I have decided that many times the people that you are traveling with make all the difference in the overall crew experience. Misery is contagious and so is happiness and contentment.
Carnival has done an excellent job of providing a fun and memorable experience for the money and I hope that they remain in Charleston, SC forever.
Certainly, things can go wrong anytime you are dealing with man-made systems, weather and all the other things that can be thrown your way but if you board the Fantasy with an open mind (not corrupted by the few negative reviews that always surface) then I for one think that you will have a great vacation.
Now for the details. 1) Live in SC so we drove in. Parking opened at 10:30 if you are an early-bird. You will have to wait in the car line until about 11:30 or so but during this time you can drop off your luggage, pay for the parking and admire the big ship. Parking is $17 per day but you will park in a well-organized fashion inside a secure warehouse. I like it. From there, a shuttle will carry you over to the terminal which is within walking distance. If you cab it from the airport you will have to walk 100 yards at most from the street.
We had VIP this round so we went to the front of the line although the line is well-staffed and it moves rapidly. You can be on=board within 10 minutes of leaving the shuttle but your cabin will not be ready until about 1:30. We had a suite and the stewards allowed us to store our luggage in the room so we headed to the buffet for drinks and lunch. Wear a bathing suit or carry one on and change and sit by the pool. After all, the first day counts too.
Our suite was perfect for the two of us - wife and I. Plenty of space and we loved the height of the Verandah level for viewing vistas in port. For us no need to pay extra for a GS with larger balcony and more space. WE had plenty!
Very quiet up there, no hallway noise. The best part of the JS's at the Verandah level is that you are one set of steps to the pool level, LIDO, so it's very convenient to run back and forth to the room. The best part for me was the "secret" door out onto the bow of the boat. Many mornings we would carry a cup of coffee out to the bow just to stretch and look around for a few minutes before returning to our private balcony to relax and watch the world come alive.
Our stewards, that's right we had 2, were very unobtrusive and extremely pleasant. They kept everything perfect! Re-stocked wine glasses, the fridge, fresh towels, etc. Everything you come to expect but sometimes read that you do not get. The leather sofa was much nicer than the stock photos and came in very handy. The marble mini-coffee table and larger cabinet top/vanity provided ample space. In all, everything in the Junior Suite worked as it should, was comfortable and very attractive. It was paradise. Word of advice: when booking a JS go for the unobstructed view and try to get centered between the bridge and the lifeboats for the best view fore and aft. Too close to the front and your privacy may become a bit compromised with visitors climbing the steps to enjoy the bow observation deck. On the other hand, if you like to socialize it seemed that the folks up there got to meet some friendly people and have some pleasant conversations. Lastly, storage in the JS is plentiful with numerous drawers, closets, etc.
As for the rest of the cruise, my experience tells me that we all have different expectations. The food was great and that is understated. I loved the broiled Salmon with the crispy skin which was recently highlighted on a Food Network chef competition. Not how I normally expect it but it was delightlful. Several people complained. I think this is just an example of how food techniques can change and people get too set in their ways. We ate everything from lamb to frog legs, too many awesome desserts and starters to mention. All I can say is that whatever we requested we were met with a pleasant smile and a genuine effort to deliver. What more can a reasonable person ask for?
The shows and games were fun. We did more on this cruise this time than ever. We did the pool thing and sure, the pool is crowded but you are not there to swim laps are you? There was always room to join in the fun and cool off.
We had a rainy day in Freeport but this was a great time to relax on the Serenity deck and read for awhile. Eventually the weather lifted and we strolled around the port area and had lunch. You just have to roll with it.
In closing I would caution people to not worry too much about the reviews. The most helpful reviews that I read prior to booking mentioned small things about cabin location, dining (your time dining rocks) and how to have some fun on your own outside of the excursions. Sheraton/Wyndam day passes, the 10 Jitney bus, etc were good choices. Carnival earned my money and my review. We will continue to take this cruise occasionally. Alas, everyone that we met said the same. I hope I have given credit where credit is due.
South Carolina is home to us so Charleston is a regular stop for us. That said, it can be slightly expensive to tack on a room for a night or two on the Peninsula where the sight seeing is best. If you are planning to just see downtown, the market, etc., stay on the outskirts of town (Summerville, GooseCreek, maybe Mt Pleasant, North Charleston) and save some bucks. Head into town morning of departure and take a few hours to experience Rainbow Row and the battery, walk the market and just stroll around. You will have plenty of time to make the ship as the terminal is right there. For more sightseeing, the beaches, the plantations, the USS Yorktown, etc. you may want to extend a full day before or after. If money is no concern, try one of the Shem Creek hotels, Patriots Point, of of the hotels on the Ashley River or even the Mills House right by the market. But expect to pay handsomely for the room and expect close to $100 bucks per night in taxes on said room.
Hopped the #10 Jitney bus over to the Sheraton on Providence Island (Nassau). $20 bucks for a day pass to sit on beach, access to restrooms and restaurants. Even an umbrella. Drinks were pricey like on the boat, the facilities, pool etc. were super but the beach still had hawkers and we were warned to watch our stuff.
Next time we will return to Junkanoo beach which is walking distance to the boat and spend about half on two chairs and an umbrella and cheaper drinks. Public restrooms are a bit dirty there. Carry a sandwich, kick back but keep an eye on your stuff. We still had time to stroll the shops on the way back to the boat. Just a note, on a previous cruise we booked a Catamaran/Snorkeling with Carnival and it was awesome!