Will definitely take the Carnival Fantasy for any future cruises! This was my third cruise and the first cruise ever for my husband and 4-year-old son. The ship had lots of nice features and many fun activities. For any first time cruisers or anyone considering the Fantasy for the first time, here is my breakdown from start to finish:
1. Getting on the ship -- very easy process, but arrive early to make things as simple as possible. I believe our papers said arrive around 12:00/12:30, but after reading reviews on this site, we decided to arrive at 10:30. We were one of the first few people there and after paying to park in the lot ($75 for 5 days), we had to wait 10-15 minutes, then went through the rest of the process to board. Make sure to have all your papers ready to make things go faster. Everyone was friendly and helpful. I was worried since I saw reviews that said the process to get on was complicated, but this was not my experience. I followed all instructions and was taken exactly where I needed to be with no problems.
2. We had to wait until 1:30 to drop our carry-on bags in our room, so try to limit your carry-ons. If you arrive early, you'll have no problem finding a place to sit in the casual dining area, where you can sit and enjoy a snack without having to tote your bags around, but if you get on later you may be stuck lugging around bags/kids.
3. We were told not to expect our luggage until 6:00, but it arrived a little after 2:00. Again, another perk of arriving early, especially if you want to hit the pool soon after you get on!
4. Food - We ate from the inside and outside breakfast buffets each morning. The food was pretty good, but not great. Great omelet station, bacon, eggs, etc. but could be improved with a waffle station (the waffles and pancakes on the buffet were typically dry and not very warm) and more variety of fruit. Even though it was serve yourself, everyone was very friendly and the bus boys worked their tails off clearing plates, helping out as needed. We also ate lunch from the inside and outside buffets and it was all very good. Lots of variety here. You could eat one day American, another day Italian, one day Chinese, etc. We ate supper in the dining room all nights except one. We did have assigned dining, but went down and talked to the maitre d' EARLY (5PM) and had our dining option changed to Dine Anytime. The food was very good for the most part with lots of variety, but I wasn't impressed with the service. We had a different server each night and while they were polite, we weren't usually offered refills. One night the baked potato that came with my meal was hard as a rock and when I told the server, he made a joke about it and walked off, no offers to get another.
5. Activities - Carnival Fantasy has a variety of activities for every age. For kids, they have Camp Carnival split up in different age groups. My 4-year-old went in the 2-5 class and I couldn't speak more highly of the counselors--they were GREAT! My son only went 2-3 hours each day (you have 10am-10pm free and 10pm-3am for 6.75/hour), and it provided a much needed toy break for him. They had many educational and art activities for the kids to do as well. One thing to remember--the adult signing in the child has to be the one to sign him out (security precaution) and they also give parents for kids 5 and under a cell phone so you can contact them and vice versa. Activities for adults were good, trivia, karaoke, games, etc. The comedians were great! My only complaint here was with the Beatles show--TERRIBLE! Skip it! The singers wouldn't have made it to Hollywood on American Idol and it looked like a middle school production of Glee done by a school with no art budget. The musicians playing were great, but it wasn't enough to overcome the rest. Other activities--casino was fun (take advantage of the "Buy a Signature drink and get $5 free at the casino) if you like drinking and gambling. The pools were nice, even though the band playing was very loud, and the Waterworks on the top level was very fun!
6. Ports - On this cruise, you go to Freeport and Nassau. My advice--skip Freeport, except to go down for an hour and buy souvenirs if you are into that (and while I'm on souvenirs, wait until the LAST day at sea to buy any on the boat, that's when everything goes on sale). Freeport looked like a wasteland and you have to book a pricey excursion to do anything. (DO NOT book excursions through the ship--research and do it in advance and save $$!) We ended up making Freeport our fun day on the ship. Others stayed behind, but we only shared the pools, waterslides, etc. with few people. Nassau was wonderful. We went to the Blue Lagoon (booked through an independent site and save $100). Very beautiful place and if you can only afford one good excursion, this is one to do. You get taken to the island on the ferry, get lunch, they have beach chairs, umbrellas, hammocks, water tubes, mats, etc. to use, you also get free access to their water park, plus you can watch the dolphins and sea lions and go snorkeling.
7. Rooms and stewards - We had a window room on the bottom deck and thought it was nice. Smaller than a hotel room, of course, but how much time do you spend there anyway? It was straightened up every day and these folks do a fantastic job. Anything you need for the room, your steward takes care of it immediately. Loved these guys. They also did turn down service at night and picked up any towels, whatever, and left a towel animal with chocolate on the bed at night. Very nice touch :)
8. Tips - If you haven't found out already, you are automatically charged $50-odd dollars per person, split up between the room stewards, dining room waitstaff and the casual dining folks. You get plenty of reminders about this from the time you check in (so I'm not sure why some people complain about getting smacked with it after they left), but make sure you adjust yours if necessary. Because of the mediocre service in the formal dining room, we took off part of theirs and applied it to the room service. Some people choose to take it off altogether, but please remember the people who work so hard, even if you're not happy with part of it!
9. Disembarking - If you can, choose to self-disembark. You will save a lot of time. You get to leave much earlier and have almost no wait time to get off. From what I saw, not a lot of people do this (all you have to do is roll your bags off the ship down to the porter, EASY if you don't have a ton of luggage). We were next to the last self-disembark folks called, but we got on the elevator first (lined up 10 minutes EARLY), let them swipe our cards, left to hand in our claim form, then the porter took us to our parking garage. Whole process probably took less than 5 minutes after getting on the elevator. Compare this with waiting with the other 1500 passengers, going on the elevators, picking out your luggage among hundreds of other pieces, waiting on porter, etc. and you see how much time this saves.
Again, we will be going with the Carnival Fantasy. There were few things we didn't like, but overall we were very pleased. I hope some of the above tips/review help people in their decision to go with Fantasy and help make the whole process much easier!