Carnival Fantasy – Charleston to Bahamas – 5 day My wife and I just returned from our fourth Carnival cruise. This one was a 5 day cruise to the Bahamas from Charleston aboard the Fantasy. Our choice of Carnival for this trip was primarily due to the port of departure, Charleston, since it is only 4 hours drive for us versus the 13 hour drive to Miami where more destinations were available. First, let me say some good things about our trip and then I will discuss some not so good things.
For the first time, we sought out the Serenity deck for adults over 21 years of age only. This gets you away from the noise and confusion of the Lido deck madness that has been present for every Carnival cruise we have been on. I realize that many of the young passengers love this environment and that there is a need for it, but it is very nice to have an area away that is quiet. The same issues exist on Serenity as for the rest of the ship in terms of not enough sun lounges and people coming early and saving them with a towel and then not showing up for hours. They are supposed to be checked every 45 minutes, but this never happens.
For the first time we tried the Chef Table. Fantastic! We met the chef at 6:30 and for the next 3 plus hours we toured the galley and ate course after course of food that was exceptional in terms of unusual combinations of flavors and textures, great presentation, and not something that you would get to enjoy even at a fine dining establishment. It was truly exceptional and well worth the price. We would sign up for that again.
Our room, on the fifth floor, was very quiet. We weren’t bothered by engine noises, discos, parties, gym equipment, noisy room steward closets, or anything like that. We occasionally could hear loud guests along the hall, but that’s to be expected.
Our destinations were nice. In Nassau, we met the #10 bus at the corner of Bay Street and St. George and for $1.25/person were driven to Cable Beach. We paid $30 each for the use of facilities for the day at the Sheraton. They were very nice. Plenty of chairs and not crowded at least at mid-week. No problem at all catching the #10 for the return trip. We drove past some of the other beaches and, at least visually, Cable looked cleaner and nicer. Our second day destination was Freeport. We went to Grand Lucayan Resort (formerly the Radisson) which was about 20 minutes drive from the ship. We took a van run by Curry. They charged $10 round trip, collected the money at mid point and gave us a plastic ticket for the return trip. This seemed a little fishy to us, but it all worked out. We had to wait about 10 minutes for enough ship passengers to assemble to fill a van for the return trip. The Grand Lucayan had a very nice beach and we paid $10/person to use their facilities for the day. The food at both destinations was expensive and not really native so that was somewhat of a disappointment.
Now for the not so good experiences on this trip aboard the Fantasy:
Just getting to the port was confusing. There were excellent directions for getting off I-26, turn by turn instructions for the next couple of miles and finally, with the ship in view at the intersection with Calhoun St. the instructions simply state to follow the yellow signs to parking. Only there are no yellow signs. After going far enough to realize we had gone the wrong way, we made our way back to Calhoun and turned left (easy enough to say in the instructions, but apparently not considered important). We made our way to the next intersection and asked for directions, took a right, and followed the BLUE signs to a point where luggage was being handled. We were strongly encouraged to check our bags though we had intended to carry them aboard. We relented and allowed them to be checked. From that point we parked without incident and made our way onto the ship.
On this trip we made the ill fated decision to bring 2 bottles of wine on board, one for each of us. Here is the official policy statement: Guests are prohibited from bringing alcoholic beverages onboard. However, guests (21 years and older only) may bring one bottle of wine or champagne per person on board only during embarkation at the beginning of the cruise. Apparently, at another place on the web site, they go on to say that the wine can only be in carryon luggage, not checked baggage. Since we had checked our luggage when virtually forced to do so, we were in violation of Carnival’s alcohol policy. One bottle made it through undetected and one was confiscated. No discussion about the inconsistency in wine being wine regardless of what type of bag it is in or admission that we had another bottle that had made it in made any difference. Looking back at the web site it is apparent that we should have been more careful about how we packed. Alcohol is apparently also considered a safety risk right up there with weapons on the web site. Of course everyone knows that the real risk is to Carnival’s bottom line.
Once we got to our room we looked at the Entertainment Schedule provided handed out by Carnival for a list of events for the day. We sailed on Monday, May 13. A comedy act was scheduled for the Forum lounge on Monday night so we headed over there only to find Karaoke under way. After asking several Carnival workers to help us find the comedy act, we were told there wasn’t comedy that night. After much confusion, we finally figured out that when they printed the May 13 cruise schedule, they left in the April 29 schedule of events for the Punchline Comedy Club. That particular comedian was not even on board. But hey, what’s two weeks. So, we are off to a great start.
We had the 8:15 dinner. We got to our assigned table to find one other couple there. They looked very happy to see us. The rest of the dining room tables looked mostly filled, but our table near the middle of the room, held just 4 people. That was true for the entire cruise. Now the couple we sat with were very nice but one of the things we enjoy about cruising is meeting other people, hearing about their day’s activities, and the best place to do that is at the table during dinner. The four of us sat at a table for 10. It’s hard to make conversation with just one other couple night after night.
Perhaps due to the small numbers, it did not take long to eat. We have been on cruises where it took forever to eat and it is hard to strike a balance. But, on multiple nights we were seated at 8:15 and by 9:00 we had been served an appetizer, entrée, and dessert. Again, not the experience you generally expect at an event where people get dressed up for and even have one evening devoted to “formal night”.
Our bathroom, and different parts of the ship from time to time, had what can only be described as a septic tank (sewer) smell. You could hear other people commenting on it. This was not overwhelming, but it was also not pleasant.
We’ve cruised 3 times before so we know the room is small, but there was virtually no counter space around the sink. The hot water was very difficult to adjust to warm. It was either room temp or scalding hot. This was true of the sink and the shower. The shower had absolutely no water pressure. It reminded me of taking a shower with a solar shower used in camping where the water is heated by the sun and the water falls only due to gravity. When we arrived, our room was freezing. Only a visit by an AC tech made it possible to turn it off at all. Still, the air conditioning was either off or wide open. The windows in our cabin were very dirty though I think it was mostly on the outside. We were on deck 5 and did not get splashed at all during our trip in spite of winds that were up to 44 mph. I can only surmise that my view out of those windows was not a high priority for Carnival.
There seems to be a cost cutting move ongoing at Carnival. In the past we have received Carnival pens, decks of cards, etc. as complimentary ship souvenirs. Not on this trip. We also noted that our drinks seemed to have less alcohol. My wife is a light weight and even a small amount of alcohol affects her. We purchased drinks with rum and later, vodka, and she could not tell there was much in them. We finally ordered a vodka straight and specified Absolut and that was somewhat better. I don’t know what their bar brand is. It was poured from a non-descript blue bottle. Whatever it was, it seemed to have very low alcohol content.
As I stated, we have cruised with Carnival four times over the years and have really accelerated the frequency of our cruises in the past 3 years. Maybe I expect too much. Maybe my cruise experience would not be better with another company. Regardless, I think the time has come for us to branch out and try a different cruise line. I need a basis for comparison that I am getting my money’s worth with Carnival. This cruise was frustrating for a lot of small issues that taken together resulted in our not being satisfied that we received our money’s worth.