For our anniversary, my husband and I went on our first cruise. We picked the Fascination because we read that the "Fun Ships" were more manageable for a first cruise. We flew in from Indiana and stayed the night before the cruise in Jacksonville so we wouldn't be rushed the day we departed. I recommend that if possible. We stayed at the Jacksonville Plaza. Their cruise and stay package was very reasonable and they provided shuttle from airport to hotel and from hotel to port. Here's what we experienced:
Boarding: We found it very fast, easy and every staff member was really friendly. We were nervous about it but it was a breeze.
Rooms: I am so glad we got a window room. We were rarely in our room but it was nice looking out the window while my husband was getting ready and it was fun watching while we pulled into ports. The rooms were not nearly as tiny as I had feared. I read a ton of tips but the one I'm really glad we listened to was bringing a power strip. We used it to charge cameras, use hair dryer, etc. I didn't bring a hair dryer and it wasn't a problem getting one from the room porter. Bathrooms were tiny but the space was fine. The tv in the room replayed activities from around the ship if you happened to miss anything. My husband won the "Hairy Chest" competition and they played it LOTS!
Dining: The buffet was just like any other buffet. The food was just ok. Everything was pretty bland except the Mongolian BBQ and it was super spicy. The deli was great and I regret not eating there more. My husband loved the pizza and the 24 hour ice cream. We ate in the main dining room every night and the food there was really wonderful. We have tried to re-create the melting cake since but to no avail. We sometimes ordered more than one entree and I almost always ordered 2 appetizers. You can order as much as you want. We ate breakfast there one morning and wish we had done that more. It was much better than the buffet breakfast. We did your time dining and only waited once for 5 minutes.
Activities: We played bingo a couple times (pretty expensive) and went to several shows. The adults only comedy shows were really good and different every night. The game show were fun to watch. Don't miss the "Hairy Chest" or the "Newlywed" show. We went to the casino a couple of times and it wasn't too crowded. There is only 1 pool and it is packed with kids. We realized that the only time it isn't overcrowded is between 5-7pm when most people are at dinner.
Ports: We went to Half Moon Cay and it was wonderful. The water is gorgeous and there are plenty of lounge chairs. There isn't any shade on the beach though unless you pay for a cabana. The lunch there is the same as the buffet on the ship. I bought a hat there and it wasn't too expensive. The tender ride there and back was ok. We waited in line, in the sun for a while coming back but it is a beautiful beach. We also stopped in Nassau. We had booked an excursion to stay at the Hilton. It was $50/person but that included a $30 food and drink voucher. It is a short walk from the port and my hubby snorkeled right there and saw tons of fish. They have loungers and umbrellas and the lunch was good. We loved it and thought it was the perfect afternoon.
Service: Fantastic! Our room porter remembered our name every time. We requested Julius as our server in the dining room and he was hilarious. We couldn't believe how friendly all the servers were.
We went prepared to spend around $500. That was a joke! We aren't really drinkers. We bought the "bubbles" card the first day but my husband said he wouldn't buy it again. He thought the ice tea and lemonade were really good and wouldn't have needed soft drinks. I had maybe 2 mixed drinks a day. I won $600 in the casino and spent another $500 on top of that. Everyone told me to take half of my clothes out of my suitcase and replace it with cash. They weren't joking!
Debarkment: This sucked. We had a noon flight so they told us to be in the Palace Lounge by 7:30am and to take our bags with us instead of leaving them outside our room. We sat there for 2 hours. Nobody seemed to know what we going on. It would have been nice to have been able to go grab breakfast but we never knew when we were getting off the ship and the staff seemed just as confused as we were. Finally we left the ship only to sit in the Carnival bus for another 45 minutes. This really was the only bad thing in an otherwise great vacation.
Overall we loved it and can't wait to go back. It was a great first cruise for us and we would definitely go on another Carnival cruise.