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Carnival Vista delivers on family fun, dining and more

SkyRide - a hit on the new Carnival Vista. Here, riders get a bird's-eye view of the Port of Livorno (Photo: Anne Kalosh)
Wider dining choices, alfresco spots, Carnival Cruise Line's first shipboard brewery, the new Family Harbor complex, the cool Havana Cabanas and some novel, fun twists like SkyRide and the IMAX Theatre are stand-outs on the new Carnival Vista.

'It's the best of Carnival Breeze and Carnival Sunshine and enhanced with some brand-new features,' said Carnival president Christine Duffy, who's sailing aboard the current 12-day Mediterranean cruise.

Some 2,885 of the 3,941 passengers are from the US, supporting Duffy's contention that Carnival hasn't been impacted by the terrorist incidents in Brussels, Paris and Istanbul that have kept some Americans from traveling to Europe this year.   

'We think part of it is that Carnival is not in Europe every year,' Duffy said, also letting slip that the line's 2018 newbuild will sail its inaugural season in Europe. No surprise, really, since that ship is due to arrive in the spring, perfect timing for Mediterranean cruising.

Passengers on the current voyage are clearly enjoying Carnival Vista's new features. Even during a port-intensive itinerary with great destinations like Florence and Rome, there have been 45-minute wait times for SkyRide, the recumbent cycling adventure that's suspended on a track 150 feet above the sea. Riders take, on average, 1.5 minutes to pedal around, and most rave about the bird's-eye views.

SkyRide is free, and likely to be even more popular when the ship gets to the Caribbean this winter.

The RedFrog Pub & Brewery is hopping, too. Its large, copper-colored tanks turn out three craft beers: ThirstyFrog Port Hoppin’ IPA, ThirstyFrog Caribbean Wheat and FriskyFrog Java Stout. Hour-long tours that include tastings are $12.95.

'Guests are looking for craft beers, variety and fresh beers. We're delivering the freshest beer at sea here,' brew master Colin Presby said.

The first IMAX Theatre afloat shows Hollywood blockbusters, IMAX documentaries and cartoons. The three-deck-high screen and awesome sound system deliver a powerful experience for up to 187 viewers at a time. Currently showing are 'Beautiful Planet,' narrated by Jennifer Lawrence; 'The Jungle Book 3D' and 'Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice 3D.' Also housed in the Carnival Multiplex, with its candy/popcorn/drinks counter, is the smaller Thrill Theater, a multisensory experience where the seats move and viewers get sprayed with water and bubbles.

First-run IMAX Theatre movies cost $12.95 for adults/$9.95 for children 12 and under and passengers 55 and over. Tickets for IMAX documentaries and the Thrill Theater are $5.50.

Carnival offers its most diverse dining on Vista, with 10 restaurants and 20 bars. The new, open-air Seafood Shack is reeling in customers. It serves lobster BLTs, fish 'n' chips, raw oysters and market-fresh fish bought ashore at three ports each cruise. A la carte pricing applies; for example, lobster rolls are $12.

Copied from Carnival Sunshine, Ji Ji Asian Kitchen offers what some consider the best food on the ship. Dinner entrees include Singapore chili shrimp, Nanjing-style duck and braised pork belly. There's a $15 cover charge, and reservations are a must in this intimate venue. At lunch there's no charge and diners can choose the ingredients for their Mongolian wok meal stir-fried in the open galley.

Another Asian venue, Bonsai Sushi, has been the busiest specialty restaurant so far, and it's one of the spots that provides indoor-outdoor seating. (Others include Fahrenheit 500 Steakhouse, Cherry on Top, Library Bar and RedFrog Pub & Brewery.)

This is the first Carnival ship with a Chef's Table purpose-built inside the galley. It seats 14 for an eight-course meal that starts with a champagne reception and a galley tour. House red and white wines are included in the $75 per person price.

Further specialty spots are Fahrenheit 555 ($35), Cucina del Capitano ($15 for dinner, with family-style dishes; at noon there's a no-charge pasta bar). Open 24 hours, Pizzeria del Capitano bakes five kinds of hand-tossed pizza to order (free) in a genuine Neapolitan pizza oven in 3.27 minutes.

The two main dining rooms are the double-deck, 1,300-seat Horizons, for 'Your Time Dining,' and the 780-seat Reflections, with two assigned dinner seatings. Both restaurants serve Carnival's 'American Table' and 'American Feast' menus, featuring several selections that reflect ports on the itinerary, as well as dishes for the table to share. For example, each night there's a different kind of whole pie, served a la mode.

In the Lido Marketplace, diners can pour their own beer from taps by swiping their keycard. A new made-to-order Italian ice cream station joins the comfort food, deli, carvery and salad bar areas.

Highly successful on Carnival Vista are the two special accommodations areas, Family Harbor and Havana Cabanas. These command a premium and give extra amenities.

Carnival carries more families than any other line—and about 700,000 children a year—so the Family Harbor staterooms are a natural. Located on Deck 2 are 96 varied rooms, ranging up to suites that sleep five people and have two bathrooms, one with a tub. Families get keycard access to a dedicated lounge that serves buffet breakfast, along with snacks throughout the day. There are games and big screens, and a concierge helps plan activities on board and ashore.

Child-sized bathrobes, free meals for kids under 12 with their parents in the specialty restaurants and one free night of babysitting in Camp Ocean are other perks.  

Adjacent to Carnival Vista's Havana Bar, the new Havana Cabanas have tropical decor and private patios opening to the ship's lanai (promenade). The patios have a swing chair, sunbed and lounge chair. Passengers in Havana Cabanas can eat breakfast in the Havana Bar and have exclusive use of its lovely outdoor lounge and pool until 5 p.m.

When it comes to entertainment, three of the four Playlist Productions are new—'Amor Cubano: A Caribbean Dance Romance,' 'America Rocks!' and 'Flick: The Power of Motion Pictures,' which incorporates incredible illusions. The shows have many interactive elements, and after 'Amor Cubano,' featuring the Havana Bar's salsa band, the show continues with a big parade that snakes to the bar where the performers dance with passengers.

Other entertainment includes new deck parties like a Rock-N-Glow 1980s affair, an Island Deck Party and Serenity Nights, which transforms the adults-only Serenity deck area into a South Beach-style club with a DJ.

Live music can be heard all over the ship. A strolling accordion player with a vast and often amusing repertoire may pop up in the Lido Marketplace or the atrium. A string trio, a guitarist and other musicians also play in the atrium.

The Punchliner Comedy Club continues family-friendly and adults-only shows, though the line's relationship with comedian George Lopez is ending.  

Other new Carnival Vista features include more recreational and water attractions. WaterWorks has a new twister slide and the Kaleid-O-Slide is Carnival's first raft-riding tube slide, with kaleidoscopic effects. A Clubhouse at SportsSquare encloses a bar, mini-bowling ($3), ping-pong and an oversized billiards game.

There's now a SplashZone for younger kids, with 30 spray features and mini-racing slides. Two outdoor play areas for children are adjacent to the large Camp Ocean, with spaces and activities for ages 2-11. A Dr. Seuss Bookville is stocked with all the Dr. Seuss books, in multiple languages. There are two separate hang-outs for teens, Circle C (ages 12-14) and Club 02 (15-17).