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BEFORE YOU GO

Half Moon Cay Bahamas Review

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It’s only appropriate that Carnival, which bills its fleet as the Fun Ships, has as its private island destination Half Moon Cay, which definitely qualifies as a Fun Island. Half Moon Cay (technically Little San Salvador Island) was purchased by Holland America Line in 1996, and for some time was exclusively used by that brand. Shortly after development, Carnival Cruise Line started calling there and the secret was out… Half Moon Cay became one of most popular stops the line sails to.

Where Is Half Moon Cay Located?

Half Moon Cay

Located about 100 miles southeast of Nassau, the island sprawls out over 2,400 acres, although only about 50 of those have actually been developed for guest and crew usage. Although many  cruisers assume that all of the private islands owned by the various islands are located near one another, this isn’t actually true. While Norwegian’s Great Stirrup Cay is right across the water from Royal Caribbean’s Coco Cay (you can actually see one from the other) Half Moon Cay is pretty far from either of them (or Disney’s Castaway Cay, for that matter).

Getting to Half Moon Cay

Half Moon Cay

Because of the shallow water surrounding the island (and the accompanying reef system) there is no pier at Half Moon Cay which means boats anchor off shore and visitors arrive via tender boats. It’s about a 15 minute trip from the ship to the dock, and it’s a great opportunity to get fantastic shots of the ship you’re sailing on from out in the middle of the ocean. (If there’s a downside to tendering, it’s that rough seas often mean that ships have to skip the trip to paradise because transferring passengers from the big ship to the smaller vessel is simply too dangerous.)  The tender boats are two levels and hold around 150 guests.

TIP: Make sure to bring a towel when leaving the ship.

When the boats arrive at the island, there’s usually a mad-dash as passengers scramble to get off. But trust us: The beach isn’t going anywhere. Let the masses make their way off the ship while you relax and take in the view, then saunter off and prepare to enjoy your day in paradise.

First Impressions

Half Moon Cay

The only decision you have to make when you arrive on the island is in which direction you want to wander. Walk off the tender and turn left, it will take you to the main attraction: a gorgeous beach right out of a postcard. Want to shop or maybe rent a locker in which to store things while you explore? Walk straight ahead to the main square, where you will also find restrooms and a changing area.

Read More: 15 Tips for Half Moon Cay

The Beach

Half Moon Cay

The horseshoe-shaped beach is hands-down one of my favorite spots in the Caribbean. The sand is soft as powder and glistens in the sun as the cerulean blue waters lap gently at the shoreline. You know how people say something is “pretty as a postcard?” I’m 99 percent sure the first person to ever utter that phrase was standing on this beach.

There is no shortage of beach chairs, which makes us think that those folks who are jostling to get off the tender as quickly as possible either have never been to Half Moon Cay before and don’t realize this fact or are determined to grab a chair in the first row.

While some people spend the entire day here and have to practically be dragged back to the ship kicking and screaming, many find that — especially on really hot days — a few hours gives them all the beach time they need (and more than enough sun). This is not the place to go without your sunscreen!

A cold drink is never far away, thanks to a small army of waiters carrying trays of fruity concoctions and buckets of beer. So a cold drink is never far away. If you have the drink package, it is not valid on the island. Drinks are the same price as they are on the ship and offer the basic beers, mixed drinks, and frozen drinks. But it’s important to note that unlike the drink packages offered by both Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, Carnival’s Cheers package does not extend to the private island.

Additional Rentals

Half Moon Cay

Now you could easily come to Half Moon Cay and not spend a penny (although you’d probably get awfully thirsty!). If, however,  you want to make your day really special for your crew, you can rent a cabana for around $279 (prices can vary per sailing). These bad boys are outfitted with a refrigerator, ceiling fan, air conditioner, table and chairs inside, as well as lounge chairs if you want to sun yourself and a misting shower on the private terrace. You will be provided snacks and an assortment of soft drinks and bottled water as part of the rental. But the best thing about these cabanas is that by providing you with all these comforts, they allow you to extend your time on the island when all those folks baking in the sun beat a hasty retreat.

Half Moon Cay

Want to really impress your friends? Rent one of the two story beach villas that go for around $499. The villas include all of the amenities offered by the regular  cabanas plus a second floor which features chaise loungers in addition to a dining room table and chairs. Two of the villas are wheelchair accessible throughout the first floor and restroom area. You’ll also get floating mats and snorkel gear.

Lunch at Half Moon Cay

Half Moon Cay

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The beach style BBQ at Half Moon Cay is pretty typical of what you’ll find on comparable islands run by the other lines, and the food is decent. Most of it is actually prepared on the ship and brought over to the island on supply boats. They have a jerk chicken option, burgers, hot dogs and the sides and toppings you’d expect. You’re not going to write home about it, but you also won’t go back to the ship hungry.

TIP: Lunch is generally served from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and there’s not much wiggle room there. Try lining up at 1:35, and you’re probably going to find yourself out of luck! 

Menu:

Entree

  • Hamburger
  • Cheeseburger
  • Garden Burger
  • Hot Dogs
  • Jerked Chicken
  • Cous Cous with Roasted Zucchini
  • Titi Shrimp and Beans with Tapenade

Sides

  • German Potato Salad
  • Coleslaw
  • Medley of Mixed Greens
  • Roasted Yellow Squash
  • Chips n’ Salsa
  • Roasted Broccoli Salad

Desserts

  • Banana Rum Cake
  • Linzer Torte
  • Cookies
  • Brownies

Drink wise, they serve lemonade, unsweetened tea and water in little plastic cups. Or you can swing by the bar, which is (not surprisingly) conveniently located right next to the food pavilion!

Excursions Offered

Half Moon Cay

Since Carnival owns the island, if you want to do a shore excursion, you’ll need to go through the cruise line. All the excursions are under $100 per person, with the priciest being the chance to go horseback riding along the shoreline for $99 per person. (That’s right this is your chance to pretend you are a contestant on The Bachelorette!)  Some of the more popular excursions include jet ski rentals, an eco tour, bike riding and the tram tour. You can also do nothing more strenuous than raising your hand to signal a waiter that you’re ready for another drink.

 What’s Not To Miss?

Half Moon Cay

  • Don’t miss the chance to have your picture taken in front of what is without doubt one of the most popular signs in the Caribbean (seen directly above).
  • Grab a drink at the pirate ship… and make sure to head upstairs and take in the view!
  • Walk along the horseshoe-shaped beach. Keep walking… remember, it’s not like you can get lost. It’s an island so eventually you’re going to loop back around!

Have you ever been to Half Moon Cay? Do you like it? 

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BEFORE YOU GO

12 Differences Between Carnival Horizon and Carnival Vista

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Just because two ships are in the same class doesn’t mean that they are exactly alike. After all, even twin sisters have differences — some subtle, some blatant. In the case of ships, changes can be made for numerous reasons. Perhaps a new feature is being added, or the initial design didn’t work out quite the way everyone imagined it was. Each new ship in a specific class is like a chance to enhance on what came previously.  So it’s not surprising that when Carnival Horizon was being built, the company incorporated lessons learned from the first-in-her-class Carnival Vista while also adding completely new elements to the already successful formula.

So what differences have we noticed so far between the two ships? Take a look at our list below, and then hit the comments if you’ve spotted other differences between the sibling ships.

1. New Lighting in the Atrium

Carnival Horizon

Chances are good that upon entering the atrium, your eyes immediately will be drawn to the Dreamscape funnels and their beautiful, constantly-changing imagery. But take the time to really look around the atrium. You’ll notice that between each of the three levels, there’s a circle of track lighting which not only helps create the illusion of a bigger space, but adds an additional design element which is somehow subtle and striking at the exact same time.

2. Tap Entry to Staterooms 

Carnival Horizon

Your sign-and-sail cards now have RFID technology which allows you to enter the room without sticking your card into the slot. If you look closely, you’ll see a small wire running along the outer edge of the card that lets it communicate with your stateroom door when you get close. This is the same concept utilized by Royal Caribbean for their WOW bands and Disney — both in the parks and on their ships — with the Magic Bands.

3.  Bonsai Teppanyaki

Carnival Horizon

One of the biggest and most noticeable changes is obviously the Bonsai Teppanyaki restaurant. Based on our experience and the difficulty people have had in booking the space (which has limited seatings available), we won’t be a bit surprised if this restaurant is not only included on future builds, but perhaps even added to other ships in the fleet when they go through refurbishments.

READ MORE: Bonsai Teppanyaki Review 

4. The Speeds Bumps are Gone 

Carnival Horizon

On the Carnival Vista there were several areas on decks three, four and five which had slightly-raised edges around the fire doors. Anyone dragging their feet (or using a cane or other mobility device) would definitely notice (and possibly trip over) them. On Horizon, however, they seem to have addressed the potential problem.

5. There are More Havana Suites 

Carnival Horizon

As soon as renderings of the Carnival Vista began circulating, people went nuts for the new Havana Suites and their lanai-like balconies. Not surprisingly, once the ship was actually introduced, the entire Havana area — including the aft area which is reserved for Havana guests during daytime hours — proved crazy popular. So it’s not surprising that when it came time to parse out staterooms on Horizon, they added a few extra cabins in this category.

Read More: Carnival Horizon Trip Report: Embarkation Day

6. The Pig & Anchor Smokehouse

Carnival Horizon

Yes, the RedFrog Pub is gone… but before you get your knickers in a knot, know that the Pig & Anchor Smokehouse/Brewhouse is most definitely a worthy replacement. The food is amazing, there’s plenty of cold beer on tap and entertainers keep your toe tapping. This is a very welcome addition to the Carnival fleet… so much so that I actually heard people say the Pig & Anchor alone could sway them to choose Horizon over Vista.

READ MORE: 35 Tips For Sailing The Carnival Vista

7. Entertainment In The Steakhouse

Carnival Horizon

Sometimes, the smallest ideas can have the most surprising results. Who would have thought that simply flipping the locations of Piano Bar 88 and The Library Bar would make such a difference? But because the piano bar is now directly next to the steakhouse, diners can enjoy the smooth sounds of someone tickling the ivories while they enjoy their meal. And as far as I’m concerned, the more live entertainment, the better.

8. The New Doors 

Carnival Horizon

You know how sometimes when you would go outside on deck 5, there’d be a gust of wind and the door might actually be hard to open? Sometimes, depending on the weather, you could hear doors slamming all day and into the night. Well, thanks to the airlock-style doors installed, it’s now a much smoother inside-to-outdoor transition. It may seem like a minor change, but it makes life easier, and isn’t that what we all want out of a vacation?

9. Taste Bar is Gone 

Carnival Horizon

Change is good… usually. But the jury’s still out on this one. Word is that Taste Bar will eventually be eliminated fleet wide. On Horizon, it’s already a gone pecan. You can still grab some limited food here at breakfast time, and on sea days they set up a salad bar, both of which help disperse the crowds at the Lido Deck Marketplace. Personally, I’ll miss the Taste Bar, which often offered samplings of foods from some of the specialty restaurants on board.

1o. A Larger Guest Relations Area 

Carnival Horizon

Frankly, we hope that you never have to visit the Guest Relations deck… at least not because you’re having trouble on your cruise. But if you do, the expansion of this space on deck 3 is a good thing, as it’s created more work stations at which the crew can try and make right whatever has gone wrong. Not only is the space larger, but it has a much more open feel did the same area on Carnival Vista.

11. Additional Seating Outside 

Carnival Horizon

A big reason many of us cruise is to connect with the ocean. There’s something about sitting outside — whether reading, eating or napping — and feeling the sun on your face as you gaze off into the distance that’s about as peaceful as life gets. So it’s only fitting that on a ship named Horizon, they’ve created a lot more spaces from which to… well, gaze at her namesake.xThis is especially true on the starboard side of deck 5, which on Carnival Vista was home to Guy’s Pig & Anchor. Here, the space has been freed up for more seating. In fact, that’s something we noticed at every turn on this ship: There are all sorts of areas, both indoors and out, to sit, whether by yourself or with a group. There are cozy nooks and loungers and quiet corners everywhere.

12. Smart Elevators

Carnival Horizon

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Carnival Horizon rolled out smart elevators that are often used in busy land-based buildings. These elevators eliminate the stop-and-go at every floor. Instead, you walk up to the elevator and push which floor you’d like to go. From there, the elevator’s brain picks which lift is quicker for you and assigns your an elevator. The new elevators also expedite disembarkation by moving 1,000 guests per hour. The new elevator system is scheduled to be implemented on Carnival Panorama and eventually retrofitted to Vista.

Have you noticed any other differences between the Carnival Horizon and the previous ship in her class? With the Carnival Panorama currently being built, are there any changes you’d like to see implemented on her? 

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BEFORE YOU GO

Everything Carnival Horizon, Part 5: The Bars

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A word of advice: When traveling on the Carnival Horizon, don’t make plans with your friends by saying, “I’ll meet you at the bar.” Why? You might never find one another! Heck, even saying, “I’ll meet you at the bar by the pool” could lead to confusion, because there’s more than one… actually, there’s more than one pool and more than one bar! But never fear, because in Part 5 of our series exploring everything about this massive ship, we’re finally getting around to doing a bar crawl.

The Perfect Place To Start

Carnival Horizon

The Atrium Bar.

For a lot of cruisers — us included — the first thing they do upon boarding a ship is grab a drink with which to toast the beginning of their vacation. On the Carnival Horizon, a lot of people wind up doing so at the Atrium bar… which makes sense on a lot of levels. After all, those gorgeous Dreamscape funnels are the first thing you see, and they draw us in like moths to a flame! And while we’re big fans of everything about the atrium, we suggest coming back later. Why fight the crowds when there’s a whole big ship — jam-packed with bars — waiting to be explored?

Carnival Horizon

Pig and Anchor aboard Carnival Horizon.

Our suggestion?

Head to the Pig & Anchor! After all, it’s not just a smokehouse, but a brewhouse, too… and in fact, takes the place of the beloved RedFrog Pub on this ship. For many cruisers, ourselves included, heading to the Pub to kick off the vacation is a long-standing tradition. Well, trust us… the Pig & Anchor is a fine, fine substitute. (This is also a great place to hit after dark, especially if you prefer your music on the more countrified side.) Lest you think a brewhouse has nothing but beer on tap, belly up to the bar and take a look at the specialty cocktails such as the Blackberry Bourbon Fizz or the Smoky Manhattan (and yes, it automatically became our favorite because it’s topped with a crispy slice of bacon and everybody knows bacon makes everything better).

Lounging By The Pool

Carnival Horizon

Lido deck on Carnival Horizon.

Pick your poison: Tequila or rum? Whichever you prefer, you’ll find a potent potion available at the BlueIguana Tequila Bar or the RedFrog Rum bar, both conveniently located within shouting distance of the main pool. And if you’ve opted for the quieter Tides pool — located at the back of deck 10 and offering killer views of the wake — there’s always the appropriately named Tides Bar. And if you want to get away not only from the typical poolside madness but kids altogether (hey, no judgment here!), there’s a nice little bar up on the Serenity Deck where you can grab a cocktail and then meander over to one of the very, very comfortable loungers, clamshells, or hammocks. (Although careful, because after a couple drinks, those hammocks can be downright dangerous… especially when trying to get out of one!)

A Drink Before Dining

Carnival Horizon

Alchemy Bar on Carnival Horizon.

The pre-dinner (or pre-show) cocktail is, for us, one of the joys of cruising. And if you want to elevate it to the next level, the best place to do so is the Alchemy Bar. A word of warning, however: Don’t go here looking for a beer or a soda, as you will be politely but firmly sent elsewhere.

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Carnival Horizon

The Alchemy Bar has the cure for what ails you.

This spot is all about the hand-crafted cocktails lovingly prepared by lab coat-wearing mixologists. Another word of warning: Many of the drinks on this limited menu are as potent as they are delicious. Looking to ease your way in? Give the refreshing (and popular) Cucumber Sunrise a try. And if you can’t find something on the menu that sounds appealing, tell the mixologist what ails you (and what you think might cure it), and they’ll whip up something specifically for you.

READ MORE: 5 Reasons To Visit Carnival’s Alchemy Bar

Carnival Horizon

Casino Bar on deck 4.

Alchemy is also a great bar to hit up after dinner and before a show. But you could also swing by the casino bar (home to a second Dreamscape funnel, which comes as a surprise to many people) to get your literal pre-game on. Need to check on the latest sports score? The Skybox Sports Bar, located just off the casino, is a safe bet. (Sports… bet… see what we did there?)

Carnival Horizon

Sports Bar on Carnival Horizon.

After dark, all of the ship’s bars come to life, many featuring live entertainment. If you feel like grooving to a Latin rhythm (or simply watching others do it while you sip a Cuba-inspired drink), hit the Havana Bar. Had a few cocktails and feel like singing (but not quite brave enough to attempt karaoke)? Hit the piano bar, where the only person required to have talent is the piano player, while everyone else can sing along with no fear of judgment from their fellow crooners.

Now that you’ve figured out all the best spots to get your drink on, let’s take this in an entirely different direction. Here’s hoping you don’t have too much of a hangover, because we’re going to be dealing with kids — and all the ways to keep them occupied — in our next entry.

Read our past entries:

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Carnival Horizon Bonsai Teppanyaki Review

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When Carnival rolled out the Horizon, it didn’t just introduce a new ship to its fleet… it also introduced a new dining option into its rotation. Already having had great success with their Bonsai Sushi restaurant, they expanded the brand by introducing Bonsai Teppanyaki. So how does the restaurant stack up to some of the other specialty restaurants on board? We swung by to check the place out, and here’s what we found.

A First For Carnival Cruise Line

Given that cruise ships have a limited amount of space available, the decision to devote prime real estate to something new —as opposed to simply sticking a tried-and-true venue into the spot — is not undertaken lightly. That is especially true when the restaurant in question is a revenue-generating specialty venue, requiring that guests be willing to pay for the experience. So clearly, Carnival had both a lot on the line and complete faith in the idea of a Teppanyaki-style restaurant.

Teppanyaki restaurants are nothing new. On land, Benihana has been using the concept of knife-wielding chefs putting on a show while making a delicious meal since 1964. Variations on the theme have also been introduced on cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, over the past few years. So while Carnival’s not necessarily breaking new ground, it’s managed to turn Bonsai Teppanyaki into a pretty sure-fire hit by using the laws of supply and demand: The restaurant only holds 16 people per seating, meaning that on any given sailing, a relatively small number of passengers will have the opportunity to try the hot spot.

It’s that intimacy which also makes Bonsai Teppanyaki a special experience, and one particularly suited to families and groups of friends. Which, again, means this is one of the first reservations you should make when planning your cruise. You snooze? You will definitely lose… your opportunity to eat here.

About The Dining Experience

Carnival Horizon

From the moment you enter, you’ll be caught up in the aura of Bonsai Teppanyaki. The decor plays on that of Bonsai Sushi, yet steps everything up a notch. This is an absolutely gorgeous space, dominated by warm orange and red colors. Upon arriving, you’re greeted by the chef who’ll be both cooking for and entertaining your table, as well as the server who will provide everything not dished out by the chef.

After the introductions are made, our chef — Edgar, from the Philippines — did a quick check to see if anyone had allergies, and then they took our entree order. This is a seven-course meal, so there’s pretty much always food in front of you. And although it is all prepared at the same time, this is not served family style. (Although if someone in your party isn’t into rice or vegetables, it means you can score some extra… but be quick to stake your claim.)

Remember, this isn’t just dinner… you’re getting a show, too. From the moment we sat down, Edgar had our entire group laughing (and occasionally gasping at some of his knife play).

What’s on the Menu?

Carnival Horizon

As mentioned above, the meal is served in seven courses, but don’t think this means you’re going to spend a lot of time hemming and hawing over what to get… six of those courses are basically pre-determined, with the entree being your only big decision. So what’s on tap?

You can view the full menu here.

Course 1: Teppanyaki White Shrimp

Carnival Horizon

Course 2:  Pork Belly Yakitori

Carnival Horizon

Course 3: Spicy Tuna on the Rocks

Carnival Horizon

Course 4: Miso Soup

Carnival Horizon

Course 5: Salad with Ginger Dressing

Carnival Horizon

Course 6: Here’s where you make your big decision between the various options available for your main course.  I went with the Steak and Shrimp, which is served with fried rice and grilled vegetables. There are also three sauces for dipping: a mayo-based shrimp sauce, ginger sauce, and a Worcestershire-based sauce.

Carnival Horizon

Course 7: Dessert, a chocolate bento box with ginger ice cream.

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Is it Worth the Cost?

With a cost of $25 to $30 per person — depending on the selected entree — this is a pretty great bargain, especially since you’re getting dinner and a show. With the 15 percent added gratuity, my bill came out to be $34.50. As always, you’re free to bump-up the gratuity if you’d like to show the service team a little extra love.

The focus here is amazing food that is perfectly seasoned and entertainment that will have you laughing long after the meal is over.

Final Thoughts 

Carnival Horizon

After we’d finished eating, I asked everyone around the table what they thought of the meal and the experience. The consensus was that a good time was had by all. (One thing several people mentioned was that their water glasses were constantly kept full… something that’s been a little lacking in some venues around the ship on our sailing.)

It is worth noting, however, that since there’s a price tag attached to the meal — and the menu is somewhat limited in options — you should make sure everyone in your party knows what they’re walking into. This might not be a great spot for picky eaters.

Carnival Horizon

It’s worth stressing again that Bonsai Teppanyaki should really be booked in advance, because with only three seatings per night and 16 guests per seating, this place fills up quickly.

Forget to book in advance? Check the Hub app to see if any slots open up. It’s rare, but hey… it happens. This is especially true on days where the ship has a long day in port. People sometimes come back later than they thought they would (or fuller, having sampled the local foods) and wind up cancelling their dinner reservations.

Would I do this restaurant again? In a heartbeat.

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