We are a family of five who have cruised Carnival, RCL, and Disney. We have no particular allegiance to any line, and I wanted to comment on a few things from our trip. When I read reviews, I tend to disregard the ones that say everything was perfect and also the ones that complain about everything. I was particularly motivated to write this after reading someone say that their location in the dining room was so dark they couldn't see their food! So, here's some perspective...
EMBARKATION: The assigned boarding time was new to us, and we pondered just going earlier, but travel plans actually ended up getting us there about our time. We saw people who tried to line up prior to their time and were put in a line/waiting area for their time. As disappointed as they were, it is for a reason. This was the fastest we have ever boarded a ship. Curb to atrium in less than fifteen minutes. You essentially get all of your "paperwork" and id pictures done with a representative using a tablet-device. The result is a very speedy process. What slows it down is people who don't respect the boarding time window (and then they are the ones who complain!) We got onboard around 1:30pm and our room was ready. Major improvement, Carnival!
SHIP: We have been on the Dream class vessels several times and chose the Horizon to see the upgrades and the also were attracted by itinerary. The ship itself is beautiful, clean, and has several upgrades from the Dream class that are great. It is a little more muted in terms of decor throughout the ship...think classy, not glitzy....classy, but not stuffy. The LED sculpture is nice, but we missed the soaring atrium and glass elevators.
Speaking of, the elevator system is not as bad as the reviews indicate. The key is using them properly, and many people simply did not listen to the instructions given at the beginning of the cruise (during muster drill, the cruise director explained how to best use them). If you think about it, in a normal system, if you just get on the first elevator that opens, and press button and go, you are the mercy of everyone else in that elevator and where they are going, as well as people on successive floors. With this system, it tells you which elevator to go to, avoiding all that potential. Good in theory, as long as people understand how to use them and listen the first time. We got used to them very quickly and rarely had a problem.
CABIN: Standard balcony. Similar to other cabins on other ships. Comfortable and clean.
DINING: Overall, we almost never had to wait in a line for food. Once or twice, Guy's had a line, but not bad at all. The buffet area was well apportioned, with so many stations that there was never a wait. The buffet was food was very good...the quality and variety was impressive considering the amount of food they are producing. We did anytime dining. You can reserve a table on the app, which is very easy, or go to a kiosk and reserve. The drawback to the app is that you are assigned whatever table and cannot request location or waiter, but you can make requests at the kiosk. So, it's a tradeoff. We did the app the first few nights and then found a waiter we really liked and then ended up doing the kiosk the remaining. We were able to get seated with him and by a window. We did not eat in the pay per eat rooms, but so much variety onboard for those who did.
ENTERTAINMENT: As far as the main entertainment, it's mainly production shows (dancing/singing) or comedians. The production shows were ok, but they were essentially the same format (song, dance, and LED backdrop that jazzes up the shows). The dedicated comedy area was nice, and comedians were hit or miss. No complaints, but just some are better than others. They did have a couple of other shows (Quest, love and marriage, etc) in the Liquid Lounge (which is not nearly as bad as has been described...there are a few poles that block sightlines, but we were always able to find a non-blocked seat), but not enough variety. We wished though there was more variety in the theater...magicians, jugglers, etc instead of all the production.
CRUISE STAFF: Mike, the cruise director, was incredible. Many a cruise director come across as holier than thou and disappear when not on stage. Not true with him...you saw him everywhere. He was so energetic and friendly. His staff was very good. Almost everyone was very friendly, with a few exceptions, but isn't true at any office on land?
ACTIVITIES: Always something to do. A cruise is what you make of it. You can get involved in everything or not do anything in relax. Anyone who says they couldn't find something to do...well, that is ludicrous! We thought the IMAX/thrill theater would be a novelty/gimmick for the new ship and wouldn't be using it much. What a great add...we went several times throughout the week.
PORTS: Again, ports are what you make of them. We did not get off in La Romana, as just looking from the dock, it wasn't appealing to even get off and look around. Turks, Aruba, and Curacao were awesome though.
DISEMBARKATION: Self assist or zones...if you want to do zones, make sure you go early to pick up your tags when they start offering them, as the first numbers are gone quickly. Dismebarkation itself was quick and smooth, but the terminal itself in Miami was a train wreck. The luggage comes out on carousels instead of being placed in areas on the floor. Complete chaos and we waited 45 minutes for bags to come around despite getting off at the correct zone number. Room for improvement.
OVERALL: Wonderful cruise, the Horizon and crew are just great. We would certainly sail it again.