My husband and I decided in late November to scrap the family Christmas and go on a cruise instead. We found the best combination of flight price, cruise, and timing to be the Dec. 20 Fantasy cruise out of Charleston. We flew in the morning of embarkation, took a cab from the airport (cost $30 including tip), and were at the port by 11 am.
Waiting to get on the ship was confusing. One man told us to walk through a certain gate and wait for further instructions. People started walking up from the opposite direction while we were standing there, talking about checking in by the street. Unfortunately, there were no port or Carnival reps around we could ask so we stayed put. After about 20 minutes, the shuttles started to arrive, we got on and were taken to the terminal. From the time we got off the shuttle until we were on the Lido deck was about 10 minutes. We ended up being the first people on the ship. It was so simple because I had set our account up online before we left Ohio.
Our room wasn't ready until about 1:30, but we found things to do to keep us busy. Once in our room, our luggage arrived within an hour. The room itself was nice. We did Oceanview Guarantee and ended up with M254 which is all the way aft on the Main deck. The bathroom was fine. The shower, despite what I had read online, was fantastic! Water pressure and temperature was perfect...strong and hot. The room had plenty of space for the two of us. The only thing that might have been helpful was if there were someplace to store our luggage. There were so many spare blankets/comforters in the closets that there wasn't space for our suitcases. The bed was comfortable, sheets were clean and soft, pillows were sturdy. The window was dirty and difficult to see out of, but they cleaned the outside of them while we were in port.
Common areas on the ship were clean and comfortable. We were always able to find someplace quiet to relax. Despite the age of the ship, nothing looked worn. Carpet was bright and clean. There were almost always lounge chairs available on deck. And if not, there were some on the Serenity deck. We never had trouble finding a place to sit in the restaurant. Finding our way around was confusing the first couple of days, but the wall maps help a lot. Chairs in The Forum are not comfortable. At all.
We didn't participate in many of the organized activities. That just isn't our style. We did attend the port shopping presentation and found it useless. I don't care how many times they tell us that you can get a fantastic deal on watches, I can find the same stuff online for far less. My husband found a watch in Nassau that he liked (Citizen). We didn't buy it and I just found a similar style online last night for almost half the price it was in Nassau.
The one night we sat out on the Lido deck to listen to Music Degree (who are great musicians). No one was out dancing until the DJs came out and played the line dance songs. Then as soon as that was over, the place cleared out again. I would much prefer the band music to the line dancing, but clearly the crowd didn't agree.
We also went to the Fun Shops for the bracelet sale. Don't waste your time rushing to fight the crowds at the assigned time. We went back later that night and they had more stock out and were offering the same prices.
On our Freeport day, my husband and I both got spa treatments (Express shave for him, Fire & Ice manicure for me). He loved the shave, had a very personable girl who did the treatment, and enjoyed the experience. My manicure was ok. Not sure what the "Ice" part of the manicure was, and I paid extra for the shellac polish (the other options looked like they were bottles found in people's staterooms after they disembarked...random brands and colors). But it was worth the upgrade. I'm on day 4 and its holding up great). The only thing I didn't like was the constant attempt to sell me on other products and services during the manicure.
Nassau was ok. Downtown was set up with scaffolding and bleachers for a parade, so it was difficult to get around. We walked around checking out the shops and government buildings. As I already mentioned, I wasn't impressed with the shopping, and we went back to the ship after a couple of hours.
We got off the ship briefly in Freeport to check out the shops at the port. There was a band playing at the gazebo and they sounded good.
Service on the ship was fantastic. All of the crew we encountered were friendly and helpful. Our room was always promptly cleaned and made up for us. No sooner would we finish eating than the plates were cleared. Jogi, the maitre'd in the Jubilee Dining Room, was awesome! He made dinner fun and entertaining, and was always around, whether it was the dining room or the buffet, keeping things running smooth.
In general, the food wasn't bad considering what it is (mass produced food). It was always warm, if not hot. And there was never a shortage of it. Most people at our table ordered multiple appetizers and entrees at each meal, and no one ever said a word. The selection in the dining room was limited some nights, but I was able to find something to eat. If you haven't heard, you must try the warm chocolate melting cake at least once.
I thought the selection at the buffet was poor. It was rare that I could piece together an entire meal from it. Mongolian Wok isn't worth the hype given the limited choice of sauces. If you don't like spicy, it is tasteless. The burgers and fries were good and hot. Though the workers got confused when we asked for just a hamburger patty with no bun or toppings. I guess no one does that. My husband wants to add that the fries were excellent. Not just good.
The Mexican buffet wasn't worth staying up for, and there was no chocolate buffet as I heard there was. They had a selection of desserts out during the Mexican buffet but I was still so full from dinner at I didn't get anything. They did do a chocolate fountain at lunch the following day that was nice. And ice cream swans (ice cream and pastry).
The ship could use at least one specialty restaurant for a change of pace.
Room service was ok. Not much of a selection. I ordered the veggies and dip and got moldy veggies, so that kind of spoiled what appetite I had.
Disembarkation was just as simple as embarkation. We did the self-debark and were in a cab on the way to the airport within 15 minutes. Despite what the customs form says, you don't need to continue onto a second page when itemizing. They tore our second page up and threw it out.
All in all, we had a fantastic time relaxing. We would definitely cruise with Carnival again, and probably even on the Fantasy (although I would like to try one if the really large ships if possible). Charleston's terminal is fine as it is, but if they do build a new one, I bet it will get even better. And you couldn't ask for a more picturesque departure port than this one.