MIAMI-When Carnival throws a party, they go big. And that was definitely the case when their newest and biggest ship, Carnival Horizon, arrived in her new home port of Miami Sept. 20.
High overhead was the big “Choose Fun” airship, which has been circling the Southeast for several weeks promoting the brand. Onboard to welcome guests, travel agents and media were many of Carnival’s top execs, including its president, Christine Duffy, and its Chief Fun Officer, NBA basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal, who gives “big” a whole new meaning.
Prior to a two-night debut cruise to the Bahamas, O’Neal was joined by the Miami Heat’s Alonzo Mourning, Shane Battier and Glen Rice to host the basketball version of musical chairs on the Lido Deck, where volunteers dribbled for a chance at a free cruise. They were all thrilled when Shag declared everyone who played got the cruise.
Horizon made its official debut in April. After a summer season in Europe, it sailed from New York before making her way to Miami. Her sister ship, Vista, has been redeployed to Galveston.
As the biggest ships in the Carnival fleet, at 133,000 GT, both share many similarities, including an IMAX Theater, a Havana-themed section and the SkyRide, where you can pedal your way around the top of the ship (which wasn’t operating on this cruise due to maintenance – sadly). Among the new features on Horizon are a playful Dr. Seuss-themed water park (which both kids and adults will enjoy), celebrity chef Guy Fieri’s “Pig and Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse/Brewhouse,” where you get an original craft beer to go with that order of ribs and Bonsai Teppanyaki, a new specialty restaurant.
“Fun” has always been a major theme for Carnival, and ships like Horizon take it to a new level. Just take a look at the ship’s stern, which bears what is probably the world’s largest bumper sticker: “Choose Fun.”
Here are some takeaways from our two-night cruise:
- Get ready for a new kind of elevator experience. When you press the button, you also press the floor where you want to go. A voice will instruct you which elevator to take. Once inside, there are no buttons at all. Going up, the ride is express. Going down, it’s local. It took us a few tries to acclimate.
- Along with Bonsai Teppanyaki, other specialty venues include Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse, Ji Ji Asian Kitchen and Cucina del Capitano – reservations recommended.
- The tradition of the singing/dancing waiters continues in the main Meridian Restaurant. Get ready to wave your hanky and cheer them on.
Standard staterooms are roomy enough, but short on outlets given everyone’s personal electronics these days. I always recommend packing an extension cord. Speaking of power, you have to insert your sea card to keep the lights on.
- The Havana area, which also features it own private suites, is the next best thing to actually being in Cuba.
- Kudos to Carnival for their phone app, Carnival HUB. It’s like having a personal concierge in the palm of your hand. You can personalize it to your schedule and know at all times what’s going on around the ship. It’s also handy for checking your account and see up-to-date what’s you’ve spent.
Whether you want to party with a crowd or find a quiet place to enjoy a drink – like the Library Bar (combining books and drinking … genius!) you definitely choose your fun on this ship.
Carnival Horizon is doing a year-round schedule of six- and eight-day Caribbean cruises from PortMiami. Six-day cruises depart Sundays, calling at Ocho Rios, Jamaica; Grand Cayman; and Cozumel, Mexico. Two different eight-day itineraries will be offered with departures on Saturdays — one featuring Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos; La Romana, Dominican Republic; Curacao; and Aruba; and the other visiting Grand Turk; San Juan, Puerto Rico; St. Kitts; and St.