Just returned from a 5 day sailing on July 5th, 2012 and from reading reviews and seeing the age of the ship I had low expectations going into the cruise. Afterward those low expectations were barely met.
Em & Debarkation
Port Charleston was never designed to handle cruise ships and it shows. I have sailed out of New York, Miami and Tampa Bay previously. While things went smoothly, it never felt like the facilities were up to par. The check in area was basically an old warehouse with a coat of paint and mobile line dividers. Makes it seem cheap and like Carnival really didn't want to put money into upgrading the facilities, or they don't plan to have ships coming out of that port for much longer. We were also told during the debarkation presentation that it would be a silent debarkation due to the fact that the residents of Charleston didn't want to have noise from announcements, went to court / sued Carnival over the noise, won the case and therefore no debarkation announcements. This didn't seem to cause any problems during the debarkation which went smoothly.
I cruised with my SO, so it was only the two of us in an oceanview room, midship, on the Empress Deck. Here is where the age of the ship comes into play. I have been on newer ships with larger rooms, balconies, and bathrooms you can actually turn around in. The bed took up the bulk of the room, leaving about 6 inches to the window, a foot to the wall at the foot of the bed and little room to place suitcases for the duration of the trip. Thankfully we packed light and didn't spend much time in the room. The bathroom was horribly small with my knees almost touching the wall while using the facilities. The water from the faucet was never cold and the longer we let it run the warmer it became. Brushing your teeth with warm/hot water gets old quickly. The bathroom door handle was missing 2 out of 4 screws and the main fluorescent lights in the room flickered in the night even though they were turned off. There was no tissues in the room, I spoke to room steward who told me to go to guest services, guest services spoke to room steward, I guess, because 10 minutes later the room steward was back asking if we needed tissues and a conversation ensued with me trying to explain tissue for nose, not for bottom. The television had black lines through the screen indicating that it was old/broken, again after explaining to room steward he said he would clean the tv. The next day I spoke to guest services and an actual tech was in the room to look at the tv (American) and he agreed it was going bad / broken. We didn't get it replaced b/c we didn't watch much anyway, but again something wrong with room.
The first night we came back from dinner and did not have a signature towel animal.
The second night we came back from dinner and found a dirty wet rag on the table next to the mirror in the cabin.
The third night we came back from dinner and our beach towels had been taken but not replaced. When we called guest services to ask for beach towels they accused us of doing something with the towels from the previous day. We had to explain that they were never replaced and we were given additional towels.
3 out of 5 nights with mistakes is unacceptable coming from the standpoint of the level of service I have received on previous Carnival cruises.
We selected the 6pm dinner in the Jubilee dining area. The first night our head waiter was so slow on service that we were literally getting our appetizers when other tables were getting up to leave. The rest of the restaurant was being flipped for the next dinner service while we were getting our entrees. His tables were the last three out of the room and we had to push through the next seating crowd to leave the area. We spoke to the Maitre d' and the following night the service was much better. The following night our head waiter disappeared until the final night. Apparently he hurt his back, but the waiter who stepped in was twice as good as our head waiter. Compared to other cruises due to the injury we never developed a rapport with our waiter which takes a bit of the fun/atmosphere from dinner. As far as the food, eh... It was the luck of the draw when ordering. Some entrees were great, some were good/fair, and some were so bad they had to be sent back. We were with friends who are very knowledgeable about steaks and wanted medium rare, between two people it took 6 tries (3 each) before a properly cooked steak came out. The performances by the waiters was really poor, again compared to previous cruises and previous waiter performances. The drink waiter had a very flippant attitude as well.
Lido Deck Food
The food in the aft dining area was so-so, but what to expect from 24/7 food. Here's some tips though. The Pizza sand in the far back does omelets during breakfast so you don't need to wait in the long line outside next to the pool. Also, the pizza and deli sandwiches were far better than the food in the general buffet line and the lines are much shorter.
Again showing its age, the Universal Lounge was small and cramped compared to other newer ships. There were posts for structural support which blocked views, cracked plastic molding in several areas & one night I was able to lift the armrest off my seat completely and remove the backrest as well (and my seat wasn't the only one that was disassembleable). That's supposed to happen in old high school auditoriums, not on a Carnival cruise ship.
There are a number of things to do on the ship on par with other cruises, trivia, marriage special, show nights, a ton of karaoke, deck party (cramped on a small deck). The teens seemed to be having fun so I'm guessing that was a good thing, but we're 30 somethings so that's an N/A for us. The hosts / entertainment directors were great, the one gleaming bright spot of the whole cruise. Pool was small the right size for the ship and if you don't get a deck chair by 8-9am, you won't get one. One bummer was that they cruised the pool to clean on the last night of the cruise after sunset. It was a day at sea, why the heck would you close the pool that early? The only way to play pingpong is to participate in the pingpong tournament b/c the two tables they have are always in use. The beanbag toss competition, which requires throwing a beanbag in a high arc was held where? On the topside? On the stage on the deck? On the stage of the Universal Lounge? No that's right, they held it right outside the casino where people hit the ceilings and one person even landed it inside the light. What are they thinking? There was precious little to do on the second sea day (final day of the cruise).
Ports of Call
Nassau - it's Nassau, Atlantis, Blue Lagoon, shopping, whatever you do don't go into the city. We did the Blue Lagoon, fun as always, but this sailing the time spent there was only 4 hours. Previous cruises was 6 hours. Upon returning to the ship we were told we could have stayed an extra 2 hours and taken another boat back to Nassau from another Carnival ship in port at that time, good to know after getting back to the ship.
Freeport - first time at this port of call, a tropical paradise it is not. I don't understand why Carnival sails here. The port was an industrial area with oil tanks, tanker ships and container ships all around. A small tourist shopping area right outside the ship. We did the Jeep adventure, not much adventure. 5.5 hours, 3.5 of which is driving through residential / rundown areas of the island. 1 hour at the beach, 1 hour at a small nature preserve area. We did drive through a large area of Caribbean Pine forest which was okay. Only do this if you have a strong desire to drive a Jeep Wrangler from the early 90's on the wrong side of the road for 3.5 hours.
Sewage Smell on the Ship
I saw this written in several reviews prior to cruising and I can hopefully narrow it down. The ship stinks after / during the dinner sittings on the Empress deck, even cabin room numbers from roughly E180 through E120 (it did not smell on the odd side of the deck). There is a large set of doors that seems to lead to the galley or at least the dish washing area would be my guess b/c it smelled like steam mixed with sewage of some sort. If our rooms had been in that area I would have been irate. I'm not sure if other decks smelled in that area below, but hopefully that helps the sewage smell discussion.
If you have never been on a cruise before you would most likely enjoy this ship b/c the people were generally friendly, a few things rough around the edges, fun days at sea, a few ports of call and all the food you can eat. If you have cruised on newer, bigger, fancier ships with better ports of call I would strongly recommend picking another ship.
In my opinion the Fantasy seemed to be a "training ship". What I mean is that there were several "entertainment directors", waiters that weren't up to par, room stewards that were lacking in their abilities, like they would start here and if they did well maybe they would be transferred to a better ship. I don't know if it works like that, but just my feeling.
The ship seems to fill a need because it was mostly southerners, so a lot of southern charm which was delightful, and a lot of country karaoke (not my cup of tea). The farthest I heard someone traveling from to go on the cruise was Illinois. If Carnival were to put a better, bigger and newer ship in this port, have it sail to "tropical" ports (Grand Turk, Half Moon etc.) it would draw from farther away. I personally left with a bad taste because I know how great an experience a Carnival cruise ship can be, and how far from that this cruise was.