This is my 2nd Carnival Cruise and my 2nd Cruise ever. My 1st cruise was on the Carnival Fascination out of Miami in December 2001 so it had been a while since I had been on a ship. I really enjoy cruising and encourage you to go as a past guest because in my opinion you get treated a little more special. Maybe it was just my imagination but it just seemed like it to me. My wife and I have gone on both cruises together.
We cruised from Charleston because we live in the upstate of South Carolina in Rock Hill (that is about 15 minutes South of Charlotte, NC). The drive to Charleston was easy and took less than 3 hours. We did not use the parking at the Charleston Port because I am a native South Carolinian and have family in the Charleston area that took us to the port and picked us up after the cruise. We did cruise with two other couples this time that did leave there car at the port. We all agreed that we thought parking was a little expensive at $15 per day for a total of $75 but everything did feel safe. South Carolina is home to a BMW plant and there were rows of brand new beamers right around the corner to be exported on ships so your car will be definitely safe.
Embarkation was fantastic! My wife and I got there at about 4:00 and were in our cabin at 4:45 at the latest. We did have to wait in line but the line moved very quickly. There were plenty of Carnival representatives there to check you in and get you on the fun ship. The only draw back it the area is that it is small and no air conditioning, you can tell Charleston is just starting out with the whole cruise thing but for the most part they do a GREAT job.
Our cabin was nice and Alberto was our steward. It was located on the upper deck and was a balcony room. We had a interior room on our first cruise and I swore I would never do that again. You will spend more time in your room than your think so you better make sure you are somewhere you are comfortable. The only problem with my room was that is was very dusty when we first arrived. Now it could have been that the sun was beaming into the room because our balcony was facing west but I was not happy. I did point it out to Alberto and he apologized and said he would take care of it. We left to meet our friends on Lido deck for drinks and dinner and when we returned he had cleaned it up. Alberto does a great job and is very friendly. We had a different towel animal most nights and fresh towels in the afternoon and at turn down time since we always showered before dinner.
We dined in the Atlantic Dining Room, early seating at table 535. It was all the way at the back of the ship against the window. It was REALLY pretty but the ship is bumpy back there. Nothing to make you sick, just not smooth! Our waiter did a decent job but you will have to forgive me because I do not remember his name because he was not the most impressive. Our waiter when we went on our first cruise on the Fascination WOWed us so this guy had big shoes to fill. I really also think the food in the dining room was not as good as what I had on the Fascination. It was not bad, just not great for the 5 star experience you are supposed to have. All in all though, we still love getting dressed up every evening to go to dinner and so did the other couples. It is nice to be treated well and eat a good dinner while on vacation. The portions were good as well so I never left hungry or over stuffed. I did eat on the Lido deck and had hot dogs and burgers. Both were really good. I never tried the Pizza but everyone around me said it was GREAT! The GRAND BUFFET really disappointed me. The food was not good in my opinion. I felt like I was in high school again and it was Friday and they were serving vegetable soup (if you don't understand it means they through all the leftovers together and served them).
The entertainment was very good in my opinion. The cruise director, Dana, is VERY FUNNY and gets tickled with himself when he talks. He speaks very articulate and seems to be a nice guy. Bradly does a lot of the entertainment on the Lido deck at the pool stage and is a ham as well. The comedians on the cruise were OK. The 1st one was NOT funny at all. I did not see the 1st show and hated the R rated show. The 2nd comedian was Cuban and pretty funny. His R show was better until he decided to start picking on people in the front row. It was like he ran out of material and had to fill in time for the rest of the show. Granted, I know Carnival will only let him use certain material to keep their image clean but they could do better or loosen the strings, it is after midnight and the kids are in bed. The magician was FANTASTIC and hilarious. I do not remember his name but I read about him from a different review on this website as well. He does a big screen presentation to open the show to say magic is in everyone, is interactive with the audience, is clean and funny, and he wrenches at your heart with his last trick that is beautiful. Please take your kids to see him and enjoy the show, it is worth it. Vegas shows were great with plenty of music, singing and dancing.
This was my first time to the Bahamas and I do not think they are all that they are cracked up to be. You port into Freeport in a very dirty industrial area. Shopping was good. We rented scooters and rode around the island. Do NOT rent scooters where the ships are because they are more expensive there than near the shopping. Nassau is very congested and I did not feel that safe walking around. I guess it is because I am used to Charlotte where the streets are clean and wide. Paradise Island is nice to visit but very expensive. Don't be afraid to ask for discounts when you buy because they want the sale as bad as you want the purchase. I purchased a new Tag Heuer in Freeport for $500 cheaper than I can get it in the states and I purchased it from a Tag Heuer authorized dealer listed on the Tag Heuer website.
Debarkation was HORRIBLE! I was up when we docked and again my side on the shipped faced the port. We were tied up to the dock at 6:30 AM and we did not walk into the door at our home until just after 4:30 PM (remember it is less than 3 hours to drive from Charleston to our home and we only spent 15 minutes at my relatives home to get our car). They encouraged everyone that could to take their own luggage off the ship. Of course, they have a term for it but I do not remember the name. It took 4 hours to get everyone that did that off the ship. I do not know if security was higher that day in the US or what, but I looked over the balcony and the drug dogs were working overtime. The morning we debarked was the same morning that the terrorist were arrested in Canada so I am hoping that was the reason why it took so long.
Once all those people were on their way it took no time to get everyone else off the ship. Once again though, the Charleston Port area is small and no air conditioning so it was packed looking for your luggage and getting through the Customs lines. Customs was friendly and quick. If you do not have a Passport, get one because it saves your time. Plus you have to have one if you leave the US in 2007.
I will cruise again and I will cruise Carnival again. I like the fun ship experience a lot. There are only 2 cruise lines sailing from Charleston currently and I hope more ships and destinations will be added in the future from Charleston. This was a GREAT vacation and well deserved. This was the 1st vacation my wife and I had taken in 2 years because we have 20 month old twins at home. Thank you to her parents for keeping them while we got to know each other again on vacation!