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CARNIVAL HORIZON

Trip Report: Carnival Horizon at Sea – Day 2

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So a few days back you probably saw my initial trip report, and maybe you excitedly looked forward to reading the daily entries. And then… nothing. As it turns out, this particular sailing was action-packed. Between exploring the Carnival Horizon, spending time with old friends and new, and exploring a whole slew of ports, I wound up so exhausted at the end of each day that I could barely cobble together notes, let alone a readable travel report.

But now that I’m home, I figured we could all just sort of pretend that I’m still on the ship and rejoin this trip report, already in progress. If you missed the first entry, you can read it — and get yourself caught up — here.

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Breakfast in Ocean Plaza on Carnival Horizon.

After sleeping 10 hours, I woke up and headed straight down to Ocean Plaza to grab breakfast. If you’ve followed my past trip reports, you know that when sailing on Dream and Vista class ships, I’m a big fan of skipping the chaotic lido deck buffet in favor of swinging by Ocean Plaza, which offers a nice selection of simple choices. Plus, it remains one of the best kept secrets on the ship, especially during the first few days when people haven’t taken the time to really acclimate themselves. There were a few people grabbing breakfast this morning, but it was still pretty easy to just grab-and-go.

This morning there was a question and answer session with Christine Duffy — aka the President of Carnival Cruise Line — as well as some other executives who were on board for this sailing. 

Once that session was over, I went up to the Pig and Anchor Smokehouse and Brewhouse to sample the beer flight. When I sailed the Carnival Vista, the Java Stout was definitely my favorite. But Carnival’s brewmeister Colin Presby — aka the guy with the coolest job in the world — isn’t currently making a stout. So a friend and I grabbed a flight to see which beer we preferred. And the winner is… the smoked porter. The popular spot also serves an amber, an ale and an IPA. The drinks menu is also pretty creative, including one that features bacon.

Carnival Horizon

Flight of four beers in the Pig and Anchor Brewhouse.

Major Differences Between Vista and Horizon

Exploring the ship a little, you quickly discover that there aren’t a whole lot of differences between Horizon and Vista. This makes sense, of course, given that they share the same class. There are, however, a few tweaks… one of which is the color scheme. From the moment you board this ship, you are surrounded by various shades of the color red. This actually makes more sense than does the blue which dominates Vista, given that this particular class of ship is designed specifically to put passengers in touch with the sea. 

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The main atrium of Carnival Horizon.

The other big difference — and it’ll be interesting to see over time how people react to this one — is that there isn’t a RedFrog Pub. Now, some cruisers — especially those new to Carnival — won’t really notice. After all, if you squint, Guy’s Pig and Anchor is clearly a direct descendant of the RedFrog Pub which it has replaced. But you know as well as I do that for some people, there’s no such thing as a “good” change.

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Cheers!

I’ll say this: Based on this sailing, Guy Fieri’s latest collaboration with Carnival seems to be a big hit. I’m planning to have dinner there one night this week, and if the food that I’ve seen being served as I made my way to the bar is any indication, I’m in for a real treat.

Fun Day at Sea

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Forward open deck on Carnival Horizon.

Regular readers know that one of the things I always talk about is how well a ship handles sea days. When I say that, I’m referring not to her seaworthiness, but rather whether or not the ship feels crowded when everyone is on board and looking for something to do.

There are over 4,200 guests on this particular sailing, but there are enough venues and entertainment options available that it hasn’t felt crowded at all today. With ships constantly getting bigger — and, not coincidentally, accommodating more passengers — it’s going to be crucial that cruise lines make sure they figure out ways to avoid people from feeling as if their floating cities are overpopulated. They’ve certainly done a good job with Horizon, in that regard.  I walked from the front of the ship to the back, and explored several decks. Yes, there were lines at some of the venues around the pools, and there were a whole lotta people out enjoying the picture-perfect day. But at no point did the ship feel crowded. 

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Looking down on Lido aboard Carnival Horizon.

I have to admit, I really lost track of time today. This is our only sea day (it’s a port-intensive itinerary), so I wanted to soak it in and relax as much as possible. Around  3:45 I went to sit outside on deck five and… well, you know how it goes. You stare at the sea, get lost in your thoughts and the next thing you know, it’s time to get ready for dinner. Give that I was eating in the Steakhouse, I’m glad I didn’t get so lost in my own thoughts that I wound up missing dinner.

Carnival Horizon

Outside on deck 5.

Drinks & Dinner

Whenever I’m on a cruise, I do my best not to go too crazy, food-wise. I know as well as anyone just how easy it is to pack on a few extra pounds while on vacation… not to mention how hard it can be to take them off. Anyway, I freely admit that when we hit the steakhouse for dinner, my diet hit the skids. But man, was it worth it.

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I started with the fire-and-ice oysters, followed by the 18-ounce cowboy-cut steak. Remember how before, I mentioned that some people really hate change? Well, this is where I confess that I kinda whined upon finding out that the menu in the steakhouse — always one of my favorite places — had undergone a few changes. I still think it was a mistake to remove escargot (one of my favorite appetizers of all time) and creamed spinach (a staple of any land-based steakhouse) from the menu, but some of the new options are pretty interesting.

As amazing as the meal itself was, the Table Art dessert is a true highlight which really spotlights the creativity of the chef creating it. For those who don’t know, the way it works is that a large white cutting board is brought to your table to serve as a canvas on which they create, right in front of you, an artwork made of syrups, candies and other edible treats, all centered around a large white chocolate ball. Don’t let anyone — including me! — spoil the big finale. Instead, order it for yourself (and plan to share… this is definitely a treat made for two). 

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Table Art in the steakhouse on Carnival Horizon.

Listener Question

Ron Asks… What did you think of the layout change which flips the locations of the Piano Bar and the Library Bar?

Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse

Looking into the Piano Bar from the Steakhouse. (Photo via Carnival)

Great question, especially since I was on record as being skeptical about having the piano bar right next to the steakhouse, especially after learning that during some hours, the wall separating the two would remain open. “What if,” I thought, “someone is celebrating their anniversary and wants to have a romantic evening? The last thing they want is the rowdiness of the piano bar ruining their evening!” tt turns out, I was wrong in my thinking, as proved by dinner tonight.

The music played during the dinner hour isn’t the kind of stuff you’d hear during normal operating hours of the piano bar. It’s much softer, more peacful and sans singing. (They did play a really cool, soft version of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody… which at first I didn’t even recognize. Once I did, I was pretty impressed.) The dividing wall was still open when I finished dinner. Later that night, I swung by after the door separating the two venues had been closed to see how effective it was when the piano bar got rockin’. While it wasn’t entirely soundproof, you couldn’t hear much from the steakhouse side of the wall… and with the eatery closing at 10 p.m., which is well before the piano bar usually kicks into high gear, I don’t think this is going to be a problem at all. 

Tomorrow is our first port day on the itinerary. Instead of booking an excursion I’ve opted to walk around the city of Cagliari and check out the cathedral.

We have a lot to cover this week, until tomorrow… goodnight.

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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

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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 

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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 

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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

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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

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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 

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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 

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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

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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 4: Entertainment

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Over the past few days, we discussed the fact that whether you want free eats or specialty dining, you won’t go hungry on the Carnival Horizon. Now it’s time to talk about what you’ll be doing after the show and all we can say is… don’t plan to make it an early night. Why? Because there’s a whole lot going on around the ship, and it’d be a shame to miss out on the action.

There’s Music Everywhere

While there are several full-scale productions available for your evening’s entertainment, just walking around the ship will inevitably lead you to live music. One recent event, we found a great duo crooning country tunes in the Pig & Anchor, a singer-backed band (or a late-night DJ) keeping people grooving in the Havana bar, a violin trio playing on the elevated platform just above the atrium bar, and yet another band playing in Ocean Plaza… there’s no shortage of options on the Horizon. Don’t like the type of music being featured in one venue? Grab your cocktail and wander someplace else. And don’t forget to swing by the piano bar for a rollicking sing-along, or the Limelight Lounge if you want to get your boogie on.

The Shows You’ll Want To Catch

Carnival Horizon

Production-wise, Carnival Horizon offers several Playlist Production shows… all of which are designed to immerse the audience more than ever before. “We’re using [video-game] technology to create immersive environments,” says Media Producer Robb Wagner. “It’s going to make the audience feel more like they’re stepping into a world versus sitting down to watch a show.”

So what worlds do they take you to? With Soulbound, it’s the supernatural-tinged underbelly of New Orleans. While the cast is singing tunes like Superstitious, Soul Man, and Born Under A Bad Sign, the staging transports the audience to a haunted riverboat, a cemetery and an apothecary… the latter of which would make Alchemy Bar a perfect spot for pre- or post-show cocktails.

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Buck and Oz singing in the Pig and Anchor.

Vintage Pop is a little closer to the standard Playlist Production show Carnival passengers are familiar with, featuring a Cotton Club era vibe. The twist here? Modern tunes rearranged in a jazzy style by a six-piece live band… and a party which then moves to the atrium so everyone can join the fun.

Interestingly, the “world” passengers are transported to with Amor Cubano is the ship’s own Havana Club, which is partially recreated on the stage for this production. Again, the highlight here is live music as a seven-piece band performs Cuban-tinged hits from the likes of Gloria Estefan and Celia Cruz.

But perhaps the most original of the shows is Celestial Strings. For quite some time now, the string trio who has played in the atrium have been a favorite among cruisers, so it makes sense that Carnival would build an entire show around them. The idea here is to merge classical music and pop beats, then set the whole thing in a virtual “garden” that changes with the seasons and uses multi-sensory techniques to bring it to life. (Translation: You’ll not only hear the music, but see and even smell it!)

But Wait… There’s More!

Carnival Horizon

While we’ve focused here largely on the nighttime entertainment to be found, it’s worth noting that you don’t have to wait until the sun sets to find a good time… and this is especially true on sea days. This being a Carnival ship, you can count on a lot of music and activities (including crowd-pleasers like the Hairy Chest competition) around the pool.

One of the not-to-be-missed activities usually held by the pool, weather-permitting, is the Lip Sync Battle Open Auditions. (Be advised, you shouldn’t get the kids too excited about this one… participants have to be 18 years or older!) Look for the exact time of the auditions in your Fun Times newsletter, it’s usually on sea days.

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Hasbro, The Game Show!

And if you’re looking for one of our favorite family-friendly activities, keep an eye on the Fun Times newsletter for Hasbro, The Game Show. Want to be part of the action? Make sure to get to the theater early, grab a good seat, and make lots of noise when the hosts are looking for volunteers. (On the other hand, if you want to make sure you’re not among those chosen, sit in the upper levels… and maybe slouch down in your seat during the selection process!) Watching people of all ages compete in ginormously-sized versions of games like Simon or Connect Four is pretty much a guaranteed good time… especially when the kids prove far better at the games than do the adults!

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Looking to prove you’re a total know-it-all? Of course, you’ll find trivia competitions covering everything from Geography (we’ll take a hard pass on that one!) to 80s Music (that’s more like it!) And while many dance parties are held in the atrium, keep your eyes on the Fun Times for a special, adults-only party held — where else? — on the Serenity deck.

And yes, of course, there’s Bingo galore… but you probably already assumed that, right?

Next up as we continue our Carnival Horizonpalooza? Make sure to eat a little something so you’re not drinking on an empty stomach, because we’re going on a bar crawl.

Read our past entries:

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CARNIVAL HORIZON

Trip Report: Carnival Horizon Disembarkation Morning

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Today was the day that every cruiser dreads, the end of our trip and disembarkation. Is there anything worse than walking out of the cabin, hearing the door shut behind you and knowing your vacation is over? Before leaving my stateroom this morning, I took a few minutes to stand on the balcony and tell myself I’d be at sea again soon. It was a little easier this time than it has been in the past, given that I knew I’d actually be back on the Carnival Horizon in just a few weeks to do the transatlantic. And until then, I’d have the latest addition to my miniature ship collection, as I remembered last night to run down to the gift shop and purchase one before they closed.

Carnival Horizon

If there’s one annoying thing about European sailings, it’s the VAT tax you have to pay on merchandise and drinks you purchase on the ship. For those who have never had to deal with it, the VAT is a Value Added Tax… which is basically the EU’s way of saying “We want our share”… and they get it, too, at a rate of up to 22% of your purchase price! If you spend over $120 in merchandise while on board, they give you a form which allows you to get some of the tax back at the airport but let’s be real. Unless you spent a whole lot while on the ship, it’s not going to be worth your time to deal with this on top of all the other hassles already in store for you at the airport.

Despite the annoyance of the VAT, I did wind up getting my model ship, so my personal fleet — which I started back in 2016 — has a new addition.

READ MORE: Former Carnival Cruise Ship For Sale!

I should add that when I left the room to get my ship last night, I made another purchase… and this was one I probably could have lived without. But Cherry on Top was still open, and their amazing build-your-own ice cream sandwiches were $1 off and, well, I’m only human. I went with vanilla ice cream sandwiched between chocolate chip cookies and rolled in M&M’s. I think it was around $2.50 with the discount, and a gratuity was added. The cookie was a little harder than I expected, but it probably has to be so the whole thing doesn’t just crumble in your hand the first time you try and take a bite.

Carnival Horizon

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Carnival no longer allows you to order breakfast from room service on disembarkation morning, although you could tell from the number of order tags hanging on doors this morning that a lot of people either didn’t know that or figured, “What the heck, maybe it’ll work!” Hope they were prepared to be disappointed.

Because my flight was so early, I wound up carrying my own luggage off. The goal was to meet in the Reflections Dining Room at 6:30 a.m. to take advantage of priority disembarkation, but when I walked down to deck three, they were already allowing people off the ship, so our group walked off and was at the curb in less than five minutes. Because you clear customs at the airport in Barcelona or when leaving the country, you don’t need to declare anything or fill out a customs form as you exit the ship. So much different than the states. We didn’t even need to show our passports when we were getting off the ship.

Carnival Horizon

We wound up taking a cab to the airport, which cost 39 euros ($47 USD). We could have used the Carnival transfer option for about the same amount, but the last thing I wanted to do was wait in another line, so the cab made things easier. When we were heading to the airport we passed Norwegian Epic, a ship I had last seen in Port Canaveral about two months ago, so it was cool seeing her again in Barcelona.

Final Thoughts

Our sailing was very port intensive and didn’t really leave a lot of time to explore the ship, which is a big reason why I booked the transatlantic cruise in May. During that sailing, which is a 14-day trip, there will actually be six sea days in a row. I’m excited about that for several reasons. For one thing, it will give me a chance to explore the ship more than I was able to this week. After all, it’s tough to get a real sense of the nightlife on board when you’re so exhausted from hiking around gorgeous cities that after dinner, you want nothing more than to go to sleep. This will also give me a chance to hit some of the restaurants, bars and other venues that I wasn’t able to this time around.

I don’t think I’ll be doing a trip report for the transatlantic. Instead, I’m going to take advantage of the time — and Carnival Horizon‘s better-than-expected internet speeds — to bring you a whole slew of reviews of the options available on this ship. We’ll also be running our 10-part series, Everything Carnival Horizon, which will give you even more insights into this amazing ship.

So whether you’re booked to sail on the Horizon, trying to decide if she’s right for you or someone who — like me — basically loves reading anything and everything about cruise ships, we’ll have you covered.

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