This was my first cruise and it was also a last minute decision. I had to cancel a previous vacation booking due to unforeseen circumstances. My girlfriend and I had both had our vacation dates set for work and couldn't change them. So I ended up surfing on the web and found a deal almost too good to pass up. Under $240 per person for an outside state room with a free upgrade to a higher deck! Ended up taking the plunge and decided to purchase it. Being that I purchased the cruise less than 12 days prior to sailing I was a little uneasy after making the purchase. Also this being our first cruise we didn't really know what to expect. I read a few reviews here and heard some pretty poor things about the Fascination. So we set our expectations low. But I also found out that the Fascination was in dry dock and was having some major work done on her to make some improvements. It turns out that we were going to be some of the first ones to cruise on the "NEW" Fascination.
We began our trip flying into Fort Lauderdale International. From there we saw our first taste of Carnival Cruise Lines and were very worried. The meet and great staff were kind of unorganized, and didn't really know where to put us. We met them down by the baggage claim area of the airport and they didn't seem to know how to line people up or group them. They gave us a card with a number (and gave me a CCL sticker to wear because I didn't pre-purchase a transfer) and told us to wait "over there (Under the umbrellas by the stairway by the baggage claim)". Basically we all just stood in a bunch and waited for them to lead us to our bus that would take us to the Port of Miami. After about 30 minutes they led us outside where our Greyhound bus was waiting. We left our luggage with the driver and started to board. We didn't purchase our transfer fare ahead of time because we booked too late, so we had to purchase them on the bus. This was no hassle, as after we boarded the bus a Carnival representative came on board and got our cabin information and gave us our vouchers and we were all set. Our trip from Fort Lauderdale to Miami took about 35 to 40 minutes because of an overturned pickup truck which caused a traffic jam.
After arriving at the port we exited the bus and left our luggage with the luggage handlers. We were worried about our luggage getting on the Fascination being that most of the other passengers on our bus were going on the Inspiration which was also embarking at the same time. Actual embarkation time was about 15 minutes from the time we got off the bus till we walked through entrance in the atrium and were handed back our sign and sail cards, and room keys. It was almost hassle free, just have our picture ID's and passports or birth certificates out. Only gripe I had was that both of us had a bottle of water that we purchased at the airport when we arrived in Fort Lauderdale, Carnival security made us throw them away before going through the airport style metal detector saying that we could not carry them on board.Going through the atrium while just arriving on board we saw a bunch of dust on the floor in the area, but other than that everything looked clean (turns out they just placed new marble tiling on the atrium stairway and that was where the dust was from) We also noticed right away that the sculpture that was described on other reviews here was missing and in its place a bar was installed. Also two service personnel were working on cutting and laying marble tiling in one of the atrium elevators (turns out it would take them three days to finish it) First thing we did was take the elevator down to the main deck and go to our room. While walking down the hallways we did notice that they took care to try to clean the carpets but some stains could still be seen (only noticed because of other reviews read here). Upon entering the cabin we noticed that the carpet was new. The TV set that we saw in other pictures had been replaced with a new LG flat panel TV. The bed was brand new (at least the mattresses and linen were), and the furniture didn't appear to have any kind of nicks or scratches that indicate that they are over 12 years old. The bathroom had been renovated, gone were the tile floors and shower walls seen in pictures I had seen on the Internet. Gone was the cabinet style sink. In their places a new dark blue plastic (looking) lined floor and shower floor had been installed. New plastic (looking) style lining was also around the shower walls. Ceiling looked like they had been scrubbed clean as well. Also gone was the smell of sewage that some other reviews had mentioned both from the rooms and from the local hallways. We were originally worried after reading reviews of the sewage smells and mold on the ceilings in the bathrooms but after seeing everything being cleaned up/replaced we were very happy!
We were worried after hearing that our room had four beds, two twins on the floor and two upper bunks, we figured we wouldn't have any room to walk around. But after arriving to our room we saw that the Pullman style upper births were fitted nicely against the wall, and the two twins were pushed together along one side making one King size bed. The room was actually nice and cozy! In fact, it is larger than one of our bedrooms in our townhouse.
After checking out our room we decided to head up to the Lido deck and eat some lunch at the Coconut Bar and Grill. The Coconut Bar and Grill is set up with two buffet style lines. In the center of the room are the soft serve ice cream and yogurt machines, along with fruit and salad offerings, and of course desert tables. Along the rear window/wall is the pizza station, sandwich station and bar. All of the support columns in the room are decorated to look like coconut trees (unfortunately as my girlfriend pointed out they have the wrong kind of leaves on them, banana leaves were used instead of coconut leaves, but I unknowingly didn't know the difference or really care too much). The food to me was okay, upgraded version of buffet food I am used too.
After eating lunch we went to our room to see if our luggage had arrived yet and to read the Carnival Capers (the daily activities digest). Our luggage hadn't arrived but we waited around and one by one each was dropped by our door. Amazingly either the handlers on the pier or on the ship sure made them pretty dirty as they were not that way when they were pulled out from the hold of the bus and handed over to the luggage handlers. I guess that is why a luggage mat was placed on our bed when we arrived. After this we decided to walk around a bit to check out the rest of the ship before we came back to grab our life vests and head over to the Palace Lounge for our muster drill. We checked out the forward observation deck, (saw the Inspiration that was docked ahead of us was getting ready to pull out), the pool area on the Lido deck, then went up to the Sun deck to see if what I read on other reviews about a new 9 hole mini-golf course being installed was true. It was between the "Olympic" jogging track. We headed back inside and checked out the Galleria shop area and then headed back down to our stateroom. We took the elevator down to the main deck and went back to our room to get our life vests. One thing that bothered us throughout the trip was that on some of the decks the elevator up or down arrow would not function when the elevator opened on the floor. This caused confusion for quite a few people we noticed throughout the trip. We arrived at the Palace Lounge in the forward portion of the ship and sat and waited for our muster drill to start. It was a little unorganized as the ship's music director was leading our group and didn't know if we were supposed to go up to see where we board the life boats or not. But after a few minutes everything went well and we were back on our way.
We decided to go back up to the Observation deck to watch us cast off. We waited around about 30 minutes while taking a few pictures and figured out something was wrong. The Inspiration docked ahead of us had already cast off and the Royal Caribbean, Majesty of the Seas, cast off as well and passed us up. After looking over the Starboard side I noticed that a line of forklifts was busy hustling skids of provisions (alcohol, water, chairs, tables, mattresses, food, 54 gallon drums of BP oil, and other equipment) to the loading holds of the ship. Turns out a day later we heard that they had to load over 175 extra skids of provisions on board, since the ship had been in dry-dock; normally some of this stuff would have already been on board. After about three hours we were ready to cast off. We stayed out on the observation and watched until we cleared the inlet and the harbor pilot departed the ship.
We headed down to the Sensation dinning hall for our late seating dinner. I was impressed with the dinning hall. It looked pretty clean and had a nice silver star type pattern on the ceiling around the support posts. It had quite a few tables that hold 10 people and a few booths that hold from four to six people as well. We were seated on a booth for six near the rear of the room. We were worried that we would not have anything in common with our table guests but turns out they were pretty fun! Also our head waiter Owen and assistant Rommel were great! They went above and beyond to make sure we were satisfied with our meals. They also provided some light humor between serving us. Food overall was very good, the filet was tender, fish very tasty. We also found all of the deserts except for the Chocolate based ones to be excellent. The chocolate ones sometimes tended to be dried out at times. The pizza, in the rear of the Coconut Bar and Grill was good. I didn't get a chance to sample the sandwiches but other people seemed to like them.
The after dinner shows in the Palace lounge were hit and miss. The first night introduction was pretty good. The second night we had a dance show with an 80's music theme that was also very good. Wednesday night we had a balancing act that was impressive along with a ventriloquist that was so-so. The Thursday night show which was claimed to be the best of the shows called "Festiva Latina" was kind of a hodge-podge of Latin music and dance, mixed in with non-Latin music and a Vegas style dance with costumes ala Jubilee or Follies Bergere. The band that provided the music for the shows was always very good.
The Adult "R" rated comedy acts on Tuesday and Thursday night in the Puttin' on the Ritz Lounge, on the cruise were okay, being based on crude jokes with racial, and sexual innuendoes, but were entertaining nonetheless. The Karaoke was hilarious what we caught of it before the comedy shows anyway. The live Calypso band, Innocence that played out on the Lido deck almost every day and night sounded pretty good, only complaint was they tended to play the same songs over and over again the whole cruise. You can only stand hearing "Feeling Hot Hot Hot" so many times. We were pretty tired each night after the late shows and didn't stay up to check out the Passage to India lounge or the Diamonds are Forever Club until our last night of the cruise. The music played in the club was a mix of Hip-Hop and Pop. The live band we caught in the Passage to India, Music Asia, sounded pretty good but besides us there were only two other couples in there listening to them (We figured everyone had retired to their rooms to pack and or sleep early to prepare for disembarking the next morning).
At our first port of call, Key West, we did not take a shore excursion and just decided to explore on our own. Leaving the ship is pretty easy just head down to Deck 3 by the Infirmary and check out using your Sign and Sail card. Carnival tends to use the Outer Mole dock in Key West, which is part of the Key West Naval Air Station. When we docked a destroyer was moored across from us and security was pretty tight so the busses were not lined up waiting for us, we had to wait one at a time as each one showed up to pick us up to take us to Mallory square and return. Upon return to the ship they check you back in with your Sign and Sail card and you go through the airport-style metal detector and your bags go through an x-ray machine. When we are getting ready to cast off from Key West an announcement was made for a couple to report to the information desk. I figured that they had not returned back to the ship based on the Sign and Sail card log. About 15 minutes after we were supposed to cast off the shore personnel were getting ready to cast off the lines when off in the distance you could see one of the Conch Trains speeding back to the base with a couple on board. They were lucky! If they were a couple minutes later we would have left them behind. Make sure when you are in port to keep checking your time! The ship will leave without you.
On our second port of call, Calica, Mexico, we had signed up for the Playa Del Carmen Beach and shopping tour. The tour was supposed to last from 1:30Pm till 5:30PM but we didn't get back to the ship till a little after 7PM. Our ship was scheduled to cast off at 8PM. The tour spent the first almost 5 hours going to a Mayan outdoor market down by Tulum, Mexico. This market was overpriced and the locals didn't negotiate very well as there was no competition in the area. We were supposed to be there for 40 minutes but we were there for over an hour. Our next stop was to the Lapis Jewelry Factory, located almost across the street from the Riviera Maya. This is an overpriced Jewelry store with some high and poor quality jewelry (from what we saw, pearls were in pretty poor shape but charged way over what we could get them for in our area back home). Do some shopping around and you can get better prices elsewhere. Again we were supposed to be here for 40 minutes but we were there over an hour. By the time we got to Playa Del Carmen it was after 5 PM. Our tour guide led us down Fifth Avenue to the beach. When we arrived at the beach it was already pretty crowded and the water was not clear, but pretty murky, we decided not to go in the water, but head back to Fifth Avenue and do a little shopping with the time we had left. If I had it to do over again I would have just hired a taxi at the dock and taken it to Playa instead of wasting the time with the other two stops.
Crew members on the ship were all very friendly. They always greeted you when passing, and always with a smile. Our cruise directory Danny was pretty funny. He always tried to keep everyone entertained. I really don't know if he ever really sleeps! I swear he is up before we were in the morning making announcements, and then into the wee hours of night (after 1:00 am) He was still on deck keeping everyone entertained. Our cabin steward always kept our cabin clean and kept our ice and towels refreshed. We had towel animals every night of the cruise, which we thought were very cute.
The maintenance staff seemed to always be busy working on something. They were either laying tile on the elevator, to painting the exterior of the ship, or checking the inflatable life rafts on the Lido Deck. At least it seems Carnival likes to keep up with maintenance even while underway. The only issues we seemed to have during the whole trip was, the serious vibration that could be felt in the aft of the ship while under cruising speed. It could be felt from the lower decks all the way up to the Verandah deck. Sometimes it would be worse than others. When we were at lower speeds it wasn't as noticeable. The only other complaint was on Friday before disembarkation the toilet in our cabin stopped working. You push the button and the vacuum that you always worried would suck you down wasn't present. Our cabin steward told us that they may have been working on the plumbing systems when we arrived back in Miami and that was probably why it stopped working.
Disembarkation was very smooth. The night before you had the option of leaving your luggage out in the hall between 8 PM and 12 AM, or taking your luggage out with you. If you carry your luggage with your you were the first ones able to leave the ship. We left our luggage out the night before and had to wait for the first group to disembark. After we heard Danny, our cruise director, make the announcement that disembarkation for those who were carrying their own luggage was complete, we grabbed our carry on bags and headed up to the Empress deck and got in line to head out. It took only about 15 minutes from the time we got in line to the time were got past the customs agents. We were expecting to take a lot longer; we were off the ship by 9:30 AM and didn't have a flight leaving out of Fort Lauderdale until after 5 PM.
Overall the cruise was excellent. We were very happy with the last minute decision to cruise on the Fascination. It was well worth it! We came back home feeling well rested and relaxed.