So, you want to take a cruise, but are having a tough time narrowing down the options. Let us help. Today in the boxing ring are Carnival Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line with their latest vessels -- the Carnival Horizon and the Norwegian Bliss. We put the two ships head to head in several categories, including atmosphere, accommodations, activities, dining, and entertainment. Read on, and discover which one is best for you.
Atmosphere and Design
At 168,028 tons with a 4,004-passenger capacity, Norwegian Bliss seems to dominate Carnival Horizon, which comes in at 133,500 tons with a 3,960-guest limit. And according to their passenger-to-space ratios, there is more room for every person onboard the Norwegian ship. But the way in which the shipboard space is configured also matters. The Carnival Horizon has a more traditional layout of three lobbies evenly separated across its length. Meanwhile, the Norwegian Bliss only features two -- one towards the front of the ship and another towards the back. As such, there can be more congestion in between. The Horizon’s additional midship area helps alleviate crowding, as do the ship’s smart elevators, which strategically expedite guests to their destinations by assigning express cars to specific riders and floors. The two ships also feature wraparound promenade decks with venues stretching outside. The Carnival ship even has the Havana Pool on this level. The Norwegian ship maximizes its boardwalk with many alfresco restaurants, lounges, and shops. Aesthetically, both ships have contemporary decor. The Horizon exudes a subdued resort look, though its signature whale-tail-shaped funnel remains. The Norwegian Bliss is instantly recognizable for sporting colorful Wyland hull art.
There is no shortage of cabins and suites to choose from on either ship. The Bliss offers Studio cabins, which are designed for one occupant each at 99 square feet. However, these units have private access to the Studio Lounge for social mingling. The Bliss also has The Haven ship-within-a-ship concept, wherein booking the best suites affords exclusive access to certain amenities and spaces, like pools, restaurants, bars, and more. Of course, there are also plenty of options for couples and groups as well.
On the Horizon, Havana staterooms and suites include private access to the Havana Pool by day. Some of these rooms even feature a balcony with a hammock and a direct entrance to the promenade deck. Parents traveling with children might opt for the ship’s Family Harbor staterooms and suites. They all have exclusive access to the Family Harbor Lounge complete with snacks, games, and movies. Plus, some of the cabins come with split bathrooms for added privacy. One notable downside of the Carnival Horizon’s accommodations is the flimsy shower curtains compared to Norwegian’s premium fixed enclosures.
Carnival has always done a fantastic job when it comes to onboard activities. Its fleet is accurately dubbed “The Fun Ships,” and that certainly includes the Horizon. Everything from bingo to trivia sessions to “Hasbro, The Game Show” bring the fun, but nowadays, elaborate attractions matter, too. And this ship delivers, with a newly themed Dr. Seuss WaterWorks, which makes for a more playful aqua park. Another highlight is the SkyRide, a fantastic roller coaster-like attraction for all thrill levels. The ship is also home to the Serenity Adult-Only Retreat, an exclusive area available at no additional cost, and the surcharge Cloud 9 Spa.
The Bliss has its own complimentary space just for adults -- Spice H2O. Plus, treatments can be purchased at the Mandara Spa. The thermal suite at this spa is much larger than the one on the Horizon. And though the Norwegian ship does not have a SkyRide, it does have an impressive go-kart racetrack where guests can compete on a double-decker course. It also features a dedicated laser tag arena and thrilling Ocean Loops waterslide. The free-fall slide gains enough downward momentum to propel riders upward before going into an additional descent and climbing through a final turn, all while being cantilevered over the ship’s side. For less intense action, the kids’ Aqua Park and Aqua Racer waterslide round out the pool deck attractions.
Both ships offer lots of dining options with food quality and flavor profiles that are virtually neck and neck. They each have main dining rooms and buffets, as well as specialty restaurants. Carnival tends to offer more of the latter complimentarily, while Norwegian often charges. For example, Guy’s Burger Joint on Horizon serves gourmet grilled items for free, but Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville at Sea on the Bliss is available at a cost. Also respectively, the BlueIguana Cantina is included in the fare, but Los Lobos comes with a surcharge. There is a greater quantity of eateries on Norwegian, though. The Bliss has French, Italian, Asian, barbecue, and seafood choices, as well as a steakhouse. From that list, the Horizon is missing the first. You’ll also find a brewery as well as the Alchemy Bar for custom cocktails on the Carnival Horizon, though it lacks a Starbucks like the Bliss. When it comes to satisfying your sweet tooth, Norwegian has The Bake Shop, Dolce Gelato, and Coco’s, while Carnival has Cherry On Top.
Each ship takes a slightly different approach to entertainment. Carnival’s production shows are mostly revues that are expertly performed by talented singers, dancers, and, occasionally, a live band and other instrumentalists. Then there’s the Carnival Multiplex, which houses the Thrill Theater and the IMAX Theatre. The former presents a fun three-dimensional dark ride simulator, and the latter screens first-run films in the ultimate audiovisual format.
On the other hand, the Bliss does not have a dedicated cinema or 3-D venue, but its stage performances are on a higher level and always feature live music. “¡Havana!” is a fantastic Cuban-themed show with pulsating rhythms and an amorous narrative, but “Jersey Boys” takes the cake as one of the best examples of a Broadway remounting on a ship. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons are seamlessly replicated in a heartfelt and funny high-energy romp. The Carnival and Norwegian ships also feature complimentary late-night comedy sets, but Bliss takes things one step further with the bonus “Happy Hour Prohibition - The Musical” (for a fee).
In the end, you’ll have to decide which ship’s features fit what you’re looking for, while taking into consideration their itineraries and bottom-line prices.
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