Friday 26 August 2016

My Two Cents on the Carnival Vista

Cruising is my vice. I was first introduced to cruising in 2011 by the boyfriend and his family, you can read about my cruising history here in this super old post. Before my first cruise, I always thought cruising was for older folks, but boy, was I ever wrong! My very first cruise was on the Carnival Valor. Carnival is known as the family fun ship, and they really do live up to their reputation. I've been hooked ever since, searching for new ships with the newest features and new ports abroad.

I wanted to write this entry to share my final thoughts. I really enjoyed being the Vista, and knowing we were the third sailing on this brand new ship was a very special and privileged feeling. We booked this cruise quite early, about 15 months out, based on the European ports of call. With that being said, since we were the third sailing, there are a few tiny hiccups we noticed early on. However, it did not affect our overall positive cruise.

Let's jump right into the goodies the ship has to offer, the Vista had a noticeably smaller theatre compared to the other Carnival ships we've been on. My guess is that they were trying to be combine the nightclub and theatre into one space, but it took out a lot of seats. Every night, the theatre was full - and this was because the cast was fantastic! The performers were full of energy and very interactive with the audience. They all gave their best performances, and you can really tell by the genuine smiles on their faces.

We also made it to the comedy club every night. We love a good laugh, and the performers on the Vista were hilarious. The comedy club, on the other hand, was very spacious and we were always able to find seats, even if we came in late.

We gave the SkyRide a try one day after an early return from port. It was nearly an hour wait, but we enjoyed our little race around the aft of the ship. It was a thrilling experience, and the view is incredible. Unfortunately, we didn't have a chance to make use of the waterslides. We're Caribbean cruisers and the European breeze was too cold for us! We did want to relax on the deck on our sea day but the deck was completely full. Actually, most deck chairs were always taken, we never once did find any free chairs. But during our walks in search of a chair, we did notice the pools were also smaller than the previous ships we'd been on so it was pretty crowded.

We also visited the spa on our sea day. You can read about it here, but overall, a very relaxing experience.

We have no serious complaints about the food - hey, as long as I don't have to cook, I'm happy! I do have a few notes to point out. There was a lack of variety on the menu, because as you know, I ended up having fish every night and I don't even like fish all that much. There were also some nights where I whined about overcooked fish but looking back, it did not affect my overall, positive experience in the dining room. They do have a different entree dedicated to every port of call every day, and the boyfriend ended up trying the featured entree a couple times. The nightly serenades were also a nice touch - although I am not sure if they did this every sailing. And no, the lack of tablecloths did not bother us - we actually didn't notice until someone mentioned it.

We chose late dining at 8:15 due to the long port days, but I found that the shows were poorly coordinated with this dining time. As I previously mentioned in another entry: The early show at 7:30 PM would cause us to be late for dinner, so we always had to leave the show early. The late showing at 9:30 PM started too early because we finished dinner between 9:45 - 10 PM. Unfortunately, we never watched a performance from beginning to end.

We ate at the Lido buffet quite a few times, and we were pleased with the food. It was busy during lunchtime! We didn't do any specialty dining, but we enjoyed the complimentary Guy's Burger Joint!

We booked a deluxe ocean view stateroom (Category 6M). We chose this cabin because it has two bathrooms (but one toilet)! We enjoyed the double bathrooms in our cabin. This type of cabin was a new discovery for us. The boyfriend and I always fought over mirror space, so it was perfect for us. We also thought we were being smart by choosing the last cabin on the deck. We were on deck 3, where Guest Services, the Shore Excursion Desk, the Atrium Bar and the Dining Room were all located. It was always busy and buzzing out on the floor, and we thought it was a great idea to be away from the noise. Well, we didn't account for the Liquid Lounge above us. Every night, I was woken up thanks to rehearsals, you can hear every chair being dragged and every step taken across the stage. Every morning, I was woken up by the vibrations of the ship pulling into the dock. I am a heavy sleeper so I was able to fall right back asleep, but I do not recommend this cabin for light sleepers!

Our stateroom attendant always eluded us. We rarely saw him, but when we did, he always greeted us by name and when we asked for something (soap, extra towel), he always came through.

We got a glimpse of the Family Harbour Lounge, and boy, were we jealous! The families staying in these staterooms have everything at their doorstep! I think the new Havana cabins and the Family Harbour Suites will be a big draw on the Vista. It's new, it's convenient and it's unique. Carnival is catering towards the right demographic.

Ports of Call
This was the big draw for us. It allowed us to explore Europe on a budget. Carnival had the best lineup of ports on our sailing. We also booked all our shore excursions with Carnival, because we didn't want to miss the ship due to a late excursion! While I wasn't a huge fan of the Top 10 excursions (too rushed), I enjoyed every excursion, and some of the tour companies Carnival chose had amazing tour guides. Needless to say, we had a very memorable time on land.

What's Next
Would I cruise on the Vista again? Probably not. But that is not because I didn't like the ship. I personally love exploring the ships, and I can't wait to cruise on a Carnival ship I haven't been on... It's never the same ship twice for me!

Oh and... Surprise! We're going to be on another Carnival cruise this coming September. I can't wait to write all about it. Stay tuned for the trip report, and please follow me on Instagram for live updates!

If you have any questions about our Vista cruise, feel free to ask me! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading along, and thank you for the comments on Facebook, it keeps me motivated to blog. I wish you all the best in your upcoming cruises... Happy Cruising!

Want to start from the beginning? Navigate through our trip here: 

Monday 22 August 2016

Post-Cruise: Braving Barcelona (Part II)

We had reservations for Sagrada Familia on our last full day in Barcelona. We had a sneak peak the day before, and we were very excited to see the interior of the basilica. We had one day left on the hop-on-hop-off bus, so we decided to take advantage of it. We walked to the Placa de Catalunya stop to see if everything in the centre of Barcelona was closed on Sunday, sure enough, everything was closed except for a few souvenir stands. It was still busy though, with lots of tourists wandering around. NB, everything really is closed on Sundays in Barcelona, with the exception most restaurants (I say this because La Boqueria is closed on Sundays), and Maremagnum, a mall at Port Vell, which is opened year round.

Our tickets had a time window for entry, so we wanted to get there early to check out the area. We arrived at Sagrada Familia an hour before our entrance time, so we had time to shop around. There are many street vendors in the area, and many of them were better priced than the actual souvenir shops in the area. I highly recommend purchasing tickets prior to arrival. We purchased our tickets about 6 days in advance, and there were still plenty of time slots to choose from. If you purchase them on the day of at the basilica, you may have to wait a minimum of two hours for your entry window. There are several types of tickets, you can choose from a basic ticket that just gets you inside, or you can choose to have a tour guide or there is the panoramic package that includes a walk up to the towers. I had purchased tickets for the self-guided tour (€24) so we can move at our own pace. On our way in, we picked up our headsets. The employees are very helpful, and they make sure you don't forget to pick up your headset when they scan your tickets on your way in. It was quite crowded but we managed to see everything mentioned on the tour, and get in a few good pictures as well. I don't want to give everything away, because Sagrada Familia is not to be missed. It's a marvellous work in progress with the completion date of 2026, but the basilica is stunningly beautiful. We will be back!

We ended up spending two hours marvelling at the basilica before we needed to get going for our next booking at Parc Guell. Our Sagrada Familia tickets included a tour of Gaudi House Museum at Parc Guell. We hopped back on the bus and made our way there. Unfortunately, the bus stop is nowhere near Parc Guell. After getting very sketchy directions from a few people, another tourist couple told my in-laws they knew where they were going, so we ended up following them. It was the longest and steepest hill I had ever climb in my life (well, maybe the second steepest). Halfway through, the couple decided it was not worth climbing and turned around! We kept on and after a very exhausting trek, we finally made it to the entrance of the park.

Everyone took a quick five minute break while I tried to figure out where the Gaudi House Museum was. We arrived just in time for our entry time. The museum had great air conditioning, which cooled us down from our sweaty trek, but the house was only two levels, and it did not have more than 50 pieces of Gaudi's work. It was interesting, but it wasn't worth it for us. I personally felt that we could have skipped this tour. We were in there for about fifteen minutes, and then we left to explore the park.

There are public areas in the park, as well as "monumental zones," which require an entrance fee of €8. We didn't know about this and due to time constraints and exhaustion, we didn't end up paying to go inside. Just so you know, the monumental zones include the Dragon Stairway, the famous Greek Theatre or Nature Square, the Austria Gardens and the Pavilions. I would have really liked to visit the famous Nature Square (second, right), but nobody else was really interested. However, it was also quite busy, so it would have been difficult to get a seat in the Square, so that made me feel a bit better about missing it.

On our way back down the hill to our bus stop, we took a much easier route. We noticed direction signs along the way down.. I guess we should have just been more aware of our surroundings!

From Parc Guell, we took the bus to our next stop: the Magic Fountain. By the time we arrived at Plaza de Espana, it was around 7:30 PM. We grabbed a snack inside Las Arenas Shopping Mall, which was down the street. Only the food court was opened. The mall also had a sky deck, which offered a 360 view of Montjuic, for the price of €1. We skipped it because it was getting dark. The light show started after 9 PM. The show was beautiful, but you have to stand by the fountain to hear the music, and that meant being in the wet zone. We crossed the busy road to watched and listen for a few minutes, but the winds were strong and we were getting pretty wet. Eventually, we ran back to the other side of the road. I must say, it is hard to enjoy the show, because there are hundreds of people watching it with you, so there is little room to move around. In other words, don't get comfortable! There is a lot of pushing and blocking. While it is a very magical feeling watching this beautiful light/water show, I like to call this to the poor man's version of the World of Colour in California Adventure at the Disneyland Resort. The Magic Fountain show runs for two hours on a loop, so after 45 minutes, we decided to get going. It was way past our dinnertime, and we were hungry... Note that the Magic Fountain performance is usually on weekends with varying hours throughout the year. Check the hours before going!

Hailing a taxi was a nightmare. There were hundreds of people leaving the area at the same time, and everyone was fighting for a taxi. We managed to get one after fifteen minutes, and we headed back towards our hotel. The taxi ride from Montjuic to Eixample was about €10. There was a restaurant, Cerveceria Catalana, we'd been walking past everyday that we wanted to try. It was especially busy at night when we walked back to the hotel at midnight so we figured the food must be good. I guess we should have anticipated for the wait! We ended up waiting for an hour for a table, but it was worth it. The food was delicious. I loved the fried green Padron peppers (second, right). Most are mild and sweet, but there can be a few hot and spicy ones! It was like playing Russian roulette, but with peppers! Perfect ending to our last night in Barcelona.

Our trip has finally come to an end. Needless to say, Barcelona was by far my favourite port. Catalan cuisine won me over.

Thank you so much for reading along. I will have one last entry with my final overall thoughts regarding this cruise (and the Vista!) at the end of the week. Stay tuned!

Monday 15 August 2016

Post-Cruise: Braving Barcelona (Part I)

We were so excited to see more of Barcelona and we woke up as early as we could the next day. Our first task was to find a hop-on-hop-off bus to take us around the city. Our hotel sold slightly discounted tickets for Barcelona Bus Turistic, so we decided to purchase the tickets directly from them. Barcelona Bus Turistic has three lines, red, blue and green. We were only interested in the red and blue lines, as the green line was a route along the beaches, and we didn't have enough time for it. While this bus stopped running earlier than the other tour bus, we noticed it had more stops, and the stops were closer to the destinations, which is another reason why we chose this bus.

To start our day, we grabbed a baguette from the cafe on the corner and walk to our bus stop, which was four blocks away. The closest stop in to the Best Western in Eixample is La Pedrera on Passeig de Gracia (on the red line). La Pedrera, also known as Casa Mila (below right), is the last civil work of Antonio Gaudi, the famous Spanish architect. The building was initially built for a married couple, but eventually, the widow sold the property, and today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site open to the public for viewing. We never got a chance to visit Casa Mila, but it is a very unique and artistic building, one of many Gaudi designed and built himself. The upper level is covered in white tiles, reminiscent of a snowy mountain.

We got on the red line, and stayed on for a few stops. We got off at MNAC, the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, which offered an incredible view of the city (almost every European city we had visited had an easily accessible site for an amazing panoramic view of the city). MNAC is a museum of visual art and it has the an outstanding collection of Romanesque paintings. General admission is €12 for two days, which is not bad at all. While we didn't have time for the museum this time around, it is definitely on our list for when we return to Barcelona one day. Below the museum is the famous Magic Fountain of Montjuic, which can be seen behind the four pillars in the photo on the right. The fountain is known for its light show during the night.

We hopped back onto the bus to our second stop, Maremagnum at Port Vell. We took a short shopping break at the mall, but came up empty. Almost everything is closed in Barcelona on Sundays but Maremagnum remains open and it stays opened for 365 days of the year. We walked around the waterfront harbour afterwards, and stopped for a snack. While Port Vell is busy, it is filled with illegal street vendors selling fake purses and shoes.

Our third stop was Barri Gotic, the Gothic Quarter, which is known as the old city. Just like Las Ramblas, the Gothic Quarter is a maze. The first attraction we saw in the area was the Barcelona Cathedral. With the entrance fee being €7 per person, we decided against going inside. We wandered around the area, and took pictures of the buildings.

Turns out the Gothic Quarter is connected to Las Ramblas through a few side streets. A few turns here and there, we ended up on Las Ramblas! Since we were there already, and feeling a little hungry,   we decided to head over to La Boqueria for another late lunch. We ate at Ramblero again, because we felt more comfortable with this bar, and we knew what we were doing, but it seemed busier today, with actual lineups by each bar. We ordered much more food this time...

As I mentioned in my last post, there are many fruit stands in La Boqueria, and many of them sell fresh fruit juice and fruit salad cups for €1. Perfect snack on a hot Barcelona day. Also, this is not an advertised fact (no signage to let tourists know), but if you keep your receipt from any purchase made in La Boqueria, you can use the restroom without paying. Otherwise, it is €0.50.

After our meal, we hopped back on the bus on the blue line. Our first stop was Sagrada Familia. We had tickets for the next day, and I wanted to familiarize myself with the entrance. The basilica is just amazing on the outside. Construction has progressed slowly since Gaudi overtook the project in 1883. As you can see in our photos below, it became an overcast kind of day. (More photos to come in the next post!)

Our stop was a quick one, and we got back on the bus for our next stop: FC Barcelona, a must-see for any soccer fan! The boyfriend is a soccer fan and he was excited to visit the massive team store. We decided against doing a stadium tour because we didn't have time, and it was expensive at around €35. The team store is like a department store as it has three levels full of FC Barcelona merchandise. We walk around Camp Nou and took some photos.

We caught the last bus back to Placa de Catalunya, and we walked around Las Ramblas. We had dessert (ice cream!), and it was almost midnight before we were hungry again. We decided to grab a quick bite before heading back to the hotel, but we wanted something quick and inexpensive. We spotted a restaurant called Txapela, and decided to give it a try. Their menu is extensive with over fifty different pintxos (similar to tapas, but these were bite-sized) to choose from.

When we left, the night life was still going strong in Barcelona. All the stores were closed on Las Ramblas, but the restaurants were all buzzing full of people. We didn't get back to the hotel until well after midnight, and we were exhausted from our long day.

We had one more day in Barcelona, and we had saved the best for last. Stay tuned for our trip to Sagrada Familia. I hope you're enjoying our post-cruise trip report in Barcelona. We are at the end now... Thank you for following along!