Arrival at the Port/terminal facilities: Grade B. We arrived about 1030 am after taking a free rental car shuttle from the port (we drove from our home that morning in a rental). The Port itself is very busy but once inside the terminal, the new Carnival check-in process where they scan your passport upon entering the terminal and your boarding pass is your “room key” until picking up your permanent key outside your cabin is slick and flawless. My 2 bottles of wine and 2 cases of Pepsi sailed through without any problem and no corkage fee on the wine! We waited in the priority area which had a cooler of lemonade. We began boarding about 1130 which was quick and easy. There are vending machines in the terminal inside the secure area that are reasonable (snacks $1.25 and sodas $2) so you can take your drink / snacks on board.
Overall; Grade A. The ship itself is nearly new, easy to navigate, and the color scheme and decor are neutral earth tones with a modern feel. Some of the lines can get long during peak times at some of the food areas (pig and anchor, blue iguana, pasta bar, Mongolian, and deli), but overall passenger flow was good. The crew was friendly and professional. Some specific comments:
CABINS: Grade B. We had an inside cabin on deck 1 (we booked three days prior with only two cabins left). I don't think we have ever been on that low of a deck which wasn't bad since all the activities are on decks 3-5 (except lido on deck 10), and it was very quiet. The one downside being on the lowest deck fwd was a frequent shudder as if the bow hit a large wave Rooms were large, the shower worked well, the AC system worked well, and beds were very comfortable, and there was plenty of storage space. Note the room service default must be no evening turn-down service. We've always been asked on past carnival ships if we wanted evening turn down service which we always decline, so the fact it wasn't offered was no big deal. We also had a problem getting our funtimes delivered each evening which we have never experienced--on 3 of the 7 nights, it was never delivered and only arrived at various times the next morning. I began to have a theory that either they put all the new room stewards, or possibly those on probation, on deck one where all the “low rent” cruise passengers are cabined!
POWER OUTLETS Grade C:. There are two 110 outlets, one european style outlet and two USB ports all above the desk. Surprisingly for a new ship there are no USB ports near the bed(s)
REFRIGERATOR Grade A. This is the first refrigerator we've had in awhile that did not have mini bar items making you remove all the items to put your own sodas in. The refrigerator worked good and kept items very cold (which hasn't always been the case on recent cruise ships)
TV:. Grade C (for Republicans) Grade B (for Democrats). I normally give grades of F and D since most carnival ships have the lousy no name TV's with remotes that seem to have a mind of their own and that use the older menu interface. On the horizon, it's a complete 180--the TV's are 40” (possibly 32”) LG flat panels, the remotes work well, and the menu interface is the new style where you can view your pictures, see your account activity, etc. The channel lineup is still lousy though. The choice of channels leaves conservatives with a migraine after having to watch a week of CNN as your only news choice. (There is Headline News to watch in the morning which is good) Not sure when Carnival did away with its networks (abc, CBS, nbc) but they are sorely missed.
Gym / track: grade A. The track goes around the back of the ship to about mid ship. 7 times around is one mile. It was rarely crowded but very windy most of the time. The gym was one of the larger gyms I’ve seen and had plenty of equipment that was brand new and rarely busy in the morning (the photo was taken at 7am on a port day)
Overall Grade A. Overall I think Carnival has an excellent food and dining operation Their lunch offerings and variety are the best at sea in my opinion and the evening dinners are on par with all the other mass mainstream cruise operators. Specific venues:
GUYS PIG & ANCHOR BBQ: Grade B I began my cruise on embarkation day by visiting the pig and anchor on deck 5 which opens at 1130 on embarkation day. The food was excellent and may be the best BBQ at sea; however I downgraded my overall grade to a B. The one port day it was open it was not as good--both the beef and pork were dry and the sauces were very good (I was first one in line so I would recommend waiting 30 minutes or so if you don't mind waiting in line a bit). I ate there 4 times for lunch--2 were excellent, one was good, and the one I just described was just average. NOTE:. PIG and anchor is only open on embarkation and sea days EXCEPT if you have a port day that ports after the lunch hour. On our itinerary we didn't arrive arrive San Juan until 1:15pm so the pig and anchor was open that day. The lines on embarkation day were short, but the sea days the lines were VERY LONG so go early! (There was a minimal line on the San Juan port day because I don't think many people knew it was open) Also, the Pig & Anchor brewhouse turns in to a specialty restaurant in the evenings (see the photo below for the menu).
GUYS BURGER JOINT: Grade A. I then headed up to guys burger joint after BBQ on embarkation day. It was not too crowded yet and was quickly served what I consider the best burgers being served on the seven seas. The lines were generally longest when it first opened and about 3pm or so when all aboard time was 4ish but quickly become short because of how efficient the burgers are served.
GARDEN BUFFET: Grade C. On embarkation day after hitting the guy fieri's venues, I then meet my wife in the garden buffet and sampled several items which were all hot. The line at the first buffet line after entering from the pool area was moderate to long, but the best kept secret is to keep walking to the aft buffet because no one was there and no lines. I give the garden buffet a grade of C for two primary reasons: 1. The lines tend to get long at peak times; and 2. The breakfast does not open until 7:30 on sea days which is late for early risers leading to a big line right at 7:30 when it does open. The lines on port days when it opens at 7:00 were much shorter but still a fair number of people especially for the omelet line (which I attributed to an older crowd coupled with return of standard Time the second night of our cruise and it was light by 0530 each morning). It generally started getting very busy around 8:00. Otherwise the food is on par with other cruise lines.
Self serve beer taps grade 😄 there are four self serve beer taps near the back of the garden Buffett. They are all .29 cents an ounce. On one side is Miller light and red frog red. On the other side is red frog and dos equis. I love the self serve beer taps and the only reason for the C grade is about half the time it was a lot of foam
DELI. Grade B. The sandwiches are good and freshly made to your liking which would have received a grade of A except I downgraded because the service can be described in three words: SLOW, SLOWER, and SLOWEST, primarily due to only one guy making the sandwiches
MONGOLIAN WOK: Grade A. Great mongolian / Asian food. On the Horizon it’s up on deck 11 with the pasta bar (which is the Cucina Capitano Italian Specialty restaurant in the evening) and you place your order and receive a pager which works great compared to the older system of standing in line and all the smoke from the wok blows in your face making you cough!
PIZZA: Grade B. The pizza on Carnival is very tasty--fresh made in an electric grill that mimics wood fired. Lines can be a bit long at peak times but it’s open 24x7.
BLUE IGUANA. Grade A. Another great Tex-Mex option with great tacos, burritos, and taco bowls. You can get shrimp tacos as well (although shrimp is not listed on the taco side it is available on the burrito side). Lines for both the tacos are normally short and fast but the line on the side for the burrito / salad bowl can get long during peak times.
PIG AND ANCHOR BREWHOUSE aka REDFROG PUB. Grade C on this ship (On the Vista I would give it an A) My wife and I headed to what we thought would be the redfrog pub on deck 5 but is the "Pig and Anchor Brewhouse" hoping it had half off happy hour on embarkation and port days like the redfrog on Carnival Vista did. Much to our chagrin and disappointment, no such luck on the horizon. Further disappointing was the lack of self serve beer taps like the Vista. If you want to drink Redfrog beer you'll have to go up to the self serve taps on 10 or order it at one of the bars.
MAIN DINING ROOM (MDR) Grade B I normally ask the waiter each evening what their best appetizer and entree are and if your waiter has been on the ship for any period of time, their recommendations are spot on. I even had a waiter on one cruise, with a good sense of humor, identify their WORST dishes and would bring one out for me at random to try just to prove it! I identify which items were recommended each evening
Day 1: waiter recommendation: strawberry bisque, Vietnamese roll, sweet and sour shrimp. My selections: Strawberry bisque: A this is like a strawberry smoothie that tastes more like a dessert than an appetizer but it's excellent whenever you choose to eat it. Sweet and sour shrimp grade B. This was very good. You'll want to order a second entree if very hungry.
DAY 2 (first formal night): waiter recommendation: lobster and prime rib.
My selections: Sicilian meatball soup grade A. prime rib and lobster Grade A. All of the items were excellent.
Day 4: Waiter Recommendation: Flatbread and Lamb Shank. My Selections: Flatbread Grade B; Lamb Shank Grade A: I’m not a big fan of lamb but this dish was excellent--extremely tender and great flavor.
Day 5: Waiter Recommendation: Seafood Newburg and Beef Wellington. My Selections: Bing Cherry Bisque Grade A (identical to the Strawberry Bisque except cherry flavored); Penne Siciliana (ordered as an appetizer) Grade A; Beef Wellington Grade A. All of these items were outstanding. A great evening menu.
DAY 6: Waiter Recommendation: Chicken Skewers; Penne Mariscos; Chicken Milanese. My Selections: Chicken Skewers Grade A; Steak & Cheddar Soup Grade B; Penne Mariscos (ordered as an appetizer) Grade C; Chicken Milanese Grade B.
Day 7 (2nd formal night): Waiter recommendations: Stuffed mushrooms, Filet, and Teriyaki Salmon Filet. My Selections: Stuffed mushrooms Grade A; Chesapeake crab cake Grade B; Grilled jumbo shrimp B; Filet Grade B (I had the $20 surcharge filet on a recent Carnival cruise which was better than the filet on this menu).
DAY 8:. Waiter recommendation: Prime rib; My Selections: Baked onion soup Grade B; Penne shrimp & bacon (ordered as an appetizer) Grade B; Prime Rib Grade A.
I won't provide any port reviews because I doubt they would be helpful to anyone. When our kids were younger and cruised with us we used to get off at every port and do an excursion, go to the beach, etc but now we generally stay on the ship and if we do get off, well walk around the town or cruise village or town, have a drink, and return in a couple hours. I will say we enjoyed this itinerary because San Juan, St Kitts, and St Maarten are all very nice and you're not accosted by tour operator etc when walking around.
FUN TIMES DAILYS
DAY 2 AT SEA
Day 3: GRAND TURK
DAY 4 SAN JUAN
DAY 5 ST KITTS:
DAY 6 ST MAARTEN
DAY 7 SEA DAY
DAY 8 SEA DAY
Overall grade B. Overall the entertainment was very good. On the plus side is the variety of options each night, the plethora of live music options, and all events start promptly on time. On the negative side, the playlist production shows in the main theater each evening are somewhat “cookie cutter” with the same group of singers and dancers doing each show--it’s a little like going to a MLB game and watching a game with all utility players and middle relievers--skilled and competent performers but not real exciting. Carnival is being outpaced in this area by the other lines with Broadway inspired shows where the cast is contracted only for that show and isn't later running the bingo or trivia games like you see on carnival. The performers themselves are very talented but when they have to do four different shows it's not going to compare to the other cruise lines who spend substantial sums to bring in Broadway shows, eg Jersey boys, Mama Mia, etc. (It's quite impressive that the performers on Carnival perform so well the choreography and singing for four different production shows!) The comedy shows in the punchliners were great--a lot of shows each night and they even flew in two new comedians mid cruise. Here’s are my comments on some specific entertainment:
Cruise director Mike Pack:. Grade A. Mike did a great job. He's a middle age guy from the UK that really did a nice job keeping the energy level up, was enthusiastic, articulate and seemed to like his job and genuinely likes interacting with the passengers. He was everywhere and his “signature” was giving hugs to all the passengers which came across as genuine affection for folks.
LIVE MUSIC: Grade A: The live music quality, variety, and quality is fantastic. We also greatly appreciated how Carnival publishes the lineup for the entire week outside of each venue. Here’s the lineup on the week.
Atrium Acts: Electric violins with new age, demage, and Owen Stephen: grade A. All these acts were excellent. New agen, a violin trio that plays modern hits on violin accompanied by recorded music, was our favorite. The atrium was our favorite pre-dinner venue.
SHOWTIME PLAYLIST PRODUCTION SHOWS IN THE LIQUID LOUNGE (MAIN THEATER):
Showtime Soulbound: grade C While a somewhat “typical” carnival dance and singing production show, this show was actually pretty good--it was high energy, and got the audience involved in singing clapping etc. If you like R&B hits from the 60s 70s and 80s you'll like the show. The pre-show activities, which started 15 minutes before Showtime, were entertaining too. Then the end of the show “spills over” into the atrium for a final two songs and passenger dancing etc. It was a good time and recommended. I liked it the best of the three showtime shows.
Showtime Amor Cubano. Grade 😄 this show was billed as the sounds of modern Latin America. It was another “typical” carnival production except a live orchestra accompanied the singers and dancers which always adds to any live theater show.
Showtime vintage pop. Grade C. The live orchestra playing in the show was the highlight for me but otherwise it was just average and on par with the other shows
Showtime celestial strings. Grade B. The CD was touting this all day as the best theater production show at sea exclaiming you could only see it on the horizon, and predicting it would win the cruise industry award for best new show. While I don't think I'd go that far, I would say it was the best of the four playlist production shows. The violin trio that played in the evenings were the featured musicians (hence the name celestial strings) but most of the time the violins were drowned out by the pre-recorded music and singing. Many times when the violinists were playing you couldn't even hear them.
Showtime Viva variety: Brent and Sarah non stop laugh riot. Grade A:. This is a married couple that does a comedy magic show. They were flown in to do this show so I'm not sure they perform on every horizon itinerary. They were very good and entertaining for the entire family. The show lasted approximately 40 minutes.
MISC ENTERTAINMENT EVENTS:
Clue: Grade B (for families) Grade D (for everyone else) Based on the board game clue, on the first night all the suspects (Mr Green, Ms peacock, colonel mustard etc) explain why they couldn't have been the one to commit the murder. The passengers are then to gather clues the rest of the cruise to figure out “who dunit” on the last night. I only saw one other event advertised to get a clue so if you do choose to participate, you have to pay close attention during the week where to get clues. I attended the last day (right before Bingo) when the murder was solved and from the hands that went up of passengers that participated, there were not a lot of passengers that partook during the week.
60 minutes to win it: grade F. Many of you have probably seen this show where contestants have to complete tasks in 60 seco day or less but this was not that show. Instead it was one member of the fun squad leading various contests with passengers like a scavenger hunt, a trivia type game etc. This is the second carnival Cruise in recent months that has done this--i'm not sure why except maybe carnival got in to a licensing dispute with the original creator of the 60 seconds or less game show and can no longer copy the model.
Hasbro the game show. Grade A (for families). This show is a lot of fun--especially for families with smaller kids. Two teams (teams are kids with one adult captains) compete in various Hasbro games on stage. Some of the kids say some really funny things and it's a fun one hour show
Dive in movies on the pool deck:. Grade A. On nice evenings it doesn't get much better sitting outside eating fresh popped popcorn (at the redfrog bar) and watching relatively new release movies. The breeze would show a matinee on port days and two in the evening at 7 and 930. All the chairs would normally fill up within 15 minutes after the movie starts so arrive early if you have more than 2 and want to sit together.
Park West art auctions:. They are no longer on the horizon. I wonder if this is the beginning of the end for park west's relationship with carnival? Instead, on the horizon they sell metal prints of photographs under carnivals “pixels” photo studio brand.
Egg drop event in the atrium: grade B:. This was very popular--probably 40 guests entered. It was a fun sea day event to kill some time. The crowds were big so arrive a few minutes early.
Battle of the Sexes Grade and Love and Marriage Shows: Grade C Both of these shows are usually entertaining and are heavily dependent on the team members and the CD for how entertaining they are.
COMEDY IN THE PUNCHLINERS:. The punchliners is always one of our favorite entertainment events. Couple things that may be helpful. All the shows started right on time and were finished in 30 minutes--every now and then a show may go 35 minutes but I think carnival must stress to the comedians to keep it to 30 minutes. The 530 family shows don't get too crowded but all the shows after 730 normally fill up. I'd recommend arriving at least 15 minutes early and if the line stretches back to the casino, don't worry--you'll still get in. We saw approximately twelve shows by four different comedians over the course of the cruise. We saw both the family and adult shows and my wife and I thought they were just OK--some of them were pretty funny and others were not quite our style of humor. Carnival does a great job of scheduling comedy at a variety of times to suit almost everyone.
DISEMBARKATION: Grade A. We did the self-assist early disembarkation for platinum guests. We received clearance right at 7:00 a.m. and we were out to the shuttle by 7:30.
CONCLUSION: Our cruise aboard the Carnival Horizon was a fantastic 8 day cruise and I think anyone who enjoys cruises would thoroughly enjoy the Horizon. I hope the above review helps you plan your vacation on the Horizon and you have a great time!