-related. So when we pulled into port, it was cool to research the ship docked next us called the Freewinds. Long story short, it’s operated by the church of Scientology and, launched in 1968.  Seeing the Carnival Vista (which weighs in at around 133,000 tons) and the Freewinds (at a mere 10,000 tons) together was an amazing visual reminder of just how far cruising has come over the past five decades.

So back to that excursion I started raving about at the beginning of this entry. What were we doing? Taking a catamaran out into the waters so we could snorkel and/or scuba dive. After boarding the catamaran, we took off for a 45-minute trip to the first stop, where we spent 30 minutes in the water getting up-close and personal with some smallish coral patches and a lot of fish. We then got back on board the boat and headed out to a second site, where we could explore a ship called the Antilla which sank in 60 feet of water during World War II.

Put simply, this was absolutely breathtaking. The history of the wreck itself only added to the experience. The Antilla, having been built in 1939, was sank in 1940 when her captain decided it was better to sabotage the ship (by essentially blowing her boilers) rather than allowing her to be captured by the enemy. Miraculously, there were no fatalities as the captain and his crew were able to row safely to shore.

And now, here we were, diving down to explore the remains of the ship alongside the hundreds of sea creatures who now called it home. Like I said before, I’ve been on a lot of excursions while cruising the Caribbean, but this was indescribably incredible. The excursion I did is the Sailaway Snorkel and Beach Cruise.

On the trip back to the pier, we stopped at a tiki-style bar and grabbed some BBQ. Plus, the catamaran had an open-bar during the return trip. Yeah, best excursion ever.

When I was on the Carnival Vista‘s inaugural voyage last spring, I wound up eating 12 lobster rolls from the Seafood Shack. Not wanting history to repeat itself, I’ve been avoiding the Seafood Shack this entire cruise, only allowing myself one lobster roll. I started to wonder if maybe I have a lobster roll issue, or even an obsession, so I asked a couple folks around me what they thought about the Seafood Shack. If I do have a problem, there are those who have it worse: One woman admitted to me that she loves it so much, she ordered two pounds of the crab legs at a cost of $40. So in retrospect, my $12 lobster roll (with fries!) isn’t so bad.

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READ MORE: Review of Carnival’s Seafood Shack

We caught one of the Playlist Production shows called Flick before dinner. Flick features a lot of show tunes and some cool effects, and it all seems to be taking place during the Golden Age of the motion picture industry. If we’re going to be honest with each other — and we’ve come this far together, right? — I had no clue what it was about. But it was an entertaining way to pass some time before dinner.

I mentioned this yesterday, but it bears repeating: If you’re going to see a show in the Liquid Lounge — aka the main show theater — make sure to get there early. For a space in which a lot of the entertainment takes place, the sight-lines are awful. If you don’t arrive early and find a good seat, there’s a great chance at least part of your view is going to be blocked by a pole. There was a running joke during the entire week suggesting that some of the passengers were going to meet in the theater during the dead of night, seek out some tools and renovate the space.

How did the Carnival Vista wind up with this problem? The theater was designed to serve dual functions by hosting shows and, as the night went on, morph into a nightclub. But the late night noise from the nightclub generated a lot of complaints from guests staying in cabins on deck 6 forward, so the Limelight Lounge (on deck four aft) wound up being used as a night club.

Before dinner, we stopped by the Alchemy Bar for a Cucumber Sunrise. Alchemy Bar’s drinks are unique and pack a real punch, and it’s the perfect place to stop for a pre-dinner cocktail. (Two or three, however, and you might wind up under the table as opposed to eating at one!) We were eating in the main dining room tonight and, having had my lobster roll earlier, I wasn’t all that hungry.

We’ve only seen the people seated at the table next to us once during the entire cruise. I assume either they’re doing specialty restaurants most nights, or they really didn’t like our conversation that first night and have been avoiding us ever since. (I’m kidding… I think/hope!)

In talking to people over the course of the week, I’ve heard a few people complaining that service during Anytime Dining in the Horizon Dining Room has been on the slow side. Here in the Reflection Dining Room, the servers have been great.

As you’ve probably noticed, I haven’t been much of a nightowl on this cruise. But tonight was the 80s party, and I wanted to hit that. For one thing, 80s parties tend to be a lot of fun. But I also wanted to attend because it was being hosted by Matt, and as I’ve mentioned already this week, he’s by far the best cruise director I’ve ever sailed with. His energy is contagious… and it was definitely needed tonight.

Why do I say that? Well, cruises that run longer than a week tend to attract an older demographic, and this one is an 8-night sailing. And while music from the 80s is popular with just about everyone in general, including those older folks, the fact that the party didn’t start until 11 p.m. definitely cuts down on the number of attendees. (Not that I should talk, given that I’ve been in bed by around 9 p.m. most nights!) But thanks to Matt, the music was pumping, the crowd was dancing and a good time was had by all.

Aruba was the last of the ports we’ll be visiting on this sailing, and I’m sort of glad that the excursion was so incredible. Nothing like ending on a high note, right? Not that the cruise is over, as we still have two sea days ahead of us before we get back to Miami. I intend to enjoy them and soak up the sun, because I hear that there’s some chilly weather back home right now. Which just goes to prove what I always say: Life is better at sea.

Until tomorrow… goodnight.

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