We board the newly-launched Carnival Vista cruise ship for a voyage around the Mediterranean. "This is almost a 24/7 ship, with something on somewhere to keep insomniacs and the ever-hungry going..."
The newly launched Carnival Vista
Cruising’s not very cool, right? Wrong! Cruising is one of the UK’s fastest-growing travel sectors, with more and more ships setting sail and cruise companies keen to showcase their on-board family-friendly credentials. As first-timers we were excited to investigate how cruising could work as a family holiday, so we joined the latest luxury ship in Carnival’s fleet, the Carnival Vista, as it set off on its maiden voyage around the Mediterranean, from Spain to Greece in 10 days, via France, Italy, and Turkey.
The Carnival Vista has been designed to provide families with everything on board to make their experience a happy one, plus they've added some very new and exciting entertainment stations to help keep children (and adults) engaged during their stay. The whole ethos is one of connecting passengers with the sea, and they do it really cleverly with lots more outdoor spaces that allow visitors to eat, play, relax and remain active, while the ocean slides smoothly by.
A Family Harbor stateroom
We flew British Airways from a cold and grey Heathrow to sunny, warm Barcelona to join the ship, and were swiftly ushered aboard and shown to our stateroom, which came complete with large, clean and comfy bed, outside balcony, en suite bathroom and sofa, doubling as a child’s bed. Nautical-themed Family Harbor staterooms and suites are available too, sleeping up to four or five, with a separate space for children and additional bathroom and storage areas. Plus you get exclusive access to the secluded Family Harbor Lounge, which includes complimentary drinks, breakfast, cookies and snacks, plus TV and board game entertainment.
The Carnival Vista seems enormous up close, and finding your way around certainly takes a few days. But there are lots of lifts and maps, and a daily FunTimes news bulletin delivered to your cabin that tells you what’s on, and where. And my goodness, is there lots on! You could just stay on board and be entertained 24/7, without ever getting off to visit all the exciting destinations along the way. Which would be a shame, because the destinations are first class, and have lots to offer children - leaning tower of Pisa anyone, Roman fighting arena the Colisseum, the Vesuvius volcano, or Ephesus - one of the seven wonders of the ancient world? We loved our days out in Provence, Rome and Sorrento, but there are lots more excursions to choose from, both long and short.
Green eggs and ham at the Dr Seuss breakfast!
But let’s start with the most important people to please – your children, because as every parent knows, if your children are happy on holiday, then you’re (generally) happy on holiday. Younger guests can start the day with as much breakfast as they can eat at the Lido Marketplace buffet, where there’s everything on offer from cereals, eggs, toast, continental breads, ham and cheese, to traditional English; plus fruit, omelettes (made to order), pancakes, maple syrup and bacon, with much, much more in between. Or you can pay extra to eat in various other restaurants on board, plus on certain ‘at sea’ days there’s a brilliant Dr Seuss children’s breakfast, with music, decorated tables, guest characters, photo opportunities and, naturally, green eggs and ham on the menu! We popped our head round the door, in the interests of research (naturally!) and found lots of happy youngsters and staff enjoying themselves with the Cat in the Hat and friends.
After breakfast there’s a choice of going along to Camp Ocean, the dedicated children's entertainment area filled with age-appropriate experiences and activities, from arts and crafts, outdoor play areas and chillout spaces for older travellers. There are three Kids Clubs: Penguins (2-5y), Stingrays (6-8y) or Sharks (9-11) or children can choose to stay as a family and take a turn around the deck and pop in to mini golf, the Lido pool, the new WaterWorks aqua park with slides a WaterDrencher and smaller children's area, and/or the brand new SkyRide (essentially an 800ft long aerial pedal ride around and suspended 150ft above the sea – thrilling, and completely safe!), or the SkyCourse 270ft harness rope trail and the onboard IMAX Theatre screen. And that’s just the morning!
Various complimentary ice cream (Cherry on Top) and soft drink stations will keep them fuelled, before maybe lunch at Pizzeria Del Capitano (open 24/7) or Guy Fieri’s Burger Joint (both highly recommended), followed by hanging out in SportSquare for fun and recreation in the afternoon (or more swimming, sliding, riding, playing). In fact there’s so much to do that they will barely notice the scenery and sea gliding by. After dinner there are three shows to choose from with dancing, music, comedy, and magic, plus a 5D Thrill Theatre showing family movies, the Warehouse games hub, or the outdoor Lido screen and Hasbro, The Game Show evening entertainment.
Fully staffed Kids Clubs are available
That’s your children sorted, then. Happy, entertained, fed and watered. Plus, they get to experience a different part of the world every day. All good.
But does a cruise work for parents, too? My view is that it does, particularly if your children are slightly older (maybe from 2 years minimum). Cruise ships are not particularly set up for babies, with no crèches or baby sitting services that we could see. But for pre-schoolers and up, they provide the perfect combination of an all-inclusive (almost) activity holiday and floating hotel. So, apart from knowing your offspring are bound to find something entertaining to do, what does a cruise ship like Carnival Vista offer for adults?
The exclusive adults-only Serenity sundeck
How about an exclusive, adults-only luxury sun deck called Serenity, complete with drinks, Fresh Creations salad bar, sunbeds, hot tubs and glorious sea views? Or a variety of bars, from the Alchemy cocktail bar to the after-hours Piano Bar, via the RedFrog pub (complete with on board brewery!), and the late night live salsa-sounds of the Havana Bar? Or trips to, and walking tours, of the places you sail to, like Provence, Pisa, Florence, Rome, Sorrento, and ancient sites in Crete, Rhodes, Athens and Ephesus? All extra (and quite expensive for a whole family) but with an English-speaking tour guide and coaches laid on to/from the ship.
And perhaps you’d prefer to park your darling children at the IMAX cinema, or in a children’s club and enjoy a special meal, just the two of you? No problem - just choose whether you fancy Italian at the Cucina del Capitano, Japanese at the Bonsai Sushi, surf and turf at the fantastic Fahrenheit555 Steakhouse, a taste of the Orient at the Ji Ji Asian Kitchen, or the Seafood Shack for a quick fishy snack. Meals at these restaurants are charged over and above your inclusive meals, but the quality and choice at each makes it well worth treating yourselves.
Carnival Vista includes an on board IMAX cinema
And if you’re both bored with eating, drinking and culture then there’s always on board bingo, the casino, live shows, quizzes, dance classes, comedy, music and a movie! This is almost a 24/7 ship, with something on somewhere to keep insomniacs and the ever-hungry going.
Oh, and there’s a spa. Of course, there’s a spa. The Cloud 9 Spa, adults only, and complete with a choice of bookable massages, facials, and various aromatherapy experiences.
The evening entertainment is first class
As a family holiday, what was our verdict? As cruise novices we were more impressed than we thought we would be – cruising has definitely come a long way from the rather formal, Port Out Starboard Home, Captain’s table kind of image we were expecting. Cruise ships now are dynamic, fun, giant leviathons of the oceans, offering a first class sailing experience with everything put on to make your trip a memorable one. And aside from the fact that you are essentially on a floating all-inclusive hotel, you get to wake up in a different port and country every morning! How good is that? You can stay on board (the ship is much quieter on port days), or get off and go exploring as the mood takes you. Carnival Vista will be sailing to lots of different ports in the Mediterranean this summer, so go online and see which route takes your fancy.
The ever-changing DreamScape installations are magical!
Extras like speciality dining and cocktails plus excursions can all add to your spend. But hey – you’re on holiday! The Carnival Vista’s Med cruise is a great one to try for a first-time family – I’m pretty sure your children will think it’s the best holiday ever. After October the Carnival Vista will relocate to Miami to begin touring the Caribbean from November 2016 onwards - which will mean a longer flight time, but will possibly mean a warmer climate and smoother sail! Either way, whether you choose the Med or the Caribbean, we think you'll love cruising.
(Note: We really ought to give a shout out to all the wonderful, friendly and helpful staff on board, and their amazing 'Towel Art' skills - we came back to a different 'animal' on our bed each evening!)
Cruising makes a great family holiday for all generations
Carnival Vista sails to various ports around the Mediterranean this summer only, from November 2016 it will relocate to begin cruising the Caribbean.
Prices per person for a family of four on the Carnival Vista 8 Day Europe cruise, beginning in Barcelona on 1 July, average from £837 per person. Flights and excursions are extra.
For more information visit carnival.co.uk
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