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Carnival Horizon Havana Style, 2/8/20-2/16/20

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Hey guys,


I'm Vasanthi, and my traveling partner is David.  We are 30-somethings from Maryland who have been on 5 cruises together.  We try to cruise once a year, and we really enjoy traveling this time of year.  It's something to look forward to after the holidays, and its the quiet time before our most important season of the year- baseball season. Also, the prices are usually pretty good, and the ships aren't as full as they are in the summer. 


We booked this cruise over a year out.  We had just gotten off an 8 day Southern cruise on the Sunshine, and knew we wanted to go back to Curacao.  We had a cruise planned for 2019 already which was alll ports (the Fascination out of San Juan) and figured this route would be very different- more sea days and a much newer ship.  I mention these 2 ships because I may draw some comparisons to them during this review- at least that's the plan in my head right now, I tend to get a bit wordy so it may not work out that way.


I'm not really going to go day by day, but I'll try to group topics together.  I'm not going to include pictures in this review (so my apologies if that's what you're looking for), but I'll try to be as detailed as possible and share our experiences.


So this cruise took us to Grand Turk, La Romana, Aruba, and Curacao.  Of these ports, only La Romana was new to us.  We were less than thrilled about having Curacao as the late port on this itinerary- we didn't dock until after lunch, but it was the sailing date that worked best for us, so we figured we'd just do things differently.




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Let's start with some pre-cruise planning and information.


The Horizon sails out of Miami.  We knew we wanted to spend a couple days in Miami, but we weren't really sure what we wanted to do.  Also, we didn't realize when we were booking, but we were sailing the week after the Super Bowl.  When we realized that, we figured hotel prices would still be higher (and they were).  We then had our fingers crossed that our NFL team would be in the Super Bowl..but yeah that didn't happen. 


In a previous Miami stay, we had stayed at the River Park Hotel.  That hotel is very dated and the reviews aren't great, but it was right in the downtown area.  We didn't really want to stay there again, but after looking at hotel prices, we thought maybe it wasn't so bad after all, and we'd book there.  Well it turned out that hotel was sold out months in advance so we needed a new plan.


We ended up going with the Hampton Inn and Suites in Brickell.  This hotel was decent- and the included breakfast was good enough.  Breakfast had make your own waffles, cheeses, meats, fruits, smoothies, yogurts, and the usual hotel breakfast foods- eggs, sausage/bacon, biscuits.  So lots to choose from.  Also, there was a Publix a short walk away, good for picking up drinks and snacks and things like that. 


We had 2 days to spend in Miami, and decided we'd go to Bayside and the beach on Thursday, and the aquarium and a boat tour on Friday.  About a week out, we started checking the weather, and it looked like both days were going to be rainy.  We had also considered a day trip to Key West, but decided against it because it would make for  a really long day on a bus.  Looking at the weather, we were happy we didn't.  When we got into Miami, we were able to check in to our hotel at 10 AM, and head on over to Bayside. A quick lunch at 5 Guys (WHICH SERVES ALCOHOL YAY) and we were just browsing and relaxing, and taking it easy.  We finally did head over to the beach and just walked along the water and enjoyed the warm-ish weather.  At some point, we stopped at a place for some Miami Vices.  Ocean Drive is expensive, so we were pretty happy with drinks at $10 a piece.  We walked to the south end of the beach, and there's a pier there.  There isn't much to do, but we were able to watch a Disney ship an a Carnival ship sail out and enjoy a pretty sunset.  We got back to the hotel fairly early, and walked over to Publix for an easy dinner.  Not exciting, but we were tired, and we knew the second we relaxed, we were both going to crash.  And yeah...that's pretty much what happened.  


So Friday morning, we woke up, and it was pouring rain.  We had pre-purchased aquarium tickets when they were on sale online, so we were feeling pretty good about our planning.  Here in Maryland, the aquarium is inside, so we were expecting the same.  We ubered over to the aquarium, and as we got there, I made the very sad discovery that it was in fact, mostly outside.  Our first stop was the gift shop to look for ponchos- but they were (obviously) expensive.  We thought about it for a minute, and realized WE"RE IN MIAMI AND IT'S STILL WARMER THAN HOME, so we wandered around in shorts, tshirts, and flip flops and had a great time.  Nothing was crowded, we got to talk to the people working at each exhibit and learn more about the animals, we got to spend as much time at each exhibit as we liked, and we were able to take some pictures without other peoples' heads in the way.  For me, my favorite part was the penguins.  If you have nice bright nail polish on and drag your hands on the glass, they will follow your hands allll over the exhibit.  We did ask one of the penguin-keepers if this was ok (we didn't want to torment the animals), and they said the penguins play almost like cats, they like bright things and it's fine. We probably spent a half day there, and left a little soggier than we liked but no big deal.


The night before, I realized I had forgotten my Fitbit charger.  In my world, this is a crisis.  I've been tracking my steps for years, and it's become important to me.  So I'm frantically looking for places to buy a new charger.  Best buy in Miami beach had them in stock, so we ubered over to solve my crisis.  If you never need this Best Buy, it's weird to get to.  We had to go up an elevator in a parking garage and walk through the garage- it's sort of nestled in the middle of the garage.  But, charger was procured and I was happy.


At this point, the rain had stopped but it really didn't look  like a great day for a boat tour.  So back to the beach  (since we were already close enough) we went.  We stopped for some Cuban food and then walked the beach some more.  We're Pokemon Go players, so we did some of that this day (if anyone cares, the pier at the end of of the beach is a great place to play).  By early evening this day, we were really ready to get on the ship.  Going out in South Beach didn't hold much interest to us, so we headed back to the hotel to hang out in the hot tub and relax.  It was a little cold for swimming, but the hot tub was nice.  We headed up to the room, got cleaned up and decided to look for food.  There is a taco place across from the hotel that looked good, but the line was out the door, so we decided to see what else we could find.  We found a pizza place a block over- not sure what it was called, but they advertised pizza with extra protien in the dough or something like that.  These are the biggest pieces of pizza i've ever see.  Each slice looked like 2 normal slices of pizza- I could barely finish a slice.  After that, we headed back to the room, and played on our phones a bit.  We figured the faster we went to bed, the faster the cruise would come (because that's how it works, right?).  So that was our exciting Friday night in Miami.


More to come...



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Ok let's talk about embark and debark.


When we picked the arrival appointment for this cruise, I made sure to log on as soon as it was available.  The earliest available was 12:30.  I was pretty worried about this.  Our past 2 cruises (out of San Juan and Port Canaveral), no one really cared about the arrival time, but from reading here, it seemed to have become somewhat more important in the past 2 years.  Last year, in San Juan, they did ask us what time we were supposed to arrive, but since we were early, we did stand in a longer line to board but still got on well before our arrival appointment.  We woke up on Saturday and were feeling like rule followers, so we decided to wait til closer to our appointment time to head to the port- we couldn't wait til 12:30, but figured we could wait til 11, check out and get an Uber around 11:30.  Well...9:30 rolls around and we see someone post in our Facebook group that they're on the way to the port- all ideas of rule following went out the window.  We were checked out and in an Uber by 9:50.  


There was an accident and some streets blocked off so we were caught in quite a bit of traffic getting to the port.  But we were at the port by probably around 10:45.  We had to fill out a form saying we couldn't possibly have the Corona virus, and we were on board by 11:15 or so.  We got through check in, and sat down for maybe 10 minutes and they started boarding.  


I didn't think anyone could run a debark day faster than Brittney out of San Juan on the Fascination.The Fascination is a small ship, and she had to do it in 2 languages and she just rolled through it. A year later I was still impressed and hoping future cruises would be that efficient. But, Mike was just as efficient, if not more so.   First off, he said multiple times, don't bug guest services to get luggage tags sooner- I dont know if people still did, but they were nicely hidden on deck 10- not something most people would wander past, so you'd have to make a trip to get them. I do think he handed them out at the debark presentation, but I didn't go to that- not how I wanted to spend my last day on the cruise.  Secondly, he insisted on no one waiting in the atrium, he repeatedly said wait on deck 5 or the lounges, or somewhere else. But on debark day, we go to get breakfast and oh look, there are people lined up in the atrium.  I don't know if he was baiting people or not (I'd like to think he was but who knows), but they opened the front gangway closest to the lounge, not the one by the atrium.  So lining up wasn't so fruitful after all, I guess.  Also, his announcements said the people in the lounge would hear when it was time to get off before the announcement through the ship.  We walked in the lounge to hear our number called, so we hopped in line.  Just as we got the spot where they scan our ship card for the last time, we heard the announcement that our zone could get off- so you really did save a bit of time waiting in the lounge.


I'm thinking the facial recognition debark moved things along more than anything anyone on the ship did, but Mike and his squad did an awesome job keeping order on the ship, and not making it easy for everyone to storm the doors and cause chaos. 

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55 minutes ago, tovin said:

Very excited for your review, and comparisons, because we're considering both of these cruises!


If you mean the Fascination and Horizon, both cruises are awesome and you really can't go wrong.  They're about as different as you can get and they are our 2 favorite itineraries.  Ships..well the Sunshine is still my favorite but that may have been more to the company we had on that ship. 

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Ok, lets talk about the Cruise Director.  On our cruise, this was Mike Pack. It was his last cruise for awhile (or ever? I don't know), he's being promoted to some fancy title to train cruise directors or something.  


I had loved our previous 2 CDs- Emma and Brittney- so I was a little skeptical I was going to like Mike.  But he really grew on me as the cruise went on. 


First off, I've never seen anyone get around a ship so fast.  He'd be greeting people in one venue, and then he'd scamper around and be greeting people in another.  I sort of picture the Horizon as having secret tunnels everywhere that allow the CD and his staff to get around fast, but maybe he's just that energetic.  


Secondly, when he was talking to you, he looked completely focused on you.  I'm sure he had a million things to do, and a million things on his mind, but he managed to look as if your conversation with him was important to him.


Thirdly, he was out greeting people coming in from ports, or had some of his staff out there.  I thought that was neat.  Its hot, and standing in the sun right by the gate can't be pleasant, but a lot of times, someone was out there.


Fourth, his deck parties were awesome.  I know some think the line dancing is lame, but I like it.  Also, there are always people a deck or 2 up, and he did his best to get them involved.  Some of the dances were a little different than other ships, and he had his fun squad involved with the mega deck party, and everyone did a dance- so that made for even more variety.  Another thing I liked about his deck parties, is he didn't have the fun squad throwing things out to people.  When they had light up things to give out, they handed them to people.  When things are getting flung, some people end up with tons, and others miss out completely.  Handing them out meant more people got something. 


We had some nice chats with him (not long because he's everywhere doing everything), and we really enjoyed him as a CD.  During the debark presentation, his staff snuck in some slides with an "I love you i'm so proud of you," message from his wife, Emma, and that was sweet- I guess because this is his last cruise for awhile. 


But for me, the best thing about him was he didn't have a catch phrase that he repeated over...and over...and over...and over... throughout the cruise.  They're all cute for awhile, but to me, they get annoying when you hear them a million times in a week. I hate the CDs essentially reading the highlights of the Fun Times over the loudspeaker (at some point during the week if we're in the room when it goes off I've been known to yell "OK I CAN READ."  I don't do that in public because I wouldn't want to keep people from actually hearing it), but I'm sure that's a Carnival thing and it makes them money, so I can't really criticize him for that. 


Overall, I can see why Carnival wants him to help train (or improve?) other cruise directors- he's really good.  I don't know if he's my favorite, but he's awesome at his job

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About the Havana area...


When we booked this cruise, I was super excited about the Havana area.  David, I think, was a little skeptical. By day 2 of the cruise, we had switched views on Havana.  Let me explain.  David's cruise lifestyle is usually to appear on deck mid morning, decide it's too crowded, and go do other things.  So, Havana was PERFECT for him.  He could appear whenever, and there was always a chair, a lounger, and maybe even one of those cozy bed things.  And he could come and go throughout the day, working in all those other things he likes to do. My cruise lifestyle is to grab a lounger (doesn't have to be near the pool, I usually go a deck up) around 8 or 8:30 in the morning.  I tend to hang out in the lounger til lunch time, then I'm ready to go do other things.  I'll usually circle back to a lounger in the late afternoon, since we always have late dinner.  Even on this large ship, there were always loungers to be had on Lido and definitely on deck 11, at 8 or 8:30 in the morning.  So, to me, it kind of felt like I didn't need that perk in Havana.   


The best part of Havana was the pool. At first glance, it's tiny- even more so than other cruise ship pools.  But, for the first 3 days of the cruise, there was rarely anyone in the pool.  David and I could get in and actually swim around.  The hot tubs were more in demand for the first few days.  When we booked Havana, I had visions of sitting in the hot tub after the sail away party to watch Miami disappear.  This didn't really happen.  There is a ledge all around the hot tubs, and people tended to stand on the aft side of the ledge, blocking views from the hot tub.  There was no ledge in the pool, so if you wanted to, you could hang out in the pool and watch.


An annoyance in Havana was the karaoke.  For some reason, this ship mostly did karaoke in the afternoon and it was usually in the Havana bar area.  The Havana bar tenders tended to allow the music from inside the bar to be piped into the outside area.  I was picturing a quieter area, but the Cuban music quickly became just background, and no big deal. The karaoke on the other hand...that was annoying. I enjoy karaoke when that's what I want to do.  But when I'm trying to relax, not so much.  The bar tenders do have the ability to turn it off (for the outside), but they're so busy when karaoke is going on inside, and it's mid afternoon and the outside area is full, we never really asked.  It was pretty funny watching some of the karaoke singers clear out the outside Havana area- so clearly we werent the only ones who didn't want to listen.


During the day, the Havana bar tenders would bring around frozen fruit or cold towels which I thought was a nice touch.  The frozen melon was hard to spear with a fork- if you didn't hold the bowl tight, your fruit would go flying.


Another nice perk was the service buttons.  They were located around the chairs and hot tubs, if you ever wanted a bar tender, if you pushed the button they'd come over.  They weren't wandering much because the same few bar tenders needed to serve the inside and outside of the Havana bar, as well as the people in the Havana loungers.


The chairs in the Havana area don't have cushions like Serenity does. They do have a long thin cushiony pillow.  But I kind of like that loungers in each area look different.  


Would we book Havana again?  Maybe.  If you tend to get a chair early in the morning, it's not really a necessary thing, but the much less crowded pools are nice. Also, because we had Havana, I probably stayed out there longer than I would have otherwise- and missed other things around the ship.  That's clearly not Havana's fault, but just food for thought.  On our previous cruise on the Fascination, we never had trouble finding chairs since that ship is smaller and the cruise is so port intensive. Our next cruise is on the Fascination as well, so we'll have some time to decide if Havana is worth it to us. 

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Ship Layout


I have the world's worst sense of direction and I found this ship easy get around.  On our previous cruises, there was 1 deck which was a main pass through and had a lot of fun stuff plus the casino on it.  I LOVED that on this ship, the casino was on deck 4, and deck 5 was also a pass through with Guys pig and anchor, photos, Java Blue, Ocean Plaza, Piano Bar, and stuff like that on it.  It meant we could basically avoid the casino and the smoke. We still smelled the smoke occasionally on deck 5, and there were a couple times we got turned around and ended up needing to cut through the casino, but for the most part, we could avoid it completely.  


Piano Bar


Our PBE was Louis Coupe and he was awesome...loved him.  He is pretty young and from England and has about 2 more weeks on his contract.  If you're curious, he's on Spotify but he's not playing a piano there.  What was different on this ship was there was a different guy who played from 5-10 pm or so, because the piano bar opened up to the steakhouse.  At 10, they closed that wall and the real piano bar fun took over. The downside to the piano bar was there just wasn't enough seating.  The space is big.  But its filled with those red swivel chairs that take up a lot of space, but only seat one.  Most nights, this bar had people standing and/or sitting on the floor.  And some people would come in while the earlier guy was playing just to claim space.  Unlike some previous piano bars, this bar had a blender and could make whatever drink you liked.  On the Fascination, the space is smaller, but the seating is better IMO and it was never hard to find a seat. 


Ocean Plaza


I didn't like this ocean plaza as much as the Sunshine's.  It was probably a bit bigger but it was also much more open and a lot of the seats were blocked with pillars.  So if you actually wanted to see what was going on, seating was really limited.  There was music here at night, and it seemed like it was either empty or packed- no middle ground.  On the Sunshine, the space feels more enclosed, so it's easy to see and hear what is going on.  There is less overall room, but there is also a fewer percentage of "bad" seats. 


Havana Bar 


I mentioned this before, but the inside space here was the karaoke hangout on this ship.  I will say that the karaoke host, Alvin, had a couple rules I really liked that he mentioned at the start of each session- be respectful- don't mock people, and don't talk through people singing- and have fun, this isn't about talent.  I really hate when you're at a show or an event and people are sitting there laughing at their fellow guests- Alvin set a really positive tone to karaoke and I thought that was cool.  

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3 hours ago, purplephenom said:

Another nice perk was the service buttons.  They were located around the chairs and hot tubs, if you ever wanted a bar tender, if you pushed the button they'd come over.

Is this something new? I stayed in this area, on this ship last year and I didn't see any buttons.

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2 hours ago, CChamp said:

Is this something new? I stayed in this area, on this ship last year and I didn't see any buttons.


I don't know if they're new.  They are small though- maybe 3" across and red.  They're not at every lounger, maybe every 4 or 5 loungers.  If I hadn't seen someone push them and a bartender walk over, I would've assumed it was an alarm of some sort.



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I just realized I hadn't talked about ports yet.  Ok so let's do that now.  We like being busy, and with the extra sea days on this cruise we were ready to make the most of our time in port.


Our plan for Grand Turk was to do the Snuba excursion through Carnival, and then walk over to Jack's Shack.  We got off the ship and headed right over to the excursion meeting point, only to find out our excursion was cancelled due to poor visibility.  I was really pleased they cancelled, rather than taking us out to see nothing. We talked to some people who went on a snorkel excursion and said they were disappointed because they didn't see much- I don't know where they went but that just made me extra glad ours was cancelled.  So with all this extra time on our hands, we ducked in the water to get pictures right in front of the ship, and then headed down to Jack's Shack.  Chairs are free there, and umbrellas are $10- we chose to just go with the chairs.  We spent a ton of time in the water there, which was unusually wavy. Also, there are a lot of boats that pull in and out, and it doesn't appear they're watching out for swimmers.  I'm sure they keep an eye out but it didn't feel that way, and we went from just floating to "OH NO SWIM AWAY FROM THE BOAT" really quickly. When the Ecstasy was pulling in, the water got even more wavy.  We did eventually get a couple drinks from the shack (a sandy vagina and a reef wrecker) and both were scrumptious.  We were hoping to play with Calypso, and she did eventually make her way out to the water, but at least on that day, she was happy to chill under some one's beach chair for hours and then dig on her own.  She was open to people petting her but didn't seem up for playing in the water.  We looked in the shop at the shack, and met the shop cat, Midnight.  He was very open to cuddles and when you stopped petting him, would try to grab your hand and bring it back to him.  


In La Romana, we debated what to do.  Tons of people on Facebook suggested staying on the ship any time this port came up, but we didn't really want to.  We booked the Dune Buggy excursion and figured if we hated the port, it was a short excursion and we could get back on the ship. Before we sailed, we kept checking reviews and saw people were ending up covered in mud.  So we packed old clothes and shoes, as well as taking along bandannas and safety goggles, figuring we could toss all that after we were done.  It was nice to have the bandannas and goggles...but yeah we didn't get muddy AT ALL.  It was a dry day and we just ended up dusty.  The excursion was a ton of fun, I had been nervous about driving the buggy and it was really easier than I thought.  David was worried I'd be the last buggy in line, but I even passed people, so I was pretty darn proud of myself. At the half way point, we stopped to switch drivers, and have some fruit and sugar cane, and they had a little shopping set up there. At this point they were offering videos for sale for $40 of the buggy ride.  When we finished the ride they were selling 4 photos for $10.  We knew about the video ahead of time and knew we wouldn't buy it, but the photos came out really well and we chose to buy those.  The only disappointment is all of our photos were taken during the first half of the ride- before we switched drivers.  Once we got back to port, we did some shopping, and were able to get some made in the Dominican things, and called it a day.  


Curacao was the toughest port for us.  This is our favorite port, but the late arrival made it tough.  We knew we wanted to walk around the city, but I also wanted to swim with the turtles.  Ultimately, we decided not to swim with the turtles, because by the time we got back downtown everything would be closed. We found a walking tour online, which we loosely followed, but we really just wandered and stopped in wherever looked interesting. We stopped in a bar for a drink around 4 pm, and the lady running the place noticed the baseball shirt I had on- with the name of a baseball player from Curacao on it- and we ended up chatting for about 2 hours about baseball in Curacao, which ate up the rest of our time to wander around the city before a lot of things closed, but it was a fun experience.  Our shirts actually got a ton of attention and people wanting to talk.


In Aruba, we decided to try DePalm Island.  Last time we were in Aruba we did a catamaran excursion and the waves were huge which didn't make for the best viability for snorkeling. At DePalm, the waves were still huge, but the water was a little shallower so the snorkeling was better.  This place has some of the biggest fish I've ever seen. We had wanted to add on Snuba here, but they couldn't figure out how to charge us- first they said we couldn't add it on, then they said they'd charge our ship cards (which didn't make any sense to me), then they said maybe we could pay cash.  Ultimately, we decided to forget it and just snorkel.  When you get there they give you 2 bracelets- one to show you're on a cruise, and one to show you can't drink yet.  Once you're done snorkeling, you're supposed to pull off the "can't drink yet" bracelet and then you can drink.  But...they really don't care.  If you want to drink and snorkel, no one's stopping you.  We didn't, but we thought we might want to go back out, and everyone we asked there said it was fine. The bar has some premixed drinks, and virgin daquaris and pina coladas- if you want those with alcohol they just add it.  For both the frozen drinks and the premixed drinks, they were happy to add extra alcohol, which was nice.  

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Apparently I'm really bad at this review writing thing, so I'll try to wrap this up.


Havana Cabin:


We booked a Havana Interior- there is a definite lack of storage space.  The usual 3 closets was down to 2, and there were some shelves outside of the closet.  We don't really pack that much stuff, so we were able to put everything away, but if you normally fill up all 3 closets, just be aware.  We were on deck 7- we didn't hear any noise from the Havana Bar.  Our 2022 cruise, we're on deck 5 and I'm looking forward to being able to just walk out to Havana instead of taking stairs. 




I know some people here are worried about these- they're really not that bad.  First off, there are directions on a TV screen on how to use them.  On embarkation day, there were staff manually operating a few of the elevators which really sped things up. Also, there's a wheelchair button, so you don't need to figure out how many times you should push the button to make room for your wheelchair.  


It seemed like on the first couple days, people would randomly jump in and hope for the best, but we saw less of that as the cruise went on.  My personal rule became, 3 flights or less, take the stairs, any more than that take the elevator.  I will say we saw a LOT of bickering between couples and families- do we take the stairs or the elevators.  I don't think these elevators are really any slower than on other ships- the trouble is, you can't see which floor they're on and if they're coming to you...so a watched pot never boils and all that...and it feels like they're taking forever. 



Couple  more notes on Havana


They are really diligent about checking to see if you belong there.  On embarkation day, we walked out just to look.  We didn't sit down and we were still immediately asked if we had our wristbands.  We explained our cabins weren't ready, and they told us to just go to our cabins anyways and get our sail and signs.  We didn't really feel comfortable doing this, but then we went to guest services for an unrelated question and they told us to do the same thing.  So we ultimately did and our room was ready so it was fine, and we were able to drop our things off and go back to Havana.  


On one of the last sea days, someone came and sat down on one of the deck chairs without a bracelet- she didn't even get to put her feet up on the chair before someone was over asking if she had a Havana wristband.  They didn't walk away until she had picked up her stuff and was leaving the area.  



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Activities on this ship


I really didn't like that karaoke was in the afternoon.  I like it in the evenings to change up what we do at night, but i think there were only 2 days it was at night.


There were a lot of activities overlapping.  This was a point of pride for Mike Pack, but it really forced us to choose what we wanted to do.  Too many activities is better than too few, but when 2 or 3 things you want to do are at the same time, it kind of stinks.


The parachute drop was something different on this ship.  I was hoping for a full on egg drop competition, since I'd seen this ship had it before, but the parachute man drop was what we got.  It's an easy family activity, doesn't take that long- you're dropping a parachute man from 2 decks up and hoping to have it land in a cornhole board hole.  2 people from your group are frantically waving things to guide him to the hole.  

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10 minutes ago, stryker12 said:

How were the regular pools?  Were they packed with people?


The first day leaving Miami wasn't bad, but then yes they're packed.  Also, they're really deep.  I think 1 topped out at 6' and the other at 5' something.  This meant tons of people hanging on to the edges which made them appear even more crowded. But if you wanted to use the pool before like 9 or after 4, there was a lot more space 

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