When a major cruise line brings out its first new ship in four years, the design, style and atmosphere onboard speak to how the company currently sees itself: This is who we are, now.
While some North American cruise companies are moving more upscale or appealing to a more global clientele, Carnival Cruise Line plows familiar North American waters. The company continues to dance with the kind of ships that have brought success and profits, tweaking new vessels primarily to stay current with vacationers’ expectations. In other words, says Carnival’s president, Christine Duffy, when you build a new ship, “Do no harm.”
The 3,954-passenger Carnival Vista, which began sailing the Mediterranean in May, moved to Miami and is now home ported in Galveston, Texas, fully fills its role.
From bow to stern, Vista screams, “I am Carnival.” And fun-loving Carnival Cruise Line fans will appreciate all of it.
While Vista clearly is — as it should be — the best ship Carnival ever built, do not expect an experience significantly different from other Carnival vessels. But do expect a better one, with more choices, especially those focused on family vacations. Carnival successfully has tweaked improvements to its menus, its lounges, its shows, its cabins and its craft beers.
Vista is the first ship in its class. More than any other Carnival ship, Vista emphasizes the outdoors for eating and playing, compared to the old days when Carnival ships dedicated outdoor space to sunbathing and moved parties indoors as the sun set.
The ship has tables outdoors at Bonsai Sushi, the RedFrog Pub & Brewery and the Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse, as well as the usual pool deck seats for fish tacos and Guy’s Burgers. Try the terrific new open-air Seafood Shack that, for a fee, serves lobster BLTs, lobster rolls, oysters and clam chowder, or for dinner, order fresh-from-the-market fish.
Still hungry? Vista is Carnival’s best ship for small bites, including pub grub (for a fee) at RedFrog, where a resident master is brewing three craft beers onboard (ThirstyFrog Port Hoppin’ IPA, ThirstyFrog Caribbean Wheat and coffee-toned FriskyFrog Java Stout) in collaboration with Miami-based Concrete Beach Brewery. Or sample (for a fee) ceviche, ropa vieja and other Cuban treats at the Havana Bar, to accompany mojitos and Cuba Libres.
The Havana Bar was my preferred spot for a pre-dinner bite and beer. After 5 p.m. you can sip and soak, or just dip your toes in the aft pool or hot tubs to watch the sun set. During the day, this area is a private retreat for the folks in the new Havana Cabanas, with tropical décor, private outdoor patios with a swing chair, sun bed and lounge chair. Late at night, Havana is packed with a salsa band and dancing.
During the day, cruisers will be drawn to a huge WaterWorks waterpark with water slides. Kaleid-o-Slide, Carnival’s first inner-tube slide, sloshes 455 feet with twists, turns and kaleidoscopic visual effects.
My favorite deck experience was SkyRide, where you put on a safety harness and pedal a recumbent-like bike on a track suspended above the ship. This is the ship’s “wow” attraction. One passenger told me she was too scared to try the ride, but it was an easy, fun and a non-strenuous way to see Vista from above. There is no charge for the ride, which is on two parallel tracks so you could, if so inclined, race a partner around the 800-foot loop.
If you want some time indoors, prepare to be amazed that a cruise ship can house an IMAX Theatre. The first IMAX at sea seats 187, has a three-deck-high screen and surround sound. I was fascinated by the “The Jungle Book 3D.” Carnival and IMAX promise new movies that will screen the same day as in theaters. ($12.95 for adults, $9.95 for kids and seniors.)
Much of the ship was designed with families in mind. Expanded activity space on deck includes a 270-foot-long suspended ropes course; the PowerDrencher, a tipping bucket filled with 300 gallons of water; and a special young children’s area with 30 different water spray toys and small racing slides.
Inside, on Deck 2, families in the new 96 Family Harbor cabins and suites get keycard access to a dedicated lounge with a “family concierge” and a table that serves a buffet breakfast and snacks throughout the day. There are big TV screens and board games. The largest cabins, called suites, are 238 square feet and include two bathrooms, one with a tub.
In Camp Ocean, the children’s area, Vista is the second Carnival ship to have a Dr. Seuss Bookville, a family reading place that contains every Dr. Seuss book ever written, in multiple languages — more than a tweak from Carnival party ships of the old days, but now a popular family activity that certainly does no harm.
Tonnage: 133,500 GT
Length: 1,055 feet
Beam: 122 feet
Other Vista-class ships: Carnival Horizon, Carnival Panorama
Builder: Fincantieri, Monfalcone, Italy
Maiden cruise: May 1, 2016
Home port: Galveston, Texas, where it is sailing week-long western Caribbean cruises for at least the next two years