You’ve likely seen the ads featuring Shaquille O’Neal as Carnival Cruise Line’s new CFO, or “Chief Fun Officer,” and the company maintains its commitment to bringing the fun on its newest ship, Horizon. The boat makes trips to Bermuda and the Caribbean from New York’s cruise terminal until late-September and then will head to Miami, where it will head to the Caribbean for six- and eight-day cruises. We hopped aboard (with a kid test subject) for a four-day trip to Bermuda: here’s our report!
Cruising with Carnival
In case you missed the memo, Carnival is all about “fun.” That, of course, means different things to different people, but Carnival is one of those lines that tricks out its boats with all kinds of crazy things one might not expect on a cruise ship.
Case in point: Horizon is topped by the first-ever Dr. Seuss-themed water park, “Dr. Seuss Waterworks”, featuring two mega slides, a 300-gallon dunk tank (in the form of the Cat’s hat), a little kid play area, and more. It’s quite impressive, and we saw both the young, and young-at-heart, race down those slides much to their delight.
“Fun” here also means letting loose a bit, whether that’s participating in a Hairy Chest contest, dressing up like Prince for the 80s dance party, or throwing back some drinks as part of a family reunion, bachelorette party, etc. People on a Carnival Cruise let it all hang out, and are ready to party.
Carnival spreads its fun spirit to its longtime charitable partner, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and has raised more than $16 million for the organization, with onboard events like “Groove for St. Jude” and a current campaign, during which the company will make a donation to St. Jude for every time someone posts on social media using the hashtag, “#choosefun.”
The mini-golf area of SportsSquare on Carnival Horizon
Beyond the Water Park
The water park is a headline-grabber, but there are plenty of other diversions. SportsSquare, also on the top of the ship, is home to all kinds of games — mini-golf, pool, cornhole, ping-pong and chess, as well as an elevated ropes course and the “SkyRide”, which enables the brave to strap in and recumbent cycle around a suspended course. (We passed on that last one, but people like it!) Outdoor volleyball and soccer games happen here too, and an attached clubhouse offers foosball, more billiards, and video games.
Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Lines
In addition to things to do, Horizon offers things to see. On-board live entertainment ranges from high energy shows from Playlist Productions, to live Lip Sync Battles between passengers, who vie for the title of on-board champion (and a prize), costumes backup dancers and all. (Carnival has a partnership with the hit SpikeTV show.)
Live music of all kinds can be found all over the ship: check out Latin music in the Havana Bar, cocktail tunes in the classic piano bar, and jazz, electric violins, and acoustic jams in various open atrium spaces and restaurants.
For those wanting to make sure they get in on the action, the ship’s omnipresent Cruise Director (the “Flying Scottsman”, Christopher Williams) heads up everything from dance parties to contests. And during Hasbro: The Game Show, teams play versions of popular games like Simon Flash and Yahtzee Bowling (all super-sized) in front of a live audience.
Other options range from an IMAX movie theater (screening new releases), a “Thrill Theater”, showing short programs of 3D movies with 4D enhancements (wind, mist, etc.), and “Dive-In” movies shown on the big screen, day and night (popcorn included) in Lido Deck pool area.
Like the nightlife? Catch a comedy set, hit the nightclub for dancing until almost dawn, chill at the piano bar, or try your luck at the on-board casino.
Yes, those are green eggs.
Just for Kids: Seuss at Sea
Carnivals’ partnership with the Dr. Seuss brand goes well beyond that waterpark. Dr. Seuss Bookville is a large and colorful retreat for families, filled with spots for reading and multiple copies of the Dr.’s hits, big and small.
The “Green Eggs and Ham” Breakfast is a fun experience for kids, with a Seuss-themed menu (yes, the eggs are green, but there are other choices, too), and appearances by Thing 1 and Thing 2, The Cat in the Hat, and Sam I Am himself. (Everyone gets and autograph from Seuss celebs, as well as a photo op.)
Note: If you think you want to make this event, make a reservation sooner rather than later, as it does fill up. It’s a reasonable $5 extra charge for this meal, and in our opinion, totally worth it.
Other Seuss-themed activities include an onboard character parade, interactive storytime, and arts & crafts.
One of the rooms at Camp Ocean. They do lots more than watch movies. photo: Carnival
Kid Care at Camp Ocean
Like many other cruise lines, Carnival offers a kids club, with activities for kids ages two to 11. (Children are grouped by age: 2 to 5, 6 to 8, and 9 to 11.) Counselors with childcare and education experience engage kids with aquatic-related games and arts and crafts, movies, and more in these areas designed just for kids.
Our camper enjoyed the kids club — particularly the raging and impressive dance party thrown one night. Camp Ocean is open during the day and night, and will keep the kids busy until 10 p.m. at no extra charge. The evening childcare is available until 1 a.m., with a rate of $6.75/hour plus 15% gratuity after 10 p.m. (So, yes, you can go see a movie and have dinner with your partner!)
Pro-tip: Check in at Camp Ocean when you get on the ship so you’re all registered and ready to go should you want to drop the kids off. Pick up the Cruise Activity Schedule for your child’s group at that time too for easy reference. (We found it very helpful.)
Guy’s Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse and Brewhouse is a new addition to Carnival’s fleet. photo: Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Lines
What’s to Eat
Dining on Carnival Horizon ranges from the super casual (grab and go pizzas made to order, cafeteria-style dining areas with stations, sandwich bar, continental breakfast) to classic cruise dining in the ship’s main dining room, all of which are included in the price of the cruise.
Elevated options both casual and higher end (which have an additional cost) include the new Bonsai Teppanyaki, where chefs prepare meals and perform for small groups Benihana-style. (Of interest? Book it as soon as you can, as seating is limited.)
Also new on Horizon is Guy’s Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse and Brewhouse. (“Guy” as in bleach-blonde Food Network dive fan Guy Fieri, who is also the mastermind behind the burger bar on board.) True to the name, this eatery and watering hole both smokes and brews on site; beers such as smoked porter, farmhouse ale, and an IPA are all exclusive to the ship. Food includes BBQ favorites like brisket, sausage, and baby back ribs. (Lunch is also included at Guy’s.)
Additional specialty restaurants include Italian eatery Cucina del Capitano ($15), Ji Ji Asian Kitchen ($15), Bonsai Sushi (a la carte), and the formal 555 Fahrenheit Steakhouse ($35 per person). Standouts for us were the steakhouse, where we had an excellent meal with creative flavors and presentation, and Bonsai Sushi, where authentic Japanese small bites were delicious and affordable. We did not eat at Ji Ji Asian Kitchen, but wish we had — those we talked to (too late) raved about it.
Off the Boat
Our cruise headed to Bermuda, where guests could embark on excursions both active and more relaxed. We hopped a catamaran for a day trip on the excellent Rising Son Cruises to a cove of clear blue water, where we snorkled, paddle boarded, explored caves and sipped on rum cocktails.
Other excursions available on Horizon sailings include “Aquarium, Caves & Attractions” (starting at $148.99/adults, $138.99/children) and “Kayak Eco Adventure” (starting at $85.99/adults, $75.99/children) in Bermuda, and “Rays Conch & Reef Snorkel” in Grand Turk ($74.99/adults, $64.99/children) and
“Outback Dominican Adventure With Lunch in Amber Cove” (starting at $94.99/adults, $79.99/children).
The outdoor seating area of specialty restaurant Bonsai Sushi and the nearby Lanai offer a respite from the more spirited areas of the ship.
Relax, Renew, and Refresh
Looking to get away from it all while you’re getting away from it all? There are a few ways of doing that on Horizon, some more effective than others.
There is an adults-only area, dubbed “Serenity”, located at the top of the ship. It’s furnished with lounge chairs and large, partially covered large “pods” which look really relaxing. However, when we visited, every lounging spot was taken, either by an actual person or towels and gear “saving” the place for someone. (A sign essentially requesting that people not do this and threatening to remove items after 45 minutes went unheeded.) The area left us feeling more aggravated than serene.
We ended up loving the seating area outside Bonsai Sushi (pictured above) and “The Lanai”, where there were comfy chairs, shade, and not a lot of people. Our favorite quiet indoor getaway? The Library Bar, stocked with books, games, and a by-the-glass serve yourself wine bar.
Heated, tiled lounges in the Cloud 9 Spa are shockingly soothing and comfortable. photo: Carnival
Another option is the Cloud 9 Spa, which in addition to offering all kinds of beauty and wellness services, features a Thermal Suite area, a series of “herbal steam and sauna grottos that cleanse the body with gentle heat.” (Rooms with dry heat, wet heat, infra-red heat, etc., accompanied by aromas that can be activated at the push of a button. One problem: those aromas aren’t labeled and the control panel is confusing, but when we inquired we were told lemongrass and eucalyptus were among the scents.)
While were wen’t blown away by grottos, the heated and tiled lounge chairs, shaped to contour a reclining body were fabulous and did indeed help us relax. Passengers can purchase passes for a single day ($40) or the duration of the trip, with rates starting at $79 for a four-day cruise.
During the day, The Havana Bar & Pool is exclusively available to guests staying in Havana rooms.
You Get What You Pay For
One of the reasons Carnival is a popular way to cruise is its relative affordability. (One veteran industry journalist we talked to referred to it as a “value product.”) That means there are a lot of people on the ship, which can result in long lines and crowded spaces. The lines for much of the casual food included with one’s booking, such as the pizza, burgers, tacos, and sandwiches, were sometimes soul-crushingly-long, which can be rough if you’re famished or (worse) your six year old is.
Our child companion spent an inordinate amount of time in the packed-to-the-rim hot tubs, which thrilled her, but is not our idea of a relaxing hot tub experience.
The Family Harbor Lounge offers a place to relax and snack for guests staying in affiliated suites. photo: Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Line
Upgrade Your Experience
One workaround for both families and groups traveling without kids are respectively, the Family Harbor rooms and suites (which feature a nautical decor) and the Havana Cabanas and staterooms, decorated with Cuban flair.
Both get you some less-crowded space and/or snacks, and yes, you will pay more for these, but depending on your tolerance for lines and crowds, it might be worth it.
The Family Harbor Lounge, is an exclusive spot featuring breakfast in the morning, snacks throughout the day, concierge service and activities like Hasbro board games, family movies, video games and more. You get other perks like a free night of babysitting and kids eating for free in premium restaurants.
The Havana rooms (which only allow guest 12 years old and up) get you exclusive daytime access to one of the nicer areas of the ship, the Havana Bar & Pool, pictured above. (At night, it is open to everyone.)
Sample rates for the four-day Bermuda trip we went on are $1,039 per person (double occupancy) for a deluxe Havana Cabana, and $787.80 per person (double occupancy) for a Family Harbor Suite Balcony.
Rates for other types of rooms are as follows, all double occupancy, per person: Interior, $599; Oceanview, $689; Balcony, $769, and Suites, $1,340.
The Alchemy Bar serves up strong craft cocktails. photo: Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Lines
Looking to enjoy some brews/drinks with umbrellas/vino on your vacay? Can’t go without Internet for work or play? Consider the alcohol and satellite Internet packages.
The alcohol package, or CHEERS!, is $51.95 per person, per day plus 15 percent gratuity if you purchase before the cruise. Once on board guests can sign up at a bar location for $56.95 per person, per day plus 15 percent gratuity. (Note: If you’re sailing from a city in New York or Texas, state laws prohibit the CHEERS! package being activated until 6 a.m. the second day of sailing; any drinks purchased on the first day will be charged at the regular, individual rate, which start about $7 for alcoholic drinks.)
The Wi-Fi plans are tiered, depending on your need to stay connected. An important note: only one device can be connected at one time, so you and junior cannot both surf poolside.
The Social Wi-Fi Plan (pre-cruise price: $4/day; onboard price: $5/day) grants you access to the most popular social websites and applications including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, SnapChat, and the most popular airline sites. It does not support access to video and music streaming (such as Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Pandora), iMessage or Skype.
The Value Wi-Fi Plan (pre-cruise price: $10.25/day; onboard price: $12/day; onboard price for 24 hour plan: $16/day) allows you to surf the entire web, and the Premium Wi-Fi Plan (pre-cruise price: $14.88/day; onboard price: $17.70/day; onboard price for 24 hour plan: $25/day) offers full web access at up to three time faster than the value plan.
Cruise Director The Flying Scottsman leads on on-board dance party.
Coming On Board? Take Note!
• Do yourself a favor and download the Carnival app, The Hub, which provides guests deck plans, notification of events, and the ability to message fellow passengers (the last of which requires a one-time $5 fee; it’s worth it.)
• If you work in a fancy NYC office building, you may be familiar with “smart” or “intelligent” elevators, which, when you tell them your destination, assign you a car (CAR “D”) to take you straight there with few or no stops. In theory, it’s more efficient, faster, and helps ease car crowding. In our experience, sometimes that was the case, others, we waited forever. The fact that many people were encountering them for the first time probably didn’t help.
• When you arrive in your cabin, you will be provided with a blue Carnival beach towel. Do not lose this towel! (It’s accounted for, and if you lose it, you could be charged a hefty $22 fee to replace it. This is not uncommon on ships, but is a classic cruise newbie fail.) If you need a towel at a pool you can “check out” a loaner, to bring back at another time.
• We’re serious about the food lines. We got caught more than once hungry with few options (example: when we returned from our excursion, we were smack in the middle of the dining rooms prepping for dinner, and the lines for pizza and sandwiches were scary.) That was our bad for not thinking ahead — think strategically about when you’re eating (go early, go late, grab some fruit for the room, etc.).
• Horizon features lots of shopping opportunities on board, from costume and fine jewelry to watches, candy creations, souvenirs, and alcohol and tobacco. They’ve even got a Victoria’s Secret on board. If you’ve never cruised, it’s important to know that all shops are closed when the ship is in port. On Horizon, it’s also helpful to know that an all-purpose general store for things like a bag of nuts, toothpaste, gum, Band-Aids, etc. does not really exist.
Carnival Horizon is sailing from New York City to Bermuda and the Caribbean until September 22. After that, it will make six- and eight-day trips to the Caribbean from Miami.
— Mimi O’Connor
This trip was paid for by Carnival Cruise Lines but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer.