Carnival Vista Mediterranean cruise ship review: Breathless on the Med

It's day five of our fun-crazy Mediterranean cruise, and our ship the Carnival Vista has just arrived in Naples – fortunately the sunny one in Italy, not its storm-struck namesake in Florida, US, which featured briefly, but erroneously, in the ship's morning weather forecast.

There's so little time, so very much to do. Explore the famous, ancient Roman ruins of Pompeii? Climb Mount Vesuvius for up-close views of its restless, rumbling, volcano? Take a white-knuckle, coastal drive to seaside gems such as Amalfi, Positano and Sorrento?

Or, join the locals, already gathering on the Naples waterfront? Today, 200 local chefs are assembling 2000 kilograms of flour, 1600 kilograms of tomatoes, 2000 kilograms of mozzarella cheese, 200 litres of oil and 30 kilograms of basil as they attempt to break the world record for the longest pizza.

Proud Neapolitans lay claim to being the inventors of the popular, cheap eat, but the world record is held by northern rivals Milan, with a distance of 1.59 kilometres.

The off-beat event is bound to serve up a lot of laughs, precisely in line with the holiday-brochure pledge – the philosophy driving, the bright white, shiny-new Vista – to provide memorable "fun ashore, fun aboard".

Indeed, the ship's slogan is "Fun for all, all for fun". Its long, detailed, daily list of activities, excursions and entertainments is called the Fun Times.

The refreshments list comes with the "Fact: Anecdotes are 17 per cent funnier with a drink". Plastic ponchos – required only once, in Turkey, on the 10-day cruise – are sold under the slogan "Soak up the fun, not the rain". And so on.

Even mundane items, such as the "privacy"/ "service-now" tags hung on cabin doorknobs, are made, well, funny. Thus, guests indicate whether they are "snoozin'" or "cruisin'" – in some cases, one suspects, "boozin" in one of the ship's 25 bars.

The really, funny thing is that the Carnival Vista works wonderfully for the vast majority of guests – even for the many "oldies" like me and my wife, who far out-numbered the kids on board during a cruise run during school term-time in the United States, Britain and Australia.

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The floating "future of fun", as it is described by Carnival Corporation chairman Micky Arison, is an absolute whopper. It weighs 133,500 tons, stands 15 stories high, carries up to 3954 guests and has a full complement of 1450 crew.

Big, potentially intimidating numbers, especially during embarkation at the start of a cruise which took in five countries: from Barcelona in Spain to Athens in Greece, via Marseilles in France, Livorno and Rome in Italy, the Greek islands of Crete and Rhodes, and Ephesus in Turkey.

But thanks to a wide choice of activities, venues and excursions, and the immaculate organisational skills of the Vista's ever-cheerful staff, lines move quickly and efficiently. Queues, say, to go ashore, to dine in one of the free, self-serve restaurants, or to take an elevator to different attractions in the new "floating city" ,are generally short, fast-moving.

From the moment visitors come aboard via the atrium, which features a colourful triple-deck, LED column filled with writhing underwater shapes, they stream off in many different directions.

They soon spread out, to spacious, brightly coloured rooms, state-rooms and suites, daily decorated by "towel art" – now so popular it's the subject of a new do-it-yourself book available on board – or dash off to investigate the ship's myriad attractions on offer, in some places round-the-clock.

They range from state-of-the-art, high-activity, outdoor thrills and spills in the sports area to a library stocked with the latest bestsellers. From a "peleton" of spinning gym bikes and running machines to an extensive casino, where the roulette wheels and slots whirl well into the night.

Where better to start than at the top, in the Carnival Waterworks, where grown-ups and kids alike can "spiral down classic slides, and get drenched by a giant bucket of water"? Or, take the long way down by raft-riding tube, on the twisting, 150 metre-long Kaleid-o-Slide. Yee-ha!

For even more thrills, guests can strap themselves into an open, streamlined "capsule" and pedal along the unique SkyRide, on a 300m, circular track, suspended more than 50m above the sea.

Still not exhausted? Well, it's time to head across to the Sportsquare, which offers mini-bowling and arcade-style basketball, as well as ping-pong, mini-golf, five-aside football and table tennis, where I was daily humiliated by my wife.

Only slightly less athletic pursuits can be found every afternoon, usually in the Ocean Plaza, including such things as the "Hip-hop", "Pop Workout", "Country Line", "Latin America" and "Groovy 60s", (from the Twist to the Mashed Potato), dance classes.

In need of a lie-down, rub, massage, body wrap or other expert treatment after all that exercise? Then head for Cloud 9 which comforts, pampers, offers, among other things, infra-red sauna, sensory showers and the "hamman", a chamber similar to a Turkish bath.

Feeling hungry after all that activity, or inactivity? Not surprisingly, given the number of guests aboard, the Carnival Vista offers more than a dozen places, some round-the-clock. That's more than a different one a day for guests taking the cruise from Barcelona to Athens.

Some are included in the overall cost of the cruise. Others, such as Bonsai Sushi, Ji Ji Asian Kitchen, Cherry on Top ice cream parlour, the Italian Cucina del Capitano, Guy's Burger Joint and the Blue Iguana Cantina, which specialises in tacos and burritos are very reasonably priced – even for Australians armed only with weakening dollars.

A full day done? Well, no. According to our hyper-active cruise director Matt Mitcham, it's only just beginning. For, guess what? The fun is only just beginning. "Viva Variety!"

In the Imax Theatre – the only one sailing the seven seas – the larger-than-life screen and immersive sound system is being readied to blow guests away with a triple-header: the doco A Beautiful Planet, The Jungle Book and, in 3D, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

At the same time, there will probably be movies, too, showing in the Thrill Theatre in the Multiplex, and Dive-in Movies screen in the Seaside Theatre.

In the Liquid Lounge, the US$750 balloon bingo is just beginning, while in the Limelight Lounge the Punchline Comedy Club is also opening for laughs. Be warned, though: the later the presentation, the lewder, the more provocative, the performance.

Indeed, some of it is adult-only. A cheeky poster promoting the late, late shows, suggests, "If you don't like the language, please sit right at the front where we can see the look on your face". You have been warned. Elsewhere, some guests are singing along in a High Seas karaoke session. Some are up on stage playing giant-size versions of well-known board games. And the cast are warming up and the audience is queuing up for the big, live, Playlist Productions show of the evening.

One night it's celebrating "the rhythmic sounds of Cuba", another "New York City nightlife of the 70s", and yet another, entitled "America Rocks!" It's time, says Matt, to "pump your fists to the best American rock anthems".

And if guests are not wiped out by all this fun, this activity, there are late-night deck parties: the Rock-n-Glow Party, the Mega Deck Party and the "awesome" , the "totally bodacious", Serenity Night party, with DJ JBLENDZ.

It promises "great music, fresh sea air, and a lounge vibe to inspire romance, camaraderie and maybe even a little dancing fun!"

Or you could go shopping, visit the on-board art gallery, read a book from the library or, like we did sooner or later: go to bed. All the rooms, whatever their style and price, were not just meticulously maintained by our jovial cabin steward, Leonardo; they seem soundproof.

Fun, like cruise ships, comes in all shapes and sizes, we reflected as we happily returned to the Carnival Vista after a day's sightseeing in Naples, where a local guide told us that the infamous mafia were still active locally. "But they only kill each other," she smiled.

We are pleased to be back in our big, temporary home. Pleased to relax, to go to the gym, to read a book, to go to a show, to go to bed early. Well, woo-hoo, 10pm!

Pleased, too, to discover that in our absence, Naples had triumphed. It had wrenched from Milan the world record for the world's longest pizza, with a length of 1.85 kilometres. Bravissimo!

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION

carnival.com.au

GETTING THERE

Emirates flies one-stop to Barcelona and Athens, for the reverse cruise, via Dubai.

CRUISING THERE

Carnival Vista will operate eight- to 13-day Mediterranean cruises until November, when it will re-position in New York for a pair of 11-day voyages before launching a year-round Caribbean service from Miami. Its sister ship Carnival Visit offers a choice of short voyages from Sydney.

John Huxley travelled courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line

FIVE MORE FUN THINGS TO DO AND SEE

CRAZY GAMES

Not just bingo, trivia and charades, but bridge tournaments, rock-paper-scissors games and bean-bag throwing competitions at the Red Frog Pub & Brewery (yes, the ship has its own beer).

VIVID COLOURS

Sure, the big, bright-white ship has its quiet places, its intimate moments, its muted shades, but the overall impression is of a riot of colour, from the top deck with its blue recliners, red and yellow waterworks and green "grass", to the guest rooms below.

SKY-HIGH THRILLS

As well as pedalling the unique, 50m high SkyRide, guests can hold on tight and tackle the aerial "high ropes" course. It's not easy. Some become totally immobilised, but with a little help they make it, taking home the memory of a lifetime.

SPECIAL STUFF FOR KIDS

Welcome to Camp Ocean/ Dr Seuss Bookville space, "where even small fries have an awesome time" supervised by 15 staff. Kids are sorted by age into Penguins, Stingrays and Sharks. For parents there's a "night owls'" babysitting service.

EXCURSIONS

Not just to the well-known "bucket list" destinations, but, at a price, off-beat, themed trips: such as Luberon lavender museum in France; Rome by private train; a night out in Athens "Zorba-style"; Mount Vesuvius by foot, scuba-diving in Rhodes, etc.

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