In the interest of full-disclosure, I’m not what you would call a “cruise person”. I am much more likely to park myself at a resort, on land and take advantage of all of the amenities around me. However, also in the interest of full disclosure, the last cruise I experienced was more than two decades ago during a different life chapter and pre-children.
All of that being said, when I was invited by Carnival Cruise Line to the inaugural festivities for Carnival Horizon’s Miami arrival – Horizon Homecoming, it felt like a sign that it was time to give cruise life another whirl.
Long story short, I have NO regrets, so much to share about the ship, tips and tricks when traveling with your kids and all of the scoop you need to know.
The ship is beautiful and has something new to offer at every turn. From the beautiful atrium to the views from each deck and endless food, it was a feast for the eyes and stomach.
It is undeniable that Carnival makes it super easy to travel with kids. There is so much for them on the ship that we never even got off in the Bahamas (but more on that later). From the moment we stepped into the Port of Miami, every single Carnival employee we encountered made a point to engage with my kids. They made jokes, gave them stickers, complimented their shoes and just made them smile in general. The sweet man checking us in even asked my older daughter if she was ready for “all the ice cream in the world” to which she replied, “You know it!” before turning to me and whispering, “I’m already killing it, mom.” It’s a shame that kid has no confidence.
In order to keep things easy, I ‘m going to break this into sections somewhat chronologically.
But first, let’s please take a moment to ogle some of my own personal pics of the view mostly from our room because they are amazing AF!!!
Before You Go
There’s an app called Carnival Hub. Download it! Do as much planning as you can (or are willing to do) before you get on the ship. If you can book excursions, do it. If you can make dinner reservations, do it. Not because you can’t do any of these things on the ship, but I promise you that the more you do before you go, the less you will wait in lines to do it. And let’s be real, lines and children are like oil and really cranky water. Carnival’s easy online pre-booking process makes things a breeze when you actually arrive, so take advantage of it.
I am the QUEEN of overpacking. No, like seriously, I deserve a crown or scepter or something to celebrate my royalness. I know I am not the only person who packs workout clothes and sneakers, “pretending” I’m going to work out. The ruse is up. Save the space in your suitcase. Cabin quarters are a bit smaller and not like a traditional hotel room. We brought three carry-ons for four of us. My kids shared one and then my husband and I had our own. There was plenty of room in the closets to store them so they did not take up space in the cabin.
Realistically you are going to basically live in a bathing suit so don’t go crazy bringing tons of shoes/clothes. Pack one or two “nicer” outfits for everyone if you venture to a nicer dinner and if you want to get great family pics from one of the ship photogs. They are all over and I highly recommend it. We did it literally as my toddler was having a Britney Spears-esque meltdown circa 2007 right before she shaved her head, and somehow the photographer captured a moment that made it look like she was living her best life. I don’t know what voodoo magic they have in their arsenal but I’m pretty sure I have my holiday card for this year.
Bring more than one bathing suit for each kid, even if you are on a two-day trip like we were. Pack a ton of sunscreen and water shoes for the little kids. I also always travel with meds for the kids, especially since I have a teething toddler. Bring it all. It takes up little room and you’ll be glad you have it if you need it.
Boarding a cruise ship can be a little chaotic.
There are a lot of people all trying to get to the same place at the same time and that may slow things down. We got on as early as possible which made a HUGE difference, as I noticed more traffic mulling around the closer we got to our departure while we were already set up in our room and about to start our day. I would suggest if you are traveling with kids to try and request the earliest boarding time available to you. Then load your bags up with snacks (for you and the kids…why should they be the only ones to nosh?) and maybe even a few distractions. My children are both addicted to anything involving a screen, so we literally handed over our cell phones if there was the slightest whine. When I say go heavy on snacks, I’m not kidding. Just as you are getting settled as a passenger, the ship is getting ready too and there may not be super quick access to food/drink. The treats in my bag were key to avoiding crankiness and meltdowns on everyone’s account. Also, be prepared with a few bottles of water until service is up and running at a good pace.
You will have the option to carry on bags or have them brought to your cabin and if you can, I would urge you to carry them on. This way, you can head straight to your cabin to get comfy and then head out to explore your new surroundings. Everyone will get a sail & sign card, and this is your golden ticket to everything on the ship so make sure you take it with you everywhere you go. If you are traveling with a baby/toddler like we were, please know the room attendants were incredible about getting us milk for bottles to keep in our in-cabin refrigerator, whenever we needed it.
Right before we left, I was coincidentally sent an amazing waterproof market bag. It couldn’t have come at a better time because this is the bag I ended up taking with me each time we left the cabin for the day.
This particular one is from Apolis and holds up to 135 pounds (you can also get free shipping right now with the code “whineandcheezits” if you want one), so I was able to pack it up with diapers, wipes, snacks, changes of clothes, sunscreen, etc. The key though was that it is waterproof, since we spent the overwhelming majority of our time in the waterslide area. My husband had a backpack, but I found this bag to be much roomier and helpful with two kids tagging along. Just bring something that holds ALL THE THINGS because, mom life. I also brought a wet bag in case they wanted to change out of their suits before we went back to the cabin. Again, while there is no shortage of food available on the ship, you should always have snacks with you, I can’t even tell you how many GoGo Squeezes and Goldfish I went through in 48 hours in addition to the food on the ship.
Ain’t No Party Like a Carnival Party
If you have the chance to attend a party that sends the ship off to sea, don’t miss it. It was like being at a GIANT wedding, bar mitzvah, quinceanera, whatever, pick the occasion. The DJ was lit or on fleek, whatever the kids say these days that means, “awesome”. I schooled my own kids in the subtle art of the electric slide when it came on and continued through Usher’s, “Yeah”. My daughter said, “Ugh, is this from the 90s?!” Because she’s nine and says that like it’s not a cool thing, but we all know the 90s was the best.
We danced, got enveloped in multiple conga lines, laughed and just like that the tone was set for the rest of the trip. Even if you’re not prone to public displays of dancing, it’s a good time on the sidelines and if you don’t find yourself smiling and inadvertently swaying to the music, well…you might have no soul. There was confetti and all of the accompanying fanfare. And, Shaq, Carnival’s Chief Fun Officer, was on hand to take things to the next level. My husband was way more impressed by seeing him, Glen Rice and Shane Battier, than my kids were. They were 100% more into the ice cream.
Should You Stay or Go?
Stay. Trust me. We only had one stop since it was a short jaunt. When the boat was heading toward Nassau we talked about what we wanted to do that next day.
I’ll be honest, the idea of getting off a ship with two kids, a stroller and a bag filled with copious amounts of stuff was not at the top of my list. Thankfully, my kids did not want to leave either, so we decided to stay. I mean, can you blame them??
This was, by far, the best decision we made. Not only did my kids squeal when we headed back to the slides, but the ship emptied out significantly, so the lines (which weren’t even long at the busiest time), were pretty much non-existent. And let me tell you something about the waterslides. They are better than any pool. My kids love to play in the water and I thought I would be stuck in a pool the whole time. Show me a parent who wants to stay in the pool with their kids all day and watch 6,345 handstands or underwater somersaults and I’ll show you a liar. Let’s all just agree it’s the worst.
My older daughter bypassed the pool as soon as she saw the incredible waterslides and play area. When I say this is where we spent 85% of our time while aboard the Carnival Horizon I am not exaggerating. They have an area with seating and umbrellas at the edge of the space where you can easily see your kids the whole time if you are not enjoying the slides yourself or standing in the water(but you should because adulting every day is hard and you should have some kid-style fun). And guess what happens when your kids run themselves ragged on waterslides all day? Spoiler alert – they pass out and you can shower alone and put on makeup (that’s the motherhood urban legend equivalent of the Yeti)
We were able to get food from a handful of spots super close-by, so the kids didn’t have to give up much water time except to come to a slow jog past us en route to the slides so we could throw some pizza at them . While my big kid did her thing, there was plenty to do in the same area for my toddler. This is where the water shoes came in handy and made it much easier for her to run around without slipping.
In addition t0 the water area, there is an entire section of games like mini golf, ping-pong, and a bevy of other activities to cater to even the shortest attention span.
Gluttony at its Best
There is no chance for starvation aboard the Carnival Horizon. It’s like a floating food hall. Plus, if you don’t feel like leaving the cabin and being around people, there is always room service. From burgers to BBQ to Seafood and Hibachi, there is something for everyone. We attended a special welcome lunch in the Meridian dining room and I’ll admit I had an uh-oh moment when I looked at the menu and there was nothing kid-friendly. Or so I thought. Well, before I knew it, both of my kids had plates filled with chicken nuggets and fries before I could even say “do you have chicken nuggets and fries”. I don’t know who you are chicken nugget fairy, but you are definitely my people. It was quick thinking and anticipation that translated to seemingly effortless service, and the kids enjoyed their food just as much as we enjoyed our mid-day filet mignon.
And remember what I was saying about the staff engaging with my kids? At one point, someone gave me coloring books and crayons I never even asked for and another server carefully placed a gently folded piece of origami she whipped up out of thin air on the table. The Carnival Horizon staff came to play, folks. They did not disappoint.
I took my older daughter to dinner in the main dining room the first night and left my husband and toddler to fend for themselves. My husband was super gracious about this arrangement and I realized why when dinner was the same time as the Jets game he streamed right to his iPad while the little one enjoyed room service. In addition to the room service menu, there’s also 24/7 pizza available. Each pizza is made-to-order and delicious.
I know because I ate my kid’s crusts as I was watching them make a second one. This is not to be confused with the buffalo shrimp and lobster roll I also ate from Seafood Shack, because YOLO.
We enjoyed dinner at JiJi Asian Bistro the second/final night and the food was beyond delicious. And once again, the chef whipped up a kid-friendly version of fried chicken nuggets and steamed rice. My toddler shoving fistfuls of rice in her face told me everything I needed to know. It offered me a reprieve from her being under my feet as I was trying to document everything.
You also know you are on a family friendly ship when the PR lady offers to hold your baby so you can snap pics. Talk about full-service!
In other news, we ate the ENTIRE menu.
(All photos in gallery courtesy Rachel Sobel / Whine and Cheez-its)
The one thing I would change about our experience was breakfast. We headed to the main dining room to have a sit-down breakfast, but so did everyone else on the ship, so the wait for food was probably a little longer than usual. If we didn’t have the kids, we probably wouldn’t have cared as much. Next time, I would be more likely to order room service and give them a little more time in their PJs.
Regardless, the Carnival Horizon is packed with food options for everyone’s schedule and taste, and ranges from super causal to maybe you shouldn’t wear flip flops.
We All Scream For Ice Cream
There is always room for dessert, and while the ones offered at the restaurants were delicious, we have a “there’s no such thing as too much” attitude when we are on vacation. Which is exactly why we took the kids to the cutest ice cream and candy spot housed in the ship. Because why not load up on sugar before bedtime?? We need to talk more about the ice cream though. It’s not your typical cone. It’s Taiyaki, which is the most adorable (yes, I just described an ice cream cone as adorable) and delicious Japanese delicacy.
You pick your ice cream flavor and mix-ins and voila, moments later, it’s blended beautifully and placed carefully into the open mouth of the Taiyaki. The taste is similar to cake and much softer than a traditional waffle cone. I will dream about that little fishy.
This vacation was all about the kids for us, so I need to acknowledge a few things we did not take advantage of. There are several areas around the ship where children are not permitted, making it easy for adults to enjoy adult time – from pool areas to an 18-and-older comedy club. There is also Camp Ocean, a great area where you can drop off your kids to play under supervision of adults that are not you (aka, Carnival staff), if you want to take some time to yourself and maybe eat a meal with two hands. My husband actually stepped out while I was in bed with the kids to check out the ship’s sports bar and the Casino and had rave reviews.
The beauty of the Carnival Horizon is that everyone can have the vacation they want aboard the same ship. Families, couples and singles alike all have an array of activities and amenities to enjoy at their leisure.
And while the scenery looking out from the ship were nothing short of spectacular, the scenery when we got home to the Port of Miami wasn’t to shabby either.
The one thing I missed was the spa, but there’s always next time! That solo shower was basically like a trip to the spa since I haven’t really done that since 2008.
We came, we saw, we participated in the inaugural sailing of the Carnival Horizon from Miami. We met major basketball players. We were spoiled by staff. We had no “schedule” or nap/bedtime schedules. We just went with the flow and it worked. We laughed, we ate, we took on waterslides as a family, we played mini-golf and other games and then ate some more. The views from our room balcony were incredible and belong on the front of a post card, but nothing was better than the view of two little girls giggling and living their best lives feeling like VIPs every step of the way, because that’s just how Carnival makes you feel. Thank you for an unforgettable mini-vacation!
That’s how we Carnival-ed! Can’t wait to hear how you guys cruise!
***This was a hosted press trip courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line.