Because it is my way, I read every review I could find about the Fascination prior to our early December cruise. The amount of time I spend online is none of your concern, just keep moving. So here is my take. I also want to dispel what I consider myths from this and other cruise review sites.
THE PORT: Easiest to get in and out of by far. Smaller crowd to move of course, but lots of space. We had VIP, and couldn't have asked for better service. We parked at the port, which I knew going in would cost $15 a day, more than the place just up the block. To me it was worth it for the security and easy in/out.
TIP: If you are parking at the port, don't arrive too early, like before 10:30 am. They won't even let you in the parking lot.
THE CABIN: We sprung for the top of line and got the Grand Suite with Extended Balcony. Would do it again every time. One day when it was kind of rainy outside, we had our own private covered spacious balcony. VIP entry comes with it. Room steward Muli was phenomenal. But if you are the type to save your money for the tables and such, you still won't go wrong.
MYTHS: I read how badly the bathroom smelled in this cabin. Unless you are on your first cruise, you realize there is an inherent drawback to cruise ship plumbing. You do get an ever increasing whiff of sewage as the week goes on. We bring air freshener.
DINING ROOM: We tried Your Time Dining and were pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed it. We did ask for the same wait staff (Savio's team) every time, and except for lobster night had no problem getting them. And of course the Melting Chocolate cake is the best dessert in the history of cruising.
MYTHS: I have read criticisms of the dining room. I had none. Everything was freshly prepared and very good. Portions are smaller, but the waiter never blinked when I asked for two. I even read complaints about the staff dancing and singing. Come on! It's a cruise. Lighten up.
OTHER FOOD: the buffet was a buffet. The desserts there far outshine the food. But always something to be found. None of the very long lines for food I have encountered on larger Carnival ships. Mongolian Wok and Sushi Bar both outstanding, but always long lines.
TIP: There is a carving station out by the pool. The best meats are there, not inside.
ENTERTAINMENT: exceeded my expectations. Didn't see Mambo show, but 80's show was very good. Ear splitting volume, so be warned. Never made it to the comedians. They get kind of old for me.
MYTHS: I read on an earlier post that there was no live music. Not so at all. Lots of live music. Now, you often have to follow it around the boat. So when the island guys are done on the Lido deck at 6:00, you have to make your way down the lounge outside the casino to catch the band. They knock off at 7, but that's when the guitar guy starts up in the atrium. I read a few criticisms of the singers in Far from Over. I only heard one song kind of flat. The rest was very energetic and well done. And yes, the female dancer in the Purple Rain number was a bit suggestive, but hardly obscene. Any modern music video is much worse.
TIP: If Angela is playing in the piano bar, don't miss it. Played stump the entertainer and she can play literally anything.
PORTS OF CALL: Key West is definitely laid back and easy to navigate on foot. You park at Navy pier, so can only get in and out via the free shuttle. Any charm that a cruiser can experience on Nassau is destroyed by the pushy vendors. Although on other trips I have gotten away from port and it is nicer.
TIP: Nassau has free wi fi in the port building. And $3 beer from the vendors.
DEBARKATION: Very quick, very easy.
TIP: Don't do the self-assist debark unless you can carry your luggage down the stairs. The only backups on debarkation day were at the elevators. My sister mistakenly thought the elevators were free and almost got lynched by the crowd lined up down the hallway for an elevator.
MYTHS: I read numerous accounts of how the Captain misleads you or can't read the tide charts, and you can be delayed getting into port under the bridge. When we took our Behind the Fun tour, I got a chance to ask the captain whatever I wanted. So I did. Turns out the ship always has at least three feet clearance under the bridge, even at high tide. However, there was some construction a while back that had a scaffold hanging under the bridge. During that time they did have to wait for low tide. Also, if the wind is blowing from the east, it pushes more water in than normal. The Captain explained that on those occasions he has to sit out past the bridge four to five hours to wait for the proper clearance.
THE ONLY LOW POINTS: the service from the bar waiters in the dining room is inconsistent. Some days we got our drinks in no time. Other trips it took half the meal.
GENERAL EXPERIENCE: This is not one of the larger or newer ships out there. It certainly lacks many of the amenities and experiences to be found with those new ships. However, the crew seems in tune to that and makes sure you feel like you are in a friendly place where everyone knows your name. This is one of the most budget friendly cruises available, but I can't see where service suffered for it.