Our first cruise experience ever was the Carnival Fascination some 15+ years ago. We have a very nice time but with the caveat that the Carnival brand was a younger person's party cruise and we were ready for something a bit more sophisticated. Since then, we have done multiple trips on Disney, NCL and RC. After watching a promo video on the new Carnival Horizon ship, we decided to give Carnival another try. Three days into our eight day trip and I expressed to my wife how pleasantly surprised I was at the experience. I was actually borderline impressed and that says a lot from someone like me. The food onboard was outstanding. We noticed that in comparison to our last Disney cruise experience where Disney appeared to be ratcheting down their food quality and experience, Carnival has totally upped their game. Don't get me wrong - cruise ship food is just that, cruise ship food. But on a scale of 1 - 10, Carnival's Horizon experience was a solid 9+. From their fast food stops, to their buffets to their sit-down options - we were pleased through and through.
Like any company, Carnival has made choices on where to invest their dollars and where to throttle back their investment.
The positives areas where they made investment:
- kid's water park on top (although it should be open past the 6:00pm that is shut's down each day)
- food options
- dining room experiences
- solid stateroom size, cleanliness and experience
- great staff members
- hand wash machines at key locations (albeit see below as not everyone used them)
- cabin, bar and restaurant staffs were outstanding
- limited TV channels to a handful or so. On a 8 day cruise, at the very least an option should be offered to purchase an extended package of TV channels
- soft drink availability options were the pits and forcing you into a woefully overpriced pre-pay package was a lousy alternative
- the lack of actual chicken fingers on the boat was noticeable for parents with kids in tow. it wasn't that they were nowhere, they just were very limited in when and where you could find them
- lack of staff to force hand sanitizer on people entering the buffers was noticed - so many people and presumably so many germs. It makes one feel better to know that at least everyone was being offered sanitizer as they come into the space
- the "fun crew" were a bit grouchy. Don't get me wrong, they put their best face forward. From the cruise director to his staff, you could sense that they were short on patience and the repetition of what they do each week was perhaps weighing on them.
With our experience on the Horizon, Carnival rose to a tie for our favorite cruise experience. While very different then Disney, and not to be thought of as like cruise experiences, Carnival more then holds its own in the cruise market on this ship. We considered the Carnival experience to be on par with our RC experience on Oasis. NCL has moved to a distant last place based on all of our experiences.
Great cabin with comfortable bed, ample storage, ample balcony and excellent bathroom in size and availability of hot water and water pressure. No complaints beyond the absence of a wider array of TV channels inside the staterooms (this is presumably being done to encourage passengers to move beyond their rooms...)