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


  • 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.


  • 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!

Our 3rd Sailing on the Divina Comes to an End

As you may have noticed from all of our pictures, we’ve had another amazing week on the MSC Divina. As we sit in Top Sail Lounge and delay our departure as much as possible, I figured I’d go ahead and get one more post about our trip out before they kick us off the ship :).

First and foremost, we all agree that things seemed to get even better this trip than last ones, and if you followed our previous sailings, you know we really enjoyed both of them. We’re truly sold on the product MSC has brought to the US, and have seen additional changes this week that have been made since our last sailing to make the Divina even more appealing to this market. So what are those changes?

Pricing of things on board: They have added some incredible deals since we last sailed:

  • If you’ve got kids with you, and they want to try out the F1 simulator and/or the 4d theater, the Divina currently offers a package where for $60/cabin, you get to visit all the tracks on the F1 circuit, plus unlimited visits to the 4d theater, and unlimited bowling! Considering one trip to the F1 simulator was $10/pp when we were here in March, this is a great deal!
  • Spa treatments in port seemed really cheap compared to other port-day deals we’ve seen. I got a 45min Balinese massage for ~$50, and the girls got 55min facials for around the same price.
  • At Piazza Del Doge, you can pick up gelato and pastries for a very reasonable price (and they’re really good, too). I had a small gelato one day for $2, and for the amount I got, I’d likely have paid at least twice that on some of the other ships we’ve sailed. Some of the amazing pastries they have in there are under $1, too!
  • They now have specialty dining packages that are crazy low. We’ve done them before on other lines, but generally end up paying more for similar experiences. See here for more info on what you get and how much they cost!
  • Internet pricing is far more reasonable to me now (full package info here). They moved from time-based to amount of data you use, and for the lower-tier packages they now throttle speeds like other lines do. One tip here: purchase this in advance! You get bonus time for doing so, and in our case, we got 1800MB for ordering the Streamer package (1500MB). With the Streamer package you can post pictures and video, unlike the lower packages that throttle to picture-only speeds. Additionally, we were offered more data at a very reasonable $16 / 500MB if we needed. The internet speed and reliability was far better than past sailings, too, and light-years ahead of what we saw with Royal’s Voom internet back in May on the Oasis.

I’m probably forgetting something in this list, but these are the big ones that come to mind.

They’re getting better about explaining why some things are the way they are. The truth is, catering to the American cruise market is very different from other regions. MSC has traditionally been a European line, and as they’ve ventured into the US market they’ve taken the time to learn and to implement changes based on customer feedback. One of those is the thorough explanation given about the shows near the start of the cruise. This time around, Andre, the current CD, explained to the audience why they don’t have things like comedians on-board, and that the shows aren’t really meant to tell a story, they’re meant to be visually entertaining, with a lot of action, and we definitely find them to live up to that billing.

They’re constantly adding to the entertainment options around the ship. They have a very engaged and intelligent entertainment staff that seem to always be coming up with new ways to entertain the passengers. We’ve seen a few new things added, including a game show or two, and had a blast at every event we attended. Whether you want to be outside or in, there’s almost always something going on, and this entertainment team will bust their butts to ensure you’re having a good time. They’re far more engaged with passengers than most of the ones we’ve encountered on other lines.

The current Captain, Pier Paolo Scala is a very engaged and warm captain. He’s far more visible than most, and happy to hang out and chat with you should the opportunity arise. Heck, I was lounging in the pool in Yacht Club yesterday when he showed up with his wife and son, and he was more than happy to hang out in the pool chatting with all of us. He genuinely seems to care about how things are going for the passengers.

After our March sailing, I wrote up a post entitled “Is The MSC Divina Right For You?” to try and help people decide if the Divina is a good fit for them, and after sailing her again 6 months later, I feel like it still applies. This ship and everything on it represent a nice change of pace from the typical contemporary cruise lines, and I encourage anyone looking for something other than the standard US cruising experience to give her a try. I keep thinking that it’s time for us to take a break from sailing the Caribbean, but they keep offering some amazing deals, and we keep getting sucked back in because we like the product so much. It’s a good problem to have 🙂

Anyway, I think that about covers it. Between my handful of posts this week and the ones from our past two sailings (December / March) I hope you’ve found some useful info on the MSC Divina, and should you want to sail with MSC, please give us a call, we can certainly help! Hope to see you soon on the Divina or even the Seaside after she arrives next year!

Oasis of the Seas: Debark and Final Thoughts

This one’s a bit overdue thanks to a pretty hectic schedule, but the delay also gave me a bit of time to reflect on the whole week and not be too blinded by the debark experience. Let’s get right down to it!

After a really smooth embarkation, I was surprised at how bad debark was. We had a 10:05am departure time, which we thought was fine, but delays pushed that back to just after 11am. No biggie, we had a couple of days for the drive home and weren’t planning on doing it in one day anyway, so we hung out in the promenade area waiting for our number to come up. When it did, we headed to Silk, waited our turn, and exited the ship. Then the real fun began.

After exiting the gangway, we waited in a bit of a line that took us into the typical warehouse setup where you have to find your group’s pile of bags. I really missed MSC’s conveyor-style setup at this point. Once in there, we located our bags and headed for the customs line. Wow. We walked the length of the warehouse, back and forth multiple times, winding our way to where the customs desks were. Frankly, there was no need for the line to be setup the way it was, there was no wait at all, other than having to stop constantly for people having trouble walking their bags through the maze. Pretty poor line management in here, in my opinion. Getting through customs was pretty fast after we got up to the front of the line, so we headed outside to find our parking shuttle. The failure in design of this terminal became even more obvious at this point.

Since we were late getting off the ship, we were now in a sea of people trying to both depart and arrive. The side of the terminal set up for shuttles is way too small to handle the number of people coming and going during busy times. Only a few shuttles at a time can get in there and park due to the limited number of primary spaces , so there are attendants working the line of incoming shuttles and buses, only allowing new ones in when others fill and leave. For some reason, they were leaving the spaces in the center of the lot open most of the time, which seems like wasted space. We stood out there for at least 30min while our shuttle was in line waiting on access to the pick up area. During all of that, you’re basically having to navigate around all of the people arriving at the terminal, which makes for a really fun time. All in all, I think we ended up at our car around 12:30pm or so. Definitely one of the slowest debarks we’ve ever had.

Moving on, the cruise itself was fun, as I think I’ve showed throughout the previous posts. I do think I’ve finally found a ship that’s too big for my tastes, however. It’s a beautiful ship, I just felt (for lack of a better word) disconnected from everything going on around the ship the whole week. Hopefully my reasoning behind it will become apparent in my positives and negatives, but feel free to check out the previous posts from each day too, as I think I called most of this stuff out in each of those.


  • As mentioned, it’s a beautiful ship, it really is. Plenty of things to photograph, certainly not the older style decor.
  • The food in MDR was good all week. Royal had been one of our favorites for food, but we weren’t sure what to expect since we hadn’t sailed them in 8 years. We weren’t disappointed in the main dining rooms! The pizza, however, had no shot against MSC’s.
  • Our MDR service was excellent. Gerson and Rydon provided some of the best service we’ve had in a long time! Gerson mentioned he was retiring in the not too distant future, best of luck to him, enjoy it!
  • Bayley and I enjoyed Johnny Rockets, and frankly, the cover fee isn’t bad at all. I think it was $6.95/pp, which allowed you to order whatever you wanted from the menu, save for shakes and alcohol.
  • I really liked the boardwalk area, cool spot to hang out.
  • The girls had fun at the cupcake decorating class. Granted, it was $22/pp, but still, it was a fun time for them. The other kids in the class seemed to be enjoying it, too.
  • All of our excursions were a blast. That big zipline in Labadee is really, really fun, too. The stuff on Labadee and the waterfall/river tubing were the ones we did through Royal, and we were not disappointed with any of them. Score one for ship-sponsored excursions!
  • With the exception of Cats, we enjoyed the shows we attended. We made it to Frozen in Time, two of the shows in the Aqua Theater, and Come Fly with Me and enjoyed them all.
  • The Dreamworks partnership is pretty cool, and gives kids (of all ages :)) the chance to take pictures with characters all week.


  • I don’t think I’d stay in an inside balcony again. It was nice to be able to watch the aqua shows from the balcony and see what was going on around the boardwalk, but I missed the direct view of the ocean and the ability to just sit out there and relax. One key downside of the interior balconies is that they get little to no airflow, so it was really hot humid on our balcony a few times. I tried writing blog entries out there a couple of times and even in the morning, the humidity was too much to deal with after a few minutes.
  • The entertainment staff just didn’t seem that in to it. It’s probably not fair to be judging this right after two sailings on the Divina, but most of them really seemed like they were phoning it in, the energy level just wasn’t there, and at times they were reading off of canned trivia sheets they seemed to be looking at for the first time. Just an overall lack of preparedness in several cases.
  • The venues for some activities are just poorly designed. The battle of the sexes for example, was hosted in Dazzles, which is not designed to host something like this. A good chunk of the upstairs seating can’t see the main stage clearly, and from what I could tell, a lot of people downstairs were having the same issues. We were up against the center glass upstairs, couldn’t see what was going on, so we left after 5min. Other venues on the ship (like On Air and Comedy Live) seem have similar issues with sight lines and capacity for popular events.
  • The reservation system for shows needs work. We felt like we needed to book our shows prior to sailing to be able to get in, so we booked a couple of months out. By the time we sailed, we’d more or less forgotten what shows we had tickets for and on what days we were set to attend. Sure, we should have printed it out, and yes, you can navigate the TV menus to find your reservations, but some sort of visual reminder would be helpful. Frankly, between this and the Escape, I’ve learned to dislike this sort of setup on larger ships. There’s enough to do when getting ready for a cruise without having to worry about making restaurant and show reservations ahead of time.
  • The Coke Freestyle machines were in a bad state all week. Heck, the one in Challenger’s Arcade didn’t have carbonation the entire time. Many were out of ice constantly, and on a number of occasions, half the soda cartridges were empty. Part of the reason I got the soda package was the presence of Freestyle machines, so constantly having to walk to other areas of the ship to fill my cup up was annoying. Ran in to a lot of people in those lines that seemed to feel the same way.
  • Windjammer. Again, wow. This place is way too small for a ship this size. I ate breakfast up there once or twice and had no issues because I tend to get up pretty early, but each time there would be a line of people waiting to get in as I left. Once all the tables fill up, they line you up outside until tables free up. We saw this at all three meals, so if you want to eat there, get there early. Heck, right after we boarded, we headed up there as soon as it opened, and were the first ones in. By the time we were done, there was a really long line of people waiting to get in.
  • Overall, we were surprised at how early some of the included (no-fee) eateries on board closed for a ship this size. By 9:30, you’re pretty much relegated to the few items in the promenade cafe, or pizza at Sorrentos for any late night snacking.
  • I don’t really understand all the love for the Voom internet. Granted, we only got the social media package, which is throttled (and it showed), but reliability was a bigger issue on Oasis than any sailing we’ve been on in the past year. Way too many instances of it being completely out over the course of the week.
  • We’ve seen other agents complaining about items they purchased for clients from Royal’s gifts site not actually getting delivered during the sailing, so I was a bit leery a bout ordering anything, but since it was a milestone birthday for Jen, wanted to do something. I ordered the paisley room decorations, which were there as ordered, but the celebration cake I ordered for delivery in the MDR on night 1 did not.  I said something to our head waiter, who hadn’t been informed of any cake order, but he fixed it and delivered the chocolate/chocolate one the next night. Not sure I’d use the gifts program again, however, considering how often we hear about delivery failure.

As I mentioned, it was a fun week overall regardless of any issues, and I’m glad I finally got to sail an Oasis class ship, but it may be the only time I do so. I should be clear that the number of people was never a direct issue. Once you figure out what areas to avoid during certain times (see: Windjammer), the crowds never seem any worse than smaller ships, save for the bingo line, which was just bad. I guess the good thing is that this sailing was the first in a long time where we haven’t blown money on bingo :).

Even if we don’t sail an Oasis class ship again, I was happy to be back on Royal, as the some of the stuff we really liked about them on past sailings were still there, namely the outstanding MDR service and good food. I’d love to try Quantum class, as well as enjoy some of the smaller classes on future sailings.

Oasis of the Seas: Day 6 in Cozumel!

Our final stop on this cruise was in Cozumel, a port we’ve been to several times in the past. Normally we use this as a beach day and just grab a cab to one of the local resorts, but having already spent a day on the beach in Labadee this time, we decided to try a dune buggy excursion through a supplier we’ve used in the past for both clients and ourselves, ShoreTrips.

The ship docked pretty early, and started allowing people to get off at about 8:15. We weren’t scheduled to meet our tour guide until 11am ship time (10am local time), so we hung out and ate breakfast at the MDR before getting off to check out a few of the local shops. It was pretty humid, and none of us really had the patience to walk all of the port shops in that heat, so after picking a couple of things up, we grabbed a cab to the Hotel Cozumel and Resort where we were scheduled to meet our guides ($12 for 5 people for the cab ride).

On arrival, our guides Omar and Ronny from Cozumel Buggy greeted us and led us over to some seats in the lobby. Once we got all checked in with them and they went over what the tour entailed, they led us and the two other groups to our buggies. These things were pretty cool, just note that whoever is going to drive needs to be able to drive a stick, all of their buggies have 4-speed manual transmissions.

We started with a drive out of the city, following Omar all the way, and eventually ended up driving along the incredibly scenic coastline before stopping at a little resort for about 30min of beach time. Here you can order food and drink if you want, but you do have to pay for it. The guide carries water and soda in his buggy that’s included, so we didn’t choose to buy anything, we just hung out in the ocean for a while:

After the beach break, we got back in the buggy and drove down the coastline a little more before stopping at El Cedral for some Mayan history. The guide gave us a talk on the history of the town, and took us for a little traditional Mayan food. We also had the chance to take pictures next to a Mayan temple and purchase some items from local vendors.

Next up, we drove around the remainder of the island’s coastline and back to the hotel we started at. That brought us to the last parts of the excursion, snorkeling and lunch, in that order. The snorkeling itself was just okay, as you hop in the water from a pier across the street and swim out in to a rocky shoreline area. We did see some small fish and a couple of rays, but it was pretty choppy, and I think the three of us were pretty well spent by the time we got back to the pier and got out.

After getting out and dried off, it was time for lunch. We ate at the hotel’s buffet and were served fajitas, along with a few sides. They cooked up both beef or chicken, but ran out of chicken near the end of the line. I had the beef, which wasn’t bad, but the fries on the buffet were pretty cold. Oh well, for the most part I think everyone got filled up before we called it a day and grabbed cabs back to the boat.

We were all pretty worn out, and decided to skip dinner in the MDR, as nothing on the menu really seemed worth getting cleaned up and dressed up for. We had tickets to Come Fly With Me, the acrobatic show, so we hit that up at 8:30. It was a pretty good show, save for the singing.

After the show ended, we headed to Johnny Rockets. This isn’t free for lunch or dinner, but at dinner you pay a $6.95/pp cover charge and can eat whatever you want on the menu. Soda and water are included, but shakes and anything with alcohol is extra. I had the Route 66 burger while Bayley had the grilled cheese, and we both ordered the bacon cheese fries. Yummy… I have a lot of working out to do after we get home to burn all this off…

That about covers day 6. I’ll try and get my recap of our final day aboard the Oasis done tomorrow, with a post on our disembarkation experience and final thoughts a few days later after we’ve had some time to decompress and put our thoughts on the sailing together.

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