Carnival Cruise Line's newest ship, the 3,936-passenger Carnival Vista, might also be its most fun. Keeping up with the cruise industry's latest trends, the line expanded its bar, restaurant and activity offerings on Vista and opened up much of the previously underused outside spaces to cruisers, giving passengers more choices than ever before.
Even on a 10-night cruise, we weren't able to get to everything. We did the SkyRide (an elevated bike ride), but not the ropes course. We tried out the outdoor Twister board, but never got a chance to play mini-golf or outdoor billiards. We never hit the water park either. We went to the 4D Thrill Theater movie theater but never saw an IMAX movie. We saw four Playlist Production shows in the main theater, but skipped the magic show in favor of an evening of comedy. Even then, we saw only two of the four comedians onboard. We made it to only one RedFrog Pub & Brewery trivia session, and never got to try one of the pour-your-own-beer taps or enjoy a drink in the pub's outdoor seating area.
Cruisers we spoke with had the same experiences -- so much to do and not enough time. For the most part, people loved the incredible choice.
Passengers especially loved the quantity and variety of live music. After years of moving away from live music on its ships (much to the chagrin of loyal Carnival cruisers), the line reversed course on Vista. You'll find live music in the atrium, in Ocean Plaza (an open space on Deck 5 with a stage and lots of seating), in the pub, on the Lido Deck, in the Havana Bar and in the Liquid Lounge. There's even a roving accordion player who pops us when you least expect him.
The many outdoor seating areas also get rave reviews. Both Bonsai Sushi and the Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse have outdoor seating, so does Cherry on Top, where you can get yourself a cool ice-cream treat on a hot sea day and then take it outside to sit under an umbrella while you enjoy the sea breeze. Considering that Vista will spend most of its time based in Miami doing Caribbean cruises, the outdoor spaces should be quite popular.
One area that is a bit hit or miss is the ship's atrium. (We actually loved it, but were in the minority.) On Vista, Carnival replaced its traditional decks-high atrium with glass elevator banks in favor of something that looks more like a modern hotel lobby. Dominated by an oval bar and Dreamscape, a three-deck-high LCD funnel that displays slowly moving digital images, the atrium is less of a social hub and more a place to stop for pre-dinner drinks or listen for an hour or two to acoustic pop songs or a classical trio. For a cruise line known for its let-your-hair-down and don't-take-yourself-too-seriously vibe, the atrium offers a sophisticated oasis.
If the ship has any real weakness, it's in the main dining room, where food is OK but not great. We also felt the menu repeated items too many times; some cruisers found select dishes to be "too fancy."
But one of our favorite things about Vista was the always-smiling faces of the crew, many of whom got to know our names within just days of meeting us. From our room steward and main dining room waiters to the guys running SkyRide or the gal washing down the stairway railings, everyone said hello with a smile and did their utmost to make sure all passengers were having a good time.