A contest between Royal Caribbean's Harmony of the Seas and Carnival Vista is truly a battle of the behemoths. Harmony currently holds the title of world’s largest cruise ship, beating out sister ship Allure of the Seas by 2,400 tons and six feet, while Vista is the largest Carnival ship ever. But every cruiser knows that size isn’t everything, so let’s go round-by-round see which ship comes out on top in this heavyweight scrap:
With max occupancies of 3,934 for Vista and 5,479 for Harmony, a key element of design is how well the ships can handle the massive crowds onboard.
Harmony of the Seas borrows heavily from earlier Oasis-class ships. Like its sister ships, Harmony of the Seas is divided into “neighborhoods”: Central Park, Boardwalk, Entertainment Place, Young Zone, Royal Promenade, Pools and Spa & Fitness. Grouping venues by type makes it easy to find exactly what you’re looking for, something that you wouldn’t expect on such a massive ship. Like other Oasis and Quantum-class ships, the Royal Promenade runs straight down the middle of the ship, opening up tons of extra outdoor space. Each neighborhood also has a distinctive design and decor (bright, energetic colors for the Fun Zone and organic, natural tones in Central Park, for example), giving each part of the ship a unique feel while still adhering to the core Royal Caribbean aesthetic enough to create a sense of continuity.
Any seasoned Carnival cruiser stepping on board Vista will immediately be struck by the aesthetic. Carnival has made some serious upgrades in the design department, and adopted more sleeker, modern aesthetic that is a far cry from the old, Joe Farcas-designed ships. The layout has also been much improved to meet the needs of a megaship.
Vista's Serenity Deck and Harmony's Central Park neighborhood.
Our Pick: Harmony of the Seas. Vista is a massive upgrade from the decor of earlier Carnival ships, but no one knows how to design a megaship like Royal Caribbean.
Harmony of the Seas has 2,700 cabins with nearly 50 different cabin types. The sheer variety of cabins means passengers can find the perfect balance of space, amenities, and affordability, although weighing the differences between them can take some time. The rooms usually have ample storage and bathroom space, and are decorated with a calm aesthetic, a nice contrast to the the loud, in-your-face colors of the active areas of the ship). Balconies come in both ocean and interior views, and you can find a selection of suites ranging from 287 to 1,524 square feet.
Like Harmony, Carnival Vista has a great range of choice with 53 cabin types, but truly shines with two brand new categories: Family Harbor Staterooms and Havana Suites. The family Harbor Staterooms are essentially two-room cabins, an easy and elegant solution to families having to book separate staterooms to accommodate the whole clan. These are available as interiors, oceanviews, balconies and even suites, and come with access to an exclusive lounge with complimentary snacks and games, along with a private concierge. The Havana Suites are some of the nicest cabins you’ll find on a Carnival ship, equipped with rainfall showers, a fenced-in lanai, hammocks, and private access to the Havana pool.
Vista's Family Harbor Stateroom and an interior oceanview cabin on Harmony.
Our Pick: Harmony of the Seas. As nice as the Family Harbor Staterooms and Havana Suites are, again, they just can’t compete with the cabin variety and quality on the world’s largest cruise ship.
Harmony of the Seas comes with 19 dining venues, compared to 16 restaurants on Carnival Vista. Both ships have traditional dining rooms (American Icon, The Grande, and American Icon on Harmony of the Seas and Reflections and Horizons on Vista), and buffets (Harmony’s Windjammer and Vista’s Lido Deck Marketplace). Where the two ships truly distinguish themselves is in their selection of specialty restaurants.
Culinary highlights on Harmony of the Seas include Mexican fare at Sabor Taqueria & Tequila Bar, hibachi and sushi at Izumi, burgers at Johnny Rockets, Chops Grille, and healthy selections at the Vitality Café. Royal Caribbean’s celebrity chefs make a triumphant return on Harmony as Jamie’s Italian by Jamie Oliver returns on its third ship with an excellent offering of pasta dishes and cured meats, while James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schwartz shows off his range with snacks and pub fare at Michael’s Genuine and gourmet specialities at 150 Central Park. Wonderland also offers a delightfully unique “post-modern” culinary experience for passengers looking to get adventurous.
Vista has a solid lineup of dining choices as well: diehard Carnival fans will be delighted to find staples like Guy’s Burger Joint, the Blue Iguana Cantina, and the Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse on board. The VIP Chef’s Table experience treats passengers to a multi-course dinner hosted by the Master Executive Chef, complete with a dedicated dining room with windows that look directly into the galley.
Chef's Table and Jamie's Italian
Our Pick: Tie. This was a close one as Harmony excels in top-end gourmet choices, while Vista offers solid, consistent homestyle food for the masses.
Modern megaships come with more activities than you can possibly hope to experience in one week on board, and Harmony and Vista are no exception. Activities highlights on Vista include two main water slides, the Sports Square with mini-golf, basketball, foosball and ping pong and the Sky Course with ropes bridges and beams. The most talked about activity by far is the brand new Sky Ride, a pedal powered ride that glides riders along a suspended track high above the top deck.
Harmony counters with the three “Perfect Storm” water slides and the unique “Ultimate Abyss” dry slides, which snake their way down the aft of the ship from the top deck down to the Boardwalk. Also on Harmony is the usual suite of heart-pumping onboard activities from Royal Caribbean, such as a rock-climbing wall, two Flowrider surf simulators, a carousel for kids, and a zip line that traverses the Boardwalk from one end of the ship to another, plus an all new puzzle room adventure called “Escape the Rubicon”.
Vista' Skyride and Harmony's Ulitmate Abyss
Our Pick: Harmony of the Seas. Royal Caribbean is the king of onboard activities, and it would take something truly revolutionary to unseat them.
Carnival made waves when they announced the first IMAX at sea, and the theater is an impressive addition to the entertainment on Vista. The cinema mutliplex also features a Thrill Theater, which uses special effects and technology to put viewers directly into the action. The Liquid Lounge hosts the ship's main entertainment offerings: the latin-drive romance Amor Cubano, the rock opera America Rocks! inspired by Springsteen and Aerosmith, and Flick: The Power of Motion Pictures.
The entertainment venues on Harmony of the Seas blend classic stage entertainment with innovative figure skating and high-diving performances. The Royal Theater features the Broadway musical Grease, along with Columbus the Musical, an original production about Columbus’ less fortunate cousin, Marvin. Studio B puts on 1887: A Journey in Time, a technologically driven figure skating performance of a woman’s journey across time and space, and the Aqua Theater hosts Hideaway Heist, a high-diving show centered around a 50’s resort.
Both ships have comedy offerings (The Attic on Harmony and the Punchliner Comedy Club on Vista) along with great acoustic guitar music at Harmony’s Boot and Bonnet Pub and Vista’s Red Frog Rum Bar. The Stowaway Piano man on Harmony of the Seas is also a crowd favorite, popping up at random around the ship with unexpected performances.
IMAX theater and Grease
Our Pick: Harmony of the Seas. Vista gets an attaboy for the IMAX, but the quality and variety of Harmony’s productions wins the day.
Character partnerships also make up a good deal of the children’s programming on both ships with Dreamworks stars like Shrek, Puss in Boots or Fiona on Harmony of the Seas and Dr. Seuss characters on Carnival.
Adventure Ocean is Harmony’s children’s club, and is broken down into three age groups with nautically-themed activities for kids 2-11. All groups visit the Adventure Science area to perform experiments, or head to the Imagination Studio to express their creative side. Youth clubs are open when the ship is in port, meaning parents can visit the city on their own while staff members entertain the kids and take them to lunch and dinner at the Windjammer. Little ones also have their own miniature water park in Splashaway Bay with water slides and fountains. Camp Ocean provides similar services as Adventure Ocean on Carnival Vista, with the added benefit of the warehouse arcade on Deck 6.
Teens have their own spaces on both ships: Harmony boasts The Living Room, a lounge area stocked with Xbox's and game tables, and Fuel, a dance club that’s open until 2 am. On Carnival, teens are split into two groups, with Circle C for kids 12-14 and Club O2 tends to those 15-17. Both offer games, SportSquare challenges, dance parties and other activities.
Dr. Seuss' Bookville and Splashaway Bay
Our Pick: Tie. Both ships have great onboard offerings for children.
Harmony is currently offering 7 night Eastern/Western Caribbean sailings from Ft. Lauderdale, while Vista's itineraries give passengers the choice of 6 and 8-night sailings to the Eastern and Western Caribbean, or an 8 night Southern Caribbean cruise from Miami.
Vista in St. Thomas and Harmony sailing out of Port Everglades
Our Pick: Tie. Vista’s itineraries are a bit more interesting, especially the 8 night southern Caribbean sailing, but Harmony’s home port of Port Everglades is much less of a hassle to cruise from than Miami.
Our Pick: Harmony of the Seas is the undisputed winner thanks to the sheer number of choices in virtually every category. Still, Vista is an excellent ship that represents a huge leap forward for Carnival in ship design, and remains a great choice if you’re looking for a “smaller” ship.