Let me preface this by saying this is my second cruise. My wife and I sailed on the Carnival Fascination in April of last year. It was our first cruise and we had an absolute blast. The food was amazing, the service was amazing, and the trip was amazing. It was the best vacation we have ever been on, which is why, in less than a week we had started making plans for our a second cruise, this time, having my in-laws come with us for the ride, making it their first cruise.
Our adventure began as soon as I got home from work Friday afternoon a little after 4. My wife and in-laws were just arriving as well, and we immediately packed up the Jeep and began our trip to Florida. We were leaving 40 degree weather, and we seemed to bring it with us for the majority of the trip.
Around midnight we arrived at our stop for the night in Orlando at the International Palms Resort. We just wanted an ok inexpensive hotel to sleep in for a few hours that didn't have bed bugs and wasn't that far away for us to drive to Port Canaveral the next day. While the hotel was nice, it had a lot of flaws. The biggest being that they didn't honor our reservation price, marking it up nearly $15 for both of our rooms. When we argued, they said we could always try another hotel in the area. At midnight, after driving all night, we didn't feel like arguing and just paid the extra money.
The hotel itself was nice, and we woke-up to a cool view of Universal Studios. I could literally see Hogwarts from my window, which was pretty cool, even if we weren't going to it.
They didn't have breakfast at the hotel, unless you purchased it at a pretty big mark-up, so we just drove to McDonald's and got a much cheaper breakfast, and then made the drive to Port Canaveral, spending the $50-$60, one quarter at a time, in tolls on the way there.
We chose to park using Park 'n Cruise. It lived up to it's name. We parked and got on their shuttle and were quickly taken to the port. However, their name wasn't Pick-up 'n Get Back to Your Car, but more on that later.
This is the part where I will tell you about the best $50 I have ever spent. We purchased the Faster to the Fun, and we were on the ship in about 20 minutes from us walking through the front door. It was great. Part of the perk of Faster to the Fun is that we could go straight to our rooms. We first went to the in-laws room on the Riviera Deck to drop their carry-on stuff. They were located toward the front of the ship, while we were located on the Upper Deck toward the back. Something that we should have really planned better to keep from walking so much to meet-up.
When we got to our floor, we first noticed a smell that would plague us the entire trip. Straight off the elevator there was a sewage type smell that lingered in the hallways. Thankfully it did not follow us into the room, except for some times in the bathroom, but it was few and far between, but it was always present in the hallway to various degrees of concentration. There were some times where it was a trace amount and others it was almost unbearable, where we literally had to hold our breath. During our five days on the ship, there were a few other people making comments about the smell through-out the ship, but it wasn't everywhere. It seemed to be in the section of floors where we were staying. If you went to the other sections, it wasn't there, so I don't know what it was, but we were very thankful it wasn't in the room as well.
We headed up to the Lido deck and had our first meal at around 11:15AM and sat around along the side until we were ready to set sail. It was definitely jacket weather, because, as mentioned previously, we brought the cold weather with us, but it was nice, as long as you were away from the wind, which we were.
We were off, heading off into the Atlantic Ocean, making a beeline to Freeport. We went back to our rooms to meet-up later, which is where we met Leto, our room steward. Like most Carnival employees, he was friendly, courteous, and knew our names almost immediately. We got ready for dinner service and headed to Early Seating for Dinner.
On the Fascination, this was probably our favorite highlight of the entire trip, not just for the food, but for the company we kept from our dinner table. It was an absolutely blast. Unfortunately, we didn't get the same experience this time around.
We arrived at one of the rectangular tables, where four other people had already arrived, sitting in the middle four seats, leaving four seatings on either side of them. We sat in the end seats with the in-laws, and another party of four sat in the window seats. The middle party spoke another language (we think it was French), and despite our best efforts (as well as the other party), seemed uninterested in talking to any one else at the table. We thought it might have just been a lack of communication issue, but we found out when talking to the wait staff, that they spoke English very well. We feel that if we could have sat with the other four, we would have been able to had a much better time at dinner, but they were always the first party to the table and sat in the same spot each time. This was one of the main reasons why we skipped dinner service twice, because it just wasn't as enjoyable this time around.
I know we could have simply asked to be moved to another table, but we just made our own conversation and made the best of the situation.
While I'm talking about dinner, I'll go ahead and make a general statement about the food on the Ecstasy. Overall it was still very good, but based on what we had on the Fascination, it did not live up to what we had gotten used to there. It seemed as if the chefs didn't like to use seasoning in a lot of their food. Sometimes the food was perfect, like Elegant night. The lobster was perfect, just as it was on the Fascination. I also fell in loved with the Strawberry Bisque and Chilled Orange Soray. I did not like the Escargot, but I honestly didn't expect too, but I wanted to say I tried it, and it was the one thing they didn't serve as a Didja on the Fascination. My father-in-law loved it though, so it must have been pretty good. There wasn't any food that was bad, but it was just ok most nights, and that went for lunch as well. A few great dishes, with others that were just ok.
Breakfast was honestly my favorite meal of the day. I got oatmeal adding brown sugar and pecans, bacon, and either French toast or pancakes, depending on what day it was. It was all delicious. Throw in a glass of orange juice or hot chocolate (or both in some cases), and it was the perfect thing to start the day off with.
Back to dinner service, our head waiter did not go out of his way to endear himself to our table. We loved our head waiter on the Fascination, and we truly felt he went above and beyond to make our experience a perfect one, where as this one did just enough. We honestly don't even remember his name.The guy we did like was Ida. Ida was, we guess, the assistant head waiter for our table. He was the guy that endeared himself to us. From the first night to the last, everytime we came to the dining room, he greeted us with smiles and well wishes. We even felt bad when we had missed two dinners in a row, and he talked about how he had missed us. He was our favorite member of the Carnival staff on this trip.
Through-out our time on the boat there were three things that we did: trivia, casino, and piano bar. For the trivia, I was on a quest to win a ship on a stick and a medallion. I have two of each from the Fascination, but this time there was a lot more competition, and despite coming close a few times, I unfortunately came away empty. The trivia is always fun, but much of the trivia was done by a lady with such a thick English accent that she was very hard to understand, and it made it hard to play trivia. We found out we weren't the only people that were having trouble with it, as quite a few people complained about it. After day 3, we never saw her running any of the games again, so I don't know if she was replaced or if it was planned all along to switch, but the guy who took over was great. I did play Hasbro, The Game Show, but even though my team wound up losing, I got a free Connect 4 Travel Game out of it, so that was pretty cool.
The casino was more popular with my in-laws, who love to gamble, but hey, while my father-in-law didn't do too good, my mother-in-law came away from the penny slots winning over $300 on the final night, which isn't too shabby. I turned a $5.00 bet along with a match play on the roulette table into a win streak that lasted two days and turned into $85, so I don't think I did too badly either.
The piano bar was really cool both times we went there. On the Fascination, Michael Smith, was an awesome piano man, and we would frequent it most nights, but the guy (and his name escapes me) was a better singer and definitely more energized than Mike. The downside was he really didn't take requests, and pretty much played the same set, in pretty much the same order, both nights we were there. It turned into more of a show rather than a piano bar. It was a good show, but we didn't need to go more than the one time.
We did go see the Motown Show and it was excellent. Great musical review of Motown. I only wish we had made time to go see The Brits, because that would have been music right up my alley, but we just never made the time for it. It's probably my biggest regret of the entire trip.
More on the ship, it was easy to find our way around, simply because it was laid out exactly as the Fascination was. However, there were a lot of smokers on it. A lot of smokers. Around every turn near any smoking area, we were just overwhelmed with smoke, and I'm not sure if it was because we were in close proximity to the casino (only a few floors straight down) or if it was because we were near balconies with a lot of smokers on them, because beside the sewage smell that we constantly smelled on our floor, there was a strong smoking odor in the evening time in the hallways. Once again, we're very lucky it didn't follow us into the room.
There was a time when our room wasn't cleaned while we were in Freeport. No sign on the door or anything. We came in and it wasn't done. We did tell the steward and it was taken care of when they did turn down service that night. On Key West day, we didn't get turn down service. It wasn't a big deal, but we missed out on a towel animal (which I love), and more importantly, the next day's Fun Times. We didn't bother letting them know this time, as it was late. I just went to Guest Services and got a Fun Times for the next day. This was just odd to me, for us to just be missed two days.
The last thing about the ship was a lot of noise coming from below deck. We were apparantely right above the engine work room, and after the first day, starting early each morning, it sounded like someone was on the side of the ship banging it with a loud hanging hammer, and it was constant, through Freeport, Nassau, and into Key West, although it did stop after that. I have no clue what it was, but it was hard to sleep through it as it was so loud. My in-laws, who were at the opposite end didn't hear it, so it must have just been a location thing, but it was still extremely annoying.
Overall, the ship was nice, minus some of the annoyances, but overall, we enjoyed our time on the Fascination much more than the Ecstacy. They just had better food and service in our opinion overall.
Now let's talk our Ports of Call. On the Fascination, we only visited Nassau and Key west. We loved Key West, and while my wife enjoyed Nassau, I really didn't care for it. This time, on the Ecstasy, we visited Freeport, Nassau, and Key West.
Our first time in Freeport was cold and windy. Once again, the curse of bringing the cold weather followed us into Freeport. We hopped in a taxi and went to Our Lucaya, all bundled up. We noticed immediately that Freeport was so much different than Nassau. Less hussle and bussle. More easy going. Outside of the cold weather (which our driver told us was a historical low), we liked it immediately. Our Lucaya was very nice. Sure, it was some of the same shopping you'll get everywhere else in Nassau, but it's a lot stress and pushiness from the people there, and that's including their Straw Market. The best thing we discovered there though was the little drink stand in the center of Our Lucaya Marketplace, where you could get drinks in a coconut. Their pina colada was the best I've ever had. Plus, you got a free 10 oz drink with it, and the in-laws and wife liked that. I wound up getting two during our time there, and wish I could have had that the rest of the trip.
After we walked around the shops, we walked across the street to the prettiest beach we've ever stood on. We didn't swim (a bit too cold for that), but my wife got her feet wet, and I took some great photos. If we go there in warm weather, it would definitely be a beach worth visiting to swim or lay out on.
After walking around out there for a little while, we headed back, boarded our taxi and headed back to the boat in time for a late lunch. Everyone else went and took a nap, and I actually headed back off the boat once again, this time just walking around the little village they have right off the dock. I bought a conch shell horn and walked around taking photos of random things that I saw. It killed about an hour, and then I went back on the ship and we awaited leaving.
Next-up was Nassau. In our previous trip to Nassau, we did the Sea and See Tour, and while the half-submersible was interesting (despite some pretty bad and often repeated jokes), the van tour around the island was far from impressive. We also had a brief amount of time to walk around the shops (picking up Ricardo Coconut Rum and a few Rum Cakes from Tortuga), visit the Straw Market (briefly, because they were very rude and pushy), and then spend the rest of the evening at Senoir Frogs (being someone who drinks very, very little, was not that much fun. However, my wife and a friend we had met on board had the time of their lives, although seeing a girl, probably younger than I am, be so drunk she face plants on the floor and start convulsing, and the waiters act like it's no big deal because it happens all the time, kind of doesn't let you have a very good time). This time, we decided to skip excursions and Senoir Frogs (thank goodness) and just walk around.
We got our passports stamped, where I met a guard who was born on the same day that I was (same year and everything), which was a pretty cool coincidence. We started at one point of Bay Street and just started walking down it. We stopped into a few shops, bought some souveigners, some Ricardo Coconut Rum, and some rum cakes, a nice little painting from one of the locals on the street. We even went through the Straw Market and honestly, enjoyed walking through it. I don't know if it was because there were more people in town (two other ships were docked), but the vendors seemed a lot less pushy, so we had a completely different experience this time around than last time. It was real enjoyable. We went to lunch back on the ship and hung around until the ship set sail. I got some beautiful photos of the lighthouse with the waves crashing into the rocks, and we were on our way to Key West.
In our previous trip to Key West, it was our favorite stop. We walked around, visited Hemingway's House, ate at Margaritaville, and had Frozen Chocolate Key Lime Pie on a Stick. This time around, due to my in-laws not being able to walk around the entire place effectively, we decided to hop on the Old Towne Trolley. It was easy to purchase the tickets and we hopped right on. Our mistake was hopping off at the second stop to do some sightseeing, because while it was easy to hop off, it's not easy to hop on. We went through 5 trollies that were full, waiting nearly an hour for one that had room for us.
At that point, we really decided not to get off again. We broke that decision around the Southern Most Point and got off. We walked to it, walked around the block, and then waited through another two trolley's that were also full. Finally the third one luckily had people that got off, and we were on our way again. This time, we did not get off until the end, and then we boarded again, rode to Margaritaville, and got off and had lunch. We then walked over to Kermit's, picked up some Key Lime Pie, and headed back to the ship to watch the sunset.
After the sun went down, we sat out on deck and planned to watch for pier runners. We got our wish, as with less than 15 minutes until we were supposed to leave, one guy came walking, and they let him on. Only, we didn't leave. After another 20 minutes, we finally pulled away. We would later find out that two people got drunk and the guy that came late was trying to find them, but couldn't, so we apparantely left two people behind in Key West.
While we enjoyed Margaritaville and Kermit's, I would not recommend Olde Town Trolley if it's busy in town again, as we spent nearly 2 hours of our time there waiting for a trolley, because most of them were full, and people weren't getting off of them, so Key West wasn't as fun as it was the last time.
So I've talked about the ship experience and the port of call experience, so let's talk about our debarkation.
It went extremely smoothly. With our Faster to the Fun purchase, we were in the first group after self-assist, and were out the door and on land in no time. This is where the final part of the story is. The porter asked for what service we were using, and he put us right where he said Park 'n Cruise comes with all of our luggage. When we had pulled up, a Park 'n Cruise van was just pulling out with a full load, but no one else was standing out there for them, so we were it at that moment. A moment later, a lady came down and asked if we were with Park 'n Cruise. We said yes, and she told us we were standing in the wrong place, and told us to bring our stuff down some.
We moved all of our stuff down and waited. A few more people came down to where we were, and we saw the Park 'n Cruise van come up...and stop right where we were told to move from. Before we could say anything, several groups of people that had just walked up, rushed the van and got on it. One of the members of our party even rushed down there to tell them we had been waiting, and the response was that we should have gotten to him faster, because there was nothing he could do now.
This did not sit well with us.
The lady that told us to move came back down, and we told her what had happened, and she apologized and said she would make sure we made the next one. We sat there for another 20 minutes, and finally another one came down...and parked the exact same place the other one did. This time the woman ran down and told the driver we were waiting...and he proceeded to let other people on anyway, without waiting on us to get down there. Luckily, every other member of our party got on, only for him to tell me there wasn't any more room. We were like..."huh?" He told me I could catch the next one back. The rest of my group were about to get off, but I asked if I could just stand and hold on, and he said "he guessed."
So I stood up, holding on for my dear life, because standing in that van was not fun, because every time it slowed down or turned, I almost went flying.
Finally, we arrived at our stop, got off the van, started to load up the Jeep...only to have people come over and try to get us to do a Time Share presentation. We told them know, but he didn't go away. He kept being pushy about the whole thing. We looked around, and there were several of them, going around to other people in the parking lot, so Park 'n Cruise allows them on to their property. We literally had to almost drive over him to leave, because he wouldn't go away or take no for an answer.
Our drive back was uneventful, outside of stopping by a little gas station near New Smyrna Beach. Let's just say, there were two people that were working it that were very, very odd.
I did fall in love with Cheesy Garlic Bread Potato Chips though from that stop, so there was something good out of it.
The rest of our trip was fine, and we made it back in one piece.
Overall, we enjoyed our cruise. Our in-laws can't wait to do another, like us. Now, we might think a little harder about choosing the Ecstasy again, if there are other ships available. If not, nothing was unforgivable or would make us say never again.