After having lived in the US for more than 8 years and doing Caribbean itineraries at first, we did our first European Cruise with Carnival on the Vista in 2016. We have a total of 42 days with Carnival now (VIFP Gold) and have sailed with ... Read More
After having lived in the US for more than 8 years and doing Caribbean itineraries at first, we did our first European Cruise with Carnival on the Vista in 2016. We have a total of 42 days with Carnival now (VIFP Gold) and have sailed with Royal Caribbean on one cruise. This was almost the same itinerary as with the Vista two years ago (except we skipped Palma de Mallorca in the end). We have done cruises with kids before but this was the second time for just us.
I have to live on a gluten free diet as I am severely gluten-intolerant so I will provide some details on gluten free options later.
The ship is almost the same as the Vista with only slight differences. The decor is a little more conservative with tan and brown colours dominating in most interior areas (elevators, etc.). Overall a nice design and when you are used to the Carnival ship layouts you will find your way around very easily. One major change for some people were the elevators which now require you to chose the floor you want to get off BEFORE you enter the elevator. Based on your choice the system will tell you which elevator to go to and there are no buttons to press inside. Takes some time to get used to but this is much more efficient and waiting times in front of the elevators were minimal.
The shop layout on deck 5 is a little different (smaller stores), the piano bar is on the different side and there is not a Teppanyaki next to the Bonsai sushi place. Also the Red Frog Pub is replaced with the Pig&Anchor BBQ place- they still serve and brew craft beers but also have BBQ options (free for lunch, charge for dinner). We did not try the food as most cruisers we talked to were very disappointed.
Not much to day about the cabin - the usual Carnival layout. As on the Vista the safe not works with PIN instead of credit card, everything else is exactly as you expect on a Carnival ship. Enough space to put your clothes, enough space in the bathroom. One European outlet, one American outlet, 2 USB outlets to charge your device. One additional outlet in the bathroom for an electric shaver. Fridge to put drinks in (we ordered 12 pack of water though the Carnival site to be delivered to the stateroom and it was there when we got in - $4.50 for the 12 pack and we always had cold water in the fridge to take with us on tours).
Our cabin steward did an ok job (two glasses in bathroom were dirty when we arrived, used towel under the bed). When we requested later luggage tags for debarkation he was very quick to help.
As I said before I have to eat gluten free so I will start with the gluten free options on board. In the main dining room (we had late assigned dining at 8:15 pm) you get the menu for the following day the night before and can make your selections. They will try to make make any dish gluten free if possible sometimes leaving out the sauce (which I don't understand, they could just do them with corn starch). Gluten free bread is served that is barely edible (very bitter taste, very soggy even though slightly toasted) - that is completely not understandable for me as there is very good gluten free baguette available at the deli (try it, I had a Tuna sandwich which was excellent) and they could serve that easily. In general gluten free food handling seems very safe, at the Deli the gluten free sandwich was prepared in a completely separate oven and kitchen by a different employee that put new gloves on.
Gluten free chocolate melting cake is available as well as fruits and ice cream/sherbet options every night.I had the creme brulee on night and it was excellent.
In general the food quality in the dining room was ok but far from excellent and in my opinion was the worst out of all of our Carnival cruises. The food was rarely hot (rather slightly warm, sometimes cold) and the dished very exactly the same as they have been for years (except for the Port of Call options which were generally excellent). Don't bother to order french fries unless you like them luke warm and are satisfied with a portion size of 14 fries - yes I counted them!) You could tell that the service team did not interact with each other for a long time yet, service was chaotic and unorganized. I will never understand why they let hot food sitting on the prep stations doing other stuff letting the food get cold. They now always put a bottle of wine on the table (every night) which they will charge if you open it. This just leaves even less room on the small table and is just another attempt to get your money).
The Lido buffet only had few good options for lunch but always had two flavours of fresh ice cream and one time a chocolate fountain. also the layout is not much better with little islands that can be accessed from four sides and therefore there are absolutely no lines except for the Omelette station. Food choices are the same every day and I cannot not understand Carnival for not offering more variety in fruits (always only two kinds of melons, grapefruit and bananas) for breakfast - no apples, grapes, strawberries, pears, oranges, nothing. scrambled eggs are made from prepackaged egg mix and taste awful. People on a gluten free diet please be careful: the bacon is resting on bread in a pan. No gluten free bread on the breakfast buffet in general. Royal Caribbean for example has a complete separate buffet with gluten free options (rolls, bread, etc.). The lunch buffet rarely had any gluten free options. In general I have to day Carnival is far behind other cruise lines when it comes to gluten free options and labelling of allergens in general on their buffets (lunch was partly labeled, breakfast not at all).
The Mexican burrito bar on deck 10 had gluten free tacos available, always a good option. I did not try the gluten free Pizza but the Deli offers any sandwich on a gluten free baguette which is excellent. The frozen yoghurt was a good lunch dessert option. Guys burger joint of deck 10 also has a gluten free bun and the fries are excellent.
Cocktails in general are expensive (including service charge and tax about $10 a drink) but good. Fruit mixes are used for fruity cocktails or frozen drinks. For premiums the price is high for the amount of liquor given (2cl of Hendricks gin in a gin tonic, $9). They offer one gluten free beer (Stella Daura). The Java serves good coffee options. Free lemonade, ice tea is provided during lunch, free juices for breakfast. Coffee from the machine is free in general but disgusting.
To start of: Mike, the cruise director, was the worst out of all cruise directors we had so far on Carnival and I am not sure they gave him their flagship new vessel. Barely noticeable the whole week. We had Matt on the Vista and he was pure entertainment for the whole day.
Music shows we excellent, very good singers and dancers and the show was nicely written. We did not care for the Welcome Aboard Show of Lip Sync or Marriage Show. The comedians were excellent especially Thomas Brown (watched him in the theatre one night, and another night in the Limelight Lounge). Live musicians in the bars were ok but much worse than on the Vista (the two cousins with the guitar there were just excellent).
We did not try the pools, whirlpools or Dr. Seuss water park nor did we go to the IMAX (charge!) or try the skyride as we were in the beautiful ports of call all day long (that is one advantage of a European itinerary).
We went to the Spa as part of our Spa cabin every night and used the pool and saunas. Very small area, only 9 (heated) lounge chairs. 5-6 people in the whirlpool. People reserve chairs all the time but we typically don't care and remove the towels if nobody shows up. For us after a long day it is worth the extra money for a Spa cabin to use the sauna and relax a little bit.
My wife used the fitness center and liked it. She went around 6 am, it gets crowded after 7 am.
PORTS OF CALL
Barcelona: beautiful city, we stayed the night before but could have stayed a week if we wanted to see it all. Be smart and stay a couple of days. We stayed at the beautiful H10 Boutique Hotel Catalunya Placa which was just plain excellent (gluten free fresh rolls, cookies, Muesli, etc. for breakfast, Omelettes/Tortillas/Churros and fresh eggs made to order).
In principal please note that we did not take a single shore excursion ever with Carnival as we believe they are excessively overpriced for what you get. We explore the ports and nearby cities ourselves by train and save a fortune. Carnival charges you between $59 and $79 just to get you to the cities ("on your own" tours) where you can just as easily take the bus and/or train for 5 Euros (more below).
Messina (that was a change from the promised Cagliari): we walked to Messina Centrale train station (10 minutes from the port) and took a train for 4.60 Euros to Taormina (from there a bus to the mountain to the city center for 1.20 Euro, took in total less than one hour). Beautiful little town to explore on your own and eat some ice cream.
Naples: we just explored Naples by foot as we have done the ruins of Herculaneum last time. We took a small train (buy the ticket at the tobacco store right at the station) up the mountain to Castle Sant'Elmo which provides a beautiful view of Naples. Then explored the small downtown streets of Naples and had some ice cream.
Civitavecchia: as last time we walked to the train station from the free bus shuttle stop downtown (10 minutes) and took the train to Rome (5 Euros one way per person, Carnival charged $79 for the bus trip per person). The trains are clean and air conditioned and also have a bathroom. We got off at St. Peters square, from the train station the Vatican is just a 5 minute walk. The next stop would have been Rome Termini which is the main train station and closer to the downtown attractions. Rome is just beautiful and you could spend days. Go early if you want to get into St. Peter's cathedral as the lines get crazy after 10 am.
Livorno: after having been to Pisa last time we decided to go to Lucca instead (beautiful old little city, really enjoyable and much more quiet than the bigger cities (check the pictures online)). You pay 5.60 for the train ride (change trains in Pisa). Since we had time getting back we got off the train in Pisa on the way back and strolled though Pisa and got some ice cream. To get to Livorno train station take the shuttle from the port and then a bus (buy ticket at any tobacco store, 1.30 Euro each trip) for the main train station. From there the train to Pisa (25 minutes), Florence (about 1 hour 15 minutes) or anywhere else.
Marseille: we just explored the city and went up the mountain (by foot) to Notre Dame de la Garde - beautiful views. Don't take the Carnival shuttle (which is $17 to get your downtown) - a couple hundred feet further there is a free shuttle provided by the city which takes you downtown as well.
Overall some highlights and some lowlights. I can say that the quality of the ships is going up but the service and food quality is deteriorating. After having sailed mostly Carnival up until now (we are both 39) we will now try other cruise lines. We would be willing to spend a little more for better food and service quality for sure. Overall we got good value for the money, we paid less than 1.000 Euros a person ($1.200) for the trip. Read Less