Broadening Our Horizon
Cruising is one of my family’s favorite way to vacation. We can explore several destinations in one trip and we can do activities together or let the girls do their own thing yet still be close.
This summer, we had the opportunity to experience Carnival’s newest and biggest ship, the Horizon. We’ve sailed with Carnival a lot, with itineraries on Paradise, Elation, Dream and Conquest. I haven’t cruised on Horizon’s sister ship, the Vista (yet!), so I didn’t have any preconceived ideas of what to expect as far as layout, décor, amenities, etc. We were all impressed.
Upon boarding, I was immediately smitten with the three-story atrium and its Dreamscape funnel sculpture. The Atrium bar ended up being our go-to spot to grab a drink between activities. I was constantly entertained by the Dreamscape funnel sculpture, comprised of more than 2,000 flexible LED tiles that created ever-changing designs. We also loved being in the middle of the action, and the bartenders — Anka, Doris and Jens — were stellar. They quickly learned our favorites and often made time for conversation. We really enjoyed getting to know them. I actually teared up a little when I said goodbye the day we disembarked. I felt like I was leaving a new friend I made at summer camp.
The Horizon is a 3,960-passenger ship that features 1,980 guest staterooms and suites, including 25 accessible staterooms. Families will enjoy the Family Harbor staterooms, which provide access to the exclusive Family Harbor Lounge — complete with large-screen TVs, computer terminals, games, complimentary breakfast and snacks, and a personal concierge. Cruisers can also opt for one of the Havana Cabanas, which are unique to the Horizon and Vista. Some of the perks include exclusive dibs on the aft Havana pool, outdoor bar and hot tubs (no waking at 6:30 a.m. to claim your lounger for the day!).
Our balcony stateroom was roomy and comfortable. I’m extremely particular about my bed and pillows, and I must say that I slept better on this cruise than I have in months. Our room included a mini-fridge, hair dryer, flat-screen TV, robes and a safe.
I had heard a bit of chatter about those new-fangled elevators (which are actually already in use in tall buildings worldwide). Once you understood the system, these destination elevators were pretty simple to operate. Each elevator is assigned a letter. You select your desired floor from a touch screen located in the waiting area by the elevators and the system assigns an elevator cab to your particular floor. You hop on and go straight to your floor without stops. Easy peasy!
We decided to jump in as many shipboard activities as possible. Trivia games, shows, poolside activities — you name it, we checked it out. We really enjoyed the family-friendly comedy acts in the Punchliner Comedy Club, and we were nuts over how good the shows in the Liquid Lounge were — the choreography, the sets, special effects and caliber of talent. The Celestial Strings show was our favorite, though. It featured a live string trio that also performed throughout the week on the ship. The theater was transformed into an ethereal garden, with portions of the “stage” positioned in the midst of the audience. The 3D cast interactions and visual effects captivated us the entire time. One afternoon, we joined “Coffee with the Cast,” a Q&A session with the Carnival Horizon Playlist cast. It made us appreciate even more the hard work that goes into each and every performance.
The ship also boasts the Carnival Multiplex, which is comprised of their IMAX theater and the Thrill Theater, which we experienced and loved. The Thrill Theater showcases varied 4D movie experiences in the form of short features. We watched the scariest one and had a blast.
I highly recommend you download the Carnival app. It’s fantastic and a must for families. The app lets you view daily activities and even add the ones you don’t want to miss to your own planner. Spring for the $5 chat feature so you can text each other on board. It was so convenient!
I would be remiss if I omitted a mention of our cruise director, Mike Pack. We had sailed with him prior to the Horizon, and we all were genuinely excited to be on his ship again. He’s energetic, quick witted and encourages guest interaction without being the least bit obnoxious or intrusive. He took some time to chat with me about cruise life and share a few “must do” tips for your next cruise. Check it out here!
One of the things our whole family was looking forward to was yomping on a Guy’s Burger Joint burger. With its roadside burger shack vibe and ridiculously good fries, it was a challenge not to eat there every day. Who am I kidding? I think we actually did eat there every day. My oldest daughter and I don’t eat meat, so they always prepared veggie burgers for us. So good!
We enjoyed specialty dining one night in Cucina del Capitano (it’s free during lunch hours!). The concept of the restaurant is a nod to Carnival Cruise Line’s many Italian captains.
The atmosphere was cozy, with vintage “family” photos on the walls and the tables dressed with red and white checkered tablecloths. Menu options included minestrone soup, antipasti, eggplant parmigiana and the popular Nonna’s Dish, which features crispy shrimp and prosciutto tossed in a vodka cream sauce made with San Marzano tomatoes.
Our meals in the main restaurant were always good, and our servers were extremely friendly and attentive. A couple of evenings when we didn’t think we could wait until our late dining seating, so we popped in Bonsai Sushi for sushi and edamame. It was yummy.
Another must for a meal (and the best Bloody Mary you’ve ever had) is Guy Fieri’s Pig and Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse/Brewhouse. Showcased for the first time on this ship, Pig and Anchor costs extra, but you can score free lunch on embarkation and sea days. Choose from slow smoked beef and pork, grilled chicken, smoked andouille sausage, as well as tempting sides like mac and cheese, collard greens and potato salad.
At the entrance of the restaurant, you’ll see the German-made fermenters and the three-barrel glass brew house which lets you view the brewing process. It’s the first for a U.S. brewery, and there are only about 20 of them in the world.
“The best way to offer fresh craft beer on the ship it to make it onsite,” explains Colin Presby, also known as America’s first brewmaster at sea. “The glass brewhouse is a great way to offer our guests an experience you don’t often find on a cruise ship.”
Enjoy one of (or a flight of all) Parched Pig Brews – Toasted Amber, Farmhouse Ale, West Coast IPA and Smoked Porter. You can do a brewery tour and tasting for $24.95 (led by Presby), which is booked through the bar. You’ll receive a certificate (that can be redeemed for a free beer) and a souvenir glass upon completion.
“Our brewery tours are extremely popular,” explains Presby. “Tours tend to sell out very quickly.”
One morning we even enjoyed breakfast with Sam I Am, Thing 1 and Thing 2, and The Cat in the Hat. The Horizon’s Dr. Seuss Breakfast Experience is very well organized and such a fun way to begin your day.
The menu design mirrors a Dr. Seuss book and lists a variety of whimsical breakfast options — Green Eggs and Ham (natch!), Horton’s Cereal-Crusted French Toast, Truffula Tree Pancakes and You Can Think About Yogurt Parfait Schlopp. The characters came to each table, which eliminated the whole “let’s stand in line for the next hour” routine. Your family can sit and actually enjoy the experience without stressing whether or not your child will get any true interaction with their favorite characters.
It’s a hot ticket, so sign up at guest relations the day you board. It’s only $5 a person, and it usually takes place on the last sea day in the Reflection Dining Room. It’s so popular, they offer two seating times for it.
We’ve been to Grand Turk a few times, so we felt pretty confident booking our own excursion here and went with a snorkeling tour. The tour included refreshments, all gear, and three snorkeling stops, one of which was on Gibbs Cay for a live conch demonstration and interactive encounters with sting rays.
Friends of ours were vacationing in San Juan the same time we visited for the day, so we decided to meet up for lunch. Our goal was to find the best mofongo in San Juan, and I think we nailed it. Orozco’s is located on Ashford Avenue, about a 20-minute Uber ride from the port. They offered a variety of appetizers (calamari, mozzarella sticks, ceviche, etc.), sandwiches, pastas and, of course, mofongo. There were plenty of vegetarian options, too, which I appreciated. After lunch, we went back to the port area, wandered around the streets, perusing shops for souvenirs and taking photos with tropical birds
At Amber Cove (Dominican Republic), we chose to do the “Waterfalls of Rio de Damajagua,” one of the ship’s excursions. We’d never been to the Dominican Republic and we’d never taken a waterfall excursion, so we were positively pumped about this one.
The 30-minute bus ride provided a glimpse into the landscape beyond the cruise port. Our tour guide was funny and informative. Once we reached the entrance of the park, we grouped up and donned our life jackets, helmets and water shoes. You can bring your own water shoes, they just need to be close-toed. It was a strenuous hike, and I felt pretty confident that I’d burned off most of what I’d eaten that week. The water breaks and pit stop to savor freshly picked mango were well timed and welcomed! Our waterfalls guides were extremely entertaining.
Though it took me a couple of waterfalls to build my courage up to jump off, I could opt to descend via natural waterslide or a shorter jumping off point. The water was gorgeous and so refreshing after a long hike.
YOU SHOULD GO!
Carnival Cruise Lines is a great option for your next family vacation. I overheard a conversation on the ship between a little girl and her dad that pretty much summed up our Horizon experience.
Dad: Are you having fun?
Daughter: Every day!
Check with your local AAA Travel Agent about exclusive AAA Member specials on over 1,600 Carnival sailings in 2019! You can also check out all our cruise offerings here!
(photos: Carnival Cruise Line; Joe Tolley, Kristy Tolley)