I live in Charleston and have watched the Carnival Fantasy leave on multiple occasions, so I was pumped to finally take a cruise from my backyard, but after 5 days, I was a bit let down. I'll run down some criticisms, but overall it was a B- experience, and I'd recommend it to other folks, especially in the summer after all the spring breakers are gone.
Ship: Despite what others have said, I was pleasantly surprised by the Fantasy. She's got a great layout and the renovations she had back in 2010 really seem to have freshened up this 22-year-old ship. The size was awesome, really easy to navigate. No sewage smell here.
One note: I my room was on the port side, which doesn't get cleaned by the Fantasy's crew. My window was so crusted with salt I could barely see out. I was a little bummed by this since I paid a little more for the ocean view.
Service: The cabin stewards were awesome, and the rest of the crew was just fine. I felt a little rushed during my "anytime" dining experience in the Celebration dining room. They pack you in like sardines and since there's no promise of tips, the staff didn't seem to care too much about service.
Activities: The comedians were awesome. The shows were just OK, but I generally dislike musicals. Yes, there's no live band, but I'm not really bothered by this. Lots of fun game shows and other activities.
Shore excursions: I booked a kayak and snorkeling tour with Calabash Tours. It was great. Despite some really chilly water, I totally enjoyed snorkeling around Peterson Cay. Lots of awesome fish, coral and other underwater stuff to see. I highly recommend it.
Embarkation: Don't listen to other reviews about Charleston's cumbersome embarkation. It was just fine. Try out some of the park and ride options from Mount Pleasant. You can just leave you car there and enjoy the city the day before. I took a taxi from my home in Mount Pleasant. It cost about $17 one way. The silent debarkation was great. I predict all of Carnival will adopt this same approach in the future. No waiting in the lounge if you do the self-assist.
Dining: This was the biggest let down of them all. Usually if nothing else goes well on a cruise, a great meal can make up for it. But even on this cruise I couldn't get a good meal anywhere. It seems like the Fantasy kitchen is avoiding spices and seasoning altogether. Didn't have one good meal in the dining room or buffet the whole cruise. I even had to put salt on the hamburgers.
The worst part: This cruise was packed with college spring breakers. I was a college kid less than 10 years ago, so I'm sure I acted like these kids at one point, but gosh, they really spoiled the cruise for a whole lot of people. There was a shirtless, sunburned dude dancing solo to Motown oldies during the show. And two guys got into a drunken fist fight a few rooms down from mine.
The Lido Deck pool looked like a scene from MTV Spring Break, and I didn't see a hot tub that wasn't a meat market for 20-somethings. Not complaining about the eye candy, but if you're over 30 and trading gym time for fast-food runs like myself, you aren't going anywhere near those things with your clothes off.
Bottom line: Given that the majority of folks on this ship drove from South Carolina, North Carolina or Georgia, this is probably Carnival's most budget-friendly cruise. Including alcohol and a few trinkets, I spent about $1,300 for an oceanview cabin. You can't find that sort of deal anywhere else.
Now, some folks will say that you should still get a 5-star experience even on Carnival's most affordable ship. But we all know that's just not how it works. You pay for what you get. And even the annoying spring breakers deserve to enjoy their vacation.
So taking into account the price, the convenience and the fact that I was sailing in early March, I can't complain too much about this experience. It's a great getaway and I'd recommend it to others, especially in warmer weather.