We normally cruise on Royal Caribbean and have done Norwegian several times as well. We booked this cruise because leaving from NYC is convenient for us, and we were comfortable trying Carnival for the first time because Horizon is a brand new ship. As of this writing, the ratings are just about evenly distributed between Excellent, Very Good, Average and Poor. There are a total of 50 Average and Poor ratings, and 48 Excellent and Very Good. I had a lot of anxiety about going on this cruise after I read the many negative reviews. But I have to say, all my fears were completely unfounded. I had a fantastic time!
Now, having said that, let me explain my rating and this review. I never give anything a "5" because I feel that implies perfection and there is no such thing. I wanted to give this a "3" only because it is not quite as good as some Royal Caribbean cruises I have been on, where I have given a "4". But the hating on this ship seems ridiculous to me and I think Horizon deserves to see its overall rating improve. Any negative or snarky comments should not detract from my overall positive feelings about the ship but are instead designed to (a) provide some suggestions for future cruisers (on how to optimize your experience, and in some cases how to properly behave); (b) provide suggestions for improvement to Carnival management, assuming they read these reviews; and (c) reflect my love-hate relationship with cruises in general, in some cases not even specific to this ship. None of my negative comments below should dissuade you from taking this cruise. My whole family and I (there were 11 of us - six adults and five children) were all very happy. OK, now on to the details...
Food quality overall was very good. I have reasonable expectations about food on cruises. I consider myself to be somewhat of a "foodie" and dine out frequently, often at upscale restaurants. I don't expect the food on a cruise to compete with the best restaurants. They are making massive amounts of food at one time, how good can you possibly expect it to be? Quality is always going to suffer in favor of quantity. I thought every meal was pretty decent and encountered no problems with cold food, botched orders or anything like that. We had the early seating in the Meridian every night except one. Our wait staff was absolutely phenomenal - Piotr, Pedro and Igedde (sp?). They remembered all 11 of our family’s names after the first night. Those of us that drank soda had cans waiting for them at the table when we arrived. The team worked well together, were very attentive and took time out to talk to and entertain the youngest children in our family. One night we ate at the Italian specialty restaurant. The food quality here was excellent, but the service not quite what we would expect. It did get a bit old sitting anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours in the Meridian seven out of eight nights, so I would recommend trying a few more of the specialty restaurants to vary things a bit. A side benefit of the specialty restaurants is that you’ll avoid getting interrupted by photographers while you’re eating. One negative in the main dining room was that they did not have the same wine that we enjoyed in the Italian restaurant, and we were unable to get it without a separate charge for the whole bottle, even though two of us had the drink package. Also, we were never proactively asked if we wanted coffee or tea with dessert, although of course if we asked it was served.
There weren’t a ton of healthy choices. There were no explicit healthy selections on the Meridian dinner menu but there were some wise choices available. For quicker breakfast or lunchtime meals, I was hoping for offerings like those in the Solarium on Royal Caribbean, but there was no equivalent; the salad bar in the Serenity Lounge was fairly limited. Please don’t let there ever be a law that requires putting calories on the menus like in some parts of the U.S.
As far as the specialty places:
The java cafe on 5 had good coffee - nice that this is included in the drink package - but their nitro cold brew machine was out of service most of the cruise.
The pizza place on deck 10 aft was good but I only had it once so can't really comment on the wait time so many other reiewers complained about.
I can tell you the wait at the Seafood Shack was long, even though I was the only one ordering. I ordered a few things to share with the family: the lobster BLT had too much mayonnaise in the lobster; the steamed shrimp could have been healthy, if topped only with Old Bay seasoning, but instead was obviously immersed in butter; and the fried shrimp had an oily heavy batter instead of a thin, dry, crispy crust. However, the clam strips were very good - I actually enjoyed them more than the ones I had recently eaten at Legal Seafood in Boston.
Guy's burgers poolside were very good and never a long wait; I visited there about three times during the cruise. I would say they taste most like burgers at the Five Guys chain (not the same “Guy”).
The Pig & Anchor is hyped up by some professional cruise bloggers. We only went for lunch, and the lunch offering does not include baby back ribs. The brisket and pulled pork were good, but I've had better at local chains such as Mission Grill here in Philadelphia. You go up to the servers and they put what you request on your plate; I wasn't getting any sides so figured they would be a little more generous with the meat, but they were actually quite stingy so I walked away with a lot of open real estate on my plate.
I didn’t eat in the Lido Marketplace except to grab early-morning coffee or maybe a mini Danish or croissant. But my father-in-law had a couple of sandwiches made in the deli section and made it a point to say he really enjoyed them.
There was a small breakfast buffet in Ocean Plaza, deck 5 aft, which had fruit, pastries, scrambled eggs, bacon, oatmeal, and a few other things; this area was much less crowded than the Lido Marketplace and was a nice alternative to that or to the breakfast burritos that I had three of the mornings.
Speaking of breakfast burritos, they are excellent as were the lunch burritos, all from the Blue Iguana on the pool deck. They also have tacos at lunch but only soft shells; I prefer crunchy shells.
The poolside Rum Bar and Tequila Bar were both good. I liked that they had these two separate themes instead of just generic bars, and the drink concoctions were interesting. The only problem is that they could get quite crowded at times.
Other than these poolside bars, there were no outdoor bars where you could sit at a bar alongside the ocean and be served a drink. There is physically a bar just outside the Ocean Plaza, but it was closed all week; you could get yourself a drink at the indoor Ocean Plaza bar and take it outside, and of course you could always take a drink outside from various other places.
The Alchemy Bar was hyped in some cruise blogs. I am somewhat of a cocktail aficionado and an amateur mixologist / home bartender, so I was looking forward to trying the Alchemy. But I was disappointed with their cocktail menu, which was just about entirely filled with sweet drinks (a problem at most of the onboard bars) and no classic cocktail derivations. Zoron runs this bar and will make you up something interesting if you tell him what you like. He is a very knowledgeable bartender that also works at the Rum Bar, but he is very soft-spoken so between that and his accent it was sometimes difficult to understand what he was saying.
I really enjoyed the bar at the Pig & Anchor - Milos is a great guy, but my understanding is that he is getting a promotion which I assume will take him out from behind the bar - and the Smoked Rosemary Boulevardiere was a revelation - I have never seen a drink actually infused with smoke from burning herbs.
The Liquid Lounge should stop serving drinks that have to be made with a blender. These concoctions cause a bottleneck when people are trying to get their drinks and get situated just before the show starts. The noise of the blender interrupted the comic juggler’s act and he made a joke out of the intrusive sound.
My father-in-law got the soda package and was disappointed to find out that he could only use it to get a soda at a bar or restaurant, not at venues such as the deck 5 coffee shop. There were also no soda machines in the Lido Marketplace, such as Royal Caribbean has in its equivalent Windjammer.
My wife and I had the ultimate drink package, which also includes bottled water, specialty coffees, etc. Well worth it for us, but you’ll have to do your own math on it.
I wiped everything down myself and found a stray hair here and there. A few times we found a stray hair on our towels. That kind of stuff freaks me out. Despite this, the room was clean overall. Our cabin attendant was friendly enough, but three separate times I asked for extra towels and only got them once. As others have commented, it would be so much nicer if the shower had a door instead of a curtain; the ship is still pretty new right now, but those curtains are going to quickly get raunchy, and nothing is more disturbing than having a gross shower curtain rub against you while you are trying to get clean.
Unlike on other ships, we received housekeeping only once per day. There was no evening turn-down service or replenishment of towels. It was only later we realized that there was an option we could have selected for once daily or twice daily service, but our cabin steward had only asked us if we wanted service in the morning OR in the evening.
THE SHIP ITSELF – LAYOUT, AESTHETICS, LOGISTICS, ETC.
Check-in was smooth. We arrived at the terminal early and were called for boarding earlier than scheduled. My wife had done all the check-in work online so we didn’t have to wait on any lines in the terminal. We did the walk-off disembarkation, which went as well as could be expected.
I thought the muster drill was somewhat disorganized. There did not seem to be enough crew members around to direct people to their muster stations, and the crew members responsible for our muster station arrived after the scheduled start. I joked with my family that in the event of an incident, we would all be on our own, every man for himself!
The ship is beautiful and clean, with colorful, contemporary and decorative venues, as one would expect with a brand new vessel. It was a little confusing navigating around sometimes because, rather than a straight “spine” down the middle such as the Royal Caribbean Oasis class promenade, you would sometimes come to a dead-end and have to turn left or right to an outer corridor to continue walking fore or aft. But it’s no big deal once you get the hang of it.
One day, I needed to get quickly from the pool to our chairs on a lower deck in the forward portion of the ship. I learned that there is no way to do this without going inside, having to walk barefoot on the elevators and get blasted with cold air conditioning while soaking wet. For all I know this could be the case on just about every ship, but it’s something I just happened to notice on this cruise.
I liked the fact that there were forward-looking views from the bow on several decks, including lower decks such as 5, 6 and 7; I have been on ships where there were no such vantage points. I also enjoy the view aft, watching the wake of the boat trail into the distance, but from what I could tell the only place to do this was deck 10; I wish there was a lower deck with this view, closer to the water.
Lots of reviews included complaints about the elevators. I thought the system of selecting a deck and being directed to a specific car worked fine; I don’t think the wait times were any shorter or longer than on ships with a “normal” elevator system. Sometimes the waits were frustrating, but that has been the case on just about every ship I’ve ever been on.
The pool area was pretty loud. A cruise should recreate the experience of an island resort, not a NYC club. How about some reggae or steel drum music instead of this loud club music? Some people should just stay home in NYC if they want to go clubbing. We like shade, and there is a shady deck just above and overlooking the pool deck, but it was just too loud there. We found a quiet and shady spot on deck 5, but it was not particularly convenient to venues for coffee, food or drinks.
The Serenity Lounge is the adults-only area. It has no covered / shady areas and no pool of its own; Royal Caribbean’s Solarium on Oasis, Allure and Anthem (and perhaps others) has it all over Carnival Horizon’s Serenity Lounge.
The Liquid Lounge is the “main” theater but it is not a large, impressive traditional theater like on other ships. As the name implies, it is more of a lounge and the seating is not as comfortable as in a “real” theater.
Deck 10 aft was a nice area with some shady tables near the Seafood Shack and the pizza place, as well as lounge chairs out in the sun around a small pool and hot tub. They almost always had cruise-appropriate reggae music playing in this area.
There is no signature “Broadway-quality” production. The same troupe performs in several different shows in the Liquid Lounge. We went to the Vintage Pop show (which was a “Roaring 20s” type of thing), which I enjoyed because I’ve always been interested in that era, and Celestial Strings, which was OK when they were doing some of the rock numbers but less interesting with the slower ballads (not to mention it was hard to follow the storyline, if there even was one). We also saw a comedic juggler in the Liquid Lounge. I liked the fact that the shows were generally 45 minutes instead of an hour and a half; I was able to get through them without falling asleep, and it left more time in the evening to do other things.
There was a band in the Ocean Plaza just about every night, with a variety of different sets – jazz, pop, 50’s, etc. Most ships have either a jazz club or a blues club, but Horizon has neither. There is, however, a piano bar. We sat in there a few times and it was relaxing but a little stuffy, more like we were watching a piano recital and afraid to talk, rather than it being background music to a more lively bar scene. It was probably different later at night when they had sing-alongs but we did not go to any of those.
There were no bands in the pool area, unlike on other cruises where they will often feature reggae, steel drum or calypso music so that you feel like you’re at an island resort.
Across from the piano bar is the Library Bar, which is a room filled with books and board games, including classics like Monopoly, Connect Four and Battleship. I was amazed to see Rock-Em Sock-Em Robots too, but unfortunately, it was broken. There is also a self-serve wine dispenser. The kids enjoyed this room – they spent some time in there alone, and some with us.
There were two different PG-rated comedy shows. And they really were PG-rated, there was nothing that pushed the envelope for our youngest like on the supposedly family-friendly comedy show we went to on Norwegian Breakaway a couple of years ago. One of the comedians, Cee-Jay Jones, was particularly enjoyable because he actually addressed the kids with humor about how lucky they were to be on a cruise. He drew the kids into his routine with jokes about family dynamics between kids and adults, which was funny for both generations while also teaching the kids somewhat of a lesson. On the way out, I even heard my wife admonishing my son over something he was doing, with the line “Didn’t you hear what the comedian said?”
There were seemingly nonstop opportunities to engage in trivia games in an endless variety of topical areas, and we had a few winners in our group, although my in-laws were disappointed there was no 50’s music triva.
The gym sucks. If you do anything other than run on a treadmill, or aren’t lucky enough to snag one of the two rowing machines, forget about a decent weight training workout, there just isn’t enough room (although there are heavy dumbbells available).
The running track is way too small – 7 laps are required just to complete a mile – and you’ll have to dodge people walking with flip-flops holding cups of coffee. It is also on the opposite end of the ship from the fitness center, so if you have any intentions of putting together a circuit that includes running and weightlifting you’re out of luck unless you use the treadmill. I like ships that have a dedicated track on a lower deck, shaded by the deck above and padded with running track substrate.
They have some useless machines on the deck near the running track that mimic certain weightlifting machines using bodyweight only; it looked more like an adult playground than any serious fitness equipment. I saw a picture on Carnival’s website about a heavy bag and brought my gloves with me but there was none; (the Carnival website featured the brand name they use for this area, Sky Zone, but it is not the same on every ship). They did have a pull-up bar (although it was way too thick to sustain a grip for more than a few reps) and dip bars, so I was able to put together a circuit of running, pull-ups, dips and push-ups. The spa had a drink case that had protein drinks on the first and last days but was empty in between.
PORTS OF CALL
Not my favorite part of any cruise. If you really want to experience a Caribbean island, go there for vacation, which is my general preference. I’m not interested in being part of a cattle call for an excursion that provides some sanitized island experience that does little or nothing to show the true character, culture or feel of the island. Of course, nothing is stopping you from exploring the island on your own, but there usually isn’t enough time, especially with the risk of not making it back to the ship for its departure. For these reasons, I generally prefer to stay on the ship during the cruise; it’s your floating resort, and it’s nice when the crowds are gone. If you get off the ship and don’t take any excursions, here is what your port experiences will be:
- Grand Turk: scramble to get off the ship early enough in the morning to secure a lounge chair on the nearby beach, haggling with one or more competitive lounge chair guys after you have safely navigated through their dogs running freely on the beach, and then enjoy a view of the Horizon about 100 yards in front of you while swimming in a mix of water, seaweed and diesel discharge from the cruise ship and the other watercraft buzzing to and from the beach on both sides of you. We did do some snorkeling here and saw some cool stuff including a school of squid but hardly an optimal snorkeling opportunity.
- San Juan: walk around Old San Juan. It was nice to get the essence of the area with its narrow cobblestone streets and colorful building but you won’t want to do this long in the heat.
- Amber Cove: go to Carnival’s own area featuring a pool, water slides, bar, and restaurant!!! What? They have these on the ship already? Oh… But at Amber Cove I get to pay for my drinks because the drink package doesn’t work here! But seriously, I did leave out one good part, and that was the zip line - $20 for as many rides as you want – I did have a lot of fun doing this with my son and nephew. Note the age requirement is 14 and up, which disappointed my daughter after she had made the trek up the hill. By the way, the water slides were closed for renovation, and apparently this was the third week of the shutdown.
The app is definitely helpful and the ability to text your family or friends that are onboard is certainly worth $5 for the cruise (unnecessary if everyone in your group has the internet package). But the app is somewhat temperamental; for whatever reason I would have to frequently sign back in. There were also texts that did not go through. If you really want to make sure someone sees your text, ask them to confirm receipt.
I got the premium Internet package. It worked fine and the speeds were good. The only issue was, as noted above, finding that I had gotten kicked off and had to sign back in. Also note that if you have the Internet package you need the app to access it.
I’ve seen reviews indicating that the crew was not friendly. I did not find this to be the case. Everyone was generally as friendly as on any other ship, and all interactions were favorable.
Chris, the cruise director, was a force of nature running around the ship in his kilt. The guy is a performer in his own right and can seriously sing; he’s a one-man show of his own.
Don’t try to take a nap at around noon or you’ll be awoken by an announcement that it’s noon, followed by a “gong” sound. Is this really necessary?
Some passengers need to learn how to act or stay home. Several groups of teenagers were walking around with boom boxes – is there not enough music for you to choose from on this ship? What gives you the right to decide what everybody around you is going to listen to, especially in areas where people went to get some peace and quiet? You grown-ups that play music or videos on your phones within earshot of other people are no better. The worst were the people in the cabin next to my sister-in-law’s family, running up and down the halls and making noise in their room at 4:30am; security had to be called. This just seems to be the type of crowd that finds its way onto cruises, particularly when they leave from NYC. But people like this are, fortunately, the exception not the rule.
We saw an IMAX movie on National Parks. There were technical difficulties when we were supposed to see it so we had to reschedule, but we were given an extra free show for the trouble, which was nice. We chose one of the 4D thrill features, which was OK but the second of the three segments was blurry.
I liked the 8-day itinerary. A 7-day cruise doesn’t feel like a full week, because the departure day is not a full day. With an 8-day cruise, you get a full week in addition to that first half-day. I also liked how the itinerary was bookended by two sea days at either end, with three port days in the middle. Read Less