Carnival Cruise Line's 3,954-passenger Carnival Vista might just be one of the line's most fun with so much to do from scheduled activities to outside attractions and a nightlife that doesn't slow down till late.
Even on a 10-night cruise, we weren't able to get to everything. We did the SkyRide (an elevated bike ride), but not the ropes course. We tried out the outdoor Twister board but never got a chance to play mini-golf or outdoor billiards. We never hit the water park either. We went to the 4D Thrill Theater movie theatre but never saw an IMAX movie. We saw four Playlist Production shows in the main theatre but skipped the magic show in favour of an evening of comedy. We made it to only one RedFrog Pub & Brewery trivia session, and never got to try one of the pour-your-own-beer taps or enjoy a drink in the pub's outdoor seating area.
Cruisers we spoke with had the same experience -- so much to do and not enough time. Yet, despite the constancy of activities, Carnival Vista never felt manic. There was no sense that if you didn't do it all you were missing out. Perhaps that's because our fellow passengers were all laid-back, as ready to chill out as they were to have fun.
While you can find places to be solitary and quiet (the adults-only Sanctuary, for instance) if that's what you're looking for, Carnival Vista is not a ship for wallflowers. It's an extroverted ship full of friendly people, most of whom come from English-speaking countries, though you'll hear a fair amount of Spanish as well. And watch out during school holidays; the ship's passenger count can get pretty close to 5,000 with well over 1,000 kids during the busiest months.
Between the laid-back and friendly passengers, always-smiling crew, and plethora of onboard activities, Carnival Vista maintains a vibe that is young at heart and down to earth.
Daytime: Casual, with shorts and T-shirts most common inside the ship and bathing suits and cover-ups de rigueur on the pool deck.
Evening: Fairly casual (though shorts and tees are typically replaced by trousers and nicer tops) except on "cruise elegant" nights, when men are asked to wear long trousers and collared shirts and women are expected to dress up a bit. Suits, jackets and gowns are not required. On cruise elegant nights you can dine in the buffet without dressing up at all.
Not permitted: Cutoff jeans, shorts and swimwear are not permitted in the main dining room or Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse
Day & Night
Carnival Vista is a busy ship, with lots going on day and night, particularly on sea days when there's rarely a half-hour slot not filled with at least two or three choices. There's as much to do at night with live music throughout the ships, shows in the main theatre, comedy sets at the Punchliner Comedy Club and movies shown on the outdoor Lido Deck, and at the extra fee for IMAX at Sea and 4D Thrill theatres.
Daytime activities might include, but are not limited to trivia and trivia-like games, bingo, pub games, dance classes, outdoor sports competitions, art auctions, cooking demos and spa and shop seminars. (Be aware, seminars led by the spa or retail staff are always more about selling you something than educating you and often come with a hard sell.)
Other options during the day include the Clubhouse at SportSquare, where you'll find mini-bowling, Ping-Pong and arcade basketball. Outdoors at SportSquare are billiards tables, nine-hole mini-golf and even a Twister board painted onto the deck.
At night, the bar scene comes alive, especially at the Havana Club and RedFrog Pub, while the 18+ shows at the Punchliner Comedy Club are usually standing-room-only. (Do not go to the comedy club if you are easily offended.)
The Liquid Lounge Theatre offers up four 40-minute, high-energy Playlist Productions shows every sailing; examples include Studio VIP, which pays homage to the disco-loving '70s and America Rocks, a faux-concert featuring some of the USA's greatest rock songs -- get there early for the best views as seats toward the back do not have great views of the stage.
Dancers will want to head to Havana Club for Latin-style dancing, while a DJ spins dance hits in Liquid Lounge until late.
With more than a dozen bars and lounges on Vista, there's a spot for just about everyone to enjoy, whether you prefer wine, cocktails, beer or a frozen drink.
Limelight Lounge (Deck 4): Limelight is where you'll find the Punchliner Comedy Club as well as drinks with "funny" names like the witty margarita and zany zombie. You'll have a choice of four comedy shows most nights; one or two will be family-friendly. Do not attend the adult-only shows if you are easily offended.
SkyBox Sports Bar (Deck 4): The only place on the ship to catch sporting events, SkyBox Sports Bar is dominated by rows of oversized TVs showing various sports.
Alchemy Bar (Deck 5): You'll find lab coat-clad mixologists putting together inventive cocktails with names like the Deal Closer, French Kiss and Perfect Storm at this pharmacy-themed cocktail bar. Or, tell the Alchemy bartenders your favourite base drink and what kind of mood you're in and they'll whip up something special just for you.
RedFrog Pub & Brewery (Deck 5): One of the most hopping joints on Vista, RedFrog Pub & Brewery is the place to be for cold brews (including three brewed-onboard craft beers) and pub trivia. Brewery tours are offered every sea day, last about an hour and cost extra. In the evening, Caribbean-inspired pub grub is served, and you'll find live guitar music after 8 p.m.
Piano Bar 88 (Deck 5): The ship's traditional piano sing-along bar.
Havana Bar (Deck 5): Havana is Vista's large Cuban-themed lounge. Morning, noon or night it's the place for strong Cuban coffee, while the daytime drinks menu is dominated by Latin American favourites including mojitos, Cuba Libre and daiquiris (frozen or on the rocks). Every night a live band plays Latin dance songs (salsa, cha-cha and the like) to a packed audience.
The Library Bar (Deck 5): A fairly underused spot, The Library Bar is heaven to those seeking a quiet place to read during the day. In the evening, a bartender pours standards, but few people linger. It's also the only spot on the ship to find self-serve wine dispensers.
RedFrog Rum Bar (Deck 10): During the day, you'll be hard-pressed to find a seat at this Lido Deck staple. Rum lovers flock to RedFrog Rum Bar in droves for its coladas, daiquiris and mojitos. Sun deck loungers can also get buckets of beer or pitchers of hard lemonade.
BlueIguana Tequila Bar (Deck 10): Also on the Lido Deck, BlueIguana is where tequila lovers go to get their drink on. The bar pours several different types of tequila, along with frozen margaritas and a handful of tequila-based cocktails. Beer buckets and hard lemonade pitchers are also available.
Just two pools to service the entire ship; one additional pool for guests staying in Havana cabins
Plenty of top-deck, outdoor fun including one of the largest water parks in the Carnival fleet, a small ropes course and the SkyRide
There's plenty to do in the fresh air on Carnival Vista, from hanging in a pool to testing their mettle on the ropes course, which offers two pathways -- one easy, the other slightly scarier.
One of the most unusual distractions at sea is the SkyRide, an elevated recumbent bike ride you can pedal while suspended 150 feet up in the air. It takes about a minute and a half to pedal your way around the course, which includes dips and zigzags.
Most popular with the kids is the WaterWorks water park, which features two water slides, a splash zone for kids and the PowerDrencher soaking bucket. (Children must be potty trained to use any of the pools or the water park.)
For those who want to spend more time lazing about than playing, there is lots of sun deck space for simply lounging about, including on the adults-only Serenity deck, a quiet respite from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the ship.
The Cloud 9 Spa on Carnival Vista offers a variety of body treatments (massages, wraps, scrubs, etc.), facials, medi-spa treatments (Botox, dermal fillers, etc.), acupuncture, salon services (hair, nails, waxing, men's grooming), teeth whitening and more.
Prices for massages range from $150 to $200 and $125 to $190 for facials. (Price ranges are subject to change.)
Unique spa offerings are treatments designed specifically for teens (acne attack facial, ice cream manicure and pedicure), as well as a selection of parent/child options.
If you plan on purchasing multiple treatments, ask about the "book three, save 30 percent" package: Book three treatments, get 10 percent off the first, 20 percent off the second and 30 percent off the third.
Fitness buffs can stay in shape on Vista with a full selection of LifeCycle and LifeFitness machines, including ellipticals, recumbent bikes, treadmills, free weights and resistance machines, as well as the high-tech spin studio.
Classes include free (early morning stretch, fab abs) and for-fee (yoga, Pilates, cycling) options and personal training is available for a fee.
One of the oddest fitness spots onboard is an outdoor space with strange-looking ellipticals, stair climbers and resistance strength machines.
Those who prefer their fitness to be more active can check on the scheduled activities on the combination basketball/volleyball/soccer court, or hit the jogging track (seven laps is 1 mile).
We love that Carnival Vista's free dining spots outnumber those that cost money, though with many free venues only open at select times or on select days it doesn't always feel that way. (Fresh Creations salad bar, for instance, is only open for lunch on sea days.) There's still plenty to eat without spending a dime, and, in fact, our two favourite lunchtime venues were both complimentary (Mongolian Wok and The Pasta Bar).
Generally speaking the food on Vista is good, though we'd have to say our meals in the speciality restaurants (both free and extra fee eateries) tended to be a tad better than what we had in the main dining room or buffet. With that said, we never had a truly bad meal. Most of the complaints we heard about the overall dining experience were gripes about limited hours for spots like Bonsai Sushi and Guy's Burger on port days.
Horizons (Decks 3 and 4) and Reflections (Deck 3) Restaurants
Meals: Breakfast (B), Dinner (D)
Carnival Vista's two main dining rooms: The two-deck Horizons is for the flexible Your Time Dining program participants (choose when you want to dine and a table will be assigned at the time), while the smaller Reflections Restaurant is for those with assigned seating; dinner is at either 6 p.m. or 8:15 p.m. Horizons also has a small bar inside, perfect for a pre-dinner drink if you're waiting for a table.
One unusual detail regarding the Your Time Dining: Diners who have chosen Your Time Dining must first stop at a desk on Deck 5 near Java Blue cafe, to sign in for dinner and get their table assignment. It's out of the way, depending on where you're coming from, and you then have to wait in line twice.
Breakfast is served in Horizons on port days; on sea days, it's brunch. Both are sit-down affairs. The breakfast menu features standard morning items, while the brunch menu is double-sided -- one side for breakfast items, the other for lunch items.
For dinner, both restaurants offer Carnival's American Table on most nights and American Feast on cruise elegant nights. The casual American Table is characterized by a lack of tablecloths, which some veteran Carnival cruisers don't like, but we didn't miss. On American Feast night, the white tablecloths do come out. Dinner menus are the same in both restaurants.
Dining is banquet style with a multicourse menu that includes rotating items, along with always available dishes. Food tends to be Pan-American with the occasional ethnic dish (Tex Mex penne, lasagna, sweet-and-sour shrimp, etc.).
Each night also offers a few special items; one, an appetizer, is labelled a "Rare Find" and described on the menu as "food you always wanted to try, but haven't yet dared." These items could include alligator fritters, tuna tartar, braised ox tongue and escargots.
Also available every night are several steakhouse selections that carry a surcharge of $20 each.
The menu is slightly smaller on American Feast nights when the dishes available are bumped up a notch.
Regardless of whether it's an American Table or American Feast night, dinners on Carnival Vista are a festive affair, as they are on all Carnival ships, and your waiters will sing and dance for you every night. Feel free to join them, they love it when you do!
Lido Marketplace (Deck 10)
Meals: Breakfast (B), Lunch (L), Dinner (D)
The ship's buffet, Lido Marketplace, offers an impressive amount of seating, both in terms of quantity and variety, so you'll rarely be wandering around looking for a spot to sit.
Breakfast features all the usual morning options, while at lunch and dinner, Lido Marketplace is divided into distinct areas. Comfort Kitchen, located near the entrance by the Lido Pool, offers a variety of American favourites; at the back of Lido Marketplace, you'll find the carving station as well as a section called (on a rotating basis) Caribbean Favorites, Italian Favorites and Good Eats. You'll find a small salad bar in each section and the Carnival Deli is located all the way at the back of Lido Marketplace. Both sides of the buffet have a Sweet Spot dessert station. Around the corner are the popular 24/7 soft-serve ice-cream machines.
Also on both sides of the buffet are self-pour beer taps with Bud Light and ThirstyFrog Red; swipe your card to activate the tap. Self-service beverage stations, scattered throughout the buffet, offer complimentary lemonade, water, tea (iced and hot) and coffee. At breakfast, the beverage choices are orange, apple and orange-passion fruit-guava cocktail juices.
Pizzeria del Capitano (Deck 10)
Meals: Open 24/7
Located at the back of the ship, right by the Tides pool and across from the Seafood Shack, this pizza place makes five varieties of individually sized pizzas, all available free of charge 24 hours a day. Slices and gluten-free pies are available as well.
Guy's Burger Joint (Deck 10)
One of Carnival's most popular eateries, Guy's Burger Joint is the brainchild of celebrity chef Guy Fieri. Build your own or choose from five pre-designed burgers. You'll also find delicious crispy fries and a generous toppings bar. Be prepared for a long line during prime lunch hours, but it usually moves fast. Veggie burgers are not advertised but are available upon request.
BlueIguana Cantina (Deck 10)
Meals: B, L
It's Cinco de Mayo every day at this poolside Mexican venue, where tacos and burritos are on offer for lunch. Choose a tortilla (or have your taco or burrito served up on a platter if you don't want the wrap), protein as well as optional ingredients, plus there's a salsa bar with even more toppings. BlueIguana Cantina is hopping for lunch, but breakfast is quiet and the scrambled egg burritos are delish.
Mongolian Wok (Deck 12)
This free Asian noodle venue, located inside of JiJi Asian Kitchen, was one of our regular lunchtime go-to spots. Though you sit at a regular table, table service is limited to the delivery of your meal as Mongolian Wok diners order by filling out a paper form selecting a protein, what type of noodle and what sauce they'd like, and then add extras from a list of options.
The Pasta Bar (Deck 12)
Located inside Cucina del Capitano, The Pasta Bar (a somewhat misleading name as you actually eat in a sit-down restaurant) is a great, free spot for Italian food lovers to get a quick meal. Choices, which you indicate by filling out a paper form given to you by your server, begin with the pasta itself, but also include five sauces and a variety of ingredients. You can also order a meat lasagna if you don't want pasta, and can supplement any meal with a Caesar salad and bread. Half-portions are available, as well.
Fresh Creations (Deck 15)
Meals: L (sea days)
Meals: B, L, D
In-cabin dining is available 24 hours a day, though breakfast choices are all cold options. Anytime options are sandwiches, garden or Caesar salads, and a market vegetable platter. For a small fee, you can order wings, chicken tenders, fried shrimp, chicken quesadilla, Philly cheesesteak, pizza and fries.
Pricing was accurate at time of review but may have changed since.
The Chef's Table (Deck 5); $75
Located inside the Reflection's main galley (kitchen), the 16-seat Chef's Table is separated from all the action by a glass wall so diners can watch the hustle and bustle as waiters come and go. The evening kicks off with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres inside the galley, followed by a tour of the galley and then concludes with an eight-course meal, all hosted by one of the ship's master chefs. The Chef's Table is proving to be very popular with cruisers, and on most sailings, it's already sold out by the time the cruise departs. Pre-cruise or first-day reservations are essential.
Fahrenheit 555 (Deck 5); $38 for adults, $12 for kids
With its sophisticated atmosphere, the Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse is a great date night choice; its selection of aged beef steaks, lamb chops, lobster tail and grilled fish specialities, along with 17 appetizers, salad, soup and side dish choices means there's something for nearly everyone. (We don't recommend it for vegetarians.) Reservations are highly recommended.
Bonsai Sushi (Deck 5); a la carte, $2 to $22
Meals: L (sea days), D
Hands down the most popular eatery onboard Carnival Vista, Bonsai Sushi offers a comprehensive menu of sushi, sashimi and bento boxes, as well as cooked-to-order items. The more adventurous can choose the Omakase meal, in which the chef prepares a series of sushi and sashimi dishes just for you. Reservations are not permitted so be prepared to wait.
RedFrog Pub & Brewery (Deck 5); a la carte, $3 to $4
In addition to its liquid libations, you'll find small-plate Caribbean-inspired pub grub after 6 p.m. at RedFrog Pub.
Seafood Shack (Deck 10); a la carte, $4 to $12 for a single item, per pound market prices
Meals: L, D
Fans of comfort seafood, like fried shrimp, lobster rolls, crab cakes and good old-fashioned fish and chips, will want to check out Seafood Shack. Order at the outdoor counter and your food will be delivered to one of the picnic-style tables located a few steps away. You can also purchase fresh fish, bought at one or more ports along your cruise. Pick which fresh fish you'd like and have it cooked on the spot or preorder to have it delivered to whichever restaurant you're dining at that night.
Cucina del Capitano (Deck 11); $15 for adults, $5 for kids 12 and under
Prepare to walk away from Cucina del Capitano, with its old-fashioned trattoria feel and featuring a menu of family-sized Italian staples, stuffed to the gills. Reservations are recommended but not required.
JiJi Asian Kitchen (Deck 11); $15 for adults, $5 for kids
Dining at JiJi is a smorgasbord for the taste buds, where menu items from China, Mongolia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Singapore are shared family-style, giving everyone a chance to taste multiple appetizers, entrees and sides. We highly recommend the super spicy Kung Pao chicken. Reservations are recommended but not required.
Cabins on Carnival Vista are generally comfortably sized with plenty of storage space, though unfortunately, the line went with a dated colour scheme in standard rooms, which we feel makes the brand-new cabins seem older than they are. What really stands out for us about the cabins on Carnival Vista, however, is the wide variety of configurations available, including dozens of connecting rooms, making the ship particularly well-suited to families and groups of friends travelling together.
All cabins (except for a handful of inside rooms) have two twin beds that convert to a king, desk with chair, a flat-screen TV, mini-fridge (already empty so you can fill it up with what you want), hairdryer and a safety deposit box in the closet.
The interactive flat-screen TV comes with several channels and can be used to make dinner reservations or check your balance. Several on-demand movies are also available, including about half a dozen for free.
In all rooms you'll find both 110 and 230 power outlets, as well as USB outlets. All are by the desk; in other words, there are no outlets by the bed, a real shortcoming in our opinion. In standard rooms (inside, ocean view and balcony), the power outlets are located directly beneath the mirror, making it impossible to plug in any oversized chargers. Bring a power cord if you have oversized chargers (like for a camera battery).
Bathrooms have plenty of storage space with glass shelving on both sides of the sink. All cabins except Cloud 9 Spa and Havana rooms come with shampoo and body wash dispensers in the shower and bars of soap.
Interior: The 723 Interior cabins are 185 square feet each. Most interior rooms have space for two people, though a few fit three people and even fewer can fit four. Closets offer limited storage space, particularly hanging space.
There are also six Interior cabins with walkway views on Deck 7. Mostly identical to other inside cabins, these rooms feature a picture window facing the public observation deck (as opposed to an ocean view, which could be why Carnival chooses to call them interior rooms, even though technically they're not).
Ocean View: Ocean-view cabins are either 185 square feet or 220 square feet. In all, you'll find a sofa, coffee table, closets with plenty of hanging space and a picture window.
Deluxe Ocean Views are 230 square feet and have two bathrooms, one with a toilet and shower and one with a toilet and junior tub.
Balcony: Carnival Vista has several balcony configurations including standard, cove, aft, premium and vista balcony cabins. All have a sofa or sofa bed, coffee table and plenty of storage space. Balconies have a small table and patio chairs. All balcony cabins are 185 square feet inside, but the balcony size varies 35 square feet for standard balcony; 45 square feet for cove (all of which are found on Deck 2); 60 square feet for aft balcony and 75 square feet for premium and vista balcony. These last two differ only by location on the ship, with vista cabins located on the corner and premiums located just inside the corner.
Havana: The Havana cabin category, open only to passengers 12 years or older, includes exclusive use of the aft Havana pool all cruise long. Most Havana rooms (called cabanas) are located on Deck 5 and include floor-to-ceiling windows and a private outdoor patio, which can be accessed by keycard from outside as well as through the cabin; a few are located on Decks 6 and 7 and have balconies rather than patios, but still receive all Havana perks. Patios for both standard Havana Cabanas and cabana suites are 100 square feet. They are enclosed by a low white gate and feature a table, patio chair, loungers and hammock-style swinging chair. We loved the swing chair and being able to lie outside on our loungers whenever we wanted but found the lack of privacy to be distracting at times. Not only can you clearly see and hear your neighbours on their patio (and they can see and hear you), but passengers who have managed to get onto the Havana promenade occasionally stroll by and stop to ask questions.
Standard Havana cabanas are 185 square feet inside; suites are 260 square feet. Suites have a large inside seating area and a lovely bathroom with marble counters, his and her sinks and a rainfall showerhead. Suites also have generous walk-in closets.
All Havana rooms come with Havana-branded Elemis shampoo, conditioner, lotion and soap.
Havana balconies are: aft-view extended with 60-square-foot balconies or premium or vista category with 75-square-foot balconies. There are also a limited number of inside cabins designated as Havana category.
Family Harbor: The Family Harbor room category is one of the best family-specific groupings of cabins we've ever come across at sea. Located in a keycard-accessible section of Deck 2, providing an extra level of security, the cabins come with several perks including access to the Family Harbor Lounge with its daily buffet breakfast, daytime snacks and 24/7 soft ice cream; a free night of Night Owls babysitting; and free speciality dining for kids under 12 in most of Vista's speciality restaurants.
There are inside, ocean-view, cove balcony and suite cabins in Family Harbor. All cabins except insides have two bathrooms, one with a toilet and shower, the other with a toilet and bathtub. Many are connecting.
The Family Harbor suites are 275 square feet and have 65-square-foot cove balconies (meaning they're closer to the water than other balconies) and are the only rooms on the ship that have space for five people. They include a curtain to divide the main sleeping area from the rest of the cabin, and have two flat-screen TVs and roomy walk-in closets.
Cloud 9 Spa: Cloud 9 Spa cabins are available in several categories including inside, oceanview, balcony and suite. Layouts are the same as other cabins of the same category. Passengers in Cloud 9 cabins receive Elemis toiletries in the bathroom, free access to Vista's thermal suite, two free fitness classes per passenger and upgraded Cloud 9 Spa bathrobes and slippers.
Suites: Carnival has three suite categories. Passengers in all suites receive priority check-in during embarkation.
Junior Suite: The two Junior Suites are 275 square feet, have a 35-square-foot obstructed-view balcony (meaning you don't get a completely full view of the outside world from your balcony) and feature a bathroom with shower and whirlpool tub combo, as well as double sinks. Junior suites also have a cozy sitting area and a walk-in dressing area with vanity table and chair.
Ocean Suite: Ocean Suites are 275 square feet and have 65-square-foot balconies. They come with roomy walk-in closets, a sitting area, full bathroom with shower and whirlpool tub combo and double sinks.
Grand Suite: The largest room category on Carnival Vista, Grand Suites are 345 square feet and have 85-square-foot balconies. On top of all the same features as Ocean Suites, Grand Suites have a bidet and the walk-in closet has a vanity table with chair.