Sailed on the Fantasy out of Charleston on October 1st, 2013. We are a family of 5 (children 9, 5 and 2 yrs old) traveling with one set of grandparents. All of us have cruised before on Carnival along with other cruise lines. Here's our Fantasy/Charleston experience...
Charleston Port: difficult to find correct parking lot, hardly no signs pointing you in the correct direction, luggage dropped off after paying for parking nice service, parking in a warehouse was safer than in an open lot, shuttles going to boat were running continuously, security/checking in was smooth, the actual port building is older and not as organized as bigger ports.
Fantasy: first impression was "wow, that's a small ship!", ship is worn in areas, not as clean as other ships we've been on, the outdoor decks were kept clean and picked up, the one pool for the entire boat is very small and crowded during peak hours, we visited during the morning most days and it was not too busy, Waterworks area was my children's preferred area, two racing slides and one twisty slide along with splash areas were never packed, we personally felt this boat move a lot more than other boats which bothered us especially in the dining rooms and universal lounge, enjoyed the putt putt area every day, the jogging track is 1/11 of a mile and can get pretty windy in the mornings but a nice place to run instead of a treadmill
Cabin: we booked cabin M48 as it sleeps 5 people and cabin M44 for the grandparents, the room is crowded when the two uppers are down and the trundle is out, one upper comes down over the king bed, the decor is outdated and worn, bathroom was worn and needed cosmetic work, we found storage to be adequate, our steward was excellent and kept the cabins clean
Dining: disappointing for the adults but just fine for the children!, we enjoyed our dinner in the Jubilee dining room every night however the service was slow, we were seated at a both/chair table that seated 6 but there were 7 of us, we had to switch around place settings every night to accommodate the 2 year old's boaster seat, the lido deck buffet for breakfast and lunch was mediocre, the most popular breakfast and lunch spots are outside in the pool area (Mongolian, grill and rosteierre), the staff did not clean off the tables as dishes collected rather waited until we left to clean the table off, we had brunch in the Celebration dining room on our last day at sea, food was disappointing and service was not friendly, ice cream 24/7 was a hit for our children, grandparents purchased the soda package and said it was worth it since they drink soda daily
Camp Carnival: mixed reviews from our children, the oldest liked it, the middle one was OK with it and the little one did not care to go. it seemed they did not stick to their printed schedule that was given out at the beginning of the cruise. our children did not go all day but rather for certain activities and were disappointed when they did not do them while there. the counselors were fine but not enthusiastic by any means. after experiencing Disney's children's program we were disappointed with Camp Carnival.
Entertainment: what entertainment? we were looking forward to taking the children to shows after dinner but there were only two the entire five day cruise, grandparents went to the late shows those two nights and were not impressed with the singing/dancing, there were musicians/djs around the boat, went to a family friendly comedy show one night that was OK, played bingo once before the Hasbro Family Game Night game show which was at 3:15 on the last day at sea, one of my children was picked to play in the game show, they only picked two children out of 18 players total, this is definitely a party cruise rather than a family cruise
Freeport, Bahamas: this was our first time in Freeport, took a taxi/van to Port Lucaya, $10 round trip per person, they give you a card if you pay for round trip that you give to them at the taxi pickup point, we entered the free beach access point at the police station which was sketchy but exited the beach through the resort, the beach is beautiful and enjoyable minus the people trying to sell you anything under the sun, ate at Pizza Hut in the Port Lucaya marketplace, browsed the stores and straw market then headed back to the ship
Nassau, Bahamas: this was our third time in Nassau and instead of opting to go to the Atlantis again we walked to Junkanoo Beach, the beach had glass as some of the online reviews state but we found the beach to be enjoyable overall, it is rocky somewhat but overall a nice place to walk to from the ship, you can see the ships docked from this beach, we saw two other Carnival ships come in while at the beach, there are signs pointing you to the beach once you head out of the port and get into downtown, a great free beach option in Nassau
Disembarkation: we chose to set our bags out the night before and pick them up in the port terminal so we could enjoy breakfast and walk around the ship one last time before heading home, lines after getting off ship were long, you first pick up your luggage in the terminal then head to Customs, after clearing Customs you get in a line to board the shuttles back to the warehouse, your luggage is loaded in enclosed trailers behind the shuttle bus, shuttle bus driver was very friendly
Overall we will not be going on this particular Carnival cruise again. I'm not sure we'll cruise with Carnival again as a family. After being on a Disney cruise nothing compares. Yes, the price compares but the experience is beyond imaginable for families. I do not recommend the Carnival Fantasy cruise out of Charleston for a family with younger children. Save your money up and go Disney! If another cruise ship came to Charleston we would be happy as it is closest to our home.