We flew into Barcelona almost 4 days before embarkation and it was so worth it. We would definitely return just to vacation there. It was a very walkable city and very affordable as long as you're willing to do some of the work yourself (i.e. metro vs. cabs, local restaurants vs. chains).
Getting on the ship was one of the worst parts of the cruise. To be fair it was only the second sailing but it was horrible to the point that I was concerned for my safety. Lots of pushing, shoving people and no apparent line at all outside the terminal. When there are almost 4,000 guests on a ship there needs to be a queue process in place, or have guests board in groups (groupings were used inside, but getting into the terminal safe and sound was the problem).
Not awful but could have been better. Because the ship arrived early in the morning on Monday but was technically not disembarking until Tuesday, a lot of guests had flights that left either very late or very early. For instance we disembarked at 1 am on Tuesday morning. Not only was it almost impossible to find a taxi large enough to fit the luggage of 4 adults, but when we did it cost almost $100. The service desk was not knowledgeable about how long the trip to the airport would be (we were quoted anywhere between 45 minutes and 1.5 hours) or how expensive it would be. We checked in with the service desk 3 times to make sure we would be allowed to leave the ship at that time, and they assured us we would. Yet when we reached the gang plank we were held up because we weren't on the list! The experience would have been much easier if there was a shuttle running running from the ship to the airport, and yes, I would have paid for it. Certainly not something that I would expect or demand, but it would have been awesome to have, especially given how many guests had odd flight times and wouldn't be able to take advantage of the traditional transfer service.
We loved the Havana bar. We are not huge drinkers but it's awesome being able to leave your room and be at the bar in about 15 steps. Gabriel at the Havana bar is super friendly and makes great drinks. Although anyone can use the Havana pool after 5 pm, the novelty quickly wore off for guests not staying in the Havana area, and there were usually only 5-10 people in the entire area, which leaves guests their choice of loungers without any worry of chair hogs.
There is frequently live music in the Havana bar, which as I said is very close to the rooms. The music ended every night at 11:45, but it was VERY loud until then. It occurred to me about halfway through the cruise that there was no actual nightclub on the ship and that the Havana area WAS the de facto night club. Not a plus for me, since I'm an early-to-bed type, but the party types on the ship definitely looked to be having a good time.
We utilized anytime dining for the first time and were thrilled with it. You are encouraged to check in on Promenade before heading down to the dining room, and only on the first formal night was there a line to check in; every other night we walked right up to the desk. We also requested the same waiter, Rudolph, every night, and they easily accommodated us. I can't say the food was the best I've had on Carnival, but everything was fresh and well prepared. I highly recommend the "port of call" choices. Each day there is a port of call drink, appetizer, and entree that represent local cuisine. These were usually the best meals that we ate.
Once on board we were wowed by the staff and the ship. I thought the ship was laid out very well and the design is a much needed refresh for Carnival. There were tons of activities, truly something for everyone. I like to relax and read a book on my cruise, but my boyfriend likes to be doing something all the time, and he found plenty to do without me! The water slide, ropes course, SkyRide, trivia, etc. I thought the staff were excellent. Our room steward Nita was great.
Ports and Shore Excursions:
Perhaps the most exciting and at the same time most disappointing aspect of our cruise. Certainly not a reflection on Carnival but rather the ports and activities themselves. If, like me, you've never been to Europe, you have a fantasy in your head of going to visit ancient sites and taking your time to explore and marvel at them. The reality couldn't be further from the truth. They are crowded almost beyond belief--not only the other groups doing the same tour from your own ship, but tours from up to 6 other ships in port as well as locally organized tours and people who are already staying in that town on vacation. There were so many ports, I will keep my reviews brief.
Marseilles: We took a bus to Aix en Provence and had a lovely tour. The guide gave wonderful historical information during the bus ride. Walking through the city early in the morning was relaxing and scenic. We were able to buy reasonably priced, unique souvenirs. There was a really nice local market with just about everything you could want to buy.
Livorno (Florence/Pisa): Again we took a lengthy bus ride, this time to the medieval city of Lucca. It was a beautiful town and we loved walking around. The gelato store in the shadow of the cathedral was great. There are several good leather and ceramics shops. Also the oldest continually run open air market in Europe.
Rome (Civitavecchia): The walking tour of the tourist area was the worst. By its very nature the tour was rushed, the guide is trying to show everything and describe its significance while at the same time moving you along quickly enough that the next group can make its way through. There are so many people everywhere that it's impossible to enjoy walking around. It was hectic, hot, and overcrowded. We also saw the catacombs which of course were interesting but the tour was only 30 minutes; there is no stopping to look at anything as you are constantly rushed through by your guide.
Naples (Capri/Pompeii): We visited Herculaneum, which was a great archaeological site, but again we were rushed through so quickly we didn't get to enjoy it. Some people in our group had also been to Pompeii and they said Herculaneum was better. You do get a sense of the town, but I easily could have spent all day there poking around. You could still see the mosaics and parts of the frescoes.
Crete (Heraklion): We visited the palace at Knossos, probably the worst actual tour. There were so many groups there simultaneously that our guide had a difficult time speaking over them and finding an area where we could congregate for her to talk to us. Also much of the palace is recreated so a lot of the things that are so impressive to see are not even old at all.
Rhodes: We took a guided tour of Rhodes and Lindos, which we really enjoyed. Maybe because it doesn't have the same cachet as Rome or Crete, it wasn't as crowded. We especially enjoyed Rhodes, which has a medieval castle and one of the most well preserved medieval streets in Europe. The guide, Anna, was excellent.
Kusadasi (Ephesus): By this point we realized that if there is only one major attraction in the area, everyone will be there. So we skipped Ephesus and simply got off the boat to walk around the port. Very pushy salesmen at the bazaar. Beautiful rugs for sale but be prepared to spend thousands of dollars. In general it was the place to buy tchochky souvenirs--I kid you not, one of the business' signs said "Genuine Fake Watches". Knockoff watches, bags, shirts and perfume are the main wares.
Athens: We visited the Acropolis and Cape Sounion. The Acropolis was much like Rome, so overcrowded you couldn't hear yourself think. On the other hand I loved Cape Sounion. Very quiet, quaint, and beautiful. I would return there for a vacation just to eat, relax, and go to the beach.
I thoroughly enjoyed my cruise on the Vista but it wasn't that much better than my other Carnival cruises. This sounds like a knock on Carnival but really it's a compliment: they don't have to have the fanciest, biggest ship to provide a great experience. I don't know if I would cruise on the Vista again unless the prices were somewhat in line with the other ships in the fleet.
We stayed in one of the Havana Cabanas. The decor was a nice change from the oranges and tans of the other Carnival cabins I've had. Dark wood, teal and white accents. The flat screen TV was nice because not having a huge bulky TV in the middle of the room opens it up and helps it feel more spacious. There was no storage under the couch, a huge miss in my opinion. The patio, as it's called, took a bit of getting used to. It's much, much larger than a traditional balcony, which is great because you can have your own deck lounger. We also liked the sliding, rather than the hinged door. But the walkway comes between the patio and the ocean view, you are looking through panes of glass at the ocean. There is a bit of a lack of privacy. Technically any of the Havana guests can walk by your room at any time, but other than the first night I never saw anyone walk by. You are overexposed to your neighbors though, especially if they frequently use their patio. There is always latin music being piped in on the patio, so if you prefer silence it's not for you. That being said we enjoyed being able to walk out our sliding door and relax on a lounger.