M/S Fascination, 11/6/06
My husband and I decided on a last minute cruise and chose the Carnival ship Fascination for its price and brief itinerary. In general, we prefer RCCL and the megaliners, but the price and timing was right. Now on the long drive home, we have thoroughly enjoyed ourselves for the last four days and can recommend Carnival as a great deal and a fun time.
We arrived at the terminal around 12:30PM on the 6th. We parked in the garage, and simply walked over with our luggage, which was whisked away to the ship. Embarkation was a breeze; although we had general boarding, it didn't appear like we were much slower than priority boarding. We were on the ship by 1PM.
We went to stop at our cabin, but the stairwells were closed- with a sign saying that cabins would be ready at 1:30. Instead we went to the Lido deck for lunch. Once we were done with lunch, a return to the cabin showed all was ready for us, and our luggage was there in record time. Our ocean view stateroom did indeed have a flat screen TV, like I had read on CC, and we too wonder why some things were done in the refurbishing and others were not- - like the annoying separate room keys and S&S cards.
We had main seating in the Sensation dining room. Overall, everything that came out of the kitchen was wonderful. The variety and quality of offerings always impresses me since Carnival clearly goes after the fun ship image. Our servers were incredible. Our headwaiter did not hesitate to offer recommendations, and once or twice steered us away from entrees that were not the best the kitchen had to offer that night. We were never disappointed with his guidance.
I additionally would like to rave about our waiter's professionalism. We were seated at a table for 10, with two parties of four as our tablemates. One group of four came in late every single evening- once, even 40 minutes after dinner had begun. Throughout it all, our waiter managed to balance everything out, keep the meal paced well and maintained a professional smile and attitude the whole time. Tomislav is an incredible representative for CCL and he and servers like him are a big part of the reason we would choose Carnival again.
In general the shows were great. However, I was not impressed with the comedian. The first night, part of his routine included a piece that was nearly verbatim George Carlin's. Based on that, I did not watch any of the other comedy offerings.
The main stage shows utilizing the Fascination dancers were excellent. Fiesta Latina and Far From Over (an 80's tribute) were both well sung, danced, and staged. Carnival surpasses several lines in my opinion in the quality of their entertainers and shows.
Our cruise director, Danny Blake, was all right. We found out he could sing, too on the first night he sang as part of his introduction Secret Agent Man. He was cheerful and available throughout the cruise.
Formal night was a mixture of dress, however, most in the dining room at least made an effort to step up their attire for the evening. My husband and I stopped by the Captain's Gala for what was possibly the only negative experience of our cruise. We were at the end of the captain's receiving line, and my husband shook his hand first. I was next. Although the captain thanked me for coming aboard, he was already looking past me. I got the distinct impression there were other places he preferred to be at that moment, and I just felt that .38 of a second more would have at least made me feel like a valued guest in his eyes.
Our first port was Key West. Having just come from there, my husband and I stayed onboard. We might have gone to Mallory Square, however, the ship was docked further down at the naval base. It wasn't worth it to us to have to take a trolley there and back so I enjoyed the hot tubs and the pool instead.
A note about the pools and hot tubs in general: I kept looking for the unruly children and passengers that CCL seems to have a reputation about. I found none. Although there were a good number of families on board, I never saw any abuse of the hot tubs or roving groups of children looking for trouble. Maybe we were just lucky, but it seemed like most guests aboard were considerate of each other.
Additionally, I need to mention how quick the CCL staff is to react for health and safety issues. On the at sea day, one guy was sitting in the hot tub with us and got a bloody nose. After those of us in the tub scurried out like mice in the light, I grabbed the nearest waiter and told him what had happened. Within two minutes, the deck staff was there to secure and shock the tub, which remained closed for the rest of the day. I am exceedingly impressed and comforted by Carnival's attention to passenger safety.
The spa is something I can definitely speak knowledgeably about. I had two massages, a manicure, and an Ionitherimie treatment during our cruise. The staff, mostly from the UK, was all attentive and good at what they did. I was amazed, but I was never offered the hard sell that is so common after massages and treatments! Even the Ionitherimie treatment, which is marketed as a 6-month program (and therefore with products and supplements to buy) was not a hard sell. After my treatment I was given a sheet listing prices and benefits, but I did not feel pressured or pushed at all. Kudos to Carnival if this was a conscious decision for me there's nothing worse than a hard sell after a treatment that is supposed to be a relaxing part of your vacation.
Our second port stop was in Calica, Mexico. Calica is a gravel pit. Aside from a few vendors, one must take a taxi or shuttle to reach Playa del Carmen (10 minutes) or Cancun (one hour). My husband and I chose to get a taxi to Playa, and spent several hours shopping before returning to the ship.
Although we did not take an excursion, our tablemates did. They booked it through Carnival; so when the excursion returned them to the ship 15 minutes to our departure time, they did not worry. Others were not so lucky- another excursion that had been booked independent of the ship was left behind, and 10 people had to find their way back to Miami when the ship departed. For me, this is enough reason to always book a ship-sponsored tour. I'm pretty certain the few dollars saved are not worth it if something unscheduled happens on the tour.
The photographers were indeed everywhere, just like most cruises. We found more great pictures worth purchasing on this cruise than on any other. For formal portraits and other posed photos, the photographers really took the time to pose passengers just right. They were not hurried and the results really showed.
On our last day, we found the video game room. It probably would have been better if we had never found it since most of the games were broken or in some state of disrepair. The steering on one driving game was broken, the seat adjuster on another. If Carnival is going to provide a game room, then the games should work. This wasn't a huge inconvenience to us or anything; it was just something that was noted.
In closing, Carnival is really changing our original opinion of Carnival! Although we do tend to prefer the megaliners, Carnival offers a great product at a price that's just too good to refuse sometimes. We have too much cruising to do to offer complete loyalty to one cruise line, but I would not hesitate to take another Carnival cruise in the future, and I'd happily recommend this ship to anyone.