I stepped aboard Carnival Cruise Line’s newest ship in the Port of Barcelona on its second-ever voyage, expecting the 3,960-passenger Carnival Horizon to look and feel much like her predecessor, 2016’s Carnival Vista. I figured I knew exactly what to expect.
I was wrong.
The 133,500-ton Carnival Horizon is anything but a carbon copy of her sister. Stepping into the three-story atrium, with its Dreamscape funnel sculpture made up of more than 2,000 flexible LED tiles lighting up the room with digital artwork, it was clear that improvements both big and small had been made to every corner of the ship.
Where Carnival Vista employed a largely whitewashed atrium, walls aboard Carnival Horizon now have subtle textures and patterns that bounce attractively off the room’s lighting. Blonde wood-grain textures adorn walls and ceiling panels. The whole ship feels a little more, well, upscale.
Even the elevators were the subject of much discussion. With the press of a button on the iPad-like touch screens in the elevator lobbies, you are directed to an elevator car going (usually) express to your selected deck. It’s called a “destination-based elevator,” and it’s a first at sea. Representatives from Schindler, the manufacturer, even came on board for an elevator photo shoot.
After 30 minutes on board, one thing was clear: this was no ordinary Fun Ship.
Gone are the days when Carnival only offered a few basic types of accommodations. Out of 1,980 total suites and staterooms, 864 are oceanview balcony staterooms, while just 254 are fixed-window oceanviews and 752 are economical inside staterooms.
Things really come alive with Carnival Horizon’s specialty staterooms. Cloud 9 Spa staterooms and suites provide enhanced amenities and access to the ship’s soothing Thermal Suite and hydrotherapy pool, while Havana Cabana accommodations add private lanais and an exclusive aft deck area complete with its own bar, hot tubs, and loungers for tanning. The real winners, though, are the ship’s Family Harbor staterooms and suites, which were designed specifically for families traveling together and feature their own private lounge and exclusive concierge. Who says fun can’t be classy?
Fun Diversions and Diverse Dining
Carnival Horizon includes everything that made Carnival Vista so popular, including the amazing SkyRide aerial attraction, the ropes course, and an entire fun square filled with outdoor sports activities and family-friendly games.
High atop the ship, you might notice the onboard water park has taken on a more whimsical tone aboard Carnival Horizon with its alternating red-and-white waterslides and playful splash park. The Cat in the Hat and The Grinch preside over the new Dr. Seuss WaterWorks, the latest innovation in Carnival’s longstanding relationship with Dr. Seuss Enterprises that includes the Dr. Seuss Bookville play area for kids, and the wonderfully entertaining Seuss At Sea parade that lets kids march through the ship to the main theater, where Dr. Seuss story time awaits.
RELATED: Exploring Carnival Horizon
After a busy day ashore, I found refuge in the Cloud 9 Spa’s Thermal Suite area. Available with day- or cruise-long passes, this soothing area includes a small hydrotherapy pool along with a collection of relaxing steam and sauna rooms, plus banks of heated thermal loungers clad in ceramic tiles. Bordered by floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over the ocean, it’s too easy to lose track of time in here. But then, isn’t that the point?
On the dining front, the talk of the ship was Guy’s Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse. Replacing the space occupied on Carnival Vista by the RedFrog Pub, Guy’s Pig & Anchor was developed in conjunction with television culinary celebrity Guy Fieri. The star here is the full à la carte menu of smokehouse creations available each evening, like the Trash Can Nachos, the Championship Pulled Pork, the supremely delicious (and supremely messy) Pig & Anchor Melt, and, of course, the Baby Back Ribs. These can be paired with four kinds of craft beers brewed aboard Carnival Horizon. Sea-day lunch is free of charge, while dinners are modestly priced.
Carnival also took the time to expand its Bonsai Sushi specialty restaurant on Carnival Horizon, adding a small addition known as Bonsai Teppanyaki. Guests sit around a Japanese-style hibachi grill while the restaurant’s talented chefs display their dazzling knife skills to complement your multicourse dinner, priced between $25 and $35.
Foodies will love The Chef’s Table Experience, which now has its own dedicated space off the ship’s main galley. For $96 per person including wine pairings, you can indulge in a private dining experience for just 14 people, hosted by the ship’s executive chef. You’ll need to plan ahead, though; we hear Chef’s Table aboard Carnival Horizon is booked solid for months.
Of course, you can always dine in the ship’s elegant main dining rooms or grab a quick bite to eat at the Lido Marketplace Buffet. With over 10 different dining venues on board, going hungry isn’t an option.
Nights are when Carnival Horizon truly comes to life. Live music is spread throughout the ship, and can be heard in nearly every public room, lounge, and bar.
The Piano Bar 88 has been given a brand-new look, complete with crimson red décor and a wall partition that opens to allow diners in the adjacent Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse to enjoy both music and pre-dinner cocktails before heading next door.
At Alchemy Bar, mixologists create cocktails to order, based on your preferences. Sure, there’s a menu here, but why order off it? Amble up to the bar, tell the bartender what your poison is, and watch it being created right in front of you.
This ship is the antidote to boredom. Non-stop trivia, nightly production shows, and Carnival’s fantastic Punchliner Comedy performances (in PG and R-rated versions) keep things entertaining, as do the deck parties, atrium get-togethers, and the ship’s lively casino and SkyBox Sports Bar.
Even in the Mediterranean, I caught myself skipping entire ports of call to spend some more time aboard Carnival Horizon. She may look like her predecessors on the outside, but make no mistake: she’s a true original inside.
By Aaron Saunders
Photo: Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Line