Let me start by saying that the hardest part of this vacation was trying to figure out which cruise to select. I had cruised several times with various cruise lines, however, this time, I was trying to keep our cost down as much as possible without compromising our vacation. I was traveling with my extended family, and with various budgets (husband, mother and father in law, sister in law, her husband, and their 6 year old daughter). My guidelines were 4 nights, affordable, NOT to the Bahamas, and something that would appeal to everybody in the group.
At the time, I believed that the logical thing to do was to head to the travel agency to make the decision. I have to say that I was disappointed because the travel agent kept trying to, not only force me to take a longer cruise than what we had planned, but also to upgrade to a more expensive cabin. We preliminarily selected a 5 night cruise form Ft. Lauderdale aboard another ship/cruise line. I had already been on that ship, and the experience had been OK, plus I didn't want to question my travel agents expertise. However, I decided to do a little bit of research on my own, and checked out Carnival's website. Surprisingly, I received a phone call at home the next morning from one of their planners which steered me to the Fascination. Not only was this cruise the length of time that I wanted, to the ports of call that I wanted, but we were looking at about $200 less per guest (and with that many of us traveling it made a lot of sense to go with this option). We also found out that the cheaper cabins on this ship were exactly like the more expensive ones, except for the window, and we also learned that the cabins were bigger than what we had experienced before. I was a little apprehensive about dealing with someone who works exclusively for one cruise line, but he was VERY knowledgeable about his product, which made me feel confident. So based on this information, we booked 3 cabins at the lowest rate possible, and before long, we were on our way to the Western Caribbean aboard the Fascination!
Check in wasn't quick, but fairly efficient. Our first pleasant surprise came when we arrived at the port. All 3 of our cabins had been upgraded for FREE to cabins with windows! We walked into the ship and I will agree with other readers when they say that this ship is flashy. Don't expect sober and refined surroundings, since I don't think that this is what Carnival had in mind when they decorated the ship. The Fun Ship theme can be felt everywhere you go. However it's nice. You'll be greeted by an atrium with glass elevators, lots of bronze, neon lights, and......Carnival's very own mascot, Funship Freddy. Within 10 seconds of boarding you start to understand what this vacation is going to be like! I was worried about my in-law's reactions since I knew that if anybody was going to have something negative to say, it would be then. I was relieved as I saw them walk in and stop in the atrium, look up and smile.
We were on deck listening to the reggae band on the pool deck by 2:30pm. We were hungry so we went to the Coconut Grove Bar & Grill. This was our second pleasant surprise. While one side had some pretty standard food items, another side had a section devoted to cuisine from a different country every day. Now, I'm not a big fan of trying out food from other countries, but I was very happy to have a chance to explore something that I'm not normally used to. (Hey, I'm on vacation!)
Our cabin was AWESOME for a lack of a better description. Our planner had told us that the cabins aboard Carnival are bigger than other cruise lines, and he didn't lie. We didn't have a tiny porthole like the one I had found before, but a large window! Our cabin steward was a young lady who, even though wasn't very talkative, was definitely very polite, with a nice, warm smile, and kept our cabin impeccably clean during the entire cruise. We didn't have a queen size bed stuffed between the walls like when we sailed before on our previous cruise, but we had a KING size bed with room to walk around it. The bathroom was a little bit bigger and closet space was also nice. I do have to admit that there was some wear around the closet door edges, and the vanity area, but it didn't bother us enough to spoil our vacation.
We were assigned to the rear dining room for dinner, which happens to have a bar right above, so the whole group decided to join there for a pre-dinner drink before dinner. After that, we made it a daily ritual to meet there, and then make our "grand entrance" into the restaurant down the staircase leading from the bar to the restaurant (small things make us very happy!) The food here was worthy of some of the finest restaurants that I have ever been to, but I would lie if I said that we didn't encounter the "mystery dish" one night that we just had to exchange for something else. That being our only disappointment with food, I'm confident in saying that the food was excellent.
The shows at the main theatre received mix reviews from the family members. My niece adored the singing and dancing, while my parents in law didn't like it. I thought that it was just as cheesy as entertainment on every single cruise ship I've ever been on before. I'm a little bit biased since I'm not a big fan of any theatrical production.
The next morning we arrived in Key West, and were happy just walking around Duval St, and wandering to the Southernmost Point. My parents forced us to visit Ernest Hemingway's Home, which turned out to be more interesting than I expected. Before long, we were back on board!
I must say that my niece LOVED the children's program, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise, since while she was doing "her thing" the adults could enjoy the casino, do some shopping onboard with some sense of peace, and even sit down for some sushi (YES, there's a sushi bar onboard, and it's FREE).
The next day we arrived in Cozumel 2 hours early! The only excursion that we could all agree on was the Sub-Ocean View, which we had pre-purchased directly from the Carnival website before our vacation. This ship doesn't have the interactive TV like on the newer ships, which allows you to book your excursions from your cabin, so our planner had suggested pre-purchasing our excursions. We were VERY happy at our decision, and we were grateful for the time that we didn't waste standing in line at the shore excursion desk, like many of other passengers we saw every time we walked by.
This turned out to be an awesome tour. While my husband and I would've loved to go snorkeling, and to get in the water, my in-law's are not big fans of putting bathing suits on, so this sub-ocean view submarine was a wise choice and a great "happy medium". We didn't have to get wet, but we still saw plenty of fish, corals, and even a pretty neat sunken ship. After the excursion, we had some time to shop around downtown San Miguel. If you look closely, you'll still see some damage from hurricane Wilma, but in the most part, Cozumel is up and running like the last time we had been here. Around 6:30pm we returned to the ship, since we were scheduled to depart at 8:00pm and we didn't want to be waiting in line to get back onboard.
The last day was wonderful. I headed to the pool deck early, read my book for about an hour, before meeting my husband at the Nautica Spa/Fitness Center. Now, if I had views like the ones you have from the floor to ceiling windows at the gym, I would definitely start working out regularly! The rest of the day was pretty lazy, and even though there were tons of activities listed, we were just happy spending some quality family time together.
Finally we were back in Miami. Debarkation was QUICK. Instead of trying to rush off the ship, we had breakfast at the dining room and ate very slowly and enjoyed a nice conversation. Then we walked around the ship once more (It seemed like we hadn't even visited half the different spots on this ship). Finally, we decided to get off the ship with the last group of passengers. From the moment that we stepped of the ship, until we were outside walking to our car, probably 10 minutes had passed. Literally, we didn't stop walking from the ship, to the baggage claim area, to the customs checkpoint, and then outside the terminal.
Overall, this was a great vacation. The Fascination is an awesome ship. I won't say that it's the best ship out there because I've definitely been on larger and newer ships, but the thing that made our vacation a wonderful one, was the combination of great service from our cabin steward and waiter, the nice, comfortable cabin, the fact that Carnival is definitely on top of its game, and needless to say, the money wey saved.
I'm still trying to figure out why the travel agent that we originally worked with was pushing us to take the other 5 night cruise. Besides the rock climbing wall that she hyped so much (and which I'm still trying to figure out how my in-laws were going to enjoy), I can't understand why she kept ignoring my needs. The only thing that comes to mind is that maybe she would've made more money by shoving us to something that we didn't really want or care for, but she messed up because if that was the case, her bad service steered us completely away from working with her. If you're reading this, you know who you are!
I'm very proud to say that at home, I have a framed 5X7 picture of my in-laws, not in front of a rock climbing wall, but embracing Fun Ship Freddy!