Carnival Vista – First Impressions

Anyone who’s been following our social media accounts has probably noticed that we spent the last week aboard Carnival’s newest ship, the Vista. This was our national conference for our travel business, hosted by our franchise’s parent company. An 8 day conference aboard a cruise ship? Yea, that’s my kind of conference :).

If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you may remember that our conference last year was aboard the Norwegian Escape, and that my primary post-cruise blog post was more of a pros/cons list (well, plus one food post. The yummy, yummy food). My plan here to to do something similar. With multiple sessions happening during sea days, it’s not really fair to do a full review of the cruise in my opinion, since we didn’t get to experience so many of the things we normally do. That’s not to say we didn’t have fun, so let’s get in to the list!

Note – To save space I’ll be linking to pics vs inserting them in the post

Pros

  • The Ship: She really is a beautiful ship, and continues the same beachy decor the Breeze has. There are some positive additions as well, including the large DreamScape in the atrium and the smaller one in the casino. I really do like the decor theme in this class of their ships.
  • The Cabins: Overall, nice. We had a standard balcony on deck 7 aft, and aside from a slightly hard mattress were comfortable all week. We had really good cabin service all week as well.
  • Matt the Cruise Director: While we didn’t get to enjoy all the entertainment staff had to offer, we saw Matt around the ship a lot, and he was always smiling and friendly, even in the face of our own stupidity (like when one of our suppliers sent a huge group of us down to the gangway in La Romana well before we were allowed to get off :)). Matt seems like one of the better CDs we’ve encountered on past sailings.
  • The Staff: Everyone was great this week. Granted, they knew there were several hundred travel agents on board, but everyone we encountered was very friendly, and always offering to help with anything you needed.
  • The MDR food: Really good all week. We ate there all but one night and I honestly don’t remember anything I had that was bad. People like to knock Carnival for their food, but the MDR food seemed better than what I remembered from the Breeze, and I liked that too
  • The SkyRide: Super fun, great concept. Jen and I did this on the first sea day and had an absolute blast. If it’s running, it provides an awesome view at sunset, too. Highly recommend doing this. Just note that you’ll see this in my cons list, too.
  • The Internet: I’m sure some will disagree with me, but we had both the mid-range and premium packages, and I felt that it was noticeably better than the Oasis’ Voom internet. Peak times were a little slow, but I didn’t encounter much in the way of downtime, and as Instagram shows, I was constantly posting ;). For satellite-based connectivity on a moving ship, they’ve done a solid job.
  • Lido food: Specifically Guy’s burgers and Blue Iguana’s burritos. Just as good as I remembered on the Breeze, and the lines seemed to move faster than they did on that trip. Mmmmmm
  • The DreamScape: They really are cool. I don’t envy the technical challenges ahead of them (it encountered technical issues a couple of times on our sailing), but it’s a great idea that really makes the atrium look cool.

Cons

  • The Ship: Yes, there is some bad here, too. Namely the main theater, which seems smaller than the Breeze. I assume Carnival was seeing a lot of empty seats in other ships in this class and as a result shrunk the theater, but the resulting design is just horrible. Really bad sight-lines throughout, rows in the back that sit lower than the row in front of them, and an odd center setup that’s totally flat (with non-permanent chairs) result in a place I really couldn’t stand to watch a show. The Divina showed us it is possible to build a large theater without things blocking your view, so what I saw in the Liquid Lounge was just mind boggling. Don’t even get me started on the useless cup tray permanently attached to every other armrest. Too slick to actually hold cups, yet totally uncomfortable for resting your arm on. Another ship design problem was the entrance to the Reflections dining room. Both sides are way too small, so the cattle-call queuing that happens prior to the MDR opening results in everyone standing even closer together. On the plus side, if you come in mid-ship, you can stare at the main DreamScape :).
  • The Pizza: Oh MSC Divina, you’ve ruined cruise ship pizza for me. I only ate this one night, tried 3 different varieties, and finished none. The pizza on Oasis was actually better than this in my opinion.
  • SkyRide: While super fun, it has a serious design flaw that results in it being unreliable later in the day. We were told that moisture/sea air end up making the inside of the track really slick as the day goes on, which can result in people getting stuck around the back of the track. Happened to me, so I got to see it first-hand. You basically end up unable to move forward on the uphill portions, as pedaling gets you nowhere (it can’t grip due to the moisture). In my case, I kept at it for a couple of minutes and finally hit a spot where it caught and propelled me forward, but we saw several cases where the operators had to go fish people off by either towing them from aother bike, or pushing them with one. The second to last sea day we were in line to do it again, and they closed it early due to this issue when we were next up. They took our names and told us we could jump the line the next day (the final sea day), but by the time we got done with sessions at 4pm, it was closed for the day for the same reason, with mechanics working on the bikes. Grrr…. As I said in one of my posts, do it early, or risk not getting to go.
  • The Casino: Small and smoky, to put it bluntly. Much like the Escape last year, this is a brand-new ship and the smell of smoke permeates every inch of the casino already. We didn’t gamble once as a result, and we were really missing the Divina’s smoke-free casino.
  • Temperature variances: They seemed to be having HVAC system issues all week, as it was really hot in parts of the buffet area (for example) while freezing in the theater (according to Jen :)). We did see people working on HVAC a couple of times, and heard that the buffet HVAC was down early on in the cruise.

I’m sure there are a few things I’ve missed here, but these are the big ones I wanted to call out, and frankly the cons really weren’t that big of a deal. We had an amazing week onboard, and the team at Carnival couldn’t have been better hosts. We’re admittedly Carnival fans, and this sailing only solidified our opinion of the brand. It truly was an amazing week on a beautiful new ship. One of these days we’re going to have to sail her again as normal passengers so we can experience everything the ship has to offer!

That’s all for now. After a short stop in St Petersburg to pick our daughter up and do some laundry, we’re off to Disney World for the week!

It’s Almost Vista Time!

We’re T-20 days until we board the Carnival Vista, and I have to admit that I’m getting pretty excited. Granted, this is our parent company’s national conference, so it’ll be a busy week, but still, we’re both pretty excited to see this ship in person!

Our 3 previous Carnival sailings were over Thanksgiving, and they were some of the most fun times we’ve had. You can read about each of them by hitting the review links in our About page. Of those 3 cruises, I’d have to say that I probably enjoyed the Freedom sailing in 2011 the best, in large part because of the itinerary. Costa Rica and Panama were awesome stops, and we had a lot of sea days, which we all absolutely love. We also had one of the best cruise directors we’ve ever encountered on a sailing, Brad Calabrese. A very visible and personable guy who made the cruise a lot of fun.

Look, I know people love to bash Carnival, and frankly I think that criticism is misplaced in the vast majority of cases, and usually (in my experience) comes from people who haven’t sailed the line in a long time. I admit I wasn’t a huge fan after our 2004 sailing on the Imagination, as that sailing held little in the way of kids activities for Bayley, and the sight of people throwing up on the dock before getting back on the ship really perpetuated the “party ship” designation they used to have. Frankly, our experience on the Thanksgiving sailings showed us how much the line has changed, and helped us fall in love with cruising again. I urge anyone who hasn’t tried them in a long time (or ever) to consider them if you’re looking for a fun family vacation.

I do find it somewhat amusing that my two favorite lines are one that so many people have the wrong impression of (Carnival) and one that so few Americans know about (MSC). I’m certainly not going to apologize for that, both have provided us with some amazing memories, and we love sailing both of them 🙂

Anyway, if you’re interested in seeing what the Vista has to offer, follow us here on the blog, and on the following sites, as I plan to post quite a bit over the course of the week!

See you aboard the Vista on December 3rd!

Carnival Conversations – Tampa

After a quick two days at home following our time in Ohio and DC, we drove down to Florida yesterday to bring our daughter back for her second year of college at Eckerd. While move-in day isn’t until tomorrow, my wife noticed a few weeks ago that Carnival was doing one of their Carnival Conversations events on board the Paradise today, and really wanted to attend it. While these events are held on board a ship that’s getting ready to depart, just like the ship inspections we’ve done, this is nothing like the tours.

So what is it? Well, simply put, it’s a chance to hear from and ask questions of Carnival’s senior management. For today’s event, the main speaker was Christine Duffy, President of Carnival Cruise Lines. We’d never been to one of these events before, and since we were going to be in the area anyway, it seemed like a good opportunity to see what they were about, and to hear from the line’s leadership.

The itinerary for the event was pretty simple, but didn’t allow for any time to tour the ship, so there will be far fewer pictures in this post than the last :).

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When we got to the Queen Mary Lounge, we grabbed a seat next to a couple other agents and chatted with them for a bit before Mike Julius, Managing Director of US Sales got up to kick things off. He started off by introducing us to Seth Grunes, the Tampa area Business Development Manager, who gave us a quick update on Carnival, including a brief overview of their newest ship, The Vista. Jen’s been paying attention to all of Carnival’s announcements about the ship, she she was already up to speed on it, but having a full time job to focus on, I didn’t know a heck of a lot about it. I enjoyed getting to see what’s coming, and I have to say that I completely understand her excitement about the ship and desire to sail it. Those Havana suites sound amazing!

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Next up was Christine, who spent a few minutes giving us an update on the line, and other business info specific to their travel partners (us). Having come up through the agency ranks, she’s in a unique position to make positive changes to the way Carnival works with their partners. Here’s hoping it happens!

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After that, a panel of Carnival execs, including Christine, gathered on stage listening to agent feedback and answering our questions. There’s not really much to say from this, as the discussion all centered around way Carnival can change to better allow agents to serve our customers when it comes to Carnival cruises. We’re both fans of the Carnival brand, having thoroughly enjoyed three straight Thanksgiving cruises on their ships, and the discussion today was validation of our trust in their product.

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Following the panel discussion was lunch, so we all headed to the Destiny dining room. The menu was identical to what we had on our tour of the Fantasy back in May, so I won’t waste space repeating the same food pictures in that post. While I would have liked another Guy’s burger, the food was excellent, and we did get to enjoy one of my favorite things, the warm chocolate melting cake, which is a must-have if you’re on any Carnival ship.

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Near the end of lunch they did a few giveaways, including a couple of free cruises, but we unfortunately didn’t win. Oh well, but congratulations to those who did win, we’re totally jealous!

Lunch ended right about the time we had to get off (the boat was getting ready to head out for an actual cruise, after all :)), so we headed back down the gangway, out the terminal, and back to our temporary home for the weekend.

Once again, I’d like to thank Carnival for their hospitality, including all the executives for making themselves available to us for a couple of hours, and to our dining room staff, who I’m sure could have used the break between sailings to rest a bit. One of the best crews at sea, for sure!

Ship Inspection Sunday – Carnival Pride

After spending a few days in DC for some CruiseOne regional training, we headed up to the port of Baltimore yesterday morning for another ship inspection before heading home. This time, we got to check out the Carnival Pride, one of their Spirit class ships. We’ve sailed on a ship in this class before, having taken the Carnival Legend out of Tampa in 2012. Even though the Pride is the same class as the Legend, it felt like a different ship thanks in part to the Fun Ship 2.0 upgrades it underwent during dry dock late last year. I don’t know that it got all of the upgrades, but it got the big ones, like the additional food choices.

The port isn’t much to look at, but it seems like it’s set up pretty well. When we arrived, we were directed over to a parking area off to the side for those not staying on the ship, but looking over the main parking, it looks like it’s all right there next to the terminal, making it one of the most convenient we’ve been to. After parking, we headed in the terminal to check in, and after a bit of a wait were led on to the ship by our tour guide, Kathy.

The ship underwent a dry dock late last year to add some of the Fun Ship 2.0 goodness, and while the upgraded areas were nice, there are plenty of areas still sporting the Renaissance theme the ship is known for. Much like the Legend’s urn-ish theme, I just wasn’t a fan. I get wanting to stray from the normal “cruise ship chic” theme so many of the older ships have, but there were areas where the theme just doesn’t work. None of the rooms underwent any sort of renovation during dry dock either, but the ones we saw were fine. We got to see the following room types while on-board:

Deck 1: Interior (Cat 4A) and Ocean View (Cat 6A)

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Deck 4: Ocean view Obstructed with French doors (Cat 4K – Accessible), Interior (Cat 4K) and Vista Suite (Cat VS)
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Deck 6: Extended Balcony (Cat 8J), Premium Balcony (Cat 9B), Grand Suite (Cat GS)
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For the most part, pretty standard rooms, but that Vista Suite was pretty nice, especially with the extended aft-wrap balcony and walk in closet.

After touring rooms, we headed upstairs and got a tour of David’s Steak House (one of two specialty restaurants on board), the spa, the main Lido food areas, Serenity (adults only area), and the waterpark. All pretty standard, although the waterpark was a new addition in last years’ dry dock. You can see some shots of these areas in the random ship pictures at the end of this post.

After that part of the tour, we were free to eat anywhere on Lido that we wanted, which was a nice change of pace from our tour on the Fantasy where we were served in the dining room. The main reason I was happy about this is that it gave me a chance to indulge in my favorite burger at sea, the Pig Patty at Guy’s Burger Joint:

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The downside to this is that we didn’t get warm chocolate melting cake for dessert, but hey, the selection on the Sweet Spot dessert bar wasn’t bad:

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The cake pop was pretty good, the lemon meringue pie was okay, but the rest was just average, to be honest.

After eating, we decided to see the rest ourselves to speed up our departure since we had a long drive back to Charlotte, which pretty much meant walking decks 2 and 3 in order to see the theater, shops, and casino. All were pretty much what you expect on a Carnival ship, meaning if you’ve seen them on other ships in this class, you’ve seen these. Well, except maybe the Taj Mahal theater. Not sure if they were trying to continue the Renaissance theme in there (really didn’t look like it), but we just weren’t fans of the décor in there:

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The other thing to mention were the passageways on each side of the ship on deck 3 that lead back to the game room. Legend had one too, known as the enchanted forest, but this was a little brighter than that is. Honestly, not really sure what to make of these spaces. They come off as something Carnival just didn’t know what to do with, almost wasted space in our opinion:

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Overall, the ship was clean, nice (especially with the new food additions), and certainly better than the Legend in my opinion. I’d sail it in a heartbeat if I lived closer!

One last thing, a big thank you to Kathy and everyone on the Pride for an outstanding time. The Carnival hospitality always shines through on these tours!

Enjoy a some more random pics from around the ship!

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Ship Inspection Saturday – Carnival Fantasy

One of the things that we do as travel agents is the occasional cruise ship inspection. As mentioned in my post back in October after we toured the NCL Getaway, this is generally a 3 hour tour of the ship, hosted by a rep or two from the cruise line, and it’s intended to give us an idea of what our clients can expect should we book them on the ship. This is my second ship tour, and my wife’s fourth, as she did two more while down in Ft Lauderdale for Cruise3sixty a couple of weeks ago. For this one, we were getting a look at the Carnival Fantasy, the only ship from any line currently based out of Charleston, SC. She’s an older ship, having launched in early 1990, but the last refurbishment has her in pretty good shape. The decor is pretty standard for other older ships we’ve been on, too. Overall, we were pleasantly surprised at how well the Fantasy has been kept up. Let’s take a closer look…

We drove down from Charlotte early this morning, getting to the port around 10am. Check in for the tour wasn’t scheduled to begin until 11am after all the guests from the previous sailing debarked, so we walked around trying to figure out where to meet. Fortunately, the port area isn’t all that big and we found the spot pretty quickly, and hung out until the Carnival reps arrived. Things didn’t exactly kick off on time, as there was a lot going on. They ended up with surprise Coast Guard  and USDA inspections happening after the ship got back in to port this morning. No biggie, things happen, and we were just a small blip on the list of things the crew had to deal with before they left port this evening. I think we may have been delayed 30-45 minutes boarding as a result. Here’s a couple quick shots of the port, including the front of the terminal. When you arrive and park, a shuttle brings you to this entrance and drops you off here, at which point you’ll go through security and check in for your cruise!

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Another tip: As you board the ship, you’ll notice a bunch of crew wearing red sweatshirts that say “Just Ask”. If you need to know anything, like where you can grab some food or where you’re room is, they are there to answer those questions. No need to get in line for guest services!

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Once we were on, we hustled to check out a couple of rooms. Since we were late, we really were moving fast, and my pictures show it. With more than two dozen people in the group and a schedule to keep, there really wasn’t time to stop and ensure the pictures were clear. The first set here is from a standard oceanview room:

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Not bad, a little small compared to more current ships, but I’d be more than happy to sail in it. Next up is the only shot I got of an interior down the hall:

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And finally, we have a Grand Suite, the largest room category on board. Note that being an older ship, the only categories that actually have balconies are the Junior and Grand Suites

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Due to our time constraints, those were all the rooms we got to see. After finishing there, we were guided around a few other areas as we headed in the direction of the dining room for our lunch. Here are some shots of different areas we saw along the way, including: the show lounge, casino, a couple of bars, the kid’s club, and the Forum Aft Lounge, where they were setting up to host a wedding reception:

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There were a couple of weddings going on today before sailing, from what we saw. We entered the port at the same place they did, and the wedding parties were shuttled in to security the same way we were. While I’m familiar with how on-board weddings at sea (or in a foreign port) work, this was my first exposure to weddings that take place in port prior to the ship’s departure. Not everyone in the wedding party was going on the cruise, so after getting everyone on the ship, they hold the wedding, followed by the reception, and then those who are not sailing are escorted off. Pretty good way to get a shipboard wedding on a budget.

Let’s get back to the tour. After a quick visit to the kid’s club, it was time to eat. They took us to the Jubilee dining room at the aft of the Atlantic deck (8), one of the two main dining rooms on board. We all sat at one of the five tables set up for us, and were served by the staff as if we were cruisers, eating some of the same things served at sea. The menu was pretty well set too, with the only choice we got to make being fish or beef for the main course:

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and here are the courses, in order (I had the beef):

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The spaghetti carbonara was spectacular, as was the warm chocolate melting cake, which is one of our all-time favorite desserts (we usually eat it more than once when we’re on Carnival :)). The braised short ribs were good quality meat, and perfectly cooked, but I’m just not a fan of what ends up being stringy meat (like pot roast type meat). Jen had the beef too, and enjoyed it, but said both the spaghetti and short ribs were better on her tour of the Splendor a couple of weeks ago (they serve the same food on all ship tours).

I’m going to take a second to give a huge shoutout to the wait staff today too, they did a great job, and were even sure to learn our names. After we ate, they even busted out some music and got some of us to get up and dance, just like a regular MDR experience.

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After lunch was over, we headed up to check out the buffets and outside areas on the Lido deck. The buffet stations on the Fantasy are all pretty standard for Carnival, but note that this ship has not undergone any of the Fun Ship 2.0 upgrades, so no Guy’s Burger Joint or BlueIguana Cantina. It does have a Mongolian Wok though, which we always enjoy.

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No, we didn’t sample any of the buffet food, pretty sure that would have been frowned upon, plus we were full from lunch.

On to the outside areas. Here’s the main area on the Lido deck:

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At the back of the ship, they have Waterworks 2.0, added during its last refurbishment a few years ago

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They’re definitely some nice slides for a ship this old, but the one downside here is location. Being right behind the stack, it was a bit noisier, especially as you walked out to this area (walkway shown in the first shot above). It is what is is, though. The other odd thing about the aft design is that one deck down is the Serenity adults-only area. I shot this looking down on it from the back of the ship where the waterslides are:

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Between the noise from the stack and the kids on the waterslide one deck above, I can’t imagine this is very serene, but having never sailed the Fantasy, that’s pure speculation. If you’ve sailed this ship in her current configuration and can speak to the noise level in Serenity, feel free to comment, we’d love to hear how it really is!

Update: Based on a comment on our Facebook page, it sounds like the location of Serenity is a non-issue!

After we finished on Lido, we did a very quick walk through of the spa, which was a pretty standard setup for Carnival. There seemed to be plenty of gym space for those wanting to work out, too.

Once we finished our walk-through of the spa we were out of time, so we headed down to deck 3, gave our passes back, and sadly left the ship. All in all it was a good tour, and left us with a pretty solid impression of the Fantasy. As mentioned, Carnival has done a really good job with upkeep. Is it small? Yes. Are you limited in room types? Yes. It’s not the Dream or the Breeze, but it’s still a worthy option, especially if you’re looking to cruise out of an east coast port outside of Florida. It’s only three hours from us, so I personally would like to give the ship a shot in the near future if we can carve out some time.

One last thing before I leave you with more pictures of the tour: A big thank you to Joanie and Kirsten, our tour guides from Carnival. They took really good care of us today!

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