Carnival Vista Cruise Review
An Introduction From Jim Zim
I've sailed with Carnival 27 times for a total of 181 days at sea, and the best of all of those Carnival cruises was our September 2017 cruise on the Carnival Vista. It had been a few years since my last Carnival cruise. I had cruised every class of ships in their fleet, in cabins ranging all the way from a cheap inside stateroom without windows all the way up to "The Captain's Suite". I felt like I had pretty much experienced everything Carnival had to offer, so for the last few years I've been sailing with some of the other cruise lines... including Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Viking Ocean Cruises. Adding up all the cruises I've done since my first in 1996, I've now done 42 cruises!
I first started hearing about the Carnival Vista back in 2015. The thing that fascinated me most was hearing that Carnival was going to try something new: A special area at the back end of the ship, known as the Havana area, where a small group of passengers would have access to an exclusive swimming pool, Jacuzzis, and loungers... an area that all the other passengers wouldn't have access to. That would keep the Havana area very un-crowded, and provide a quiet little oasis at the back of the ship for those passengers who were willing to pay a little higher cruise fare to get an un-crowded, relaxing cruise experience.
A Jacuzzi in the exclusive Havana pool area at the back end of the ship
It was obvious to me that Carnival had noticed the success that Norwegian Cruise Line was having with "The Haven". The Haven is Norwegian's exclusive un-crowded area on their newer ships. Not only is there a pool, Jacuzzis, and a sun deck... but also a restaurant and bar, and every Haven passenger has the services of a butler and a concierge. I've sailed in The Haven on Norwegian Cruise Line three different times now, and they were all exceptionally great experiences... but lately, NCL has been jacking up their Haven prices and it's been getting unaffordable. Carnival's Havana experience has some similarities to NCL's Haven, but at a hugely lower price.
It's interesting that Carnival's version of "The Haven" bears the incredibly similar name "Havana", isn't it?
Back in 2015, when I first started hearing about the Havana area on Carnival Vista, I heard that there would be four special suites that would be larger and more luxurious than all the other Havana cabins. I set a goal of staying in one of those Havana suites... but they're so desirable that they were among the first to sell out when bookings opened up for Carnival Vista. To get one, I literally had to book a cruise two years in advance! It was hard to wait all that time, and to read all the great reports from people who got to experience the Carnival Vista before I did. In the last few weeks before my cruise, my anticipation was so high that I had a daily countdown going at my desk at work!
Finally, all that waiting and anticipating came to an end in the last week of September... and it was time for my wife and I to fly to Miami for our cruise on Carnival Vista. This is the story of that 8-day cruise to the Southern Caribbean...
The Havana Pool Area
Since the #1 most incredible feature of the Carnival Vista is the un-crowded Havana area at the back of the ship, this story is definitely going to start there.
To truly understand what all the fuss over the Havana area is about, you have to first think about this picture of the mid-ship pool on the Lido deck of Carnival Vista:
The Carnival Vista is the largest ship in Carnival's fleet, and it's absolutely huge. The week we were aboard, there were 4600 passengers... and on some weeks, there are even more than that. Imagine competing with 4600 other people for a spot in the pool, or a lounger nearby. On a beautiful warm day sailing the Caribbean, it's an absolute zoo out there on Lido deck at the mid-ship pool. And look at the clarity of the water in the pool! (Or more accurately, the lack of clarity.) The shape of a dolphin is painted in deep blue paint on the bottom of that pool, but you can't even see it through the murky water in that photo. I know you're probably thinking the water is murky from kids peeing in it... and that may be part of the problem... but I think it's mostly from sunblock that has washed off of people's bodies.
Now compare that last photo to this photo of the pool in the Havana area, which only 130 guests booked in Havana cabins have access to:
When it comes to cruising, one thing I've learned after 42 cruises is that it's far better to share a swimming pool with 130 guests than it is to share it with 4600. (Or 6700 on the biggest Royal Caribbean ships!)
So, the thing that attracted me to Carnival Vista, and which prompted me to book a Havana cabin, was the un-crowded pool area at the back of the ship. Because when I'm on vacation, I'm all about the water. I want to be swimming at one of the world's best beaches, or relaxing in a swimming pool or Jacuzzi, during just about every day of every vacation. I honestly couldn't care less about touring historical sites, or attending art auctions, or learning about the local people and the way they live. After 25 years at my "real job", I'm getting tired of working now. Retirement is a few years away. When I can take a week away from work, just send me somewhere (Hawaii, Mexico, or the Caribbean are fine with me!) where the water is warm, the food is good, and where a Margarita or a Malibu-and-Coke can be easily obtained. That's all it takes to make me happy on vacation.
I liked this shaded seating area in about one inch of water at the Havana pool.
It's no fun getting a sun burn on vacation, so a shaded spot like this is a great place to sit and enjoy a drink.
The Havana bar is just a few feet from this spot.
The Havana pool area is for the exclusive use of passengers booked in Havana cabins, until 7 PM.
After 7 PM, any Carnival Vista passenger is welcome to come and enjoy the Havana area.
I didn't see very many people do so, though. A few came and looked around, but not very many stayed.
This shows a portion of the sun deck on the edges of the Havana pool area.
Just about every time I was here, there were loungers available.
However, those round day beds in the upper right corner of the photo were super popular
and were usually chair-hogged very early in the morning with a towel and a personal item.
Here's a better look at those day beds.
There were a total of six of them in the Havana pool area.
In my opinion, Carnival should add padded covers to the loungers in the Havana area.
This is a photo of some loungers in the Serenity Retreat on deck 15,
and this is what I think the loungers in the Havana area should be like.
Without the padded covers, the wicker loungers in the Havana area aren't really all that comfortable.
However, when you step out of the pool or a Jacuzzi and you're dripping wet,
it's nice to sit on a lounger without a pad, to dry off without getting the pad all wet for the next guy.
On days when the ship is moving from west to east,
you have a great view of the sunset from the Havana pool area.
But because that typically happens around dinner time,
a lot of cruisers miss it.
This photo gives you a realistic look at the Havana area at mid-day on a sea day.
Almost all the seats are in use, but there are still a few available.
At that little hut on the left, you can pick up a fresh beach towel.
Our friends, Liz and Kimble, were sailing with us this week, but NOT in a Havana cabin. They had their daughter with them, and families with kids under 12 years old aren't allowed to book Havana cabins. So, we were unable to have them hang out with us in the Havana pool area during the days, but after 7 PM we could invite them in. One night, we all had the best chat out here in the comfortable seating area near the Jacuzzi... on a delightfully warm night in the Caribbean.
It's especially great that the Havana area sits on the the fifth deck of a 15-deck ship, and at the rear... because this means the Havana area is quite nicely protected from wind. Imagine a cruise ship sailing in to the wind. If the ship is travelling at a speed of 15 knots, and the wind is blowing at 20 knots, that creates an "apparent wind" of 35 knots... nasty conditions if you're sitting somewhere exposed to the wind. It has always baffled me why Carnival builds their "Serenity Retreat" on the top deck, and at the front of the ship, on many of their ships. That's a horribly uncomfortable place to be on a windy day. On Carnival's Spirit-class and Fantasy-class ships, the Serenity Retreat is at the rear of the ship and is quite nicely wind protected. And on Carnival Vista, the Havana pool area is perfectly placed at the rear of the ship, down low, to offer some very nice wind protection.
On Royal Caribbean's newest ships, they have something similar to Carnival's Serenity Retreat, and it's up at the front of the ship on the highest deck... but Royal Caribbean was smart and enclosed it in glass to keep it protected from the wind at all times. One of these days, Carnival will figure it out and copy Royal Caribbean's idea on this.
Glass enclosed adults-only area on Royal Caribbean's Anthem Of The Seas
I don't know whether it's always this way, or if it was intentional, but several days during our cruise I noticed that one of the Jacuzzis was noticeably warmer than the other. I really appreciated this, because in the early morning or late evening hours it was nice to get in a somewhat warmer Jacuzzi... and during the heat of the day it was more comfortable to be in the slightly cooler one.
I have to assume that the water in the Havana pool is pulled directly out of the ocean and not heated... because at the beginning of our cruise the water in the pool was noticeably cooler than it was a few days later. Notice that in this picture that most of the people are not actually in the pool. The water was just slightly too cool for that during the first couple of days of the cruise. But then one day, I dipped my toes in and noticed the pool was noticeably warmer than it had been the previous day. We had been sailing south, and had gotten in to warmer waters of the Caribbean. I have to assume that they had drained and refilled the pool overnight. For the rest of the cruise, the water in the Havana pool was a much more comfortable temperature, and a lot more of the Havana passengers got all the way in the pool.
This next picture is NOT a real picture! This is a rendering of what the ship's designers wanted the rear end of Carnival Vista to look like. The actual ship does indeed match up to the "artist's concept" quite well. I'm including it here simply because it gives you a pretty nice overview of the Havana pool area... from an angle that would be impossible for me to get from my camera!
Some Perspective To My Story
When my wife and I started cruising back in 1996... we did it on a shoestring. We booked the cheapest inside cabin we could find, on the shortest cruise we could find, from the closest port to our house. We crammed two adults and two kids in to a tiny cabin, and we were thankful to be able to afford such an extravagant vacation... since up until that point, just about all of our vacations had consisted of driving to stay at a relative's house somewhere.
My wife and I enjoyed that first cruise, but the kids really didn't enjoy it all that much! So, there were no more cruises for our family for the next twelve years after that. But once the kids flew the coop, Kellyn and I started cruising again. We were still financially supporting two 20-somethings, so our cruises for the first couple of years after that were still on a limited budget... but at least we could usually afford a balcony cabin.
With each passing year, I was making a little more money (thanks IBEW and those annual wage increases!) and the kids were costing us a little less. So, over time, our vacation budgets slowly increased. In 2010, we stayed in a suite for the first time. In 2011, we were able to afford to fly to Miami for the first time and do a Caribbean cruise. We started to do a lot of back-to-back cruises. In 2013, thanks to the profits from my first viral YouTube video, we were able to splurge on the most expensive suite on the Carnival Sunshine, the Captain's Suite. In 2014, with ad revenue from YouTube getting even stronger, we were actually able to do six cruises in a single year... including our first experience with luxury cruising in The Haven on Norwegian cruise line!
I must be the luckiest guy in the world, because here in 2017 I totally lucked in to a lucrative situation at my "real job" which will provide a big financial boost for the rest of my years there, until I'm ready to retire somewhere around 3-5 years from now. And my YouTube channel has turned in to a huge deal, providing an incredible extra income that I never expected.
The reason that I'm telling you all this is that I know I'm incredibly blessed, and that most people can't afford what I'm about to describe to you. Please understand that it hasn't always been this way for me. I've worked hard since I was 20 years old (and that was 40 years ago) and finally now I am able to enjoy some rewards from that hard work. I know that not everyone has been so blessed, and I understand how reading some of this story might frustrate some readers who aren't able to afford this kind of vacation. I wasn't able to either, for quite a long time, but finally there are rewards from years of hard work and good choices... and a little bit of luck. I hope some day you will be as fortunate.
Carnival Vista Cabin 5234
As I mentioned earlier, when I first started hearing about the Havana area on Carnival Vista, back in 2015, I heard that there would be four special suites that would be larger and more luxurious than all the other Havana cabins. I set a goal of staying in one of those cabins, which are known as "Havana suites". Let me give you a tour...
The Living Room:
The couch actually converts to two small beds, if I'm not mistaken.
In a video which I'll share with you a little further down the page, you'll see what I mean.
Perhaps the best thing about the Havana Suite is the shower:
My shower at home is nowhere near as nice as this!
A small detail I appreciated was that the rainfall shower head could be tilted.
On deck five, there is a long row of 14 Havana cabins and suites that share an unusual design feature. Each has a large 100 square foot patio that backs up to a shared walkway leading to the Havana pool area.
Each of the Havana balcony cabins on deck five has a really cool feature... a swing!
When Carnival publicly released artist's renderings back in 2015 that showed what this row of Havana cabins on deck five would look like, they showed the regular Havana cabins as having just patio furniture and the Havana Suites as having swinging hammocks. I remember thinking at that time that the hammocks were the coolest Carnival innovation since Guy Fieri burgers... and the hammocks were actually the main reason that I spent the extra money to book a Havana suite instead of a Havana cabana.
An artist's rendering of the original plan for the balconies of the Havana Suites
Sometime between when the ship was designed and when it was built, Carnival must have decided that the hammocks were impractical. (You probably would have swung in to that fencing way too easily.) So, the final design evolved in to no hammocks for the suites, but swings for all the cabins along that row. Here's how the patios of all of those Havana cabanas and suites look in real life:
As you can see in the photo, there's a pretty great view from those patios! What is not quite as apparent is that those three pieces of patio furniture are not very comfortable. My wife totally LOVED the swing, but she's a small person. The swing wasn't comfortable for me as designed. If the back of the swing's seat had been taller, it would have been a lot better for me. That middle piece of furniture is just a complete oddball. I heard several other Havana guests say how uncomfortable it is, and I completely agree. The back is set at WAY too steep of an angle, and it is not adjustable. At least they put a padded cushion on it. With my wife in the swing, I defaulted to that little chair in the middle since it at least had a cushion. But I sat upright and did not lean back. They really screwed up in not adding cushions to the lounger on the right. I can't really understand the thought process in not adding cushions to the lounger on the patio of the best suite on the ship. And the lounger sits way too low to the ground... so if you do relax on it, it's VERY difficult to get out of it. I sincerely hope that they do not stick with this arrangement on Carnival Vista's upcoming sister ship, the Carnival Horizon.
I always do a lot of photography and videography when I'm on a cruise ship, so one other little problem with being in a Havana cabin on deck five was the big glass wall at the edge of the ship. If you're just looking at the view from the patio with your eyes, your brain easily ignores the fencing and the glass. But as a photographer and videographer, it presents a problem. There's only so many shots you can take through the glass before you want to find an unobstructed vantage point. I found myself walking to the elevator quite often, to shoot photos from deck 12 or 14 in order to not shoot through glass.
While we were at sea, a finch flew directly in to our neighbor's patio window and knocked himself out cold. Our neighbor revived him!
Enough about the patio... let's go back inside to look at a few details of the Havana suite...
This photo of the bedroom shows the very generously-sized television facing the bed. Also note that I've closed the curtains between the bedroom and the living room. Those curtains were a very good idea. If you have an extra family member cruising with you and sleeping on the couch, you can slide those curtains closed to create some privacy between the two rooms. With my wife and I just travelling as a couple, I still found those curtains useful because there were times when she was sitting out on the patio, in the swing, reading a book. She would usually leave the patio door open so that she would feel like she wasn't in "time out" on the balcony. If I needed to change in or out of a swimsuit, I could easily create a little privacy by closing those curtains... and my wife didn't feel like she was locked out on the balcony.
This view of the bedroom, from a slightly different angle, shows the closets that are located between the bedroom and the bathroom. I would describe the amount of closet space as "adequate but not generous". It's basically the same closet arrangement you'd have on almost any cabin on any Carnival cruise ship from recent years. It was a little surprising to me that they didn't splurge on more generous closets for the best suite on the ship. We were fine with it, though. It was enough space for us.
I think the reason it surprises me comes from our three previous experiences in suites on Norwegian Cruise Line. NCL suites are somewhat over the top! They are quite a bit more expensive than Carnival suites, so I guess it makes sense. But if you ever want to splurge on a cruise that takes most of the great things about a Carnival cruise and then boosts the pampering and the "amazing lavish suite" quotient by a factor of about a hundred... give The Haven on NCL a try sometime.
This photo does a better job of helping you to visualize how the bedroom area is connected to the living room and desk area. Note that the curtains separating the living room from the bedroom have been slid behind the shutters. One other thing to notice in the photo is the small passageway between the desk and the end of the orange couch. It's enough room to get through there when no one is sitting at the desk, but if Kellyn was at the desk working on her makeup, or if I was at the desk using my laptop computer, the only way for the other person to get from the bedroom to the patio was to jump up on to the couch and over. Awkward design.
Still photos can only go so far in giving you a look at our suite.
A video does a MUCH better job. Please take a look:
Every night while we were out at dinner or a show, our stateroom steward would clean up our suite, turn down the bed, and leave us a towel animal. On this particular night, he also left us each gifts for being Platinum in Carnival's loyalty program, and an invitation to a special event.
Speaking of the stateroom steward... Carnival changed something important since the last time we cruised with them, two years ago: No more snoozin'/cruisin' sign. For those of you who have never cruised with Carnival before, that's their version of a "do not disturb / make up room" sign. Anyway, now the only choice is snoozin'... and I think that's too bad. I always found it very convenient to use the cruisin' sign to alert the stateroom steward to a period of time when we would be away from the cabin for awhile, giving them an opportunity to do their thing when we wouldn't be around. What we ended up doing in lieu of a cruisin' sign on this cruise was to just make a point of finding the cabin steward (they're usually working on a cabin not far from yours, with the door open) and letting them know that we were leaving, and when we'd be back. This seemed to work well, and our cabin was usually all fixed up by the time we got back. Of course, if you're going to be gone for long periods of time, like on a shore excursion, there is no need to do this... they know you'll be gone.
Another thing that had changed since the last time we cruised on Carnival was that they no longer have a mini-bar inside the refrigerator in your cabin... and even if you request it, they won't do it anymore. It used to be that they kept your cabin's refrigerator stocked with cans of soft drinks as well as small bottles of booze. You were welcome to drink any of it, and your account would be charged accordingly. If you wanted the refrigerator for cooling your own stuff, you could remove the contents of the mini-bar (or ask the cabin steward to do so) and the refrigerator was yours to use as needed.
I used to like to have a Diet Coke from the mini-bar from time to time. On our 2015 cruise on Carnival Breeze, the cost was $2.30 for a can of Diet Coke. That's certainly a high price compared to what it would cost me to buy it at our local grocery store at home (about $3 for a pack of 12) but I didn't mind paying that on vacation since I usually only bought 3 or 4 cans during the length of a cruise.
On embarkation day for Carnival Vista, I noticed our refrigerator was empty, so I asked our cabin steward if she could get it filled up with Diet Coke for me. She told me to call room service. So, I called room service and asked them to bring by four cans of Diet Coke that I could put in to my refrigerator. A little while later, they brought them by. And the bill for those four cans of Diet Coke was $16.62... which meant that not only was I now paying twice what it cost me on my previous Carnival cruises, but also that I was paying over $4 per can for something that I could get for about 25 cents back at home!
Once I ran out of those four cans of Diet Coke in my fridge, I walked over to the bar in Ocean Plaza and bought a couple more... at nearly half the price of having them delivered by room service. So, let that be a lesson to you.
I really liked the fact that the Havana Suites have TWO televisions. In addition to the one in the bedroom, there's also a slightly smaller one at the desk, which can easily be viewed from the couch in the living room. I liked to leave the living room TV set to the map channel, which not only shows the current location of the ship, but also the wind speed and wind direction.
It's really handy to be able to see the wind speed and wind direction when you're in your cabin. Sometimes in the comfort of your cabin, even if you have a balcony cabin, you have no idea of what the actual conditions are outside. If you're thinking of taking a walk from your Havana cabin at the back of the ship to somewhere on one of the upper decks at the front of the ship, knowing that there's a 40 knot wind blowing on to the port side of the ship is very useful. In that case, you'd be smart to take a path that puts you on the starboard side of the ship, which will seem much less windy than if you had walked along the port side.
Overall, we very much enjoyed our stay in the Havana Suite, but there was a downside to the location. The Havana bar is located very nearby, and just about every night there's a Cuban band that plays there. On some nights, they play until 12:30 AM.
The bass notes from the band were easily heard through the walls, as we lay in bed at night. When I looked at the deck plans, I realized why! Take a look at the little symbol shaped like a grand piano in the Havana bar in the deck plans. That's where the band sets up.
So, I had managed to book us in to the cabin (5234) that is literally closer to the band than any other Havana cabin. Before the cruise, I thought that the big white thing in the deck plans of the Havana bar was the bandstand. Nope. That's the bar. The band sets up where the piano is in the deck plans... literally just twenty or thirty feet from our bed. No wonder we heard so much noise from the band at night! If you book a deck five Havana cabin and you want to get a little further away from the band than we were, pick a cabin like 5212 or something near that. Don't go all the way down to the end, though... 5202, for example. Down there you'll not only be dealing with noise from the elevators, but also a totally different band that plays in Ocean Plaza, just forward of 5202. Actually, something on the starboard side of the ship, like 5207 or 5209, would be a safe distance from the elevators, the band at Ocean Plaza, and the band in the Havana Bar. Just keep in mind that if you want a Havana Suite, the largest Havana cabins, your only choices are 5233-5236.
The Cuban band in the Havana bar wasn't the only source of noise in our cabin. On deck four, directly below our cabin, is the Horizons restaurant. If you've ever sailed on a Carnival ship, I'm sure you know that in the ship's main restaurant they try to create a fun atmosphere by having the waiters dance to music at the end of the meal. The musical accompaniment to all that dancing is played on speakers which are mounted in to the ceiling of the restaurant... and the ceiling of the restaurant on deck four is the floor of the Havana cabins on deck 5. So, if you find yourself inside a Havana cabin at the same time the waiters are dancing downstairs in the restaurant, you will hear every single bit of it through the floor.
This is the area leading from Ocean Plaza (on the left) to the Havana Bar and Havana cabins.
This is a little sitting area that leads from the elevators to the Havana Bar
To help you appreciate where things like the Havana pool and the cove balcony cabins are located, I've marked up this photo of the Carnival Vista that I took as we sailed past her on a shore excursion:
The reason that my diagram included the "Aft-Wrap Havana Cabin With HUGE Balcony" on deck 6 is that I'm thinking that might be a good cabin to try the next time I stay on a Vista-class ship. There wouldn't be noise from the Horizons restaurant, there wouldn't be anyone walking by in front of my balcony, photographs from the balcony would be possible since the view is un-obstructed by any glass, and you could easily look down to the Havana pool area to determine if it's a good time to go down there.
On the downside, compared to staying in a Havana Suite...
A much smaller bathroom and shower, with no rainfall shower head... a much smaller cabin overall... just one television... you'd have to use the stairs every time you wanted to get to the Havana pool area and back... and you'd be directly above the band in the Havana Bar.
Perhaps the solution to the noisy band problem is to move one deck up, to the aft wrap cabin on deck 7. But as you can see in the photo, the balcony on the aft-wrap cabin on deck 7 is quite a bit smaller than the one on deck 6.
Here's that same photo without the annotations, in case you want an unobstructed view:
A Tour Of A Very Different Type Of Cabin
Now that you've had a very good look at the Havana area and the Havana suite that Kellyn and I stayed in, I'd like to give you a tour of a very different kind of cabin on Carnival Vista. Our friends, Liz & Kimble (and their daughter, Kat) were staying in an unusual type of cabin known as a "cove balcony" cabin. It's called a cove balcony because the balcony literally sits inside a protective metal cove. These cove balcony cabins are located very low on the ship, on deck 2, and if the ship were to encounter extremely rough seas, deck two is low enough to potentially get hit by a large wave. So, the balconies are engineered in such a way to be able to withstand that... including a watertight door that can be closed around the regular balcony door to keep any water out of the cabin.
Take a look at this video tour of Liz & Kimble's cove balcony cabin:
My friends, Kimble and Liz, on formal night
Video: What I Loved About Carnival Vista
While I was on the ship, I recorded a video for YouTube that shows off some of the things that I really loved about Carnival Vista... and I pointed out a few areas for improvement, too. If you only watch one of the videos on this page, this is the one to watch:
A Show I'd Like To Recommend
For me, this cruise was simply about spending time at the un-crowded Havana pool area, and taking excursions to some of the world's best beaches. Everything else was just the icing on the cake. There were three big production shows in the Vista's theater during our 8-day cruise, but two of them didn't sound like they featured my kind of music, so I blew them off. But the show I did attend, I really enjoyed! It was full of "my music". Back in the 1970s and 1980s, I was a DJ and radio announcer... and some of the most memorable music of that era was disco. The "Studio VIP" show was a new version of a previous Carnival production show I had seen on the Carnival Sunshine a few years ago. I really enjoyed it.
So, if you're a fan of disco music from the 70s, and you find yourself on a Carnival cruise ship and they have the "Studio VIP" show... be sure to attend! If you're shy, I suggest you sit up in the balcony or as far away from the stage as possible. If you're extroverted and like to dance, sit close to the stage... and you'll quite likely end up being part of the show!
Carnival Vista's 8-day Itinerary
The original itinerary that we signed up for had the ship stopping at Grand Turk, The Dominican Republic, Aruba, and Curacao. However, our cruise was in September and that's the peak of hurricane season. A category 5 storm, hurricane Maria, rolled across the Atlantic and seriously impacted many islands in the Eastern Caribbean: Dominica, Antigua, St Kitts, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico, and the Turks & Caicos islands, just to name a few.
Grand Turk, which was to be the first stop of our cruise, was seriously affected by the hurricane and unable to host cruise ships for a period of time following the hurricane. So, our ship was unable to stop there, and we simply had a "fun day at sea" that day instead.
However, there were no problems preventing us from visiting our three other scheduled ports of call. Let me tell you about the shore excursions we booked, and all the fun we had...
La Romana, Dominican Republic:
"Catalina Island Beach Break" shore excursion
Kellyn and I are beach people. We live in a beach town in California, and on the weekends we like to relax in the sun in our backyard. If the ocean water at California beaches was warm like it is in the Caribbean or the Mexican Riviera, I'd probably spend a day or two each week in the water. But unfortunately, the ocean water in California is quite cold! I think some people that visit California are actually surprised by that. You always see the pictures of the crowds at California beaches... but the reality is that most Californians don't go in the water, because that water is usually somewhere around 50 degrees for much of the year... and never more than about 60 at the warmest parts of the year. When we're on vacation, we absolutely LOVE to spend time at a nice beach with warm ocean water that I can swim in. The water in the Caribbean is the warmest in September -- that warm water is what creates the conditions that allow hurricanes to form -- so we almost always book a cruise for September, to be able to take advantage of the warmest water of the year at some of the world's best beaches.
I've been to La Romana before, but I guess it's been a few years because the passenger facilities at the port have been improved quite a bit since the last time we were there. That was impressive to see. There didn't use to be much there at the dock in La Romana, but now they have some nice shops and restrooms and things like that.
The Catalina Island shore excursion starts by meeting at the pier and waiting for everyone to gather. Once the whole group is together, you take a short walk up to the parking lot and board a nice air conditioned bus. There's a very short bus ride from the parking lot to a small pier very near where the Carnival Vista was docked. During that short bus ride, I did notice quite a few trees that had been knocked down by hurricane Maria a week or so earlier. But I didn't see any damaged buildings at all, just trees. I think hurricane Maria had brushed up against the north coast of the Dominican Republic... and La Romana is on the south coast, and didn't seem to have been hit very badly.
Once the bus finished the short ride to the small pier where a boat was waiting for us, we moved from the bus on to a tender roughly the size of one of Carnival Vista's lifeboats. If you've ever sailed to Grand Cayman or to Belize, you'll know what I mean when I say our tender was about the same size as of one of the boats that tender you to shore there.
Once everyone was on the tender, it begins the approximately 35 minute journey to Catalina Island, which lies just offshore of the south side of the Dominican Republic. The boat ride starts out with a pretty great photo opportunity... you pass right by your cruise ship!
As you can see, the water is kind of green there at the cruise ship dock in La Romana. It's just because that dock sits right where the Rio Dulce meets the Carribean. The river water meeting the ocean water, and the fact that there is no sand there, makes the water look green.
Once the tender passes the cruise ship, it heads out in to the open ocean waters... and at that point, a few of our fellow passengers looked a little green! Let's just say that I can't recommend this excursion to anyone prone to seasickness. The water was a little rough. I thought it was kind of fun, but the little boy sitting near us sure didn't... he started looking very green himself after ten or fifteen minutes on that choppy boat ride... and eventually he puked all over his grandma.
I found this somewhat ironic, as just the night before, in the comedy club, a gentleman in his early 20's had done the same... although in that guy's case, I think it was too much booze, not seasickness, that had done him in.
In any case, we eventually made it to Catalina Island, and it truly was a little slice of paradise. There was no hurricane damage that I could see. We tipped a guy a couple of bucks for bringing us some loungers to sit on, and then eventually decided we had better not risk a sunburn on our first shore excursion of the cruise... so we forked over a few more dollars (I think it was $5) to have an umbrella to shade us. I spent most of the time in that wonderfully warm Caribbean water, but every now and then I took a break under the umbrella... and during one of those breaks, Kellyn snapped this photo of me:
Note the beach bag sitting next to me! Kellyn is retired and loves to spend her free time at home working in her sewing/quilting/embroidery room. Over the years, she has made me a series of beach bags, each a little nicer than the previous version. Here's the current state of the art... perfect for carrying a camera, some sunblock, a beach towel, and a few other little items I like to have with me at the beach:
Here's one more photo to give you a good idea of what the scene at Catalina beach was like:
They did have a little shack there at the beach where you could buy drinks, although they didn't have a huge selection of drinks to choose from like you would on the ship. I don't remember seeing any food for sale at the beach, but maybe I just missed it. I wasn't really looking, as I knew the excursion would get us back to the ship in plenty of time to enjoy a nice lunch aboard.
If you like to spend time on a nice beach, enjoying swimming or playing in the warm waters of the Caribbean, this is a shore excursion I can definitely recommend.
"VIP Cruise & Snorkel With Lunch" Shore Excursion
In Aruba, we went on another boat ride... this time in order to do some snorkeling. I like to snorkel, so this seemed like an excursion perfectly suited to me... especially when I read the full description of the shore excursion and they mentioned that after snorkeling there would be an open bar and a barbecue lunch prepared onboard.
If anything, Carnival's description of this shore excursion didn't go far enough to explain what was so special about it. They mentioned in the description that we would be aboard a custom built 115 foot wooden schooner, but those words didn't paint a very vivid picture in my mind. If I had seen a photo of the boat, I would have more easy realized what a special excursion this was going to be.
The wooden schooner was really cool! It was way better than travelling by a normal tender like we had the day before. The schooner had a lot of personality. The best part was that in the two rear corners of the schooner, there were daybeds... and Kellyn and I were lucky in that we were 3rd and 4th in line as we boarded the schooner at the pier. The first two people quickly looked over the schooner to decide where the best seats were and plopped themselves down on the first daybed. I quickly realized that they had made the right choice, and plopped down on the other daybed. With everyone else in more traditional seats, I felt a bit like the king of the world surveying the Caribbean from the comfort of our schooner's daybed!
So, my advice to you, if you book this particular shore excursion, is that as your tour group is walking from the cruise ship dock to the little marina where the schooner is tied up, work your way to the front of the line so that you can have first choice of seats aboard.
I liked this shore excursion so much that I put a little video together in hopes of publicizing the excursion among the cruise community. I think the video does a good job of showing you what was so great about this excursion. Trivia fact: the guy in the red t-shirt is one of my YouTube subscribers and recognized me as I walked around with my camera! We had a really nice chat.
Our excursion guides on the schooner didn't really do a good job of explaining to everyone where the good snorkeling was at this particular site. I had actually been there once or twice before on previous cruises, so I knew exactly where to snorkel to. But I think a lot of people were just snorkeling near the boat, and missed the really great snorkeling at the rocks near shore. If you find yourself on this particular shore excursion, do yourself a favor and snorkel towards shore until you run in to some big rocks just before the beach. That's where the best snorkeling is, where you'll see lots of fish.
After the excursion was all over and we were walking back to the Carnival Vista,
I snapped this picture of her tied up to the dock in Aruba:
If you're going to Aruba, there is one other shore excursion I'd like to let you know about. Kellyn and I have been to Aruba a couple of times before, and on one of those visits we did a shore excursion that we still talk about! We call it "The Maraca Bus", although on our cruise they used the official title of "Kukoo Kunuku Open Air Bus & Beach Break". The Maraca Bus excursion was so much fun! They play music on a sound system in the bus, and at each seat there is a pair of maracas. Everyone shakes their maracas and has a good time during the entire bus ride. I know that doesn't sound hugely fun, but somehow it was! Perhaps this video I found on YouTube (it's not one of my videos) will give you a better visual than my words can paint:
One other thing to mention about our visit to Aruba...
There was one other cruise ship that was docked in Aruba that day, and it seemed odd to me... since during two previous visits to Aruba, I had seen this exact same ship docked in the exact same place. Here's a photo of it:
It seemed like too big of a coincidence to have run in to the same cruise ship tied up at the exact same spot on three visits in a row to Aruba. So, I Googled it, to see if that might provide any clues to the situation. Wikipedia had the answer.
It turns out that the Freewinds is owned by the church of Scientology. Aruba is basically its home port and it stays tied up there quite a bit of the time.
According to Wikipedia:
The Freewinds is the exclusive training center for the highest level of Scientology. Members of the Church of Scientology who have reached the highest levels must receive their training on the Freewinds, as the Church does not deliver this service anywhere else.
Besides the high level training, the Freewinds is used for delivering lower-level classes and auditing services. She is also used as a recreational vessel for Scientologists. The ship hosts a "Freewinds Maiden Voyage" each June as a summit for high-ranking Scientologists at which Scientology accomplishments and plans for the future are publicly celebrated.
The religion's founder, L. Ron Hubbard, had researched and ministered the first levels of Scientology aboard a ship in the late 1960s. A ship therefore has particular religious significance to Scientologists.
"Beach Day" Shore Excursion
If you like spending time in the warm waters of the Caribbean, on a sandy beach, an excursion that I can very strongly recommend is the "Beach Day" shore excursion that takes you to Mambo Beach in Curacao. It's especially easy to get in and out of the water, because there are no waves in the swimming area, and no sudden drop-offs. A breakwater stops all the waves and makes the water in the swimming area completely calm. Because Curacao is so far south in the Caribbean... in fact, it's just off the coast of South America, and not that far from the equator... the water is delightfully warm here.
We've been to this beach before on a previous visit to Curacao, and I was so excited to be back. The last time we were here, I discovered that at a little bar at this particular beach, they make the best Margaritas I've ever tasted! Unfortunately, on our last visit, I didn't discover those Margaritas until about 20 minutes before we had to leave. This time, I made sure to visit that bar shortly after our arrival... and those Margaritas were just as good as I remembered. This is not a "I'm looking to get quickly drunk" Margarita... those you can get at the Blue Iguana Tequila Bar back on the ship. These Margaritas were a little lighter on the Tequila and a lot smoother and sweeter. As far as I'm concerned, it's the Margarita I will judge all others by.
Out at that rocky breakwater, there are a lot of small fish. No snorkeling gear is supplied on this excursion, but I have a good snorkel set from Amazon.com that I carry with me on vacation and so I was able to snorkel over to the breakwater and got to visit with the fish for a while. Another thing I like to do on that particular beach is to swim over to the floating wooden platform and jump off. It makes me feel 12, not 60.
There are actually two versions of the excursion to Mambo Beach. The one we did is simply called "Beach Day" and it transports you from the ship and to the beach by air conditioned bus. An alternate version of the same basic excursion is called "Beach Break By Boat"... and as you might be able to guess, instead of a bus, it transports you between the ship and the beach on a boat, the Pelican Express, which you can see in the photo at the top of this section.
There are pros and cons to both versions of the shore excursion. The boat version leaves the ship earlier, which gets you to the beach earlier, which gives you more loungers to choose from when you arrive on the beach. The bus version would be better for anyone that might possibly be prone to seasickness, and it also gives you a little more relaxing morning on the ship since you don't have to be ready to leave quite so early as you do for the other version. However, by the time you arrive at the beach, the best shady lounger locations may have already been taken.
We did the bus version, because I like that the bus goes over the big bridge which gives you a spectacular view of the port of Curacao. However, I failed to get a single decent photo from that bridge!
At the end of the day, as our ship sailed away from Curacao, I set up my GoPro to record an interesting time lapse video of our departure. Take a look:
I like to be VERY casual when I'm on vacation and that goes with eating, too. The last thing I want to do on a cruise is dress up for dinner, or have a two-hour sit down meal in some fancy restaurant. That's just not my thing! My wife is the same way, so we generally eat all of our meals in the buffet restaurant whenever we cruise. The only exception is for specialty restaurants such as a steakhouse.
The Buffet Restaurant On Carnival Vista's Lido Deck
We're quite comfortable on Carnival because it's no problem to be casual and to eat casual. In fact, they probably have the best selection of casual dining options of any cruise we've ever been on. At the very top of the list of many excellent casual dining options on Carnival Vista is Guy's Burger Joint:
"The Ringer", my favorite version of a Guy Fieri burger
It has an onion ring above the cheese... and a delicious sauce.
After the huge success of Guy's Burger Joint, Carnival teamed up with Guy Fieri once again to improve their existing outdoor barbecue joint. This was the first ship I've been on with the new Guy Fieri version of the barbecue, and I thought it was good. However, when our 8-day cruise was over, the record showed that I ate lunch at the barbecue joint once, the buffet restaurant once, and Guy's Burger Joint six times!
I like Carnival's breakfasts, too. I like their made-to-order omelettes, and the potatoes they serve with them. Note the Lawry's seasoned salt, which I always bring along with me on a cruise, to improve the flavor of the eggs and potatoes.
There was a total FUBAR situation at breakfast one morning, though. The day the ship docked in the Dominican Republic, our ship arrival at the island quite early in the morning and there were a whole bunch of shore excursions with meeting times of 8:15 and 8:30 AM. The buffet restaurant doesn't even open until 7 AM, so on that particular morning the restaurant was jam-packed with people right at 7 AM who needed an early breakfast in order to be ready for their early shore excursion calls. Unfortunately, the restaurant was totally unprepared to deal with the large crowd of people that early. On a normal day on the ship, they open up one of the four buffet lines at 7 AM, a second one at 7:30, and the other two even later than that. For some reason, they treated this day just like any other in the buffet, and when hundreds of people all lined up for an early 7 AM breakfast, they simply could not handle that big of a crowd. It was a mess. It was close to 7:30 by the time I got my omelette, and then there was a second gigantic line that I would have had to stand in if I had wanted potatoes and all the other stuff with it. That simply was not going to work with an early shore excursion coming up soon.
So, I decided that I was just going to have to skip the potatoes and the other stuff on this particular day, and just ate my omelette. After breakfast, as I was heading back to our cabin on deck five, I got a very lucky break and discovered that just a little ways from our Havana cabin, they serve breakfast at The Taste Bar in Ocean Plaza. And I was apparently not the only passenger on the ship that did not know this! At the same exact moment that the Lido buffet restaurant was a total mob scene, the Taste Bar was delightfully un-crowded. I grabbed a plate and got my breakfast potatoes, croissant, and some bacon... which made me much happier for our excursion later that morning.
Breakfast at "The Taste Bar" in Ocean Plaza, on deck five.
If the buffet on Lido is too crowded, this is the place to have breakfast.
Another interesting casual dining venue I had not previously seen on Carnival
was the Seafood Shack near the aft pool on Lido deck.
I liked their clam chowder, although the bread bowl they served it in seemed old and stale.
They shouldn't leave the bread out exposed to the air all day.
The Seafood Shack has a nice little casual dining area located right next to it.
On any cruise ship, there are always many choices of bars to get a drink at.
One of Carnival's that I'd like to shine a light on is the Blue Iguana Tequila Bar.
Buying drinks on a cruise ship is rarely a bargain. However, the Blue Iguana Tequila Bar is a notable exception.
Look carefully at their menu...
I wonder how many people sail with Carnival and never discover the big bargain at the Blue Iguana Tequila Bar:
A pitcher of Margaritas, enough to serve four people, for only $24.95.
For those who are loyal to Royal Caribbean,
you may recognize that price as being less than the cost of two Margaritas on most Royal Caribbean ships!
So, if you're a Margarita lover, my tip for you is to visit the Blue Iguana Tequila Bar for a pitcher.
A second tip is that you don't necessarily have to get a burger at Guy's Burger Joint.
If you ask, they will be happy to simply serve you an order of their super-delicious fries.
It is not uncommon for me to visit for an order of fries around 3-4 PM, to tide me over until dinner time!
A Few Interesting Ship Features
I'm not going to try to detail every feature of the ship, but there are a few things about Carnival Vista that I want to make sure you know about. The first is that it is currently the only ship in the entire world that is outfitted with a genuine IMAX movie theater! They offer first-run movies, and the prices are comparable to what it would cost to see a movie in IMAX format on land. Plus, they offer a senior citizen discount for anyone 55 years old or over!
We saw the Tom Cruise movie "American Made" a day before it opened up at our local theater back home. I really appreciated the fact that they don't gouge you on the ticket prices, too. It would be easy for a cruise line to be tempted to do that, with a captive audience and no competition. I saw someone on CruiseCritic complain that the IMAX movies should be offered at no charge on Carnival Vista, but I strongly disagree with that. How many seats are there in that theater? It looks like less than 200 to me. There are 4600 passengers on the ship. If the movies were free, it would be a crowded mess like the comedy clubs can be at the most popular times. Charging admission is the most effective way to match the limited supply of seats with the demand.
The lobby for the IMAX movie house and the Thrill Theater.
In case you're wondering... yes, of course they offer movie-style popcorn.
A great spot that a lot of passengers never discover is the viewing area at the forward end of the ship. There are actually six of them on Carnival Vista. You'll find one on each of the following decks: 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, and 11. Just walk down the passenger corridor on any one of those decks, and go all the way to the front of the ship. You'll find a door with a little window in it, that leads outside to these viewing areas. If the ship is in motion, the doors might be locked due to excessive winds. When the ship is docking, or as the ship sails away from Miami, or any time the ship is docked, it's a great place to see a spectacular view ahead of the ship. Photographers: this is the place to go as the ship sails in or out of any port! The official term for these areas is "forward viewing areas" but on CruiseCritic they are generally known as the "secret decks"... since they're not really publicized by Carnival and rookie cruisers usually don't find these.
This next photo, an aerial view supplied by Carnival, offers a good look at all those forward viewing areas:
In case you're wondering about that Jacuzzi at the bow of the ship... that's for crew members, only. Something I find fascinating about the front end of the Carnival Vista is that for whatever reason, the ship's designers chose not to put "Captain's Suites" directly above the bridge. "Captain's Suites" are not cabins for the actual ship's Captain to sleep in... they are very large suites that certain ships in the Carnival fleet have directly above the navigational bridge. My wife and I stayed in one on the Carnival Sunshine, and it was pretty cool! They feature huge picture windows with an amazing view forward, as well as an extremely large balcony with a spectacular 180 degree view.
Take a look at a video I made in 2013, which gives you a tour of the Captain's Suite on Carnival Sunshine:
I don't know why they decided not to put Captain's Suites on the Carnival Vista. It's easy to spot them on any of the Carnival ships that have them. You'll see a row of cabins directly above the navigational bridge, with big picture windows. The Captain's Suites (there are two of them) are at the far left and right ends of that row of cabins I've added an arrow to this photo I took of the Carnival Sunshine in 2013, to point out one of the Captain's Suites:
Back to Carnival Vista...
Now let's take a look at the aft pool area at the back end of the Lido deck:
Since we were in a Havana Suite on the Carnival Vista and had our own designated pool to use, we didn't spend any time at the Lido pools, although I did walk through a few times, to shoot a few photos. On all of our other cruises, the aft pool area has been our go-to place for fun in the sun or in the water. The mid-ship pool is a loud, crowded place... but the aft pool is much quieter and doesn't feel as crowded, even when every lounger is in use. I view the mid-ship pool at the place for young people, and the aft pool as better suited to an old guy like me. One day, I walked to the aft pool to shoot a photo and was surprised to see that they had the pool closed...
Seeing it closed like that in the middle of the day on a sea day would typically mean that they are disinfecting it after one of two things happened: somebody accidentally puked in it, or somebody accidentally pooped in it. My bet is for the vomit. I have to admit that I chuckled when I saw this, as this was a cruise I had already jokingly started to refer to as "the vomit cruise". There had been two incidents already, and this was the third. I don't know for sure that anyone barfed in the aft pool, but I think it's a reasonable guess.
The mid-ship pool usually has music playing, and it's also the scene of some funny games and competitions. I found all that interesting during my first few Carnival cruises, but this was my 27th Carnival cruise. At this point, I look for a more relaxing pool scene. The Havana pool was PERFECT for me!
Carnival Vista's mid-ship pool on Lido deck
If you can't find an available lounger at the mid-ship pool, be sure to climb the steps to the next level above it... where it's usually a lot easier to find a lounger. If you don't find one available overlooking the pool, just keep walking a little further... there are LOTS of loungers over the entire length of this deck! There's almost always some available down near the SkyRide.
If you've been on other Carnival ships, you may have seen a candy store known as Cherry On Top:
On the Carnival Vista, they had improved Cherry On Top with a great feature I hadn't seen in the candy stores on other Carnival ships: an ice cream station! They can scoop ice cream in to cups or cones, create sundaes, and they even offer ice cream cookie sandwiches.
The new ice cream station in Cherry On Top
Something else I had never seen before on a Carnival ship was these two big ice cream machines in the Lido buffet restaurant.
The only time we ever saw these machines in action was at lunch time. A worker told us the machines made ice cream, but a passenger said it was gelato. I'm not sure which was correct... and frankly, I'm not sure I understand the difference!
In the evenings, on Lido deck, they show movies on the big screen by the mid-ship pool. They're not current releases like they show in the IMAX theater, but more like what would be considered a new release on Netflix or Redbox. But what they have going for them is free admission, and free popcorn, too. Here's one of the best places to watch the movies from:
These seats are also good, but you do occasionally have people walking by in front of you:
One of the most iconic features of the Carnival Vista is the vortex video thingie. If you've read anything about Carnival Vista at all, I'm sure you've seen pictures of them. Did you know that there are two of them? There's one in the main atrium lobby area, which is three decks tall... and there's one in the middle of the casino, that's two decks tall. As you walk along the promenade on deck five, one of the most travelled paths from the front of the ship to the rear of the ship, you can't miss it popping up out of the casino.
It looks great from a distance, but when you get close to it, you see the pixels:
I hope that someday, on a future ship, they make a higher resolution version of this so that you could stand up close to it and not see pixels at all. If this was an operating system, it would be Windows 3.0... impressive, for sure, but once Windows 98 comes out, we'll all look back at it and laugh a little.
By the way, the official name for the vortex video funnel thingie is "Dreamscape"... but no one I know ever calls it that. I read that it's made of 3000 individual video monitors that are wrapped around the vortex form.
Carnival did make one very brilliant move regarding the Dreamscape vortex thingie. The vortex thingie pops up through a big round opening in the ceiling of the casino... but Carnival was smart enough to enclose the entire opening in glass. Brilliant move, as this prevents smoke from the casino from popping up through the opening and contaminating other levels of the ship. Norwegian Cruise Line should have thought of this when they designed Norwegian Breakaway/Getaway/Escape. They have a 3-level atrium at their casino, and all the smoke rises right up it like a chimney. Perhaps Carnival learned from NCL's mistake on that one.
During our 8-day cruise, I somehow managed to not shoot a single photo of another one of Carnival Vista's most iconic features: the SkyRide. So, for this review, I've had to resort to using this photo supplied by Carnival:
I also didn't end up riding SkyRide during our cruise... the lines were just too long. The next photo shows the line for the ride on the day I went up there in hopes of riding it. But since only two people can ride the SkyRide at a time, the line moves extremely slow. I overheard someone say that the line you see here represented a roughly one hour wait for the ride...
One of the big improvements that they made on Carnival Vista compared to the other Carnival ships I've sailed on is that they've gotten away from printing a hard copy of every single photo that the ship's photographers take of you. It was always such a waste! They would print a copy of every photo so you could look them over and buy the photo if you wanted it. They would throw away SO MANY photos over the course of a cruise... and that was a huge waste of photo paper, ink, and time.
On the Carnival Vista, there's none of that. All photos are displayed electronically in the ship's photo gallery, known as Pixels. You look through your photos on a screen, and if there are any you would like to buy, they can print up a hard copy for you.
A small improvement that I noticed in the photo gallery is that you can now buy professional photos of the ship itself, and of some of Carnival's most scenic destinations. There are hard copies of these photos already printed up, in two different sizes, and you just grab one that interests you and take it to the checkout register to pay for it. Seems like a smart idea to me.
Sunrise & Sunset Photos
As a photographer, I always manage to shoot a few sunrise and sunset photos during a cruise.
Here are a few of the best ones I shot on Carnival Vista.
Most people are in vacation mode and are still sleeping during the sunrises.
I'm an early riser by nature, so I'm happy to show you what they all missed:
The thing about cruise sunsets is that they often happen when people are at dinner.
So, a lot of folks miss those, too. Here's one:
One morning when the sun was rising directly in front of the ship, I walked to the Serenity deck to get a photo of it and there were actually a few other early risers up there before me...
People had other things to do at 7 o'clock in the evening,
so the aft pool area was nearly empty when I snapped this sunset photo:
Finally, I want to share a picture from a cruise a few years ago.
I think it's the best sunrise photo I've ever taken:
A sunrise photo I shot on Carnival Freedom in 2015
I've had a lot of success on YouTube... ad revenues from my YouTube videos are what pay for my cruises these days... and my very first hit video on YouTube was a video I made about a waterslide on a Carnival ship. It's gone on to get an astounding 93 million views on YouTube since I first posted it five years ago!
Because of that, I always visit the Waterworks area whenever I'm on a Carnival cruise ship. For that reason, and also because I'm just a big kid at heart and love to play in a water park!
As I mentioned earlier, we were cruising on Carnival Vista with our friends, Kimble and Liz, and their young daughter, Kat. So that gave me an even better reason to spend some time in the Waterworks area: I got to have some fun with Kat in the water park and in the pool! And I think I got a pretty good YouTube video out of it, too:
Kat got a lot of screen time in that video, but I do have to say that the breakout star of the video was the kid in the very last shot, who did the incredible dismount from the waterslide. He's either a natural born athlete, a natural born YouTube star, or possibly both!
Cruise Director Schwartz
Having done 42 cruises on five different cruise lines, I've seen a lot of
Cruise Directors in action. I have to say that Carnival does a really good job at picking the right people for
this very important job. The Cruise Director... through public address announcements, appearances before and
after stage shows, and at poolside events... sets a tone for the entire cruise. There have only been a
couple of Carnival CD's that made me cringe, and a very large number that have impressed me.
Carnival Vista's regular Cruise Director is Matt Mitcham, but he was on vacation the week we cruised, and Schwartz was filling in. That's right... no first name, just Schwartz.
Schwartz did fine, putting a lot of personality in to the job, and being a good representative for Carnival. There was just one thing that I would work with him on if I were his advisor. He's got a little signature move that he uses as his little trademark whenever he makes an announcement or an appearance. At the end of his speech, he says what he'd say at the end of a phone call to a dear family member... he says "I love you". This is funny and quirky on the first day he does it. The second day he mixes it up just a little, by adding another line to the joke. After "I Love You", he pauses for a few seconds, and then says "No, I Love You More". This is funny on day two of the cruise. But it's an 8-day cruise, and he sticks with the joke for every announcement and every stage appearance for the entire rest of the cruise. This gets old. If I was his mentor, I'd urge him to think of an entirely new tag line for every day of the cruise, so the joke doesn't get stale.
While we're on the subject of Cruise Directors... I'd just like to give a shout out to the best I've ever sailed with: Carnival's Jaime Dee. Jaime, the reality of my vacation scheduling is that I usually have to book my cruises a year or more in advance. Unfortunately, the Cruise Director schedule is only published about 6-9 months in advance... so it's impossible for me to plan a cruise on a ship that you will be on. If I could, I'd cruise with you every time!
One other observation regarding Cruise Directors... I mentioned that Carnival does a really good job of picking them. And I've made a couple of very positive remarks already about "The Haven" on Norwegian cruise line. Oddly enough, though, Norwegian seems to be the absolute worst at picking Cruise Directors! I've had one good one in five NCL cruises. So, if a top-notch Cruise Director is important to you, be advised!
One of the biggest disappointments of our cruise on the Carnival Vista was the absolutely horrible Internet service aboard. Having been on 42 cruises, I know not to expect the same kind of high-speed Internet service on a cruise ship as we have come to expect at home. But the Internet service on Carnival Vista wasn't just slow, it was incredibly slow. Remember the days of dial-up 28k modems? It was even slower than that, and here's the proof...
The results of an Internet speed test performed on Carnival Vista.
By the way, "Fast" is the name of the site that performed the test.
It was NOT a summary of the results!
Yes, the Carnival Vista really did have Internet speeds of 20 Kbps during much of the cruise. Not 20 meg, 20 K... and that's absolutely HORRIBLE, even for a cruise ship. This surprised me. I expected better from Carnival's newest ship. I've had better on some of Carnival's much older ships. I don't know what the Vista's problem was. It was not that 4600 passengers were all trying to use the Internet at the same time. I made measurements at quite a few different times of the day, throughout the cruise. Even at 6 AM, when almost all of the passengers were asleep, the throughput was abysmally slow. It also had nothing to do with the fact that we travelled way far south in the Caribbean. I made measurements all along the way as we cruised during the 8 days. Even in the most mainstream areas of the Caribbean, the Internet service was dismal.
Carnival offers several different options for purchasing Internet access. First off, you don't have to pay by the minute anymore like you did in the old days. So, you don't have to rush to quickly disconnect to save your minutes for later. I scanned a sheet they gave me that details the pricing of their various plans.
A bright spot was Carnival's Hub App. It doesn't use the Internet, it uses Carnival's Wi-Fi system, and you do NOT have to purchase an Internet plan to use it. The most useful part of the Hub app is the texting feature, which costs $5 to use. I used it extensively throughout the week to coordinate plans with Liz and Kimble and Kat.
One last thing about Internet access:
If you want to experience the state-of-the-art in Internet connectivity at sea, you have to cruise on Royal Caribbean's newest ships, such as Allure Of The Seas, Anthem Of The Seas, Harmony Of The Seas, etc. They use a much more advanced system than Carnival does. Royal Caribbean uses the O3B Networks system of low-earth orbit satellites... and it provides a significantly better connection than you can get on Carnival. On Allure Of The Seas, I got a consistently fast Internet connection during the entire cruise, with a ping time of about 185 milliseconds, a download speed of about 4 Mbps, and an upload speed of about .9 Mbps. That's the fastest Internet connection I've ever experienced at sea.
A Hotel I Recommend in Miami
I've been on a lot of cruises out of Miami and I've experimented with several different hotels. I've finally figured out the one that works best for me. It's called the "Holiday Inn Port Of Miami - Downtown".
The top three things this hotel has going for it are location, location,
location. It's located a very close to the where the cruise ships dock at the Port Of Miami. If you book an
ocean view room, you can actually see the cruise ships out your window.
The view of the Port Of Miami from our suite in the Holiday Inn.
If you look really carefully, you can see three cruise ships in the photo!
When the cruise ships arrive in port early in the morning, they usually come all the way down to the turning basin at the end of cruise ship row and turn around so they'll be facing out to sea at sailaway time. From an ocean view room, you can easily see your ship in the turning basin when it arrives in the morning. (But you have to be a very early riser to see it!)
More important than the view of the cruise ships in the Port Of Miami is the fact that the Holiday Inn is located right across the street from a fantastic complex of restaurants, bars, and shops called the Bayside Marketplace. When you arrive in Miami the night before your cruise, it's so easy to just walk across the street from the Holiday Inn and have multiple choices of restaurants to have dinner at. On many nights, you'll also find a band playing on the Marketplace's stage. There are quite a few bars, if you'd like a drink... and numerous shops.
One important thing to know about the Bayside Marketplace is that the expensive restaurants are located on the ground floor, but if you head up to the upper floor you'll find some less expensive casual dining options. It wasn't until my third or fourth visit to Bayside Marketplace that I discovered that there's a "food court" of inexpensive casual dining venues located on the upper floor of the southernmost building.
While the Holiday Inn does not offer a courtesy shuttle to and from the cruise port or the airport, it is extremely easy and inexpensive to get a ride from Lyft or Uber. As a 60 year old geezer, I resisted Lyft and Uber for a long time and used taxis for many of my visits to Miami. In retrospect, that was a waste of money. Uber and Lyft are hugely less expensive than taking a taxi, and you never have to give the driver cash or a credit card at all. The billing is all automatic, which makes the end of the ride super easy and convenient. I use Lyft for all my cruise transportation needs these days.
See, you really can teach an old dog a new trick!
If you're researching the idea of taking a cruise on the Carnival Vista,
here are a few documents you might want to download:
Carnival Vista Deck Plans
Fun Times daily newsletters - All 8 days
Shore Excursion List
Room Service Menu
Information About Internet Access and the Hub App
Thrill Theater and IMAX Theatre Schedule
"Good To Know" Information, including Self Service Laundry Locations
Carnival Cruise Sounds
Have some fun with these! Listen to the Carnival Cruise theme, or play the sound of a Carnival ship horn.
If you're a true cruise junkie, download the audio files (by right-clicking, and saving) and then set your computer to play the ship horn when you get a new email, and to play the theme song when the computer boots up and/or shuts down!
Our Future Cruises
We enjoyed four great cruises in 2017, and have three planned for 2018. While that sounds like a small number of cruises by Jim Zim standards, two of them will be long two-week cruises... giving us five weeks of cruising in 2018. Two of our three cruises will be on brand new ships that will literally just be a month or two old when we cruise on them... and the third will be an extended version of the #1 best cruise we've had in all 42 of our cruises. So, it looks like 2018 will be a great year for cruising for us!
Our first cruise of 2018 will be on the MSC Seaside. MSC is one of
the largest cruise lines in the world, but not very well known in the United States, yet. To change that, they're
building an amazing brand new ship and will be home-porting it in Miami. They tailoring the ship and the
experience to the American cruise market, and trying to steal customers from the more popular American cruise lines by
offering rock bottom pricing. I put together a video to explain what's so cool about MSC and their new ship:
One day, during our cruise on Carnival Vista, I got a kick out of seeing a MSC cruise ship cruising along side of us. It was the MSC Divina, which is MSC's current ship based in Miami. As soon as construction is complete on the new MSC Seaside, she'll be taking Divina's place in Miami.
Our second cruise of 2018 is going to be on another brand new cruise ship... the Norwegian Bliss. NCL is going to be bringing her from the shipyard in Italy all the way through the Panama canal and over to the west coast, where she'll do Alaska cruises during the summer and some Mexican Riviera cruises in the Fall. Kellyn and I, plus one of my sisters, will be getting on the ship in Miami and taking her all the way through the Panama Canal and over to Los Angeles.
Our third and final cruise on 2018 has the potential to be not only our best cruise of 2018, but quite possibly of all time. In January of 2017 we did a five-day cruise in the owner's suite of the Norwegian Pearl... and it was the best, most luxurious cruise we have ever done. It truly was our absolute favorite, so far, due to the amenities of the owner's suite and NCL's luxurious oasis known as The Haven. Five days was simply not enough, so as soon as we got off that cruise ship, I started looking for a longer cruise on that class of ship... but it had to be a cruise that wouldn't break the bank. Found one! It turns out Norwegian Pearl has a sister named Norwegian Gem... and that NCL is going to be repositioning her from her current home port of New York City to her new home port of New Orleans. Repositioning cruises are usually more affordable than regular round-trip cruises... and this one is no exception. So instead of the 5-days in the owner's suite on Norwegian Pearl, we're going to be able to do two weeks in the owner's suite of Norwegian Gem. Based on how much we loved the experience on Norwegian Pearl, we expect our two weeks on Norwegian Gem ought to be the best two weeks of our lives. This is going to be something for me to look forward to throughout 2018!
A Great Series Of Books About Cruise Ships
After you've been on at least one cruise, there's a book that you really should read! It will give you a whole new perspective. It's a book that was written by a guy that worked on several Carnival ships... and he shares some funny stories about life on a cruise ship. To give you an idea of what kind of book this is... the story starts as he is staying in a hotel room in Miami, the night before his very first day working on a cruise ship. Even though it's the day before his first day onboard, he's basically "on the job", so Carnival is paying for the room. To save the company money, they don't give him a private room... he shares it with someone else. So, he checks in to the room, and the first thing he does is to take a nice long shower. And when he's finally done with his shower, he discovers that his roommate has shown up... and is in the middle of having sex with a woman right there in their shared hotel room! Does that give you an idea of the kind of book this is? Well, that's just the beginning... and things get even more interesting once he starts working on the ships!
If you've ever wondered what life is like for those people that work on cruise ships... what kind of hours they work... how much they're paid... and what they do when they're not working... this is the book for you. The overall plot of the story is that the author, Brian Bruns, meets a girl named Bianca in Las Vegas and quickly falls head over heels in love with her. It turns out that she's on vacation from her job as a waitress on the Carnival Conquest. Soon enough, the vacation is over and Bianca heads back to the ship... and Brian must make a decision about whether this was just a quick fling, or something more. He decides it was something more, and takes a job with Carnival in order to be with Bianca. Ship life is tough, and creates one roadblock after another between Brian and the girl he loves.
It's a huge love story that literally follows them all around the world. If you just want to hear Brian's best inside stories about life on a cruise ship, you don't even need to read all four books... just get the first one. But if you find yourself loving all the dirty details of life on a cruise ship, and want more... or if you get hooked on the love story and you want to find out whether ship life breaks up Brian and Bianca or whether there's a classic happy ending at the end... buy all four.
|Volume 1||Volume 2||Volume 3||Volume 4|
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Packing List & To-Do List
Here's my official packing list.
Perhaps this will help you think of things to pack for your cruise.
On a few of the unusual items, I'll provide a link to the exact version I recommend at Amazon.com
Airline boarding pass
Cruise boarding pass
If driving, printed directions to the hotel & cruise terminal
Wallet (I actually forgot this on one cruise!)
Waterproof beach shoes
Underwear & socks (incredibly, I actually forgot to bring socks on one cruise)
One dressy outfit
Toothbrush & toothpaste
Travel-size Kleenex for the airplane
Lawry's seasoning salt
Laptop computer or tablet computer, including charger
Digital SLR Camera
Camera tripod, or selfie-stick
Wireless indoor/outdoor thermometer
6-outlet power strip
A Sewing Kit for making emergency repairs to damaged clothing
Cell phone & charger
Waterproof wrist watch
My pre-cruise to-do list:
Stop newspaper and mail delivery
Book shore excursions
Send an email to family members with my travel plans & itinerary
Turn off water to the house to prevent the chance of a pipe break
Turn down (or turn off) the water heater to save energy
Make sure garden sprinklers are on
Make sure house is locked and alarm system is active
On the last day at work:
Update voice mail message to indicate my return date
Update out-of-office email message, and turn it on
Make sure my temporary replacement has an updated desk guide
Put a sign at my desk indicating my return date
What Camera Do I Use?
Whenever I post these cruise reviews, I always get questions about what camera I used to take the photos. For this cruise, I brought a big Canon DSLR camera to use for the majority of the still photos and the videos, a GoPro to use for the snorkeling videos and the Waterworks videos, my Google Pixel cell phone for unexpected photos and videos when I wasn't carrying any other camera, and I also brought a very unusual stabilized video camera. More about that in a minute. Let's start with my main camera.
Most of the pictures you've seen here were shot with my Canon EOS-80D digital SLR camera. The 18-135mm zoom lens is great for most of the shots I take. Occasionally, I pop on a Canon EF-S 10-18mm lens with me when I'm on a cruise ship. This is a wide angle lens, which is extremely useful when trying to shoot in small spaces (for example, inside a cruise ship cabin) or when shooting something very large (like a cruise ship, when you're standing on the pier next to it.).
Canon EOS 80D
If you're in the market for a high quality digital SLR camera, the truth is that the Canon EOS 80D is probably too much camera for most amateur photographers... so the one I actually recommend for most people is the Canon Digital Rebel T6i. If you get one, make sure you get the T6i with the 135mm lens, not the cheap version with the 55mm lens.
I also bring along a tripod with me, to allow me to shoot long-exposure shots in low-light situations. It's also handy to have for shooting "selfies". I've got a tripod that is just the right size to fit inside my big suitcase but which is heavy duty enough to be stable. It also has a fluid head, which is something that's very important to look for in a tripod if you intend to use it when shooting video.
One important technique that I use with my Canon DSLR, since I'm looking to getting the highest quality photos possible, is to shoot in RAW format rather than JPG. This preserves the photos with the highest possible quality, and gives me the greatest ability to tweak them after shooting them. However, it does require a lot of extra work. Any photos which I want to share (via email, Facebook, or on this web site, for example) have to be converted from RAW to JPG. This takes some time and effort, but it's worth it to me in order to get the best end results. Just about all the photos you see on this page have been tweaked to some extent to give them the best finished look. For most photos, I do some sharpening and color correction. On some photos, I have to do even more tweaking than that to get them to look just right.
For shooting snorkeling videos, or any situation (like waterslides) where you need the camera to be waterproof, you just can't beat the GoPro Hero 5 Session. It's an amazing lightweight camera for shooting video or still pictures, and it's completely waterproof. A special extra benefit for me, a model train enthusiast, is that this particular GoPro is light enough and small enough to be stuck to the side of a model train to create an amazing point-of-view train video at home, when I'm not cruising.
GoPro Hero 5 Session
Finally, there's an interesting new stabilized video camera on the market called the DJI Osmo. It has a gimbal built in to it, which smoothes out all the shakiness you typically see in videos shot with a hand held camera. In the professional video world, they use a Steadicam to create smooth handheld video shots. The DJI Osmo is a way to get somewhat similar results without spending a lot of money.
DJI Osmo, stabilized handheld video camera
DJI is famous for making the most popular quadcopter drones on the market today... such as the DJI Phantom and the DJI Inspire. DJI developed their gimbal as a way to smooth out the video when a drone is bouncing all around in the sky. Someone at DJI got the bright idea that if they skipped the drone but kept the gimbal and the camera, and mounted it on to a hand grip, they would have a great device for taking smooth looking videos while walking around. That's how the DJI Osmo was born. It sounded like a cool idea to me, so I bought one of the first ones on the market. It works really well for creating videos with smooth motion, such as the Cove Balcony Cabin Tour video.
If I don't have a "real camera" with me when I stumble on to something that's photo-worthy, I shoot with my Google Pixel XL phone, which actually has a surprisingly good camera in it. Here's a photo a shot with my Pixel XL... if I hadn't told you, would you have any clue that it was shot with a cell phone?
A few weeks after we got home from this cruise, Google released a new version of their Pixel XL phone, and I immediately upgraded. Many reviews have said that the camera built in to the new Pixel phone is even better than the one in the original model. I can't wait for the next cruise to be able to really test it out completely!
The Cruise Ships We've Been On
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