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Review - Carnival Horizon 8-1-21 to 8-7-21 Miami, Amber Cove, Half Moon Cay, Bimini


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Day 1 – Aug 1 (Sunday)

 

Port of Miami was a nightmare.  We left the car at the hotel and took an Uber to the port.  Uber driver missed the drop off so we had to circle but that was not too bad.  Unfortunately it let us see the long line waiting to go in.  We had an appt for 11:30 and got in line at 11:15.  Porters were there taking luggage which was then piled up all over the place.  Some in carts, some not.  The line was very long (see photos) and in the Miami muggy noon heat, it was not a happy place.  Add to that the fact were was told to wear masks and it did not get better.  Porters were telling people who asked that the line must just people lost so many people, me included, walked to the front to ask Carnival personnel if there was somewhere else we were supposed to be.  Carnival workers were very nice about it and explained that the line was correct.  We were in that line for about 45 minutes.  Then we entered the terminal to, yep, another line.  That one took only about 15 minutes to be directed to Carnival workers who were confirming COVID vaccination and health screening questions.  Then security which was the fastest part.  Then we walked a ways to get to the terminal part where we waited in, another line!  Yeah.  That one was pretty short though and we were directed to a check-in agent.  We had done the pre-check in so it went really fast and we were off to another line where they scanned us for temperature then it was on to the ship. 

 

First time on Horizon and it is BIG.  Almost twice the size of the Carnival ships we have sailed in the past but it is very well laid out.  I stopped by Guest Services while the line was short (although welcoming staff recommended I wait until we were underway when they said the lines would be shorter but I knew that was a complete lie).  Guest services were extremely nice and helpful and arranged for us to have a fan and extension cord in our room.  Overall, staff were extremely polite and pleasant the whole cruise although they seldom gave a correct answer the first time. 

 

We went to the Pig and Anchor.  At the entrance, I asked the staffer where the buffet was located and she was insistent that it was on the 10th deck (Pig and Anchor is 5th Deck) so I just gave up and walked through.  Found the buffet on the far side just outside the restaurant on the desk.  It was delicious and free and they had BBQ pork, BBQ beef, chicken and sausage.  Good beans and mac and cheese too.  Saw some people ordering in Pig and Anchor since no one told them there was a free sample buffet right outside so they paid for a meal that should have been free.  Beware. Then we headed up to sample the Lido Buffet and look around.  Lido Buffet was very good and varied.  All dishes had distinctive flavors and were far better than normal buffet meals. 

 

About 1:30 we headed down to our cabin and the key cards were there.  A little disappointed in the cabin because there was no chair or sofa or anything other than a stool and a bed.  2 closets instead of the normal 4 we were used to.  Bigger TV than other ships though.   Went back out to wander some more and when we came back, luggage was in the room so we unpacked.  Met out cabin steward, Aldrin.  He was very nice and arranged to get us some extra pillows and was anxious to see if there was anything we needed.  They are only doing cleaning once a day so he asked if we wanted morning (9-12) or evening (6-9).  Since I hoped to be sleeping late, I opted for evening. 

 

We have late seating in dining room.  No issues getting in and finding out table.  Waiters were nice and the food was good.  Only issue was that the show started at 9:30 and there was only 1 show (not an early one and late one).  Dining at 8:15l (really 8:30) does not leave a lot of margin for making it to the show so we had to miss dessert.  Show was welcome aboard with our cruise director (Donkey) and it was way too long and boring so we left.  He definitely likes the sound of his own voice. 

 

Day 2 – Monday (August 2) – At Sea

 

Slept late.  DW went up on deck to sunbathe.  Bed was comfortable and good pillows and ship hardly feels like it is moving. 

 

I ate in the Mongolian Wok (the JiJi Asian restaurant serves Mongolian Wok for lunch complimentary)j and the Captains Pasta (the Cucino del Capitano serves a pasta meal complimentary for lunch).   Both have you select what you want from a pick protein, pick sauce, pick noodles paper sheet and the server takes it up.  Had Mongolian Wok on a previous cruise where everyone stood in line and ordered and this was a much better method.  Mongolian Wok was incredibly good.  Although they only had Chicken, Pork or Calamari (beef was crossed out due to lack of beef) it was fabulous.  The Captain’s Pasta was good (had linguini with Bolognese and Italian sausage) but Mongolian Wok was better.  I could not wait for a chance to eat the Wok again. 

 

Restful day watching movies on my computer in the Library, playing in the casino and just people watching.  DW loved just laying out.  Pools were not crowded and plenty of deck chairs.  Dinner was elegant so we got dressed up and asked our wait staff (8:15 seating) to please help us make the 9:30 show in the lounge.  They did it with time to spare.   It was prime rib and lobster night. 

 

Went to the IMAX theater to see “Snake Eyes”.  Awesome theater and good movie.  I see they are playing The Suicide Squad on its opening day so I will be back for that!

 

Show was the Playlist players doing “Soulbound”, a Motown mainly show based on a Louisiana Voodoo premise.  I loved it.  DW did not like the singers.  We both agreed that the special effects and especially the new backdrop which had people and things going into the screen or coming out of the screen was terrific.  Crowded show but likely due there only being 1 show for the whole ship. 

 

Day 3 – Tuesday (August 3) – Amber Cove

 

We booked the Sightseeing and Shopping excursion through the ship ($40 each).  We had never been to Amber Cove before or the Dominican Republic.  Disembarking was each and ship was docked at a pier so no tendering.  The first thing to note is that the pier is very long and L shaped.  Basically I estimate each part of the L is about 2 ship lengths which is a very long walk.  There are pedicabs available for hire (no set fee but tips are encouraged).  We walked it but agreed we would take a pedicab back. 

 

Amber Cove is a made port.  It immediately reminded me of Riviera Maya in Mexico.  A port created for cruise ships.  Unlike Riviera Maya though there is no nearby small village or town.  The nearest town/city is Puerto Plata and it is about a 15-20 minute drive to the outskirts.  More about that later. The Amber Cove area is closed to anyone but cruise passengers and port employees.  There are a number of tourist shops (think “airport shops” and such) as well as bars and pools.  NOTE that there is Free WiFi available at the shops!  You find the zone where your exclusion is to meet and wait.   We were required to wear masks the entire time except when actively eating or drinking.  When the guide says it is time to go, he walks you through the rest of the port shopping area to a taxi area.  There were a few taxis there but nothing like at other ports.  There were car rental places too.  We were loaded onto a nice bus and saw people getting on the “Wild Truck” and other executions.

 

Our guide was named Marino and he liked the sound of his own voice.  Although sometimes he gave interesting or useful information, most of the time he was making very unfunny jokes (example – “what do you call two birds on a branch?  A couple” – that is what I mean but not funny).  The traffic was unbelievable.  Bumper to bumper with large trucks down to motorcycles.  Everyone just weaving in and our and blowing horns.  Combined with the fact that people were parked on the side of already narrow roads it is not a place anyone but a local should drive.  It took us quite a while to get to the first stop because we have to navigate streets to get pointed in the correct direction since many streets are one way (but not marked).   Meanwhile motorcycles would buzz by us on either side and intersections were a nightmare.  Again, if you are thinking of renting a car and driving yourself around, please do not.  We noticed that most vacant spots were covered with trash and discarded bottles or such.  All signs were in Spanish only with no English translations for the most part. 

 

Our first stop was “Carmen’s Factory Souvenir Shop” which was billed as a Larimar factory.  Wrong.  It was just a tourist gift shop for Larimar (a very pretty blue stone unique to DR) where we heard about a 3 minute speech about Larimar then were led into a gift shop with employees ready to put the hard sell on everyone.  We were locked in with our bus just outside and Marino guarding the door while each employee harangued and badgered us to buy these very special necklaces and rings.  Typical haggling where they start really high and keep dropping no matter how many times you tell them you are not interested.  It made me feel like we were paying for the right to be captive sale targets. 

 

Finally we left there to go to the Rum Factory.  At least this place was nicer and cooler.  There was a short film about Macroix Rum and then we were led to a tasting room where we were given free samples of all of their rums (about 4 and then 4 more flavored rums).  They were very nice, not pushy and the rum was good.  Please note that it was not a shot of rum and rather little bit so no one would be getting drunk.  They would have given you a bigger taste if you asked I think.  Then across the road was the gift shop where they had rums (and other liquors) on sale for a good price.  This was more like what I was expecting. 

 

Then it was more navigating the narrow streets to another gift shop.  I knew we were in a tourist area because there were signs in English and there were police and military guards to ensure no one went missing.  Another tourist trap of trinkets probably made in China.  Very hot and Marino kept us here way too long.  He said that they had added two new stops which were Pink Street and Umbrella Street.  Sounded interesting but it is not.  Pink Street was an alley, no stores or anything, that was painted pink.  That is it.  Someone painted an alley pink and then called it a tourist attraction.  Down the road was Umbrella Street.  When I saw that all the signs were in English only, I knew it was not going to be much.  It was a short narrow street, blocked off to vehicle traffic, one short block long with about 8 shops total.  Selling coffee and trinkets.   Military and police at either end to ensure no bad guys bothered people (but of course street hawkers were allowed).  It is good that police and military were there and they were very nice and polite and desired to be helpful.  Since Tourism is their major support, it is smart to protect the tourists and try to ensure their safety but it also ensures you will not get the real flavor for Puerto Plata.  It also indicated that if I decided to strike out on my own rather than an organized tour, I would probably have trouble (which would be my own fault for not staying in the safe zones).  After that long period of being targets, we went to the main plaza where the city hall and courthouse were.  It was pretty and HOT with little shade but there was a section selling pina coladas and snacks.  There was a general store that had no English signs where they had snacks, drinks, refrigerators, stoves, furniture, etc and DW and I were able to get Dasani 1 liter (33 ounces) bottles of nice cold water for the cost of 2 for $1.  That was really nice and welcome!

 

Then we headed for the Fort as our final stop since the Amber Museum (as well as the big statute of Jesus and the cable cars) was closed.  Admission to the Fort was not include and DW and I were tired so stayed on the bus.  Others said it was very nice and we thought it was beautiful from the outside.  Watching our fellow passengers get off the bus though reminded me of being on the beach and throwing a bag of chips onto the beach.  Seagulls would swoop in and have a frenzy.  So did the hawkers swoop in on the passengers.  Nice and police but doing their jobs. 

 

There were at least 3 tours from the ship that included similar things.  Top 10 things was one and Mountainview and City Sights was another.  We saw the people from those excursions at our stops so I doubt they did or saw much different than we did.  With the cable cars and Amber Museum closed, I am glad we took the cheaper option.  There are likely independent tours available, and we saw some, but they cannot be much different.  In Vegas and places, they pay big gambles to come to gamble.  Here I felt like we were paying for the privilege of being swarmed by hawkers.  I would not get off the boat in Amber Cove again or if I did, I would not go further than the port area and that far just to use free WiFi.   

 

Day 4 – Wednesday (August 4) – At Sea

 

A great restful day.  Played Trivia in the Ocean Plaza, watched movies on my computer, ate at the Wok again and just relaxed.  DW read and napped.  Dinner was good and we were excited for the show, Celestial Strings featuring the Sunny Girls Trio and the Playlist players.  The Sunny Girls Trio was 3 girls from Russia (or similar counties) who play the violin but they are terrific.  It is fun to watch and fun to listen to.  Unfortunately, the show and the Playlist players were awful.  It was just bad and I would have rather just listened to the Sunny Girls play. 

 

Day 4 – Thursday (August 5) – Half Moon Cay

 

There was some confusion about the water taxis because the printed material talked about time but the tickets were for zones.  You can read my post about Things I Wish I had Known about Horizon if you want more details about it.  Bottom line, by 10:30 AM, all zones had been called.  We had breakfast and headed to HMC.  DW loves the beach and said the water was beyond perfect.  Clear and the perfect temperature.  She wanted to stay in it forever.  I dislike sand so walked around a bit, went to the Island Barbeque (or cook out as we call it in the South since BBQ is only for pulled pork).  Food was plentiful and good and island was pretty.  No phone service or internet as an FYI  I went back to the ship (caught the Wok before it closed) and relaxed in the AC because the island was hot!  Good dinner and restful day.  Unfortunately, the show that night was the Playlist players who were once again very bad with a “Roaring 20s” show that was in the style of the 1920s with some modern pop songs.  Song selection was awful and overall just a really bad show. 

 

Day 5 – Friday (August 6) – Bimini

 

After being hot on previous shore trips and having to wear a mask and the advice of other cruises on the CruiseCritic board that most things in Bimini were closed, I opted to stay on the ship and continue my practice of relaxing, watching movies and eating at the Wok.  DW went ashore though.  There was a free tram that took her around some and took her to the Hilton.  She said it was a nice resort and although there was free WiFi there, she could not get anywhere on it for whatever that is worth.  She felt it was a beautiful place but did not go into the town.  

 

I went to see The Suicide Squad in the IMAX.  Again, great theater and it was a good movie so it was fun to see it in IMAX for less than what it would have cost me on land. 

 

There was nothing really enticing on the main dining menu so we opted to go to the Steakhouse.  We each had the Waygu beef and it was good, as was everything else, but the service was absolutely awful.  The restaurant was at about 1/3 capacity at most and often less than that with numerous wait staff wandering about but getting a water refill, salt and pepper or anything else was very difficult.  Our server was terrible and unhelpful.  Dessert was cheesecake and it was delicious. 

 

The show was called “One Night Only” and it did not have the Playlist players but did have the other musicians from the ship.  It was very good and lively and we enjoyed it a great deal.  Playlist really needs to work on things. 

 

Day 6 – Saturday (August 7) Miami and disembarkation

 

We opted to carry our luggage off rather than check them as we usually do.  It made things much quicker and I will do that in the future.  We had to wear masks but disembarking was very smooth and easy.  Getting through customs was as simple as pulling down our masks, looking at a screen that used facial recognition and we were done.  Barely even a line.  We parked at our hotel from Saturday night so got a Lyft back to the hotel and were on our way home. 

 

For those curious about parking, it was $5 per day at the hotel (so $30) and a $21 Uber/Lyft ride each way for a total of about $72 for our car to be safe and secure.  All of the cautions about parking at lots near the port that offered free shuttles had me scared and using those would have been $65-75, parking in the port would have been $132 so I am happy with $72. 

 

I have separate posts for “Things I wish I had known about Horizon” and for “Amber Cove” if you want more details.

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Thanks for your review.  I am not sure what I will do when I get to Amber Cove after visiting the DR at an all-inclusive resort I was not impressed at all.  I have really never been to a Caribbean country where are not very good at speaking English.  It made it very hard to communicate and from what you posted about the signs it must still be.  

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Thanks for your review. All those lines in the heat sound horrible.

 

Glad to hear they still have the Mongolian Wok. I have enjoyed that on our previous Carnival cruises. I thought I had read somewhere that they were doing away with it. Were the lines long for the Wok? I remember long lines in the past.

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I appreciate the review. Have you had any internet issues with watching on your own computer, etc.? Just wondering how good it is as it will be a first time for me to test/use my laptop on a cruise.

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2 hours ago, JaniceB said:

Thanks for your review.  I am not sure what I will do when I get to Amber Cove after visiting the DR at an all-inclusive resort I was not impressed at all.  I have really never been to a Caribbean country where are not very good at speaking English.  It made it very hard to communicate and from what you posted about the signs it must still be.  

Many were okay with English, especially when they dealt with tourists or were the military or police.  Street hawkers spoke it.  The bigger problem is that many will claim not to understand it as a way to keep you there longer or increase prices.  

 

Helpful tip - most places had that they accept credit cards.  I would get a price and then go to pay with the credit card.  They would end up offering a still lower price if I would pay in cash.  Or I would offer to pay cash if they came down again.  I never actually used the card since they always came down and absolutely wanted the cash instead of the easily tracked credit cards (and its attendant fees).

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1 hour ago, MrsRissB said:

I appreciate the review. Have you had any internet issues with watching on your own computer, etc.? Just wondering how good it is as it will be a first time for me to test/use my laptop on a cruise.

 

I did not use the Ship's internet.  I downloaded many things before the cruise.  My hard drive was large enough it was no problem but you can also fill up some flash drives, SD cards, etc. to use.  I also had a spare 1 TB external hard drive I could have used for even more movies and TV series.  I had quite a good time figuring what all I could take to entertain myself. 

 

Helpful Tip - I also ordered a European plug adapter so I could plug in my laptop outside of the cabin.  Around the ship, there were no US plus (120 volt) but numerous 220V European plugs (2 long prongs).  I was going to get a converter but at someone's advice I checked and found that most of my things, especially laptop and power for CPAP, would work on 220 so no converter was necessary.  Here is a link to a great adapter (NOTE it is NOT a converter so do not plug anything that does not or cannot accept 220V!)  https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07Z47B5R4/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o03_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1  

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38 minutes ago, anyone4cruisin said:

Thanks for the review. Did you have to wear masks outdoors at Half Moon Cay?

 

We had to wear masks on the tender/taxi/shuttle (whatever) from the boat to the island but once on the island, you were free to remove them if you wished.  I saw very few still wearing a mask. 

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On 8/9/2021 at 1:33 PM, ontheweb said:

Thanks for your review. All those lines in the heat sound horrible.

 

Glad to hear they still have the Mongolian Wok. I have enjoyed that on our previous Carnival cruises. I thought I had read somewhere that they were doing away with it. Were the lines long for the Wok? I remember long lines in the past.

On the Horizon there is no Mongolian Wok.  It is located on the deck above Lido inside Jiji's at lunchtime.  It's  a separate sit down place and you check off on a paper menu what you want instead of standing in line cafeteria style and pointing to the items you want.

Across the hall is Cucina del Capitano who has a similar set up with different pastas/proteins/veggies.

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11 minutes ago, SNJCruisers said:

On the Horizon there is no Mongolian Wok.  It is located on the deck above Lido inside Jiji's at lunchtime.  It's  a separate sit down place and you check off on a paper menu what you want instead of standing in line cafeteria style and pointing to the items you want.

Across the hall is Cucina del Capitano who has a similar set up with different pastas/proteins/veggies.

Thanks, that is interesting. It seems a very neat solution to the usual long line at the Mongolian Wok. Do you think a lot of passengers did not realize it was there, or was it pretty much found by all who wanted to find it?

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1 hour ago, ontheweb said:

Thanks, that is interesting. It seems a very neat solution to the usual long line at the Mongolian Wok. Do you think a lot of passengers did not realize it was there, or was it pretty much found by all who wanted to find it?

It is a great spot that is located on the 3 Vista Class ship's.  The only problem with Cucina is that it's below the basketball court and at lunchtime you hear the thump of the ball.  Similar to the old Seafood place one deck up on some of the Conquest Class ships, unless you know about it, some first time cruisers won't even know it's there. 

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19 minutes ago, SNJCruisers said:

It is a great spot that is located on the 3 Vista Class ship's.  The only problem with Cucina is that it's below the basketball court and at lunchtime you hear the thump of the ball.  Similar to the old Seafood place one deck up on some of the Conquest Class ships, unless you know about it, some first time cruisers won't even know it's there. 

I agree with you that cruise passengers new to Carnival will probably be less likely to now find or eat from the Mongolian Wok.

 

On my last Carnival cruise, there was one poor crew member whose job at a certain time was to get at the end of the Mongolian Wok line and not allow anyone else to join the line. I felt sorry for him.😢

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16 hours ago, ninjacat123 said:

Did your DW find the free shuttle from the Bimini port into town easy to use?  Did she get on right away or have to wait?  TIA and great review!!

She got on right away and found it very nice (but hot, not air conditioned) and a good experience to see a little bit of the island.  Note that she did not get off the boat until an hour or so after the rush to get off. 

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16 hours ago, SNJCruisers said:

On the Horizon there is no Mongolian Wok.  It is located on the deck above Lido inside Jiji's at lunchtime.  It's  a separate sit down place and you check off on a paper menu what you want instead of standing in line cafeteria style and pointing to the items you want.

Across the hall is Cucina del Capitano who has a similar set up with different pastas/proteins/veggies.

 

I thought I had explained that several times.  At lunch, JiJi Asian is referred to as the Mongolian Wok and Cucina del Capitano is referred to as The Captain's Pasta Bar.

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16 hours ago, ontheweb said:

Thanks, that is interesting. It seems a very neat solution to the usual long line at the Mongolian Wok. Do you think a lot of passengers did not realize it was there, or was it pretty much found by all who wanted to find it?

It is definitely not made very clear and I knew about it only because I found out about it on the Carnival Sunshine (that JiJi Asian does a lunch called Mongolian Wok).  On Sunshine there was a long line because they did not use the paper ordering system.  Horizon was much better and easier.  On Horizon, The JiJi Asian and Cucina del Capitano are both on the 11th deck by themselves accessible by elevator or a stairway out of the main Lido buffet so easy to miss.  

 

What continued to surprise me is that so many people did not know about the free buffet for lunch at the Pig and Anchor.  It is outside (door through the restaurant onto the outside deck on Deck 5).  The problem is that people ask the crew and will be told the buffet is on Lido (Deck 10).  That is true (the Marketplace buffet is on Deck 10) but not at all what they are asking.  That happens a lot with many topics.  People then sit down and order from the pay menu and pay for a meal that would have been free if they had known.  You can bring your buffet plate back into the inside air conditioned area and it is fine.  

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14 hours ago, SNJCruisers said:

Very surprised that you did not like Celestrial Strings.  Having been on 20 Carnival cruises since 1986,  think it's the best show I've seen on the line. 

I did love the moving backdrop and it might have been just our Playlist players.  The Sunny Girls trio was awesome.  Maybe it is just personal preferences similar to how I liked the 1st night show and my wife did not.  I usually look forward to the Playlist shows but for me, this was one of the worst.  I am glad to hear you enjoyed it though.  Happy Cruisin

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Great review!  I was reading somewhere that the Bahamas are requiring a health travel visa.  Did your wife need to get one to visit Bimini?  I haven't seen anything about it on the Carnival website.

 

Thanks,

Sandy

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Heard about that too and there is lots of confusion because the rules for a cruise FROM a US port are different than one that does not originate from the continental US.  
 

short answer is we needed no Visas or other documents at any port, including Bimini.  Getting on and off was simple, a matter of showing your sign and sail card.  We were vaccinated so rules for non-vaccinated or from non-US origin ports are different.  If you are a US citizen, vaccinated, leaving from a US port, you are fine.  

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