Good morning my loves!
Today marks the first in a series of four about my adventures on the Carnival Horizon and my trip into the Caribbean! This was actually my first time in the Caribbean – my husband and I went to Bermuda for our honeymoon, but Bermuda is actually in the Atlantic ocean, so this is officially the furthest south I’ve ever been!
As some of you may know, I tend to pre-schedule my posts, so let me tell you about where I am as I’m writing this. It’s 6:25am and we’re in the middle of the Caribbean en route from Cozumel to Miami. I’d say it’s about 73 degrees Fahrenheit, roughly, and there’s a steady wind. I’m sitting out on our balcony and typing on my iPad, the ocean to my right, quietly enjoying the morning. I may pop upstairs in a spell to enjoy a hot tea – my vice – but for the moment, this is a beautiful place to be. The sun has not even quite risen yet, and there’s a fog on the far horizon.
This is the view from our balcony as I type this. I know for a lot of people, half past six in the morning is an absurdly early hour, but I usually get up for work between two and three AM, so not only is getting up this late luxurious for me, but the peace and quiet of the ship is magical. This is one of the few times in the day where it feels like it could be just me and the wind and the sea. This is my nirvana and I love it.
I like to start off these vacation posts talking a bit about the boat or resort, like my Meet the Breakaway post. I did fail to talk about Port Orleans at Disney last September, so I’ve made extra efforts to photograph the Horizon so I can share it with y’all. I’ll break it up into headings for you because this is a loooooong post. Like a REALLY long post.
The Carnival Horizon is one of the newest ships in the fleet, having made its maiden voyage in 2018. Carnival seems to put out a new ship every year, or else dry docks one of its older ones for upgrades. They’re a huge fleet, and have one of the most mixed reputations, so I want to talk a bit about our experience on THIS ship. I want to apologize in advance because there’s a lot of comparisons to our time on the Breakaway.
The Carnival Horizon houses approximately 4000 people. It’s more or less the same size as our previous ship, varying by about 50. It had a familiar feels to the size and design, even though the two ships we’ve traveled have been with different companies,
The housekeeping here is excellent – everything is very tidy and I was immediately impressed that Putra, our steward, stopped in to ask us when would be an ideal time block for him to come by. Our experience with Norwegian was that they would do their rounds and could come knocking any time between 10am and 9pm. My husband and I tend to hole ourselves up in or room because that’s how we like to relax, so knowing when we need to be out of the room has been really nice. I can sit on the balcony all day on sea days and the room is clean when we come back from dinner.
I also appreciate when we met Putra, he handed us a business card, introduced himself, and did the whole spiel about how if we needed anything, we should call, etc. Very friendly, very personable. It’s an experience we haven’t had before with housekeeping (although we did meet our housekeeper on the Transatlantic, and she was also lovely).
We didn’t really get to know the rest of the staff because our housekeeper was our only regular attendant. On our previous cruise, we were able to dine whenever, so the idea of assigned dining wasn’t appealing, given excursions and not knowing what time we were going to be going places. This meant we didn’t have a regular waitstaff, and I think our experience suffered for that. On our previous cruise, we were bound to have one of the three waiters be really personable and fun, but here we saw people consistently taking down our orders with relative efficiency, but no added friendliness in the Main Dining Room. They were quick and got the job done, but I couldn’t help but notice that those who had a rapport with their regular waitstaff seemed to be enjoying themselves more. We’ve decided that when we head to the Bahamas in November, we’re going to do the assigned dining to see how it changes the experience. So no complaints about the waitstaff, per se, just regretting a decision we made months ago.
Overall, the staff seem happier on the Horizon. This is something I noticed immediately – the hostesses are smiling and the chefs are joking together and I’d say 85% of the crew seemed genuinely happy to be on board. The other 15% were pretty stiff and direct, which was our experience with nearly everyone (except select wait staff) on the Breakaway. I’m not sure if Carnival pays better or what, but seeing cheerful crew members made me feel better about the trip.
Around and about the ship
Except for specific times, the ship didn’t feel too crowded to me. This perception may be because we rarely visited the Lido deck – neither of us are beach people, so fighting for a chair with full view of the sun and a colorful drink in our hand wasn’t really our vibe. There are plenty of bars belowdecks all with different theming and vibes. Matt and I tend to find one and stick to it (although neither of us are big drinkers… basically he and I are just no fun).
For this cruise, we stuck to Ocean Plaza and the Havana Bar. Which, by the way, meant I had “Havana” stuck in my head through most of the trip. Super helpful, since all I know of it is: “Havana oo na na”.
The color in this bar for gorgeous. Last cruise, we stuck to the piano bar, Shakers, which also had a great vibe, but the colors here made me feel alive. While a lot of the ship felt pretty blah to me, aesthetically, this bar was gorgeous. There’s a private area out back for Fancy People Who Paid Extra Money and since it’s aft, they’re sitting on the back of the boat with the ocean all around them.
During the afternoon hours, the Ocean Plaza area presents activities and at night there are performers, mostly guitarists. One afternoon they were making Mardi Gras masks, which I thought would be exciting until I saw they were just paper masks that people were bejeweling and kids were coloring on – far less exciting.
I gotta be honest, the activities didn’t interest me. Comparing our two cruises, Norwegian’s offerings were actually more entertaining. Both ships have basic trivia and Bingo. Both ships have a library, only on Horizon it’s the Library Bar, with a very limited selection of books. I was glad that I brought ARCs with me!
Horizon offered two comedians (Norwegian did as well) and had a different activity every night hosted by the cruise director. As we were booking, a lot of this stuff sounded exciting, but once on board, it was pretty underwhelming. There’s a song and dance troupe who were decent, but Norwegian’s Burn The Floor show was better, and their Lip Sync Battle competition was a bit blah compared to the real thing. Which, I mean, of course? But I got stupidly psyched up.
Missing from the entertainment schedule were the musical (Norwegian had Rock Of Ages on our ship) and any alternative entertainment. On our last ship there was a hypnotist who was fantastic and regular lectures in the atrium. And Cirque de Soleil and the escape room. Loves, Norwegian had me spoiled.
I want to say that the lack of interesting daytime entertainment was made up for by the fabulous pools or deck side activities. I want to, but I can’t. Horizon has two watersides geared for kids, and a SkyRail that was only opened while we were in port at Jamaica. There are two hot tubs and two small pools.
Most of the people on this ship were super duper friendly (a far cry from Breakaway, I swear everyone in that ship was unhappy and entitled), but the ONE time I heard people complaining – and it was consistent! – was about the pools. Especially with Horizon being such a new ship, people expected more pools. I’d say the two pools could comfortably hold forty people at a time, combined… 1% of the total guests. I see why people are a smidge annoyed.
One thing I LOVED on Horizon (that wasn’t really available on Breakaway) were the “dive in movies”. Every night at 7pm and 10pm, they’d put a movie on the big screen on the Lido deck, over one of the pools. This was done in port when Matt and I went to Bermuda (we caught Back to the Future, one of our favorites) but didn’t happen at all on our Transatlantic. Which, you know, is totally fair because I didn’t really want to be on deck during the Transatlantic – it was cold and I was seasick.
We only caught a couple movies this time, based on our interest in what was playing and simply timing, but we were able to enjoy Black Panther and caught the ending of Crazy Rich Asians.
For movie time, one on the bars made plain popcorn (mneh, definitely chewy and unflavorful, give it a pass) and the towel hut handed out wonderful fuzzy blankets which were great. Movies like that are always a fun experience, and a super casual way to hit up date night. My husband and I are casual people, so it worked out well for us.
Guys I totally come on vacation for the food. One of the many reasons I have enjoyed crises in the past is that the food is included and it is delicious. I don’t think I had a bad meal on the Breakaway last year, and I expected the same of Carnival.
The food here is decidedly not very good. I don’t consider myself a food snob, but I’m sure there are others who are like YEAH BEST FOOD EVAH but color me unimpressed. The first place we went was The Marketplace, which is the Horizon’s buffet. You don’t expect much out of the buffet – this is mneh food made quickly and in quantity.
I mean, it held to expectations? Greasy turkey with unsalted smashed potatoes and strips of steak way overcooked and dipped into some kind of honey sauce. The salad was fine! Overall, lunch was unimpressive and we sort of decided to maybe NOT eat at the buffet if it could be avoided.
One thing I did like at the buffet? The gelato station. It didn’t need to be gelato, though. It could have been regular ice cream and I would have been happy as a clam, because there was a toppings bar and I am a child and I like toppings.
Why yes, that IS coffee gelato drowning in brownie crumbs and marshmallows, thanks for asking. It was marvelous.
We hit up the buffet again one morning for breakfast – you can’t screw up breakfast, right? Well I guess that depends on how you like your food. Mine was slimy – both the omelette and the French toast. Once again, not my cup on tea. Also, we probably hit it wrong, but speaking of tea… the hot water spouts that morning were shouting out ice water, so no tea for me. Sadness. The bacon station was also closely guarded and when you asked, you got two slices. We’re on vacation and we wanted ALL the bacon. 🙂
With that sullen disappointment, let’s move on to the dining room.
The MDR (main dining room) was… okay. We went for for brunch on our sea day, where I got something called a skillet cake.
This turned out to be a thick, chewy pancake with dots of ricotta around the edges. It was slightly sweet and very crumbly, the same experience I had with waffles in the MDR the morning we docked in Cozumel. Bacon policy in the MDR was the same as the buffet – two slices. I actually prefer sausage so I tried that first and we got about half a link, and it was flavorless.
By the way, my husband and I tend to have a hard time at some restaurants, especially ones like these that pander to people with less complicated flavor profiles. The restaurants are smart to do it – you can add spices and oils and sauces to a dish, it you can’t take them away if people don’t like them. Matt and I like strong bursts of heat and flavor. But I do respect the MDR’s choice to play it safe… unfortunately for me salt doesn’t do as much for sausages as, say, caraway seeds.
Our first dinner in the MDR was a formal night, so the menu was a smidge dressed up. My delighted husband ordered lobster tail (ew) and I ordered the prime rib shown above.
This was by far or best meal in the MDR, but it was expected to be. The prime rib was fine, but doesn’t measure up to a steakhouse. Honestly a lot of the food in the MDR felt like a mid-grade diner with nice trimmings and trying to cook stuff out of its skill range with low quality ingredients. The prime rib was just okay, but I appreciated the real horseradish (superior to horseradish sauce by far!) and that they loaded my potato.
The second night we went was another pretty meh meal, nothing really to write about, but I did notice a pattern in the entertainment. So on the Breakaway, there are four main dining rooms. My personal favorite was the Manhattan Room on the aft, and they’d also have entertainment every night. A couple times when my husband and I were in there, the Burn The Floor dancers came in and did a number and it was exquisite. So when the Maitre D announced “showtime” I was all into it.
Except that “showtime” ended up being them asking the guests to stand up and dance with the waitstaff. I’m all set on the Macarena, but thanks! Nothing against dancing with the waitstaff is anything, and it was a bit fun watching almost everyone else do it, it I just wanted to sit and eat my dinner. I know, I’m such a grinch.
For people (like me) who had bad luck with both the MDR and the buffet, there are a few different options on board. For lunch the first day, my husband and I split up and I grabbed tacos from the Blue Iguana that we’re really tasty. Matt went to Guy Fieri’s Burger Joint and had a loaded bacon burger. We agreed that these options, while not perfectly exquisite, were superior to the other free dining options we’d tried thus far. We actually didn’t have a lot of lunch opportunities, since we were in port 3/5 days (and lunch in port was gooooood but I’ll talk about that later), so I didn’t get a chance to hit up the salad bar, burrito bar, or pasta bar.
We did go to the pizza place one night instead of the main dining room, and it was decent. You’re not going to write home about this pizza, but it was better than what they were serving in the buffet! Also good to note, the buffet shuts halfway down at like… 6:30? So our Cozumel excursion got back at 6:15 and the buffet was packed with people trying to get into that tiny space and get food, because a lot of people were back late. I’m glad we decided to make it a pizza night that night.
The real food
Okay, I’ve spent a lot of time complaining about the main dining room, etc. BUT. We need to talk about the paid dining options. On one hand, it’s a major bummer to come in a ship that you’re already paying for room + transportation + food and then pay AGAIN for food… but the paid restaurants on the Horizon are REALLY good.
By the way, this differs a bit from the Breakaway? Between our two cruises the, we’d tried everything but the seafood place (allergies) and I think only one of them was amazing (the steakhouse). But then again the regular food with Norwegian was, I thought, very tasty.
So our first night aboard, my husband and I booked Ji Ji’s Asian Kitchen. This restaurant caters to different Chinese provinces and the foods created there.
We were a table of two, so we ordered each of appetizers, entrees, sides, and desserts. They were all INCREDIBLE. I can’t begin to tell you how delicious this restaurant was. I don’t know how much I can say about authenticity, that’s really more my husband’s realm (he loves learning about Asian cuisine, particularly Japanese cuisine). He seemed pretty happy, though.
The picture above are the chicken rolls, and they stole the show. A literal explosion of flavor in your mouth. Really everything was very good, and quite possibly spoiled us for the rest of the trip. Ordering these things family style meant we were each trying things the other ordered and enjoying them. My husband was crazy about the dessert he ordered (which was delicious, but so was mine. Everything was delicious).
The fried wontons are filled with something called lychee fruit? They came served in coconut milk and tapioca pearls, all very delicious. The lychee, to me, tasted like mushed bananas and strawberry jam. My husband doesn’t typically love sweet things, but he was over the moon about this.
If you’re ever on a Carnival ship and they have a Ji Ji’s on board, absolutely 100% go there. The food was mouthwateringly delicious and we really thought about going twice. The upsell on this one isn’t very much – only $15/pp – and was the best food we had on board all week.
Where I took WAY too many pictures at Ji Ji’s, I didn’t take enough at Fahrenheit 555, the steakhouse. After the delicious steakhouse on Breakaway, I’m determined to keep trying the ship steakhouses, and this one did not disappoint. I started my meal with French onion soup (yum) and my husband had lobster bisque. For our entree, of course, we both had steak!
My husband is a sucker for a ribeye, but I’m fancy and I like filet mignon. Mine was seared in a sriracha salt and was garlicky and perfect. I chose Yukon gold mash and garlic rapini for my side dishes, then used a little wasabi that came with the mash (why) with the rapini and oh my gosh was it good.
It was the dessert that stole the show at Fahrenheit 555.
Matt and I went in together here and, not really knowing what it was, ordered a dessert called Art at Your Table. Um, this was possibly the coolest thing ever? They brought out a tray of ingredients and one of the chefs came out with a platter thing and DREW OUR DESSERT. It was spectacular.
There were raspberry, white chocolate, and sour sauces with pistachio merengue, raspberry curd, orange and pomegranate jellies, toffee, gingerbread and graham cracker ice cream, dark chocolate raspberry cheesecake, chocolate cookies, and a white chocolate globe AND amaretto cream. It was all delicious and rich and well balanced and WAY too much food for two people. The presentation was absolutely amazing though and I have no regrets.
Again, the steakhouse was an upsell Of $38/pp but AGAIN I felt it was well worth it. My work department goes to a fancy steakhouse for a holiday party every year, and the steaks there cost $45 by themselves (no sides or anything) and I felt like the steak I had here was actually BETTER than that one, so I’m well pleased.
We also tried out the Italian place, Cucinia del Capitano, and it was quite tasty but didn’t stand out as much to me as the other places. Nonetheless, the food was plentiful and tasty.
All in all, even if the regular dining room food was actually good, these specialty restaurants are well worth the money. The food is outstanding, and I very much recommend the dining package (which we got). If you’re on vacation, and you can afford the extra, give yourself the treat of tasty food.
We’re in the home run stretch, loves!
The last thing I was to very briefly talk about is the room. Matt and I always book the same type of room on these ships – a balcony.
I love the balcony – I spend a decent amount of time out here that really makes it worth the extra money for me. On a ship like the Breakaway, we probably could have done without because there was a lot of seating around the upper decks. That was not so much the case on the Horizon, so I’m especially glad we upgraded this time – we almost didn’t. Additionally, having this balcony has been a lifesaver on trips where I’ve gotten seasick.
Balconies on ships like these are small, just enough room for two people to sit side by side. I like the balcony when we are sailing – I read out here and (because it’s just who I am) pre-write really long posts about boats! When we’re coming and going from ports, my husband likes to hang over the rail and watch the land appear and disappear. And, I’ve got to admit, having peaceful, private access to that view can be pretty spectacular.
It was particularly nice to have that balcony on our Transatlantic. Between a week’s worth of sea days and a bazillion ports, it was really nice to be able to hang out here. Even on the Horizon it’s been amazing. I LOVE our balcony.
One of the things I noticed immediately about our room here was the size of it. On a cruise ship, you don’t get big, spacious rooms. Everyone’s is about the same size, give or take ten square feet. But I’m pretty comfortable saying that our room on the Horizon was the biggest we’ve had so far. Also pardon the rumples on the bed – we definitely flopped pre-photo. Long day.
I also really appreciate the organization options here. There’s a lot of closet space, a lot of storage space. My husband and I pack pretty light, so that hasn’t been an issue for us in the past, but I fully appreciate all the space we had, and how it didn’t feel like it interfered with our living quarters.
Honestly? Even the bathroom felt larger.
The only thing I wasn’t crazy about in the bathroom was the seat in the shower. It’s actually a good idea it is there – sitting down would be a lot safer on rocky seas! But I just kept bumping into it and felt like it was in the way. Personal preference. The water pressure was really good though. I’m gonna hit y’all up with a little more information than you want, but I have really thick hair and I need GOOD water pressure for it to get clean. This was a HUGE issue on the last ship, and my hair always felt gross and scummy, which makes me super cranky. In fact, between how frizzy it gets in the heat and how gross it felt last trip, I cut off 8” the night before we left in anticipation for misery. Probably unnecessary, but it worked out.
So yeah. Great bathrooms in the room compared to our last trip.
So for my husband and I, the quality of the food is a really big thing on these cruises. While the speciality restaurants were amazing, we prefer not to feel like we HAVE to spend extra money to get somewhat decent food. So that was major negative points toward Carnival.
While I appreciated the bigger rooms and better bathroom, I don’t think that was enough to save the trip for me. The excursions offered were about the same as any other ship, the entertainment options were pretty meh. The crowd of passengers that Carnival brings in verses Norwegian were, frankly, more our kind of people. There was a really awkward formal night where I was overdressed, and that NEVER happens. Like ever. In my whole life. There was a more diverse group in age range, which I appreciated, and a lot fewer entitled people. But that doesn’t so much give points to the SHIP.
I will also say that Carnival is a little less expensive than other cruises. I think it’s a great option for families in that way, or people on a strict budget. That said, it makes up for the cheaper prices by nickel and diming you like CRAZY. For example, with Norwegian there are perks you get when you book, and the quantity of perks depends on what room you get. Last trip, with a balcony, Matt and I picked two perks – excursion credits and unlimited drinks (of any sort, from Coca-Cola to margaritas). You won’t find that sort of booking incentive here. Additionally, the MDR menu has extra pay items and your waitstaff has to ask you about them, and about getting you drinks. I rarely drink, and the first night we were in the MDR, the waiter asked me – I kid you not – twelve times if I wanted wine, how about a rum and coke, how about a beer… on and on. It was so aggressive and unimpressive. I get that they HAVE to do it, but it just made me want to get up and leave.
There are two movie theaters on board, but you have to pay extra to go see anything. Obviously bingo costs extra, and you can get pizza delivery but that costs extra. There are specific “dance night” events in the bars that cost extra. Also a Dr. Seuss themed breakfast that (you guessed it) costs extra. So everything you’re saving on the trip as a whole turns into a whole lot of opportunities to spend $5 here, $20 there. There’s a spa and salon of course, running at about 2x the price of anything you’ll get at home.
Between the super unimpressive food in the dining rooms and feeling like people were constantly in my face asking me to spend more money, I don’t think I’d go on a Carnival cruise MYSELF again, unless there was an incredible itinerary I couldn’t get elsewhere. This is my personal choice but I had an overall better experience with Norwegian and I honestly LOVE their itineraries.
THAT SAID. Matt and I are heading from Cape Liberty down to the Bahamas with Royal Caribbean in November for a Thanksgiving cruise. My husband has traveled with Royal Caribbean before and loved it, so perhaps that line will be more to my tastes!
You made it.
No jokes, it’s now 8:43am and this post took a little over two hours to write. If you’ve made it this far, ALL THE HIGH FIVES.
Next week, we’re going to Jamaica!
Have you ever been on a cruise? It’s my favorite way to travel! How do you like to travel? Tell me all about it in the comments!