The Horizon makes the occasional attempt at sophistication. There’s still a cruise formal night, where guests are expected to dress up for dinner in the main dining rooms. A library bar. Expensive suites and spa services. Diamond jewelry for sale. Wild boar and escargot on menu for dinner. And, most successfully, there’s a really good new show in the theater – Celestial Strings – set all in white and with a live string trio providing some of the music. But if you’re looking for class and elegance you’re on the wrong cruise line. Carnival is home of the FUN ships – capital F. U. N. – and simple (some may call it low-brow) dining and entertainment is what they do best. The very hairy chest competition. The “Love and Marriage Show” version of the classic Newlywed Game. A group of (very drunk) friends singing Karaoke in lounge. PG-13 and R rated comedy and games. Not one, but two restaurants by Guy Fieri (burgers and BBQ). 24 hour pizza and ice cream. If you’re going on a cruise to have fun – and don’t have snobbish expectations – then you’ll do well on the Horizon.
Cheers and Jeers – what good and what needs improvement on the Carnival Horizon
Cheers! – for living up to the standards of being Carnival’s flagship cruise boat, with the best selection of activities, restaurants, and cabins in the fleet. Everything was new, clean, and working properly.
Cheers! – for all the great technology on the boat. The free Carnival Hub app works great anywhere on the ship and lets you see maps, activity times, and even make dinner reservations from your own cell phone. The audio-visual tech on the boat is equally impressive – watching as the entire cast from the stage show leaves the theater and enters the atrium for an encore – and having the audio move seamlessly along with them – is impressive. The tablets used by some of the crew were also pretty cool.
Jeers – for charging $5 to use the chat function on the app. This would have been convenient, but it should be free.
Cheers – to our Cruise Director Mike. On a boat with over 1400 crew members, it’s amazing how much the charisma and enthusiasm of one guy makes such a difference. Mike was friendly, full of non-stop energy, and made everyone on the boat feel like he was their friend (all 5000 of us!).
Cheers! – for trying something new with the elevator systems. Floors are select in advance, BEFORE boarding. Waiting for an elevator isn’t fun, and this should have helped.
Jeers! – for poorly implementing the new elevator system. There aren’t enough signs explaining it, so everyone spent the first two days of the cruise confused and angry. Elevators were often over full, stopped at every floor, or stopped at floors were no one got on and off. In addition to more signage, the systems needs the ability to specify how many people are boarding, the ability to cancel reservations, and some way to know when an elevator is out of service (boarding was especially chaotic, as some elevators were being used for luggage, and no one had yet figured out how the system worked).
Cheers! – for having a lot of great options for lunch. Guy’s burgers is a favorite for a reason, and Mexican at Blue Iguana is also very good. The key to both restaurants is freshness. Burgers, tacos, and burritos are all made fresh to order, and there’s a topping bar at each location full of fresh ingredients as well. Guy’s BBQ is great new addition to Carnival. It’s not the best BBQ I’ve ever had, but it’s still amazing to get real smoked BBQ on a ship, and it’s free at lunch. There were lots of other places we didn’t get to try as well –a Mongolian Wok, make your own pasta bar, deli, and more. Lunch is the best meal of the day on the Horizon. Unfortunately, lunch is the meal your most likely to miss because of port days.
Jeers – for a kind of sad Afternoon tea. It was free, but if you wanted any tea better than Lipton you had to pay extra.
Cheers! – for having an amazing and well trained staff. There are over 1400 people working on the boat from over 60 countries, and everyone we met was professional, friendly, and hard working. Many of the staff took the time to learn our names and greeted us when we passed by.
Jeers! – for all the ways you can get ripped-off on the ship. In general, the more heavily something was promoted the worse of a deal it was. This includes: spa services, quasi-medical services (foot care and wellness treatments, etc), photo packages (some of which ran into the hundreds of dollars), shore excursions (almost always pricier on the boat than but directly on land), drink packages (either alcohol or soda), shopping (especially jewelry), and of course outright gambling (either Bingo or in the Casino). You could easily double the price of your cruise with these extras, most of which would be cheaper on land.
Cheers! – for Carnival’s Cove Balcony cabins. These semi-enclosed balconies are available on the 2nd deck of the boat. They get less sun than balconies on higher decks, but otherwise are perfect. They are a great choice if you enjoy privacy (no one can look into the balcony from above) and being close to the water.
Cheers and Jeers – for dinner in the main dining hall. Reflections (fixed time) and Meridian (flex time) are basically the same, although Meridian is larger and has two levels. The dining rooms are simply and modernly decorated but also somewhat generic looking and fall somewhat short of feeling luxurious. The menu generally looked good but execution was more mixed. Some dishes were pretty good (especially appetizers), where steaks and other main entrees were generally fair at best. Service in the restaurants, like everyone else on the boat, was generally excellent, however.
Cheers! – for Celestial Strings. This is Carnival’s latest show and will be exclusively on the Horizon for about a year. Like Carnival’s other shows, it’s still basically just a musical revue (the cast sings and dances to a selection of popular songs; there’s no acting or dialogue) – but this new show is beautiful, the cast was top notch, and the live music (three musicians playing strings were part of the cast) was a nice addition. You’ll need to get to this show early to get seats, but there’s a pre-show performance to keep you entertained while you wait.
Cheers! – for smooth and efficient embarkation, debarkation, and muster drills. Carnival puts a lot of effort into making sure everything runs efficiently and it shows. Our ship was at full capacity and yet we had no problems either in Bermuda or NYC.
Cheers! – for never feeling too crowded, despite being at full capacity. With so many people on board it could have felt like a mob scene, but the boat rarely felt crowded. Lines were generally reasonable (except for peak times at Guy’s Burgers) – and there were always quiet spots on the ship to enjoy.
For those that have read all this way, here are some “secrets” that we discovered while cruise. These are things that most guests on the boat, especially first time cruises, weren’t aware of.
First, the highlight of our cruise was Carnival’s “Behind the Fun Tour”. This very limited tour isn’t promoted by Carnival, and you can only sign up for it on board at the Shore Excursions desk. Spots fill up quickly, so it’s best to sign as soon as you get on board. It’s not cheap ($95), but this 3-4 hour walking tour gets you access to things you’d otherwise never normally get to see and includes several nice bonus items as well (several photos, including one with the captain on the bridge, some snacks from the kitchen, a string backpack, wristband, and baseball cap). Highlights of our tour included the kitchens, crew recreation and dining areas, engine control room, bridge, and backstage of the main theater. We got a chance not only to see these restricted areas but also do talk to the crew that worked in them. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re interested in what it takes to make a ship like this run this tour is highly recommended.
A free option to see a less crowded area of the ship is to explore the very front of the boat. Most of this area is not shown on the deck plans, and you’ll often need to walk through cabin hallways and out unmarked doors to access these areas. If I remember correctly, decks 4-7 are accessible, as well as decks 9-14. Deck 9 is above the bridge, and you can walk out above the “wings” on the sides of the bridge to see a great view down the side of the boat. There’s also a small seating area on Deck 14 with great views. The views from the front of the boat are amazing, but you will have to deal with the wind, which can be pretty intense.
There is a key car slot near the door that's needed to turn on the lights in your cabin. Be aware that when you take out your card the outlets in the room will turn off as well; this is bad if you need to recharge batteries. As a work around, use a business card (ask your room steward for one) will work and let you leave the outlets on while you're out.
The water slides and sky ride bikes can get crowded – these have some of the longest lines. The best time to enjoy these are as soon as you get on the boat. (As a bonus, you’ll have great views of NYC from the upper decks where these rides are located). Sign up for the earliest boarding possible, and you’ll have the ship nearly to yourself for a few hours. This is also a great time to enjoy the pools.
Food tips: Most regular cruisers may already know this, but you are always free to order multiple items from the dinner menu in the main restaurants. Want seafood and steak? Just order both entrees. This goes for appetizers and desserts as well. We did this nearly every night and it made the meal a lot more enjoyable.
Also, mixing and matching from the food choices on the Lido deck is a great idea. Guy’s burgers has a suggestion to try salsa from Blue Iguana as a burger topping, but don’t stop there. My wife’s favorite was soft serve ice-cream from the Lido Marketplace topped with bacon from Guy’s burger bar.
This was our first time on a cruise and we had a lot of fun. Cruising out of NYC made things so much easier and more relaxing. The Horizon isn’t the biggest or the fanciest boat out there, but it might be the most fun.
The Cove Balcony cabins are a great choice on Carnival ships. They don't get as much sun as higher level cabins (no one can look down into the Balconies from above), but they are more private and you get to stay closer to the water. Most of the cabins on this level are below the life boats, but we chose 2306 because there was no life boat directly above it.
The downside to this cabin was that it's right below two external access doors (for crew) on the floor above, and they tended to slam close at all hours. Cabin 2308 or 2310 might be better. Look at my pictures for details.
As a first time cruiser I was pleasantly surprised wasn't as tiny as I was expecting. There was enough room to move around and store all of stuff.