Carnival Cruise Line Revisited
Revisiting Carnival Cruise
My last Carnival cruise had been about 20 years ago. Back then the “Fun” of the fun ships seemed to be focused on drinking. Heavy often out-of-control drinking was the norm. I remember contests where couples would compete against each other for who could drink a yard of ale the fastest. Over the years, the Carnival cruise line has moved away from that image and does focus on families as well.
I found an outstanding value for an 8-day cruise out of Miami, so I decided to take chance with Carnival Cruise Lines and booked it. At the time, using a third party, they were offering 0% financing. I bundled all the ship expenses together and started to pay over time. My frequent flyers account had ample points and using my Jet Blue account, I was able to get a flight where I only had to pay a few security fees.
COVID requirements are always changing. Most of the people on the cruise were vaccinated, however, they did allow a few onboard with waivers. Vaccinated passengers and crew had to make up over 95% of those on board. Two weeks before my September 3 cruise, I received an email stating that all guests must obtain a negative COVID test within 3 days of sailing. Searching for a place to get the test done, I found that Miami International Airport had rapid testing available. However, when making a call to them, I found out they did not accept insurance and the cost of the test was over $160. I did find a place that was a ten-minute walk from where I was staying that also did the test and it was covered by insurance, so no out-of-pocket expense. A week before the cruise, Bonaire was replaced by Curacao.
Sailing the Carnival Cruise Line’s Horizon
A few weeks before the cruise, I completed the online check-in and downloaded the Carnival apps. A few days before the cruise, I had to return to the online check-in and update some health questions. I got a Lyft from my Miami Beach hostel and a short $12 ride later arrived at the Miami Cruise Terminal on time for my 10 am check-in.
Leaving my checked luggage and a tip with a porter, I entered a short line to go inside the terminal building. Before going inside my ticket was checked, then another stop checked my vaccine card and COVID test. Mask had to be worn. Then it was to an airport-style security check and on to a long back and forth path to the check-in counter. There was no one in line and when I got to the front was directed to an available station. My passport was scanned, the vaccine card and COVID test information recorded, and a photo of me taken. I was given a boarding group card and in less than 5 minutes was on my way to a waiting area.
It was not long before they started to board the suite guest and VIP members. General group boarding started around 11, and I was on board shortly thereafter. We were frequently reminded that masks were to be worn in all public areas except when actively eating. The staterooms were not available when we arrived, which is somewhat standard. So with my trusty backpack, it was off to the buffet for a leisurely lunch. I found a nice window seat where I could look out over Miami Beach. I put my phone into airplane mode and activated the Carnival app.
Getting Started Carnival Cruise Style
The app is a wonderful tool, that gives you all the information you need for the day. It has the schedule of events for the day as well as opening times of the restaurants and shops. You can book shore excursions, I did not, and check your onboard account. If you have an internet package, you can use the app to connect to the internet. I did purchase an unlimited basic package before the cruise at around $10 a day. Overall, I was satisfied with the speed and did not have any problems with it.
Around 1 pm, announcements started advising guests they need to attend a safety briefing at their muster station before 4 pm. I made my way to my muster station which is shown on your sailing card. At the muster station, they scanned the card and in small groups of less than 10, they gave a short safety briefing and demonstration of the life vest. Very much like what you find on an airplane. In total, I was at the muster station for less than 10 minutes.
This 8-day trip started with a couple of days at sea on the way to Aruba and Curaçao. The original schedule had Bonaire instead of Curaçao but that was changed a few weeks before sailing. After Curaçao, there was another sea day and then two stops in the Dominican Republic.
It was difficult to judge how full the ship was. Based on the number of people in the dining rooms and at the shows, I would estimate the ship was about 50% full. Due to being in September and vaccine requirements, there were very few children on board.
Food and More Food
The saying of going on as a passenger and coming off as cargo is still alive and well. To be fair there are healthy choices. The Carnival Horizon uses early and late seating in their main dining rooms, with an option for flexible dining. If you are at one of the two seating, you are assigned to a table for the duration of the cruise. I had selected a late seating and was assigned to a table set for 10 but with only 3 other guests. The waiter said the assignments were for 6, but two never showed in the dining room. One of the table mates moved to another table shortly into the cruise. English was not her first language, and she meet up with another person who shared her language.
Each night we had a selection of appetizers, soups, entrées, and desserts. About half the entrées stayed the same, while the other followed a nightly theme. One item that often got a chuckle out of me was a section labeled, Rare Finds – something you always wanted to try. These items were a bit exotic. I passed on the Escargot, and Braised Ox Tongue, which I have had before. I did enjoy the Alligator fritters.
In addition to the dining rooms, there were a number of other dining venues. Some were complimentary and some had a surcharge. The complementary garden buffet was open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Overall, I was a little disappointed about the choice of food at the buffet. However, to be fair, it might have been due to not having a full sailing. There was a good selection of cakes at lunch but limited desserts at night and just cookies late at night. One thing I did find irritating was the beverage stations. A number of times, the one closest to the food was closed.
There was a complimentary taco/burrito bar open for breakfast and lunch. Guy’s Burger Joint was complementary open for an extended lunch period. While Guy’s BBQ, a Mongolian restaurant, and an Italian restaurant were open for dinner as a surcharged venue. They were also opened on sea days for lunch without a surcharge. I did try those three at lunch and found the meals outstanding.
There was also a deli station that was open from early lunch to late dinner. It seems very popular. A pizza place was open 24 hours, but it was more like cardboard for my taste. I heard others say the same and hear comments that the deli would be a better choice for 24 hours, which I agree with.
Onboard Daily Activities
We started the cruise with a few days at sea. I ended up eating too much because I really did not see many activities that pique my interest. I am not a gym rat, however, I generally try to spend some time in the gym while on a cruise and I also like to try some exercise classes as well. I was not impressed with the gym and ended up not spending any time there. It seems more cramped when compared to other ships I have been on over the last few years. The equipment was also very close together. There was only one free exercise class a day, and that was at 7 am, There were other classes during the day. Each is priced more than my monthly fitness center membership. I did consider one class but changed my mind about the $30 fee for a 45-minute group class.
I did attend a “free” lecture on how to raise your metabolic rate. I found it 10% useful but very basic information, 15% questionable information, and 75% sales pitch for a detox treatment. One big bonus, by attending the lecture, I was able to get a free body scan with a follow-up consultation, Which is listed as costing $99. While the machine they use is a slightly different model, I get a scan locally for $25. Buyer beware. During the consultation, There was another pitch for the detox treatment. My ratio of internal and external cell water was in the acceptable range, just slightly above the middle range. However, I was told I needed to be at the low number and that my number showed the need for detox. He said I should start a 6-month program for just less than $5 a day. He was not happy when I pointed out that mid-range was better than low, and by losing a little more fat, I would move to that middle number.
Most of the daily activities had an added fee. I did enjoy relaxing in the outdoor spaces. Sometimes near the main pool to listen to the music, but mostly in a less crowded section of the deck. Even the main pool area which got the most people was not that crowded. The Horizon has both a movie theater and an IMAX. There is also a charge for these, however, they are reasonable when compared to land-based theaters.
Carnival Cruise Line Horizon Show Time
One of the things I love most about cruising is the evening entertainment. I attended the performances held in the main and enjoyed them. The shows were not as elaborate as those on other cruise lines I have experienced, but they did hold my interest.
I also sampled the live music in some bars aboard. The musicians were all good.
The Ports of Call
This 8-day cruise had 4 ports of call: Aruba, Curaçao, La Romana in the Dominican Republic, and Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic. Bonaire was a scheduled port but was replaced by Curaçao. The ship docked at each of these ports allowing easy access to the shore.
Aruba Port of Call
Aruba was my favorite port on this trip. When I started planning out my shore time, I had planned on Bonaire being my beach and snorkeling destination. When They dropped Bonaire, I was not sure if I wanted to change Aruba to a beach day instead. Aruba has some great beaches, many of which can be easily reached by public transportation. You can get a day pass on the bus for just $10, and the main bus station is across the road from the cruise terminal.
My final plan was to walk around and take some photographs as my first task. That was to be followed by a ride to the downtown district on the free tram and a stop at a small museum. The first museum that I wanted to visit was closed, but I still got some nice photographs.
The tram ride was very nice. They have two trams, one is a double-decker. They leave from the cruise terminal and take about 15 minutes to get to the end. After a short rest, the tram returns with a slightly different route in places.
National Archaeological Museum Aruba is just a short walk from the cruise terminal and is also a stop on the tram. Housed in one of the oldest buildings in Aruba, the museum is small but well worth the visit.
Curaçao is known for its colorful building and old-world charm. My plan for this port call was to walk around the center part of the city and take photographs. It was an enjoyable day. One big downer for me was the visit to a UNESCO heritage site located near the cruise port. The interior of the historical fort has been changed to a shopping mall.
La Romana Dominican Republic
I really can not give this port of call a fair rating. The cruise terminal is well done, with a number of nice shops. However, it is a distance from La Romana itself. There is supposed to be an inexpensive shuttle running to the center of the city, however, it was not running the day we were there. The cruise ship had tours but like most they were expensive. Taking a taxi was an option, but I do not like to take the risk of finding one for the return to the port.
Amber Cove Dominican Republic
Another port that is not high in my rankings. Again it is isolated with nothing close. Google Maps do show a small village nearby with a beach, but the road leaving the port did not seem that safe to walk. The terminal area itself is nice with a huge pool complex and some water sports. I found the watersports to be too expensive. Kayaking was$34 a hour.
Summary on Carnival Cruise Line’s Horizon
Overall, I enjoyed the cruise and what the ship has to offer. I will likely take another Carnival cruise in the future. To be honest, the entertainment and shipboard activities were not to the level I have experienced on other ships. The food gets good ratings for the main dining and other restaurants. The deli was great but the buffet was just a buffet.
I do give it bonus points for value. The Carnival prices seem lower than other cruise lines sailing to the same ports.