UP CLOSE WITH HISTORY
Carnival Vista represents the latest definition of Fun at sea as imagined by Carnival Cruise Line, who wrote the book on big ship Caribbean cruise vacations. After sailing a short European season as new Carnival ships do, distinctively different Carnival Vista is looking good in the Caribbean, for a number of reasons.
The Sky Ride
No denying it, top deck features command a great amount of attention from cruise travelers fond of large ships. Rightfully so, they’re pretty hard to miss. Kudos to the wiz kids at Carnival for coming up with an active lifestyle top deck star in the SkyRide. A ride around open decks, high above the sea it is. What SkyRide is not is a passive, sit and watch stuff go by ride. It requires pedaling. SkyRide fits the space too, located right next to the popular Sky Court and SkyFitness attractions where we don’t find the typical ‘feed my gaping maw’ stereotype cruiser that seems absent here.
Also referred to informally as the ‘inside funnel’, the giant LED funnel-shaped display dominates the central lobby area of Carnival Vista. With a bazillion LED chips that can be programmed with virtually any visual scene imaginable, Carnival has just barely tapped the surface of what this thing can do. In the evening as a string trio fills the space with lovely classical music, it’s hard not to miss the digital connection of this ship as changing Dreamscape scenes set the mood in that area. And digital this ship is indeed.
While the Dreamscape seems to reach for the stars, Carnival Vista’s digital effort is already there. Seriously fast connectivity is leveraged to bring a number of unique features. One of those features is a peppy smartphone app that will eventually save 36,000,000 trees as the cruise line moves from abundant printed information to the handheld smartphone version. Already, included deck plans are quite handy. Add an option to tell me how to get places and it’s a done deal. That will come as will a number of other features on this very flexible platform. Right now? See (and order, or not) your favorite photo taken by the ship’s photographers. Also see the day’s schedule, be reminded where the ship is in the world and more.
The Family Harbor
Today’s family is not happy with junk Internet connection. As noted, Carnival took that issue off the table with plans starting at $5. Moving along, we touch on one of Carnival’s answer to the ship-within-a-ship concept made popular by other lines. Basically, that’s where a class system of sorts has been embraced where those willing to pay more get a more inclusive experience and don’t really have to mingle very much with those who did not. MSC Cruises The Yacht Club and Norwegian Cruise Line’s The Haven are good examples. The Family Harbor is about as close as Carnival is willing to get with a separate part of the ship designed with families in mind.
See More Of Carnival Vista at USAToday’s CruiseLog First Look gallery
The Family Harbor Lounge
A Family Harbor Lounge is focused on those who book cabins in that part of the ship, serves breakfast each morning, snacks throughout the day and then cookies and milk at bedtime. A dedicated soft serve machine just for this area is available 24/7.
Family Harbor Stateroom Configurations
Family Harbor Stateroom configurations too have families in mind with roomy inside cabins, oceanview cabins with picture windows and suites that enable up to five guests in the same space, this time with plenty of room. See the Family Harbor Stateroom configurations at Carnival Vista at USAToday’s CruiseLog First Look gallery for more images of this interesting area.
Arguably a top contender for a Most Enjoyable Stateroom Experience award, the Havana-branded accommodations come with some truly unique features. That instead of a balcony, these cabins get an outdoor lanai might be a deciding factor for many travelers, willing to pay the top price of all such spaces on Carnival Vista. On the other hand, the feature takes direct ocean contact off the table; looking straight out from the lanai, occupants of the space look past a walkway then through glass to see the ocean. Not to worry very much about that though, steps away is the Havana Bar which opens out onto a lovely aft pool/whirlpool area with probably the best ocean views on the ship.
It’s that rather loose division between the Havana area and the rest of the ship that denies it ship-within-a-ship status, probably by design. Different areas of Carnival Vista flow together seamlessly while still creating a distinct character that is undeniable. The Cloud 9 Spa area is flavored that way too.
The Cloud 9 Spa
The Cloud 9 Spa provides another example of assigning a unique character to a given area of the ship, altering basic cabin configurations to integrate well with surrounding features. In this case, the Cloud 9 Spa and adults-only Serenity area of the ship, the highest public space on the ship, save for a SkyRide view. The entire area is figuratively ‘in the clouds’ in comparison to most public areas. Starting at the top end, suites are the same basic configuration as any other area of the ship, custom decorated to match the ambiance. Stocked with amenities and priority access to ship features in the area, there is a sense of neighborhood too without the whole “who lives in the best part of town?” thing. In fact, Carnival goes out of its way to include everyone in all onboard programming, including (gasp) smokers.
The Casino Bar
The bar in the casino is usually not a big item on the attraction list; just another bar in another place. On Carnival Vista, not far from the lobby bar the the Dreamscape feature mentioned above, is what appears at first glance to be another Dreamscape feature. Upon closer examination, we see this is actually a smaller LED display emanating from the casino bar below, which we can see by approaching the area. What we don’t notice is that below is an inside smoking area, completely enclosed from above in glass to prevent the smoke from wafting through the entire ship.
I’ve been on both sides of this smoker, non-smoker thing and neither is a pleasant place to be when the other comes calling in an enclosed space. Finally, a cruise line figured out how to allow both groups to play together and enjoy either killing or not killing themselves. Smart.
On Carnival Vista, it’s like new Carnival boss Christine Duffy took the helm and was busy getting to know everyone, visiting all the ships in the fleet and getting settled into her new position. The Entertainment division, usually the poster child of budget cuts and profit seekers on any cruise line, saw an opening, grabbed a big fat pile of blank checks and went to work. Expanding their existing programming in ways that make sense and go beyond the safe and secure audience participation, game show, limit-on-the-minutes stage show world, Carnival appears to be on a unique track here as well.
Integrating the entertainment element of cruise travel into expanded areas of the ship is going beyond a revival of ‘the good old days’ of cruising. Weaving entertainment into the daily life experience is a bona fide, serious move by Carnival to take back control of the onboard programming choreography. It’s an area that is quite easy for cruise lines to not focus on and many have. A roving accordion player in the buffet is a good example. Another is the seemingly odd but ever-so-appropriate addition of an IMAX theater.
IMAX At Sea
Again going back a decade or so, it was fun go to a ship’s main showroom to watch a nearly first-run film at sea. Seeing some movie we might have seen in theaters last week but missed and it had not yet come out on video ashore was a treat. I remember writing in 2002, “You’ll never forget that y0u saw that film for the first time at sea”. I can still recall the thrill of taking a break from already-distracting shipboard life to dive deep into a world portrayed on the silver screen of a cruise ship. IMAX takes that engaging experience to a new level, exclusive to Carnival Cruise Line.
Something For Everyone, Like It Or Not
Not really an advertised feature but more the effect of other elements of the Carnival Vista experience, Carnival Cruise Line may have come dangerously close to being something for everyone. Seriously. The customizable nature of a big ship cruise vacation is a distinct advantage not offered on smaller ships. On one hand that fact brings praise to Carnival for not making a bigger ship only to add more cabins to existing public spaces of the last version. On the other lovely hand Carnival Vista brings back the luster to that “you can make it what you want it to be” thing that was more accurate in the past.
Example: I was exploring Carnival Vista and noticed lovely violin music filling the main lobby atrium space as noted above. I continued to mosey past the Red Frog Pub and Brewery where a bunch of passengers were playing that quarters game I was so very good at in college.
See More Of The Red Frog Pub And Brewery At USAToday in Love Craft Beer”? This new ship has its own brewery
Continuing down the promenade, I passed the Ocean Plaza where a bunch more passenger were taking a group dance lesson, also having the time of their lives. It’s that focus on the onboard experience, what will happen to passengers when they let the ship’s programming have its way with them, that bring the million dollar travel moments.
It’s the stuff that brings life-energizing distraction from shoreside cares and woes. I guarantee you not one of those people enjoying any of those three distinctly different activities, fully engrossed in what they were doing, was thinking about that upcoming review they are apprehensive about at work. The laundry list of things to do around the house, at work, in their brains and relationships was put on hold and put away. Not really a return to the past but more a natural evolution of the big ship cruise experience: the Fun Ship experience that Carnival knows so very well.
I remember writing a dozen years ago how Carnival saying they were simply “The Fun Ships” was more than a slogan, they really knew how to do it. I confidently said “If you’ve been on a Carnival Funship, you know this to be true” and was never challenged on that accurate statement. For those who want to hear it: that’s back now, enjoy. More accurately: Carnival Vista is a whole new, seriously Fun ballgame.