by Wallace Immen

Expanded dining and play options offer something for everyone on Carnival's fabulous new Fun Ship.

Sure, there’s a hairy chest contest going on around Carnival Vista’s pool now, if you’re into that sort of thing. But I’m happier to be web surfing in a shady clam-shell chair on the quiet Serenity deck.

This evening, I could join the beery crowd in a honky tonk piano lounge, or salsa with a mojito or two in a bar that makes me feel like I’m in Havana, or have an alchemist concoct a custom cocktail for me using fresh fruits and herbs.

Discovering your own kind of bliss is the theme of Carnival’s newest ship. Vista is the longest and widest Fun Ship yet, with so many options for every taste that it’s remarkably easy to find a place on board that seems designed exclusively for you. It’s got a pub that brews its own beer, the only IMAX theater at sea, a bicycle race course suspended high above the ship and entire decks of restaurants, clubs and shops.  

The 4,000 guest ship’s extra width allowed the designers to create patios outside many of the restaurants for al fresco dining in the evening and relaxing in the shade during the day. New technology makes quick, reliable Wi-Fi available anywhere on the ship at reasonable prices.   

The experience starts in the atrium lobby as we board the ship, where a centerpiece three-story tall video display presents realistic scenes that slowly evolve hour by hour. By day, it may be a coral reef complete with stingrays and sharks or a tropical forest of flowers and butterflies. By evening, the scene may transform into the starry sky or a huge martini with a skewer of olives on its edge.   

It’s a bit daunting to search for my suite in a corridor that’s so long you can’t quite see the end of it. Note to self: remember our suite is next to a mural of a palm tree that looks like all the other palm trees in the corridor.

Our standard balcony suite has more character, with pine panelled walls and furniture upholstered in rich blues and golds that give it a den-like ambience. It’s ample in size and there’s plenty of closet and drawer space and the only flaw from my wife’s point of view is that you’d need to be six feet tall to use the magnifying mirror in the bath.    

By day, the ship is designed to lure guests out for sun and activity, so the upper decks sport innovative attractions. The standout is Sky Ride, in which sleek pedal cars suspended on monorails loop high above the upper deck, giving guests roller coaster-like thrills along with stunning views. Other highlights are an exciting inner tube  ride though a spiraling flume and a large WaterWorks splash park featuring a “dump bucket” that will pour 300 gallons of water onto those who willingly stand underneath.

 The average age of Carnival’s cruise guests has always been among the youngest at sea and Vista’s expected to see as many as 1,400 kids on a cruise  during peak holiday and school break weeks from its home port of Miami. The ship has expanded programs for kids as young as 2 and teens up to 17 that  continue until 1 a.m. Vista’s catering to them with a deck of new Family Harbor suites designed to accommodate up to five guests (with a curtained area to provide a little privacy for Mom and Dad). Another new category on Vista is a deck of Havana Suites, decorated in lively tropical colors and featuring private patios whose furnishings include swing chairs for afternoon lounging.

It’s time to think about dinner. A hopping place for happy hour is Vista’s brew pub, the first on a North American cruise ship. The brew master is busily cooking up the next batch in copper kettles along the walls as you sample the three different styles, including a coffee-flavored Java stout.

Vista demonstrates a trend where cruise guests want more flexibility in their dining times. The two-level Horizons supper club, for guests who want to choose when to dine, is twice as large as Reflections, the old school dining room which has fixed table assignments and dining at 6 or 8:15.

The menus are varied and offer nightly chef’s offerings of local cuisine of the ports being visited. There’s always a “bet you’ve never tried this” appetizer choice that might be anything from alligator fritters to escargot along with familiar comfort foods. Dessert choices include Carnival’s signature melting chocolate cake, which is so popular the line serves a total of 20 million to guests on its 25 ships every year. There are also the classic Carnival touches like a maître d' who breaks into song and a mid-meal dance routine by the wait staff. It’s corny, but, hey, it’s fun.

For a minor additional cost, there are a variety of alternative restaurants to choose from, including Bonsai Sushi and the new Seafood Shack, that prepares fresh catches of the day to order.  At Bonsai, you can order a huge sampler boat of everything on the menu or the “let the chef entertain you” omakase dinner, which I found rivals the offerings of top Japanese restaurants ashore. 

There’s Ji Ji for Asian fusion and Cucina del Capitano for Italian home cooking, The Fahrenheit 555  steak house offers premium cuts of prime beef or lobster, enjoyed in a classic small restaurant ambiance.

No one just turns in after dinner. There’s too much to do: From the Liquid Lounge with has LED video screens and special effects that add dimensions to the production numbers, to a late night adult-only comedy show to night clubs where its dancing room only. Vista’s also got a huge casino, and fortunately a good ventilation system, because smoking is still allowed anywhere on the gambling floor.

 Expect to see many of the innovations on Vista appear on other ships in Carnival’s fleet. “We see this ship as a new chapter for Carnival,” says Carnival’s President Christine Duffy.

Vista demonstrates the increasing maturity of a line that grew from a party boat past to a cruise empire while providing ever wider options for an increasingly demanding audience.

If you can’t find fun on this ship, you probably can’t find fun anywhere.

Originally published in Vacation Magazine Fall/Winter 2016 issue.

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