We are 47 year old married couple who like night life. We have traveled throughout Caribbean -- Aruba 7 times, Cancun 3 times, Play del Carmen twice, Bahamas twice, San Juan once, Dominican Republic once and we have been on 2 cruises. We went on the Carnival Fascination cruise out of Jacksonville sailing to Key West ,FL and Nassau, Bahamas Monday -- Saturday 8/27/12-9/1/12. We flew in on Saturday but did take a taxi from the airport on Monday to the cruise terminal. Ride is about 20 minutes. Plenty of taxi's both cars and minivans available for the ride. We have sailed on the Carnival Ecstasy and Carnival Destiny in previous years. We traveled with my sister/husband and there 2 kids (8 & 12).
EMBARKATION -- We booked a Grand Suite U112 which is on Level 6 Upper (mid ship) on the port side of the ship. This room level afforded us VIP status and we did not have to wait in the huge holding area with the other passengers. Went to a separate room for 5 minutes then escorted right to a customer service rep who checked us in and gave us our package. All told from the moment taxi dropped us off until the time we were actually on the ship was 25 minutes. Definitely the way to go if you can afford it.
ROOM -- Biggest room we have ever had on a cruise and bigger than any hotel room we have had in any big city. You enter and there is a walk-in closet on your right and opposite that the bathroom. Plenty of hangers, at least 20. Also in the closet was more shelving and a safe which did fit my Ipad but would not fit a laptop. Safe is free and operates with the swipe of any credit card to close and open. Must use same card to open that you used to close. This level room also has an actual Jacuzzi tub/shower combo. This however requires a step up from the bathroom floor of almost a foot. So head room when taking a shower is about 6' 2". This allows for more shower room width wise than rooms with just shower but would be tough for a tall person (I am 5' 11'). Also, a little awkward if you are older trying to get in to the tub/shower. Room had king bed which faced a counter on opposite wall that was entire width of room with a flat screen TV above the counter. Plenty of drawer space. Also had a sitting area to the right of bed which had a chair, coffee table, and sofa (which pulls out to a double bed). Right next to the sofa is a door which leads to your balcony which has 2 chairs and little table. Room was nice, clean, there was some carpet wear and stain. To be expected for ship built in 1994.
ACTIVITIES - Ship is definitely geared toward kids as during its makeover added the Water Works (water slides) section. Has both Camp Carnival for kids 2-11, Circle C for kids 12-14 and Club O2 for teenagers. Only one pool on the ship. The adult Serenity area has 2 hot tubs but no pool, located at stern of ship so no breeze but very quiet. Prefer the ships that have a second pool (like Destiny) but as we were traveling with kids this suited them perfectly. Typical cruise activities throughout the day. Some for adult a lot for kids on this ship. Mini-golf and a couple of ping pong tables. Casino of course but never ventured in. Piano 88 bar with sing along piano player was not that good. Shows in the Palace theater were very entertaining especially 80's show on last night. Get there early for good seats. Balcony seats are obstructed view. We had 2 comedians who played in the Puttin on Ritz bar. 'Roman' was very good and changed his material each night. Earlier shows are family friendly. Late shows are very adult, very funny. Other comedian was OK but he performed same material each night. He does give you disclaimer at beginning of each show after his first show of the cruise letting you know he will be using same material.
RESTAURANTS -- We had early (6:15) dining in Sensation dining room. We ate their 3 nights. Best night was captain's night. Food was OK. We had better on Destiny and Ecstasy in past sailings. Not sure if this is due to the ships or the time lapse between our cruising. We sailed on Ecstasy 12 years ago and Destiny even longer ago. So not sure if this is just cruise lines cutting back on quality of food to manage the bottom line. Food was OK just nothing great except for lobster and prim rib. The 2 in port days we ate in the Coconut Grove buffet as we didn't want to rush to get ready after re-boarding ship. This was OK as well. Could always find something to eat but everything cooked more bland to appeal to wider base of people, I guess. Never tried the pizza (available 24 hours) but people in our party had it and liked it. Also deli right next to pizza which had really good sandwiches. Sushi bar had good sushi. Mongolian which was only open for lunch and is on lido deck near pool was fabulous. Vegetables, pasta, noodles cooked to order with schezuan sauce or soy sauce or barbeque sauce. The Rotisserie Grille which is right next to Mongolian is very good as well. Turkey, ham, lamb...at different times during the cruise. Also eggs to order for breakfast at the Rotisserie Grille. One not on open seat dining. This is an option which must be 'chosen' before your cruise. It means that you will have this dining option for the cruise. On our cruise it was anytime 6-9:30pm you go to the Sensation dining room and check in with hostess just like you would in a regular restaurant. If you chose a 6pm or 8pm seating you can NOT go to open dining should you miss your assigned seating times.
DRINKS --as on all cruises very expensive. Over $6 for mixed drink. US domestic beers over $5...Imported beers just under $5. Drinks of the day or those with more than 1 alcohol are around $8 with tip some over $8. Don't like the fact that now the only drinks included in your price is water, lemonade, ice tea and coffee. Must pay for all soda's at $2/each so opted for the endless bubbles program which cost $36.60 for the entire cruise unlimited soda's ( I was told must do this your first day or else not available). We also pre-purchased (from carnival) a bottle of Bacardi and Sky for the trip. This was waiting in the room when we checked in. $60/each for one liter bottle, but a rum/coke is over $6 with tip (which is mandatory). So mixed a lot of my own drinks with my endless bubbles soda as did the wife.
SERVICE -- very good. Cabin steward was always around to get you whatever you needed. Main dining room waiter service was prompt, courteous and personable. Again would get you whatever you wanted. Special orders not a problem. Buffet at Coconut Grove you would run into problem with tables not being cleared as quickly as needed but that is an endless uphill battle for the wait staff. Plenty of waiters around the pool area to get you a drink if you prefer not to belly up to the bars yourself.
PORTS OF CALL -- we never made it to Key West, FL as the Tuesday morning we had someone jump overboard and we had to search the area from 2am-8am before the coast guard took over. So we were told we couldn't make it all the way to Key West so the switched that to Freeport, Bahamas. Stopped at Nassau first. We have been to Nassau on 3 other occasions so we had no desire to shop or sight see. We took private cab to the public beach right next to the RIU resort on Paradise Island. It was $55 round trip (with tip). He brought us (8:30am) and came back (3pm) to pick us up at a designated time, even coming down to beach to find us. Also, made stop at liquor store on the way for supplies. Beach had vendors braiding hair, giving massages, you could rent chairs and umbrellas...(2 chairs and an umbrella for $45/day) also people selling beer, water, sodas all cold out of coolers. There is also a beach bar/restaurant, Pirates Cove, right next to the RIU resort which is open to public. It has dogs, burgers, chicken, salads and full liquor/beer menu available at reasonable prices. Beach and water are beautiful.
Freeport, Bahamas was a waist. Excursions were huge money even to just go to beach. Right at the dock there were shops/straw market available for shopping and an outdoor bar. We decided to just take a taxi ($10 round trip, group taxis) into Port Lucaya Marketplace section which was about 20min ride to shop and try to see the beach. It was way too HOT and after they piled 14 of us into a 12 passenger taxi with no A/C we were not in best of mood upon arrival at the marketplace. Walked around the Market Place which did have numerous indoor and outdoor shops as well as restaurants and bars. Also, had straw market like Nassau. Had a couple of quaint bars but it was just too hot to even think about drinking alcohol. There was also a free standing casino right where cab drops you off. Never got to see the beach as the hotel (Radisson) that is right across the street from marketplace will not allow you onto their beachfront property without a room key. Only stayed there for about 2 hours total including taxi time. Got back and looked at shops that were right off the dock and found you could get basically the same things there that they had in town for the most part. Also, at the port is an outdoor bar that has reasonable drink prices $3.50/local beer (Khalik/Sands) and a DJ that was entertaining for people watching.
DISEMBARKATION -- we had VIP disembarking and placed in Group 1. First to go after self-assist, and those needing special help, wheelchairs, crutches etc.
Supposed to get off at 8:30am but didn't get off until 9:15am. Once moving only took 15 minutes to be curbside and in a taxi back to airport.