New ship, new destinations.
We decided to fly into Ft Lauderdale from NYC, instead of Miami, and arrived on Thursday giving us a full one-day buffer in case of travel delays. We stayed at the Embassy Suites on the 17th Street Causeway, just a few minutes from the airport by cab.
We have stayed at this hotel numerous times, and it’s fine for our needs. Included in the room rate is complimentary breakfast and a Manager’s Happy Hour in the evening. Because your rate will be dependent on a few variables, I won’t quote our pricing, but we thought it was reasonable.
We booked transfers from the hotel to Port of Miami with QLS (limo service) and they were great. Transfers each way were $145 including gratuity (which we added to with cash for the drivers) for four adults with 11 pieces of luggage. The large private SUV was plenty big enough and the drivers were on time, professional and courteous.
The ride from the hotel to Miami at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday took about 45 minutes, and by 10:00 a.m. our bags were checked with a porter at the terminal, and we were inside. The scene outside the terminal was a little hectic as arriving and departing passengers were on hand, but no drama at all. There were two or three other ships in port too, but really no traffic to speak off and the Horizon is impossible to miss.
It was nice; we didn’t plan on spending too much time there, and we didn’t. We quickly got through security checkpoints, used the washrooms to refresh, and we were on the ship by about 10:45. To be honest, the whole process was so smooth, I don’t really remember anything remarkable about it.
The Ship: quick summary
We all liked it a lot. This is our first Carnival cruise, and the third for our traveling companions; they had trepidations as their first two cruises on older ships were not great experiences. Within one hour of being on the ship they immediately commented on how “this was different, and Carnival seems to have gotten their act together”. I can see why.
Overall, having been on over 15 cruises, I can say that the quality of food services was better on this ship than any other, and the service of the staff was on par with the best we have seen. As far as the ship itself, overall we loved it; sure there are some areas that could be improved upon, but taken on a whole, this boat is great.
Our initial experience: Upon boarding, we were immediately directed to the Lido Deck, 10, where the buffet is located. We had pre-booked dining, but bought the dining package that saved us $8 bucks per head off the rack rate for the steakhouse, Italian restaurant and Asian fusion venues (combined). We didn’t purchase beverage or spa packages.
We did a walkabout to get acclimated, and paid a visit to guest services which was surprisingly quiet; the folks there were very helpful. We were able to get into our staterooms and our luggage was in the process of being delivered, so we decided it was a good time to have lunch at the buffet, then returned to the staterooms to unpack.
The stateroom: We had a balcony stateroom, nearer to the rear elevators, on deck 8. This ended up being perfect for us, and if I’m on this class ship again, I’d pick the same stateroom. The bed was large and comfortable, plenty of storage for folks that tend to over-pack, and the bathroom was sufficient to make showering and refreshing a pleasure. You can get room lay-outs and dimensions on the Carnival website, along with pictures.
The room has a hair dryer, and the shower has those gel dispensers for soap and shampoo. No conditioner. That was fine for me (shaved head), but my wife prefers her own toiletries. Plenty of towels, TP, and tissues, and the bathroom has a vanity mirror. It’s fine.
The balcony itself does not have sliders, but instead has a heavy-duty single door that swings out; it is heavy, slams with a thud, and in windy conditions can cause a “whistling” sound, heard inside the stateroom. The balcony was of ample space with two chairs and a small table. We used the balcony for pre-breakfast coffee and for drinks in the evening; we tried our best not to have laundry on the balcony, but on a few port days we did have bathing suits out there to dry.
The nice thing about this location is that it’s a few steps from the stairs (more on that later) which we used a lot, and two decks below Lido with buffet, Italian and Asian restaurants and a few decks above the MDR, shops, and the Havana Bar. The theatres, two specialty restaurants and other points of interest tend to be mid-ship and forward there is some walking required.
Our stateroom attendant Lawrence was great; rooms are made up once per day, and he gave us a choice (mornings or evenings); we chose mornings. He was very helpful with information about the ports and the ship, and made our stay very enjoyable. Always had clean towels and a daily planner.
Oh, and the TV. Flat screen with very poor programing choices; perfect for us, we are on vacation and didn’t book a cruise to watch TV. I know, there are going to be times when you are in the stateroom and want to check the stock market, get news events, check a baseball score, or watch I Love Lucy. My suggestion is to get the internet package. BTW, after 8 days with little or no contact with the outside world, we found that the world didn’t miss us, and I didn’t miss it.
The ship’s layout: You can get from here to there!
Unlike many retrofitted ships that have broken up deck plans to squeeze in restaurants and attractions, this new build has very walkable decks both in the private areas (e.g., hallways to staterooms) and public areas. You can check out the deck plans on the Carnival website for specifics, but you can basically get stem to stern on public decks 5 and 10; and I had a similar experience on deck 8 where our stateroom was located. There may be a few exceptions, and because I didn’t do a Lewis and Clark type mapping, I don’t know what they would be. Just know that you won’t be wandering around the ship wondering how you can get to something.
We also liked the placement of the serenity area and the spa/gym at the front of the ship. More on that later. Overall we found that things made sense, and were where they were supposed to be. Except the elevators.
This topic is probably covered the most often in reviews; many times from the perspective that people don’t know how to use the system. While that may be true, it’s not the sole cause of the issues folks are having.
In the NY metro area many large office buildings, hotels and hospitals have gone to a similar system, in which the elevators have no passenger accessible floor buttons; my experience is that this can work effectively. Typically, a passenger selects the floor they wish to visit in the vestibule on a touch screen, and that same screen tells you which elevator to board by number or letter designation. The elevator will take you and other passengers to your pre-selected floor(s).
Carnival’s system also asks that you make a deck selection for each passenger, so if four of you are traveling from deck 3 to deck 10, you must enter the selection four times. That seems to bug people; the idea behind this is that the elevator assigned should know how many people it has on it already, and how many are expected to enter/leave on each deck.
The system overall doesn’t work well. The wait time for elevators even during non-peak periods can be very long. Frequently elevators show up full (because people jump on “any” elevator); also folks call for elevators, get impatient and leave (taking the stairs). Finally, it could be that the programing for the system is not effective; if that’s the case then a software upgrade is in order.
My advice: take the stairs, or give yourself plenty of time. And if you book far enough in advance and can swing it, get a mid-level deck stateroom which limits the amount of decks you need to traverse.
Finally, the elevator situation wouldn’t affect my decision to book this ship or others in its class. It really is not that big a deal to me, because I don’t mind walking, but I do get the point that the elevators should work better, and for people with mobility limitations, etc. this is a major consideration.
I walked past the spa; looks nice, very clean. People in white coats stand around ready to help; sort of like a sanitarium. I did use the gym; not too crowded in the early hours (6:00 am), and it was empty on one mid-day visit while at sea. Has the requisite fitness stuff; it’s not going to replace the major fitness chains, but the treadmills, stationary bikes, etc. are more than enough for most of us. If your work-out routine is more demanding, you will likely be disappointed.
Seven laps to a mile, located on deck 12 aft; near other activity centers including mini-golf, basketball, outdoor fitness equipment, etc. Get there early when the serious folks are training; after the “sleep-ins” wake up they will continually turn the track into an obstacle course, and refuse to heed the signs pointing out the direction to run/walk. The track provides a good view of the smoking area in the aft of the ship; here you will witness the effects of nicotine, caffeine and sedentary lifestyles.
The Ride Thingy:
It doesn’t work. It didn’t work. It never works. It won’t work in the future. Thankfully, the pedals don’t power the ship.
The pools and deck chairs:
What can I say. The pools and the whirlpools were in a word “overcrowded”, but hey, that’s not very different than other ships I’ve been on, although the issue here seems to be worse. Simply put, the pools are not big enough given the size of the ship and passenger count. Even though the pools were crowded, I found the fellow passengers to be polite and respectful of each other. The whirlpools are never hot enough for me, and Horizon’s are no exception. They were warm at best, which some passengers thought was fine.
There were plenty of deck chairs, including claim shell lounges in which you become the baked clam. After a few days of relentless sunshine, shade was at a premium. The clam shells throughout the ship get taken up quickly, and the lounge chairs near the pools, especially those with some shade or umbrellas go fast too. There were always some chairs available in the direct sun, especially on deck 11, which is a few stair steps away from the mid-ship pool.
We did find two spots on the ship that were not very crowded and provided shaded areas and lounge chairs.
• On deck five in the forward areas there are cushioned lounges under an overhang (deck 6) that are peaceful and shaded. You won’t be near a pool or whirlpool, but you can cuddle up and relax. These are limited, but very few people go to this area.
• On deck eleven aft, there is limited seating facing the tides pool (on deck 10) and a good deal of lounge chair seating on the port and starboard sides of the ship outside JiJi’s and Cucina Restaurants. This area is under the sports track on deck twelve and provides a good amount of shade. It’s also near enough to the tides pool, so you can go for a dip.
There are many things to do on this ship, and we only scratched the surface, but here are a few thoughts:
• The opening night showcase that features the comedians and production show cast is worth attending, although many folks may be tired from all the first day activities. We enjoyed the performers and performances, and it gave us a good idea as to what we would try to see later on. We absolutely loved Cruise Director Mike Pack, who is fun, entertaining and visible throughout the cruise.
• The punch-liner comedy shows/venue is fabulous, as was our host Leo!! We went to the shows geared for both families and the adult only shows, and we never laughed so hard. Now the comedians rotate so your experience can will be different than ours. The venue is small, so we arrived 30 minutes before showtime and we had a selection of seats that could host four adults. The bar is open during shows, and there are drink specials.
• The Liquid Lounge is the main theatrical venue; I liked it. Bingo, production shows, information seminars and the quest happen here. Some folks complained about poor sight lines (they have a point), limited seating (I saw that some seats were available for each event I attended), and movable seating on the stage level to support multi-functions; meh. It was all fine, just needed to get there a little early.
o Soulbound was the first production show on the rotation; Jesus couldn’t save this show. It’s a mess from the word go, and I would avoid it at all costs. The folks from Motown should be suing Carnival.
o Celestial Strings was not as bad as Soulbound, but it was close. Thankfully the folks sitting behind us wouldn’t stop talking during the show, and that provided ample distraction from the lunacy of the performance, an un-cohesive jumble of I don’t know what. The three string players who appeared at a number of venues throughout the ship are very talented, but their talents are wasted here.
o We were too afraid to see Vintage Pop after seeing the first two shows.
o The Carnival Quest. Clearly and far & above the best quest game we have ever seen. Not for the faint of heart, but it was hilarious and good fun.
o Bingo with Lucky Linsey was a nice distraction during slow times
• Imax Theatre. We saw two movies, also during slow times on sea days and enjoyed the experience. We didn’t do the thrill ride thingy.
• The sky ride thingy: not operational on our cruise; an idea who’s time may have passed.
• We didn’t do the poolside activities, so no comment there.
Food and beverage: this was a hi-light!!
• The buffet on Lido: we are not buffet people, but we actually did have a few meals here and they were fine. Firstly, there is a lot of seating in the buffet area, and it runs about half the length of the ship. For that reason there is less space for serving areas, and they are divided into two sections, often having different foods.
We liked that coffee and ice tea/lemonade was available throughout, and juices were available in the mornings. The omelette station made eggs to order, the deli made sandwiches which could be custom tailored (e.g., no tomato), plenty of hot and cold food for self-service.
We liked that salads and fresh fruit were available. No complaints.
• The Specialty restaurants: We loved them!!
Cucina is Italian food and it was excellent. Try the pappardelle pasta with shrimp. Also opens with limited menu on sea days and is complimentary!!!!
JiJi. What can I say; I’ll call this Asian fusion. I had no idea what to order so we asked and the hostess made suggestions which were all great. You share appetizers, and of course we shared main courses which were plentiful! Also complimentary on sea days!!
Fahrenheit: Great steakhouse, and our favorite bar! They will paint your desert! Just go!
Bonsai Teppanyaki: Another "just go"!! I had the lobster; wow!
Look, I’m not going to get into detail on the four specialty restaurants because everyone has a different idea of quality, choice and presentation. All I can say is that after 15 cruises with all the major lines on all the newer ships, this is the best set of specialty restaurants by far.
• Main Dining room: We had four dinners here, using my time dining and the hub app, never had more then a one minute wait, and that was during peak periods. Food was very good, but not memorable. I did have rabbit for the first time. Better for dinner than breakfast.
On sea days the MDR has brunch, and limited choices for traditional breakfast foods; when they served a full breakfast, it was hit and miss. The pancakes, waffles and breads tasted like they were pre-made and kept warm under heat lamps (chewy); the eggs and things that needed to be cooked and ready to serve were fine.
Very good coffee btw, and the best grits I’ve ever tasted, and the granola was very good too. Fresh fruits always available and good; you needed to ask for pastry assortments for the table.
Look, we worked around the food in the MDR that was so-so, and focused in on ordering things they seemed to excel on. And we supplemented by using room service and the buffet. We didn’t go hungry!
• Other venues:
Pizza: No, not so good. Sure, kids will eat anything.
Burgers: The best, but you will die young. We did it once, as I prefer to live longer.
Seafood shack: excellent and worth the up-charge.
BBQ: Complimentary on sea days, yummy! Try the collard greens baby!!
Others: we didn’t try others.
• Adult beverages:
o Havana bar is a favorite, but it does get loud, so conversations aren’t really possible. Get doubles for a small up-charge, and dance the night away. Pool open after 7:00 pm to everyone.
o Piano Bar. Sure, and it’s adjacent to the steakhouse. We did like the steak house bar better.
o Library bar. More of a library with books and games; bartenders come and go
o Plaza bar and Alchemy bar didn’t attract us, nor did the bars on Lido deck.
• Finally, the ship itself is very stable, although we did have fair seas and winds. We were able to dock at all four ports (Turks, DR, Curacao, and Aruba). We did some tours, but those are very personal experiences, and there are many choices; we enjoyed ours. Dis-embarkments and embarkments went smoothly; we always brought the “card” and photo ID.
We really enjoyed our first Carnival Cruise and are now planning to book Mardi Gras.
Free access to beach and Margaritaville Pools; pay for food and beverages. This was our favorite with music, dancing, and water!!!
The terminal was fine.