We picked the Fascination because we had some business to do around the Jacksonville/North Florida area. Carnival is the only cruise line that sails out of Jacksonville port.
We arrived two days earlier to take care of our other business. Looking back, we were glad we arrived into the area early so there was no pressure to go straight from the airport to the port.
We took a taxi to the port for embarkation. It was $33, we stayed in the Hyatt Place hotel- very clean, nice large rooms with free hot breakfast. Hyatt Place also includes a free shuttle that goes between the hotel and airport, or any destination within 3 miles. There is a big shopping center within 1 mile of the hotel.
At embarkation they do security and you can drop off your bags.
Since we had two rollers, we could just take them on ourselves. I think this was better since we didn't have to worry about when our bags would be delivered to our cabins later.
Embarkation is a long line, they have two metal and X-Ray machines.
I thought the security team was a bit pushy. You can bring unopened beverages onboard, but opened water bottles for example have to be thrown out all the way at the front of the line.
We setup our Sign and Sail card with our credit card ahead of time, so that shortened our check-in process. They gave us a deck/ship map and our room keys. We then had our pictures taken against a backdrop and onboard we went.
We stayed in R196 on Rivera Deck. It is an ocean view with a rectangular window (not a small round port window). It is on the most bottom level deck for passengers toward the back of the ship. You can feel/hear the engine rumbling but it did not keep us awake. There is a third fold down bed mounted on the wall. Since we were just two traveling, they folded it up and kept the ladder for the third bed in our closet.
This room also has a door to connect with the room next to it.
R196 is very close to the stairs/elevators at the back of the ship, so it was very easy to get to our dining room, and the lido deck buffet.
When you first get on the ship, you have to walk all the way down Rivera toward the back of the ship since the gangway is located at the front of the ship.
Lunch is served in the Coconut Grove buffet on lido deck as you embark. It was our first taste of the ship. Not bad, but not great. Lots of desserts, all the soft serve ice cream you could want. For drinks, there is only water, coffee, hot chocolate, lemonade and ice tea.
Soda must be purchased (I think about $2-$2.50) a can including a built-in 15% tip. It then made sense to us why we saw so many people going through security with their own 12 packs.
We then explored the rest of the ship.
The adult only Serenity deck is at the back of the ship, and has a nice view of the ocean sailing behind the ship. It has two hot tubs, a shaded area and lots of lounging chairs.
There are lots of bars/dance club areas on the ship that can be accessed when walking along the "Hollywood Boulevard" which is the main corridor that runs from back to front of the ship.
We had an assigned late dining in the Imagination dining room at 8:15, one of two sit down dining rooms. The other room, the Sensation is also open for breakfast and lunch. The early dining option is at 6:15. We originally wanted to change to the dine anytime option in the Sensation dining room at the front, but it ended up working out just fine to have dinner late. There are lots of things going on during the day, and often times it was around the early dinner time.
For the big shows, "Mambo" and "Far From Over" they have two showings, so you can go regardless of your dinner time.
The late dinner time was also okay because when we did get hungry, the buffet on lido deck was also serving starting at 6, so we could get a quick fix.
Also, some dinner options in the buffet appear in the dinner menu, so you can preview/taste test some of the simpler dishes like pasta.
The arcade on board is really small. There are maybe 8 machines total.
The Mini Golf course on the sun deck is in need of a redo. It has patches of green turf from various repairs and has nothing interesting/fun on the course.
The gym has a great view looking forward at the front of the ship. The room was clean and equipment seemed new.
The sushi bar is really small, we ate a few times, nothing impressive though.
The Palace Lounge is where all the shows and big presentations happen.
Our cruise director Eric Brouman was really funny and a great host. He really got everyone fired up and he can do some magic tricks too. Both big shows are just singing and dancing. We were hoping they would tell a story. The live band was good. The two main singers were good but not great. The dancers do a ton of costume changing, but I think the shows are less fun because you know it is the same set of girls and guys changing costumes constantly.
The second show toward the end of the cruise was much better. It is an 80's themed show again dancing and music only, no story.
We enjoyed getting our "Fun Times" every day and checking out what there was to do on the ship. It is a newsletter with a convenient tear off strip that summarizes what is happening at each hour on the ship and where. There are plenty of maps onboard that show where you are and where the various rooms are, so we quickly learned the layout of the ship.
We did not use the pool on the ship, there is one midship. Usually lots of kids.
There is Wi-fi aboard the ship, we used it only once to reschedule an excursion via email. It is 75 cents per minute. You can also buy some plans that are cheaper per minute wise.
Service throughout the ship was amazing.
The crew comes from all over the world: India, Philippines, Honduras, England, Sweden, China, etc. They are really the nicest people. They are always smiling, having a good time themselves, and always asking there is anything they can do for you. Jia who serviced our stateroom was great. One of the comedians onboard the ship joked that if you got out of bed to use the bathroom, by the time you got back your bed would be made. This is almost true =)
Our room would get made up after we went to brunch, and again before dinner time.
Pretty much anytime you left and put the "Cruising/Service Please" tag on your door, the bathroom would be cleaned, the bed made and room tided up. It was great.
Our host at dinner was also very nice, we looked forward to our assigned table.
We really enjoyed the cruise and miss the ship already.
It was 5 days of getting away from everything and being taken care of, and eating as much of what you wanted when you wanted. Room service is free too, just pay tips for delivery.
The Fascination is an older ship, so we probably won't be onboard her for a while but we will definitely do Carnival again in the future!