In a single month (May 2016) Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International unveiled the largest ship in their fleets: Carnival Vista and Harmony of the Seas, respectively. Both ships are overflowing with high-energy activities, drenching water parks, a vast array of dining choices, laugh-out-loud comedy clubs and family-friendly spaces. So how do you know which ship is right for your cruise vacation? We pit Harmony of the Seas vs. Carnival Vista against each other, comparing dining, bars, cabins, activities, outdoor fun, entertainment, family offerings and itineraries to help you decide which mega-ship is the best choice for you.
While Carnival Vista isn't exactly dwarfed by Harmony of the Seas, it is smaller (133,500 gross tons vs. 227,700 gross tons) and does carry considerably fewer passengers -- 3,936 people at double occupancy vs. Harmony's 5,479 passengers. Harmony is slightly longer and taller as well, and offers 16 passenger decks, while Vista offers 15.
Despite the sizable differences (pun intended), the passenger to crew ratio is negligible. There are 2.4 passengers for every crewmember on Harmony of the Seas, and 2.7 passengers for every one crewmember on Vista.
Harmony of the Seas boasts 16 dining venues; Carnival Vista has 14. Half on each are included in the cruise price. Dining venues without a surcharge on both ships include one or more main dining rooms, a pool deck buffet and several quick-bite, order-at-the-counter spots.
Both ships offer traditional, set-seating main dining rooms (with early and late dining times), as well as a flexible option that allows passengers to choose when they want to eat. Suite passengers on Harmony of the Seas have an extra perk, the option of dining at the suites-only Coastal Kitchen. Essentially a small main dining room for suite passengers, Coastal Kitchen features two Mediterranean-inspired menus that rotate throughout the cruise.
Cruisers will also find a pool deck indoor buffet on both ships: the Windjammer on Harmony of the Seas and the Lido Marketplace on Carnival Vista.
All other included-in-price eateries on both ships are casual spots, where you order food at the counter (or browse buffet-style) and either take the food to go (Boardwalk Dog House, Vitality Cafe and Park Cafe on Harmony; Taste Bar on Vista) or sit at tables inside the venue or located nearby (Sorrento's and Solarium Bistro on Harmony; Guy's Burger Joint, BlueIguana Cantina and Pizzeria del Capitano on Vista).
Worth noting: One of Carnival Vista's complimentary eateries, Guy's Burger Joint, is a result of a Carnival Cruise Line partnership with celebrity chef Guy Fieri.
When it comes to restaurants that carry an extra charge, Harmony has five with cover charges and three at which food and specialty coffees are priced a la carte. Vista offers three sit-down eateries with cover charges and four spots at which food, specialty coffees and ice cream shakes are priced a la carte.
As for the type of food you'll find onboard, the following chart gives a quick overview.
Harmony of the Seas
Izumi Hibachi & Sushi
With 13 drinking establishments on Carnival Vista and 12 on Harmony of the Seas, bar hoppers will have plenty of choice on both ships, no matter their tipple of choice. Both bar scenes are active at night with live music in many of the venues, raucous sing-alongs in the piano bars and salsa dancing in the Latin-themed lounges.
Harmony's bars include a couple of gimmicky choices: Rising Tide Bar and Bionic Bar. There's nothing special about the drinks you'll find here, but the small Rising Tide Bar travels vertically between three decks, and robotic arms mix your cocktails while dancing to the music at the Bionic Bar.
Also, both ships serve wine at several venues (including at Vista's Library Bar where cruisers serve themselves using neat self-service machines), but if you're into tastings, you're more likely to enjoy the scene at Harmony's Vintages Wine Bar. The opposite is true for beer lovers. While you'll find a small selection of brews at the Boot & Bonnet Pub, for the best (and freshest) selection, Carnival Vista's RedFrog Pub & Brewery is the place to grab a cold one.
You'll find many of the same basic cabin types on both Harmony of the Seas and Carnival Vista. Both have standard inside (no window), oceanview (porthole or window views) and balcony cabins, but they differ dramatically when it comes to specialty cabins, as well as to the types of suites available onboard.
Among the non-standard cabins you'll find on Harmony of the Seas are inside rooms with virtual balconies, offering cruisers views of the outside world via floor-to-ceiling high-def TV screens designed to mimic the balcony experience. (You can even pipe in wave sounds.)
The Boardwalk-, Promenade- and Central Park-view cabins turn what on other ships are inside cabins into rooms with either a window or balcony overlooking the always busy Boardwalk or Promenade or quiet Central Park.
Solo cruisers will find 15 inside studio cabins on Harmony of the Seas, sized and priced for one person. Twelve of these have ocean views. Carnival Vista has no cabins specifically created for solo travelers.
What Vista has that Harmony doesn't are spa cabins. Available in a variety of styles (inside, oceanview, balcony), cruisers staying in spa cabins get unlimited access to the ship's thermal suite, upgraded Elemis toiletries and two free fitness classes.
Another cabin category exclusive to Carnival Vista is the Havana group of rooms, so named for their proximity to the Havana bar and color scheme meant to evoke nostalgic images of pre-communist Cuba. A handful of Havana cabins are insides or have balconies, but most (called Havana cabanas) have private patios with loungers or hammocks (only in the Havana suites). Passengers staying in Havana-category cabins get exclusive daytime access to the aft Havana pool.
As for family-specific rooms, both Carnival Vista and Harmony of the Seas have lots to offer, including inside, oceanview and balcony cabins specifically designed for families. The main difference between the two ships is that on Carnival Vista all family cabins are located on Deck 2 in the Family Harbor (with access to an exclusive family hangout room), while on Harmony of the Seas, these cabins are spread throughout the ship. Harmony also offers more than one type of family-specific suite (including the enormous 1,165-square-foot Presidential Family Suite), while the family suite on Vista is just 275 square feet.
Speaking of suites, Harmony of the Seas has many more than Carnival Vista, as well as a much more robust suite perks program. (Vista suite passengers simply get priority embarkation and debarkation.) Harmony's suite choices start with the junior suite (287 square feet with a 78-square-foot balcony) and end with the massive, two-deck Royal Loft (1,599 square feet with an 874-square-foot balcony); in between are Grand, Owner's, AquaTheater, Crown Loft and Sky Loft options, and the aforementioned family suites.
Suite choices on Carnival Vista are limited to junior suites (275 square feet with a 35-square-foot balcony), Ocean suites (275 square feet with a 65-square-foot balcony), Grand suites (345 square feet with an 85-foot-square balcony) and the aforementioned Family Harbor suite. The largest suite on Vista is the solitary accessible Ocean suite (450 square feet with an 110-square-foot balcony).
When it comes to comparing cabin sizes on Harmony of the Seas vs. Carnival Vista, it gets a tad complicated. Here's a generalized comparison:
- Inside cabins are bigger on Carnival Vista (185 square feet vs. 150 to 172 square feet on Harmony);
- Oceanview cabins are bigger on Carnival Vista (185 to 220 square feet vs. 174 to 194 square feet on Harmony);
- Balcony cabins (the inside part of the room) are almost the same on both ships (185 square feet on Vista vs. 182 square feet on Harmony;
- But the actual balconies are bigger on Harmony (50 to 80 square feet vs. 35 to 75 square feet on Vista).
Activities & Outdoor Fun
Cruisers comparing Harmony of the Seas vs. Carnival Vista will find boisterous, active fun on both ships. But while many of the daily events are the same (trivia, poolside games, bingo, etc.), the attractions each ship offers differ significantly.
First, what they have in common: Both have outdoor mini-golf and a basketball court that can convert into a volleyball court or occasional soccer pitch. Both have evening comedy clubs (The Attic Comedy Club on Harmony and the Punchliner Comedy Club on Vista). Both have multiple pools: four on Harmony and three on Vista. (The Havana pool on Vista is reserved during the day for passengers staying in Havana cabins only.)
Both also have water parks but what you'll find in each differs.
On Harmony, you've got the Perfect Storm trio of water slides, appropriately named Typhoon, Cyclone and Supercell, as well as the family-friendly Splashaway Bay with smaller slides, water cannons and drenching buckets. Nearby is the Abyss, a dry slide, which begins in the Pool and Sports Zone at the back of the ship and drops riders some 100 feet to the Boardwalk.
Vista's Waterworks park has the psychedelically themed Kaleid-O-Slide, a twister water slide, the PowerDrencher bucket and the kids-only SplashZone.
Now the big differences: On Harmony you'll find an ice skating rink, the Puzzle escape room, a Boardwalk-style arcade with classic carnival games (skee ball, ring toss, etc.), the FlowRider surf simulator, climbing walls and a zipline.
Vista has a multiplex movie theater with the first IMAX at sea and a 4D Thrill Theater; the outdoor SportSquare, which features a ropes course, an alfresco fitness center and the suspended-in-midair recumbent bike ride known as SkyRide; nearby is the indoor Clubhouse at SportSquare with mini-bowling, Ping-Pong, sports video games and arcade basketball.
Day and Nighttime Entertainment
Both Carnival Vista and Harmony of the Seas offer a variety of entertainment options during the day and in the evening, including the aforementioned comedy clubs. However, you'll find a lot more "shows" on Harmony than on Vista, including full-scale production ice shows in the ice skating rink, two different acrobatic diving shows in the AquaTheater and full-length Broadway-style shows in the main theater: "Grease" and "Columbus, the Musical." Theater shows on Vista are pretty much limited to 30-minute high-tech musical revues in the big theater or movies at the IMAX, Thrill Theater or poolside Seaside Theater.
For live music fans, Harmony of the Seas offers Jazz on 4; both ships have singalong piano bars.
Harmony also offers the On Air Karaoke Club for those who enjoy making their own music.
Children's and Teen Programming
Families will find plenty to love on both Harmony of the Seas and Carnival Vista, including programs that divide kids into five age groups. Both Royal Caribbean and Carnival divide kids into the following age groups: 6 to 8, 9 to 11, 12 to 14 and 15 to 17. For the youngest, Royal Caribbean takes 3 to 5 year olds, while Carnival takes 2 to 5 year olds (and will change diapers, which Royal Caribbean will not). On Royal Caribbean, tweens and teens share a teen hangout lounge, while on Carnival each group has their own space.
For the littlest ones, families on Harmony will find the Royal Tots and Royal Babies Nursery, which provides interactive activities for children from 6 months to 36 months old (when accompanied by a parent), as well as extra fee drop-off babysitting services. Carnival occasionally offers paid drop-off babysitting for under-2s, as well, but availability varies by sailing.
On Royal Caribbean, late-night babysitting is available both in the kids club (10 p.m. to 2 a.m.) and in the cabin (until 2 a.m., and contingent upon staff availability). Both carry a per hour surcharge. Carnival Vista doesn't offer in-cabin babysitting but does feature the line's extra-fee Night Owls program, which enables parents to drop off their kids, ages 11 and under, to be watched over until as late as 1 a.m.
Both ships also give kids the opportunity to rub elbows with some of their favorite fictional characters, either from DreamWorks movies (onboard Harmony of the Seas) or Dr. Seuss books (on Carnival Vista). Character parades, meet-and-greet photo opportunities and themed breakfasts are part of the DreamWorks and Seuss at Sea experiences.
Also, on both ships you'll find one deck (either the entire deck or part of it), dedicated to family spaces and programming (with more family-friendly activities on other decks as well). On Harmony of the Seas, the Kid's Avenue neighborhood on Deck 14 is where you'll find rooms like the family crafts workshop, Adventure Art arts studio, Adventure Science Lab and Adventure Ocean Theater (along with the Royal Babies and Tots Nursery).
Carnival Vista features the Deck 2 Family Harbor where you'll find all the ship's family-specific cabins as well as the Family Harbor Lounge, a space for parents and kids to hang out, play games and even have a daily buffet breakfast.
Vista's Family Harbor Lounge is keycard accessible, for families staying on Deck 2 only; Harmony's Kid's Avenue is open to everyone, though only kids (and youth staff) can get into the kid-only rooms.
One last spot on both ships kids will love are the child-friendly water parks with smaller slides and splash areas.
Both Harmony of the Seas and Carnival Vista launched in the Mediterranean, where each has been sailing a selection of European cruises. In mid-fall, both will cross the Atlantic to reposition in the United States. Harmony will operate out of Port Everglades beginning in November, offering Bahamas and Eastern and Western Caribbean sailings. Carnival Vista will sail a variety of three- to seven-night Caribbean cruises from Miami. Port calls will overlap slightly with both visiting standards like Jamaica, Cozumel, San Juan, St. Maarten, St. Kitts and Nassau. Of the two, only Harmony will visit St. Thomas and Royal Caribbean's private Haitian island of Labadee, while only Carnival Vista will visit multiple ports in the Dominican Republic, as well as more off-the-beaten path ports in Curacao, Aruba and Bonaire.